CHAPTER 1 – What is Philosophy?
I am Hank Green. And you and I are about to embark on journey. A jpurney to the whole world; your world. In an effort to figure out: what gives it meaning, what makes it beautiful, where its evils come from, and ultimately, what is the very nature of nature itself.
And, along the way, we are going to questions every aspect of your own personal life – why do you do what you do, why do you think what you think, why do you feel what you feel.
Now, if you have joined me on crash course before, you might say, we have learned about all that stuff before – in psychology, in biology, and anatomy and physiology. And it is true: Science can help us to understand our thoughts, feelings and actions.
But, in this particular journey, we are going to be exploring aspects of the human conditions that cannot be explained only by hormones and neurotransmitters, by personal experiences or hereditary conditions. Because, all those chemicals and experiences, that make us who we are, can actually raise asmany questions as they answer. Like, if all my decisions really are just the result of, say, how I am raised and what chemicals I have flowing in my brain, then are any of my choices actually free? And if I am not truly free to make my own decisions, or choose my own action, then how can I be held accountable for them? Yeah. It is going to be that kind of jouney.
Rather than you lloking at the world and describing what we see, we will be evaluating it. We will take nothing as given, set our assumptions aside – or, at least try hard to – and do our best to see the world as we have we have never seen it before. And for what it is worth, we will also be talking about Batman, and what Dick Grayson can teach us about the concept of identity. And we will learn how the Matrix can help us to understand the life and writing of Rene Descartes. And also we will be trying to answer unanswerable questions, and puzzles over paradoxes that have plagued geniuses for thousands of years. It is going to be hard, and enlightening, and frustrating, and if I do my job properly, it will stick with you long after you and I have parted ways. Because: we are going to do PHILOSOPHY.
These days, people use the word PHILOSOPHY todescribe some opinions they might have, on an approach they take on certain topics. Like you might have a PHILOSOPHY when it comes to golf. Though…I personally do not. But, we are going to use this word more narrowly, to describe a way to approach the world that traces its root back to Greece, 500 years before the Common Era (500 BCE).
This was a time of great intellectual movements around the world. Buddhism and Jainism were developing in Asia, and, at the same time, philosophical thought was emerging in Greece. There, scolars were tangled up in a distinctionthey were just beginning to make – between PHYLOS and MYTHOS – or, what we would now roughly call science and story telling. At that time, there were bards, like Homer, who were trying to understand and explain the world through their stories, whilst the earliest philosophers were using methods that were more analytical and scientific, although they did not really have the concept of SCIENCE back then.
So PHILOSOPHIA – literally the LOVE OF WISDOM – was a new way of trying to make a sense of the world. When the earliest philosophers used the world PHILOSOPHY, they basically meant “THE ACADEMIC STUDY OF ANYTHING”. Whick, like, I guess that included golf. But at what we might call the first universities in the western world – PLATO’S ACADEMY and its rival ARISTOTLE’S LYCEUM – MATH, BIOLOGY, PHYSICS, POETRY, POLITICAL SCIENCE, and ASTRONOMY were all considered PHILOSOPHY.
Eventually, scholars began thinking of these fields differently, as separate sisciplines. Studies that has strong empirical elements came to be considered sciences – a search for answers. So PHILOSOPHY came to be understood more as a way of thinking about questions. Big questions. And, today 2500 years after the Ancient Greeks frist brought them up, philosophers still love asking questions – often times the same questions – and they do not mind if they never get an answer.
So, what are the big questions that have managed to intrigue – stump – philosophers for so long?
One of the first might be best phrased as: what is the world like? Sounds simple enough to answer. Right? Like, just look around! See all the stuff? Well, this is the world like.
But the philosphical approach is not just based on observation – it has others, much more, complexed questions packed inside it.
When a philopher wonders what the world is like, he might really be asking:
– What is the nature of reality? Like, is the world just made up of matter and energy, or
– Is there something else going on?
– And, if it is just matter and energy, then where did it all come from?
– Is there a God? And if so, what is he, she or it looks like?
– And for that matter, when you are asking about the world, can you also be asking about the nature of yourself, as a citizen of the world?
– So…. What kind of being am I? Do I have a soul? Is there something immaterial about me that will survive after I die?
All these questions are ways to explore what philosophers call METAPHYSICS, one of the three main branches of PHILOSOPHY – an effort to understand the fundamental nature of the universe, of the world and, of being. Now, if this questions are not heady enough for you, we, as students of philosophy, also have a whole separate set of questions that are about how we know the answers to any of this stuff.
This particular strain of philosophy, which is like knowing about knowing, is EPISTEMOLOGY. And it poses questions like:
– is the world really what I think it is?
