Thursday, March 19, 2009

Why do philosophy?

I've read Josef Pieper's In Defense of Philosophy for our philosophy club. The next meeting is on "Why do philosophy?" so the book seems a natural fit. In order to get my thoughts organized, I'm using the blog to come up with a summary of the ideas in the book.

The object of philosophy is the totality of things, that is, all of objective reality. One is tempted to say it shares its object with science, but philosophy includes not only the observer with his faculties, flaws, etc., but also thought, history, art, religion, faith and many other intangibles that science does not touch upon. It includes all of human experience. Moreover, science usually focuses on understanding more and more about one particular object or phenomenon, excluding distractions and irrelevant data. For the philosopher, no datum is irrelevant. If something happens that is not accounted for in a person's philosophy, it cannot be rejected.

The method of philosophy is different from that of science. Science is done through a systematic application of a method; philosophy comes from an existential disposition. Scientific method can be taught in school; philosophical reflection is caused often by some shock or trigger like facing death or confronting Eros in the classical sense of a passionate love and wonder (not a sudden sensual desire).

Above all else, science seeks practical answers and practical results. How can we harness the energy in the atom to light up our cities? What is the value in keeping the great variety of species alive on our planet? And so on. Men and women work together on problems to solve them and contribute to the betterment of mankind. Philosophy does not seek to build a better mousetrap. There is no absolute certainty or achievement in philosophy as a system because it is the act of an individual. Since it depends on the individual's openness to reality, progress is hard to measure and each generation rediscovers the wonders of reality. In trying to comprehend all of reality, success is not guaranteed. In fact, the better one is at philosophy, the more one realizes how little one knows about the totality of things.

Which is not to say that philosophy results in frustration. Pieper makes the distinction between the useful and the enjoyable. Philosophy looks at its object, not with a useful end in mind, but contemplates it and accepts what it receives as good because it is true. Philosophy looks to the good as such and is thus meaningful for human life. When a person knows reality (even in a limited or incomplete way), he or she takes possession of it the most immediate and intense way. It is the "a-ha!" moment, the light bulb that goes off over the head, that is the experience that philosophy grants. Philosophy can give sublime moments of satisfaction.

Since man is not a purely spiritual being, he cannot spend all of his time in contemplation. Even so, he should seek opportunities to retreat and reflect on things. It leads to true fulfillment.

1 comment:

  1. I'm going to print out your blog post and read it aloud before you have a chance to speak. Then it will seem like YOU stole MY ideas.


    - BJ