Discipline of Philosophy
The origins of the discipline of philosophy can be traced back to the Greek mythology. Human ability to give a logical explanation to the myths that influenced their everyday life gave rise to philosophical thinking. This essay will provide a comprehensive outline of eleven lectures by analyzing the origins of philosophical reasoning and my opinion on the topics covered during these lectures.
The first class discussion delved into the bottom-up approach. It also expounded on Francis Bacon’s postulation that the difference between science and other disciplines lies in the lack of a pre-conceived mindset with regards to understanding nature. We also defined hypotheses, meta-theories and theories. Meta-theories are theories formulated to define another theory. They prescribe what is conventional and unacceptable to be termed theory. A theory is an explanatory framework for a given observation that gives rise to a number of hypotheses which have to be tested to challenge or validate the theory. Therefore, a hypothesis is a proposed explanation of the outcome of a study. We also discussed reductionism and holism. Reductionism states that a complex phenomenon can be explained by breaking it down into simple components. An example discussed in class focused on the reduction of a human body into smaller parts. Despite the fact that the smaller pieces still constitute a human body, it is not the same as a whole body. On the other hand, holism postulates that entities should be recognized as a whole, and not a sum of parts. I side with the definition that the holism theory provides in identifying given entities as a whole because it is impossible to divide some things and consider their sum as a whole, e.g. a human body.
The second lecture focused on the assumptions that bind science together. Scientists propose varying theories and assumptions that make it difficult to apply philosophies to different branches of science. For example, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs postulates that there is an order of needs that have to be fulfilled before an individual attains self-actualization. Different people will have divergent views on the order of needs to be fulfilled. For instance, some people believe that safety has to be attained before the physiological needs, while others believe that the order of Maslow is satisfactory. The lesson also touched on Sigmund Freud’s theory of id, ego and super ego that explain the aspects of observable and non-observable theories. The ego is the reasoning and decision-making component of personality, while the super ego is the personality element that distinguishes right from wrong. It is impossible to conduct an observable and testable experiment of Freud’s theory because the factors are intangible. An example of an observable theory is Skinner’s theory of efficient cause. For example, when a parent yells at the child for bad behavior, we can observe negative reinforcement conducted by the parent though the discernable act of yelling. Therefore, this lesson brought another dimension to the testing of theories. More specifically, some theories are observable, while others are unobservable. In addition, individuals will always have differing viewpoints regarding theories.
Greek philosophy and mythology were the focus of the third lecture. Philosophy gives logical explanations to mythological phenomena. The discussion was based on how Greek mythology and philosophy influence present day views on nature, morality, necessity and logic. Early philosophers like Thales – the first known philosopher – introduced the concept of nature. The book named Theogamy by Hacid explained the origin of the universe and the foundation of the two branches of philosophy – cosmology and cosmogony. Cosmology explains the structure and function of the universe, while cosmogony explicates how the universe got to be the way it is.
The Greek believed in the natural and the supernatural. Every god had different duties in relation to nature, because they had to maintain social order in the universe. This lecture provided an in-depth analysis of the Greek mythology and philosophy and it was interesting to observe some similarities in the Christian creation story and the molding of man out of clay by the Greek god Prometheus.
During the fourth class discussion, we analyzed the transition from mythos to logos. Logos is the mathematical way of reasoning, while mythos is the mythological way of reasoning. Ancient Greek philosophers used logos to give a logical explanation of the Greek myths. We discussed Thales’ understanding of nature and his propositions that everything originated from water and all things are divine. Ancient philosophers passed on their teachings to students via songs. However, students began to alter their content to improve their predecessors’ philosophical thoughts. For example, Thales’ student Anaximander proposed his own theory of the world. He argued that the world was suspended in space by geometrical forces and everything originated from “apeiron”. Anaximenes’ follower also developed a theory about the world. He declared that changes in the world arose when air condensed and discredited the existence of gods. The formation of laws was also discussed. Man-made laws are subject to change, while scientific laws like physics are unchangeable. This lesson enabled me to observe how the transition from mythos to logos was made possible when philosophers developed rational explanations of myths.
In relation to mythology, we discussed the Greek perspectives of cosmology, causality and epistemology in the fifth lecture. The notion of cosmology refers to the Greek link of worldview to myths and the mythological version of creation. With regards to causality and what constitutes the world, the class discussed how ancient philosophers believed that the elements of air, water, fire and earth were the building blocks of the universe. Epistemology was also defined as the difference between what is real and imaginary. All appearances are real or illusionary depending on our mental construction. Heraclitus believed that nothing was stable, and Parmenides believed that truth was fixed in time and only stability was real. The professor has illustrated that the truth remains in the middle between these philosophical thoughts. Xenophanes believed that one understood the universe better the more he/she thought about it. Pythagoras, on the other hand, believed that numbers stood behind the universe. This lecture gave me an understanding of the modern perception of reality as well as the ancient Greek philosophers’ worldview.
