The Philosophical Approach
Written by Dr. Nash Popovic
For centuries philosophy was an umbrella term for all methods of rational enquiry. Gradually, however, more and more disciplines gained their independence and the field of philosophy shrank rapidly, especially after the apparent failures of grand philosophical systems (such as Hegel’s).
On the one hand, philosophy could not compete with science in studying the natural world. On the other, turning to personal experience would blur its boundaries with the artistic or even the spiritual and mystical, with which few philosophers wanted to be associated for fear of losing credibility. In order to find or preserve its own identity, philosophers tried to develop logic into an elaborate system, an exact meta-language that could rival mathematics. However, this endeavour hit a dead-end when it transpired that logic can never be completely logical (only shortly before it happened to mathematics itself – both at the beginning of the 20th century). As a result, many philosophers focused on the relationship between subject and object, the so-called ‘human condition’. The domain of philosophy became relations not particulars that relate, which freed philosophy from being bound to a specific subject. It is now considered to be a method of enquiry that develops defensible/valid arguments based on reason (rather than observation or experience). The aim of philosophy is understanding, which necessitates the examination of the relation between awareness of the world and the world as the material of awareness. For example, philosophy is not primarily concerned with the question ‘does God exist?’, but rather ‘does the idea of God make sense?’, or ‘does the concept of reality without the idea of God make sense?’ This is why philosophy can never be conclusive – people are changing, so their understanding is changing too.
A Common Misconceptions About Philosophy
It is irrelevant – the inconclusiveness of philosophy has led to a widespread belief that philosophy does not matter. Yet throughout history philosophy has influenced every sphere of life, from science and religion, to education, politics, economics, art and even fashion. Stoicism served as the working ideology of the Roman Empire, the writings of Plato and Plotinus were instrumental in transforming an intellectually rudimentary offshoot of Judaism into one of the dominant world religions. Descartes and Leibniz directly contributed to the 17th century rise of science, while Voltaire and Rousseau inspired the French Revolution. John Locke and Adam Smith are credited for laying the foundations of capitalism, and the philosophy of Marx and Engels stirred political changes from Cuba to China. More recently, existentialism and later, post-modernism shaped Western culture.