An Introduction to  Philosophy

Chapter 1 :   Introduction

Let's Get Started 3

Ok.  Over the years I have heard a lot of answers to the question:

What do you think Philosophy is?

Let me list a few that are not correct. Some are very off the mark and others are only partially correct.

Student attempts to define philosophy  

1.        Logical reasoning to answer any questions or problems.

2.        Means by which to view and encounter life.

3.        A system of beliefs and behaviors based upon experience and judgment.

4.        Different views and beliefs that people have.

5.        Just personal opinions

6.        Logical thinking or reasoning, taking into account all that is known  to be convincing

7.        A frame of mind

8.        A way of viewing the world and handling life’s experiences and explaining it.

9.        Great thinkers thought and ideas.

10.      The way a person is able to maneuver their intellectual ability.

11.      A theory based upon moral codes and reasoning.

12.      Study of one’s thoughts without the impact of external opinions.

13.      Someone’s ideas and outlook on life or anything.

14.      Someone’s point of view.

15.      The art of reasoning, thinking and discussing.

16.      Logic, knowledge, a body of principles to follow.

17.      A discipline of thinking, which involves moral reasoning, logic and principles.

18.      View or Opinion or Belief or Theory

19.      Ability to think and make your own judgments.

20.      Things I live by.

21.       A belief, way of life or religion.

22.       A way of Life

23.       A translation of the complexities from all angles and summarizing it to its simplistic terms.

24.       The way the individual interprets ort rationalizes what is encountered.

25.        Analyzing, questioning, discussing and thinking.

26.        Information handed down from generation to generation: Beliefs, stories, rituals, and experiences

It is possible that you will be adding additional attempts at an initial definition to this list.  Students and readers continue to surprise me with answers to questions such as this one.  Some of the answers appear as if the answerer did go to some dictionary or reference work while others appear to be very direct and simplistic.  

Now, I do not want to start this introduction to Philosophy by giving you a clear definition of what Philosophy is.  Instead, I shall tell you a great deal about it, most of which you will forget.  Then, I’ll show you some examples of Philosophy in the writings of Philosophers on the major issues Philosophers have been thinking about for over two thousand years,  much of which you will remember, if only vaguely.  Finally, I’ll attempt to engage you in doing philosophy through the discussions and presentations of various positions on many of the issues and then I think you will understand both what philosophy is and some of the most challenging and recurring issues with which philosophy has dealt and continues to pursue.  

For a good overview of different ideas about what Philosophy is and forms or fields in Philosophy

READ: Dallas Roark, What is Philosophy?

Here are some key questions in the history of Philosophy by which Philosophy is identified.  They are Perennial Questions and Defining questions.

What is the world about?  

What is the world made up of?   (pre-Socratics)

What are human beings to do?

How are Humans to live?

How are humans to live the GOOD life? (Socrates)

What is the GOOD? (  Plato )

What is it to know? (Aristotle)

What is it to exist?  

Is there a meaning to existence? ( Judaism)

Is there a meaning to human life, history, suffering???  

Is the world all there is? (Christianity )

What is REAL ?

Is the world REAL? or illusion??? ( Hinduism )

Is suffering what it is all about?

Is suffering real?

Can suffering be overcome? ended? (Buddhism)  

Is life without meaning?  (Existentialism )

Is life absurd?  (Camus )

Are humans free?

Are humans free to shape their own existence and destiny? ( Sartre)    

How are humans to live in an honorable way?

How are humans to live with their families in an honorable way? ( Confucius )

How can we be certain of anything? ( Descartes )

How are humans to live in a world with science? ( Dewey)

How are humans to live in a technological society?

How are humans to live in a society with constant change and problems?

A Text book Definition of Philosophy:

Philosophy is an activity whose guiding principle is reason and whose goal is a critical self understanding. - -Robert Paul Wolff

Here is the dictionary approach:  


1. all learning exclusive of the technical

2. pursuit after wisdom

   search for general understanding of values and reality by chiefly speculative means

   an analysis of the grounds and concepts expressing fundamental beliefs

3. a system of philosophical concepts

4. a theory underlying or regarding a sphere of activity or thought

5. the most general beliefs, concepts and attitudes of an individual or group

                                        ------ Webster's 9th New Collegiate

1. pursuit of wisdom; knowledge of things & their causes, whether theoretical or practical

9. the system which a person forms for the conduct of life

                                       ------- Oxford English Dictionary

 Robert Paul Wolff:

Philosophy: love of wisdom, the systematic, critical examination of the way in which we judge, evaluate, and act, with the aim of making ourselves wiser, more self reflective, and therefore better men and women.

Wisdom: rational insight into the principles of thought and action.  


a.) conceptual analysis and armchair speculation on whatever other sciences haven't yet claimed as their own domain.

b.) systematic reflection of the mind on the criteria of right thought and right action.

Ok?  That’s quite a few definitions for anyone to ponder.  My favorite is still to come.  Consider now some things associated with Philosophy.

