What is Philosophy?

"What is Philosophy?"
Image Description: A graphic that says, "What is Philosophy?" in white lettering on a dark brown background. Extending in from the bottom left and top right corners are scalene triangles creating a frame. At the bottom and centered is a logo that reads, "From The Hearth."

As a discipline, philosophy is the process of understanding an argument by way of reason. It is an approach to research where a practitioner renders explicit someone’s reasons for their conclusions.

The origin of this English word comes from ancient Greece: Philo + Sophia

Philo – love

Sophia – wisdom

Philosophy – the love of wisdom

 

You can distinguish the philosopher as the lover of wisdom, from someone who is claiming to be wise.

To love wisdom does not require shared beliefs.

To love wisdom does not require truth.

To love wisdom is to apply reason as a process of understanding without having to invoke one’s own point of view as a reference.

Let’s consider a few concepts before diving in:

  • A thought is something that can be true or false.
  • Truth is a quality of a thought where the thought reveals its content; the thought is informative about what it depicts.
  • Falsity is a quality of a thought where the thought does not reveal its content; the thought is not informative about what it depicts.
  • Reason illuminates a relationship of inferential support between thoughts, whether true or false.
  • An argument consists of thoughts (premises) put together as reasons for another thought (conclusion).
  • An Idea/Object/Topic is what an argument is referring to; it is what arguments are in disagreement about. Ideas/Objects/Topics themselves are not true or false; they are the things that we have true or false thoughts about.

It is often necessary to understand more than one argument about an Idea/Object/Topic in order to understand that Idea/Object/Topic fully.

For example, a conch is a perfectly asymmetrical object; to only view it from one perspective would not allow for a full understanding of it. The graphic below illustrates this: each perspective could generate an argument that would contribute to an overall understanding of what a conch is, but each argument by itself would not contain that full understanding within it.

"Philosophy preserves multiple perspectives." A conch with 12 humans around it, pointing at it from a different perspective.
Image Description: A graphic of a conch encircled by 12 humans. From each human there is an arrow pointing towards the conch along their angle of perspective. Along the top it reads, "Philosophy preserves multiple perspectives." All graphics and text are white on a dark brown background. Extending in from the bottom left and top right corners are scalene triangles creating a frame.

To be reasonable is to be able to organize thoughts into a cohesive presentation of premises supporting conclusions. Therefore, being reasonable is about taking responsibility for organizing mental content.

This is NOT a common practice and it can be a challenging skill to learn due to western imperialism’s aims for us all to be

Believers (aka to be unreasonable, meaning that we are unable to provide inferential support between our thoughts)

rather than

Researchers (aka to be reasonable, having the ability to think critically).

If you are endorsing an argument based on belief, no matter what side of the Idea/Object/Topic you are on, you are not practicing philosophy.

 

Philosophy challenges the status quo because it naturally preserves diversity, and this can be threatening to anyone who / anything that requires shared beliefs or perspective in order to understand an Idea/Object/Topic.

The Western Tradition of thought has a long history of intolerance to philosophy in favour of a culture of conformity. This can be contrasted with the South Asian Tradition of thought where diversity is valued and preserved. It may come as no surprise then that imperialism is rooted in the Western Tradition.

Western imperialism asserts that one argument is better and therefore ought to be forced on / adopted by / assimilated with all other contributions to the disagreement. The graphic below illustrates the limited vision and misunderstanding can result from this process.

"Imperialism forces one perspective." A conch with 12 humans on one side of it, all pointing at it from that perspective.
Image Description: A graphic of a conch with 12 humans standing on one side of it. There are twelve arrows pointing in all different directions at the conch, but all twelve humans are behind only behind one perspective. Along the top it reads, "Imperialism forces one perspective." All graphics and text are white on a dark brown background. Extending in from the bottom left and top right corners are scalene triangles creating a frame.

The following is an example that I hope will illuminate the discipline of philosophy with more clarity.

 

Today at 12pm, Sean steps outside and gets wet.

Example argument: “Today at 12pm, Sean stepped outside and got wet (reason). Therefore, it’s raining outside (conclusion).”

This is Sean’s theory of today’s weather.

 

Today at 1pm, two houses away from Sean, Charlie steps outside and doesn’t get wet.

Example argument: “Today at 1pm, Charlie stepped outside and didn’t get wet (reason). Therefore, it’s not raining outside (conclusion).”

