Philosophy is one of the most overlooked fields of intellectual study. You attach your own personal philosophy to nearly every decision you make, whether it is conscious or subconscious.
It’s a thought-provoking topic that yes, you can try to ignore, but no, will not be able to escape. Inevitably after accepting philosophy as an everyday feature of your life the question of which philosophy to follow arises.
However, before attempting to answer this daunting question, it’s essential to learn what philosophy actually is. The complex nature of this inquiry begins with the definition of philosophy itself being a philosophical question. In fact, scholars have debated the precise meaning for centuries. In this case, for the sake of moving the discussion forward, I will continue on the premise that philosophy is defined as “The study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence, especially when considered as an academic discipline.”
When discussing philosophy in such a broad manner, as defined above, it is necessary to split your research into categories. While the choice of philosophic categories is partially subjective, common topics include metaphysics, epistemology, logic, ethics, politics, and aesthetics. I’ll briefly touch upon each of these categories in hopes to further your understanding of this highly interesting and important field.
Metaphysics, first and foremost, is all that has to do with the concept of being. It dives into what reality is and how it operates. This discipline is truly expansive, as it even attempts to examine topics beyond human nature such as gods. Other subtopics within metaphysics include free will vs determinism, time and identity.
Metaphysical views range, but some of the most prevalent include a view that everything we see is essentially a dream, another view that follows traditional religion stating that there is a reality but also a “beyond”, and a view that all that is real is in front of us.
Common metaphysical questions include, but are not limited to:
- What is “reality”?
- What is the origin of this “reality”?
- Are there material objects?
- How does something come to exist?
In its simplest form, epistemology is the study of knowledge. It starts from a very basic structure of what knowledge is and gets to a very complicated state of trying to find the framework from which knowledge comes from.
Many philosophers note a strong link between ones metaphysical and epistemological world views. For instance, if you view a god looming above all of us, you will logic to deduce that the same god is the stem of all of our knowledge.
Epistemological questions include, but are not limited to:
- Is knowledge of any kind possible?
- What distinguishes knowledge from belief?
- Which things can we know with certainty?
- What knowledge is present at birth?
Logic is the basis of what we see as truth, or in laymen’s terms, the study of reason. Aristotelian based logic seeks to determine what good reasoning is, as opposed to bad reasoning.
It tells us what makes a good argument sound, and what makes a bad argument weak. Logic is upheld on various fallacies like the straw man, slippery slope, and bandwagon. The way we deduct valid arguments is through set logic systems which include consistency, soundness and completion.
Logic-based questions include, but are not limited to:
- Under what conditions does a given argument for any conclusion actually prove that conclusion?
- Can we quantify over absolutely everything, that is, over an inextensible universe of discourse?
Ethics, often substituted for “morality”, studies the concepts of right and wrong behavior. Ethical questions strike to the heart of every persons core and often become very emotional.
Ethics as a system is present in every day life. Your ethical nature effects how you choose to interact with animals, fellow people, etc. Above individual people, we as a collective often try to create ethical structures within our justice system, governments, and wars.
Ethics-based questions include, but are not limited to:
- When, if ever, is taking a human life justified?
- Are ethics and religion tied? If so, what religion? Does this make non-religious people less ethical?
- Do all animals have rights? Are those rights equal or imbalanced?
- Is justice a construct or existent in nature?
Political philosophy‘s goal is to define and determine the best way to order ourselves in our given community. One attaches their view on governments to the previously mentioned disciplines like metaphysics, logic, and ethics. Different views of these topics can affect the power and education systems, along with treatment of people.
Political philosophy questions include, but are not limited to:
- Are governments necessary?
- What is the role of a government?
- What is the best government structure?
Perhaps the most overlooked category in philosophy is aesthetics, or the study of art. This field raises questions about different ways to look at and feel about art in ourselves and in a larger context.
Many see art in a variety of ways, but it includes beauty, emotion, or even forms of edification, critique or thought.
Aesthetic philosophy questions include, but are not limited to:
- What is art?
- What is the role of art in society?
- Can art alter our nature?
Please note that the information listed above is purely an overview, just scratching the surface of ever-growing philosophical questions we encounter. I encourage everyone to not only think about the topics listed above, but also to conduct your own research regarding these topics to truly immerse yourself in philosophy as a whole.
There is tremendous power associated with harnessing and interpreting philosophy, whether it be internally or in your society. Use this aptitude to improve your life, as well as others.
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