Philosophy derives from the Greek word φιλοσοφία “philosophia”, literally “love of Knowledge” or “love of Wisdom”. Today it mainly refers to the study of general and fundamental questions especially about GOD, life, afterlife, existence, wisdom, values, reason, mind. However traditionally the meaning of this knowledge encompassed the entire hemisphere of understanding, including both Theology and Science, “branches” that today do not seem to belong to this “plant” (Tree of Knowledge). Philosopher is the man or woman who thinks with their own brains and without limiting themselves to asking questions, but striving to find the answers, studying and using the elaborations of their own predecessors as doctrine.
The questions to be solved are often posed as problems to be studied and contemplate, and the term φιλοσοφία was probably coined by Pythagoras (c. 570 – 495 BCE). Philosophical methods include questioning, critical discussion, rational argument, and systematic presentation.
Even Descartes (like in the Garden of Eden in the Bible) used the metaphor of a tree to comprehend philosophy:
Thus, all Philosophy is like a tree, of which Metaphysics is the root, Physics the trunk, and all the other sciences the branches that grow out of this trunk, which are reduced to three principals, namely, Medicine, Mechanics, and Morals [Ethics]. By the science of Morals, I understand the highest and most perfect which, presupposing an entire knowledge of the other sciences, is the last degree of Wisdom.
Before being a speculative investigation, philosophy was therefore the discipline that also assumed the characteristics of the conduct of the “way of life”, for example in the concrete application of the principles deduced through reflection and thought, and in this form, arose and was developed in ancient Greece. To make a univocal definition of philosophy complex contributes the dissent among philosophers on the very object of philosophy: some orient the analysis of philosophy towards man and his interests as it is exposed in Plato‘s work Eutidemus, for which it would be “the use of knowledge for the benefit of man“.
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No discordance between philosophy and religion
In the beginning, therefore, these two disciplines, which seem to be so discordant in today’s times, really arose from the same roots, and as we are told during the Islamic golden age, the ilm was the ultimate goal for the believer to reach.
The word philosophy indicated, and should indicate unequivocally today, the fundamental link between knowledge and love, understood not so much in its passionate form (even if eros, or desire, for Plato, is the fundamental motive of the philosophical research), but in a sense closer to the feeling of friendship.
In fact, the great thinker Aristotle dedicates an important part of his Nicomachean Ethics (books VIII and IX) to the discussion of philìa, traditionally translated as “friendship”. For Aristotle the most noble form of friendship is that which is not based only on profit or pleasure, but on good. The philosopher, therefore, would be the “friend of knowledge”, of wisdom, not to use it only for intellectual pleasure, but as an end in itself. As such he is accompanied by knowledge, being aware of not being able to possess it completely (even Pythagoras affirmed that man can only be a lover of knowledge but never possess it completely), since this belongs entirely only to the gods.
The greatest of all pleasures is the pleasure of learning.
Also in art its easy to find testimonies of the importance of the philosophy from our most illustrious predecessors that reached the present day, above all found in the painting by Raphael from Urbino. In truth, art has always been used to pass on messages, often subliminal, through the generations. Books too often have been the object of tampering or concealment, but art has remained a treasure chest to preserve the heritage of humanity. It can be affirmed that the historical proof of the importance of the union between Philosophy and Theology to elevate the human race finds testimony through the most striking example, and is kept in the Vatican. In the frescoes of the rooms of the Vatican museums, in particular, a room stands out where on one wall there is the fresco of the School of Athens, and at the same time the painting of the Disputation of the Sacrament (on the opposite wall) where faith and theology are exalted.
A presence of so many thinkers of various ages recognizes the value of the desire and effort to reach knowledge, common to all ancient philosophy, and absolutely present among early Christians, founding fathers of the Church of Rome.
A presence of so many thinkers of various ages, testifies how common it is, to all ancient philosophy, the effort to arrive to knowledge. Therefore it is quite clear for both, in all philosophers and among the first Christians, founding fathers of the Church of Rome.
The need to philosophize
The need to philosophize, according to Aristotle, which follows in this Plato, would be born from the “wonder”, or rather from the sense of wonder and restlessness experienced by man when, once the immediate material needs are satisfied, he begins to question himself on higher subjects: his relationship with GOD, his relationship with the World, and the reason for his existence.
