The Nature and Scope of Philosophy

1. Nature of Philosophy

Philosophy literally means ‘love of wisdom’. It is an attempt to arrive at a rational conception of the reality as a whole. It enquires into the nature of the universe in which we live, the nature of the human soul, and its destiny, and the nature of God or the Absolute, and their relation to one another.

It enquires into the nature of matter, time, space, causality, evolution, life, and mind, and their relation to one another. It is the art of thinking all things logically, systematically, and persistently. It is the art of thinking rationally and systematically of the reality as a whole.

Plato rightly con­ceived of philosophy as the persistent attempt to seek clear notions. It examines, clarifies, and explains popular and scientific concepts of matter, space, time, causality, evolution, mechanism, teleology, life, mind or soul, God or the Absolute, right and wrong, good and evil, beauty and ugliness, arid the like, and arrives at a rational conception of the reality. Clarification of concepts is the task of philosophy.

Philosophy is the critical analysis of the popular and scientific concepts, and the discovery of their relations to one another. It is a rational attempt to integrate our knowledge and interpret and unify our experiences.

It systematizes our scientific knowledge, and moral, aesthetic and religious experiences. It analyses the popular and scientific concepts, examines their vali­dity in the light of reason, and interrelates them to one another. Its method is logical and rational. Its chief instrument is logic. Its method is rational speculation—logical analysis and synthesis.

Philosophy is the rational attempt to have a world-view. It endeavors to reach a conception of the entire universe with all its elements and aspects and their interrelations to one another. It is not contented with a partial view of the world. It seeks to have a synoptic view of the whole reality it tries to have a vision, of the whole. The different sciences deal with different departments of the world.

Mathematical sciences deal with numbers and figures. Physics deals with heat, light, motion, sound, electricity and mag­netism. Chemistry deals with chemical phenomena. Astronomy deals with the phenomena of heavenly bodies. Botany deals with Phenomena of plant life. Zoology deals with the phenomena of animal life.

Physiology deals with the functions of the various organs of the animal and human organisms. Psychology deals with the phenomena, of mental life. Sociology deals with the structure and growth of the society and its institutions. Economics deals with wealth and welfare of man. Politics deals with the structure and functions of the State and its various organs.

Ethics deals with nature of the highest good, rights, duties, and virtues. Logic deals with truth and the conditions of its attainment. AEsthetics deals with beauty and its appreciation. The positive or natural sciences deal with facts, events or phenomena by the laws of nature.

Mathematics, physics, chemistry, astronomy, botany, zoology, physiology, sociology and psychology are positive or ideals. Ethics,’ Logic and AEsthetics are normative sciences, which seek to explain certain mental phenomena by norms or ideals.

Truth is the ideal of Logic. Good is the ideal of Ethics. Beauty is the ideal of AEsthe­tics. Logic deals with the intellectual ideal of Truth. Ethics deals with the volitional ideal of Good. AEsthetics deals with the emotional ideal of Beauty. They are normative or regulative sciences which seek to determine the nature of the norms or ideals which regulate our life.

Thus sciences give us a sectional view of the world. But philosophy harmonizes the highest conclusions of the different sciences, co-ordinates them with one another, and gives a rational conception of the whole world.

It investigates the nature of the fundamental concepts of matter, time, space, life, mind, and the like and interrelates them to one another. It enquires into the nature of the universe, its stuff or material, its creator or God, its purpose, and its relation to man and his soul.

Is the universe material or spiritual?

Is it made of brute matter?

Is it made of mind or spirit?

Is it mechanical or teleological?

Or is it governed by mechanical laws of nature, without any purpose?

Or does it realize an end or purpose?

Is it made of matter and energy?

Or is it created and sustained by God?

Is life a by-product of matter?

Or is it a new entity different from matter?

Is mind or soul a function, or a by-product of the brain?

Or is it something different from matter?

Is it free or determined by heredity and environment?

Is it mortal or immortal?

Are Truth, Good and Beauty mere subjective creations of the human mind?

Are they mere phantoms?

Are they mere projections of the human heart with no counterparts in reality?

Are they mere hopes and aspirations of man?

Are they mere figments of the imagination?

Are they merely subjective ideals with no foothold in reality?

Or are they real and objective?

Are they firmly rooted in reality?

Are they realized in God already, who exists as an eternal embodiment of the ideals?

Are they imperfect revelations of the nature of God to the finite intellect of man to be gradually realized in life beyond?

