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My Personal Thoughts on Common Philosophical Topics

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Words: 4988 |

Pages: 11|

25 min read

Published: Mar 17, 2023

Words: 4988|Pages: 11|25 min read

Published: Mar 17, 2023

Table of contents

  1. Introduction to Philosophy
  2. Knowledge 
  3. God and Religion 
  4. Death/Mind/Body 
  5. Morality 
  6. Free Will/Predestination 
  7. Meaning of Life 
  8. Mind/Body 
  9. Conclusion

Introduction to Philosophy

Ludwig Wittgenstein once said, “Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of our language”. In this quote Ludwig is basically stating that when we are thinking things philosophically, the language can be very deceiving, it can persuade or enchant us, and that is the battle we must face. When studying philosophy, one must think with an open mind, because as a society we are constantly changing. In order to keep up with that change we should be open to new experiences and the way we look at things. Throughout this paper I will convey my personal philosophical thoughts on topics such as knowledge, the relationship between mind and body, and other additional topics. I will share philosophical views from not only former western philosophers, but also nonwestern philosophers such as Native American influences. There will be times where I will question the philosopher’s views as well as argue against their theories and thoughts, which will be seen throughout this paper. 

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Knowledge 

Knowledge is a basic human attribute, there are certain things we do such as blinking and swallowing that are done on command rather than with thought. Although we are born with the ability to do things physically, when it comes to the act of understanding we cannot say the same thing. How we perceive the world as a child will ultimately change as we age due to certain reasoning such as experience and maturity. This kind of maturity is referring to the level of emotional, mental, moral, and spiritual development, not of physical growth. Experience has a symbiotic relationship with knowledge, experience is the skill acquired through a gained knowledge by direct observation or participation. Knowledge on the other hand is the combination of facts, skills, and information acquired through experience or education. 

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was a German philosopher who critiqued the traditional view of the study of knowledge, his views of knowledge and understanding are similar to what my beliefs are as well. Kant argued that there are two kinds of knowledge: Priori, which is knowledge gained with reason, and Posteriori, knowledge gained through experience. According to Kant, the mind does not passively receive information provided by the senses rather, it actively shapes and makes sense of that information. If all the experiences in our life take place in time, that is due to how our mind arranges sensory experience in a temporal progression. If we perceive or think that some events may or can cause other events, that is due to our mind making sense of events in terms of cause and effect. I agree with Kant in the fact that knowledge requires experience, but as I was reading information about his thought on knowledge, I saw that he stated that mathematics and the principles of science fall into the priori sector of knowledge and I would have to slightly disagree. I disagree with that statement due to the fact that yes, a simple answer like 7+4=11 is not a problem too complicated to answer, but I feel as if in order to get that answer it must be taught. It is not knowledge that just randomly popped into your head. While Immanuel Kant believed in knowledge as being a natural quality and that required experience, we turn our attention to David Hume who believed that knowledge was more of something that came with experience.

David Hume (1711-1776) was a Scottish philosopher during the Age of Enlightenment. Hume argued that we can have knowledge of just two sorts of things: The relations between ideas, and the matters of fact. Hume believed that anything we know that is not true by logic or definition alone, every “matter of fact” must be learned and tested through our senses. With this in mind we have to remember that Hume was an Empiricist, empiricism is a physiological stance on which the senses are the ultimate source of knowledge. Hume tells us that we can only trust our experiences and senses. And although I agree with him with what he is saying, I do think he is wrong. I say this because I do not think we can always just come to our senses when it comes to knowledge, because your senses are not always right.

 “The man who says he can, and the man who says he can’t are both correct”. This famous quote was derived from Confucius (551 BC-479BC), a Chinese teacher as well as a philosopher. Confucius believed that education and knowledge belonged to anyone who had the desire to learn. Based on the Standard Encyclopedia of Philosophy Confucius belittled those who had faith in intuition, or natural understanding and argued that only real understanding of a subject came from long and careful studying. Unlike Kant, the idea of knowledge was something that came naturally was out of the picture. I do have to agree with Confucius more than I disagree with him, I do believe that the understanding of subjects should or has to require studying especially topics like mathematics or science. But I do have to disagree with him in the fact that it should not be the only thing that determines the knowledge of a person, because people obtain information differently. 

God and Religion 

Religion in philosophy can be very controversial moreover due to the fact that the concept of God being the “creator” of all things varies from each philosopher. For centuries people from all around the world have tried to find proof or information about the existence of God and if he was created by events in history such as the Big Bang Theory, I question personally is there is one creator who watches over us humans, and if this creator in general created us. 

