What does philosophy mean? What is philosophy? It is quite easy to give a general definition of it, to say that it is the science of principles, the science of the first causes. The misfortune is that these formulas lend themselves to various interpretations and that they teach nothing to those who do not know in advance the meaning of which it is possible to fulfill them. In fact, philosophy for centuries has become confused with science itself. Its object was none other than the very object of human knowledge, the world, and the spirit. Now, this universal science has gradually been broken up, divided into special sciences, which seem to leave philosophy, which embraces them all, no proper object.What Does Philosophy Mean?

To understand what does philosophy mean, what is philosophy, what characterizes it, what justifies its right to existence in the present and the future, it is, therefore, necessary to briefly show what it has been in the past, how new conditions which, in a sense, transform it, do not remove the fundamental problem which it is endeavoring to solve and which continues to arise. The positive sciences seem to leave nothing out of their domain. From physical phenomena they gradually extend their methods of analysis to the phenomena of life and to the phenomena of the mind, but by that they do not render philosophy useless, if it is true that philosophy consists less in objects than in the point of view of which it considers them, and that it restores what science by its very processes tends to eliminate, the relation of all that is in the mind, without which nothing for us exists.

What Does Philosophy Mean According to History?

The words philosopher, philosophy (φιλόσοφος, φιλοσοφία) are found neither in Homer nor in Hesiod. Originally and for a long time this term has a very general meaning:  we call “philosophy” any curiosity, any effort of the mind to enrich new knowledge. We find the word for the first time in Herodotus. Croesus said to Solon: “I have heard that you have traveled to many countries as a philosopher to teach you (ώς φιλοσοφέων … θεω ? Ίης εϊνεχεν, Herod., I, 30). Thucydides makes Pericles say in his famous funeral oration: “We love the beautiful with measure and we philosophize without softness“.

The first thinkers continue the work of the old poets who explain the world and its evolution through the history of the gods. The problem remains the same, the whole reality, the world, and man; the method is transformed. Thales, according to the profound remark of Aristotle, only substitutes for the ocean and the Tethys of the theogonies the humid element. This change is a revolution that creates philosophy. It is no longer enough to imagine divine adventures, to interpret sacred traditions; one must observe nature and appeal to reasoning. The dominant idea that dominates and characterizes ancient philosophy, in the variety of forms it takes, is that the object of science is being in itself. The problem is to give a being a definition that makes knowledge possible, identifying it with the intelligible.

So, from this fact to the questions – What is philosophy? What does philosophy mean? – We find that the answer will be evolutionary through the ages. That is to say, according to the times, philosophy will have a specific definition. In the lines that follow we will see the definition of philosophy according to ages (epochs). Let’s start with Plato, then Aristotle, Descartes, and Kant.

What Does Philosophy Mean According to Plato?

Plato was born in 427 BC, two years after the death of Pericles. He is the first philosopher whose work has reached us almost entirely. Student of Socrates, whose memory he will defend, he is also the first figure of the philosopher engaged in his century on the political plane.

Philosophy, according to Plato, is “the acquisition of science”. Science is not sensation, it is not about appearances which, in a perpetual flux, contain no stability, therefore no truth; it is not “the right opinion,” which meets the truth by a sort of happy chance, and which cannot justify itself; its object is true being, “being absolutely and absolutely knowable”.  Its object is, therefore, the immutable, the identical, which is always like itself, “which on everything is precisely the being of this thing”. It is this object that Plato calls the idea, principle at once of truth for intelligence and existence for things.

In defining being by ideas, Plato first gives thought a fixed, permanent object, for the idea is not carried into becoming; in the second place, by explaining all that is by a mixture, by a combination of ideas, he establishes between these ideas relations which render possible judgment and reasoning. Against the disciples of Parmenides and Heraclitus, Plato appears to us as the defender of common sense.

From the very fact that it bears on what is immutable and essential, on what puts in things permanence and unity, philosophy is an overview, a synthesis (ό διαλεχτιχός συνοπτιχός). It is the principle of harmony in life and in thought. Identifying truth and being, Greeks cannot separate science from wisdom. How can one who knows of a true science what is he be duped by the appearances that are at the origin of the passions of the multitude? Virtue is only the action that continues the true thought.

