Edited By; Robert Guisepi
An analysis of the grounds of and concepts expressing fundamental beliefs
There was a time when many of the subjects now taught in school were all part of a very broad area called philosophy. Physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, sociology, government, psychology, mathematics, logic, ethics, music, and more were all considered proper subjects for attention by philosophers. As recently as the early 19th century, natural philosopher was a term for a student of any of the sciences. Specialists in ethics were called moral philosophers. As late as the 1850s it was common to hear Bunsen burners and other laboratory tools called philosophical instruments.
The word philosophy itself is from Greek words meaning "love of wisdom." But it really means serious thought about the most basic questions that human beings can ponder--questions such as: What is the true nature of the universe? What is human nature really like, and what are a human being's moral responsibilities? Of what is matter composed? What are the qualities of truth, goodness, and beauty?
DIVISIONS OF PHILOSOPHY
It is true that many subjects that once belonged to philosophy--such as physics, chemistry, and psychology--have broken off to become independent disciplines. This has not, however, left philosophy with no material with which to work. There are certain basic issues that have belonged to philosophy from the beginning and that are still its major concerns. These include the nature of the universe, the possibility of knowledge, the correct use of reason, the standards of justice, and the qualities of beauty. These problems are the subject matter of the five branches of philosophy--metaphysics, epistemology, logic, ethics, and aesthetics.
Metaphysics is a word coined almost accidentally. It is the title given to a book written by Aristotle after he had completed his 'Physics', and it was placed immediately afterward in the body of his writings. Whereas 'Physics' deals with the observable world and its laws, 'Metaphysics' is concerned with the principles, structures, and meanings that underlie all observable reality. It is the investigation, by means of pure speculation, of the nature of being--of the cause, substance, and purpose of everything. Metaphysics asks: What are space and time? What is a thing and how does it differ from an idea? Are humans free to decide their fate? Is there a first cause, or God, that has made everything and put it in motion?
Because the answers to such questions cannot be arrived at by observation, experience, or experiment, they must be products of the reasoning mind. Such matters are very close, in fact, to the province of religion and in Asia the answers to these questions are normally put in a strictly religious framework. In much 20th-century Western philosophy, metaphysics has been dismissed as pointless speculation that can never achieve positive results. Nevertheless, metaphysics has many defenders who still explore notions put forward by Plato and Aristotle.
Epistemology means "theory of knowledge." It is derived from the Greek episteme, meaning "knowledge," and logos, which has several meanings, including "theory." Whereas metaphysics is concerned with the underlying nature of reality, epistemology deals with the possibilities and limits of human knowledge. Basically it tries to arrive at a knowledge of knowledge itself. It is also a speculative branch of philosophy and tries to answer such questions as: Is the world as people perceive it the basic reality, or do people perceive only appearances (or phenomena) that conceal basic reality? What are the boundaries between reason and knowledge, on the one hand, and what some thinkers call the illusions deriving from metaphysics? What is the basis for knowledge? Is it observation, experience, intuition, or inspiration? Or is there some other basis?
Knowledge may be regarded as having two parts. There is, first of all, what one sees, hears, touches, tastes, and smells. Next there is the way these perceptions are organized by the mind to form ideas or concepts. The problem of epistemology is based on how philosophers have understood the relationship of the mind to the rest of reality.
For the average person, common sense says that there is a real world of perceivable objects. These objects can be analyzed and understood with a high degree of accuracy. Philosophers have not been able to let the matter rest there.
Plato taught that the real world consisted of universal ideas. The world that people actually see is given form by these ideas and is thus less real because it is always changing, but the ideas are eternal and unchangeable.
Opponents of Plato have claimed that the ideas were nothing more than names people have attached to the objects they perceive. Names of individual objects and of classes of objects are merely ways of organizing perceptions into knowledge. Thus people see one animal they decide to call "cat." All similar animals are called "cats," and a whole category of animals is thereby named without any reference to eternal ideas or forms.
Some 18th-century British philosophers, the empiricists, made a sharp division between the mind and everything else. The most radical of these teachers, David Hume, carried this division to its logical conclusion and declared that it was impossible to prove the existence of a real world. Everything known, he said, depends on perception, but perception can never get any evidence outside itself to verify anything. Real knowledge, in his eyes, became completely impossible to achieve.