St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) was an immensely influential theologian, philosopher, as well as a Catholic priest. Aquinas states that you cannot prove that God exists just by considering the word God, for that to work you have to infer to know God’s essence. Although you can prove his existence in several ways, Aquinas thought that you cannot do it just by examining the concept of God. (Moore & Bruder 326) Aquinas believed that there are five different ways to prove God’s existence. The first way he thought that observing movement in the world as proof of God, also known as the 'Immovable Mover'. For number two Aquinas believed that observing causes and their effects and identifying God as the cause of everything. Thirdly, Aquinas concluded that the impermanent nature of beings proves the existence of a necessary being. (i.e. God) With number four Aquinas states that various attributes come in different degrees, things can be more or less true, or more or less good, etc. But there must be some type of standard that measures these things. Lastly, with number five Aquinas states that knowing that natural beings (People) could not have intelligence if it wasn't granted by God. I like Aquinas’s take on this, because Aquinas states that Theology and Philosophy, although separate practices, compliment each other. Other Christian thinkers thought that philosophy could lead to religious errors. 

René Descartes (1596-1650) Descartes was a French mathematician, philosopher, as well as a scientist. Descartes wanted to challenge every belief he had, no matter how unreasonable it seemed. With this method, he found that he could not doubt his existence as a thing. (I think, therefore I am.) He also found that he could not doubt God’s existence, for three reasons, also known as Descartes’s proof of God. Descartes’s first proof states this: he argues that being an imperfect being who has the notion that perfection exists, and therefore has a distinct idea of a perfect being, perfect being as in God. The second proof states that God was invoked by Descartes as the course of Descartes, a being that had the idea of God, therefore he exists. The final proof basically states that God is the being that possesses all perfections including existence, he cannot conceive the idea that God doesn't exist, therefore he exists. I do not agree with the way that Descartes explains his proofs, in my honest opinion. The proofs are stating that because we as beings were brought into this universe with imperfections, we must therefore accept that something with a greater power (A God) must have created us. Because we were born into existence and we are able to think ideas, something or someone must have created us. 

Taoism and philosophy have a unique concept when it comes to the ideas of God or an almighty being, Taoism is not revolved around one singular holy God, or creator, rather it centers itself around a universal force. This force is known as Tao, which could mean “The Path”, or “The Way”. According to BBC “Taoism does not have a God in the way that Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) do. There is no being that created and controls the universe, in Taoism the universe springs from the Tao, but The Tao is not God, nor is it a God and it is not worshipped by the Taoists. Taoism has many Gods, most of them come from other cultures and many of these gods have a job or a role to fulfil, they also have titles rather than names. I feel the concept of Tao is something that needs to be dug into a little deeper for me to truly understand the concept of many Gods, although having many Gods compared to a single God sounds more realistic. 

Death/Mind/Body 

The concept of death is not focused in philosophy as much as living in general is studied. The definition of death is the ending of life, whether naturally or by a disaster, etc. But is there life after death? I question the thought of an afterlife, and reincarnation, can our souls be reborn into another life? 

St. Augustine (354-430AD) was an early Christian theologian and philosopher whose writings influenced the development of Western philosophy and Christianity. Augustine was fascinated by the human soul, he wanted to understand its nature, how it related to the body, and how long it stayed for. Augustine depicted the soul as being a fine material substance that was dispersed throughout the body, he would not accept a substance that lacked dimension. Augustine was known as being a materialist, but after reading Plotinus (who was an ancient philosopher that stated that God was an immaterial substance), he changed his mind. St. Augustine developed a number of philosophical arguments to demonstrate the soul’s immateriality. The first of these arguments is that because the soul’s cognitive objects are not limited spatially, the soul itself cannot be limited spatially, and because the soul cannot be limited spatially, it cannot be a material body. The second argument is that because the soul thinks and wills, but a body cannot think or will, so in turn the soul cannot be a material body. A third argument is that we attribute moral qualities to the soul, but moral qualities cannot be spatially extended properties of a material substance, therefore the soul cannot be a material substance. I feel like reading this argument of St. Augustine it does make sense that I feel that he is basically saying that the soul, although distinct from the body, has a necessary relationship with a body. 