PHILOSOPHY:  It is a mental discipline that involves: problems, attitudes, methods, activities, conclusions, and effects  

PROBLEMS: Philosophical vs non-philosophical

          all problems, if or when pursued far enough, enter or involve philosophy  

Basic Problems:  Knowledge, Truth, Good, Beauty, GOD, Justice, Freedom, Mind, Reality  

Philosophy as a science (A.) Specific or (B.) General or comprehensive science  

A. Specific science-special science- with well defined subject matter




















B. General or comprehensive




ATTITUDES:  the minds of Philosophers when doing philosophy







open minded, tolerant

willing to be guided by experience

willing to be guided by reason


suspended judgment


unemotional inquiry

disinterested interest













CONCLUSIONS Reached by Philosophers produce

Traditions of thought

Traditions of Philosophy--- ways of thinking

Traditions in Philosophy--views, assumptions, givens, first principles

Schools of Philosophy  


a sense of the "BETTER" life

a sense of what is important

a sense of what one values

a sense of the limits of human knowledge

a sense of one's self  

For college students it wouldn’t hurt to think of Philosophy as a discipline that originates in the West in an attempt to answer the question:  How am I to live a GOOD Life?

PROBLEMS:    How to live a GOOD life in this modern, industrial, technological society?

And : How do I  answer such a question with less than absolute certainty?

FUNCTION of PHILOSOPHY for the college student, the undergraduate just might be to assist one in answering these questions for oneself.   

All right, that will be enough of the telling about the nature of Philosophy without defining it.  In the next section I shall attempt to show you a bit about what philosophers do and it will involve you becoming engaged in doing a good bit of thinking.

VIDEOS: Here are interesting videos on What is Philosophy

 Dr. Richard Brown's video on  What is Philosophy?

Dr. Massimo Pigliucci's video on

AUDIO:   Before going on you might want to listen to some mildly amusing comments on and about Philosophy by the actor and comedian, John Cleese.    placed onto a site by the American Philosophical Association.  Topics include:

01 Survey on What is it that Philosophers do?
02 Living the Ideal of a scientific Life
03 You are fully alive only if you live fully in the Present
04 We live in a formation in an age of Information
05 The Meaning Of Life
06 Obligation to future Generations
07 Desiring what we do not have : Somewhere Else
08 Tabloids and Life Seems better elswhere
09 Starting Point: who Philosophy has Inspired
10 Worldly Good: Is it good that the world is becoming more uniform?
11 Things That Matter: begin in Mystery and end in Politics?
12 Fun: Philosophy Bakes no Bread, so what is ti good for?
13 Quality Of Life or quantity?
14 Courage and Knowing What To Fear
15 Dreams: Is seeing dreams fulfilled terrible?
16 Kids Today: Values Changey
17 Decisions: How should one decide what to do?
18 Silenced: Philosophy seems so harmless and yet ideas really matter
19 The 21st Century may belong more to Philosophy
20 Neighbor Policy: How can we tell if they are any good?
21 To Die For: Why are we afraid to die?
22 Reachable Stars: Is it more important in life to get what we want or to like what we get?


You might want to look at what a famous philosopher has said about the value of Philosophy. Bertrand Russell and the “Value of  Philosophy” 

As reported in the journal Inside Higher Education during the Presidential campaigns for the 2016 election one candidate selected Philosophy for attention.  Please note the defense of the value of Philosophy in terms of the value Society places on thinking skills and even the value of a Philosophy major for many forms of employment.  There are values beyond these that any student of Philosophy may realize through the study of the discipline, even at a introductory level.

Aristotle<< Philosopher Senator Marco Rubio<< Politician (~ Sophist)


 In Iowa on Monday, Senator Marco Rubio (at left, with Aristotle at right), a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, spoke about his vision for reforming higher education, and encouraged more people to enter vocationally oriented programs. Rubio said it was important for students to know their chances at good jobs after finishing various programs.


"So you can decide if it's worth borrowing $50,000 to major in Greek philosophy," The Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier reported Rubio as saying. "Because after all, the market for Greek philosophers has been very tight for 2,000 years." Greek philosophy seems to be Rubio's go-to example -- see this article from June. Or this one from March. Or this one from February.


Inside Higher Ed wondered what philosophers might make of all of these comments. Amy E. Ferrer, executive director of the American Philosophical Association, responded via email. "Rubio's refrain about the value of philosophy is unfortunate -- and misinformed," she said. "Philosophy teaches many of the skills most valued in today's economy: critical thinking, analysis, effective written and verbal communication, problem solving, and more. And philosophy majors' success is borne out in both data -- which show that philosophy majors consistently outperform nearly all other majors on graduate entrance exams such as the GRE and LSAT, and that philosophy ties with mathematics for the highest percentage increase from starting to midcareer salary -- and anecdotal evidence indicating that philosophy and other humanities majors are increasingly successful and sought afterin the business and technology sectors.

"Examples of philosophy majors' success in the business world include CEO Patrick Byrne, Flickr co-founder Stewart Butterfield and Carly Fiorina, former Hewlett-Packard CEO and one of Rubio's rivals for the Republican presidential nomination."

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Introduction to Philosophy by Philip A. Pecorino is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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