Philosophy has changed the way we see the world. It has given birth to a myriad of subjects that have raised the standards of living. The contributions of philosophy are apparent in politics, science, medicine and numerous other subjects.
Philosophy, itself, is defined as “The study of general and fundamental questions about existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language.”
The term ‘philosophy’ stems from the Greek word, “Philosophia,” which literally translates to ‘the love of wisdom.’
Philosophers are concerned with raising questions about the functions of the world and how they come into being, how they operate, and the reason behind their operation. They find questions behind those questions and dedicate their lives to seeking answers for their inquiries.
There are six subgroups in philosophical studies:
- Epistemology: Epistemology is the study of knowledge.
- Logic: Logic is concerned with understanding the process of reasoning.
- Metaphysics: Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy which questions the nature of reality. It further has two subdivision- ontology and cosmology.
- Ethics: Ethics are concerned with the principles of morality. This branch of philosophy examines the distinction between right and wrong.
- Aesthetics: This branch studies the nature of beauty. It judges the taste and sensory-emotional values.
- Political philosophy: Political philosophy is concerned with the legal matters of the subject. It studies laws and regulations as well as the reasons behind their impositions.
There have been numerous philosophers who have studied these subjects over an elongated period. However, the work of some has been vastly influential. The following philosophers have contributed largely to changing the way of life.
Socrates is still considered as the pioneer of Moral philosophy and the founder of Western Philosophy. Although Socrates’ work was not recorded in writing, his donations are still enormous to the current world.
After his exaction, his students Plato, and Xenophon wrote several accounts to describe the way that Socrates lived.
One of the most crucial contributions by Socrates is the method of questioning, which is now known as the ‘Socratic’ method or elenchus. The Socratic Method truly believes that nothing can be considered true unless it is impossible to prove it wrong.
Socrates practised this method of questioning in his lifetime to discredit the individuals who were known as ‘influencers’ or wise men of the age. He had formed a habit of ‘testing’ those he considered to be wiser than him. Thus, he publically humiliated individuals who were deemed as the intellects of society. As a result of this practice, he earned the title of being ‘Gadfly of Athens.’ This role landed him a lot of trouble, which ultimately, resulted in his execution.
During his trial, he was inquired about the appropriate punishment for his actions, to which he responded that the government should reward him with free dinners for his entire lifetime, while also offering him a wage for his services. He was eventually charged with the crime of ‘corrupting the minds of the youth’ and was given a death sentence. Though his friend Crito, bribed the prison guards to provide him with an opportunity to escape, Socrates chose to stay in his cell until he was forced to drink poison hemlock.
Nitzsche was a German philosopher whose work is based on morality, religion, science and culture. His ideas are often are the centre of controversies and is often known as a narcissist.
Nitzsche’s philosophy has gained a lot of recognition for his bold statements. His work mainly involves the concepts of Nihilism, as he stated that ‘God is dead.’ His work also incorporates the significance of will power and the human being’s ability to create their destiny.
Nitzsche has been criticised for being self-centred. This is pretty evident by the titles of certain chapters in his book, Ecce Homo: How One Becomes What One Is. Within the book, he has four chapters dedicated to bragging about his intellect: “Why I Am So Wise”, “Why I Am So Clever”, “Why I Write Such Good Books” and “Why I Am a Destiny”
Although Nitzsche has been heavily placed under the critical eye, his contributions to modern philosophy have been vast.
When anyone thinks of Philosophers, Immanuel Kant is the first person that comes to mind. Kant is amongst the first philosophers to have discussed the concepts of ethics in philosophy. Kant’s morality perspectives have been thorough, comprehensive and are still valid to this day.
Immanuel Kant came up with the idea of deontological ethics. According to his philosophy, the morality of an individual is judged not by the actions they engage in, rather by the intentions they hold behind those actions. For instance, a person seeking assignment help would not be considered immoral if they intend to rest and become a more effective individual in society. However, if the individual takes assistance with the intention of cheating, the act would be considered highly immoral.
In addition to ethics, Immanuel Kant also worked on scientific elements. He is still considered to be the most significant influencers in the field of modern science. In fact, Kant was first to find the middle ground between rationalism and empiricism.
Empiricism is the belief that knowledge is gained through experience. It comes into being via the experience gained through the five senses. On the contrary, rationalism is the idea that knowledge is the result of reason.
Immanuel Kant neither agreed nor disagreed with either of the two approaches. Instead, he stated that both empiricism and rationalism was crucial for making scientific discoveries.
This idea essentially became the foundation for forming the modern scientific method of carrying out research. Initially, knowledge is gained through the empirical evidence; however, it is converted into truth via the rationalist approach of experimentation, reasons and reflection.