– Like, is everything I see and I feel and experience….is it actually….true?
– If it is not…then what is true?
– And what is the best way to go about figuring out the truth?
– Is science the best way? Or, are there more ethreal paths to TRUTH?
– Paths that science can never really travel?
And let’s say that, after a lot of searching and question asking, I begin to develop some answers and ideas and inkling what might be true.
– Then how do I know I am right?
– How will I ever know I am wrong?
– Can I be certain about anything?
Now, at this point I would not blame you if you are thinking “Am I real?” or “Do I know anything?”. Well, as questions go, this might not be super practical.
But there is another area of PHILOSOPHY that helps frame your thinking around what you do actually do – like, how you should act? And what you should attch meaning to. It is called VALUE THEORY. And it is usually divided in two main branches. The first is called ETHICS. You have heard of it. It is that thing it is said politician lack in supply and Jedi are supposed to have great in supply? Though, do not get me started on the prequels. In PHILOSOPHY, ETHICS is not just a code of what is right and what is wrong. It is the study of how humans should live with each other. Rather then just sitting around and judgung people. ETHICS involves posing questions like:
– How should I live?
– Is there any reason I should treat, say, strangers differently than the people I love?
– And, for that matters, should I owe anything to myself? What about the animals? Or the earth?
– And, if I do have any of these obligations at all, where do they come from? Who says?
Ultimately, whatever system you use to decide what’s good or evil, as human behavior goes, is determined by your values – that is why ETHICS is considered part of VALUE THEORY.
The other part of VALUE THEORY is not about what is right – but what is beautiful. Aesthetics is the study of beauty, and art. Now, the concept of beauty is talked about practically everywhere from the media, to art school and barber college. But for philosophers, the pursuit of AESTHETICS involves considering what BEAUTY is, and whether it even exists. AESTHETICS is part of VALUE THEORY, because BEAUTY and ART, are things we value, and evaluate. And many people who study this particular lind of philosophy – called AESTHETICIANS – believe there is such thing as THE BEAUTIFUL, something that does not depends on what you happen to find attractive, but something that is objectively true.
And, finally, there is one more aspect of philosophy which I should mention because it actually does not ask question, so much as help us to find answers. Yes, finally, some answers! And that thing, which I happen tot hink is actually beautiful in its own way, is LOGIC. LOGIC is the philosopher’s toolbox. It contains the saws and hammers, the microscopes and beakers that philosophers use to go about answering their questions is a clear systematic way. LOGIC is about REASONING, giving strong argument that do not fall victims to FALLACIES, which are, as you will learn, the mortal enemies of philosophical precision.
Ok, so, metaphysics, epistemology and value theory – they might seem pretty airy and abstract. But do not worry, because you have already done philosophy, even though you might not realize it. You do it almost in every spect of your life. Everytime you argue with your parents, or wonder if you should date someone, or decide to eat a salad instead of ham and cheese hot pocket, you are doing philosophy. Because you are thinking about the world, and your place in it. You are figuring out what you value, why you value it, and what you should do about it.
So here is your plan, we are going to learn about the major fields of philosophy, posing questions and considering possible answers along the way. And each time, we will use a TWO STEPS METHOD. First, we will really try to understand. You are not going to agree with all the ideas I am going to present to you – and I will not agree with them either. That is not the point. The point, in STEP ONE, is to really try to get inside an idea to understand it as charitably as possible. Then in STEP TWO, you will subject your understanding to some serious critical evaluation – basically you will try to knowck down what you think to know about a particular view of the world. And you will do this whether you agree with this view or not. Why? Because only when you challenge your understanding of how some people view the world you can decide for yourself if theirs is a view worth having.
Which leads to my final point: PHILOSOPHY is not your usual field of study. I am not going to teach you a body of knowledge where success means you know a bunch of stuff. Success, in this course, will mean you know how to think. All we have are questions. And you all have is a brain. And the GOAL OF PHILOSOPHY is for you to use your brain to come up with the answers that make the most sense to you. You will learn how to formulate arguments to support your ideas, so you can why you think you are right. Which, if you have ever been on the internet, you know is something that not a lot of people are good at. In order to do that, you are going to need to understand PHILOSOPHICAL REASONING – the tools we use to investigate life’s most perplexing questions! And that is where we are going to be headed the next time we meet.
For now, you have been learning about the historical origins of PHILOSOPHY in Ancient Greece, and its three main divisions: METAPHYSICS, EPISTEMOLOGY and VALUE THEORY. We also talkde about LOGIC and how you are going to use it to understand and critically evaluatea whole host of different worldviews. But not about golf.