An Introduction to Philosophy
Chapter 1 : Introduction
Origins of Philosophy:
The Greeks and Us!
Philosophy emerges within a culture when the belief systems no longer answer all the important questions and there are realized to be problems with the accepted set of beliefs. One of the many problems with the post-modern belief set is that there are no contradictions or difficulties with belief sets that need to be addressed because contradictions and inconsistencies are acceptable as there are no objective criteria for thought to satisfy and so there is no need for the formal school system to be developing critical thinking concerning them. Instead there is an exaggerated and harmful accenting of the value of tolerance of all beliefs and beliefs systems. Opinions are not to be distinguished from proven claims, there being no objective knowledge, and every claim is merely opinion. The inherited beliefs and beliefs systems are not examined within the formal educational system as it is infused throughout with post modern relativism. Many of the teachers are themselves possessed of the incoherent belief systems.
So, many students arrive in colleges with poor habits of mind and beset with beliefs that are incoherent and contradictory. Further they are possessed of beliefs that make the development of their critical thinking skills very difficult. They believe that all claims are opinions and that there is no reason for them to examine ideas and beliefs that they hold as they are entitled to hold whatever beliefs they choose to hold and they choose to remain within their social sets and to do so they believe that they need to continue to hold the belief systems that are popular with those groupings and in some cases define those groups.
Mental habits and belief systems are not easily disturbed or called into serious question when they perform useful functions for the believer and do so in a powerful manner.
If a belief system offers hope and consolation in the face of death of a loved one or anticipated death of one’s own self then there is a very strong impulse to retain those beliefs for fear of the intellectual chaos that is feared would result by the rejection of the familiar belief system. Further, there is the fear that in accepting another belief system one is disloyal to those groups to which one belongs that hold that belief set in common. Perhaps most influential in the decision to retain the beliefs that comfort one is the desire to have a soul that survives the death of the physical body and to have an eternal life in unimaginable pleasure which are thought to be lost if the belief system is rejected for another in which such desires are not guaranteed to be fulfilled.
The ability to have control over one’s beliefs may also be so valued that many would exercise the choice to maintain the old comforting beliefs as a display of that ability thus maintaining the illusion of control rather than to view the choice of examination and possible revision or rejection of the belief system as another experience offering evidence of the ability to control some aspect of one’s life. It is far simpler and economical to conserve beliefs than to consider revisions thereof. Accepting and continuing beliefs that one is presented with is far less taxing in effort than the careful and critical examination of belief systems and the evaluation and decision making involved in the development and maintenance of a belief systems that is coherent and supported by evidence.
People want to hold whatever beliefs that they choose to hold and give no account for them other than to assert their right to hold whatever beliefs they choose and to insist that they must be tolerated in doing so by all others.
One of the accepted beliefs is that of tolerance as a value of the highest social importance. Tolerance is a value expounded upon in a post modern culture as supportive of the relativism that is an essential component of the post modern epistemology, metaphysics and ethics. Tolerance is not to be questioned as a value as it is promoted as a cornerstone to a desirable social arrangement.
Yet tolerance itself is a disvalue as post modernists would have promoted it. Tolerance is not respect. To be tolerant is to put up with something. It does not include accepting it or considering it as valuable or worthy. Tolerance of people and beliefs is promoted but it is misguided and harmful whenever to be tolerant of behaviors and ideas would hurt individuals and groups in physical and emotional ways.
Those who advocate tolerance cannot possibly be sincere I doing so. This is so because they do not advocate being tolerant of:
They cannot be tolerant of such people and expect their promotion of tolerance to be accepted by others.
Post modern pluralists continue to promote tolerance as if it were unqualified for they do not and expect no one else will subject their promotion to critical examination for such an examination would not be popular or “politically correct”. They continue to promote tolerance as if it were unqualified for they do not hold careful and critical thought as being valuable as they believe that such thought challenges relativism. They also mistakenly believe that critical thinking is somehow intolerant of individuals, groups and behaviors and beliefs they wish to have accepted. The formal educational system promotes an uncritical tolerance and the belief in such and value of such.
Finally, PHILOSOPHY , OPINIONS and RIGHT ANSWERS
Most folks think very little about Philosophy. Of those who do many have some erroneous ideas about the discipline and its history. One of the most troublesome, for Philosophers, of the mistaken ideas is that it is about opinions. This idea when followed by the ideas that opinions are all humans have with which to think and all opinions are pretty much of equal value, these two ideas run directly opposed to what philosophers are attempting to do. Philosophers quest after wisdom, which for John Dewey, is the quest to use what we know to gain what we most value. Philosophers do this by using critical thinking concerning all that humans claim to know and to value. This quickly becomes a quite involved process, examining the meaning of the word "knowledge" and other ideas such as; reality, truth, certainty, and value, among many other basic terms. Philosophers take positions on the questions, issues and problems faced by the most critical of thinkers examining the most basic concerns that humans can entertain with thoughtful reflection.
Philosophers use critical thinking and reason and evidence to support the claims that they make and the positions that they hold. This is quite different than merely making a claim , a statement, which is supported by nothing and thus an expression of the speaker's opinion. Philosophers are willing to examine all claims and all positions with their supporting reasoning and evidence. They examine it looking for any flaws or problems. They want the most satisfactory, and at times satisfying answers and solutions, to the questions and problems.
PHILOSOPHY: LOOKING for the BEST RAFTS
With Plato and his mentor Socrates we have a description of what Philosophy is about. Humans are on a journey. En route they face obstacles to overcome. Major questions, problems and issues are like rivers that need to be crossed. Now along one side of the river there are these rafts. When you reach the river you may select any raft you want to use to get across the river. There are many different types. There are more than enough for everyone. They differ in color, shape, materials, method of construction and size. You want to select the best possible raft with which to cross the river. No raft is perfect. Each raft has a problem. Each raft takes on water. Some take on a lot and some very little. Some are put together in a very shoddy manner and some are very well constructed.
Some people select the raft to use based on its color. They like certain colors and have a favorite and that is all they care about. Others select their rafts based on size and they want the biggest one they can find. Each who selects has a reason and a method for the selection. What a reasonable sensible person should want is the best possible raft that will carry its occupants across the river safely.
Philosophy is a method of thinking used to make the best possible selection of the raft which is the answer to the most basic questions that humans have about life, knowledge, truth, goodness, beauty, etc...
Philosophers hope to develop the best possible position and hope that it will do well when tested. Over the centuries those positions philosophers thought were the best have been revealed to have problems. New rafts were constructed and tested and found wanting again. So, Philosophy is the quest for the best possible raft, knowing that it is highly probable that there is no perfect raft. As humans advance and progress and gather more experiences and develop more critical analysis and evaluation techniques philosophical positions are examined more closely and tested more thoroughly. Philosophy is a process. It is a method of thinking and as our knowledge grows so too will philosophy take all of it into consideration as the method attempts to produce the BEST POSSIBLE answers to the most important questions.
Some folks look for the "correct " answer to a question or the "right" solution to a problem. Philosophers have learned that what they do is look for the best possible answers and solutions. So we shall look now at how Socrates developed a better method for finding the best answers and then we shall examine several important questions or issues and look at what philosophers have done with them over time. In all of this the focus should be on the method of thinking that aims to arrive at the best possible, if not perfect, answers, solutions and positions.
But perhaps some prefer the comforts of beliefs even of blind faith to the effort at reaching positions closer to the truth. For many this choice is a dilemma or choice has been story of Adam and Eve and again represented in the Matrix .
END OF CHAPTER
© Copyright Philip A. Pecorino 2000. All Rights reserved.
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