|An Outline of Philosophy|
Issue #45 (May 1985)
Philosophy is the study of all things–their ultimate cause and ultimate purpose–by the light of reason from a special viewpoint. Science is the study of all things made of matter from its proximate cause.
Science tells us that rain is caused by something out in space–the sun. The proximate cause of rain is the sun. Philosophy tells us that the ultimate cause of rain is the being that caused the sun to exist. If the sun had always existed, then the ultimate [quoteright]cause of rain is indeed the sun. But both science and philosophy can prove that at one time the sun did not exist, and at some time the sun will cease to exist. Their method of proving this conclusion is different. Science uses observation and measurements to determine that at one time the sun did not exist; philosophy uses pure reason to reach the same conclusion.
Biology studies living things. Philosophy studies the cause of life in living things. Psychology studies the behavior of men and animals. Philosophy studies the cause of the mind in men and animals; or, philosophy studies the origin of their consciousness. It is the most practical of all the sciences because it seeks man's happiness.
Logic is the tool of both science and philosophy, the means by which they draw their conclusions. But logic is also a branch of philosophy, and in this sense science is dependent on philosophy for its truth. Philosophical argument can correct science when it is wrong. For example, the Steady State theory of the origin of the universe by Fred Hoyle explains the expanding universe in this way. If the galaxies had been moving away from us since eternity they would be out of sight by now, and all the space outside our galaxy would be empty. Hoyle postulated that new matter comes into being, as much as is needed to keep the density of matter constant. Hoyle does not ask how new matter comes into being. Philosophic reasoning tells us that matter cannot create itself; only something that exists can make matter exist.
Philosophy is divided into branches. The material of philosophy is ideas, which we express by words. We put words into sentences to make statements about these ideas. We reason from a series of statements or judgments to form conclusions. This branch is called Logic. When we make a judgment we may be right or wrong. There are rules by which we can determine the truth of a statement, the facts in a given situation. How we can tell truth from falsehood, fact from fiction–how we can know anything–is studied in Epistemology.
True philosophy is not a matter of argument; it is a non-controversial subject. It uses words as they are commonly understood, or as a dictionary defines them. Hence there can be no argument over meaning of words. It makes statements that are self-evident, that are simply common sense that anyone can agree with, that are reflected by the way we think, by the way we live. I t tries to discover the ideal way of life for man and the ideal way of life for any society of men in any country, in any nation–how men can live together in peace ond harmony. This branch is called Ethics. It is wise for men to seek the ideal way of life, which is why philosophy means "the love of wisdom."
But philosophy does not pull its conclusions out of the imagination. I t needs material, the world of reality from which it draws its conclusions. It draws its conclusions from a knowledge of the whole universe. This branch is called Cosmology–the study of the universe. First comes Ontology, the study of anything that exists: what it is, what it looks like, how it comes to be, why it exists. In classical philosophy, these four aspects of anything that exists were called their four causes: the material cause, the formal cause, the efficient cause, and the final cause.
Any thing or any being can be adequately described or defined by its four causes. For example,
The study of the universe under its four causes is called Philosophy of Science or Metaphysics. The philosophic study of living things is called Vitalism. The philosophic study of man is called Natural Religion. The philosophic study of eternal being, or of anything that always existed, is called Theodicy.
Webster defines philosophy as a science that aims to explain all phenomena in the universe by ultimate causes, powers, or laws. When applied to any branch of knowledge, it denotes the collection of general laws or principles under which the facts relating to the subject are comprehended.
The dividing line between a physical science and a metaphysical view of that science is vague, and may be highly controversial if the specialist in that science will accept no metaphysical view of his science. For example, psychologists make tests on animals to see if they think, if they reason, if they have memory, consciousness, and other attributes of human beings. The essential difference between man and animal is not in these traits, however. Animals are limited by nature in their development. Both men and animals share a common purpose in Iife, survival of the individual and survival of the species. Some animals live a social life, just like man, to survive and to reproduce; for instance, the ant colony in which each ant has a duty toward fulfilling these two aims. Other men and animals live a single life and never reproduce their kind.
But man is not limited by nature in his development. We do not know how perfect any man can become, but we know most of us do not develop all of our potentials. An animal cannot learn geography because it cannot imagine faraway places. It cannot learn history because it cannot imagine events of the past. It cannot study causes, going back in time to the ultimate cause of all things. It cannot study its purpose for being.
Human society sends its children to school to learn what is necessary to live a fuller human life, but it would not put the most intelligent chimpanzee into the first grade because even its vocabulary has limits. A child's vocabulary has virtually no limits, as it becomes educated. Hence there is a metaphysical difference between men and animals which must be recognized by any psychologist, or else his trial and error experimenting is doomed to fail.
We do not know how perfect a man can become, but we can imagine the perfect man as one who has absorbed into his mind all things that are known by man, all skills that man can perform; one who has been everywhere man has been, who tries to share his knowledge and all his skills with other men to try to bring them up to his level; one who enjoys life so much that he wishes it could go on, if possible in a life after death, in an everlasting life.
A professional philosopher, a Ph.D., once called my philosophy of life "cracker barrel philosophy." If this was meant in contempt I take it as a compliment, for my philosophy is so down to earth, so practical, that uneducated folks in a general country store could understand it. On the other hand, I have spent my seventy years in study and I still cannot understand the professional philosopher's article in a philosophical journal. Who is she speaking for, who is she writing to, who can understand her? I appeal to the reader's common sense. If I make no sense, it is only means that I must rewrite my philosophy until it makes sense to the general reader. That way the reader can correct my mistakes in a continuing dialog.
COLEMAN SLEZAK writes us from Bayside, NY. Besides being a philosopher conversant in such languages as Latin and Hungarian, he has an interest in popular music. He is also a fan of Lottie Fish-Bate, whose series on The Mismeasure of Mensa just concluded in these pages.