The Philosophy of Philosophy

Musings on World Philosophy Day from Ratan Bhattacharjee

In his ‘Twilight of the Idols’, Friedrich Nietzsche said: “Without music, life would be a mistake.” Without philosophy, life would be impossible too.
Plato banished poets from his Republic which he imagined would be ruled well by the philosophers but the universe – during his time and later – is full of stupid people who lack philosophical thoughts. As Albert Einstein said, “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the universe.”
But the philosophers fight among themselves so much that it seems easier to live without taking recourse to philosophy. Probably that is why the world still has poets even after the banishment of the poets from Plato’s world of philosophy.
The world is divided into the Oriental and the diametrically opposite Occidental philosophy. Eastern philosophy is largely spiritual in nature while western philosophy is quite practical. Within the subject of philosophy, analytical thinking is used to investigate existential problems. While western philosophy uses logic and reasoning to address these problems, eastern philosophy is more subject to interpretation.
Although both schools of thought are concerned about virtues, there are some differences between the two. Western philosophy is dominant in the western world, primarily in Europe while eastern philosophy is predominant in Asian nations such as China, India, and Japan.
In a larger sense, western culture tries to discover and verify the truth through the use of accurate facts from logical sources. Eastern civilisations, on the other hand, accept facts as presented and are more concerned with maintaining the equilibrium than with the sources. Eastern philosophy encompasses metaphysics, epistemology, and religion despite the lack of a clear demarcation among the multiple categories.
Western philosophy is the viewpoint that originates from the Greek philosophy that impacted the majority of western civilisation. This philosophy attempts to uncover and demonstrate the truth via the use of logical and rational data. When it comes to eastern versus western philosophy, western philosophers place a higher value on individual values than eastern philosophers, who are more concerned with societal duty. Western philosophy is split into five groups: metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics, and aesthetics.
Eastern philosophy is a varied collection of perspectives on existence and introspection with a focus on comprehending the never-ending cycle of the universe. In essence, it lacks the strict intellectual conventions prevalent in western thought. While eastern philosophy takes a more communal approach to seeking a purpose in life, western philosophy takes a more individualistic one. Eastern philosophers are just looking for solutions to the meaning of life and existence. Western philosophers, on the other hand, seek information that is logical and rational.
Exactly when Socrates began thinking deeply about life and morality is unknown. Accounts and dialogues from his students mostly transport us to a time when Socrates was a relatively old man. His thoughts were usually geared towards the pursuit of ethics and value-laden life. He searched for a set of universal truths that would help Athenian society live a morally upright life. According to him, the physical world we live in is just a mirror image of things that are false. The real truth, to him, is found in justice and good. He said material things like wealth, financial gains and power have not and cannot give us true happiness.
Socrates believed that a society that ignores the quest for philosophical constructs and ideas is doomed to be sad and miserable. The pre-Socratic philosophers had a different approach that desisted from using mythological analysis of the environment. Examples of such schools were the Milesians, Xenophanes, Pythagoreans, Eleatics, Heraclitus, and Sophists. The focus of the study was mainly on cosmology, mathematics, and ontology. In Sophism, for example, philosophers believed that there are relative ways of explaining the constants in the environment.
Socratic philosophy sharply differs from its predecessors because it searches for universal truth. Unlike the Sophists, Socrates believed that the law (nomos) never changes. The ideals (forms) of justice, beauty, bravery, and honesty remain unchanged. Hence, those truths should be the pursuit of every one of us in order to lead a moral life. The sensible world, according to Plato is the world of contingent, contrary to the intelligible world, which contains essences or ideas, intelligible forms, and models of all things, saving the phenomena and giving them meaning.
Building on the demonstration by Socrates that those regarded as experts in ethical matters did not have the understanding necessary for a good human life, Plato envisioned a systematic, rational treatment of the forms and their interrelations, starting with the most fundamental among them (the good or the One); in ethics and moral psychology, he developed the view that the good life requires not just a certain kind of knowledge (as Socrates had suggested) but also habituation to healthy emotional responses and therefore harmony between the three parts of the soul (according to Plato – reason, spirit and appetite).
Aristotle was the first philosopher to seriously advance a theory of virtue ethics, which remains one of the three major schools of ethical thought taken most seriously by contemporary philosophers. With all these contributions, he may have been the single most important philosopher in history until at least the late 18th century. St. Thomas Aquinas synthesised Aristotle’s views with his own Catholic theology, reintroducing Aristotelian philosophy to the world and establishing the foundation for the scientific advances of the enlightenment.
Indian philosophies share many concepts such as dharma, karma, samsara, reincarnation, dukkha, renunciation, and meditation with almost all of them focussing on the ultimate goal of liberation of the individual from dukkha and samsara through a diverse range of spiritual practices (moksha, nirvana). One of India’s greatest philosophers, Adi Shankara, has said it. Really, India is a great land where many profound thinkers and philosophers took birth. They are behind some of the deep ideas that still mesmerise people all over the world. Here’s a list of a few famous philosophers from India. These philosophers have shaped many of the beliefs and ideologies that people today live on. The main aim of these philosophers was to bring global peace, humanity, and equity in turbulent times. These thinkers are key figures in introducing the Indian philosophy of Yoga, Vedanta, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Samkhya, and Self-Knowledge to the western world. And through their works, the world is still learning Indian philosophical views on the nature of the world (cosmology), logic, the nature of reality (metaphysics), ethics, the nature of knowledge (epistemology), and theology.
There are six primary schools of Vedic philosophy — Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Samkhya, Yoga, Mīmāṃsā and Vedanta, and five major heterodox (sramanic) schools — Jain, Buddhist, Ajivika, Ajñana, and Charvaka. However, there are other methods of classification. Vidyaranya for instance identifies 16 schools of Indian philosophy by including those that belong to the Śaiva and Raseśvara traditions. The main schools of Indian philosophy were formalised and recognised chiefly between 500 BCE and the late centuries of the common era competition and integration between the various schools was intense, despite later claims of Hindu unity.
Some schools like Jainism, Buddhism, Yoga, Śaivaand Vedanta survived, but others like Ajñana, Charvaka and Ājīvika did not. Finally, it should be realised that life is above all philosophical formalities. Whatever fight is there among the philosophers, life goes on in its own way. The positive motivation of the philosophers is most needed for advancement. Thomas Hardy, in spite of his prolific writings, did not get the Nobel Prize for his pessimistic philosophy. On the other hand, Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘Gitanjali’ bagged it by inspiring the world with a positive philosophy of light and hope.
(The author is a senior academician, trilingual poet & story writer and a contributor at The Shillong Times)

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