What Does Philosophy Mean According to Aristotle?

Aristotle was born at Stagira, in 384 BC. Aristotle is the founder of the Peripatetic School. An empiricist philosopher, he is with Plato, one of the two great figures of ancient philosophy. Its importance in Western philosophy is immense.

Aristotle again uses the word philosophy in a broad sense to refer to all scientific research and knowledge. But “the true science of the philosopher,” philosophy in its true sense, is the first philosophy, “the science of Being as Being,” which deals with the causes and principles of things, but “with highest principles and first causes,”   to rise to the absolute principle which supposes nothing more. The science of the first principles, the science of the true reality, philosophy, for Aristotle as for Plato, is the universal science, the adaequatio rei, and intellectuals, which brings back the infinite diversity of things to the intelligible unity of the Being and gives us truth with wisdom.

Thus, for the Greeks, philosophy is neither a particular science nor the sum, the total of knowledge acquired, it is a synthesis. She studies things in so far as they form a whole, that they are related, in sympathy; she sees a man in nature and nature in man; it is attached to the principles which, everywhere present and everywhere acting, make the whole of phenomena a true universe.

If now we seek to identify the systematic idea that presides over these constructions, legitimizes their magnitude and inspires the audacity to build them, we find a naive dogmatism, which unquestionably identifies being and the intelligible. We do not start from the mind and its means of knowing, we do not criticize the intelligence, we take it directly to the Being, and we try to define it in terms that make it fully intelligible. The reverse effort of ancient skeptics is to show that Being opposes insoluble contradictions to the spirit.

What Does Philosophy Mean According to Descartes?

René Descartes was born on March 31, 1596, in The Hague, in Touraine. Descartes is the best known French philosopher. He was also a physicist and a mathematician. The Cartesian mind characterizes rational rigor because of its famous method inspired by mathematics. Yet Descartes affirmed that one hour per year must be devoted to the works of reason, one hour a month to those of the imagination, and one hour a day to those of the senses.

With Descartes, philosophy remains the universal science, the science of principles and causes, and the science of being. But if the problem remains the same, it is approached in a new spirit. In the first place, Descartes is already a scholar in the modern sense of this word, and he endeavors to define the relation of philosophy to the special sciences which it embraces, systematizes and justifies. In the second place, he does not start, as the ancients and scholastics, from the thing, from the being; he starts from the thought, from the reflection on his nature and on his laws. Criticism of knowledge, of its scope, of its limits, becomes, in modern times, the capital and first problem, to which everything is suspended.

Philosophy is still science par excellence, true science, which is about reality and whose fruit is wisdom. ” This word of philosophy means the study of wisdom, and wisdom means not only prudence in business, but a perfect knowledge of all things that man can know, both for the conduct of his business only for the preservation of his health and the invention of all the arts, and, so that this knowledge is such, it is necessary that it be deduced from the first causes. ” (Preface to the Principles of Philosophy.)

In close relation to the positive sciences, the new philosophy is no longer only contemplative, it is linked to action, it confers on man the dominion over nature, and by this must bring to the highest point his welfare to be and his happiness. The parts of philosophy and their order express this double function of linking truths to each other and of relating these truths to the practical consequences which make a man happy and wise at the same time.

The first part is metaphysics, which contains the principles of knowledge, between which is the explanation of the principal attributes of God, of the immortality of our souls, and of all the clear and simple notions which are in us; the second is physics, in which, after having found the true principles of material things, one examines in general how the whole universe is composed, then in particular what is the nature of this earth and all the bodies that are there find, like air, water, fire, magnet…  In consequence of which it is necessary also to examine in particular the nature of the plants, that of the animals and especially that of the man so that one is able afterward to find the other sciences which are useful to him. Thus all philosophy is like a tree, whose roots are metaphysics, the trunk is physics, and the branches that come out of this trunk are all other sciences, which are reduced to three main ones, namely, medicine, mechanics and morality. ” (Preface of the Principles).

