Many people think of philosophy as nothing more than pointless musings with no practical effect. But nothing could be further from the truth. Philosophy is the art of critical thinking. It is an extremely valuable resource that can help you in an abundance of ways. In addition, it is a genuinely fun, exciting, & rewarding activity!
The word ‘philosophy’ (philosophía) is Greek in origin and technically means a friend or lover (phílos) of wisdom (sophía). It is a method, thinking activity & way of life and a valuable compass & navigational tool. From personal challenges, struggles, clarity, perspective, goals & aspirations, to formal discussions, exploration of ideas, research, strategizing and execution of projects…philosophy can help you find your way! But how exactly does it do this? In order to answer this, it is helpful to first gain a better appreciation of what philosophy is & what it is not.
A Thinking Activity – Philosophy is a thinking activity. This means that you approach a topic of investigation in a way that honors critical, creative thinking (or reasoning) and employ several methods commonly associated with philosophy, such as argument, refutation, systematic doubt, logic, justification of belief, and so forth.
A Way of Life – Philosophy is also a way of of life. This means that you approach a topic of investigation & experiences in your life with certain dispositions, including open-mindedness, a sense of wonder, imagination, sincerity, humility, and dialectical justness.
An Art – Taken together, philosophy (as a thinking activity & way of life) is an art.
A Philosophical Approach
Philosophy as a thinking activity, a way of life, & an art constitutes an approach to life that involves active engagement & a willingness to “dive into” and “elevate” our (processes of) reasoning. It’s a method and approach that is particularly advantageous because it facilitates and equips you with a unique & valuable vantage point with that “thing” with which you are concerned, thinking about and/or experiencing (i.e., your object of concern). That is to say, a philosophical approach can help you narrow your focus on a particular issue & broaden your view. It can also provide you with the tools to traverse those spaces in between. Metaphorically speaking, philosophy arms you with a set of oars & a looking glass and a means by which to approach, recognize & better (and more successfully) navigate the vicissitudes inherent in life.
What Are Its Concerns?
Philosophy is concerned with what we fondly to refer to as “the four cornerstones of (human) living”: Ethics, Metaphysics, Epistemology & Logic. Ethics concerns questions about how one should/ought to live, metaphysics about what sorts of things exist & their essential nature, epistemology about how/what we can know and our justificatory platform, and logic about the correct principles of reasoning. Within these pillars lie a variety of specialties which speak to the layers & complexity of life (e.g. philosophy of science, existentialism, environmental ethics, aesthetics, philosophy of mind, eastern philosophy, philosophy of religion, personal identity, philosophy of language). Philosophy’s investigations are led by reason & the general maxim that “the unexamined life is not worth living.”
What Are Its Aims?
Philosophy aims to improve the quality of our lives. In its commitment to “follow reason where reason guides” & “get closer to the truth about a matter,” it strives to do this by helping you clarify and answer matters of thought (ideas, concepts, emotions, etc.) & action (behavior). In other words, it aims to help you understand what you think & why and, further, whether or not your thoughts are philosophically justified. It also helps you translate these (conceptual) activities into practical terms so that you can structure your life in ways that help to promote health & happiness and, ideally, allow you to reach your fullest potential.