Learning the world through philosophy
© Andrei Tikhomirov, 2019
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Philosophy as a method of cognition of the world
Philosophy as a type of human activity and knowledge arose more than 2.5 thousand years ago, almost simultaneously in several centers of the then cultural ecumenical center – in China, India, ancient Israel and later in ancient Greece. Karl Jaspers called this period in the history of human civilization «axial time», during which philosophical teachings arose and some of these teachings later became religions.
Philosophy, if you restore the original etymology of this word, is «love of Sofia», which is often and not very accurately translated as «love of wisdom». In fact, the ancient Greek concept of «sophia» is much more capacious and complex than just «wisdom». If, in the view of Plato, having fixed the word «philosophy» in European terminology, the philosopher was just a sage or a lover of philosophizing, he would not have entered this very word «philosopher», which speaks of love for Sofia, but would have stopped simply on the word sage. The fact is that Plato, under sophia, did not mean the acquired, subjective property of the human mind, but a certain «great and befitting only deity» objective quality of a reasonably arranged and harmonious world.
Philosophy in its origin was conceived not as a simple creation of truths, but as a striving for truth, as such an ideal mood of the soul and mind of a person that can lead to harmonious balance, both the inner mental life of a person and his complex relationship with the world.
Philosophy once could have had the status of a special science. A special form of cognition, as, for example, in antiquity, when it was, in essence, identical with the whole culture of that time. But by the twentieth century, the century of an unprecedented differentiation of knowledge, when each question moved to its own separate science, philosophy no longer had «its own land». She lost her former magical power. This, of course, is an extremely pointed position, which is opposed to the other extreme, that is, the position according to which philosophy not only did not «end», but, on the contrary, acquired a synthetic function in much the same way as in antiquity. For the first time in history, philosophy has realized its true place as the queen of sciences, replacing so long reigning religion. For the first time, she approached public life so much that she began to influence it not only indirectly, but also directly. And for the first time, philosophy gained the right to evaluate and even solve conflict problems not only in socio-political, but also in economic and even scientific and academic life. If we do not openly recognize this leading role of philosophical thinking, if we agree that the once royal building of philosophical knowledge was broken up in brick in favor of the private sciences, then we thereby lose the unity of our spiritual world, which alone can support us in our practical actions.
The originality of philosophy as a way of understanding the world is revealed by comparing it with the mythological comprehension of reality. Mythology is the worldview of a primitive communal, tribal society. Mythology consists of spontaneously developing legends, legends about life, about the origin, about the origin of crafts, which are transmitted through generations. The essence of mythology is the transfer of community-clan relations to the whole world. Mythological ideas are developed collectively unconsciously and are a fantastic, generalized reflection of natural and social being in the human mind of a tribal society. The main features of the mythological worldview are as follows:
1. The idea of the kinship of forces and phenomena and human collectives. Anthropomorphism, i.e. transfer of human properties to the whole world.
2. Personification, personification of the natural forces and methods of human activity.
3. Mythological thinking is artistic in nature, it operates with images, but not concepts.
4. Authoritarianism, that is, the justification of what is happening through authority.
Philosophy is based on a conscious theoretical, rational attitude to the world, on the opposition of subject and object, on the subject’s awareness of himself as an active figure.
Philosophy studies the universal laws of nature, society, and human thinking. In other words, philosophy seeks to realize a certain basis for all spheres of reality, generating all the diversity of the world, but retaining stability in all changes.
The subject of philosophy is the search for absolute, timeless norms, ideal standards of these types. I. Kant suggested several basic philosophical questions, which in their totality constitute the subject of philosophical knowledge: 1) what can I know? 2) what can I hope for? 3) what should I do? 4) what is a person? Moreover, Kant considered the fourth question to be final, absorbing the content of all the preceding ones. For Kant, man is a creature capable of knowledge, faith in God, and moral behavior. The mystery here is that these abilities are mutually exclusive, and therefore it is necessary to find out how these conflicting abilities are connected in the human mind, what is their hierarchy?
There is another system of philosophical issues that is widespread. These questions are as follows. The basic question – «how do thinking and matter relate?» – is divided into two relatively independent ones: «what is primary – matter or consciousness?» And «how does cognitive thinking relate to the world outside of us?» It is generally accepted that these questions are an expression in the language of philosophy of the most important problems for a person: «how do soul and body relate?», «Is there life after death?», «Is it possible to match goals and results of human activity?»
Philosophy, as a type of spiritual activity, exists, as already mentioned, about three thousand years. And at all times there was no shortage of people who denied its social significance. The philosophers were accused in different ways, but the essence of the accusations was unchanged: they did not bring direct benefit to society. In part, such allegations should be considered fair. «Consumes» philosophical knowledge a relatively small circle of people with high education and involved in decision-making. In other words, philosophy appeals to the intellectual and political elite. Or, as Voltaire poisonously said: «Philosophy is not for shoemakers.»