Immanuel Kant met the challenge posed by Hume by saying there was a real world. Its underlying nature cannot be known--only the appearances of everything (which he called phenomena) can be perceived. Humans, however, impose a form of reality on the world by the way they organize their thoughts about it. They thus impose an order on their world through categories created by the mind.
From Plato to Kant and beyond, these are some of the ways that the complex issue of epistemology has been addressed. When the conclusions of nuclear physicists are taken into account--especially their studies on atomic particles--the problem of the reality of the material world and how much can be known about it is confronted with new challenges.
Ethics is the branch of philosophy concerned with human behavior, morality, and responsibilities of people to each other and to society. Because ethics plays such a large part in the way people live, it has always been a subject of great interest. Some thinkers have asserted that there are definite, knowable standards for human behavior. Others deny this and say that decisions should be based mostly on the situation in which one finds oneself. They are relativists--they say ethical decisions are related to specific circumstances.
This branch of philosophy is very close to religion. A large part of the Bible, for instance, is made up of wisdom literature, which is chiefly practical philosophy with a religious foundation. On the basis of ethics, Aristotle developed his 'Politics'. He moved from explaining how individuals could have a good life to how a good society should be built.
Aesthetics is the branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of beauty, the arts, and taste (or appreciation). The term is derived from the Greek word meaning "sense perception." The basic question for aesthetics is: How do humans judge what is beautiful? Is it a reasoned assessment, or is it merely an emotional preference?
Furthermore, do aesthetic judgments have any relationship to moral or scientific judgments? In conclusion then, aesthetics seeks to lay foundations for criticism in the arts, or it tries to show that such foundations are impossible.
Other approaches. Approaches to philosophy other than dividing it into five areas may be taken. It is possible to divide philosophy into two types: speculative and practical. Speculative is from the Latin verb meaning "to look at." Basically it means to ponder a subject and arrive at conclusions.
Metaphysics, epistemology, and aesthetics are speculative approaches to philosophy. Their conclusions can never be verified. Logic is an attempt to guide thinking, and as such it is a tool of speculative philosophy. Ethics, however, is often called practical philosophy. It attempts to arrive at guidelines for behavior based on what is the best outcome for individuals or for society. It seeks to present a workable approach to conduct and mutual obligations. It also seeks to answer the questions, What is happiness? and What is a good life?
If ethics is practical philosophy, it is reasonable to assume that politics and economics fall into the same category. It is possible to form idealistic theories about both, but they are so closely identified with human behavior that their practical nature is always in the foreground. What really works becomes more significant than what someone says should work.
There is still another way to look at the work of philosophers. Some have been system builders. They have sought to analyze everything and fit all their ideas into one comprehensive way of understanding the world. They want answers to every question. Examples of such thinkers include Thomas Aquinas, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, and Karl Marx. They created essentially closed systems of thought.
Other philosophers have taken the opposite approach, analyzing every separate piece of evidence and trying to explain it on its own terms. This was the direction taken by Aristotle, David Hume, and Bertrand Russell, among others.
Western philosophy has ancient, medieval, and modern eras. The ancient era includes the work of Greek and Roman thinkers, some of whom were influenced by ideas developed much earlier in Egypt and Mesopotamia. During the ancient era Greek philosophy was the most creative. The Romans derived most of their thought from it and built upon it, but they did not add much that was new. The period of Greek philosophy falls into three parts: the pre-Socratics; the work of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle; and the schools that followed these three giants.
Medieval philosophy, though it made much use of Plato and Aristotle, was most heavily influenced by Christianity. It began about the 4th century with St. Augustine and ended in the 15th century.
Modern philosophy represents in most respects a break with thought dominated by Christianity. This fact, coupled with the great increase in scientific investigation, aided the breakup of philosophy into the many different subjects that are taught in schools today. The Renaissance, the rise of humanism, and the Enlightenment laid the foundation for the way philosophy has developed since 1500.
The time is the 6th century BC. There are no telescopes, no microscopes (not even a magnifying glass), no laboratory equipment at all. Without these modern advantages, Greeks from Asia Minor and other areas attempted to explain the nature of the universe and life on Earth. These men were basically metaphysicians, who were looking for the reality behind all appearances.