Similar to his work, Immanuel Kant led a highly disciplined life. He followed a strict schedule of waking up at 5 o’clock every morning. Then, he spent an hour consuming tea, smoking a pipe and meditating. Commencing from 6 to 7 o’clock, he organised the lectures he delivered at his home until 9 o’clock. Following this, he worked at his study until one pm and then spent the following three hours socialising and dining with his associates. After the meal, he went out for an hour-long stroll and then spent the rest of the afternoon, engaging in reading and writing. With his extremely strict routine, Immanuel Kant chose never to get married.
Although he suffered from great memory loss in the last years of his life, he still managed to work on several books, until the moment of his death.
David Hume has contributed to philosophy, science, and the study of mental health. He was originally born as a second son to an extremely low-income family. As a result, he was expected to land a job from an early age. Initially, he considered the profession followed by his father and brother, thus aiming to pursue the profession in law. However, he later decided that it was “a laborious profession” requiring “the drudgery of a whole life.”
He was also considered for a teaching position at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Glasgow, but he didn’t end up getting any job. As a result, he decided to become a public intellectual. For him, this meant writing intellectual books which would appeal to a mass audience. Although his first book dramatically failed, his next few pieces of writing gained much popularity.
David Hume’s philosophy reflects his life choices. He discarded the idea of reason and stated that the feelings of a person mattered more than their ability to reason. He believed that ‘reason is the slave of passion.’ thus suggesting that the power of feeling is essentially more significant than the ability to reason. When a person is passionate about what they do, they are more likely to accomplish great things in that field. However, he also believed that the feeling or passion should be supported by reason, but at a later stage.
Hume’s religious perspective was slightly confused. He stayed in the stage of Theism and agnosticism, which is a belief that there may be a god, but it doesn’t matter to the person who holds this belief.
David Hume also contributed to the idea that believing in the idea of god was irrational. He further stated that the thought of being punished severely for engaging in wrong actions was only ‘cruel superstition.’
However, David Hume promoted religious toleration. He spread the idea that there may be people who disagreed with him, but they should not be regarded as irrational beings. On the contrary, they should be called passionate, emotion-driven individuals who engage in the things they believe in. Arguing over religion was a sore spot for Hume.
David Hume was also one of the first sceptics. He was conflicted about the idea of the personal self and stated that there is no such thing as personal identity. He believed that the human identity can always be subjected to change and that people are “nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions, which succeed each other with an inconceivable rapidity, and are in a perpetual flux and movement.”
Hume also added to the subdivision of ethics in philosophy. He believed that the concept of morality could be defined by the individual’s ethical training which took place from an early age. According to Hume, morality is defined by the decency in emotional expression. Hence, a moral individual possesses emotional capabilities which are ultimately good. These would include empathy, sympathy, humour and kindness.
He believed that while people can be rational, they can still lack the basic human emotions which make them moral or kind. As a result, he spread the idea that demonstrating positive emotions can allow a person to be moral.
Aristotle is considered to be amongst the most influential individual in human history. His work in philosophy expands through the area of science, biology, zoology, music, theatre, psychology, physics, politics, rhetoric, linguistics and several other topics. Aristotle was a student of Plato, who was the student of Socrates. Hence, his ideas were derived mainly from Socratic influence.
He contributed to ethical sub-division of Philosophy and launched his Nichomachean Ethics, which are said to be named after his son. He also offered another form of ethics which are known as Eudemian Ethics.
Aristotle believed that individuals must lead a good life, which is the moral life. He laid down a moral code of conduct which he believed that every individual should follow.
He also gave the concept of Eudemonia, which is a Greek word, roughly translating to “human flourishing or prosperity”. According to Aristotle, this state can be achieved if the individual engages in the task they love. He believed that when a person does the things they are talented at, they are more likely to be happy with the things they do. As a result, they reach a state of Eudemonia, which allows them to be content with the things they do in life.
Aristotle further created a distinction between the two concepts of matter and form. To Aristotle, the matter was the physical substance that made up the things. However, the form was the nature which offered things their distinct identity.
However, a lot of the ideas given by Aristotle were inaccurate. For instance, he believed that females are inferior to males as they have fewer teeth. Both of these conclusions have now proven to be false. Modern science has discovered that there is no connection in gender and intelligence or the number of teeth and intelligence. Additionally, there is also evidence which shows that the number of teeth is equal for both males and females.
Although the philosophers above contributed largely to the functioning of the modern world, their states are not set on stone. Several of their theories are not only imperfect but also extremely inaccurate. Thus, it is vital to focus on the things that are still considered valid and discard those which are proven wrong.