Philosophy comes from the Ancient Greek words for “love of wisdom.” It is the search for truth based on reason rather than religious teaching. Most philosophy is concerned with questions of being, knowing, and acting, such as: “Why are we here?”; “What is real?”; and “How should we behave?”
Table 30. FAMOUS SAYINGS BY FAMOUS PHILOSOPHERS
|Man is the measure of all things||Protagoras c. 5th century BCE|
|Knowledge is power||Francis Bacon 1561–1626|
|I think, therefore I am||René Descartes 1596–1650|
|[Without] law, there is no freedom||John Locke 1632–1704|
|Man was born free, and everywhere he is in chains||Jean-Jacques Rousseau 1712–1778|
|Man makes himself||Jean-Paul Sartre 1905–1980|
We do not know when philosophy began. The Western tradition originates with the writings of Ancient Greek thinkers, such as Plato and Aristotle, from 500 BCE onward. Plato and Aristotle’s thoughts on logic, science, classification, ethics, and politics have guided Western thought for over 2,000 years.
Like religion, philosophy tries to explain the mystery of the world and of human existence. Unlike religion, which relies on faith, philosophy applies reasoned thought to its problems, such as the question of moral obligation or free will.
In philosophy, logic is the search for a way of distinguishing good from bad thinking. The classic example given by Aristotle shows how a conclusion may be drawn from two facts. If “Socrates is a man,” and “All men are mortal,” then “Socrates is mortal.”
The question of truth—what it is and how to recognize it—is among the oldest and most controversial in philosophy. Some philosophers believe that the abstract rules of mathematics are a kind of absolute truth. Others believe there is no such thing as absolute truth, only the relative truth of individual or cultural viewpoints—that “Man is the measure of all things.”
The question of free will—a major concern of many religions, too—revolves around the question of what controls our lives. Can we choose our own destiny, or are our actions limited by what has gone before (determinism) or by God’s will (predestination)?
Ethics, or moral philosophy, is the study of how people create moral systems and judge right and wrong behavior. Does good behavior come from duty to God or a person’s own sense of how to live a proper life? Not all societies share the same ethical truth—in general, Eastern societies place more emphasis on collective duty than Western societies do.
Liberty towers over New York Harbor as a symbol of liberal democracy. The ideas that inspired American independence in 1776 were developed by political philosophers such as John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.