Definition and Meaning of Philosophy

Philosophy is the methodical work of thoughts. It is an art of life. It tries to understand the meaning and the value of life. It is an attempt to understand the ultimate Reality. Philosophy is the study of the principles which underlie all knowledge. Philosophy tries to discover ultimate truth. It is an attempt of rational interpretation and unification of all our experiences. It tries to give a rational picture of the whole universe.

The word `philosophy’ is derived from the Greek word `philosophia’ which means striving after wisdom. Philosophy is love of knowledge and philosopher is a person who seeks knowledge. Philosopher is an impartial spectator of the eternal universe. Initially philosophy was the intellectual movement. It was simply the search of knowledge without any specialization.

In India, Philosophy is called ‘Darshan’ which means ‘Vision’ and also the means or instruments of Vision. Indian philosophy arises out of the urge for the direct realization of ultimate Reality. We find the seeds of Indian philosophy in the Upanishads, the sacred books of Hindus.

Philosophy arises out of curiosity and wonder. Man is a rational animal. He has the capacity of reasoning. The natural phenomena such as the sun, moon, raining, thunder, were miracles for a primitive man. Man tried to understand these miracles by his rational thinking. Gradually speculation took the place of wonder. So called miracles were explained by one or more basic principles. Philosophy then became speculative and intellectual inquiry. Its object of inquiry shifted from material objects to the principles beyond these objects. Philosophy tried to satisfy the mystical side of human nature too.

It is very difficult to give precise definition of philosophy. Let us try to know some of the definitions:

1. Philosophy is the Study of Reality Underlying Phenomenal World

Philosophy is the study of ultimate Reality. We know this world with the help of our sense organs. We also know that many a times our sense organs cannot provide the correct information. Philosophy aims at understanding the fundamental nature of reality behind our experiences. It inquires in the nature of such concepts as Matter, Self, God, Space, Time which are not known directly. Philosophy tries to know the essence of the worldly objects. All worldly objects seem to be appearances. They are glimpses of the reality. Philosophy seeks the transcendental, Absolute reality behind these worldly objects. As the light changes the color of the objects too changes. The question arises ‘What is the true color of the objects?’ There must be something which exists, irrespective of all these variations. Philosophy aims at knowing the Reality which is expressed through different experiences.

2.Philosophy is a Synoptic View

Philosophy is the study of ultimate Reality. It is the most generalized knowledge. Different sciences deal with a specific portion of the universe. For example, Astronomy studies heavenly bodies, physics, and chemistry give knowledge about the compositions of material objects. Psychology deals with human and animal behavior.

Philosophy gives a general description of the whole universe. So it inquires into the nature of material objects (matter) as well as mental processes (mind). It studies the nature of matter, the self, the world, God, Space, Time, their interrelations, their meaning and purposes.

Will Durant defines philosophy as the study of experience as a whole or a portion of experience in relation to the whole. Philosophy aims at systematization of different elements of this universe. It sketches the rational picture of the universe.

3. Philosophy Is an Unusually Persistent Attempt to Think Consistently

This definition is given by Plato. Philosophy is speculative. It does not assume anything. It questions all our experiences. Philosophy is an endless intellectual enquiry in the search of truth. If we go on asking the questions logically, we can arrive at the clear rational concept of the universe. Philosophy is the critical examination of our beliefs. This process eliminates many wrong vague, prejudiced notions. It also gives rise to many questions such as what is knowledge.

4. Philosophy Harmonizes the Conclusions of Different Sciences

Herbert Spencer believed that philosophy is completely unified knowledge. Philosophy is an organic system. The principles of different sciences can be deduced from this organic, unified system. All the principles of different sciences must be harmonious with one another.

Herbert Spencer’s philosophy is called as synthetic philosophy. Philosophy is the universal science which combines the general truths obtained in the special sciences into a self consistent system.

5. Philosophy is the Mother of All Sciences

Life is a struggle and knowledge is essential for the survival. The search of knowledge resulted in specialization of knowledge. As knowledge of particular field became possible, it developed into a different science. Once, physics (natural philosophy), zoology, astronomy, psychology, all special sciences were included in philosophy. All modern sciences arose out of philosophy. So philosophy is called as the mother of all sciences.

Philosophy is also called as the science of sciences. Philosophy is the Queen of Sciences. The whole world is her subject matter.

6. Philosophy is Conceptual Analysis

The thinkers of Analytical school of philosophy like A.J. Ayer believe that philosophy has nothing to do with transcendental ideas. It should concentrate on empirical experiences. All philosophical questions are the questions about language. They arise due to ambiguity and vagueness of concepts like Mind, Matter, Truth, Good, Beauty, Nationality, Religion, Friendship, Love etc. However we do not know the precise meaning of these of words. We fail to express these concepts in proper language. When these concepts are interpreted in different ways, even the contrary theories may arise. Aristotle strongly holds the principle of causation where as Hume completely denies the casual relation.

Even today the concepts of friendship and love are misinterpreted in the society. That is why we read the news of offences against women. Socrates believed that a philosopher should help to reveal the clear, precise and accurate meaning of the concepts. Socrates also believed that all of us are rational beings. A philosopher has to simply uncover the correct knowledge which is already present in our mind. A philosopher does not create anything of his own. It is like a job of midwife who does not create a child but helps the child to enter this world.

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