Without changing objects, philosophy takes on a new character. Since the Renaissance, the special sciences, mathematics, mechanics, astronomy, physics, are distinguished and constituted. Philosophy is not foreign to these sciences, it is modeled on the most perfect of them, on mathematics, and, by linking their partial truths into a systematic whole, it links them to the principles which give them an absolute value…  In the second place, Cartesian philosophy does not start from being, it starts from science, from its idea and from the conditions it implies. Only mathematics, by the certainty and the evidence of its reasons, puts an end to arguments and grants minds. Mathematics is the model, the type of all knowledge.

All science must be geometrically treated, and all sciences are chained to one another in the manner of the truths of geometry. Truth is defined by the order in ideas. “The sciences all together are only the human intellect (Humana Sapientia), which remains one and always the same, whatever the variety of objects to which it applies, without this variety bringing to its nature more change than the diversity of objects does not bring them to the nature of the sun which enlightens them. Far from borrowing its light from the object, knowledge is the light that enlightens them. Knowledge by its conditions determines the principles of this order by which things connected to each other become objects of science.

This formal ideal, from which Descartes begins, since he first asserts that mathematics is the type, the model of all knowledge, determines the material content, that is to say, the very nature of the object to be known. The world is reduced to intelligible elements chained according to obvious relations, matter to an extension, physics to mechanics. On the other hand, Cartesianism remains from the point of view of ancient philosophy. Order in ideas is the sign of objective truth. The truth is the adaequatio rei et intellectuos, the adequacy that the ontological argument assures, by posing as fundamental truth the identity in God of essence and existence.

What Does Philosophy Mean According to Kant?

Emmanuel Kant was born in 1724 in Königsberg in Prussia. What can I know? What should I do? In what way am I allowed to hope? These are the three questions that Kant’s work tries to answer. These three questions can be summed up in one: what is a man?

Kant logically pushes the conception of modern philosophy which, to discover the principles of reality, turns to the mind. He would willingly say with Descartes: “The sciences all together are nothing but the human intelligence which is one and always the same“. But he no longer seeks in the intellect the object, the matter of knowledge, he seeks only the forms, the principles a priori which determine this matter. Starting from the experience, the empiricism of Locke and his successors stops too early in the analysis and takes, to tell the truth, the compound for the simple. There is no doubt that our knowledge begins only with experience, but it does not follow that they all derive from experience. Our experimental knowledge itself is an assemblage composed of what we receive by impressions and what our own faculty of knowing draws from itself on the occasion of these impressions.

Cartesian dogmatism commits an inverse and analogous error when it claims to construct the science of being by the mere development of the data of pure reason. The philosopher who tries to proceed mathematically only analyzes his concepts without leaving them. He remains in the empty forms of the understanding, he lacks to fill these forms the reality, that he cannot give himself, that he can receive only sensible intuition, because we have not the intuition of noumenon, of the thing in itself.

What does philosophy mean to Kant? What is philosophy? For Kant, she is essentially a critic. His work is to determine the prior concepts that dominate knowledge and action, to show their sequence, to make it a system. Thus understood, philosophy still deserves to be called the science of the first principles: only the principles in question are no longer the first laws of being, they are the first laws of intelligence and will, the necessary laws that the spirit imposes on phenomena in science and on acts in the moral life.

Does this mean that philosophy is thus foreign to reality, that in another sense than in Cartesianism it confines us to the empty forms of the understanding? It is not so. No doubt these principles do not allow us to define the being in itself, the absolute. Since by them all knowledge is relative. But these principles, by systematizing sensible intuitions, constitute the object, the phenomenal world that we think, in which we live and move. Science is not a happy accident; it unites all minds in the same truth since it is only the application to the sensible data of their constitutive laws. The idea of nature, in general, predates the natural sciences it bases, in that it gives a legal value to their first principles.

Philosophy thus remains for Kant the universal science, the fundamental science: a critical analysis of reason and its laws, it determines a priori the laws of our experience, the representation that we necessarily make of the physical world, the moral world, and their reports.

From the first philosophers of Greece to Kant, philosophy can be defined as universal science, the science of principles. But over the ages, as the method is transformed, its object is reduced and, so to speak, thins.

With Descartes, closely linked to the sciences, whose results she systematizes by justifying them, she is the positive science par excellence, the science of being, the science of the world, of man and of God.