This is Charlie’s theory of today’s weather.

 

If Charlie is a philosopher and reads Sean’s argument, they might be curious about why Sean would say that, especially seeing as Charlie’s own experience in a similar situation was different. Here, Charlie is necessarily not modifying or passing judgement on Sean’s reasons through their own lens, but rather getting curious about Sean’s experience.

If Charlie is not a philosopher and reads Sean’s argument, they might say that Sean is ‘wrong,’ ‘dumb,’ ‘an idiot,’ or ‘needs to get a weather station.’ In this case, Charlie is interpreting Sean’s argument through their own perspective and experience having not gotten wet under similar circumstances.

 

Can you feel the difference here?

(I really mean feel: what kind of different sensations (if any) do you feel in your body between these two options?)

 

The Researcher uses the discipline of philosophy’s best practices to ensure that someone’s reasons for their conclusions are preserved without harm or impact, as they constitute a contribution to a wider disagreement.

When a Researcher completes this process of rendering explicit someone’s reasons for their conclusions, that package of premises and conclusions can be called ‘a philosophy.’

It’s important to note that valid philosophy may be based on entirely false reasons.

(Maybe Sean is lying and didn’t even step outside that day.)

Also, the Researcher may not personally believe the thoughts that the person is using to support their conclusion.

(After all, when Charlie stepped outside, they did not get wet. And they only live two houses down! And it was only one hour later! So why would Charlie believe Sean anyways?)

 

As it turns out, truth and belief DO NOT MATTER in the discipline of philosophy. When one chooses to think critically, they will realize that truth plays absolutely no role in the process of logic because truth is contingent. It changes based on circumstance.

Sean’s argument can still be valid, even if he is lying. And we all know that one hour can be the difference between rain and shine; both Sean and Charlie’s experiences can be true even when they lead to opposite conclusions.

 

Remember: The essence of reason is a relationship of support between premises and conclusions. Truth, on the other hand, has to do with whether a thought reveals its content or not.

Philosophy then, IS NOT about passing judgement (after all, this would have to do with truth, beliefs and interpretation).

Philosophy IS about understanding how someone came to a particular conclusion.

What arises out of the exercise of philosophy are a diversity of perspectives. There is no ‘right answer.’ Rather, we can understand the reality: there are many different arguments (aka premises leading to conclusions) regarding various Ideas/Objects/Topics.

 

Once an argument is fully illuminated, a practitioner such as yourself then gets to critique that argument using logic, working with concepts like validity, strength, relative merit, fallacy, etc.

And ultimately you can decide whether you are going to endorse that argument or not based on LOGIC.

Not on beliefs. Not on truth.

 

In a group of philosophers, there is no fear in having a diverse set of perspectives presented.

Because when people are empowered with the tools of critical thinking, they are no longer controlled by contingent factors like truth and belief.

This makes them far harder to manipulate.

 

So it is no surprise to me that western imperialism doesn’t teach critical thinking to the masses.

After all, western imperialism demands conformity and cannot tolerate dissent or alternative arguments. This is why it’s so violent; it destroys arguments that it can’t understand from it’s own perspective.

 

So how can you dismantle internalized western imperialism?

Practice the discipline of philosophy!

Practice listening to people and try to figure out their reasons for their conclusions, either explicitly in what they say or necessarily implied based on what they conclude. You could be genuinely curious! Ask them questions to illuminate further reasons.

 

Remember: understanding DOES NOT EQUAL agreement.

This is incredibly misunderstood due to our conditioning and socialization as Believers.

You can understand someone AND disagree with them if you choose to practice philosophy.

 

If you want to learn more about this, I highly recommend the following series of lectures by Dr. Shyam Ranganathan. You can also read about critical thinking and intro to logic online.

You have a choice available to you.

You can choose to be a Researcher, practicing setting aside your beliefs in favour of understanding something.

Or you can choose to be a Believer, filtering all of your experiences through your beliefs.

 

This is not to say that Researchers don’t have beliefs or opinions or preferences.

It is to say that Researchers do not use their beliefs, opinions and/or preferences as an input for understanding something.

 

So, you have a choice.

To love wisdom or to call yourself wise.

Which do you choose?

 

In practice,

Tara

 

This post is inspired by the work of Dr. Shyam Ranganathan of Yoga Philosophy

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What is Philosophy? – From The Hearth