e-book Branches of Philosophy : A Short Guide to Western Thought

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e-book Branches of Philosophy : A Short Guide to Western Thought

Philosophical Devices introduces the technical ideas that are taken for granted in contemporary philosophical writing. It offers simple explanations and covers a wealth of material that is normally available only to specialists. This original, distinctive book will appeal to anyone who is curious about the technical infrastructure of philosophy.

Katherine Hawley explores the key ideas about trust in this Very Short Introduction. Drawing on a wide range of disciplines including philosophy, psychology, and evolutionary biology, she emphasizes the nature and importance of trusting and being trusted, from our intimate bonds with significant others to our relationship with the state. Combines exceptionally clear explanations with excerpts of works from Western philosophy and alternative perspectives. Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University's objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide.


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Schools and Subareas

Introduction to Philosophy Featured Titles. Grayling Request an Inspection Copy. Higgins Request an Inspection Copy. Cahn Request an Inspection Copy. Disciplines Philosophy Introduction to Philosophy. Showing of Monday - Friday, - UK time. Results per page 20 60 Show page Page 1 of 2 Page 2 of 2. Cahn Paperback August Haybron Paperback August Very Short Introductions Most of us spend our lives striving for happiness. Higgins Paperback August Combines exceptionally clear explanations with excerpts of works from Western philosophy and alternative perspectives. Apart from Thales, the most revolutionary presocratic philosopher was Parmenides , the first major practitioner of "inward philosophy"; that is, philosophy that examines the mind itself as opposed to the "outward philosophy" of the natural sciences.

He argued, like so many philosophers since, that we cannot trust our sensory perceptions to accurately inform us of reality; dreams and hallucinations, for instance, illustrate how misleading our senses can be. Parmenides was consequently the first to articulate the position of rationalism , which asserts that knowledge of reality arises solely or principally from rational analysis of innate knowledge as opposed to analysis of sensory experience.

Most famously, he argued that there is no change of any kind in the world, despite the constant change we seem to see everywhere.

The Western tradition

The opposite position to rationalism, which argues that knowledge of reality is obtained solely or principally via analysis of sensory data, is known as empiricism. Thales and his successors were thus the first empiricists. The Classical age of Greece ca. Socrates and Plato were both Athenian, while Aristotle moved to Athens for a time to study at the Academy. The Academy, Plato's school of philosophy, became the most influential ancient model for Western educational institutions. Socrates is remembered primarily for his tireless campaign that philosophers should constantly reexamine their beliefs, in order to clarify vague arguments and purge logical inconsistencies.

What is Philosophy?

This notion of persistent critical reflection constitutes his outstanding contribution to Western thought. The importance of Socrates' message, though it seems obvious today, is difficult to overestimate; some even regard him the most important thinker of all time. At any rate, Socrates' efforts introduced an unprecedented level of rigour and precision to Greek philosophy though truly relentless critical reflection would not take hold across the West until the Enlightenment. According to Socrates, the duty of a philosopher is chiefly to assist others in discovering truth for themselves, rather than communicating truth directly.

He achieved this primarily via the Socratic method , which he is credited with innovating. Instead of offering one's knowledge or opinions on a given issue, the socratic method consists simply of asking probing questions about the issue. Over time, this approach leads the person responding to the questions to see new aspects of the issue, to sharpen their terminology, and to rectify their position if inconsistencies are detected. Socrates' greatest successor was Plato. The views of these two thinkers are sometimes difficult to separate, given that the words of Socrates who wrote nothing himself are preserved chiefly in the works of Plato.

Throughout these works, it is often unclear whether Plato is putting forward his own ideas or those of his teacher. In a sense, Plato's writings are jointly authored by both men. Most of Plato's work is written in the form of dialogue aka dialectic , in which an issue is explored via discussion between two philosophers. Typically, one philosopher questions the other until a contradiction is revealed in their reasoning, thus discrediting their argument; Plato usually casts Socrates as the philosopher who conducts the questioning.