Plato (423-347BCE) was an Athenian philosopher. Plato was also considered the most pivotal figure in the history of Ancient Greek, and western philosophy. Plato believed that the soul is immortal, in his dialogue Phaedo, Pluto determined that there are four arguments that determined immorality also known as Cyclical Argument. Plato believed that the body and soul are fundamentally distinguishable. Plato was most concerned with the immortality of the soul and its ability to survive death. Plato proposed the idea that, like Aristotle’s idea of motion, whatever is the source of its own motion or must be immortal. Plato wrote at a time in philosophy where people believed that the soul did not survive death, and that it dissolved into nothing, such as gas or smoke. Plato believed that the soul must be immortal by the very nature of being the source of its own animation, for it is through one’s self that things can be living rather than being dead. I don’t know if I really believe Plato when he says this, I feel as if this is very flawed due to the fact that how do we know that we have a soul in the afterlife, how do we know that after we die our soul doesn’t stay with us. 

According to the Native Americans, a spirit never dies. They believe that death is the journey to another world, prior to the beginning of the final journey, the deceased’s spirit travels to the places it had known on earth. If that spirit does not have a good journey, the soul may come back and haunt the living. It is hard to describe every Native American tribe and what they believed in when it came to immorality/death. The Gitxsan (Canada) for example believe in reincarnation of people and animals. They believe that the dead can visit this world and that the living can enter the past. They believe that memory survives from generation to generation, and the elderly remember the past because they have lived it. The concept of what the Native Americans believe in in interesting, do I necessarily believe in it? No, but the fact that these traditions have been going on since man reached America, probably even earlier than that, there may be some truth to what they are doing.

Morality 

Morality does not have a clear, definitive definition of what is right and what is not right. Everyone on this earth comes from a different walk of life, and views the world differently from others, which makes it difficult to define what is ethically correct. How I was brought up reflects how I define my personal values, and as I mature into an adult and the more I experience, the better I will be able to explain my own cultural values. Cultural relativism is when an individual’s beliefs should be understood by others in terms of that own culture. It is also the view that no culture is superior to any other culture when comparing systems of morality, politics, etc. I do consider myself a relativist, and I feel like most people do consider themselves one as well, I personally don’t feel like anyone should consider things unethical because cultures vary from country to country. 

Up to the time of Immanuel Kant, people’s moral beliefs and practices were all based on religion. Actions such as don’t lie, don’t steal, and so on were rules that had come from God, it wasn’t something that was based on opinion. David Hume also tried to turn morality a non-religious foundation, Hume basically stated that if something is good it will promote happiness, and if it is bad it will produce pain or suffering. Our basic duty is to try to do things that will create more happiness or reduce the amount of misery that is in the world. But Kant did not want that, he believed that placing an emphasis on happiness interrupted the nature of morality. Kant believed that utilitarianism judged actions based on their consequences, if the action made people happy, then it was good, If the action made people upset, it’s bad. I have to agree with Kant on this, I believe that up to his time, things were judged based on what God found acceptable, almost as if the decisions were not free to you, you had to follow the rules. If I want to do something, the only moral course of action is to let me make my own decisions.

The philosopher that I don’t agree with would have to be St. Aquinas, this is due to the fact that his Christian views did not coincide with the moral views. Aquinas followed Aristotle in the thought that an act is good or bad depending on whether it contributes to or discourages us from reaching the final goal, that goal being happiness. Aquinas also argues that we can never achieve or complete final happiness in this life, he believes that this “final happiness” consists of a supernatural unification with God. Aquinas believed that we need God to transform our nature to perfection, or to defy it so that we are more suited to engage in a state of utmost bliss. Aquinas believed that although we are not fully corrupted by sin, we still have them, which is why we need God’s help in order to restore the goodness of our nature. I do not agree with Aquinas’s thought process on this view due to the fact that it is impossible to connect with God in a supernatural sense. I believe that yes we should strive to we should try to achieve happiness, but God and morality should not be used together. While Christianity teaches that sin and guilt are the primary problems when it comes to morals, Buddhism does the exact opposite. Buddhism teaches that there is no right or wrong, which means that sin and moral guilt do not exist. 

Good and evil do not exist as well, and they state that in the quest of enlightenment, one must see the world as it really is. Buddhism teaches that morality is something that we create ourselves, based on what we feel is beneficial, rather than what is found as morally correct or right. Buddhism encourages an ethic of restraint, they uphold the idea of “Do not do to others, that you would not want to be done to you.” This is the first paragraph where I can firmly say I agree with their view. I feel as the thought of what is morally right always becomes a problem in society because it’s like you are expected to follow these morals, I personally believe that you should follow what you feel is beneficial, not what is morally right. 

