The Multi-Facets and Many Faces of Philosophy
Ruthie Grant, Ph.D
What Philosophy Can Be:
One would be remiss in attempting to
pursue a study of philosophy without investigating what Socrates,
the father of philosophy, stood for. As a lover and seeker of
wisdom, Socrates was free from a particular “set of truths or system
of doctrines” (Burr 3) which might have prevented him from thinking
for himself or opening up to new ideas. As Socrates demonstrated
through his work, it is not enough to contemplate philosophical
ideas, or to assimilate information for the sake of erudition, nor
simply to pursue enlightenment for the sake of that pursuit.
Ultimately, obtaining knowledge for the sake of knowledge is not
enough to make one wise. Wisdom is the application of knowledge.
There are many who “know” things, or are aware of truths capable of
changing the course of their lives, yet fail to put that knowledge
to good use, thus, failing to reach their potential. Fear of the
unknown limits the lives of those who cling to what is familiar.
Socrates’ belief that the “unexamined
life” is not “worth living” (Burr 2) speaks volumes to those who
have chosen to live an enlightened life. There is much wisdom in
the aphorism: “If you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for
anything.” In order to be true to himself, Socrates had to stand up
for his beliefs after being accused of corrupting young people with
his teachings for to relinquish his beliefs would have robbed
Socrates of his credibility and integrity since “the most important
issue is not whether one lives or dies but whether one is acting as
a just or unjust person would act. Here is impregnable
independence” (4). Socrates demonstrated intellectual independence
by having the courage to die for his beliefs. Modern philosopher,
Kant stated that “immaturity is the inability to use one’s
understanding without the guidance of another” (2
1. Freedom and Determinism:
Determinism presupposes that everything is totally
predictable in much the way that Universal Causation contends that
“every event has a cause” (30). The question of man as a free moral
agent, as opposed to a predetermined being at the mercy of causal or
natural laws, has been an issue for debate since ancient agrarian
times. Agrarian societies studied the stars due to dependence upon
the natural cycles of nature to bless their crops. While astronomy
may be a predictable science, mother nature is not. As a result,
ancient cultures were as baffled as we are about how much control
man really has over his life when pitted against the powerful and
destructive forces of nature. The Northridge Earthquake of 1994
attested to the absolute unpredictability of nature with its
thousands of aftershocks that left us humbled, afraid and in awe.
Hard Determinism does not allow for man
being a free moral agent. Its light hearted, irresponsible approach
contends that “the realization that man is completely determined
produces a liberating cessation of worry about the future (since it
is out of one’s control) and the fortitude to accept whatever
befalls one.” Libertarians make an interesting argument by claiming
“that if all actions are the result of causes ... then no actions
are ones for which anyone can be held morally responsible.”
Although this attitude might lead to a stress-free life, such a
concept could also encourage irresponsible people to abdicate
responsibility for their lives.
Since we have the ability to make
choices that create negative or positive results, we are, in effect,
free moral agents. The fact that we have no control over anyone
other than ourselves makes us accountable for our actions. While we
may not have control over the circumstances of our birth (e.g.,
poverty) we can and do make decisions that either improve our lot in
life (through education, work ethic, personal growth, etc.). On the
other hand, we can decide to do nothing (e.g., choosing to become a
victim) and keep ourselves trapped in the ghetto of our own minds.
2. God and Religion:
Since the philosopher “in examining
religious views, is concerned with their accurate assessment rather
than their defense or destruction,” the question that inquiring
minds might want to probe would be: Could much of the controversy
and violence surrounding the claims of each religion to be “the”
true religion, be related to the fact that most of the world’s
religions would have a tough time standing up under “accurate
assessment?” Is it no wonder religious fanatics become defensive
about defending beliefs that are difficult, at best, to defend?
Alternatively, spirituality as opposed
to religion per se, contains a more humane approach to the subject.
A spiritual person embraces mankind’s differences while looking for
similarities that will bring people together, as opposed to the
separationist view of religionists who see everything in terms of
“them” and “us.” As for whether or not God exists, those who
require concrete proof will not be able to believe it until they see
it. Yet, even if they saw God the question might arise: “Would they
even recognize him or her? There may be something to Dr. Wayne
Dyer’s claim that “you’ll see it when you believe it.” Belief can
be powerful, creative, or destructive.
3. Morality and Society:
Relativism contends that “the moral
views of people in other societies, no matter how much they differ
from one’s own, are correct for the people in those societies.” In
actuality, if the world’s religions were to embrace the simplicity
of that philosophy, there would be fewer religious wars and crusades
to change people’s beliefs or to convert them to a religion foreign
to their nature, culture or society. That would, of course, put
evangelists and missionaries out of business, which might not be a
bad thing when one considers the atrocities heaped upon unsuspecting
cultures content worshipping gods of their own creation, and
adhering to codes of morality that worked for them. That is, until
missionaries show up bearing trinkets and bringing the bad news of
hell fire and damnation, leading healthy groups of people to moral
and physical “dis - ease” by exposure to foreigners.
