Question: Do all philosophers consider the same questions?
In general all philosophers are concerned with the same questions throughout the ages. This is true of the Ancient Greek as well as contemporary thinkers.
Some philosophers, like Aristotle, Plato or Thomas Aquinas developed comprehensive systems of philosophy which covered practically all areas of what we consider philosophical today.
Nevertheless many thinkers concentrated and concentrate today on selected areas in philosophy. Socrates, for example, concentrated primarily on ethical problems. His main concern was to get insights into the question: “What does it mean to live a good human life?” The nature of truth and falsehood, virtue and vice, justice, love, hate, conscience and responsibility, courage and honesty, is of prime importance of all his inquiries.
The Pre-Socratics were mainly interested in discovering the intimate nature of the surrounding world. Thinkers like Thales, s, Anaximander, Democritus and Leucippus, Anaxagoras and others tried to answer problems related to the nature of the physical universe.
In our days most thinkers tend to specialize in selected problems and are known as “specialists” in definite areas. For example, Phillip Frank in Philosophy of Science, Willard V. O. Quine in Logic, A.J. Ayer in Logical Positivism etc.
During philosophical conversations any area of philosophy may be discussed by all philosophers present: metaphysics, ethics, logic, philosophy of law, religion or politics. Philosophical problems are mutually interrelated. Advancement in one area may throw light on central problems in many other areas.
Question: Is there progress in philosophy?
Definitely yes. Although the essential philosophical problems are perennial in their nature, that is they must be faced by each generation again and again, there is a gradual development which is the result new depth of insight, new perspectives of vision, the widening of the horizon of knowledge, the accelerated progress of sciences in all departments and many other factors.
The revolutionary changes which occurred in many scientific fields in our times force philosophers to revise their interpretations and evaluations practically in all areas of human experience. This revision is a continuous process. New facts are discovered, new scientific theories are proposed, new evaluations are mandatory. Some changes in scientific areas are truly overwhelming. For example, the traditional understanding of the nature of “matter” time and space has been practically overturned by the discoveries in subatomic physics. The development of astronomy and astrophysics revolutionized our understanding of the physical universe and man’s place in it. Some modern insights in microbiology, genetics, psychology etc., confront us with crucial problems which simply did not exist for former generations. Each of these factors, and we mentioned only a few, deeply affect our philosophical understanding and necessitate a radical revision in almost all areas of philosophy. A new insight in one area of human experience affects other areas as well.
Philosophy progresses and evolves as the mental horizon of all mankind progresses and evolves.
Since philosophy is the most personal and most human of man’s concerns it must keep pace, and a sensitive eye on more and more complicated and rapid discoveries in all areas crucially affecting the meaning of human existence. For without some meaningful interpretation and evaluation of the human predicament men will not go on living.
Question: Socrates and many others made the statement that one of the primary concerns of each one of us should be to know ourselves. Can philosophy help me to know myself?
Definitely yes. Philosophy ponders the most personal and most fundamental questions of human existence and significance. The nature of man, the origin of man, the position of man in the world, the destiny of man, man’s ideals, goals, and aspirations are all problems central to any philosophy. Man’s knowledge is studied in epistemology, man’s behavior and the criteria of moral values are studied in ethics, man’s ultimate destiny is studied in metaphysics as well as in philosophies of religion. It can be stated that all areas of philosophy are concerned with man in the first place. So far as we know, man alone is philosophizing, and his main concern remains to attain to knowledge of himself and the meaning of his existence as human. It is obvious that neither part of this question can be answered independently, in isolation, as it were. Human beings are inclined to think well of themselves. This is true of individuals as well as of families, tribes, political and religious groups, nations and races. It has been aptly called the “egocentric predicament of man”. People are inclined to rationalize their faults and shortcomings since they do not like to feel guilty and to be considered failures. It is extremely difficult to achieve a realistic and sound self-appraisal. Nonetheless it is an essential condition of true wisdom, as Socrates insisted time and again, and most philosophers and religious leaders never tire to repeat.
Question: Can philosophy be taught?
Immanuel Kant and Edmund Husserl believed that philosophy cannot be taught. This seems to be true. A person does not learn philosophy, but to philosophize, that is to think for oneself. In order to think for oneself many conditions must be met. The most important is to decide to philosophize. Nobody can force someone to think if the person refuses. We all have the power, the capacity, to think, but it takes a free decision to use it. A philosopher can introduce a person to the problems, show them, point out their importance and implications, challenge the person and encourage, but ultimately it is something that must be done by oneself alone. Philosophy as the search for personal meaning of existence implies independence of thought, critical evaluation and philosophical attitude,
“A man’s greatness lies in the consciousness of an honest purpose in life, founded on a just estimate of himself and everything else, on frequent self-examination, and a steady obedience to the rule which he knows to be right, without troubling himself about what others may think or say, or whether they do or do not do that which he thinks and says
Down at the levee in Mississippi two men were dozing. One of them yawned stretched his arms and sighed: “Gee, I wish I had a million watermelons.”
The other man said:
“Rastus, if you had a million watermelons, would you give me half of them?”
“Would you give me a quarter of them?”
“No, I would not give you a quarter of them?”
“Rastus, if you had a million watermelons wouldn’t you give me even ten of them?”
“No, sir! I would not give you ten of them!”
“Well, wouldn’t you give me one lousy watermelon?”
“Say, Sam, I wouldn’t give you even a bite of one of them if I had a million watermelons.”
“Why not, Rastus?”
“Because, you are too lazy to wish for yourself! That’s why!”