The story begins with Thales of Miletus, a shrewd and intelligent mathematician who lived in the late 7th and early 6th centuries BC. He attempted to give an explanation of the world that does not depend on gods or mythology--but only on natural causes. He decided that everything originated in water, on the basis of finding sea fossils inland far from the Mediterranean Sea. Water, therefore, is the fundamental building block of matter.
Thales was succeeded in the 6th century BC by Anaximander and Anaximenes, both of Miletus. Anaximander explained the world as originating in conflicts between contraries, such as hot and cold and wet and dry. The cold partly dried up, leaving the Earth and its water. The hot turned some water into mist and air, while the remainder ascended to form fiery rings in the heavens. Holes in the rings are the sun, moon, and stars.
Anaximenes declared that air is the source of all matter. His major contribution, however, was stating that nothing can be created from nothing. Matter, force, and energy are indestructible. These ideas later reappeared in physics in the laws of the conservation of matter and energy.
Pythagoras, also of the 6th century BC, thought that number is the basis of reality because the forms and relations of things can all be explained numerically. Heracletus (late 6th century BC) argued that the basic characteristic of the universe is change. Permanence is only an appearance. Parmenides (5th century) said permanence is real and change only an illusion.
All of the above-named early philosophers sought to explain everything in terms of one basic quality. They were called monists, from the Greek word for "one." Later philosophers sought explanations in plurality. Empedocles (mid-5th century BC) believed that there are four basic elements: earth, air, fire, and water. Anaxagoras (also 5th century BC) taught that everything is made of infinitely small particles. Democritus and Leucippus carried this idea further by teaching that all matter is made up of atoms--not the atoms of today's physicists but similar tiny, indivisible units. The ideas of Democritus and Leucippus were of critical significance for the later development of physics, though they were generally discarded at the time. The Roman philosopher Lucretius based his work on them in 'On the Nature of Things'.
Late in the 5th century BC a group of teachers called Sophists appeared. They were teachers of practical wisdom who took money for their lessons. The first was Protagoras (died 410 BC). His statement, "Man is the measure of all things," indicates the Sophist view that the real world is the one people live in and see. The earlier "real worlds" of metaphysicians are, he said, pointless speculation. The Sophists were the first skeptics. They cast doubt on the merits of speculation and said learning to live and succeed in the real world is the point of philosophy.
The classical period of Greek philosophy lasted from about 430 to 320 BC. The first great philosopher was Socrates. He challenged the Sophists by saying it is possible to learn absolute virtue and attain truth. He sought universal principles by pursuing the clear, common meaning of terms, and he raised some of the basic questions of knowledge and ethics. He did this by question-and-answer conversations, now called the Socratic method. The teaching of Socrates rested on two basic assumptions: a person is never to do wrong, either directly or indirectly, and no one who knows what is right will act contrary to it.
Plato was Socrates' foremost pupil and recorder of many of his conversations. His 'Dialogues', even in translation, are some of the most interesting reading in Western literature. He developed a many-sided philosophy that includes a theory of knowledge, a theory of human conduct, a theory of the state, and a theory of the universe. He said there is a world of sense experience that is always changing. There is also a world of unchanging ideas, which is the only true reality. His world of ideas resembles a blueprint after which the objects of the physical world are fashioned. So profound has the influence of Plato been on human thought that the 20th-century philosopher Alfred North Whitehead said that all philosophy is "but a footnote to Plato."
Aristotle was Plato's most famous pupil, though he departed from his master's teaching on many points. His writings on nature make him the world's first real scientist, though his conclusions have long been superceded. His contributions are so great that he stands alongside Plato as one of the greatest thinkers of the ancient world. He said, in contrast to Plato, that the material world is real and not a creation of eternal forms. He taught that individual things combine form and matter in ways that determine how they grow and change. Aristotle was also the founder of formal logic.
Philosophy after Aristotle to about AD 100 was concerned mainly with ethics. Epicurus regarded reality as a random arrangement of atoms and decreed that pleasure is the chief goal of life. The Stoics, led by Zeno, believed that the universe is ordered and rational. The principle of Zeno's thought is to live in accordance with nature. He based his ideas on the teachings of Socrates. Humans, he said, must discipline themselves to accept their place in the world. There is a great deal of fatalism in the Stoic position. The Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius was a leading Stoic, who explained the philosophy clearly in his 'Meditations'. Another well-known Stoic was Epictetus. He left no writings, but his teachings were recorded and passed down in 'Discourses' by his pupil Arrian.
