Philosophy takes its name from the Greek word, “filosofia” [philosophia], which means “love of wisdom.” As the name hints, philosophy is best understood as an activity or as an art rather than as a well-defined, specialized body of knowledge.
Though philosophers seem to disagree among themselves about almost everything, they all share a common stance: each person must be credited with the ability to use reason and experience to ascertain what (if anything) is true and what (if anything) is right. In short, philosophers hold that we must find wisdom for ourselves, using reason and experience, not by blindly accepting outside authority such as parents, peers, teachers, preachers, popes, or kings.
In accord with this principle, philosophy courses may be thought of as exercise classes for the mind: the point is to “buff up” by exercising the human talent for clear, careful, rational thought. Part of philosophical training has us looking to history’s great thinkers (such as Socrates) for the same reason basketball players study the sport’s great players (such as Michael Jordan); they are models for us to emulate.
Philosophy concentrates its activity in four equally important, interdependent but distinct areas of thought:
- VALUES (Axiology)The nature and justification of values; the normative evaluation of human conduct, society, and government (political and social philosophy); the nature of beauty (aesthetics), of morality (ethics), and the like.
- KNOWLEDGE (Epistemology)The study of knowledge itself, of its scope and limits, and of the justification for claims of human knowledge
- BEING AND REALITY (Metaphysics, Ontology)the study of fundamental nature of reality (including the nature of man, of mind, of consciousness, and of God and religion.)
- LOGICThe study of reasoning itself, of what makes for meritorious reasoning, and where reasoning can go wrong.
In each area, the goal is to get clear concepts, to examine principles and values, to consider the place of factual information, and to reason correctly.
The skills philosophy develops, the application of critical analysis and sound reasoning to identify and solve problems, are extremely valuable for any person who intends to pursue a career (e.g., in business, medicine, science, or engineering) where executive decision making plays an important role.