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Kane - Introduction to Philosophy

Kane - Introduction to Philosophy

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11/16/2010

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Introduction to Philosophy
W. H. Kane, O.P.
Dominican House of Studies,River Forest, Illinois.
1939
T
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
Philosophy 
The word philosophy is derived from the Greek word
philosophia 
, whose ele-mentary meaning is love of wisdom. Among the ancient Greeks the carpentersart and the art of navigation were called
sophia 
, that is, wisdom. In latertimes the same term was applied to excellence in poetry and music. Thus
sophia 
originally meant proficiency in any art, and the word
sorhos
, 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
b.c.
, 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
sophia 
and
philosophia 
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
philosophia 
, and to callone who pursued or possessed it a
philosophos
, that is, a friend or lover of wisdom. There is a note of modesty in the names
philosophia 
and
philosophos
.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
 
2
Introduction to Philosophy
2 Need for Philosophy
By philosophy we here understand a kind of human knowledge which is moreperfect than the knowledge that is attained in ordinary experience and thought.
2.1 Difficulties
It seems that ordinary human knowledge is sufficient for thenatural needs of man, and hence there is no need for philosophy.1. Knowledge which is sufficient for the preservation and propagation of human life is sufficient for the natural needs of man, because life itself is firstand foremost. But ordinary knowledge is sufficient for the survival of thehuman race. Therefore ordinary knowledge is sufficient for the natural needsof man.2. Nature is not deficient in what is required for the natural needs of man.But nature normally supplies man with the means of attaining only ordinaryknowledge. Therefore ordinary knowledge is sufficient.3. Knowledge which contains the highest truths and clearest insights issufficient for the natural needs of man. But ordinary knowledge containsmany admirably clear and shrewd insights into the nature of things. Evenuneducated people can distinguish truth and error, good and evil. They knowthat justice will be done, if not in this life, then in the life to come. Whenthey have the desire and opportunity, they can learn anything that anyone elseknows, and they already know enough to avoid many of the dreadful mistakeswhich better educated people sometimes make. Therefore ordinary knowledgeis sufficient for man.4. Divine revelation completes and perfects our ordinary knowledge. Weneed only to consult the Bible and the teaching of the Church in order to findthe answers to the problems which we cannot settle by means of our ordinaryknowledge. Hence there is no need for any other kind of natural knowledge.
2.2 Proo
In order to see the need for philosophy, we must first understand what is meantby this expression. We say that there is need for something when it is requiredfor some special purpose or is very desirable, for example, money or music.When we are not satisfied with what we already possess, we desire somethingmore either as an end, that is, for its own sake, or as a means for attainingsomething else, and then we properly have need. There is need for philosophyif ordinary human knowledge is not satisfactory, and a more perfect kind of human knowledge is required or very desirable.Ordinary knowledge is truly wonderful, because it includes knowledge of being and not-being. It appears that even children can distinguish between
 
Introduction to Philosophy
3something and nothing, because they often ask for something to eat, andcomplain that they have nothing to play with, and are not satisfied when theywant something and we give them nothing. Since our ordinary knowledgecontains some knowledge of being; it seems that we are capable of knowingsomething about everything.Yet ordinary knowledge is deficient in several important respects. In thefirst place, it includes clear and distinct knowledge of only a small part of allthat we are capable of knowing. It is largely knowledge of the particular thingswhich enter our ordinary experience. But the total number of particular thingsis immense. It is impossible for us to have experience of all of them, but we candistinguish between being and not-being, and we know that many things aresimilar to each other in some respects, for example, robins have red breasts.Hence it seems that we are capable of attaining generalized knowledge whichis true of all or of many particulars, perhaps true even of those which we havenot experienced.In the second place, our ordinary knowledge is restricted to the thingswhich are easy to know. But the difficult and wonderful works of human art,the modern buildings and bridges, ships and trains, and the masterpieces of painting and sculpture, of music and literature and social organization, mani-fest that by the diligent and correct use of our natural powers of observationand thought we are able to attain knowledge of many things which are difficultto understand.Moreover, our ordinary knowledge is a mixture of fact and fiction, truth anderror, doubt, opinion, and traditional faith. One who possesses only ordinaryknowledge is able to assign good reasons for some of his convictions, but notfor all of them. He may know, for example, that a window is a useful thing,because it is suitable for letting in the light and keeping out the wind and rain.He may also be sure that stealing is wrong, and not be able to tell preciselywhat it is, or how he knows it to be so, or why it cannot be otherwise than hethinks it is. But from the fact that we do know the reasons of some things, itseems that we can know the reasons of other things, perhaps even the reasonsof life and knowledge and being itself.Furthermore, our ordinary knowledge is chiefly practical knowledge. It isknowledge especially of the things which are useful and approved, and containsonly a small amount of knowledge for its own sake. Yet knowledge is not onlyuseful, but also delightful. It is delightful to hear beautiful sounds and to seebeautiful colors and shapes and forms. It is more delightful to know the truthfor its own sake, as everyone knows who has clearly seen any truth and solveda doubt or difficulty.Finally, ordinary knowledge is disorderly, confused and unconnected. Onewho possesses only ordinary knowledge can hardly talk for five minutes in anorderly way about anything. Yet the broader aspects of the world in which welive, and from which it seems we derive our ordinary knowledge, are orderly.

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