Go to the Index of 120 Philosophers Squared
“What is philosophy?” It’s a child’s question and can be answered in a way that a child will understand. Philosophy is talking about thinking. Of course that isn’t very informative but it gives the general idea and gets the subject started. Thinking is a mental process that humans do by using symbols to represent things, actions and the relationships between things. Typically these symbols are words or visual icons that represent ideas, but these symbols are not the ideas themselves but only aids to help in thinking about the ideas. These symbols have a use because they can be communicated to other people, and to computers, and they can be stored through time and sent through space. We can have a good idea of what a man named Aristotle was thinking about 2,300 years ago in Greece because he wrote his ideas down and those ideas were valued by other people who copied them and preserved them for people of the future, like us.
A fuller outline based on Bertrand Russell’s “The Value of Philosophy” called “What is Philosophy” by Dr. Bob Zunjic is available at the University of Rhode Island. Philosophy explores everything, even the limits of humanly knowable knowledge and when these peripheral studies begin to have a definite outline they are formed into independently named studies. Natural sciences, astronomy, mathematics, history, psychology, sociology were in ancient times part of what was then considered philosophy. Some questions are perhaps unanswerable, such as: do good and evil have any meaning aside from human judgments? Is there any purpose to the Universe? Can consciousness exist independent of functioning brains? Is life as we know it on Earth a universal phenomenon?
Philosophical positions can devolve into dogmatic ideologies, but as that condition grows rigid their connection to what other philosophers value diminishes. Philosophers seem to enjoy the chase after truth more than finding and accepting conclusive answers. To get answers requires narrowing the quest by defining terms with absolute boundaries, which is ultimately impossible, perhaps even in mathematical contexts. The questions posed above, concerning morality, purpose, consciousness and life, are clearly outside of absolute definitions and philosophy about those subjects then becomes limited to discussion of comparisons of personally perceived values.
My personal values gravitate toward finding habits which improve not only my health, independence and tranquility but that of all humanity, including those unborn people of the future. With that goal in mind it becomes possible to avoid those types of quests for which there can be no possible application. Ultimately, any idea might have a use, but there is such an abundance of easily accessed and obviously valuable ideas, that chasing remotely valuable ideas would prevent me from grasping the readily available good ones.
Is philosophy following the call of curiosity into pursuing a semi-known into the unknown while avoiding the unknowable? As for me:
Philosophy is exploring the alternate paths to human contentment.