It is clear that philosophy has a special role in society. Although indirectly, philosophy is usually connected to the process of making global, strategic decisions that determine the direction of human activity. Hence the main function of philosophy is the study of the ultimate foundations of human activity. «Ultimate grounds» are usually considered to be representations that are not fully realized by their carriers, but nevertheless condition their consciousness. «Ultimate foundations» determine the strategy of activity, in other words, «the meaning of life».
The disclosure of the specifics of philosophy as a form of social consciousness implies the need for disclosure and its social functions, the role that it plays in the life of society and the individual. The main functions of philosophy include: methodological, epistemological, ideological, constructive, ideological, intellectual, practical. Let us consider in more detail the methodological and ideological functions.
The separation of the methodological function as the initial one is due to the fact that philosophy occupies a special place in the process of awareness of being in the structure of social consciousness. Each of the forms of social consciousness, acting as an awareness of the dependence of human activity on a certain sphere of reality, is a reflection of this particular side of human existence. Philosophy, considering in its most generalized form the relation of a person to the world and to himself, does not consider individual spheres of human being as such, but their interconnection through the prism of revealing the nature and essence of the world, the nature and essence of man and their interconnection. Therefore, the basic principles of philosophy are universally valid, have methodological significance for each of the forms of social consciousness in the process of a person’s awareness of his attitude to all spheres of reality and to himself.
Under the methodology should be understood a system of initial, fundamental principles that determine the method of approach to the analysis and evaluation of phenomena, the nature of the relationship to them, the nature and orientation of cognitive and practical activities. These principles comprise ideas expressed in a general form about the essence of the world and man, about the ultimate foundations of their existence, and about man’s attitude to the world and to himself. Of course, in different philosophical systems the interpretation of these initial principles is different. Nevertheless, in these interpretations one can see the desire to understand the specifics of a philosophical understanding of reality and the place of a person in it. Thus, the methodological function of philosophy provides for all forms of social consciousness, for the theoretical and practical activities of man, initial, fundamental principles, the application of which determines the general orientation of the approach to understanding reality, the orientation of cognitive and practical activity. This function suggests that a person’s attitude to the world should proceed from his awareness of the nature and essence of the world and man, the ultimate foundations of their existence, man’s awareness of his place in the world and his attitude to him, awareness of the general structure of the world and the state in which he is.
The worldview function of philosophy lies in the fact that, arming people with knowledge about the world and about man, about his place in the world and the possibilities of his knowledge and transformation, it influences the formation of life attitudes, the awareness by social subjects of goals and meaning of life.
Often, when it comes to worldview, its characteristic as a generalized system of ideas and views on the world, a person, on his place in the world, etc. is highlighted. Such an approach is important, since the worldview is always based on a certain mental material, on a certain system of knowledge. However, in this case, the worldview is reduced only to an objective system of knowledge, divorced from the social subject. Often when characterizing a worldview, attention is actually drawn to the etymology of the word – and then it appears as a general view of the world.
The worldview should be considered not only from the point of view of its content, which is the result of the reflection of reality in the minds of people, but also from the point of view of the relationship of knowledge about the world and about a person with a social subject, with his attitude to reality based on this knowledge. With this approach, the importance of knowledge for human life is highlighted. Therefore, worldview should be understood not only as a system of generalized knowledge about the world and a person, but as a system of knowledge that for a social subject acquires the value of its own way of seeing, understanding, analyzing, evaluating phenomena, determining the nature of a person’s attitude to the world and to himself, consciousness of goals and the meaning of life, the nature of actions and actions. It is a way of spiritual and practical development of the world.
Philosophy performs a number of cognitive functions related to the functions of science. The immediate goal of science is to describe, explain and predict the processes and phenomena of reality that make up the subject of its study, based on the laws it opens. Philosophy has always, to one degree or another, performed functions of the methodology of cognition and the philosophical interpretation of its results in relation to science. Philosophy is also united with science by the desire for a theoretical form of building knowledge, for the logical proof of its conclusions.
The European tradition, dating back to antiquity, highly valued the unity of reason and morality, at the same time firmly connected philosophy with science. Even Greek thinkers attached great importance to genuine knowledge and competence, in contrast to the less scientific, and sometimes just lightweight opinion. Such a difference is fundamental in many forms of human activity, including philosophy. So what are the results of the intellectual efforts of philosophers: reliable knowledge or only opinion, a breakdown, a kind of mental game? What are the guarantees of the truth of philosophical generalizations, justifications, forecasts? Is philosophy entitled to claim the status of science, or are such claims groundless? Let’s try to answer these questions, turning to history.
The first attempt to outline the circle of tasks of philosophy, in the face of the existing and just beginning to take shape specific sciences, was made by Aristotle. In contrast to the private sciences, each of which is engaged in the study of its own field of phenomena, he defined philosophy as a doctrine of the root causes, first principles, the most general principles of life.