Theology and Philosophy

What is Philosophy?

Philosophy is both an ancient tradition of thought and an exciting contemporary subject that explores basic questions concerning reality and value in the broadest senses. It involves thinking carefully and analytically, in conversation with others, about the really big questions. While it has its own characteristic areas of study, it is a subject area that is also uniquely open to all other disciplines. The philosopher is literally a "lover of wisdom" about all kinds of matters: nothing is "off the table" so to speak. Philosophical questions arise (and are actively discussed), concerning almost any subject, from the natural sciences and mathematics, to human nature, politics, ethics, history, art, religion, and much else.

Core philosophical questions tend to be keenly focused on issues concerning the nature of reality as a whole, and human knowledge and obligation. What distinguishes Philosophy from other disciplines are both the kinds of questions that are asked, as well as the way we attempt to respond to them. Philosophical questions look to probe well beyond the taken-for-granted way we generally view the world, and when pursued they open up both valuable insights and further intriging problems. Here are just a few such questions:

  • Ethics: Is moral goodness something objective, or is it just up to the individual? How do we rationally decide what is good, or is moral decision making more of a gut intuition?
  • Freedom: Do we really have free will, or does our past determine our future?
  • Identity: What is it that enables things and people to retain their identities through time, even as everything about them changes?
  • Mind: Does my mind exist separately from my brain? Do I "have" a soul, and if so what is it? Do animals have minds? Is it possible that computers could have minds?
  • Knowledge: What does it mean to claim to 'know' something? How is knowledge of the world outside us even possible?
  • Truth: Is truth in my mind; or is it contained in true sentences; or is it out there in the world?
  • Science: How does scientific understanding of the world relate to other kinds of knowing?
  • Reality: What is real? Why is there anything at all? Does reality exist in itself, apart from it being known by thinking beings?
  • Political Philosophy: What gives governments authority? What is justice, and is it more important than personal freedom?
  • Beauty: What is it, and what is its significance? is beauty a real quality in the world, or is it only ever in the eye of the beholder?
  • Language: How does language produce meaning, and what is the relationship between words in sentences and reality?
  • Purpose: Does it make sense to speak of "the" meaning of life?
  • God: Can we know rationally or empirically about the existence (and nature) of God? Or is religious belief a matter of faith alone?

That worthwhile responses to these kinds of questions are rarely simple or straight-forward provides no licence for vague or careless argumentation. It is because such questions (and many more like them) are so basic that they require us to thoroughly examine our assumptions, to question the meaning of seemingly 'familiar' terms, to think hard and creatively, to allow ourselves to be challenged, and to listen carefully and critically to the views of others, including insights from other relevant disciplines.

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