A true philosopher must never give up.
A Novel About the History of PhilosophyWHAT IS PHILOSOPHY?Dear Sophie,Lots of people have hobbies. Some people collect old coins or foreign stamps, some do needlework, others spend most of their spare time on a particular sport.A lot of people enjoy
A Novel About the History of Philosophy
WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY?
Lots of people have hobbies. Some people collect old coins or foreign stamps, some do needlework, others spend most of their spare time on a particular sport.
A lot of people enjoy reading. But reading tastes differ widely.
There are questions that certainly should interest everyone. They are precisely the questions this course is about.
What is the most important thing in life? If we ask someone living on the edge of starvation, the answer is food. If we ask someone dying of cold, the answer is warmth.
If we put the same question to someone who feels lonely and isolated, the answer will probably be the company of other people.
But when these basic needs have been satisfied--will there still be something that everybody needs? Philosophers think so. They believe that man cannot live by bread alone. Of course everyone needs food. And everyone needs love and care. But there is something else--apart from that--which everyone needs, and that is to figure out who we are and why we are here.
Being interested in why we are here is not a "casual" interest like collecting stamps.
People who ask such questions are taking part in a debate that has gone on as long as man has lived on this planet. How the universe, the earth, and life came into being is a bigger and more important question than who won the most gold medals in the last Olympics.
The best way of approaching philosophy is to ask a few philosophical questions: How was the world created? Is there any will or meaning behind what happens? Is there a life after death? How can we answer these questions? And most important, how ought we to live? People have been asking these questions throughout the ages.
We know of no culture which has not concerned itself with what man is and where the world came from.
History presents us with many different answers to each question. So it is easier to ask philosophical questions than to answer them.
Today as well each individual has to discover his own answer to these same questions.
You cannot find out whether there is a God or whether there is life after death by looking in an encyclopedia. Nor does the encyclopedia tell us how we ought to live.
However, reading what other people have believed can help us formulate our own view of life.
... The only thing we require to be good philosophers is the faculty of wonder...
Greek philosopher who lived more than two thousand years ago believed that philosophy had its origin in man's sense of wonder. Man thought it was so astonishing to be alive that philosophical questions arose of their own accord.
So even if it is difficult to answer a question, there may be one--and only one--right answer. Either there is a kind of existence after death--or there is not.
Wasn't it extraordinary to be in the world right now, wandering around in a wonderful adventure!
As Sophie started to think about being alive, she began to realize that she would not be alive forever. I am in the world now, she thought, but one day I shall be gone.
Was there a life after death? This was another question the cat was blissfully unaware of.
You can't experience being alive without realizing that you have to die, she thought.
But it's just as impossible to realize you have to die without thinking how incredibly amazing it is to be alive.
How tragic that most people had to get ill before they understood what a gift it was to be alive. Or else they had to find a mysterious letter in the mailbox!
It was possible that space had always existed, in which case she would not also need to figure out where it came from. But could anything have always existed? Something deep down inside her protested at the idea. Surely everything that exists must have had a beginning? So space must sometime have been created out of something else.
But if space had come from something else, then that something else must also have come from something. Sophie felt she was only deferring the problem. At some point, something must have come from nothing. But was that possible? Wasn't that just as impossible as the idea that the world had always existed?
We do not even know that there is life on other planets. But you might stumble upon yourself one day. You might suddenly stop short and see yourself in a completely new light. On just such a walk in the woods.
I am an extraordinary being, you think. I am a mysterious creature.
Who am I? you ask. You know that you are stumbling around on a planet in the universe. But what is the universe?
If you discover yourself in this manner you will have discovered something as mysterious as the Martian we just mentioned. You will not only have seen a being from outer space. You will feel deep down that you are yourself an extraordinary being.
But what about the world itself, Sophie? Do you think it can do what it does? The world is also floating in space.
For somewhere inside ourselves, something tells us that life is a huge mystery. This is something we once experienced, long before we learned to think the thought.
A philosopher never gets quite used to the world. To him or her, the world continues to seem a bit unreasonable--bewildering, even enigmatic. Philosophers and small children thus have an important faculty in common. You might say that throughout his life a philosopher remains as thin-skinned as a child. A philosopher knows that in reality he knows very little. That is why he constantly strives to achieve true insight. Socrates was one of these rare people. He knew that he knew nothing about life and about the world. And now comes the important part: it troubled him that he knew so little.
Are we born with innate "ideas"? What is the difference between a plant, an animal, and a human? Why does it rain? What does it take to live a good life?
Sartre made an important observation when he said that existential questions cannot be answered once and for all. A philosophical question is by definition something that each generation, each individual even, must ask over and over again.
Who had brought this letter?