“Whoever thinks it necessary to philosophize must philosophize, and those who think we should not philosophize must philosophize to show that we must not philosophize; therefore one must philosophize in any case or leave here, bidding farewell to life, since all other things seem to be just talk and nonsense.”
(Aristotle, Protreptikòs, B6)
These questions of a universal nature, definable as the problem of the relationship between the individual and the world, between the subject and the object, are treated by philosophy according to two aspects: the first is that of theoretical philosophy, which studies the scope of knowledge, the second is that of practical or moral or ethical philosophy, which deals with the person’s behavior towards objects and, in particular, with those objects that are other men, which he assumes are individuals like him, because they appear to he is similar, although he cannot really know them beyond outward appearances.
Other useful insights
Traditionally, the term philosophy referred to any “body” of knowledge, and during the Islamic golden age it was exactly the same thing with the Semitic word “ilm” that defined exactly its great value. In this sense closely related to religion, mathematics, natural science, education and politics. Newton‘s 1687 Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy is classified in the 2000s as a book of physics; he used the term “natural philosophy” because it used to encompass disciplines that later became associated with sciences such as astronomy, medicine and physics.
In the first part of the first book of his Academics, Cicero introduced the division of philosophy into logic, physics, and ethics. In section thirteen of the first book of his Lives and Opinions of the Eminent Philosophers, the 3rd-century Diogenes Laërtius, the first historian of philosophy, established the traditional division of philosophical inquiry into three parts:
- Natural philosophy (“physics,” from ta physika, “things having to do with nature (physis)” was the study of the constitution and processes of transformation in the physical world.
- Moral philosophy (“ethics,” from êthika, literally, “having to do with character, disposition, manners”) was the study of goodness, right and wrong, justice and virtue.
- Metaphysical philosophy (“logic”) was the study of existence, causation, GOD, logic, forms and other abstract objects (“meta ta physika” lit.: “After/beyond [the book] the Physics”).
This division is not obsolete but has changed. Natural philosophy has split into the various natural sciences, especially astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, and cosmology. Moral philosophy has birthed the social sciences, but still includes value theory (including aesthetics, ethics, political philosophy, etc.). Metaphysical philosophy has birthed formal sciences such as logic, mathematics and philosophy of science, but still includes epistemology, cosmology and others.
Hagia Sophia: The Abrahamic place of Knowledge
In Istanbul one of the most sacred places on Earth that unites Christians and Muslims is Hagia Sophia (Turkish: Ayasofya; Greek: Αγία Σοφία, Agia Sofia), one of the main monuments dedicate to the important of Wisdom (seeking wisdom with the purpose of getting to know GOD). This building, named after Sophia, is located in the Fatih district, in the Sultanahmet mahalle (quarter), and from 537 to 1453 C.E. was a cathedral of the Orthodox Church and seat of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Later for a brief period between 1204 and 1261 C.E., it was converted by the crusaders into a Roman rite Catholic cathedral (under the Latin Empire of Constantinople), and finally became an Islamic mosque on May 29 1453, and remained so until 1931 to then be deconsecrated on 1 February 1935 to remain a museum open to anyone.
This place was therefore called in honor and in memory of the importance of Wisdom, a knowledge necessary to reach GOD, and astutely using Byzantium (Istanbul) as a stage for this work. In fact, Byzantium (or Constantinople as it was called during the Roman Empire) was, and still is, the most important transcontinental city, or a door between the two worlds, the keystone that unites the East and the West, and the forced passage for pilgrims that from Europe wanted to reach the Holy Land, as the best scenario to amaze the faithful and leave a teaching in their hearts.
In one general sense, philosophy is associated with wisdom, intellectual culture and a search for knowledge (as in Islamic doctrine with the word Ilm). In that sense, all cultures and literate societies ask philosophical questions such as “how are we to live” and “what is the nature of reality”. A broad and impartial conception of philosophy then, finds a reasoned inquiry into such matters as reality, morality and life in all World civilizations.
