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An Introduction to Philosophy
Lecture 01: Introduction

James Mooney
Open Studies
The University of Edinburgh

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  1. 1. Introduction An Introduction to Philosophy: 01 © James Mooney 2012
  2. 2. What is Philosophy?
  3. 3. What is Philosophy? The main concern of philosophy is to question and understand very common ideas that all of us use every day without thinking about them. A historian may ask what happened at some time in the past, but a philosopher will ask, “What is time?” A mathematician may investigate the relations among numbers, but a philosopher will ask, “What is a number?” A physicist will ask what atoms are made of or what explains gravity, but a philosopher will ask how we can know there is anything outside of our own minds. A psychologist may investigate how children learn a language, but a philosopher will ask, “What makes a word mean anything?” Anyone can ask whether it’s wrong to sneak into a movie without paying, but a philosopher will ask, “What makes an action right or wrong?” (Thomas Nagel, What does it all mean?, 1987)
  4. 4. What is Philosophy? •  Philosophy deals with very particular types of questions. •  Philosophy attempts to answer these questions by way of a particular method. •  The philosophical method involves reason, logic, and argument.
  5. 5. Argument In philosophy, an argument is a set of statements or propositions, one of which isthe conclusion (what the argument seeks to defend), and the remainder of whichis/ are the premises (the defence). Example 1 Example 2 Example 3 P1 All (A) are (B) All men are mortal All women are poor drivers P2 (x) is an (A) Socrates is a man George is a woman C Therefore, (x) is (B) Therefore, Socrates is mortal Therefore, George is a poor driver An argument is valid (a good argument) iff the truth of the premises guaranteesthe truth of the conclusion. An argument is sound (a good argument with a true conclusion) iff it is valid andits premises are true. Example 1 (above) is a valid argument form; it will remain valid no matter whatcontent we replace the variables with. As such, both argument 2 and 3 are valid,although only argument 2 is also sound. We will look at more examples ofarguments in class.
  6. 6. What are the origins of philosophy? The Ancient Greek World
  7. 7. What are the origins of philosophy? The Pre-Socratic Philosophers
  8. 8. What are the origins of philosophy? Socrates (c.469-399 BCE ) ‘… called philosophy down from the skies.’ (Cicero) Teacher of Plato
  9. 9. What are the origins of philosophy? The Death of Socrates (Jacques-Louis David, 1787)
  10. 10. What are the origins of philosophy? Plato (c.428/7-c.348/7BC) ‘the safest general characterization of the whole Western philosophic tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.’ (Alfred North Whitehead, 1929) Wrote 35 ‘dialogues’ Founded the ‘Academy’ Teacher of Aristotle
  11. 11. What are the origins of philosophy? Aristotle (384-322BCE) Wrote on wide range of subjects (physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, politics, government, ethics, biology, zoology) Founder of logic Hugely influential in terms of scientific method ‘The Philosopher’ in the medieval period Founded the Lyceum Tutor of Alexander the Great
  12. 12. Why do we do philosophy? Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, Republic
  13. 13. Why do we do philosophy? The man who has no tincture of philosophy goes through life imprisoned in the prejudices derived from common sense, from the habitual beliefs of his age or his nation, and from convictions which have grown up in his mind without the co-operation or consent of his deliberate reason. To such a man the world tends to become definite, finite, obvious; common objects rouse no questions, and unfamiliar possibilities are contemptuously rejected. As soon as we begin to philosophize, on the contrary, we find ... that even the most everyday things lead to problems to which only very incomplete answers can be given. Philosophy, though unable to tell us with certainty what is the true answer to the doubts which it raises, is able to suggest many possibilities which enlarge our thoughts and free them from the tyranny of custom. Thus, while diminishing our feeling of certainty as to what things are, it greatly increases our knowledge as to what they may be; it removes the somewhat arrogant dogmatism of those who have never travelled into the region of liberating doubt, and it keeps alive our sense of wonder by showing familiar things in an unfamiliar aspect.  (Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy, 1912)
  14. 14. Why do we do philosophy? Thomas Hobbes’ famous political theory [...] tries to teach us the lessons he felt had to be learnt in the aftermath of the English Civil War; Descartes and many of his contemporaries wanted medieval views, rooted nearly two thousand years back in the work of Aristotle, to move aside and make room for a modern conception of science; Kant sought to advance the autonomy of the individual in the face of illiberal and autocratic regimes, Marx to liberate the working classes from poverty and drudgery, feminists of all epochs to improve the status of women. None of these people were just solving little puzzles (though they did sometimes have to solve little puzzles on the way); they entered into debate in order to change the course of civilization. (Edward Craig, Philosophy: a very short introduction, 2002)
  15. 15. The unexamined life is not worth living.
  16. 16. Details James Mooney Open Studies The University of Edinburgh @film_philosophy