What is First Philosophy?

FIRST PHILOSOPHY is the study of being-qua-being for the love of wisdom 


What is philosophy?

'Philosophy' means 'loving wisdom'.

From Greek philosophia, from philos, 'loving', and sophia, 'wisdom'.

'Loving wisdom' can be interpreted at two levels, so to speak:
- 'desiring wisdom' (i.e., wanting to attain wisdom) as well as
- 'cherishing wisdom' (i.e., having attained wisdom).


Why love wisdom?

Wisdom is totally satisfying.

Wisdom is the answer to the fundamental questions of life. Questions such as: 

  • What is good? What should I do? How am I to live? What is the purpose of life?
  • What is true? What can I know? Is there a way out of the chaos and absurdity?
  • What is real? What am I? What will happen when I die? Does God exist?

Wisdom (dis)solves all problems, is totally satisfying:

  • Rationally satisfying. (Intellectually satisfying. The end of doubt.)
  • Emotionally satisfying. (Psychologically satisfying. The end of suffering.)
  • Spiritually satisfying. (Enlightenment. Liberation. Divine union. Salvation. The end of ignorance.*)

*) It may even be synonymous to such apparently mysterious notions as the holy grail, the philosopher's stone, the elixir, the panacea, and immortality... ;o)


What is wisdom?

Wisdom is knowing what is true. (To be wise, is to know what is true.)

Yes, there is nothing more to it. And, no, there is not plenty of it. Most of what we assume to know to be true, cannot really be known to be true at all. For example, all so-called scientific knowledge is not really known to be true (i.e., verified) but merely not-known to be false (i.e., not falsified) yet. There are very few statements that can be known to be true (i.e., verified). However, there is at least one.


What can I know to be true?

               I am.

That I am cannot be denied or even doubted. I can doubt what I am, but not that I am. True, you may say, but also trivial, old news, and of no value whatsoever. You would be right of course. But this is only the positive, affirming part. To state the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, a statement should not only affirm what is, but also say what is thereby negated. As Aristotle put it, a true statement should not only say of what is, that it is, but also of what is not, that it is not. Moreover, the negating part should negate the opposite of what was affirmed in the first part (so there can be nothing between them). In this case, it is the negating part that makes the statement so much more interesting. What I can know to be true is that:

               I am   &   all else is not.

With 'all else', I mean 'all except I'. In other words, 'I' and 'all else' are perfect opposites, i.e., (mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive) complements in 'all'. Thus, this statement is perfect in the sense that it is complete (i.e., states the whole truth, both, affirms what is and negates what is not) and flawless (i.e., leaves no room for anything but the truth because the terms ('I' vs. 'all else' and 'is' vs. 'is not') are perfect opposites).

The verb 'to be' can cause some confusion. (See https://sites.google.com/a/linea-recta.com/fp/editorial-notes for details.) Thus, I italicize conjugations and substantiations of the verb 'to be' where it is used as an intransitive main verb or otherwise refers to the being that I am. But perhaps I should simply use 'to be real' instead of 'to be'. In that case, what I can know to be true is that:

               I am real   &   all else is not real.

But even 'real' may be confusing. With 'real', I mean 'not possibly merely apparent'. Therefore, what I can know to be true is that:

               I am not possibly merely apparent   &   all else is possibly merely apparent.

Subsequently, by rephrasing the predicate expressions, we already have three (logically equivalent) ways to say what wisdom is:

               To be wise is to know that I am & all else is not.

               To be wise is to know that I am real & all else is not real.

               To be wise is to know that I am not possibly merely apparent & all else is possibly merely apparent.

Note: 'I', 'me', and 'myself' are used token-reflexively; I assume that you can say the same for yourself!


What is First Philosophy?

First Philosophy is the study of being-qua-being for the love of wisdom.

   First Philosophy in terms of being.

Aristotle defined First Philosophy as the study of being-qua-being (i.e., being). Although he never took up the study, his definition is as valid as ever. Being is synonymous with the being that I am; What appears to be is synonymous with all else. Thus, to be wise is to know that being is (real) and what appears to be is not (real).

