Chapter 1

Introduction to Philosophy

(contains definition of philosophy)

What is philosophy?

Philosophy is an effort, using reason and observation, to deduce the best way to derive maximum happiness by explaining/studying reality and man's place in it. 

An analogy may be just the thing to explain the meaning and purpose of philosophy more clearly.

Suppose a man stranded on an island suddenly finds a lot of metal pieces, nuts, bolts, planks etc., obviously the disassembled pieces of a boat. Now imagine three people emerging out of the woods suddenly. The first one says "These are the pieces of a boat. See this? This is the rudder, and this one here is the sail..." This guy is the scientist.

The second guy says, "Go west, row west.. get your boat and row west.. I tell you, you will find land there." This guy is the representative of religion, who gives the direction in which to use to fruits of science's labour.  

The third guy objects and says, "Why should you go west? Tell me where you want to go, what kind of place you seek. Look inside you, look at the way the birds fly. Then decide." This is the philosopher.

In short, Science has everything to do with the means, while Religion and Philosophy both dedicate themselves to the ends or direction. The difference is that Religion is relatively a simple matter while Philosophy tends to involve complex reasoning. Both however aim at finding out the purpose of your life.

Every system of Philosophy usually, though not necessarily, includes theories about the following questions

  • what are the 'real' things as opposed to the ephemeral or illusive things (ontology), 
  • what is the grand structure of the universe and what is Man's place in it (metaphysics), 
  • what are the rules to be observed by someone in his/her conduct towards the others (ethics)
  • what are the rules to be observed by the state in its conduct towards the citizens and other states (political philosophy.)
  • and anything else that may have a bearing on your happiness 

However, the end result of all this study (and the essence of Philosophy,) is that it puts forth a way to live, a goal or a purpose, for human beings which will give the maximum happiness or satisfaction. Like Religion, it frequently puts up ways and methods of behaviour that are unpleasant in the short term (such as abstinence from sex), but promise to give the maximum satisfaction or happiness in the long run as they are in confirmity with the 'general scheme of things'. As such, Philosophy can also be called the Science of sustainable happiness, or training the mind to tap the experience of life in such a way that the quantum of happiness is the highest, in the long term.


The relationship of Philosophy with other branches of human knowldege:

It is exactly similar to Religion in its scope, but exactly similar to Science in its methods. In other words, Philosophy tries to what Religion also tries to do, using different methods. It, like science, builds up a body of knowledge by the systematic recording of observations, and then applying generally accepted rules of reasoning to them. Thus, the similarity with religion lies in the aim, and that with science in the methods employed to reach that aim.

Philosophy and Religion frequently, almost inevitably, come into conflict with each other as they try to do the same thing using different methods and as a result, their conclusions are more often than not, incompatible with each other. Religion resorts to intuition to solve questions about the meaning of existence, life etc., while Philosophy, as already indicated, tries to use reason and logic.

next : Why should I bother with Philosophy?