Philosophy is for Everyone

Have you ever found yourself wondering why the world is the way it is, or why you sometimes feel completely at ease with your life and, at other times, completely confused about everything? Have you ever marveled at a spectacular sunset or felt exuberant for no particular reason and wondered why? These and other similar questions could very well have resulted with an unintended brush with philosophy.

Although the very mention of the word can be intimidating for some, (from the Greek philos-loving + sophos– wise – love of wisdom or knowledge) we all have had thoughts, ideas, and questions that are directly probed by philosophy. Should we be content and never wonder? Should we merely accept our lives and our world just as they are? Should we simply abandon the search for knowledge if it requires speculative thought?

The question of what matters in our lives is largely a matter of individual prerogative. For some of us, there are very few matters that are of consequence in life, and to others, the world and their lives are overflowing with concerns that require serious contemplation. But there is much more to our existence than simply being alive, and there are also limits as to how much we can resolve in a lifetime. Somewhere between disinterest and obsession lies philosophy.

The fact that we do exist infers that something caused us to exist. We did not decide, “Today, I will exist!” Modern science has been able to determine, with a reasonable degree of certainty, an explanation of the evolution of life on this planet, and most scientists generally agree on the basic concepts of physics that explain the development of the universe itself. Anyone with basic intelligence and reasonably functional senses can acknowledge themselves (self-awareness), observe the world around them (sense perception), and with good cause conclude that they exist (cognition). Rene Descartes (1596-1650), the French scientist and philosopher, expressed this idea in the now famous quote, “Cogito ergo sum, — I think, therefore, I am.” The true nature of that existence, and any conclusions that can be drawn from our study of it, constitute some of the central issues of philosophy.

As a species, our continued existence can arguably be attributed to our ability to think and to be self-aware, combined with our other inherited natural endowments for survival. When threatened with death, our natural inclination is to at least try to survive. The philosophical question, “Why?” is a natural one for any thinking person, and typically one of the first that we ask as children. The search for the answer is fundamental to our nature as human beings. Recent advancements in the scientific realm have raised other important philosophical questions. The discovery that our universe had a beginning called “The Big Bang,” immediately suggests the question, “What caused it?” Thus far, we have been unable to uncover the cause empirically, and it may be that the answer lies beyond the reach of science. Once we venture outside of empirical methodology, we enter the realm of speculative thinking and philosophy.

There are many other less profound questions from everyday life that can lead to this same kind of thinking. Unfamiliarity with the subject or reluctance to attempt an examination of it because of not knowing where to begin prevents many people from enjoying the benefits of philosophizing. In order to prepare to investigate philosophy, it is a good idea to establish a few ground rules that will make it easier to avoid some of the common problems associated with its speculative nature. In his book, “A Preface to Philosophy,” author Mark Woodhouse provides some very helpful suggestions for anyone who is interested in philosophy but is unsure where to start. He offers four basic traits for a good foundation:

1. The courage to examine one’s cherished beliefs critically – This is one of the biggest stumbling blocks for some people to overcome. We seldom challenge our beliefs on our own, but rather only when challenged by someone else. By initiating the examination on our own, we avoid becoming defensive or feeling criticized.

2. The willingness to advance or assume a tentative hypothesis and react to a philosophical claim no matter how foolish that reaction might seem – In order to appreciate and understand a philosophical argument, it is sometimes necessary to suppose that a particular claim were true. Then, ask yourself some questions and consider the consequences as if it were factual.

3. A desire to place the search for truth above the winning of a debate – The goal of any philosophic discussion should always be, above all, a search for the truth, not a competition among the participants to see who can demolish the arguments of the others.

4. The ability to separate one’s personality from the discussion content – Philosophic statements and discussion can sometimes cause emotional reactions due to the nature of the subjects that arise in conversation. If you can stick to the subject and judge statements on their merit alone, discussion will be more productive.

There are very few people who can produce grand theories in philosophy even after years of study. Even though you may have no previous background or formal training, your thoughts are no less valid or important. Philosophy is not some mysterious, ancient voodoo ritual. It is a common, everyday investigation of questions and issues that we all have thought about at one time or another. Although you may not have had an interest in the subject generally, you may be surprised to discover that some of the famous philosophers through history have spent years studying questions that you have also pondered. Many people do not even recognize philosophical thinking when they engage in it. It can begin with wondering if something is moral or ethical, and progress to something as complex as life after death or the nature of reality. Everyone inevitably ends up struggling with some philosophical issue, and if you can allow yourself to wonder, you can arrive at philosophy.

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6 comments

  1. miche123

    Hi John, I’m often consumed by the very questions you pose above. I like the idea of philosophy too. Do you, personally, think we evolved from apes like Homo Erectus?

    Cheers

    Miche

    • jjhiii24

      Miche,

      It seems to me that our evolution as a hominid species has been sufficiently established by general consensus in our scientific community, and there is very little room for doubt, at this point, that Homo Sapiens are a branch on the tree of evolution with a common ancestral lineage which includes Homo Erectus.

      While there are discoveries being made all the time that fill in the story of human evolution, there really isn’t any question now that all life on this planet developed from simple microscopic life forms that became increasingly more complex, and that as the science of genetics shows, our primate beginnings are reflected in the human genome, which differs from those of other primate species by a very small degree.

