August 2006

What is philosophy?

The nature of philosophy is itself a philosophical question.

The word has its roots in the Greek terms philos (love) and sophia (wisdom), a love of wisdom. Some of our department members stress the process, the pursuit, the love; while others stress the product, the wisdom, the truth it attains. All see it as some type of systematic and rational reflection on the things that matter:

Here are some of the definitions from our department:

Professor Monte Brown:
Philosophy, literally “love of wisdom,” is the systematic pursuit of what is true, good, and beautiful. It tries to understand what is real, what we ought to do, and the beauty we experience and make.

Professor Daniel Murphy:
Philosophy is the activity of rationally reflecting on ‘all-that-is’. While this activity is good in itself, it also has three major and related goals: to grasp truth, to express and articulate truth, and to offer insight and direction as to how we can be good.

Professor Robert Augros:
The etymology of the word philosophy is “love of wisdom”. Love of wisdom, however, is not itself philosophy but the beginning of it, and the catalyst for it. Philosophy itself is not a science but an ordered system of seven sciences; three theoretical (mathematics, natural science, metaphysics), three practical (ethics, family science, political science) and logic.

Professor Max Latona:
Philosophy is the systematic examination of the most basic questions concerning ourselves, the world, and God.

Professor David Banach:
Philosophy: 1. The activity of self-conscious examination of the most basic assumptions of any activity or discipline. From philo-sophia (Greek) a love or desire for wisdom, where wisdom means more than merely knowledge of facts.
2. A set of well reasoned assumptions that serve as a guide for intelligent activity. E.g., a philosophy of life. The result of philosophical examination.

Professor Susan Gabriel:
Philosophy is the childhood of the mind. We keep asking the questions that others are too grown-up to ask, such as whether there could be more than one universe.

Professor James Mahoney:
I use a spin off of Michael Novak’s definition in Belief and Unbelief. A philosopher is someone who tries to deal with the things of the world, other people and oneself according to the demands of understanding. This makes philosophy not a body of doctrine, but a style of thinking, a way of asking questions. It means being committed to discovering the truth by relying on evidence to check one’s insights by means of as broad a reflection as possible. The content of philosophy comes from directing that questioning to understanding the broad topics of 1) the nature of the universe, 2) what it means to be a human person, and 3) where human beings fit in.

What do you think?

When you start, you will be doing philosophy, and you will have set yourself upon a path that ends in wisdom.

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