The study of philosophy is an inquiry into the foundations of our existence. In this sense, the value of philosophy lies in the human being reflecting on the world around him or her. This reflection, clearly, has a deep practical value, to the extent that by thinking about the world around us, we try to understand why we live as we do and, at the same time, what our possibilities are. There is, in other words, a critical thinking which is part of philosophy, not merely accepting what is told to us, but also radically questioning some of the presuppositions of our lives. As Chaffee writes, “it is very tempting for people not to think, to remain submerged in reality rather than aware of it, to be carried along by the current of events rather than creating their own destiny.” (Chaffee, 2016, p. 3) When we think philosophically we are directly confronting the world around us, attempting to explore it, understand it, but also tearing away our prejudices and thereby fundamentally altering the way that we live. In this regard, we can say that philosophy is the exact opposite of some common sense conceptions of what philosophers are: they only talk and think and argue. But what they are talking, thinking and arguing about are precisely the fundamental concepts of the world, the very way in which we live. Philosophy is the antithesis of slavery, an intellectual slavery to merely the viewpoints of others, and an attempt to engage the world.
Philosophy, at the same time, possesses very specific branches of study. Chaffee (2006, p. 5) defines the five fundamental branches of philosophy as metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, aesthetics, and logic. Metaphysics addresses the basic structure of reality, which Chaffee describes as “the way things really are.” (Chaffee, 2016, p. 27) In this sense, metaphysics is very close to what we understand today by the term natural science. Epistemology addresses questions of how we know what we know or what we think we know. (Chaffee, 2016, p. 27) For example, where does our knowledge come from? Is our knowledge based on our physical observation of the world around us? Or is there another dimension, for example, through the knowledge that we learn through language and mathematics? Ethics is the question of the “good life” (Chaffee, 2016, p. 27) for the human being. In ethics, we ask about morality, but also about politics, for example, the type of society we should live in and want to live in, as well as what are the potential weak points of the society we currently live in. Aesthetics is inseparable from beauty and therefore is an inquiry about we we consider beautiful and why we do so. (Chaffee, 2016, p. 27) Logic looks at how rational arguments work, about how we can communicate to others in a manner that is rationally valid. (Chaffee, 2016, p. 27)
Considering the above, the area that interests me most is that of ethics. In reading about the definitions of philosophy, what most struck me was the sense in which reflecting on the world around us, on the way the world is as it is, is also an act of critical thinking. If philosophy is the antithesis of slavery, philosophical thinking helps us identify precisely the ideologies and myths that are told to us to make us believe that the world we already live in is the best world, or the capitalist society is the best society, or democracy in the Western parliamentary style is the superior form of political organization. When we think critically about these events, we see that perhaps we do not even live in a democracy, considering the influences of money and a limited two party system on the election process. The practical effects of philosophy truly show themselves to everyone on the level of ethics and for this reason, this ability to change the world around us through philosophical thinking, that this branch of philosophy interests me the most.
- Chaffee, J. (2016). The Philosopher’s Way: Thinking Critically About Profound Ideas. 5th ed. Boston: Pearson.