PHIL 102 – 004
What is philosophy?
Philosophical views and their criticism
A philosophy is a comprehensive system of ideas about human nature and the nature of the reality we live in. The definition of philosophy varies with different idealists. Socrates identifies philosophy as the will to not just live life, but to constantly question and evaluate it. He believes people should stop living instinctively, like birds that fly south for the winter. Rather, everyone should stop and reflect in order to gain an understanding of what their life activities are ultimately about. John Stuart Mill, a more modern philosopher, subscribes to the notion that all knowledge is gained through experience, and that innate ideas and moral precepts do not exist. Through utilitarianism, he says that we should each act to promote the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. Another controversial philosopher, Peter Singer, develops his philosophy around animal liberation. He argues against speciesism, which is the discrimination between beings on the sole basis of their species. His idea is that all beings are capable of both suffering and experiencing pleasure, and thus should be regarded as morally equal in the sense that their interests ought to be considered equally. Each philosopher develops an argument for what philosophy is, and this paper will identify their beliefs and uncover the flaws, if any, in their definitions.
By asking many questions that people neglect to consider such as ‘What is true knowledge?’, Socrates essentially creates the foundation of philosophy as we know it. In his trial, he begins to explain the story of the Delphic Oracle, which claims that he is the wisest of men because he knows that he knows nothing. This oracle starts the baseline of Socrates’ philosophy. He says to his accusers while referring to a man he had once asked if he was wiser than he, “I am wiser than this man; it is likely that neither of us knows anything worthwhile, but he thinks he knows something when he does not, whereas when I do not know, neither do I think I know; so I am likely to wiser to this small extent” (Apology 21d)1. Socrates identifies here that he does not know everything and he becomes aware of that fact. His limited knowledge leads him to identify Philosophy as critical self-examination. To look within ourselves and ask the real questions, questions that look beyond everything that is given in order to acquire the knowledge we desire.
The basic principle of Socrates’ activity as a lover of wisdom was his often quoted statement "The unexamined life is not worth living.” (Apology 38a) This ideal, then, is connected to Socrates’ preferred mode of inquiry, the elenchus. Here, Socrates develops a way of questioning and dissecting claims of knowledge. Hardly ever does he put out his own knowledge, rather he ascertains various points that his interlocutor is stating and scrutinizes it to its core. This habit supports the ideal that one should stop and reflect on the knowledge already absorbed, and incessantly examine every detail until a thorough understanding is attained. In Socrates' point of view, none of us will ever do wrong if we prove to be wise, and our self-knowledge will lead to healthier, more fulfilling lives. Thus, the avid philosopher outlines his life in such a way that he will question what is not revealed to him in order to gain the highest understanding.
When Socrates states that an unexamined life is not worth living at all, a question comes to mind. As individuals and citizens of a democracy, what is at stake for us? The answer is nothing less than the best human life. The word “best” is an interesting one to use in this context. We speak of the best house, the best mobile phone, the best grades, the best job, the best food, and most of us have what we call a best friend, but who speaks of the best life? It is unheard of in society to speak of rankings at all. The ranking of