      Philosophically speaking, regardless of the precise genetic and evolutionary path which resulted in our current embodiment as Homo Sapiens, we are the only species to our knowledge who can actually contemplate and consciously debate this issue. Whether our exact development as a species included now extinct species, or has common ancestors with species that exist today, in my view, is far less important than how we proceed NOW, as the caretakers of our planet. Homo Sapiens are the only ones who have the capacity to preserve and protect this world for our descendents, and regardless of the precise manner in which we rose to our present condition as human beings, philosophy is a very human invention that can illuminate our challenges and help us to forge ahead in the future.

      Thanks for your interesting comment and I hope there are many other postings here that interest you enough to visit again….Regards…..John H.

  2. Marc Schuster

    “[T]here are also limits as to how much we can resolve in a lifetime.” This, I think, is the exquisite agony of the human condition. Once we get our bearings and start to figure out what the big questions are, we’re immediately saddle with the knowledge that we’ll never figure them all out. But we do our best, and keep trying — and the traits you list via Mark Woodhouse offer a great framework for keeping the discussion constructive. Great post!

    • jjhiii24

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Marc. Even though we humans only have so much available time to contemplate the big questions in our lifetime, by educating ourselves in what has already been figured out, encouraging cooperative and constructive discussion, and taking into account the current ongoing research in our modern world, we can hopefully make significant progress by expanding our philosophical worldview, and at the same time, provide further assistance to the next generation of thinkers.

      It has been my goal from the outset here to contribute constructively to this expansion, and it continues to be a vital aspect in my treatment of the subject. I have been trying to present my ideas in a way that promotes discussion of ANY sort. My blog stats here show a fair degree of interest in human consciousness, but generating comments has proven a bit more challenging. However, I remain optimistic that if you build it…they will come.

      Regards…..John H.

  3. nickginex

    Dear John,
    I was highly impressed with your thoughts expressed in your article, “The Intimacy of Consciousness.” However, I have reservations about the belief in the “Big Bang Theory” illustrated in your article, “Philosophy Is for Everyone.” The illustration described a super-inflation of an atom to the size of a grapefruit and then to the formation of the universe. I strongly discredit the Big Bang Theory because it even from a philosophical hypothetical view, billions upon billions of particles could not have been released from one atom. The real question is how did billions of atoms coalesce to from a “big ball” that finally, under extreme gravitational pressures and heat explode into a “Big Bang”? In light of the fact that stars are being born and ignited due to gravitational forces pulling matter together, is a big bang necessary? Could not the black holes we have been able to discover be responsible for extreme explosions that can disperse matter back out into the universe and thereby continue the process of producing more stars? That is to say the universe is self-sustaining. But another question comes to mind, how did matter first form in the universe? Was matter formed by the creation of one atom via subatomic particles or by billions of particles forming atoms that finally came together to form the big ball, which initiated the “big bang?”

    Despite my disagreement with the Big Bang staring from an atom, I do share you philosophical view that there is a consciousness that pervades the universe. Please read my article on consciousness, which is provided via the link http://www.nicholasginex.com/2016/05/19/does-consciousness-pervade-the-universe/

    Thank you for your thoughts as I share your views on consciousness.
    Nicholas

    • jjhiii24

      Dear Nicholas,

      Thank you so much for taking the time to review my blog posts and for responding with such a thoughtful comment. I appreciate your kind words regarding the thoughts I expressed, and have spent some time these past few days reviewing your blog and reading the comments posted by your readers from your interesting essay, “Does Consciousness Pervade the Universe?” There is much to admire in your writings on this subject, and although it appears we differ on certain topics related to the subject of consciousness generally, I admire your open-minded approach to your views, and your mutual respect for others who differ in their opinions regarding what you write.

      The illustration about the Big Bang theory that I included on my article, “Philosophy is for Everyone,” originated in a science book for young people, and was not intended to be definitive or to explain in more than general terms. Scientific research by our 21st century physicists have gone beyond this general idea, and I recommend to anyone truly interested in a more comprehensive and up-to-date treatment of the science behind the beginning of the universe to review Stephen Hawking’s books, in particular, “The Illustrated A Brief History of Time,” and “The Universe in a Nutshell.” There are also several recent developments in presenting alternate theories to explain the existence of our physical universe, including the “integrated information theory” by Giulio Tononi, and String Theory as described by the professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University, Brian Greene. Whatever disagreements may exist regarding the nature of atoms and the forces of nature governing our physical universe, in my view, none of the science surrounding our current cosmology, nor any theory of consciousness eliminates the possibility that it pervades the universe and that it may have an existence beyond the physical universe. My own experiences, which I describe at length here in my blog, give me more than sufficient motivation and cause to express my ideas as I do.

      It’s very important that we show compassion and empathy toward our fellow living creatures, regardless of whether or not there may be some form of afterlife, and we should be able to discuss our differences with those who believe in different ways than we do, and still allow for a variety of ideas in the world. I appreciate your interest in my blog and will continue to review yours as time permits.

      Kind regards….John H.

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