Another notable school of thought that appeared in the late 4th and early 3rd centuries BC is skepticism. Founded by Pyrrho of Elis, it asserts that humans cannot know anything for certain. No one can ever be sure that what is perceived by the senses is real or only an illusion. The skeptical view did not make much headway at the time, but it endured to reach new heights in the work of David Hume in the 18th century. It is one of the most radical positions taken in epistemology.
The Roman statesman Cicero introduced Greek philosophy to Rome, but his works show little that was new except in his political books. The so-called pagan philosophy based in Athens came to an end when the schools of Athens were closed by the emperor Justinian in AD 529. Its teachers survived for a while elsewhere, but with diminished influence.
During the early Christian era there were a number of philosophers called Neoplatonists because their basic ideas were derived from Plato. Their point of view also includes ideas derived from Aristotle and the Stoics. The most prominent Neoplatonist was Plotinus, who used his teachings to combat Christianity. He published nothing, but his notes were published as 'Enneads' by his disciple Porphyry. He taught that the highest reality is the good (or God) and the lowest level of reality is the material world. By his time the influence of Aristotle had almost disappeared, not to be revived for centuries. Plato's thought became dominant, even among Christian writers.
Christianity became the dominant religion of the Roman Empire early in the 4th century. For the next 1,000 years it dominated philosophy and tolerated little opposition. The chief philosophers were churchmen, especially teachers of theology. Platonism and some elements of Neoplatonism were absorbed and used by Christian teachers and blended with Biblical doctrine. Early Christian philosophy begins with Augustine of Hippo and includes Boethius, the church fathers, Anselm of Canterbury, Bernard of Clairvaux, and Peter Abelard. With the rediscovery of Aristotle, largely through the writings of Muslim philosophers in the 12th century, his influence became dominant for a time in Western Europe and reached its pinnacle in the teachings of Thomas Aquinas.
Augustine identified the eternal ideas of Plato with truths that come from God. This divine world of truth is encountered by turning the mind toward God's revelation. Augustine taught that the immortality of the human soul can be proved by its possession of eternal truths.
Boethius was a major channel of Platonist philosophy to the Middle Ages. In 'The Consolation of Philosophy' he teaches that the eternal ideas are inborn ideas that people remember from the previous existence of the soul.
Between Augustine and Aquinas the pivotal character in philosophy was Anselm. He used both faith and reason to arrive at truth. He is most remembered for his proofs of the existence of God, derived from Neoplatonist philosophy. Bernard of Clairvaux was suspicious of building faith on philosophical concepts. He developed a doctrine of mystical love as the path to truth. Abelard constructed a question-and-answer method for teaching theology, published in his book 'Sic et Non' (Yes and No). His main interest was in logic. He taught that the material world is real. Universal ideas, in contrast to Plato, are only names or mental concepts. This position, called nominalism, had great influence in sidetracking Platonism from its dominant position in philosophy.
During the 12th century a revolution took place that completely changed the course of Western philosophy. The writings of Aristotle were translated into Latin and were studied by churchmen for the first time. They gave teachers access to his scientific works and to his logical method of argument. Many of these Latin translations are based on earlier Arabic translations and commentaries by such Muslim writers as Avicenna and Averroes. The 'Metaphysics' of Aristotle was especially influential in turning philosophers away from Plato. The scientific writings prompted research into the natural world by such men as Roger Bacon.
Medieval theologians who sought to reconcile the doctrines of Christianity with the rational explanations of the world given by Aristotle were called Schoolmen, or Scholastics, because they were university teachers. Their philosophy is called Scholasticism. This merging of Aristotle with doctrine culminated in the writings of Thomas Aquinas, one of the great system builders in the history of philosophy. His major work is 'Summa Theologica' (Summary of Doctrine), a question-and-answer approach to teaching that has never been equaled. He posed questions, stated objections, then presented replies to every objection. Aquinas attempted to settle the conflict between faith and reason by showing that reason should deal with the facts of nature, but that supernatural truths of revelation must be accepted by faith. He said that some truths, such as the existence of God, are both revealed and provable by reason. Opposition to his teachings came from John Duns Scotus, William of Ockham, and others.
