Reply To: What is philosophy?

  • Encyclios

    April 3, 2023 at 8:19 AM

    Philosophy as “first science”

    Towards the middle of the 5th century BC, the focus of philosophical research shifted to anthropological questions (knowledge, morality). The protagonists of this new school are the so-called Sophists, to whom we also owe the critique of a number of traditional notions. Philosophy became critical of tradition in its religious, ethical, juridical and political aspects. Tradition and its certainties are replaced by debate (hence the vital importance of rhetoric, the art of speaking and persuading), with a strong relativistic accent. But for the debate to be fruitful, we need criteria, to give meaning to words, to define them. And this is the need that Socrates, who is also a sophist because he is the creator of debate and criticism, but who is an enemy of the sophists and more radical than them as an advocate of a correct and coherent debate, brings to the fore. Hence Aristotle’s judgment that Socrates is the inventor of the “concept” or the “universal”.

    In Plato different characterizations of philosophy, implicit or explicit, coexist. In the Symposium we find the acceptance of the word (“love of knowledge” and ϕιλοσοϕεῖν with the meaning of “study” and “research”). In the Theaetetus, Plato gives a typical picture of the philosopher who is only interested in scientific studies and is indifferent to what concerns practical life. The philosopher of the Theaetetus is also a mathematician and an astronomer: he discovers the very structure of being. And in the Sophist, the philosopher is identified with the debater, since dialectic is not merely a method of inquiry or a mental exercise, but the objective nexus that holds the connections between ideas.

    Aristotle confirms the Platonic idea of philosophy as the science par excellence, superior in depth to all other sciences. The sciences study their subjects in their necessary or more constant characteristics, while philosophy studies them in their most intimate essence, in what they have of substance and what makes them what they truly are. Therefore, philosophy is the foundation of all other sciences. In this specific sense, Aristotle defines philosophy as the first science, or the first philosophy, or even theology, and places it alongside the other sciences, which he calls theoretical, mathematical, and physical, but in a privileged position in relation to them.