My Philosophy Over Different Philosophers Scientists Term Paper

Pages: 6 (2818 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 0  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Black Studies - Philosophy

Philosophy

My philosophy over different philosophers/scientists

In a book by that title, Paul Kurtz asks, "science and religion: are they compatible?" His answer is that though both may be valid, they are only minimally compatible. Religion, he suggests, is the creative and poetic expression of the human imagination which seeks to create answers to those unexplained aspects of life which might otherwise cause fear or a sense of our own insignificance. Science, on the other hand, seeks to provide a real understanding of all aspects of life. Both, it seems, seek to fill in the voids in our knowledge and experience -- whether through experimentation and "theory" (which is to say imagination) or through dogma and intuition (which again, is to say imagination). Because both science and religion have the same ends, they are capable of making each other superfluous. This book chronicles the proud history of the way that science has replaced religion. Steven Weinberg's opening essay even goes so far as to suggest that there cannot be a constructive dialogue between science and religion, because science allows people to choose to be irreligious. Apparently, he supposes that if one has a choice, any reasonable person would prefer theory to intuition. So this book presents secular thought, and by turns adamantly and gently denies the presence of anything magic in the world.

A similar trend is seen in the book Sophia's World, by Jostein Gaarder. In the later as well, the author gently dismisses any theory of the supernatural or experience of magic that might exist in the world. Both texts could easily be portrayed as irreligious -- but, as is typical in commentary about philosophy in the West, the religion they consider is only that of a pseudo-Christian variety, assuming a personal and unnatural sort of deity. Neither text seems to particularly addresses a more Zen perspective on the world, nor one which finds the divine in the natural. Though Kurtz's collection seems to be relatively confident in the face of its atheism (albeit rather blindly so), Gaarder seems to portray the history of philosophy as a movement from the certainties of a Platonic world into the nihilism of a modern world. There is a degree to which this portrayal is fair. Yet it is also possible to trace a path from Plato to Sartre to Nietzsche, and in the process to retain one's intimations of the eternal. This is the path which I feel I have followed in my own journey as an emotive being, and one which I feel Gaarder and Kurtz do not quite sufficiently address.

If I were to speak of my own philosophy, I suppose it would be necessary to begin -- as most good discussions of Western philosophy are apt to do -- with Plato and Socrates. Gaarder describes Plato as struggling to find something solid to cling to in a world where nothing seemed legitimate or immune to the devastating effects of sophisticated argument. "Plato wanted to find the eternal and immutable in the midst of all change... So he found [which is to say, invented] the perfect 'ideas' that were superior to the sensory world." (Gaarder, 90) Plato imagined that exterior to the world which we see with our senses is a world of forms. We see these reflected in reality dimly, as if in a darkened mirror. As Plato described it, it is as if they were shadows cast by firelight striking the real objects and projecting their shape into a cave where we, bound by our physical bodies, sit staring at the wall and calling the shadows our realities. So if life seems confusing, mutable, incomplete and uncertain, it is only because it is an incomplete facsimile of a world that does make sense -- the world of forms. These forms are accessible through the logic and reasoning of a true philosopher, which is just to say the introspection of the observer.

The flaw in Plato's reasoning at this point is not unlike the flaw which many scientists make when they suggest that so-called natural laws dictate the action of all the world, rather than admitting that the natural laws are not the creators of nature but merely descriptive of it. He supposes that the form of a thing is outside that thing and independent from it, when in reality forms are not external definitions giving shape to reality but are interior codifications meant to allow us to comprehend and predict exterior reality. "The 'idea' [form] horse was simply a concept that we humans had formed after seeing a certain number of horses." (Gaarder, 90) the forms envisioned by Plato were, to some degree, supernatural. This is why modern scientists discount them, as have many others since his time.

For me, however, the idea of forms remains very important, not as a way of understanding the functioning of the exterior world but as a way of accessing the interior worlds. The forms may not create reality, but they might in fact define the way in which one experiences reality. To use the same example as Gaarder, it maybe true that the form of horse does not dictate the muscle and flesh of the animal, and that it is merely a conceptual result of human interaction with these beasts. However, the form of horse does create in my own awareness a set of expectations and preconceptions that define my interaction with horses -- I need to only catch a whiff of horse sweat, or see the shape of a horse in a field, or hear its footsteps, and my mind instantly calls up an entire set of attributes regarding its nature and the way in which I will interact with it. These assumptions limit my experience of the horse (for example, considering what one knows of the form, one may be unlikely to fall in love with a horse, or to attempt to discuss philosophy with it, or to consider it to be a god). To some degree, then, they create the horse for me.

I, personally, believe very strongly in the forms as elements of the human psyche which transcend the individual -- they are the consensus of the human race regarding reality. Some forms, of course, are more vital than others. I consider Jung's work on the universal unconscious and the global experience of archetypes to be work on the nature of Plato's forms, in another light. Forms, then, may not inform only our experience of the external, but also our experience of the internal and the very meaning of being human. All this is, of course, a modern existentialist-inspired interpretation of the forms, but it does go to show that many ideas which may seem outdated or irrational may warp and take on new meaning and shape as time progresses. The integration of many understandings into one understanding (or lack thereof) is one of the fundamental pursuits of the thoughtful life.

Plato's focus on the rational and philosophical mind, his emphasis on questioning, and his devotion to the idea of the supernatural form and order of the world evidently set the groundwork for centuries of human philosophical experience, and deeply influenced the christian philosophers who eventually followed him. Yet eventually his fixed understanding of the world lost some of its grip on the mind of philosophers. Sartre, one of the fathers of existentialism, can be seen as a great rebel against the idea of some single external form which shapes the human mind. "Sartre said that a material thing is simply 'in itself', but mankind is for itself.".. The being of man is therefore not the same as the being of things. Man... must create his own nature or 'essence' because it is not fixed in advance... [it is] useless to search for the meaning of life in general... we must decide for ourselves how to live..." (Gaarder, 379)

Yet though Sartre dismisses the idea that external forms determine how we see the world and how we experience ourselves, he also suggests that our own preconceptions influence how we perceive and experience the world around us. "An escaped convict may see policemen everywhere [because]... our own lives influence the way we perceive things...[likewise] if something is of no interest to me, I don't see it." (Gaarder, 380) So there remains a primitive idea here of the form which influences the world by influencing what we see ad how we perceive them. Our perception of meaning, then, might be able to lend some illusory meaning to the world -- yet in the end, Sartre suggests, they are false and must fall away.

Sartre not only dismisses the idea of some form which gives shape to human life, he also waves off the idea of some God-given set of directions by which we may live the good life. Humankind, he suggests, cannot rely on logic or reason or dogma to give direction and meaning to life. There is no virtuous pathway (as Plato would have suggested there to… [END OF PREVIEW]

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