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  • 8/10/2019 Philo Sucks


    Why It Is So Difficult To Define Philosophy?

    Subject Matter: 1) Philosophy does not have anyspecific subject matterand hence cannotbe defined with regard to anyparticular area of investigation. It may

    deal with every dimension of human life and can raise questions in any

    field of study or endeavor (owing to this circumstance we have a varietyofphilosophies-of disciplineandphilosophies-of-subject). Hence trying

    to tie philosophy exclusively to one or any specific sphere would be anunjustified limitation of its reach.

    Questioning: 2) Philosophy pursues questions rather than answers. The responsibilityof philosophy is not so much to answer our questions as to question given

    answers. It is not an exaggeration to say that a philosopher is someone

    who can make a riddle out of any answer. A true philosopher is not

    bound by any particular "truths" that set limits to his/her urge to continueasking questions. Hence philosophy cannot be defined with recourse to

    some accepted tenets, beliefs and established class of propositions.

    History: 3) Philosophy changes historically both in respect to its content and itscharacter. Over the centuries it has assumed very different forms

    (wisdom, science, art, piety, critique, analysis, linguistic game, literaryenre) and has been practiced in very different settings (market place,

    temple, monastery, studio, university, institute, conference, the Internet).

    The only overriding notion that could encompass all these manifestationsof philosophy is something like "mental activity", but it is too general to

    give an informative definition of what philosophy is. Thus we cannot

    find a definition of philosophy that would be both essential and sensitive

    to its historical variety.

    Note:There are many other activities that are of mental nature too. One may be

    tempted to say that philosophy deals with concepts (which is true) but many sciences dothe same.

    A Side Approach to Philosophy

    Three Regards: In view of the above difficulties philosophers tend to refrain from givingany object-related definition of philosophy and by rule are very reluctant

    to single out one exemplary form of philosophizing. We are on a muchsafer ground if we choose instead to demonstrate what philosophy is not(negative way) or (at best) what distinguishes it from other intellectual

    pursuits (dialectical way). While we cannot commit ourselves to one

    single definition of philosophy we can formulate many pertinentdeterminations of philosophizing. Rather than by defining

    its object(field) or the supposed permanent core essence) the nature of

    philosophy could be (better) determined by making reference toits attitude, source andobjective.

    Philosophic Attitude

  • 8/10/2019 Philo Sucks


    Striving: The very meaning of the wordphilosophy(derived from the Greekcompoundphilo + sophia) points at once to a special attitude of aphilosopher and her/his objective. According to this etymology,

    "philosophy" is "a love of wisdom", which means that it combines both

    cognitive and emotional dimension of our mind. "Love" is named first

    and it is not knowledge - it is a craving and striving to attain the object oflove. But striving to learn precedes knowledge. We need the passion of

    love to start and keep questioning the things that are either too familiar or

    too removed from everyday concerns. The continuation of this strivingpoints to the essence of wisdom. Its posture is a passionate search for

    wisdom, not the possession of it. Nothing great has ever been

    accomplished without passion. Thus knowledge proves again lessdefining for philosophy than its posture. In western tradition it is not

    possible to attain wisdom as a final equilibrium. Consequently,

    philosophy is a state of mind (inquisitive) rather than a particular kind of


    Love Wisdom

    Emotion Cognition

    Striving Accomplishment

    Attitude State of Mind

    The Source of Philosophy

    Wonder: The main source of philosophic questioning is the sense of wonder,a childlike wonderjust about everything. Philosophy starts withbewilderment, astonishment, amazement about the world, life, and

    ourselves. Philosophy arises from the workings of an inquisitive mind

    which is bewildered by seemingly common things or by those that appearto be entirely impractical. It emerges out of readiness to follow the call of

    human intellectual curiosity beyond common sense acquaintanceship

    with the world. The same idea is expressed in the old saying that thebusiness of philosophy is to deal with the things supposedly familiar, but

    not really known and cognized. Philosophy reveals the illusion of

    knowledge where none in reality exists. Indeed, everything touched by

    philosophic bewilderment miraculously changes its character from aknown to an unknown. B. Russell resuscitates the same idea in claiming

    that philosophy "keeps alive our sense of wonder by showing familiar

    things in an unfamiliar aspect". As soon as we begin to philosophize, we

    find that even the most everyday things lead to confusing problems whilethose initially "impractical" issues often prove very significant even for

    our mundane needs and certainly for our self-understanding.

  • 8/10/2019 Philo Sucks


    The Aim of Philosophy

    Insight: Philosophy does not stay by pure bewilderment and amazement.Philosophers articulate their initial amazement by

    formulatingquestions(mostly what- and why-questions) that guide their

    curiosity toward comprehension of the problem. This does not mean thatthey seek a simple formula for all the puzzles of the world (the proverbial

    "philosophic stone"). Philosophy aims at understanding and enlightenment

    rather than shorthand answers. While striving to bring some light into thecomplexity of human life and the universe it pursues the old longing for

    the truth about the whole. Philosophy is absolutely committed to the truth,

    "the whole truth and nothing but the truth". However, the truth of

    philosophy is never given and complete as we cannot definitely close outthe totality it strives to capture (as Lacan says: I always speak the truth but

    only partail). Therefore the search for truth is rather like perpetual striving

    for more insight than for the final word on the matters of life and the

    world. Whenever one is engaged in philosophizing the chances are thatthings will become more complex and difficult than before.

    Philosophic Questioning

    Questions Man is a questioning being. But our questions could be of very different

    kinds. Some are simple and casual, some very difficult and complex, some

    mindboggling or even obscure.

    Type of

    QuestionsAsked by Answered by


    All HumanBeings.

    Common Sense,Everyday





    Collecting Data,

    Analyzing Facts,















  • 8/10/2019 Philo Sucks


    Standards,Raising New Issues.

    Inconclusive Results When we look at the history of philosophy it appears that philosophynever attains final conclusions about anything. Even though philosophy

    takes its subject-matter both from our everyday experience and the

    sciences, it constantly remains on the level of conceptual analysis, criticalexamination, new ideas, and so time and again fails to produce definitive

    "positive results". Russell admits that philosophy is not very much

    successful in providing "definite answers" to its questions but explains the

    apparent inconclusiveness of philosophic answers partly as deceptive,partly as inevitable:



    (a) "Those questions that are already capable of definite answers are

    placed in the sciences, while those only to which, at present, no definiteanswers can be given, remain to form the residue which is called

    philosophy." Thus philosophic questions can turn into scientific truths assoon as hey are answered. In other words, many scientifically established

    truths have started as philosophic questions, but once they received

    definite answers they get moved to the realm of science. If one is not

    familiar with the historical development of science and does not know thatits many questions originated in philosophy s/he may think that

    philosophers have been doing philosophy over two thousand years without

    being able to produce anything valuable ("positive results"). But this

    impression of perpetually continuing futility would be a very deceptive


    (b) There are also many interesting questions both in science and

    philosophy that are currently unanswered. Sometimes it is difficult to

    predict whether and when they will be answered. Hence they could bepursued both by philosophy and science (just think about the cosmological

    questions regarding the origin, size and future of the universe, or the

    questions about the neurological foundations of our thinking and value

    udgments). If it becomes clear that these questions are definitelyanswerable philosophy will deal with their general implications while

    relegating them to the sciences.



    (c) Philosophy does not deal only with the quest