This next class discussion covered Greek philosophical teachings, which sought to explain the nature of things and answer the question “who are we?”. Heraclitus’ statement that no one is the same person across time is true because people are still the same despite the fact that age alters appearance. External and internal factors necessitate change in an individual. For instance, growing in an unstable background can change one’s personality or behavior, but this person’s decision to commit crime is intrinsic. The meaning of the Greek word sophist (knowledge) was discussed. Sophists are individuals who contend that knowledge is illusory and we know nothing. This lesson enriched me with the comprehension that philosophers discovered the right principle, which has proven the power of thinking and logics.
We expounded more on sophists and their belief that knowledge is inherently impossible in the seventh class. Sophists have propagated the idea that teaching is a profession. Priests, professors and judges command respect and have the power to influence people. However, people cannot be taught how to influence others or be persuasive, because they simply lack the skill or interest to do so. At the end of this lecture I came to believe that knowledge can be taught despite the sophist’s claims because if one cannot know anything, then he/she cannot distinguish right from wrong.
The subsequent lesson was based on theories that emphasize formal and final causes as well as material and efficient explanations of the universe. The operant and Skinner’s theories are the most prominent examples. Skinner believed that formal and final causes are unobservable. Therefore, he focused on material and efficient causes, which are publicly observable. Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development focuses on formal and final causes as the observable ways of human thinking. Thomas Hobbes’ view that the universe is comprised of a single physical substance has also been discussed. Hobbes believed that changes taking place in the universe are the results of the antecedent chain reaction, which excludes any possible holes or gaps. He stated that psychological principles need to account for the efficient causes that influence changes in behavior. Therefore, if we act based on our own impulses with no principles and our main objective is to maximize pleasure and minimize pain, then we will have no limits. This lecture helped to deepen my understanding of theories based on both formal and final causes as well as material and efficient explanations of the universe and behavior.
During the ninth lecture we discussed Aristotle’s four causes, namely, material, final, formal and efficient explanations, which are not used by everyone in addressing the question “why?”. I also believe that we use these causes subconsciously in different ways because we have different mindsets. Aristotle’s, Hobbes’, Skinner’s and Darwin’s views of nature are different from Rene Descartes’ theory. He claimed that if something cannot be described mathematically, then this explanation is wrong. I tend to disagree with Descartes because not everything can be explained in mathematical terms, e.g. an individual’s suicidal thoughts. Descartes also believed that everything should be intellectually doubted until a person can prove the hypothesis on hi/hers own beyond reasonable doubt. He called this process dubito, which means “I doubt” in Latin. Descartes also stated that the universe is composed of the mind and the body. He devised two means of thinking – parallelism, where two realms never overlap, and interactionism, where the realms always affect each other. However, he could not explain what causes the physical realm to arise from the mental realm, and vice versa. This lesson assured me that we should focus on interactionism as well as the means necessary control the interrelation of physical and mental parts in order to realize the world we want to live in.
In the next lesson we deliberated on the importance of good education and determined how Aristotle’s views differed from Socrates’ and Plato’s views on reality of the world. Being educated means having acquired a significant amount of knowledge that allows to attain an educational recognition, e.g. a degree. Individuals may want to attain education to amass wealth, respect or power. In terms of the reality of the world we live in, Aristotle believed in substance and form in terms of stability as well as efficient and final change. Plato and Socrates believed that the world we live in is unreal. Aristotle offered two different perspectives on substance vs. form. The efficient cause views the action that is taken to cause change to an object. On the other hand, according to the final cause, things change because they ought to change. Heraclitus believes that everything is unstable; stability is an illusion. However, Parmenides believed that the universe is unquestionably stable. This lecture provided me with an understanding of the importance of education and different philosophical views on reality of the universe.
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz’s approach to epistemological knowledge was discussed in the final class lecture. Aristotle’s theory postulates that we transform our senses from the outer world into a complete picture, which integrates our sensation into perception. Leibniz’s theory requires us to revisit the external fact that caused the knowledge to prove something. Leibniz stated that perception is the only definite thing that exists. Moreover, he concentrated on investigating the causes rather than stating what exists. Generally, Leibniz’s ideas appeal to the fact that the world consists of complex and simple units of perception. My view regarding this discussion is that Leibniz’s theory implies relativism in perceiving similar facts or objects of reality by people with different experiences in varying situations.
In conclusion, these lectures gave me a deeper understanding of how philosophical thought evolved from the Greek mythology. The arguments proposed by the ancient Greek philosophers regarding the existence of mankind and the universe were interesting to study. Some of them seemed outrageous, such as Plato’s view that the world is governed by numbers. However, I appreciate mankind’s attempts to trace reason in their existence and the inherent laws that govern logic. All of these findings it influence human behavior.