Philosophy – The Evolution of Thought

Philosophy is the study of the nature of reality, knowledge, ethics and existence by the means of rational inquiry. The oldest known work of philosophy lies not in the West, but in the East. To date, the Vedic system of India holds the record of being the oldest known work of philosophy which dates back to the middle of the 2nd millennium BC. Like most of the earlier works on philosophy, mysticism and superstition played a huge role in their view of the universe and of life itself. Fragments of the Vedic system can still be found in Hinduism till this very day.

For the rest of the world, the 6th century BC was the defining moment for philosophy’s formal entry in the written form to our world. Over in China, both Confucianism and Taoism dominated and continue to dominate the mandarin-speaking population of East Asia. Also in the 6th century BC, Western philosophy began with the works of Thales of Miletus, Pythagoras, Empedocles, Anaxagoras, Parmenides, Heraclitus, Zeno of Elea, and Democritus. However, it would be the works of Socrates that would truly launch philosophy into an ever accelerating force in human history.

Perhaps the most practical and controversial philosopher in the early days was Socrates. Credited as one of the founding fathers of western philosophy, Socrates became legendary for his works in the field of ethics. Born of a midwife, Socrates gave the world the most important tool needed for rational thinking and scientific experimentation, namely, the Socratic method. The Socratic method is normally applied through answering of a series of questions on the subject matter to draw further insight.

According to Socrates, to solve a problem, one must first break it down into a series of easily answerable questions. As each answer is recorded and thoroughly thought through, the accumulation of answers would gradually distill the hidden truth out of its shell. The application of the Socratic method can still be found today in the Scientific method in which the hypothesis is the prelude to an experiment. In scientific terms, the Socratic method is a process of hypothesis elimination until all contradictions is removed.

Socratic Paradoxes

  • No one desires evil
  • No one errs or does wrong willingly/knowingly
  • Virtue, all virtue, is knowledge
  • Virtue if sufficient for happiness

The Socratic method lasted from antiquity to our present day and is likely to last as long as humanity itself. Socrates however, did not last very long. Being wrongly accused of corrupting the minds of the youth of Athens, Socrates was condemned and forced to drink poison. The death of a great man, more often than not brings the birth of another. Plato, student of Socrates was probably the greatest philosopher of his time. Born with a silver spoon in his mouth and being the student of Socrates, Plato founded the Academy in Athens and continued to nurture the seed that Socrates had planted.

The theory of forms is the defining work of Plato. It was in Plato’s opinion that forms were the solution to the problem of universals. The forms were akin to archetypes or abstract representations of the universally distinct properties of matter in the universe. If a two-dimensional shape that has three sides is defined triangle, all two dimensional shapes with three sides is also a triangle. A two dimensional shape that does not fit the criteria with all other triangles must therefore be given a different name. Hence, the automatic distinction and visualization when the word square or pentagon is uttered.

While the theory of forms is the foundation for all formal education, it is also the cause of the existence of thousands and thousands of scientific names to differentiate one thing from another. Furthermore, many people tend to misuse Plato’s theory of forms, either consciously or unconsciously. Most Christians go to church and most of the people who go to church are Christians is clearly different. Yet even knowing so, we stereotype and over-generalize things frequently in our daily lives.

The greatness of Plato as a man of intellect could only be superceded by his student, Aristotle. While Plato’s work centered on the philosophy of life, politics and ethics, Aristotle would venture into every known field of knowledge both known and unknown is his time. From philosophy, to physics, to psychology, Aristotle was unchallenged and unchecked by anything the world has to offer. Educated in Plato’s academy, Aristotle would establish his own school in Athens known as the Lyceum. Contributing to every known form of knowledge of his time, his greatest contribution to philosophy was in setting the principles and foundation of logic.

Logic would be until this very day, the litmus test and correction of thought. In its essence, logic is the art and method of correct thinking. Logic in any matter is relative to the observer and must therefore require definitions to become universally accepted. Every good definition according to Aristotle, contains two parts. The first, is to assign the object in question to a class of group whose general characteristics are also its own. The second, is to differentiate the characteristics of the objects that differ from every other member of its class. In simple terms, both car and a boat is a means of transportation. But a car runs on land, and a boat runs on water.

~ I plan to further extent this post to include other philosophers

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