This website is about thinkingóthinking about the "big"
questions. What am I doing here? What is love? How should I live my life? These
are questions that people have been asking since the beginning of thought.
Our speciesí first thoughts were probably related to survival. What plants are edible? How can I catch an animal to eat? What do I have to beware of? How can I use the things around me to make my life easier? How can I satisfy my sexual urges?
While those first thoughts have remained with us out of necessity, I imagine thoughts like what causes thunder and lightning came early on as well. We might think of early people as children in a world without parents to answer these questions. Their questions were similar to the questions children today ask. In the beginning everyone was at a loss to explain thunder. Then someone came up with the notion it was caused by a god wielding a mighty hammer. Gods were "invented" to cover all the phenomena that couldnít be explained otherwise. This thinking was essentially the precursor to philosophy which I define as the science of thinking. Check out Wikipedia for a more traditional definition.
Along about 2,700 years ago some Greeks started questioning the mythical answers for what was going on in nature. Philosophical thought was first recorded as such by Aristotle. (The word "philosophy" comes from the Greek philos, "love" and sophia, "wisdom".) Aristotle wrote on all the sciences and actually created much of the terminology that scientists use today. As more was learned about some of the questions new sciences were born. Botany, chemistry, physics, etc. were peeled away from philosophy. The individual sciences came into being simply because the more that was known the more interesting the study became and people who were interested in a particular area focused their thought on it, learning more and more. The more that was known, the more there was to study, thus each scientific area of exploration was born leaving behind, in the science of philosophy, the questions for which no answers could be found.
I see philosophy today in two lights. One is thinking about the
unanswered and perhaps unanswerable questions. The other is what we use to guide
our lives. The first is fun and good exercise for the mind. Sure, we may never
come up with a definitive, logical answer to our existence, to how we came into
being or what our purpose is here on earth but thinking about it is bound to
improve our ability to think. These thoughts might also lead to some refinements
in how we lead our lives.
The second kind of philosophy is what we use to guide our lives. For example, organic principles are my philosophy for gardening. Religions are philosophies people use to guide the way they live their lives.
What is the purpose of Philosophy? Philosophers argue, debate, and come up with their own evaluations. So, does it mean that in the end, arguments continue and the debate goes on and on? Won't it mean that nothing will be achieved, only the satisfaction of the person who made the argument?
Philosophy was the first science, just people trying to figure out what was going on, what life was all about. The more they learned about plants, the more specialized the exploration of that branch of thinking became until it got a name of its own, botany. A science may seem stagnant for awhile and then there will be a new discovery that will move our understanding forward rapidly. What you call debates or arguments are important to any of the sciences as people try to expand their understanding by coming up with theories and then putting these theories out for others to find flaws. Philosophy, being the science of leftovers, has some of the most difficult questions often dealing with language, sometimes with things that can probably never be known and most difficult thoughts that are common and thus accessible to just about everyone.
Can philosophy help society?
Religions are philosophies. Have or are religions helping societies? Some religions at some times in some societies have been helpful. I do think philosophy can help society. It is my greatest wish that there will be a paradigm shift in religious thought that will bring greater focus on individuals, individual worth and individual responsibility. This need not be a change in the underlying doctrine of individual religions but rather a difference in the way the doctrine is understood and practiced. If you are interested in more specifics of this thought, I recommend Matthew Foxís books.
Is philosophy for personal gain?
I should hope so. I think that thinking is good for each of us and that is mostly what philosophy is about, putting our minds to difficult questions.
If I just think about what you call "big questions", am I a philosopher?
I see two ways to look at being a philosopher. One is the
academic approach, studying philosophers and the questions they have dealt with
and their answers, and counter answers. This is certainly a good place to start.
If you donít understand the thought that has gone before you, you will be
beginning your own thoughts where the old philosophers began rather than
starting where they left off. The study of their thoughts will also help you
develop critical thinking skills.
On the other hand study of others can put you in a box of thought from which you may have difficulty penetrating. As you read some of my thoughts I hope they stimulate thoughts in you. You may nod in agreement at some and think Iím nuts with other thoughts. To do either you have done some thinking of your own. In my book, you are practicing philosophy any time you apply your mind to difficult questions, reason out answers, find flaws and refine the answer, and try the answer out on others.