Monday, January 16, 2012

What is philosophy Part 2

Not satisfied with the OED definition, let's take a look in the bible for looking-things-up pre the Internet era, Encylopædia Britannica.

The Ninth Edition of Britannia is a wonderful publication. Published in 1885, it contains articles written by some of the leading academics of the day. I was lucky enough to find a set in good condition at Barter Books in Alnwick in Northumberland many years ago.

Britannica has a five page article on the subject of philosophy. Consulting the List of Contributors in the Index we can see that the article was written by Andrew Seth MA, Professor of Logic at St Andrews University*
Extracts from EB:
  • The meaning and scope of the term philosophy has varied considerably according to the usage of different authors and different ages
  • Helpful introduction is to look at the historical use of the term in the history of Greek thought
  • The tradition which assigns the first use of the word to Pythagorus "has hardly any claim to be regarded as authentic" [I love the use of language in old editions of Britannica]
  • First used as a Greek verb by Herodotus and Thucydides, implying the pursuit of knowledge
  • A specific sense of the word firsts meets us in Plato, who defines the philosopher as one who apprehends the essence or reality of things in opposition to the man who dwells in appearances and the shows of sense
  • Logic, ethics, and physics, psychology, theory of knowledge, and metaphysics are all fused together by Plato in a semi-religious synthesis
  • It is not until we come to Aristotle - the enclopædist of the ancient world - that we find a demarcation of the different philosophic disciplines, corresponding, in the main, to that still current [in 1885 that is]
  • The earliest philosopher, or physiologers, had occupied themselves chiefly with what we may call cosmology; the one question which covers everything for them is that of the underlying substance of the world around them
  • In Socrates and Plato, the start is made from a consideration of man's moral and intellectual activity; but knowledge and action are confused with one another, as in the Socratic doctrine that virtue is knowledge
  • To this correspond the Platonic confusion of logic and ethics and the attempt to substitute a theory of concepts for a metaphysic of reality
  • Aristotle separated the different aspects of reality here confounded, and became the founder of logic, psychology, ethics and æsthetics as separate sciences - while he prefixed to all enquiries the investigation of the ultimate nature of existence
  • By the gradual sifting out of the special sciences, philosophy came to embrace primarily the inquiries grouped as "metaphysics" or "first philosophy" i.e. ontology proper (or the science of being as such) with its branch sciences of rational psychology, cosmology and (rational or natural) theology
  • Subsidiary to metaphysics stand the sciences of logic and ethics, to which may be added æsthetics
  • These are the three normative** sciences, which do not, primarily, describe facts, but rather prescribe ends
  • It is with the ultimate synthesis that philosophy concerns itself, the sciences may be said to furnish philosophy with its matter, but philosophical criticism reacts upon the matter thus furnished, and transforms it
More from Britannica tomorrow, in particular delving further into the meaning of æsthetics

*According to the St Andrews University's website:
Andrew Seth Pringle-Pattison (1856-1931) was born in Edinburgh. He was professor of philosophy at University College, Cardiff (1883-87), and then professor of Logic and Metaphysics at St. Andrews (1887-91) and at Edinburgh (1891-1919). He added Pringle-Pattison to his name in 1898 to meet the conditions of a bequest. He was an influential teacher, and in his writings he examined philosophy through critical interpretations of the great philosophers. He wrote Scottish Philosophy: a comparison of the Scottish and German answers to Hume (1885), Hegelianism and Personality (1887), Man's Place in the Cosmos (1897), The Idea of God in the Light of Recent Philosophy (1917), The Idea of Immortality (1922), and Studies in the Philosophy of Religion (1930).

**In philosophy, normative statements affirm how things should or ought to be, how to value them, which things are good or bad, which actions are right or wrong. Normative is usually contrasted with positive (i.e. descriptive, explanatory, or constative) claims when describing types of theories, beliefs, or propositions. Positive statements are factual statements that attempt to describe reality. (from Wikipedia)

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