Tuesday, February 5, 2008

What is philosophy?

In contrast, there have always been some people who wanted to ask questions. All sorts of questions that weren't necessarily useful, didn't necessarily get anything done, but often enough were still very relevant. What are we: animal or spirit? Is every object fundamentally different, or is everything made out of the same stuff, just prepared or formed a bit differently? And beauty, what is that? Is the beauty of a woman the same as the beauty of a sunset? Is there a way for the two beauties (that of a woman and that of a sunset) to be the same and different at the same time? Is beauty in the eye of the beholder (subjective), or is it instead an objective reality? What do we mean by subjective vs. objective; are some things more real than others? How about energy, matter, movement, change - is one more real than another? How about love, is that subjective or objective? What is love anyway? How do you love? Are there different kinds of love?

One can go on and on in this direction - and with many different styles. Some people do it because they really want to know the truth of things, to have very attentive eyes. Others are trying to gain power or just love to play mind games. It's very hard to tell the two orientations apart, and there are so many other variations, so many philosophers that have already lived with so many different styles and attitudes.

Perhaps these questions are ones that occur now and then to everyone, and everyone has to make some sort of response. As an easy example, probably we all at one time or another question whether taking a particular action, past or future, would be loving. And from day one we are trying to figure out who loves us. But our answers to these questions are typically very practical, experiential, applied on a case by case basis. A philosopher typically will try to go deeper, and broader, and beyond. Her questions and search will be for something that is a little less practical, and may even inconvenience us if the answers conflict with what is expedient and desired.

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