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Introduction to Philosophy and the Pre-Socratics

What is Philosophy? Why Study Philosophy? Cosmology and the First Philosophers The Atomistic Worldview Parmenides and the Doctrine of Permanence Heraclitus and the Doctrine of Impermanence

Socrates and Dialectic

Socrates: The Father of Western Philosophy The Socratic Approach Introducing Arguments Evaluation and Analysis of Arguments Evaluating an Argument in Action The Apology: A Defense of Philosophy The Apology — Socrates’ Arguments The Crito: The Duties of the Social Contract The Phaedo: The Death of Socrates

Plato and Aristotle

Plato: An academic approach to concepts Plato’s Forms: The Objects of Knowledge Plato Forms: The Foundations of Being Applying Plato’s Metaphysics The Footnotes to Plato Aristotle: The Dissection of Reality Aristotle on What There Is Plato vs. Aristotle: The Mathematician or the Biologist

Philosophy as a Way of Life

Aristotelianism: The Naturalistic Worldview Aristotle’s Highest Good Applying Aristotle’s Ethics Stoicism: The Ethics of Dispassion Philosophical Analysis as a Way of Life

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What is Philosophy? by Sophia Tutorial

Philosophy is a field of study that many people (including students) don’t know much about. This course enables you to increase your knowledge of philosophy by examining its origins in ancient Greece, as well as some of the areas that are studied by philosophers today, including logic, epistemology, ethics, and metaphysics.

This section responds to the question, “What is Philosophy?” in three parts:

1. The Beginning of Western Philosophy 2. The Big Picture and a Contemporary Definition 3. Some Major Branches of Philosophy

1. The Beginning of Western Philosophy Western philosophy is traditionally thought to have started when a mathematician named Thales of Miletus successfully predicted an eclipse in 585 BCE. Although this may seem to have been an accomplishment in the field of astronomy, not philosophy, astronomy, like many other sciences, was once considered to be a branch of philosophy.

Imagine for a moment that you lived in Greece 2600 years ago, but Thales had not made his famous prediction about the eclipse. What would people have thought caused the eclipse? Would they have concluded that the gods were angry, or bringing the world to an end? Whatever conclusions might have been reached about the meaning of the event, it’s likely that it would have been connected to the gods. By making his prediction based on analysis of his observations, Thales demonstrated that humans were capable of interpreting reality on their own, without divine assistance.

Thales demonstrated that the world was fundamentally understandable and predictable. Human beings do not need to appeal to the gods to learn about the world, or to use what they learn. By applying reason to observations, people can solve many of life’s puzzles. The desire to know and learn is the foundation of philosophy.


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Thales, illustrated here, was a pre-socratic philosopher. In addition to philosophy, Thales also had a strong interest in mathematics and


2. The Big Picture and a Contemporary Definition To better understand what philosophy involves, consider the etymology of the word, “philosophy.” It comes from two Greek words, philos and sophia. Philos means “love.” It is the basis of a number of common words, including “philanthropy” and “Philadelphia.” Sophia, which is also part of “sophisticated” and “sophomore,” means “wisdom” (and before you sophomores start feeling too proud, sophomore means “wise fool”). Philosophy, at a fundamental level, is the love of wisdom.

Wisdom is not the same as knowledge. One can have all of the knowledge in the world but still lack wisdom. Rather than referring to information retained in memory (i.e, knowledge), wisdom refers to the ability to apply reason to knowledge, in order to make use of it in beneficial ways. Wisdom focuses on how we use what we learn, rather than on what we learn.

The highest degree one can earn in biology is a PhD — a doctorate in philosophy. A PhD in biology not only means that you know facts and concepts in the field (i.e., knowledge), but that you can use that knowledge to make new contributions — in biology or a related field. You can evaluate the body of biological knowledge and determine how parts of it can be used in new ways. As a result of philosophy’s focus on wisdom, science and philosophy share a similar methodology.

Defining philosophy as “love of wisdom” helps us to begin to understand it, but it lacks precision. Here is the definition of philosophyphilosophy that we will use in this course:


Philosophy The pursuit of truths that cannot be wholly determined empirically.

Philosophy seeks to find truth in areas where science cannot.

 EXAMPLE Consider this philosophical question: “Is there a creator god of a certain description?” We cannot answer this question by looking for a god through a telescope. In this instance, science cannot help

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us to find the truth. There are two possible answers to this question: “there is” or “there isn’t.”

In seeking to arrive at the truth, philosophy is not mere opinion. If two people disagree, this doesn’t mean that it is not possible to find an answer and that they must agree to disagree. With respect to the example above, If two people disagree as to what is true, one of them is simply wrong. Philosophy helps us to determine which one.

Since we cannot use a telescope, a microscope, etc. to discover who is right and who is wrong, we must make inferences: We take the evidence we have and ask whether it supports one position or the other. We use logic to decide which position is better-supported and, therefore, more reasonable. It is for this reason that logic is the backbone of philosophy.

3. Some Major Branches of Philosophy Philosophy encompasses a number of branches/sub-disciplines. The three most significant branches involving the philosophers we’ll study in this course are ethicsethics, epistemology, and metaphysics.


Ethics The branch of philosophy that analyzes and defends concepts of value, and thereby determines right and wrong.

Questions of right and wrong fit within the definition of philosophy provided above. Consider this action: punching a small child. The sciences can tell us a lot about this action. Medicine can predict the damage it would cause. Political science can determine its legal consequences. Psychology can provide insight into the mind of the perpetrator. But no scientific analysis can tell us that this action is wrong.

Of course, it is wrong, and anyone who claims that “wrong” is merely an opinion, and that this action is not something that can be true or false, should be ignored. Science can tell us that this action would cause pain, but it is a philosophical truth that causing pain unnecessarily is wrong.

Although questions of right and wrong are the prerogative of philosophy, science has a role. Later in the course, we will consider philosophical approaches to ethics, including the philosophy of Socrates, who was not only deeply interested in determining how to live a morally upright life, but was willing to die to uphold his beliefs.

Philosophy provides a benefit to science through epistemologyepistemology.

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