Philosophy seeks to answer these questions by logical thought and rational reflection. Philosophy is the criticism of life. It enquires into the nature, meaning, purpose, origin, and destiny of human life. It is the inter­pretation of life, its value, and meaning.

It is an enquiry into its source and destiny. It investigates the nature of the supreme norms, ideals, or values of life. It investigates the relation of values to reality. In this sense, philosophy is the interpretation of life.

The humanistic aspect of philosophy is emphasized in recent years. Philosophy is regarded now more as an interpretation of human life, its source, value, meaning, and destiny, than as an enquiry into the nature of the world, soul, and God. It tries to understand the universe in relation to man.

It seeks to give a rational concep­tion of the reality as a whole, which satisfies man’s deepest intel­lectual, moral, aesthetic, and religious aspirations.

Man is a rational being. He lives in the physical and social environment. He reacts upon his environment and adjusts himself to it. He is a free centre of activity. He is moulded by the environ­ment, and moulds it according to his ideal. He reflects upon the environment and himself, and their relation to each other.

He reflects upon the meaning, value, and purpose of his life. He reflects upon the nature, value, and purpose of the world and society in which he lives. He reflects upon the deepest mystery of the uni­verse, the real nature of his own soul, the innermost core of reality, the nature and meaning of God in relation to human experience.

Man, as a rational being, cannot but philosophize. Philosophy is a rational reflection on life it is a criticism of life and experience.

Man is a rational animal. He lives and reflects upon his life. He thinks how he lives and why he lives. He reflects upon the nature, meaning and destiny of life. He unconsciously forms a world-view. This unconscious world-view is the germ of philosophy.

When man consciously reflects upon his life and experience, and makes an intellectual effort to harmonize the various aspects of his experience, intellectual, aesthetic, moral and religious, with one another by a rational conception of the reality as whole, he philosophizes.

His very life and existence presuppose an unconscious world-view. To make it conscious is to philosophize. Thinking is a hard job. Rational thinking is harder still. Rational speculation on the whole of human life and experience, the totality of the various aspects of human have a synoptic view of the universe, is the task, of a philosopher.

Philosophy seeks to have a complete view, a vision of the whole. It cannot be satisfied with a partial, fragmentary, sectional view. Philosophy is a synoptic view of the universe.

Life and philosophy react upon each other. A superficial life of mere pursuit of sensual pleasures and material comforts yields a superficial philosophy of materialism. A deeper life of sense restraint, control of emotions and passions, and pursuit of human good, truth, beauty, and the Holy yields a deeper philosophy of idealism.

Life is never complete, perfect, and harmonious. So philosophy also, which is a reflection upon life, can never be com­plete and all-embracing.

Different facets of reality influence the human mind in different ages in the history of mankind. They are emphasized by the philosophical systems which are formulated at the time. Different systems emphasize different aspects of reality, and underestimate the importance of its other aspects.

Thus arises a conflict among the various types of philosophy. Some are mater­ialistic; others are idealistic, some are monistic; some are dualistic; others are pluralistic; some are atheistic; some are theistic; others are agnostic. But all types of philosophy seek to explain the reality as a whole by their fundamental concepts. They are various types of world-views.

2. Scope of Philosophy

Philosophy consists of three parts:

(1) Epistemology;

(2) Ontology and Metaphysics, and

(3) Axiology.

Epistemology is the theory of Knowledge. Ontology or Metaphysics is the theory of Being or Reality. Axiology is the theory of Values. Modern philosophy is not dogmatic. It does not plunge into metaphysical investigation of the nature of reality without a prior criticism of the organ of knowledge. It is based on epistemology. Epistemology enquires into the nature, origin, validity and extent of knowledge.

Is experience or reason the source of knowledge?

Does knowledge represent the reality?

What is the nature of valid know­ledge?

What are the tests of truth?

What are the conditions of valid knowledge?

What are the limits of human knowledge?

Can man know the world, soul, and God?

Can the finite mind know the Infinite?

Epistemology seeks to answer these questions. It has a dominant place in contemporary philosophy. It is a preliminary to metaphysical speculation. It is a prior criticism of the organ of knowledge. Ontology or Metaphysics is the theory of Being. It enquires into the nature of the reality. It investigates the nature of the world including matter and life, of the soul, and of God or the Absolute.

Ontology of Nature, Ontology of the Soul or Mind, and Ontology of the Absolute are the three essential parts of metaphysics. Ontology of Nature investigates the nature of matter, time, space, causality, life, evolution, mechanism, and teleology.

