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Unmuddling the Notion of Philosophy

The study of philosophy is often regarded as pretentious, confusing or even useless. With its complex and often seemingly nonsensical ideas, people tend to stay away from it because we are naturally turned off by what we cannot understand.

However, I find this rejection or avoidance of philosophy rather ironic. We are a species that seeks out understanding, yet we tend to stay away from philosophy which, when properly understood, can provide exactly that. It provides us with a better understanding of our thoughts and actions, as well as the world around us through the complex theories and questions that it raises.

There are many famous philosophers, from ancient ones like Plato and Aristotle to relatively modern ones like Friedrich Nietzsche and Immanuel Kant who have come up with ideas that often contradict each other. At the same time, there are also hundreds of more contemporary philosophers who seek to interpret or refute those theories and have made them more accessible, revealing, and thought-provoking.

Despite such efforts, I would argue that contradictions between ideas undeniably still exist due to philosophy’s vast body of theories and perspectives.  Yet the diverse perspectives that often make philosophy so far-reaching and, at times, contradictory, are where its value and relevance also lie.

Unmuddling the Notion of Philosophy

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For example, take political philosophy. Over the years, philosophers such as John Locke, Edmund Burke, Thomas Hobbes, etc. have come up with theories about the role of government within a community. Hobbes thought it acted as a necessary agent to restrict the evils of human nature, while Locke thought of humans as innately peaceful and therefore the establishment of a government as voluntary. So just two different perspectives have already given us a more well-rounded idea of the possibilities and potential responsibilities of government, something with a huge presence in our lives. These opposing perspectives even lead to bigger questions regarding human nature, which is something that we directly embody.

Moreover, through understanding philosophy and its contradictions, we gain different perspectives regarding events we might not have thought twice about. For example, moral philosophy has been developed for hundreds of years but still has numerous theories that exist to disprove each other. One such contradiction exists between deontology — the idea that the morality of an act lies in the action itself — and utilitarianism — the idea that an ethical act or decision is one that can benefit the most people, regardless of the act itself. So when in moral dilemmas, philosophy may guide us to a solution.

Unmuddling the Notion of Philosophy

The different perspectives from just two theories in these two different branches of philosophy have already provided different takes on things as mundane as morals and as common as government, which we often act upon unconsciously and take for granted. Philosophy has offered us a better understanding of possible reasons why we may think or act the way we do, and subsequently helps us gain a better understanding of ourselves and our society.

Another thing that seems to make philosophy unappealing is the complexity of it that often leads to inevitable and unanswerable questions. For example, the problem of evil is a common one: if a benevolent and all-powerful God exists, then why are there still evils in this world? Arguments and refutations that try to answer this question include the idea that evil is a result of our God-given free will, denying the existence of evil and accepting that God is not omnipotent. These theories all contradict each other in some way and lead you to ask even more questions out of confusion. But at the same time, questions are valuable because they are the crucial step to discoveries and learning.

We often talk about the importance of the freedom of thought and the importance of debate in driving progress. The same can be said for the effect of philosophy on human intellect and understanding. By using philosophy to question the ethicality of hunting, abortion, or even our own governments, we are upholding the importance of our own intellects. This is because such questions and discussions often shed light on important issues and lead to an attempt at resolving them, whether they be individual or societal. This can then lead to a better understanding of ourselves and our society.

Overall, philosophy may be complex and confusing at times, but that’s no reason to shy away from it. The outcome of its complexity and confusion is often enlightenment regarding the self and our surroundings, making us more conscious people and citizens.

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