Versions of Philosophy

As it evolves from its Greek origin, philosophy assumes a variety of forms throughout history. These varieties of philosophy are what other textbooks call branches or kinds of philosophy.  For our purpose, we prefer to call them versions of philosophy.  There is only one love of wisdom but there could be different ways by which the same philosophy expresses itself in different  ages and cultures. Even authors vary in the way they present philosophy in its different forms. Sometimes it is labeled according to the nationality or geographical location of certain philosophers (German philosophy, French philosophy, British philosophy, Chinese philosophy, Indian philosophy, Continental philosophy) or according to an identification with a particular period of history (ancient philosophy, medieval philosophy, renaissance philosophy, modern philosophy) or according to affinity with a religious thought (Islamic philosophy, Jewish philosophy, Christian philosophy, Buddhist philosophy, Daoist philosophy).  Philosophy is also identified following the name of the philosopher which espoused a certain system of thought (Thomistic philosophy after Thomas Aquinas; Cartesian philosophy after Rene Descartes; Kantian philosophy after Immanuel Kant; Hegelian philosophy after George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel; Marxist philosophy after Karl Marx among others).  It is also common to name philosophy according to different schools of thought which embody the spirit of the times of different epochs (skepticism, scholasticism, idealism, rationalism, romanticism, materialism, existentialism, modernism, structuralism). Philosophy also sometimes adopts the name of the method or tool it uses as in the case of logic, hermeneutics or analytic philosophy. The most familiar of all philosophy’s names is taken after the subject matter it covers.  Among the popular ones, we have epistemology if it concerns the question of the validity of knowledge; ontology if it concerns the question of the basis of reality; ethics if it concerns the question concerning the basis of human action; aesthetics if it concerns the question concerning the criteria of beauty. When it comes to the question of divinity, philosophy resorts to theodicy or if we turn to politics, we have political philosophy; for issues that concern fundamental questions related to our humanity, we have the philosophy of the human person.  Lately, we one can also hear of philosophy of science and philosophy of mathematics. In other schools here and abroad, one may also find courses on applied philosophy like environmental ethics, business ethics and philosophy of technology.

As one can see, philosophy excludes nothing in its purview.  Philosophy practically embraces the entire landscape of reality. Those who think of philosophy as a stand-alone discipline is gravely mistaken for philosophy’s real worth lies precisely in its ability to embed in other the disciplines the spirit of self-critique and rigorous inquiry. We do not philosophize if we merely subscribe to a particular philosophical doctrine or make ourselves blind disciples of this or that philosopher or worse, if we think and write as though philosophy will cure the ills of the world. The point of discussing the different versions of philosophy is for us to see the range of philosophy’s critical enterprise.  Philosophy has this distinct capacity to push the boundaries of its scope as wide as possible not so much by providing answers to all possible questions but by posing questions which enable it to establish “bridges”, to use the expression of Deleuze, with other disciplines. When philosophy dips its finger into seemingly alien frontiers like economics, quantum physics or biotechnology, it is actually engaging them in a kind of a critical interface in order to bring to the attention of the experts our human concerns. What appears like an interference is actually a necessary engagement which philosophy undertakes as a critical discipline. Philosophy does not compete with other fields of inquiry but puts itself at their service.

This is also the same spirit that we imbibe from studying philosophy. Philosophy introduces us to an interpretive life and makes more intense our yearning for wisdom by inspiring  and teaching us first of all to ask questions. A student of philosophy is a pilgrim and the questions he makes help him identify the landmarks in his map. A question is the first step towards understanding.  It creates the space and sets the condition of possibility for the construction of new meanings. It likewise opens up our sight to the multiplicity of alternative perspectives.  To live therefore an examined or interpreted life which philosophy offers us is to live a meaningful life.  It is to find the world and know it as if we see it for the first time.  We no longer look around us and see a world surrounded by dull figures and bland tones but trees, flowers, sunlight, air, raindrops which speak to us and out of whose language we are able to create meanings that make our lives worth living.  With philosophy, we no longer live inside the cave described by Plato. We become men and women of light, freed from the cave walls where the only images we see are shadows.

 

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