September 11, 2005

The Meaning of Philosophy

Hi Everybody, Perhaps it's time for a not-so-frivolous post to kick off the year. I will try to answer the question, what is the Meaning of Philosophy? Difficult, yes, but if I just throw out an answer, perhaps it will get some discussion going.

So, Philosophy is "Love of Knowledge", right? Not exactly... It's "Love of Wisdom." What is the difference between Wisdom and Knowledge, one might ask? Well, Knowledge is knowing things, knowing facts, or having an accurate understanding of things as they are. Of course, there are different definitions and criteria for truth, but those don't really change the fact that we know things. The epistemic question of "how" we know is different from the question of if we have knowledge. Science, for example, is one methodology, or "how," which helps us know facts about the physical world, and which has been quite successful. These facts are not, however, intrinsically valuable. Knowledge as a whole is not intrinsically valuable. Since value is only a result of attitudes we take toward the world--our valuations--then knowledge has only the value that it has for us. Yes, we can place a value on knowing the specific location and energy of an atom in a chair on which we are sitting, but why would we? Knowledge for the sake of knowledge (truth for the sake of truth) is misguided.

What, then, is Wisdom, and how is it not misguided in the way that a drive to Knowledge for Knowledge's sake is misguided? Wisdom, it seems, is having the ability to value appropriately, which then leads us to appropriate action ("appropriate" meaning in a manner conducive to life, health, and happiness.... oh, and ignoring our fellow beings--like Bush does--results in an emotional desensitization and disturbance antithetical to these natural, human goals). Wisdom is having the ability to discern between Knowledge that is useful and knowledge that is not, or is even destructive. Knowledge, being merely a tool to be used for the fulfillment of our natural goals, is definitely one component of wisdom, but only when properly tempered and understood within the context of it's uses. We can see quite plainly, then, that the central field of philosophy, or "first philosophy" cannot be Epistemology, Logic, or Metaphysics, but must be located within experience and is, if anything, a field such as Ethics or Aesthetics, which orient our values such that Epistemology, Logic, Metaphysics, and even Science do not drift off into meaninglessness or even become destroyers of meaning. For, after all, what each of us truly wants--deep down--is a life full of value and meaning, and the happiness which accompanies such a life even in the face of deepest suffering.