Home Philosophy The handy philosophy answer book
Did philosophy lead to the other sciences all at once?
No, until the end of the seventeenth century, the physical sciences were called "Natural Philosophy"; until the nineteenth century, there were no social sciences and their work was done in philosophy.
What's the difference between the practice of philosophy and the subject of philosophy?
Besides being an activity, philosophy is also a field of study, like psychology, history, biology, or literature. When philosophy is studied as a subject, a lot of what's studied is the history of philosophy in the form of writings by past philosophers. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, philosophy is mainly an academic discipline, which branches off into specializations and subfields. As a practice, the activities of academic philosophers consist of college teaching and the writing of scholarly texts, which are contributions and additions to the field of philosophy as a body of knowledge that can be studied.
How is philosophy related to other fields?
Philosophy is now a subject in the humanities within the college curriculum. Its primary purpose is to study and develop systematic habits of thought that will enable students to recognize and evaluate their own life choices and understand the society in which they live. Because so much of philosophy focuses on ideas, beliefs, and values, it is rather easily connected to literature and projects in contemporary cultural criticism and analysis in other fields. Toward the end of the twentieth century, philosophers began to apply their work to other fields, for example via medical ethics and business ethics. The relevance of philosophy also increased as philosophers added feminism, environmental issues, and questions about social justice to their curricula.
Did the study of some of the sciences get their start in philosophy?
Yes. Until the end of the seventeenth century, the physical sciences were called "Natural Philosophy," and until the nineteenth century there were no social sciences. Social science work was done under the name of philosophy. Many sciences have their roots in philosophical debates. Western science began with the Pre-Socratics in the seventh century b.c.e. The Pre-Socratics were the first Westerners in recorded history to think about the world using reason instead of myth. Much later, Western science got another big boost from Isaac Newton (1643-1727), who practiced what was then called "natural philosophy" and persists to this day as "physics."
Chemistry also got its start through philosophical inquiry by Newton's contemporary Robert Boyle (1627-1691). In the early twentieth century, the philosopher William James (1842-1910) founded the science of psychology. And in the middle of
The sciences that we have today—everything from astronomy and chemistry to physics and psychology—have their origins in philosophy (iStock).
the twentieth century, Noam Chomsky (1928—) combined philosophy with linguistics to get the new field of cognitive science started.
There are similar origins in the social sciences: ideals of government and forms of government—topics now falling into the category of political science—were first theorized by philosophers such as Plato (c. 428—c. 348 b.c.e.), Aristotle (384—322 b.c.e.), Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225—1274), Thomas Hobbes (1588—1679), John Locke (1632—1704), and John Stuart Mill (1806—1873). Karl Marx (1818—1883), who is credited with developing the theoretical foundation of communism and socialism, modified the ideas of philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770—1831).
The first systematic historian was a philosopher, Giovanni Battista (Giambattista) Vico (also Vigo; 1668—1744), as was the first sociologist, the philosophical positivist Auguste Comte (full name, Isidore Marie Auguste Frangois Xavier Comte; 1798—1857); and the philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724—1804) is usually credited with having founded anthropology.
In the twentieth century, social movements have received valuable inspiration from the work of philosophers: for instance, the women's movement from Simone de Beauvoir (1908—1986), the civil rights movement from W.E.B. Du Bois (1868—1963), the animal rights movement from Peter Singer (1946—), and the environmental preservation movement from Arne Naess (1912—2009), who introduced the term "deep ecology."
Isn't philosophy just a dry subject?
Not at all! Many philosophers were eccentrics, and the history of philosophy is chock-full of bizarre incidents and unusual trivia.
Is philosophy only found in the West?
No. As individual intellectual tendencies and cultural traditions, philosophy has been present in all human societies since the beginning of recorded history and probably farther back than that. In the United States and Europe, philosophy, as an intellectual profession practiced by academics, developed as an official part of the higher education curriculum during the twentieth century. But many societies, particularly those that are still peopled by the original or indigenous inhabitants of a place, have maintained their philosophies through oral traditions. Oral traditions in African philosophy and Native American philosophy often deal with questions about time, space, origins, and ethics.
There are also well-developed textual traditions, going back at least as far as Socrates, in Indian philosophy, Japanese philosophy, and Chinese philosophy (collectively called Asian philosophy or Eastern philosophy). These systems of thought are increasingly part of standard philosophy curricula in the United States, as are comparative philosophy, African-American philosophy, and Latin American philosophy.
Is philosophy just the beliefs and theories of individual philosophers?
No, philosophy is a broad and messy subject. It can be divided into individual philosophers, subjects that two or more philosophers have emphasized, historical periods of time, and even places such as Greece, France, Germany, England, China, Africa, India, Latin America, and the United States. The chapters in this book take a chronological approach, identifying major themes within important time periods.
Has there been much progress in philosophy?
Philosophy progresses in two ways. First, philosophical work mirrors the concerns of its historical time. For example, in the seventeenth century, when modern nations were forming, philosophers like John Locke (1632-1704) and Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) wrote about the origins of modern, democratic government. In the twentieth century, philosophers have applied ethics to new choices made possible by modern medicine. The second form of progress in philosophy consists of the growth of philosophical thought over time. This progression of philosophy is largely a conversation among philosophers, who in one way or another are in dialogue with their historical predecessors, as well as their peers.
What kinds of jobs do philosophers have?
Since about 1940, most professional philosophers have been employed as teachers in colleges and universities. They also advance the discipline of philosophy by publishing books and articles.
Does philosophy have anything to do with ordinary life, today?
Yes! Philosophy has a lot to do with our daily lives. But, depending on the reader's interests, some parts of it will seem more relevant than others. And some parts of philosophy are more abstract than others.
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