Western philosophy is the philosophical tradition of the Western world and dates to Pre-Socratic thinkers who were living in Ancient Greece in the 6th century BCE such as Thales (c. 624 – 546 BCE) and Pythagoras (c. 570 – 495 BCE) who practiced a “love of wisdom” (philosophia) and were also termed physiologoi (students of physis, or nature). Socrates was a very influential philosopher, who insisted that he possessed no wisdom but was a pursuer of wisdom. Western philosophy can be divided into three eras: Ancient (Greco-Roman), Medieval philosophy (Christian European), and Modern philosophy.
The Ancient era was dominated by Greek philosophical schools which arose out of the various pupils of Socrates, such as Plato, who founded the Platonic Academy and his student Aristotle, founding the Peripatetic school, who were both extremely influential in Western tradition. Other traditions include Cynicism, Stoicism, Greek Skepticism and Epicureanism. Important topics covered by the Greeks included metaphysics (with competing theories such as atomism and monism), cosmology, the nature of the well-lived life (eudaimonia), the possibility of knowledge and the nature of reason (logos). With the rise of the Roman empire, Greek philosophy was also increasingly discussed in Latin by Romans such as Cicero and Seneca.
Medieval philosophy (5th–16th centuries) is the period following the fall of the Western Roman Empire and was dominated by the rise of Christianity and hence reflects Judeo-Christian theological concerns as well as retaining a continuity with Greco-Roman thought. Problems such as the existence and nature of GOD, the nature of faith and reason, metaphysics, the problem of evil were discussed in this period. Some key Medieval thinkers include St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Boethius, Anselm and Roger Bacon. Philosophy for these thinkers was viewed as an aid to Theology (ancilla theologiae) and hence they sought to align their philosophy with their interpretation of sacred scripture. This period saw the development of Scholasticism, a text critical method developed in medieval universities based on close reading and disputation on key texts. The Renaissance period saw increasing focus on classic Greco-Roman thought and on a robust Humanism. Early modern philosophy in the Western world begins with thinkers such as Thomas Hobbes and René Descartes (1596–1650). Following the rise of natural science, Modern philosophy was concerned with developing a secular and rational foundation for knowledge and moved away from traditional structures of authority such as religion, scholastic thought and the Church. Major modern philosophers include Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Kant. 19th-century philosophy is influenced by the wider movement termed the Enlightenment, and includes figures such as Hegel a key figure in German idealism, Kierkegaard who developed the foundations for existentialism, Nietzsche a famed anti-Christian, John Stuart Mill who promoted Utilitarianism, Karl Marx who developed the foundations for Communism and the American William James. The 20th century saw the split between Analytic philosophy and Continental philosophy, as well as philosophical trends such as Phenomenology, Existentialism, Logical Positivism, Pragmatism and the Linguistic turn.
Middle Eastern philosophy
The regions of the fertile Crescent, Iran and Arabia are home to the earliest known philosophical Wisdom literature and is today mostly dominated by Islamic culture. Early wisdom literature from the fertile crescent was a genre which sought to instruct people on ethical action, practical living and virtue through stories and proverbs. In Ancient Egypt, these texts were known as sebayt (‘teachings’) and they are central to our understandings of Ancient Egyptian philosophy. Babylonian astronomy also included much philosophical speculations about cosmology which may have influenced the Ancient Greeks. Jewish philosophy and Christian philosophy are religio-philosophical traditions that developed both in the Middle East and in Europe, which both share certain early Judaic texts (mainly the Tanakh) and Abrahamic Religions beliefs. Jewish thinkers such as the Geonim of the Talmudic Academies in Babylonia and Maimonides engaged with Greek and Islamic philosophy. Later Jewish philosophy came under strong Western intellectual influences and includes the works of Moses Mendelssohn who ushered in the Haskalah (the Jewish Enlightenment), Jewish existentialism and Reform Judaism.
Pre-Islamic Iranian philosophy begins with the work of Zoroaster, one of the first promoters of monotheism and of the dualism between good and evil. This dualistic cosmogony influenced later Iranian developments such as Manichaeism, Mazdakism, and Zurvanism.
