What is philosophy?

I have another article about media that I am working on, but I just finished my first paper for my philosophy class, and wanted to share it with you. So, to hold you over here is my insight paper #1, what is philosophy.

The question of what is philosophy is a most difficult one to answer. Philosophers themselves can’t even agree on a proper definition for their field of study. If you look at the breakdown of the word, you get “love of knowledge” which I always thought was an adequate definition, but the more I have thought about it, the more I realize I don’t know what that really means. But perhaps in this lack of understanding, a true definition starts to show itself.

What is philosophy? The basic answer of course to a linguist would be to breakdown the etymology of the word and come to the conclusion of “love of knowledge”. But, the philosopher would argue is more than that. There is a deeper meaning behind the words used or the data given. If a historian were to be asked, they would look to all the definitions in the past and find that answer there. The philosopher does not stay satisfied with the answers given by the past, but instead looks to it and dialogues with it, hopefully coming to a better understanding than that of the past. A scientist might look to the different things philosophy chooses to study, give them labels, and come out with a set of empirically accurate answers as to what philosophy is. Yet when shown these sets of data the philosopher knows that there is something behind the empirical actualities. We can conclude from this, that within philosophy, unlike all the other fields, there is a yearning for the deeper truths of reality. The philosopher realizes that behind the facts and the words there is something deeper to be wrestled with and possibly understood.

So, how then have philosophers defined their field? According to Plato, philosophy is “The acquisition of knowledge1” This argument, taken very much from the roots of the word, on the surface, seems fairly accurate. But, do not biologists go after or acquire knowledge? This definition, although partial does not do justice for the whole of philosophy. According to Nietzsche, “To grasp the limits of reason – only this is truly philosophy.” Nietzsche, in tune with the practices of Socrates who highly endorsed the realization of ignorance, points to a part that is absolutely crucial to philosophy, but just as Plato, does not encompass the entirety of it. For, if philosophy were just a personal endeavor to understand our lack of understanding, then it would end there. There would be no need for discourse or insight, for it would only be a personal perspective issue.

What if then, we were to combine these, with the idea that philosophers strive after something deeper? It is here that a definition starts to appear. It starts with the understanding of our limited understanding, then goes head on into the depths of our clouded perspective, in a desperate hope to have acquired some picture of true knowledge. Philosophy is the understanding of our tainted perspective of reality and the process of learning to see through this perspective, while realizing its existence, to come to a somewhat clearer and much deeper understanding, through critical thought and discourse, of the world in which we live.


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