Introduction to Philosophy
W. H. Kane, O.P.
Dominican House of Studies,River Forest, Illinois.
he purpose of this article
is to manifest in the order of disciplinewhat philosophy is. We shall treat ﬁrst of the nominal deﬁnition of phi-losophy, then of its real deﬁnition.
1 Meaning of the Word
The word philosophy is derived from the Greek word
, whose ele-mentary meaning is love of wisdom. Among the ancient Greeks the carpentersart and the art of navigation were called
, that is, wisdom. In latertimes the same term was applied to excellence in poetry and music. Thus
originally meant proﬁciency in any art, and the word
, that is,wise man, signiﬁed one who was distinguished from his fellows by any kind of art or skill, or by broad common sense like that which was characteristic of the so-called Seven Wise Men or Sages.Beginning in the sixth century
, some of the Greeks devoted themselvesto the investigation of the nature of things. They wanted to know the reasonsof things, that is, what and how and why things are. They tried to attain anunderstanding of things by means of their natural powers of observation andthought and by making some experiments. The words
were used to signify knowledge of this sort, and the pursuit of this knowledge,and life lived in accordance with this knowledge. It is said that Pythagoraswas the ﬁrst to designate this knowledge by the name
, and to callone who pursued or possessed it a
, that is, a friend or lover of wisdom. There is a note of modesty in the names
.This has been interpreted by some writers to mean that human wisdom isimperfect, and that man at best is rather a lover of wisdom than truly wise.The word philosophy means the love of wisdom as leading to the searchfor it. This name is used to signify the concept of perfect human knowledgeor human wisdom itself, either as a whole or in part.1