Cheat Sheet

Philosophy For Dummies

What is life? Do rocks have souls? Philosophy is all about pondering life’s imponderables — and the ponderables as well. If you’re interested in philosophy (the ancient love of wisdom), it helps to know about a few of those who have gone before you, some of the issues perennially debated, and some of the terms philosophers use.

Big Names in the Ancient Game of Philosophy

If you’re into philosophy, it’s important to become acquainted with some of the early founding philosophers. This list contains the big names and big thinkers of ancient times:

  • Presocratics: Anaximines, Anaxamander, Anaxagoras. Strange and famous names. Among the earliest philosophers on record. Costarring such luminaries as Thales, who believed that everything is made of water, once almost drowned, and got rich from getting a corner on the olive oil market. The Presocratics did speculative protoscience. Of course, they didn’t know they were Presocratics. But we do.

  • Socrates: Did philosophy using The Socratic Method (duh). Hit the streets in search of wisdom. Executed by popular demand. Taught Plato.

  • Plato: Hung around with Socrates. Wrote dialogues featuring his teacher. Maybe the most famous philosopher of all time. Taught the other contender for this accolade, Aristotle.

  • Aristotle: Student of Plato. Codified logic. Said everyone seeks happiness. Taught Alexander the Great. Plato emphasized the next world; Aristotle concentrated on this one.

  • The Stoics: Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius were the best known of the Roman Stoics. Main advice for handling any difficult thing in life: Put it in perspective and get over it.

Philosophy Students’ Great Questions

The point of philosophy is to ponder the questions that life presents. Students of philosophy (and, perhaps, students of life) have raised and will continue to raise some of philosophy’s greatest questions:

  • Why?

  • What?

  • Will this be on the test?

Questions that Philosophy Raises

The problems posed by the great philosophers can enhance your experience of the world. You've probably even asked yourself some of these philosophical questions without realizing that you're thinking like some of the greatest minds in history!

Here's a sampling of some of the questions always under consideration in philosophy:

  • Can we really ever know anything?

  • What is the good in life?

  • Are we actually free, as we seem to be, or are we just robots programmed by nature or God?

  • Are we just bodies, or do we have souls?

  • Do we survive death?

  • Is there a God?

  • Does life have meaning?

Glossary of Basic Philosophy Terms

To be a really great (or even fair-to-middling) philosopher, you need to understand some of the lingo of philosophy. Some basic terms in philosophy include:

  • Philosophy: Love of wisdom.

  • Aesthetics: The study of beauty, ugliness, and maybe even the sublime. The question, What is art?, is an aesthetical one.

    Meta-aesthetics tip: If a theoretical aesthetician can’t match a suit and tie or a skirt and shirt, take anything they say with a grain of salt.

  • Epistemology: The study of belief, truth, knowledge, and rationality.

  • Ethics: The study of good and evil, right and wrong, rules and virtues, character and vice, success and happiness.

    Ethics has lots of sub-areas, including:

    • Business ethics: What is it okay to do?

    • Legal ethics: Who is it okay to sue?

    • Medical ethics: When is it okay to clone?

    • Techno ethics: Why is it okay to tap a phone?

  • Metaphysics: The study of being, or what really exists. All the 'ultimate stuff' questions are metaphysical ones. Meta means after or transcending.

  • Wisdom: Practical insight for living.

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