This is an interesting terminology because it may still be the most adequate, neutral, and versatile terminology for practicing First Philosophy. But it is terribly out of fashion. Nowadays, hardly anybody works on being, not even in on-to-logy (although 'on to' actually means 'what is'). People even get irritated when confronted with talk about being (because they consider it vacuous, ill-defined, elusive, etc.). Exceptions, like Charles Kahn and Lesley Brown, seem more concerned with the use of the verb 'to be'. Luckily, there are plenty of interesting alternative terminologies.

   First Philosophy in terms of God.

One alternative is to talk in terms of God. Aristotle already noticed that First Philosophy is synonymous with theology (which may well have included what we now consider to be philosophy of religion). Indeed, God is synonymous with (supreme) being; Creation is synonymous with all else. Thus, to be wise is to know that God is (real) and the creation is not (real).

This is an interesting terminology because talk of God will never go out of fashion. The terminology makes it possible to discuss First Philosophy in the philosophy of religion and theology. Explaining First Philosophy in terms of God, already resulted in a completely different kind of argument for the existence of God. It also seems to result in a refined account of God that has several important advantages over the Doctrine(s) of Divine Simplicity. (If you would like a copy of either or both, please let me know: ruud.schuurman@linea-recta.com)

   First Philosophy in terms of consciousness.

Another alternative is to talk in terms of consciousness. Consciousness is synonymous with the being that I am; and the content-of-consciousness is synonymous with all else. Thus, to be wise is to know that consciousness is (real) and the content-of-consciousness is not (real).

This is an interesting terminology because consciousness is a very popular topic at the moment. The terminology makes it possible to discuss First Philosophy in the philosophy of mind (and hopefully soon in the philosophy of consciousness). Explaining First Philosophy in terms of consciousness, already resulted in the view called 'Consciousnism, a Copernican revolution in the philosophy of mind'. (If you would like a copy, please let me know: ruud.schuurman@linea-recta.com.)

   First Philosophy in terms of I, me, myself.

Another alternative is to talk in terms of I, me, and myself. In fact, we already defined true knowledge in these terms. But perhaps it was not made explicit then that I, me, and myself are synonymous with being, and that what appears to me (i.e., what I am not, what is non-self) is synonymous with all else. Thus, to be wise is to know that I am (real) and what appears to me, is not (real).

This is an interesting terminology, not only because of the instruction of the temple at Delphi, 'Know Thyself', or because the question 'what am I?' is the most famous ancient Hindu riddle to help one discover wisdom, but also because one is naturally interested in discovering what one is. The terminology makes it possible to discuss First Philosophy in various fields, also outside of philosophy (e.g., in psychology).

   First Philosophy in terms of transcendence.

Yet another alternative is to talk in terms of transcendence. Being is (colloquially speaking) extra-ordinary, un-usual, ab-normal, (metaphysically / ontologically speaking) super-natural, un-conditioned, un-worldly, supra-mundane, (logically speaking) trans-categorical, (epistemologically speaking) trans-conceptual (i.e., in-conceivable, in-comprehensible, in-comparable), (ethically speaking) trans-ethical, (morally speaking) transmoral, (in terms of certainty) un-conditional, ab-solute, and so on. Whatever dimension we choose, being transcends it.


Why 'First' Philosophy?

First Philosophy is 'first' in the sense that it serves the primary (and arguably the only) purpose of philosophy: loving wisdom. The term, First Philosophy, serves to distinguish it from other disciplines that do not practice philosophy in this literal sense. For example, because they have purposefully set themselves another goal or because they got lost in the remote corners of philosophy, where it is easy to forget what philosophy is about.

First Philosophy is also 'first' in the sense that it is about the primary distinction. The distinction between what is and what is not. This distinction is demonstrably more fundamental than any other.

First Philosophy is 'first' in the sense that it is of primary importance, in theory/philosophy as well as in practice/daily life.

Finally, First Philosophy is 'first' in the sense that it is the common root, not only of all branches of philosophy, but also of the sciences, and of religions.


That

I use 'that' as a placeholder for that which could also be called, for example,

- I, me, myself, the 'I am', consciousness,
- being qua being, being as such, being,

- the being (or essence) that I am and all else appears to have,

- God,

- the transcendent, absolute, unconditional, supernatural, transcategorical, transconceptual, and so on.

- the subject, that which all else appears to, that which I am looking out of.

- what is, what is real, what is not possibly merely apparent.