Ontology of the soul investigates the nature, origin and destiny of the soul, and its relation to body. Ontology of God investigates, the nature and attributes of God and his relation to the world and’ the souls. It discusses and examines proofs for the existence of God.

Ontology investigates the nature of reality. It discusses the theories of monism, dualism, and pluralism. Monism recognizes one type of reality. It assumes the form of materialism or idealism. Materialism regards matter as the ultimate reality, and reduces mind to matter.

Idealism regards mind or spirit as the fundamental reality and reduces matter to mind. Dualism recognizes matter and mind both as irreducible realities. Matter is unconscious and extended, while mind is conscious and un-extended.

They are radically different from each other and cannot be reduced to each other. This doctrine is dualism. Pluralism recognizes many realities independent of one another, which are not derived from one reality, and which cannot be reduced to one reality. They are either material or spiritual. Innumerable material atoms consti­tute the world.

Atomism is materialistic pluralism. Or an infinite number; of monads or spiritual atoms constitute the world, there being no unconscious matter. Monadism is spiritualistic pluralism. Leibnitz was an advocate of monadism.

But he recognized the existence of God, and Monad or monads, who created the monads and adjusted them to one another. Therefore, he combined spiri­tualistic pluralism or monadism with monism or theism.

Ontology of the cosmos is called cosmology. It investigates the nature and origin of the universe, its creation or evolution, and mechanical or teleological character of its evolution. Thus cosmology is included in ontology.

Axiology is the theory of values or ideals. Values are the supreme norms of life. Logic investigates the nature of Truth. Ethics investigates the nature of Good. AEsthetics investigates the nature of Beauty. Theology investigates the nature of the Holy.

Axiology enquires into the nature of intellectual, moral, esthetic, and religious values. It investigates the relation of values to reality. It enquires into their subjectivity or objectivity. It is a very important branch of contemporary philosophy. Tile problem of values is in the forefront of recent philosophy.

Formerly a difference was made between cosmology and cosmogony. Cosmology dealt with the number of the fundamental principles that constitute the world. It dealt with the doctrines of monism and pluralism. Cosmogony dealt with the origin of the world.

It dealt with the following questions?

Is the world created of evolved?

If it is evolved, is it evolved mechanically or ideolo­gically?

Is it devoid of an end or purpose?

Or does it realize a purpose?

Does it realize an external end?

Or does it realize an end immanent in it?

Formerly a distinction was drawn between ontology and cosmology. Ontology dealt with the nature of the ultimate reality. Is the reality material or spiritual?

Is matter the funda­mental reality?

Or is mind or spirit the ultimate reality?

Or are matters and mind both irreducible and ultimate realities?

Ontology dealt with materialism, idealism or spiritualism, and dualism.

Cosmology dealt with the number of the fundamental principles or realities. It dealt with the constitution and organization of the universe. It dealt with the problems of monism and pluralism. But at present all these problems are regarded as the problems of ontology.

Ontology deals with the nature-of the reality, the number of the fundamental principle or principles and the creation or evolution of the world. Cosmology and cosmogony are included in ontology. Ontology has three parts Ontology of Nature, Onto­logy of the Mind or Soul, and Ontology of God or the Absolute.

3. Epistemology and Ontology or Metaphysics

Epistemology enquires into the conditions under which know­ledge is possible. It means the ‘Science of Knowledge’. It is an enquiry into the nature, origin, range and conditions of knowledge.

It seeks to answer the following questions:

Is knowledge of reality possible at all or not?

What is the nature of knowledge?

What is the origin and source of knowledge?

What is the range, extent or limit of knowledge?

What are the conditions of the validity of knowledge?

What, then, is the relation of epistemology to ontology or metaphysics?

Epistemology is the theory of knowing, while onto­logy is the theory of being or reality. Ontology must be preceded epistemology, since we cannot investigate the ultimate nature of the reality that is known, unless we already justify our claim to do so by a prior criticism of the organ of knowledge and prove that knowledge is possible.

If we are constituted in such a way that we cannot know the reality—if knowledge is absolutely im­possible, it is quite useless to investigate the nature of the reality. Epistemology, thus, is the fundamental basis and groundwork of ontology or metaphysics. Ontology is the theory of reality.

Formerly philosophers dogmatically assumed an ultimate reality and sought to deduce everything of the universe from it, without a previous enquiry into the possibility of knowledge. But this is sheer dogmatism.

