In ancient times, little was known about the world. The word, philosophy, which means “love of wisdom,” originated in Greece. Philosophy covers a wide range of knowledge, such as what causes plants to grow, how the planets move through the heavens, the function of animal bodies, including those of human beings, the workings of mathematics, chemistry and religion, and various other studies that serve to supplement the attainment of knowledge. Philosophy, as studied by ancient philosophers, were different from that of today. Studies by ancient philosophers have now become separate sciences. Modern philosophers no longer search out the reasons for things that once depended on the performance of experiments in chemistry or physics, or other sciences. Nowadays, experiments in chemistry are left to the chemists, and those in physics and astronomy, are left to the physicists and astronomers. Yet, philosophers today continue to delve into the works of ancient philosophers. They study what scientists in special fields have learned and do so constantly. They put all this knowledge together and try to find the meaning and explanation of the world as a whole.
Philosophy includes several branches, such as logic, ethics, aesthetics, epistemology and metaphysics. Logic is the study of how human beings can use their power of reasoning to learn new truths from truths they already know. It is a branch of philosophy which is the study of all knowledge. For thousands of years, great philosophers have written about it. Ethics is the study of what is right and wrong; aesthetics is the study of beauty and what makes things beautiful; epistemology is the study of human knowledge and how much human beings are capable of knowing; metaphysics is the study of the meaning of life and Nature, as well as the world in general.
The original philosophers were from ancient Greece, dating back 2,500 years ago. They were the pioneers – lovers of wisdom. Thales was the first of the important Greek philosophers and lived around 585 B.C. Pythagoras, a hundred years later, made important contributions to mathematics and astronomy. In some respects, his teachings were considered as a religion. There were other Greek philosophers, such as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Some of their philosophies have never been surpassed and are recognized even today.
There were the philosophers of the Middle Ages, who were mainly concerned about religion, such as the Christian and Mohammedan philosophers. They were particularly interested in the relationship between man and God. Their philosophy also included ethics, as far as behavior and belief were concerned.
The French philosopher, Rene Descartes paved the way for modern philosophers. He founded a type of philosophy, known as rationalism, which holds that some ideas are simply in our minds and do not have to be learned from experience. He also theorized that the true test of ideas depends on clarity and distinction. Spinoza and Leibnitz belonged to this school of thought. In England, Bacon, Locke and Hume developed a school known as empiricism which is the acquisition of ideas that are tested by experience. The German philosopher, Immanuel Kant, tried to work out a compromise that included religious faith. John Dewey, who was an American philosopher, held that philosophy, like other sciences, should be studied in such a way that ideas can be proved and not merely considered as opinions. His philosophy influenced many modern students of philosophy.
More about this author: Maurice Sassoon