 

That is not a thing among other things, a being among other beings, not even the greatest of all (i.e. primus inter pares), but greater-than-the-greatest (i.e., super, outside and above all beings, absolutely transcendent).

We are normally not even aware of that. We are so preoccupied with what we are looking at that we fail to notice what we are looking out of. We allow ourselves to be deceived by appearances, (mis)taking them to be real, and thus mistaking ourselves to be real human beings (i.e., bodies, minds, roles). By investigating what we are and discarding all that we are not, the things we mistakenly identify ourselves with fall away, until nothing is left but that which we are.


What makes that so special?

That is absolute (while all else is relative).

And only what is absolute can provide absolute answers, answers to the fundamental questions of life, answers you can expect from philosophy. (Note: Everybody, except philosophers themselves, seems to think that this is the task of philosophy.)


Is First Philosophy not just another word for metaphysics?

No, First Philosophy is not just different, but in a sense even the opposite of metaphysics:

  • Metaphysics studies what appears (i.e., what appears to be).
  • First Philosophy studies what it appears to (i.e., being). 

Recognizing the difference between First Philosophy and metaphysics is the very purpose of (first) philosophy. Correctly distinguishing 'what appears' from 'what it appears to', is wisdom.

The confusion between First Philosophy and metaphysics is understandable. First, because Aristotle's book called 'First Philosophy' has become known as 'Metaphysics'. Second, because the book does not deal with First Philosophy (although it defines the discipline). It concerns itself with the alleged being of beings instead of with being qua being, i.e., with what falls within the categories instead of with what transcends the categories. Third, because hardly anybody recognizes the difference between 'being' and 'what appears to be'.


Is First Philosophy religious?

No, First Philosophy is secular. But it is the root, the common ground, not only of all branches of philosophy and the (natural) sciences, but also of religions. As such, First Philosophy is the rationale for many (if not all) religions, which may explain the interest that religions have in First Philosophy. Theistic religions take a detour via God to end up identifying God with (supreme) being and, at least their mystics, identifying themselves with that being (resulting in divine union, which means salvation, the end of sin (i.e., union is the end of separation) and the consequences of sin (i.e., toil, pain, suffering)). What we call wisdom.


How to practice First Philosophy?

To practice First Philosophy means to love wisdom, to want to attain wisdom. To attain wisdom, we must (learn to) correctly distinguish between what I am and all else. We need not focus on distinguishing between some things and other things, but between all things ('all else') and what all things appear to ('I'), between what is possibly merely apparent ('all else') and what is not possibly merely apparent ('I'), between what appears ('all else') and what it appears to ('I'). In other words, between myself ('I') and what appears to me ('all else'), between being ('I') and what appears to be ('all else'), between consciousness ('I') and what is content-of-consciousness ('all else'), between the subject ('I') and what is object to it ('all else'), between what I am ('I') and what I am not ('all else'). The problem is that the correct distinction challenges some deeply rooted beliefs. For example:

1)      About what 'I' am, what the 'I' refers to. When we say 'I', we normally refer to the human being, the body and/or mind, that we take ourselves to be. But I am not any of those things (that are possibly merely apparent); I am that which is aware of all things (and that is not possibly merely apparent).

2)      About consciousness. We tend to believe that we are human beings having a conscious experience, but, if we look at it more closely, it turns out we are consciousness having a human experience.

3)      About where the line is drawn. We tend to believe that the primary ontological distinction is between some things and other things, usually between physical things and mental things. But physical things (e.g., the body, the world) and mental things (e.g., thoughts, feelings, perceptions) are both things, both possibly merely apparent. So, the primary distinction is not between some things and other things, but between all things and what they appear to, between consciousness and content-of-consciousness, between the subject and all that is object to it.

4)      About an underlying reality. We tend to believe that the appearances that appear to us are perceptions of (or representations of, after-images of, or otherwise caused by) an underlying reality, by things-in-themselves. We tend to believe that the fact that things appear to us, means that those things also exist in some other way than as an appearance. But that is an illicit inference. That appearances appear to me, does not prove that things exist in any other way than as appearances. And what about the obvious counterexamples posed by dreams and hallucinations, where things appear without an underlying reality?

If First Philosophy (nevertheless) appeals to you, please let me know: ruud.schuurman@linea-recta.com.