The fact that each of the fifty United
States have separate sets of laws that govern each state attests to
the difficulty of legislating morality within society. In
particular, when one is dealing with boundaries that shift. The
dilemma lies in the difficulty of trying to legislate
righteousness. The fact that criminal minds easily find loop holes
in new laws and use them to their advantage, or devise clever ways
to break laws without getting caught, confirm that each individual
has his or her own moral code that they abide by. For example, even
the most law abiding citizen will break laws that do not conform to
his or her value system as long as there is reasonable certainty of
not getting caught. Interestingly enough, criminals have an
intrinsic sense of loyalty to those of their kind. They even have
their own code of behavior, and administer their own brand of
justice within their microcosm. Thus, the Relativistic notion that
“the moral views of people in other societies, no matter how much
they differ from one’s own, are correct for the people in those
societies” has some merit.
4. State and Society:
It is interesting to note that, even
with the prevalence of grants for higher education, the majority of
Americans just say “No” in spite of funding by the local and federal
government. Even more alarming is the fact that Los Angeles has a
50% high school drop out rate. The irony is that although we have
free education, the percentage of the population in possession of
critical thinking ability has not varied much throughout history.
There has always been an intellectual elite with the money and the
power to govern the masses.
Burr and Goldlinger made a cogent
point: “The quality of a majority decision is the resultant of the
quality of the individuals who compose the majority, for example, a
majority composed of stupid people would be more likely to reach
foolish decisions than wise ones.” Allowing majority rule could,
therefore prove detrimental. Thus, there is a lot to be said for a
democracy whose citizens have just enough sense to know that they
don’t know and are smart enough to elect someone to rule them who
knows that she/he knows.
5. Mind and Body:
The advent of the computer age, with
robots that can think, raises the issue of “whether the robots ...
differ significantly from the men who created them,” or is man
“nothing more than a complex machine” (386). If the former is true,
then man would hold no “special importance” as being “alone because
he possesses an immaterial soul ... made in the image of God”
(386). Moreover, if “computers will eventually be developed to the
point where they can perform all of the rational processes of human
beings ... we would have a machine” that is human and “a human being
would have been shown to be nothing more than a machine” (389).
That being the case, one could argue against man having a soul
which separates him from animals and machines. On the other hand, a
machine could live forever with proper maintenance and upgrades.
However, no one has figured out a way, quite yet, to properly
maintain and care for the human body so that it can live forever,
although scientists contend that the body has the capability to live
forever. As a result, many cultures believe that the soul of man is
immortal, with the ability to transform from dense human matter, at
the time of physical death, to molecules too small to be seen by the
human body, which can live forever.
Materialists, dualists, interactionists,
epiphenomenalism, and idealism all debate aspects of how mind, body
and spirit interact, if at all, and what influence, if any, they
exert on each other. Materialists hold that man is “totally a
physical being” with no soul or mind. Dualists, however, contend
that man has both a “physical body and a nonphysical mind” (387).
Interactionism maintains that “both mind and body can causally
affect each other” although there appears to be no “explanation of
how a mental event ... can cause physical behavior” (387).
Explanation or not, the mind does influence the body as evidenced by
scientific research on how stress (which is mental) causes physical
illness in the body. Epiphenomenalism holds that “physical events
can cause mental events” but not the other way around. This view
seems a bit one sided. Idealism “affirms the existence of minds ...
but deny the existence of any material objects existing apart from
minds.” Apparently, idealism places material reality in the realm
of the imagination. Those who have to see in order to believe would
have a hard time with this.
6. Knowledge and Science:
Philosophers such as Thales of Miletus
of Asia Minor (585 B.C.) and Socrates believed in “knowledge for
knowledge sake” (464). As a result, they were at war within
themselves over accepting money for their teachings, which lead
citizens to question “what worth did knowledge have” if a man of
knowledge was “also a poor man” (464)? Since we live in a material
world where ignorance and idleness is associated with poverty, the
former question has validity, in particular, if the slogan
“knowledge is power” is true. Realistically, knowledge should be
able to empower people to enrich their lives. The view of knowledge
for the sake of knowledge changed “ a little over a century ago”
when philosophers such as Marx were no longer “content to understand
the world” but were ready to “change the world” (465).
The following doctrines struggle with
separating the senses from the intellect, which is difficult since
they are inter-related and interact with each other in the same way
that when a person’s senses experience heat, the body will
intellectualize it and react by sweating: Epistemology investigates
“the origin, nature, methods, and limits of knowledge” (466).
Rationalism contends that “reason alone is a source of knowledge and
is independent of sense experience” whereas empiricism “is the
doctrine that all knowledge comes from sense experience.” (466).
Pyrrohonism, or excessive skepticism, doubts “that cause-and-effect
relationships will hold in the future” (467).
Philosophers such as Rene Descartes
“sought intellectual certainty,” i.e., a truth that could not be
disputed or doubted. The theory of relativity, however, makes that
a difficult assumption since things change according to their
relationships to each other, thus rendering all truth relative, as
opposed to certain, since certainty changes in relationship to
different circumstances. For example, a dog is small when compared
to an elephant, but is large in comparison to an ant.
Almost any belief system presupposes
the existence of something else in order to substantiate that
belief, making philosophy a controversial topic particularly since
so few things can be proved with certainty. It is the existence of
doubt, however, that allows room for us, as cognizant human beings,
to challenge our minds, to stretch, and to grow in our beliefs. The
irony of philosophy is that every question we find an answer to only
leads to another question. Ultimately, any “proof of the existence
of knowledge assumes the existence of knowledge” (469). At times,
this ambiguity brings us back full circle in our quest for wisdom
with eyes that see the same old scenery in a totally different light
after viewing the multifacets and faces of philosophy.