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WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY
Prof. Arlyn V. Pinpin-Macapinlac

(Edited Version of Part I of the paper presented in the 4th Annual UP System wide Enrichment Lectures in
Philosophy I held in UP Diliman on July 20, 1999)

When I first learned from Prof. Acuna that the speakers are expected to say their piece
about what philosophy is, I said to myself it is a tall order.

The question what is philosophy? can be interpreted as one which requires a definition
for an answer. Answering this question is a tough task because the definition itself of philosophy
is a recognized problem in philosophy. There is no identified single universal definition that would
perfectly capture its very essence.

Various ideas have been associated to our common usage of the word philosophy:

It sometimes means a kind of attitude as in

I approve of my grandmas philosophy of doing business.

It is also used to refer to mans reflections on life as in the famous lines:

An unexamined life is not worth-living by Socrates; or

Life is like a box of chocolates. Youll never know what youll get from
Forrest Gump played by Tom Hanks.

It is simply taken by some as another field of study like Mathematics, English or


Science;
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while some others would just settle for its etymological definition love of
wisdom coming from the Greek terms philos and sophia.

My answer to the question what is philosophy? is not an attempt to put the controversy
on philosophys definition to an end; rather, Ill just share my thoughts on this; and I wouldnt at
all be surprised if some of you will find them acceptable or difficult to chew.

Despite the numerous meanings used to describe philosophy, I am more inclined to agree
with some authors description --- that it is more of an activity of the mind than just a field of
study. That is, that the best way to understand philosophy is to actually practice it to
philosophize.

Now, what are the activities involved in philosophizing? Here are some examples:

Making inferences
Doing analyses and reflections
Critical evaluation or examination of things

Now let me ask you is there anyone here who could boast of not having analyzed,
examined or evaluated anything; not having speculated or reflected on something?

Who would stand up and say Maam, from the time I was born until this very moment
no one, not even my mom convinced me to make use of my mind that is, TO THINK. If you
are that type, then you should be proud of yourself. CONGRATULATIONS! you are one of a
kind!

Can you count how many times you used your mind, contemplated or analyzed anything?
That too is a tall order. It is like asking how many times you have been drinking water from the
time you were born.

My only point here is that these activities of the mind are those that we cannot live without.
They are part of being alive. They are as inevitable as breathing. It is undeniable that we all engage
in these activities involved in philosophizing and thus for me, since we are all philosophizing, I can
say that there is a philosopher in each one of us. To simply put it WE ARE ALL
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PHILOSOPHERS. However, not everyone would of course feel comfortable being called a
philosopher. This may be true to those who have reserved the name philosopher to minds like
Plato, Aristotle, Immanuel Kant, Socrates and other renowned philosophers. And I agree that not
everyone possesses minds as great as these thinkers; but my point is we are all thinkers. While I
believe that all of us are philosophers, I too think that there are different levels of philosophizing.
That means that some may have more profound and more serious reflections than others. But one
thing remains clear we all philosophize and we are all philosophers.

I usually distinguish between two groups of people doing philosophy: the plain men and
the academic/professional philosophers. Below is a table illustrating some of their differences:

PLAIN MEN ACADEMIC/PROFESSIONAL


PHILOSOPHERS

Not aware that they are Aware that they are philosophizing
philosophizing
Study philosophy hence philosophize in
Without training in philosophy an academic manner

Illustration1 Illustration

What he said sounds absurd. He violated the Principle of Non-


He is contradicting himself. contradiction because X cannot be both
X and not X at the same time and in the
same respect.

You dont have to be an academic/ The statement illustrates what it means to


professional philosopher to identify philosophize in an academic manner.
contradictory assertions. Techniques and principles learned from
studying philosophy reverberate in the
Illustration 2
evaluation. Techniques, concepts and principles
If you ask a balut vendor if he learned from philosophy come in very handy
philosophizes, chances are that you when doing philosophical reflections and
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would hear a big NO for an answer. reasoning.


And if you further inquire about his
primary consideration when making
moral decisions, you can expect him to
say his piece on the matter. He may
answer that it is the possible
consequences of his decision or the
happiness of the majority. He can go
on discussing his personal view on
why these are significant
considerations and how he has actually
applied these factors to some particular
moral decisions he made. In
philosophy, these lines of moral
reasoning echo consequentialism and
utilitarianism.

Understandably, you cannot


expect the balut vendor to tell you that
he adheres to these philosophical
principles due to his lack of familiarity
with them. And like the balut vendor,
you may also be a consequentialist or a
utilitarian at times but are not aware of
this.

The point that I would like to


make is that the lack of knowledge
about these philosophical theories will
not prevent the plain man from doing
moral reasoning. Consequently, the
absence of formal training in
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philosophy will not stop him from


philosophizing.

However, while it is true that we


are all endowed with philosophical
skills, these skills can be further
improved through training and
practice.

Take note that even within the same group there can still be different levels of
philosophizing.

The above illustration reiterates the point that we all have philosophical skills which can be
further developed. This goes to show that by undergoing training in philosophy, the door is wide
open for the plain man to turn into an academic philosopher.

[edited on June 1, 2009 avpm]