Opposition to Aquinas was condemned by the Roman Catholic church, but it persisted. By the 14th century there was a revival of Platonism and Neoplatonism in writers such as Meister Eckehart and Nicholas of Cusa. Aristotelianism lost its vitality, but its impact had been made. While theology persisted with Platonic ideas, the natural sciences and other research continued the path Aristotle had pioneered. Soon even it was overtaken by a period of invention and discovery that pushed medieval philosophy and other studies aside.
From 1500 philosophy took so many twists and turns that it cannot be defined by any one approach. The ideas of Plato, Aristotle, and others still had to be dealt with but mostly for their relation to practical thinking. Metaphysics still had its advocates, as it does today, but many schools of thought denied its validity. After 1500 philosophy found itself in a world characterized by the growth of cities, the appearance of new inventions, the refusal to accept God or the supernatural as explanations for reality, the invention of printing to spread ideas, the emergence of a new economic system called capitalism, the voyages of discovery to the New World, the Reformation that split Western Christendom, and a great fascination with the natural world and human abilities to exploit and understand it.
During the Renaissance a preoccupation with mathematics and natural science began that endured for two centuries. In the Enlightenment era of the 17th and 18th centuries, attention turned to the nature of the human mind and its abilities to master the natural world. The two main philosophical points of view were rationalism and empiricism. Then, at the end of the Enlightenment, appeared the work of Immanuel Kant, who tried to bridge the gap between rationalism and empiricism. With him the Enlightenment ended and the 19th century began.
The decades of the 19th century were dominated by many differing currents of thought. The discovery of the irrational as an antidote to pure reason manifested itself in the discipline of Romanticism. New ideas appeared in political thought all over the world: liberalism demanded democratization of the political process, while socialism demanded economic justice.
Early in the modern period Francis Bacon was an ardent advocate of the new learning. He held that knowledge cannot be based on accepted authorities but must begin with experience and proceed by induction to general principles. He helped lay the foundation for British empiricism, one of the main schools of modern philosophy.
Modern rationalism originated in the work of the Frenchman Rene Descartes. From the statement, "I think, therefore I am," Descartes proceeded deductively to build a system in which God and mind belong to one order of reality and nature to another. He saw nature as a mechanism that can be explained mathematically, while God is pure spirit. The reconciliation of these two orders of reality in a new metaphysics occupied many other philosophers, including Nicolas de Malebranche, Baruch Spinoza, and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz.
While rationalism was taking hold on the Continent, empiricism underwent new developments in the British Isles. The leading empiricists were Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, George Berkeley, and David Hume--all of whom made distinctive contributions to epistemology. They were mainly concerned with how the mind can know.
Locke, for example, stated that the senses are the ultimate source of ideas. Thus, all mental operations result from combining perceptions into concepts. Hume carried empiricism to its ultimate conclusion in his radical skepticism, contending that there is no justification for assuming the reality of either a material or spiritual world. No reality beyond perception can ever be proved.
It was Hume's uncompromising skepticism that awoke Immanuel Kant in Germany from his "philosophical slumbers" and led him to launch a brilliant, but in the long run unsuccessful, attack on it in his 'Critique of Pure Reason'. In it he deals with reason and its potential and limits. In 'Critique of Practical Reason' he examines ethics, and in 'Critique of Judgment' he explores the mind's role in aesthetics. Kant is another of the giants of Western thought, and his influence endured in the work of the German idealists--Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Friedrich Schelling, and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.
Hegel was the giant of 19th-century thought and the first great system builder since Thomas Aquinas. His ideas, and the powerful reactions to them, still carry great weight in philosophical circles. He formulated a logic that he believed accounts for evolution in nature, history, and human thought. Prominent German philosophers after Hegel were Johann Friedrich Hebart, Arthur Schopenhauer, Ludwig Feuerbach, Karl Marx, and Friedrich Nietzsche.