After the Muslim conquests, Early Islamic philosophy developed the Greek philosophical traditions in new innovative directions. This Islamic Golden Age influenced European intellectual developments. The two main currents of early Islamic thought are Kalam which focuses on Islamic theology and Falsafa which was based on Aristotelianism and Neoplatonism. The work of Aristotle was very influential among the falsafa such as al-Kindi (9th century), Avicenna (980 – June 1037) and Averroes (12th century). Others such as Al-Ghazali were highly critical of the methods of the Aristotelian falsafa. Islamic thinkers also developed a scientific method, experimental medicine, a theory of optics and a legal philosophy. Ibn Khaldun was an influential thinker in philosophy of history.
In Iran several schools of Islamic philosophy continued to flourish after the Golden Age and include currents such as Illuminationist philosophy, Sufi philosophy, and Transcendent theosophy. The 19th- and 20th-century Arab world saw the Nahda (awakening or renaissance) movement which influenced contemporary Islamic philosophy.
East Asian philosophy
East Asian philosophical thought began in Ancient China, and Chinese philosophy begins during the Western Zhou Dynasty and the following periods after its fall when the “Hundred Schools of Thought” flourished (6th century to 221 BCE). This period was characterized by significant intellectual and cultural developments and saw the rise of the major philosophical schools of China, Confucianism, Legalism, and Daoism as well as numerous other less influential schools. These philosophical traditions developed metaphysical, political and ethical theories such Tao, Yin and yang, Ren and Li which, along with Chinese Buddhism, directly influenced Korean philosophy, Vietnamese philosophy and Japanese philosophy (which also includes the native Shinto tradition). Buddhism began arriving in China during the Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE), through a gradual Silk road transmission and through native influences developed distinct Chinese forms (such as Chan/Zen) which spread throughout the East Asian cultural sphere. During later Chinese dynasties like the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) as well as in the Korean Joseon dynasty (1392–1897) a resurgent Neo-Confucianism led by thinkers such as Wang Yangming (1472–1529) became the dominant school of thought, and was promoted by the imperial state.
In the Modern era, Chinese thinkers incorporated ideas from Western philosophy. Chinese Marxist philosophy developed under the influence of Mao Zedong, while a Chinese pragmatism under Hu Shih and New Confucianism‘s rise was influenced by Xiong Shili. Modern Japanese thought meanwhile developed under strong Western influences such as the study of Western Sciences (Rangaku) and the modernist Meirokusha intellectual society which drew from European enlightenment thought. The 20th century saw the rise of State Shinto and also Japanese nationalism. The Kyoto School, an influential and unique Japanese philosophical school developed from Western phenomenology and Medieval Japanese Buddhist philosophy such as that of Dogen.
Other interesting opinions to consider
“And if “philo-sophia “did not mean “love of wisdom” but “wisdom of love”, just as “theology” means “discourse on GOD” and not “word of GOD”, or as “metrology” means “science of measurements” and not a “measure of science”? Why concerning philosophy this inversion in the succession of words? Why in Western philosophy has been structured as a logic that formalizes the real, escaping from the world of life, to shut itself up in universities where, between initiates is transmitted from master to a disciple a knowledge that has no impact on the existence and on the way to conduct it? It will be for this reason that from Plato, which indicates as philosophical conduct “the exercise of death”, to Heidegger, who insists so much on being-towards-death, philosophers fell in love more for knowing how to die than for knowing how to live? “
(Umberto Galimberti, La Repubblica April 12 2008)
This doctrine would therefore conceive more Theosophers (Theos-Sophos) than Philosophers (Philos -Sophos), which means more “friends/companions of GOD”, than “friends of Knowledge”.
In conclusion to what has been stated before it is required to specify that the word philos, in ancient Greek, is only the second of the four possible classifications of love. In fact in ancient Greek philosophy we find parental-family love (called storge), love for a companion or companion (philia), erotic love, but also romantic love (eros), and finally love purely spiritual or towards GOD (agape).
Philos is more frequently called “brotherly love” (similar to the Song of Songs in the Bible in which the lover calls his beloved sister purely for sharing the same Faith in GOD), however, this does not it means that the relationships formed by it take place only between males or in biological families. Instead, philoson denotes a sense of kinship, sharing one’s life deeply. This could be a life partner or simply a good friend or the person from whom one has learned to trust, and that is why one can also consider philosophy as “philo-sophia”, or “knowledge-companion” (with the knowledge as a companion) in an indiscreet relationship between the man and the woman who decide to go with it.
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