With Kant, it leaves out of it the content, the material of the positive sciences, the object in its diversity, and it confines itself, by defining the forms of the mind, the necessary conditions imposed by the given constitution of the thinking subject, to draw the schema of science in general. But, in fact, is it not the very progress of the sciences that inspires Kant’s criticism and imposes on him the a priori forms he believes to discover through the analysis of thought; and therefore, to re-establish the true march of the human mind, must we not recognize that the idea of nature, of its determinism, far from being anterior to the natural sciences, derives from it?

Philosophy as “Mother of All Sciences”

In antiquity, as in modern times, the masters of philosophy were universal scholars, knowing all that could be known of their time. Descartes created the analytic geometry, Leibnitz disputes Newton’s discovery of the infinitesimal calculus, Kant proposed before Laplace the great cosmogonic hypothesis of the nebula to explain the genesis of the solar world. These philosophers sought the unification of knowledge in foreign metaphysical or formal principles, and, so to speak, external to science.

But today, at the same time that the sciences have become divided and specialized, the fundamental unity of the problem they pose and of the method of analysis which makes it possible to solve it has become more and more apparent. To remain what it was in the past, the systematization of acquired knowledge, should not philosophy henceforth be confused with science itself, by showing the relations, the sequence of the particular sciences, and the unity of the point, any objective that they allow us to take on nature?

Philosophy Is Subdivided into Sciences, Each of Which Has a Well-Defined Object of Study

Early on we realized the need to apply the division of labor to intellectual research. The whole of the phenomena has been broken up into groups more or less extended according to the analogies they presented. Each of these groups, thus detached from the whole by abstraction, has become the object of a special science.

Mathematics was the first to find their method and to be set apart, thanks, no doubt, to the simplicity of their object.

Still confused with metaphysical philosophy in the school of Pythagoras, who realizes numbers and makes them the very elements of things, two centuries later they are definitely separated.

Archimedes applies to mechanics and physics the method of modern science: to observe the phenomena, to release the relations, to apply the calculus to these relations. Eratosthenes and Hipparchus found Mathematical Astronomy.

The Renaissance takes up the tradition of Archimedes: Astronomy, Mechanics, Physics become independent sciences. Scholars no longer claim to deduce the laws of phenomena from universal and transcendental principles; they limit their task, rise from phenomena to laws, and, combining experience and calculation, establish in a definite domain relative truths, but controlled by facts.

Chemistry, for a long time confounded with the speculations of alchemy on the matter, finally becomes a science, in the last third of the eighteenth century, with Lavoisier.

Biology, in the nineteenth century, abandons the metaphysical discussions on life, on its unity, on its origins (animism, vitalism), to apply experience and analysis to the phenomena of living bodies.

The Science of man, the last, remains mixed with speculations about the substance, about the soul, about the unity and identity of the self, about the origin and destiny of the spiritual being. But nowadays Psychology emancipates itself and, by adapting its problems to the requirements of the scientific method, takes the characteristics of a special and positive science. Here, as everywhere, observation and analysis must solve the complexities that vulgar consciousness takes for ultimate realities, elementary phenomena, linked to movements, and which, like these movements, follow one another, combine and are composed according to necessary reports.

Thus in the past philosophy has been the systematized whole of human knowledge. But the dispersion, the lack of connection of this knowledge did not allow us to find in themselves the principle of their unity; metaphysics and its conjectures supplemented them. The immense problem, which philosophy vainly attempted to solve, was divided into the many problems of the particular sciences.

It is not up to the mind that has become an object like the others, an order, a composition of phenomena. Philosophy, then, has no more content, no own matter; it is without an object. Philosophy is without an object, in that the special sciences exhaust all that we can really know, the phenomena and their relations: “Any proposition which is not finally reducible to the simple enunciation of a fact,  or particular or general cannot offer any real and intelligible meaning ” (A. Comte).

Faced with this observation, there is a good reason to wonder: What is the role of Philosophy nowadays? And, also what about its object of study? Is not, however, the answer to his questions that will help us to grasp – what is philosophy? What does philosophy mean?

You should definitely read this article titled: Role and Purpose of Philosophy.

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