What Is Philosophy Anyway?

What Is Philosophy Anyway?

By Daniel Acuff PhD



Why did the chicken cross the road?

Emily Dickenson:  “Because it could not stop for death.”

Henry David Thoreau: “To live deliberately and suck all the marrow out of life.”

Ernest Hemingway: “To die. In the rain.”

Salvador Dali: “The fish.”

Eternal Optimist: “Because Love and Success and Happiness is over there.”

Eternal Pessimist: “Because life sucks, then you die.”

Jack Nicholson: “Because it [censored] wanted to. That’s the [censored] reason!”

Mark Twain: “The news of its crossing has been greatly exaggerated.”

These quotes demonstrate a wide variety of attitudes toward life, ranging from the ridiculous to the profound to the absurd, and to some degree are different individuals’ answers to the question: “What is your philosophy of life?” – But they don’t at all approach a technical description of philosophy as a discipline.

Most people are not aware of this more studious approach to defining philosophy. And to learn what it is in a more systematic way can be very helpful as we humanoids walk, trot or race along life’s curving paths.

I was playing golf not long ago on a sunny day in Southern California and I was partnered up with a fellow who told me he was a professor of philosophy at a local college. Pretty sure I knew the answer, my ears twitched as I tossed a question at him: “What is philosophy, professor?”

He did a quick brain scan search and came up with: “Philosophy is knowing the right way to live one’s life and then staying true to that way.”

My response was: “Yes, well I can see that captures an essence of what Buddhism is all about, but that’s not a technical description of what philosophy is.” I went on to tell him what I had learned in a philosophy graduate course at the University of Southern California and through other research. I told him, philosophy essentially asks three questions:

One: What is real and what is not real? This is termed “ONTOLOGY” and is the study of being or existence.

Two: What is true and what is false. This is “EPISTEMOLOGY.” And it carries a sub question: How do we know something is true or false? How can we prove it?

Three: What is good and what is bad? This is termed “AXIOLOGY” and is equated with morality or ethics.

He did not respond and didn’t talk to me the rest of the round. I didn’t mean to upset him, I just was amazed that a professor of philosophy wasn’t knowledgeable about the foundational elements of his discipline.

This short article has no intention of exploring philosophy in depth. It would take a book, not an article. So that’s not our purpose here. Our aim is to assist you in determining which kind of “philosopher” you are in your life.

How a person responds to these three fundamental questions indicates to which “camp” of philosophy he/she belongs.

The IDEALIST:  The “Father of Idealism” was Plato. An Idealist’s answer to “What is real?” is that you don’t, and can’t, know ultimate reality. You can only believe things based on your perception. If God exists, God is the only true reality.

What is true and false? And how is it proven? You have to rely on ultimate reality (EG: God) to communicate that, such as through revelation like the Bible.

What is good and bad? Again, you rely on what a higher source tells you such as in The Ten Commandments or the Koran.

The REALIST: The “Father of Realism” was Aristotle, student of Plato and the founder of the scientific method.

Using the classic test of whether the glass is half empty or half full as an example, we see that idealists tend to be positive thinkers – i.e. those who see the glass as being half full. Realists may not hold the opposite or negative point of view, but they do view a situation through less hopeful eyes. Realists are stereotypically seen as people who are very rational, who think carefully, and weight their options before making a choice. In this sense, realists make safer and more practical choices when compared to idealists, who may be willing to make more risky decisions.

The EXISTENTIALIST: Søren Kierkegaard, “the ultimate anti-Christianity Christian”, is often considered to be the father of EXISTENTIALISM and Friedrich Nietzsche, “the ultimate anti-Christ philosopher” is one of the first atheistic existentialists.

If you lean toward EXISTENTIALISM your answers to the three questions of philosophy are based on you as the source and would be something like the following: What is real is whatever I decide. How is it proven? Through my experience. And what is right/wrong? Again whatever I decide.

There often are individuals who are a combination of these three fundamental belief systems. For example one person might consider themselves to be a Christian Existentialist, and another might say they are combination of an Idealist and a Realist. Depends on the situation.

So, what kind of philosophy most resonates with you and your beliefs? How do you answer the three fundamental questions of philosophy – What is Real? What is true and how do we prove it? And what is good and bad? What kind of philosopher ambles around in your shoes?

And remember…

When life gives you melons, you might be dyslexic

You can carry a rabbit’s foot for good luck, but remember: It didn’t work for the rabbit.

Choose old people for enemies. They die, you win.

Dr. Acuff’s Ph.D. is in philosophy, sociology and education. He has been a seminar leader, radio talk show host and in Philosophy of education. He is author of fifteen books including three philosophical/spiritual works of fiction: God Lied – What’s Really Going on Here, The Mysteries of Quan, and Golf and the Zen Master


For more information about Lake Chapala visit: www.chapala.com

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