But though epistemology is an in dispensable preliminary of philosophy, it must not be identified with philosophy. As a matter of fact, epistemology and ontology are so intimately related to each other, that the one cannot stand without the other.

A particular theory of knowing leads to a parti­cular theory of being; a particular theory of being presupposes a particular theory of knowing. In order to ascertain whether know­ledge reveals to us any reality we must know what knowledge itself is and the nature of reality cannot be understood unless we know how it is related to knowledge.

The question of the nature and validity of our knowledge and the question of the ultimate nature of what we know are in reality two sides of the same enquiry two aspects of the same study.

4. Philosophy and Theology

The Ontology of the Absolute or the philosophy of God is called Theology. Thus theology is a part of philosophy, which mainly enquires into the existence and nature of God, and His relation to man and the world.

This is called Natural Theology because it investigates the existence and nature of God from the very inner nature of the self and the outer nature of the external world. It is also called Rational Theology because it based on the use and exercise of the faculty of reason, and not on blind faith.

But the term ‘Theology’ is also used in the sense of Revealed Theology or theology as revealed by God to man through Prophets and seers in different positive religions. In this sense, we speak of Hindu Theology, Islamic Theology, and Christian Theology.

Though Rational or Natural Theology has no essential relation to Revealed Theology, still the former must take account of the latter. It must criticize the doctrines of different religions by rational and philosophical reflection, to arrive at a true conception of the Absolute, by incorporating the truths of all religions in itself, and eliminating the element of dogmatism.

Thus Natural or Rational Theology, which is the highest branch of philosophy, is the truth and essence of all religions.

5. Philosophy and Religion

Philosophy aims at a rational conception of the reality as a whole. It seeks to gain true insight into the general structure of the universe and man’s relation to it. It seeks to investigate the nature of matter, life, soul and God, and their interrelations of one another.

Religion consists in belief in a superhuman power or powers which control and guide the destiny of man, the sentiments of awe, reverence, love and devotion, and the practical conduct which follows from them.

The great religions of the world are expressions of the effort of the human spirit to grasp the nature of the universe, and understand man’s relation to it, cultivate that kind of thought, emotion and attitude of belief and realize that kind of conduct that benefits man’s place in it.

Philosophy and religion have common objects. Both of them try to grasp the nature of the universe, and to understand man’s place, function and destiny in it. But there is a difference between the two. Religion is more or less a matter of emotion and practical experience. But philosophy is a matter of rational reflection. In religion we are absorbed in spiritual communion with the object of devotion.

In philosophy we break the harmony of spiritual enjoyment, and make it an object of critical reflection. Religion is a matter of simple faith, reverence and enjoyment. Philosophy is a matter of cold reflection and critical scrutiny.

The knowledge that is summed up in creeds is often vague, figurative, and im­perfect, while the knowledge that is summed up in philosophy is clear, rational, and systematic. Religion takes the help of pictorial imagination or symbolical thinking. But philosophy rises above these to speculative thought which is pure, abstract and imageless.

6. Philosophy and Poetry

Poetry, also, like philosophy, seeks to-solve the mystery of the universe. Only their methods are different. Poetry depends on emotion and inspiration, while philosophy depends on intel­lectual comprehension and critical reflection.

Emotion is the organ of poetry. Reason is the organ of philosophy. The poet feels. The philosopher thinks. The poet sets a greater value on the warmth and fervour of the heart. The philosopher sets a greater value on the purity and loftiness of the intellect. The poet grasps the nature of the universe through his heart. The philosopher grasps the nature of the universe through his intellect.

The poet indulges in symbols and images. The philosopher rises above them to the region of pure, imageless thought. The poet gives a symbolic and figurative conception of the universe. The philosopher gives- a direct and rational conception of the universe. The poet gives a pictorial representation of God. The philosopher gives a rational conception of God.

The poet seeks beauty in the universe. He seeks beauty in nature, beauty in man and woman, beauty in the whole universe. He seeks beauty that appeals to the sense, and beauty that appeals to the inner spirit. To him Beauty is Truth, and Truth is Beauty.

The philosopher seeks to harmonize the ideals of Truth, Good and Beauty. He seeks to grasp the nature of the Reality as a whole, which is the eternal embodiment of the Ideals of Truth, Good, and Beauty. Philosophy and poetry both seek to penetrate into the heart of the ultimate reality.

But poetry appeals to immediate intuition and unanalyzed feeling, whereas philosophy relies on rational reflection and critical analysis.

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