The Scope of Philosophy.
Philosophy differs from other modes of knowing primarily by its aim. It attempts to evaluate life’s experience on all levels and in all realms in order to achieve a meaningful, comprehensive vision. Thus Philosophy evaluates such areas as religious experiences, aesthetic experiences, moral experiences etc. Thus for Plato philosophy was the search for the true, the good and the beautiful. Whereas a scientist aims at an accurate description of the facts of the world, a philosopher is concerned with the meaning, the logic, the evaluation and interpretation of facts. All sciences originated in philosophy.
The word Philosophy means love of wisdom and was first used by Pythagoras, a great Greek mathematician and philosopher. Heidegger – a contemporary philosopher defined philosophy as the “wisdom of love”. For Wittgenstein and Schlick philosophy is a body of critically evaluated propositions.
There is a general agreement that philosophy may be divided into three areas:
1. The study of the ultimate nature of reality is called Metaphysics or Ontology (Philosophy of Being). Metaphysics, which Aristotle called the “first philosophy”, is concerned with the study of questions of the origin and nature of the universe, the nature of being as being, the origin and nature of life and man, and similar problems.
2. The study of the nature, scope, and value of knowledge is the concern of Epistemology. The major problems of epistemology are: the possibility and sources of knowledge, the nature of truth and falsehood, the limitations of true knowledge, and similar problems.
3. The study of the origin, nature, criteria and validity of values is the concern of Axiology. To this general area belong Ethics, Aesthetics, Religion, Politics and similar sciences. All of them are concerned with value problems. Axiology as a general theory of values asks questions like,
a. “Where do values reside?”
b. “What constitutes the source and origin of values?”
c. “How are values recognized?”
d. “Can we ‘discover’ values or do we ‘create’ values?”
Since philosophy evaluates and interprets every area of human thought and experience there is Philosophy of Politics, Philosophy of Religion, Philosophy of Science, and so on.
The evaluative and interpretative character of philosophy demands that its function include one or more of the following:
e. a critical examination of the assumptions and ideas basic to the problems of truth, value and the world.
This critical examination is called analysis;
f. an organization of all facts relating to the problems of truth, value and the world into a coherent and meaningful
unified vision of experience. This unification of experience is called synthesis;
g. an exploration of the meaning of such a unified vision or picture of reality for man in his coexistence with the world:
h. This proposition of meaning for man is speculation.
Historically a number of different philosophical methods have been used and defended as leading to philosophical insight. The procedure of comparing one’s ideas with the ideas and beliefs of another by questioning and carefully analyzing the statements is known as the Socratic method. Its name originated with Socrates, the master of Plato. Socrates believed that truth can be discovered by this method of questioning because, according to his view, everybody has inborn knowledge of Truth from the soul’s preexistence in the world of Ideas or Forms. When the soul is at birth “imprisoned in the body”, it forgets the vision of eternal truths. The process of questioning brings forth the ‘forgotten’ knowledge into full awareness. The knowledge is in man like a baby in a woman. It needs “bringing forth”, being ‘delivered’ like a baby at the moment of birth. Thus Socrates compared his method to “spiritual midwifery”.
The analytical procedure from carefully defined general definitions, axioms and principles to more particular conclusions is called deductive method.
The adaptation of the scientific method for philosophical conclusions is called inductive method. Here the philosopher moves through the process of observation, classification, hypothesis, empirical testing, deduction, demonstration and organization towards the statement of principle.
The achievement of philosophical truths by disciplined contemplation of the Infinite is called the mystical method. This method is associated with all mystics of all times and cultures. It is most respected and dominant in the East, however, also the West has rich mystical tradition, although the Western mind betrays more bias towards scientific thinking.
The intuitive method is the attempt to achieve philosophical insights by looking within the self.
The formulation of philosophical problems through the formal theory of linguistic and symbolic forms is known as the metamathematical method.
We do not intend, at this point, to evaluate the above methods. Perhaps two points ought to be mentioned. First, that each of those methods had in the past and has at present many adherents. Second, that each method may be useful and fruitful as far as it goes. It would be presumptuous and dogmatic to discard any of them without careful analysis and scrutiny.