An attack on Hegel soon appeared from the north that was to influence all philosophy. In Denmark Soren Kierkegaard held that reality cannot be fully comprehended by reason because human existence is always involved in choices that are absurd from a rational viewpoint. He conceived of each person as a unique human being and that all people are responsible for their own development and free to direct their own lives.
This implies that one's existence creates one's essence, not vice versa--thereby turning upside down the whole history of metaphysics. People become what they will be; they are not determined from birth by a nature that determines it for them. The name of the movement that Kierkegaard inspired is called existentialism. His concepts were developed in the 20th century by Martin Heidegger, Karl Jaspers, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Gabriel Marcel.
In France meanwhile, Auguste Comte founded the philosophy called positivism. Positivism rejects pure speculation as a form of self-indulgence. It says that assertions must be subject to verification. Comte attempted to apply the methods of the natural sciences to the discovery of social laws. The English philosophers John Stuart Mill and Herbert Spencer were influenced by positivism, though Spencer relied a good deal on Charles Darwin's insights on evolution. He believed that the notion of "survival of the fittest" applies to society as well as to the biological world.
In the late 19th century some English philosophers absorbed German idealism (the name given to the work of Kant and his followers) and became critics of empiricism. Hegel's influence was especially strong in the writings of Thomas Hill Green and Francis Herbert Bradley. In the United States Josiah Royce advanced similar views. Earlier American thinkers tended to follow the lead of their British contemporaries. Thus Jonathan Edwards was strongly influenced by the empiricist views of Locke, while Ralph Waldo Emerson was an ardent admirer of Thomas Carlyle. The empiricist tradition in England was carried on by John Stuart Mill.
The principal contribution to American philosophy in the 19th century was pragmatism, first formulated by Charles Sanders Peirce. William James extended pragmatism to include a theory of truth: a proposition is true if it fulfills its purpose. John Dewey was the leading 20th-century exponent of pragmatism.
German philosophy after Hegel went in different directions. One direction continued the work of Hegel, creating a school of neo-Hegelians whose influence was felt even in the United States. Other Germans espoused irrationalism. Its two chief exponents were Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche. They displaced reason with the human will and its dark side, its propensity to seek power by any means. These writers, along with Kierkegaard, provided a nonrational explanation of human nature that came to the forefront in the politics of the 20th century.
Philosophy in the 20th century became captive to the universities. Few professors write for a popular readership. Two of the chief exceptions were Jean-Paul Sartre in France and Spain's George Santayana. This professionalism sharpened the differences between schools of philosophy, and it made the task of defining philosophy more difficult. There is, in fact, a total lack of consensus on the nature and purpose of philosophy. The main 20th-century schools are logical empiricism, linguistic analysis, existentialism, and phenomenology. In the socialist world Marxism still dominates.
Before defining these schools it is necessary to mention three philosophers who defy easy classification: Henri Bergson, Alfred North Whitehead, and John Dewey. All were basically metaphysicians but each in his own way. Bergson, in his great treatise 'Creative Evolution', says that the mind is capable of two different types of knowing. The first is the method of analysis, which is the means used in the sciences. The other is intuition, by which people are able to know their deepest selves and the profound truths of reality.
Whitehead was a mathematician as well as philosopher. Metaphysics was his main interest. He said it is the task of philosophy "to frame a coherent, logical, necessary system of general ideas in terms of which every element of our experience can be interpreted."
Dewey's writings encompass ethics, metaphysics, education, and scientific method. As a pragmatist he said philosophy should be geared to human needs. He desired to find the same positive underpinnings for ethics and politics that were being stated in the sciences.
Logical empiricism was inspired by David Hume and originated after 1900 by Bertrand Russell (assisted by Whitehead), Rudolf Carnap in Germany, and Ludwig Wittgenstein in Austria. They all insisted that philosophy must be scientific. This purpose was stated by Wittgenstein in his 'Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus' (1921): "The object of philosophy is the logical clarification of thoughts. Philosophy is not a theory but an activity. . . . The result of philosophy is to make propositions clear." All metaphysics becomes meaningless. All statements have meaning only if they can be verified. As for what cannot be verified (religion, for instance), Wittgenstein concludes in his book: "Whereon we cannot speak, thereon must we be silent."
Later in life Wittgenstein became skeptical of the logical foundations of mathematics and science. In his 'Philosophical Investigations' he turned toward a critical examination of ordinary language.
