What is Philosophy?

What is philosophy? It is not a typical subject in high school and many college students managed to avoid it as well. But, Philosophy is the art and act of being curious; it is a reflective sense of wonder. We were all budding philosophers at one time– when we were children. Children naturally exhibit curiosity and wonderment about their world. As we grow up we often lose that sense of wonder as we become enmeshed in the day to day activities by which we make our living. (Visit my links to information about philosophy and children.)

In philosophy we explore the questions that have haunted people for centuries and continue to do so. From questions about the nature of the self (Who am I? Am I the same person I was five years ago? ten minutes ago? a second ago? What makes me an individual? How are humans different; or are they?) to questions about the limits of our knowing and being (Can I know anything? the truth? Is science more real than art? How certain do I have to be to claim to really know? Can I know that God exists? What could God possibly be? Does it matter if I believe or not?), philosophy is essentially an activity of questioning, listening, reflecting about our existence.

As an activity, it can be approached through historical readings, the Great Conversation of Philosophers throughout the ages. It can also be approached as a cache of questions or problems that originate ordinary human experience. Of course, one can use both methods as well! In my classes I try to encourage us all to view philosophy as an opportunity to

to gain an appreciation for the philosophical questions before us as well as try to find some answers for ourselves.

to become acquainted with philosophical literature and some of the great thinkers in our past.

To reflect upon how places shape our world and we shape our places

As a practice, philosophy represents a way of living in the world that is alert to the mystery of existence and consciousness and engages in self reflection and dialogue with others about these fundamentally important matter.

Some Questions out of the philosophical tradition:
aesthetics: Are there universal values in art and beauty? Can differences be reconciled with universality? What makes a work of art beautiful? Or simply a good one? What does an artist do?
ethics: questions of self and others: responsibility, choice, sameness vs. difference (racial, social, and gender themes), men and nature: Are we responsible for our actions? Are there objective standards for good or evil or are those concepts simply culturally defined? Or defined by each one of us? From where does morality come?
metaphysics: Are we fundamentally the same? Are we fundamentally all different? epistemology: is knowledge possible across differences? Is there one truth? Is there any truth? Are we born knowing some things or does all knowledge come from experience? Does perception reveal a world or do we make our own?

Ein Traum Ein Traum ist unser Leben auf Erden hier.
Wie Schatten auf den Wogen schweben und schwinden wir,
und messen uns’re trägen Tritte nach Raum und Zeit;
und sind (und wissen’s nicht) in Mitte der Ewigkeit.

–Johann Gottfried von Herder, (1744 – 1803),

What questions persist for you?

Interested in philosophy and movies? Visit this  site for some suggestions but a google search will reveal many more.

Visit this page on Holderlin’s poetry for some Romantic commentaries on poetry and philosophy.

Philosophy and the World– For some excellent documents on philosophy’s role in the global village, consider the following two reports put out under UNESCO.