What is Philosophy?
Pythagoras was supposedly the first to call himself a
In coining this term, he intended to use it literally: The philosopher is a “lover
of wisdom.” Two implications have remained true of subsequent philosophy. First, it involves one in a persistent and resolute quest that refuses to be
satisfied with glib answers and over-simplified solutions. it is a logically disciplined and self-critical inquiry. Second, its goal of wisdom,
brooks neither idle curiosity nor a coldly impersonal amassing of miscellaneous information. Rather, philosophy addresses questions that are basic to
man’s understanding of himself, his world and his God, that is, questions that are basic to life itself.
The popular concept of a “philosophy of life” or a “world view” makes sense in this context. it suggests a reflective outlook on life as a whole
which gives meaning to the parts, ties our beliefs and values together, and provides a sense of direction amid life’s innumerable paths. We speak of
taking reverses or bad news “philosophically,” that is to say, with a patience born of mature reflection on the basic issues of life.
These, however, are popular rather than technical usages. They illustrate the combination of thoughtful reflection and practical concern, but they
are still more representative of the homespun ideas of the man-in-the-street than of the interests and rigor of the professional philosopher. Philosophy
today is far more than philosophy of life, and often it is not that at all. Like other inquiries it has achieved a degree of technicality that can bewilder
Philosophy, moreover, must be distinguished from the sciences and from theology and the arts. The ancients included all the sciences within the
general pale of philosophy, and less than a century ago the natural sciences were still called “natural philosophy.” We separate them. Yet today’s
departmentalizing of philosophy and the sciences does not mean that philosophers are unconcerned with the subject matter of other disciplines. They
are concerned with it at a different level, not at a factual or experimental level, but at the foundational level of questions about the logic of scientific
explanation and the presuppositions of science. And they work in a different way, not by using empirical or statistical methods, but with greater
abstraction from the world of particulars and with closer attention to logical argument and the meaning of language.
Some early Christian writers, adopting the ancient use of “philosophy,” called Christianity a philosophy. Yet while Christian theology doubtless had
philosophical consequences, and makes philosophical assumptions, it is more the particular science that studies the teachings of the Christian religion
than it is a logical examination of the basic questions which religion in general poses about the existence of God or the logical justification of belief.
Nor is philosophy a creative art to shape the sensory and imaginative possibilities that a world of variegated particulars holds. Yet it is still interested