The school that emerged from his work is called linguistic analysis. This school believes that language itself is the object of philosophical investigation. Traditional problems in philosophy can be solved if language is rid of its obscurities and confusion. Other philosophers in this school were Gilbert Ryle, John Langshaw Austin, Susanne K. Langer, and Willard Van Orman Quine.
On the European Continent Edmund Husserl originated the branch of philosophy called phenomenology. His premise is that it is possible to examine the world without any preconceived notions about causes or underlying structures. By carefully exploring all the data available to conscious experience, it is possible to arrive at an explanation of essential structures of all phenomena. (Phenomena are the realities perceived by the senses. The word itself means "appearances" and suggests that there is an unperceived reality behind them.) Phenomenology, in other words, is a new approach to constructing metaphysics.
So diverse have the schools of philosophy become in the late 20th century that there seems little likelihood of any unity of purpose. There are still individuals who have high regard for earlier thinkers, because they addressed the world in which people live while seeking to explain it and its meaning. One such teacher in the United States was Mortimer J. Adler, who published 'The Conditions of Philosophy' in 1965 as a defense of traditional philosophical functions.
The rest of modern thought has become extremely technical and complex, dealing mainly with the nature of language, communication, and symbolism. Those who are determined that philosophy be scientific and those who are devoted to metaphysical speculation go their separate ways. The problem of epistemology, how it is possible to know, remains unsolved, but it has increasingly been taken up by scientists. Brain function is being analyzed by physiologists. Experts in the computer field pose the possibility of creating artificial intelligence. Following the pioneering work of Alan Turing in England, they seek to create devices that will match the higher intellectual capacities of humans--such as the ability to reason, discover meanings, and generalize from past experience. If achieved, artificial intelligence would pose a serious challenge to all previous views of epistemology and to the nature of philosophy itself.
Some Philosophic Terms
atomism. The universe consists of tiny, indivisible units called atoms. determinism. All events are the inevitable result of existing conditions. Free will is an illusion. dualism. The universe is basically composed of two elements, matter and mind. empiricism. All knowledge is derived from experience by way of sense perceptions. Epicureanism. This school of philosophy taught that the supreme good in human life is happiness or pleasure. existentialism. Based on the writings of Soren Kierkegaard, this family of philosophies teaches that humans create their own existence by choices and actions. hedonism. The pursuit and enjoyment of pleasure is life's main goal. idealism. Reality is essentially mental or spiritual. The material world is a lesser order of reality. intuitionism. Knowledge of reality is gained through the immediate apprehension of self-evident truths. materialism. Reality consists essentially of physical substances. mechanism. The processes of nature--animate and inanimate--are machinelike; the functioning and behavior of biological organisms are mechanical. monism. The universe is composed of only one substance, whether matter or mind. naturalism. Because objects in nature are regular and not haphazard, they are all subject to a scientific explanation. ontology. Nearly synonymous with metaphysics, the term refers to a deductive way of understanding. phenomenology. The world's phenomena can be investigated and understood without having to form prior explanations of reality. By exploring examples, one can arrive at conclusions about underlying structures. pluralism. The universe cannot be explained on the basis of one substance. It consists of two or more, such as matter and mind. positivism. The principles and methods of science should be used to guide individual behavior and to solve social problems. pragmatism. The meaning and truth of an idea are tested by practical consequences. rationalism. Truth and knowledge are gained by reason rather than by experience or perception. realism (the name for two separate doctrines). 1. General ideas are not merely terms but refer to real things. 2. Material objects exist independently of any knowledge or perception of them. Scholasticism. Late medieval philosophy taught by university professors, or Schoolmen, was given this name. skepticism. All philosophical assumptions can be challenged on the ground that it is impossible to prove that there can be any real knowledge of the world. Sophist. The term means "sage," but it was applied specifically to teachers of wisdom who charged for their lessons. Stoicism. Through reason it is possible to view the world as rational. In regulating one's life, the individual learns to accept what happens with a tranquil mind. In everything, duty to society is performed. transcendentalism. Humans are intuitively aware of a reality beyond sensory phenomena. utilitarianism. Social actions are valid if they promote the greatest good for the greatest number. Consequences are therefore more significant than motive.