THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY

¿WHAT IS PHILOSPHY?

Philosophy is above all a feeling of amazement at reality and asking why things are as they are.

1. THE GREEKS

Philosophy started in Greece in the 5th century BC, when people asked themselves what life was like and why. What is nature? What is life made up of?

Being used to explaining natural phenomena through myths and legends, the Greek philosophers tried to explain the secrets of nature through reason. They tried to imagine what material made up the cosmos, starting with Thales of Miletus, who said everything was made up of water.

Socrates and his disciples centered their inquiries on the person, making philosophy a more practical tool for finding out about human beings. Socrates became famous in Athens for asking people ‘What is justice?’, ‘What is beauty?’. He demonstrated that people knew much less than they thought. When they asked him, he would say, ‘I only know that I know nothing’, realizing that acceptance of one’s ignorance is the first step towards wisdom.

Faced with the questions that his master Socrates asked, Plato found the answers in what he called ideas. What are ideas? Plato divides the world in sensory, perceived through feelings, changing and uncertain, and the world of ideas which is permanent and the source of all truth. Good, which Plato compared to the Sun, is the most fundamental idea from which all other truths are born.

Aristotle rejected the big abstract ideas of his teacher Plato, preferring observation accompanied by logic. The Platonic ideas were no longer sufficient to explain the richness of things if you didn’t take into account the material of which they were made. So his questions focussed on the particularities of the world and the human beings who lived in it. What made each one unique? For Aristotle, the wise man was not the one who contemplates good and evil but rather the one who knows what to do in each situation.

In Greek philosophy it’s worth mentioning two influential schools of philosophy which used philosophy as a way of helping us live.

The Stoics thought suffering comes from not accepting how things are; the road to happiness is in the control of the soul that allows us to feel free of the passions and desires that disturb us: ”he who doesn’t expect much will not be disappointed”

The Epicureans on the other hand believed that wisdom is knowing how to enjoy sustainable pleasures, which means those that in the long run will not create suffering.

2. CHRISTIAN PHILOSOPHY ( MEDIEVAL)

While Greek philosophy asks questions using reason, medieval philosophy asks questions from the viewpoint of Christian faith.

In this way Saint Agustin maintains the Platonic distinction between the world of ideas, represented by God, permanent and eternal, and the sensorial world, the earth and its people, an imperfect manifestation of God . We are capable of doing bad because we don’t have the perfection of God.

Meanwhile, Saint Thomas proposed reconciling faith and reason, uniting Aristotelian thought with Christian faith . God is the root of everything, the main engine and the cause of all causes.

3. MODERNITY: RATIONALISM AND EMPIRICISM

In the 17th century one of the most important movements in Europe’s history burst forth : Modernity, with the help of the new sciences, broke with the Christian way of asking, to prioritize a purely rational and mathematical focus.

Everything begins through causality: modern philosophers demanded a reason for everything, a cause, instead of accepting reality through God. Descartes was the first to demand certainty in knowledge through principles and demonstrations. His form of analysis allowed us to think of things in terms of a big machine in which everything is due to a previous reason. ”I think therefore I am”. This new idea banished faith, allowing us to think of a world without God.

The thinker who took this rationalism to an extreme is Spinoza, who deduced, through mathematical principles, a new way of living without the help of religion. God is the universe, nature, reason, truth and everything that exists.

In contrast to rationalism arose Empiricism, with figures such as David Hume, who rejected the notion of causality, alleging that only our feelings are a valid source of knowledge. For example, although experience tells us that smoke comes from fire, it doesn’t follow that fire always produces smoke. In this way, Empiricism has a strong component of scepticism, renewing in a certain way the Socratic thought of ”I only know that I know nothing.”

Facing these two contrasting currents, Kant built a system that resolved the question in ourselves: it is true that we don’t know things for themselves, only what our senses tell us, while these ideas are processed in our minds. The most important category is causality which allows us to order the world. This emphasis on the mind gave place to what we know as idealism, which as its name indicates, means that to understand things you have to  take into account ideas, the subject and the thought.

4. PHILOSOPHERS OF THE SCHOOL OF SUSPICION

In the second half of the 19th century, three great philosophers appeared who paradoxically were united in an unprecedented attack against philosophical thinking . They were suspicious of previous philosophy because it did not consider the forces which escape our conscious analysis.

Marx emphasised the economic and sociological categories which man set up and which far from being neutral, legitimised the exploitation of one class, the bourgeoisie, of another, the proletariat . The important factor for understanding man is not the individual but society, whose engine is class war . Communism as proposed by Marx is the elimination of classes and therefore exploitation.

Nietzsche, on the other hand, rebelled against philosophy which he identified with Socrates and Plato.  Above all he rejected the Platonic division between the real world (of ideas) and the apparent world, as it subjects us to transcendent values that make man a moral slave. It was necessary to create new ways of living, of thinking, which would extol life and bring about Superman, who would produce his own system of values and boost our lust for life.

Finally Freud proposed a new way of understanding our mind through what we don’t understand about ourselves: the unconscious self which is determined by childhood traumas and also by instincts, which society represses. Freud discovered a part of ourselves which is inaccessible to our conscious analysis, and which makes our own identities something that is never completely attainable by our conscious understanding.

 

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