World Cultures General Glossary
Philosophy

   The term, "philosophy," although used universally, is a culturally specific term; it is a European concept embracing a wide range of human activities of the mind. It's application has varied widely throughout European history, and its application to non-European cultures is mainly a convenience but does not accurately reflect how non-European cultures would conceive of or classify these activities.

   The word itself is a Greek word and means "love (philo) of wisdom (sophy)." As a word, it seems to appear in the fifth century BC, but the great exponents of the term to describe a heterogenous mix of thinking activities are Plato and Aristotle, the two gigantic figures of Greek philosophy.

   Early Greek philosophy was largely concerned with overarching explanations to explain physical phenomenon. The earliest Greek "philosophy" was probably a poem by Hesiod called the Theogony , which concerns the nature of the gods. The Theogony largely recounts Greek mythology, but interspersed among the stories are speculations about the physical nature of the universe.


General Glossary
One and the Many
   The early Greek philosophers were primarily concerned with the problem of the "One and the Many." Simply stated, the problem involves explaining the infinity of things in the universe (the many). We can see that many separate things can be related to one thing, for instance, there are millions of horses but there is only one concept of a horse. So the myriad and manifold phenomena of the universe must be reducible to a single, unifying substance or concept. The early Greeks believed that this single, unifying thing (the One) was some material substance, like water, or air. Later Greek philosophy would conceive of this one thing as something more abstract, like number.


   So early Greek philosophy was speculative, that is, it wasn't concerned with phenomena and factuality as much as it was concerned with the reasoning process itself. From the beginning, Greek philosophy was concerned with this reasoning process, particularly the process of rational demonstration. The truth of a proposition was an aspect of its demonstration, not its physical reality; a flawless rational demonstration produced certain knowledge.

   Most of this speculation concerned the nature of the changing, physical world. The early Greek philosophers were concerned with finding the unchanging principle or substance that lay behind all change and phenomena. The stable, unchanging component of the universe the Greeks called, physis , so early Greek philosophy was really a speculative physics.

   Eventually, a wide range of activities would be subsumed under the category of philosophy, representing the entire range of human rational activities. The unifying factor was demonstration, that is, each activity was a philosophy in that it involved principles of rational demonstration. The central categories of European philosophy are:

Logic
Logic is the science of demonstration ; it lays down the rules for making propositions and constructing proofs. Logic is really the core of philosophy.

Rhetoric
Logic is a science of language, and so is rhetoric. While logic is the science of propositions and demonstration, rhetoric is the science of persuasion. It is less concerned with the truth of a proposition as it is concerned with using language, gesture, argument, and emotion to persuade other people of a truth or an opinion.

Physics
Physics is the source of European philosophy; in its original form, physics was the study of the underlying principles of change in the natural world. Eventually, physics became the study of change in the material world and the laws underlying those changes (this is still true of physics today).

Metaphysics
Metaphysics is the study of the principles behind the principles governing the universe; metaphysics, you might say, is the science of first or originary principles. For instance, if you conclude that God is behind everything in the universe, the study of God is a branch of metaphysics.

Theology
Theology is a branch of metaphysics and concerns the nature of the divine and the relationship of that nature to the physical, moral, and spiritual worlds.

Ethics
Ethics is the science of human action; its primary question from classical Greece onwards is "what is a good life?"

Politics
Politics is the study of human institutions and governments; it is essentially a branch of ethics.

Aesthetics
Aesthetics, which originates with the Greeks, is the science of the beautiful; this includes both human art as well as natural beauty and order.

Richard Hooker



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1995, Richard Hooker
Updated 10-3-97