Free Will/Predestination 

Free will is the power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate, it is the ability to act on one's own authority and judgement. Many philosophers are open minded when it comes to the opposing views of free will and predestination. Personally, I do not feel that when we are born, we automatically have our lives set out for us, well unless of course you are a prince or a princess. I feel like the only way we find ourselves is by experience and learning from mistakes that we make along the way. Aristotle states that there is no predetermination. Most things, for Aristotle, are known through sense experience and are thought about using discursive reasoning, or reasoning from one thing or aspect to another. (Moore and Bruder 62) Aristotle tried to define things by figuring out how a thing is similar(genus) and how it is different(species) to other things. Aristotle believed that entirely different way of thinking, that at times was necessary, this was intuition. Intuition is the immediate ability to understand something, without reasoning. Aristotle stated that intuition may sometimes be required to attain information, that cannot be gained with experience, Aristotle stated that people are free to act however they wish. People gain knowledge based on choices they decide to make during experiences they decide to experience. I agree with what Aristotle stated, I do believe that the path we travel is not determined right from the beginning, experience is what really determines how our life will go. 

Benedict de Spinoza (1632-1677) was a Dutch philosopher who laid down the groundwork for the Enlightenment and modern biblical criticism including ideas of the self and the universe. According to Spinoza, for something to be entirely free it must be uncompelled in all ways, as well as being the cause of itself. Spinoza believed that there was only one substance that causes itself, that substance is God, or nature. Spinoza states that since only a substance can be uncompelled and free, God can only be attributed as being the one independent substance. While God is the singular free substance, the people are modes of God’s attributes of extension and thought, this means that the people are limited expressions of God because only he possesses infinite attributes, while the people possess none. Therefore, what they try to conceive as their free-will is only a small way of conveying God’s will. Spinoza states that traditional ways of understanding free-will is incorrect, because people will strive to further their existence, meaning that our will is dependent on our desire to live, and our existence altogether is dependent on God. I do not agree with Spinoza, I feel as if our decisions should not be subjected to God, I feel as if the decisions we make should be up to us. Even if there is a higher being who created us. 

Predestination is a religious concept that tells you about the relationship of God and his creations. In Islam, predestination is the usual English language rendering of a belief that Muslims call “Al-Qada’ wa Al-Qadar “in Arabic. The phrase means 'the divine decree and the predestination'. In Islam, God has predetermined, ordained, and is constantly creating every event that takes place in the world. Sunni scholars state that there is no contradiction in people's deeds being created and predetermined by their creator, because they define free will to be the opposite of compulsion and coercion. Sunni people do recognize that they have freedom, because they are not being forced to do things. However, this does not deny the truth that everything they do, including the choices they make, are chosen by God. Consequently, people are already predestined to either heaven or hell at birth, as the Sunni people believe. This section was a little hard to pick up or understand, I wish the book or somewhere online had more information on this topic. 

Meaning of Life 

Why are we here? Does my life have a purpose? These are two questions that usually come into mind when talking about the meaning of life. The purpose of human existence is often questioned philosophically, personally I don’t know why I am on this earth, or if I have a purpose in my life. A lot of times I wonder why humans were brought onto this earth, we spend our days eating, sleeping, working, and going to school (if you so choose to of course.) But I do believe that there is a reason why we are on this earth, whether you believe in God, or believe in happiness, it is up to you to decide how you live your life. 

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900) was a German Philosopher who’s work had great influence on Western philosophy. For Nietzsche, life did not have a meaning, or a “universal truth”, he believed that it was up to you to work and find a meaning of life. Nietzsche’s answer to this question as to the meaning of life has two parts. In the first part, Nietzsche advises the individual to leave off any meaning granted ‘a priori’ (such a meaning would not be intelligible as a meaning), and to one’s own goals. These individual goals should be high, and they should bring out the best out of the individual. In the second part of his answer, Nietzsche reflects on the consequences of a self-defined meaning of life for the world. In doing this, one remains true to his premise that there can be no pre-existing sense of existence. If then the world in and of itself has no meaning, then there is nothing left of our own meaning. Therefore, even the greatest deeds must perish or disappear. Nietzsche argued that the reason why people suffer is because they are under the delusion that there is an essential meaning in themselves and in this world, when in fact life is based on nothingness. According to Nietzsche, life is completely based on contingency, and only individuals themselves have the power to instill meaning into their lives. To find happiness in life Nietzsche believed that people have to take courage and free themselves from the indoctrination of societal values and pursuing after their own desires instead. I agree with Nietzsche on what he is saying, I feel like more people should have this mentality.

“Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence “. Aristotle stated these words more than 2,000 years ago, but even today this quote seems to run true. Aristotle strongly believed that humans behaved and lived within the laws of nature and there were no Gods and no supernatural forces that affected the way humans could behave or interact. Aristotelian universe is an interaction between form and matter and that every single thing in the universe surrounded and behaved according to the order and purpose of nature. Aristotle also believed that form and matter are two important aspects to meaning of life and that both form and matter are required in order to complete life. Aristotelian form could be absent from matter, but it cannot exist independently of matter. According to Aristotle, form is what makes a substance a substance and matters are the materials that are required in order to make it into a substance. In addition, Aristotle also emphasized that in order to understand what constitutes a thing, we have to understand and question the four types of causes behind it: Material Cause, Formal Cause, Efficient Cause, and Final Cause. I find Aristotle’s take on the meaning of life to be interesting, moreover due to the fact that his thought process was very advanced for his time. 

In Buddhism, the primary purpose of life is to end suffering. The Buddha taught that humans suffer because we strive after things that do not give lasting happiness, like materialistic things, that do not last, and it causes sorrow. Buddhism teaches the importance of recognizing the state of all things and freeing oneself from attachment to them. This will lessen the suffering and end the cycle of rebirth. These teachings are expressed briefly in the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Paths, which forms the foundation of belief for all branches of Buddhism.

Mind/Body 

Mind and body will be the last topic that we will discuss about in this paper. Are we more body or are we more mind? In my opinion, I feel that we are more mind than body, we are more mentally stronger than we are physical. The human brain is the most complex thing we as humans obtain. To have strength, one must understand their emotions and their thoughts of mind, otherwise one will be weak regardless of muscle on the outside. 

Rene Descartes is well known for his development of Dualism (duo meaning two) dualism is the idea that, for a particular domain, there are two kinds of categories of things/principles that go along with it. So, for example: the concept of Theology, the two kinds of principles that are usually thought of with theology is good and evil. Descartes believed in the mind-body domain of dualism, the mind-body domain was Descartes’s idea that the mind and body are separate entities. Descartes believed that our mind as humans, and our body are not being combined as one, rather they compliment each other. I agree with Descartes on his concept of dualism, I feel that us as individuals are formed by both mental and physical entities, but these two can work independently of each other. I feel like my philosophical views match those of Descartes. 

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) Hobbes was an English philosopher, who was considered to be one of the founders of modern political philosopher. (Wikipedia) Hobbes believed that human beings and their minds were entirely material. Hobbes did not believe the views of Descartes when it came to the body and mind. Hobbes states in his philosophy that everything is made up of physical forms that are in constant motion, and that the activity that happens mentally is the result of motion from the outside objects that are producing movement within an individual. I find this take on the mind and body to be interesting, why does Hobbes believe that humans are made up entirely of body? It does not make much sense to me considering it is the mind that makes you function. I do not agree with Hobbes on this. 

Our final topic that will be covered in the body and mind section will be that of the Buddhists. According to Buddhism, the mind and the body are combined, consciousness is the primary subject. Zen Buddhism on the other hand states that there can be no contrast between the mind and the body. This is because the body and the mind differ only by the outward appearance. To understand this concept a little easier let’s picture this, one can state that Africa and Asia both exist, as if they really exist. But they actually only exist in our mind. They exist as concepts, and our mind all together is the ultimate concept. I find that this concept towards Buddhism and the body and mind is interesting. The way that the Buddhists portray religion, the inner self, and the mind in body has become clearer to me the more I read about it. When one involves themselves into the concept of philosophy, they must have an open mind. 

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Conclusion

Philosophy is the study of problems concerning topics such as religion, knowledge, morality, and the mind. Philosophers like Immanuel Kant, Thomas Hobbes, and St. Augustine spent a big portion of their life, studying, coming up with new theories in topics such as morality and God and have in turn changed the way people have thought for generations. In my writing I covered seven topics and stated my opinion on how I felt about each of the philosophical theories. I feel that after taking this course and studying philosophers more in dept, my understanding of philosophy has grown greatly. .

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