What is Philosophy?

Philosophy asks about our foundations as human beings. These foundations are the most basic elements of conscious life. They are the most basic questions we can ask and the most basic answers we can give: “What is ‘good?'” “What is a ‘color?'” “Why do we speak?” “What is ‘speaking?'” “What is ‘society,’ or ‘politics?'” “What does it mean that there is ‘sex,’ or ‘sexual orientation?'” “Why do I exist?” “What’s the point of the stars, of myself, of everything?” All of our thinking, all of what we are as conscious beings, depends on these most basic questions and their answers. (Science depends on them too — and we have to ask, “does science really answer any of these questions: does it rather only give a small part of the answer?”)

 

(With thanks to the artist, Guillem Ramos-Poqui.)

 

Because these questions and their answers are the basic elements of what we are as human beings, the effort to ask and try to answer these questions does much more than it initially seems. In asking and trying to answer, philosophy is immediately and directly activating and making grow what we ourselves in fact are. Further, since part of being human is to be with others in a world, and our basic ideas shape our sense of and attitudes towards others and the world, philosophy is also the direct growth of our relations with other people and with the world around and in us.

Because all of our usual, familiar thinking depends on these basic questions and answers, philosophy has to dig far down into and through our familiar thinking to get to them. As a result these most simple questions call for the deepest, most challenging reasoning we can give for our answers. We try to teach this kind of thinking, with the aim of living most fully as human beings.

 

Philosophers left to right: Aristotle, Alain Locke, John Locke, Julia Kristeva, Descartes, Mary Wollstonecraft, Henry Thoreau