As noted above, this technique is known as the "Socratic method". At the core of Plato's philosophy is the theory of forms , which asserts that every physical thing is merely an approximation of an eternal, non-physical "form". Although this theory which Plato inherited from Socrates may sound odd today given our modern scientific perspective , it proved massively influential throughout the history of Western thought.

Philosophy - New World Encyclopedia

As an illustration, suppose that ten chefs enter a pizza competition in which each must adhere strictly to the same recipe. The resulting pizzas will be very similar in terms of appearance and taste, yet will nonetheless vary slightly. The recipe itself may be thought of as the "form" of a pizza: it is an exact concept of what a pizza should be. Actual, physical pizzas are mere approximations of this ideal form. Physical pizzas come and go, but the ideal pizza form is eternal and unchanging. According to the theory of forms, this applies to all worldly phenomena.

Though there are many trees in the world each one unique , they are all approximations of the "ideal tree" form, which is an eternal, inherent part of the universe.


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  7. Even concepts like beauty and justice are eternal forms; the extent to which a work of art is beautiful, or a human deed is just, is explained by the extent to which they mimic these forms. According to Plato, one only comes to fully understand the universe when one sees beyond transient earthly phenomena to their eternal underlying forms.

    Plato did not limit himself to lofty, abstract metaphysics, however. His most revered work, the Republic , is the founding document of Western political thought. It provides a detailed proposal for an ideally governed society, which features the absolute rule of its wisest members "philosopher kings".

    Socrates was executed by Athens on grounds of heresy and corrupting youth. The eloquent self-defense he put forward at his trial is captured in the Apology , Plato's other most famous work though the extent to which the Apology captures Socrates' precise words is unknown.

    Introduction to the Collections

    The term "apology" in this sense denotes a defense or justification. Aristotle Socrates and Plato tended to analyze the world in a rationalist manner; that is, by examining philosophical matters existence, knowledge, and values via analysis of truths innately known by the mind, without reference to physical experience.

    These two philosophers argued that the "forms" described above are present in the mind from birth, and therefore do not require physical experience to understand. Aristotle, on the other hand, favoured an empirical approach, basing his philosophical system firmly on information received by the senses.

    Aristotle saw no need for Plato's theory of forms, arguing that physical things simply exist; they are not approximations of abstract ideals. This is the fundamental contrast between the two most renowned figures in Western philosophy. Whereas Plato argued that true understanding of the universe is achieved by comprehending its eternal "forms", Aristotle stressed meticulous physical observation. Aristotle's approach is thus similar to the modern scientific outlook. Aristotle did accept the existence of one non-physical thing, the "prime mover", to explain how the universe came into being in the first place.

    The most famous concept within Aristotle's philosophy may be the four causes. In this context, "cause" means "aspect". As noted above, Aristotle argued that understanding of the universe is rooted in careful observation. The "four causes" are the four observable aspects of any particular thing. To be specific, the four causes of a thing are the material it is made of, the form the material takes, the cause of the thing coming into being, and the purpose of the thing. Modern science continues to investigate the universe in terms of material, formal, and efficient causes.

    While final causes are not relevant to physics or chemistry, they are still found in biology e. As a result of these developments, the term philosophical anthropology is not in familiar use among anthropologists and would probably not meet with any ready comprehension from philosophers either, at least in the English-speaking world. To put the matter somewhat differently, anthropology is now regarded as an empirical scientific discipline, and, as such, it discounts the relevance of philosophical theories of human nature.

    The inference here is that philosophical as opposed to empirical anthropology would almost certainly be bad anthropology. These views reflect a positivistic conception of scientific knowledge and the negative judgment of philosophy that typically goes with it.

    According to this view, philosophy, like religion, belongs to a period in the history of thought that has passed; it has been replaced by science and no longer has any real contribution to make to inquiries that conform to the rigorous epistemic or cognitive norms set by the natural sciences. It follows that the application of the adjective philosophical —not just to anthropology, but to any discipline at all—has fallen out of favour.