~ Our meeting today, my dear reader, is not one of coincidence, luck or blind chance. That we have met today means that we were meant to meet one another and our meeting could not have happened in any other way. We might forget in the near future that this meeting has ever happened but we cannot change the fact that this encounter has already taken place.
We live in a world that seems to move faster in comparison to our own mechanical wristwatch. Every single day the advancements in technology supersede our ability to catch up with new innovative creations. Computers have invaded every sector and segment of our everyday lives while the World Wide Web has lifted the shroud hindering international communications and solved most of the difficulties previously faced in international relations. Such is the world of the 21st century, a world where globalization is no longer a fairy-tale dream but a reality that we are now only beginning to comprehend.
In a world where change seems to be the only constant thing, we find yet another element that has remained unscathed through the passage of time. This element is none other than the importance of philosophy, the soul of our intellectual consciousness.
Philosophy is now increasingly important as individuals of different races, cultures, personalities and backgrounds interconnect with the new platforms and avenues provided through the developments of information technology. However, these advancements are not without cost. As the world becomes a smaller place, frictions and misunderstandings between different beliefs, social norms, tenets and opinions surface to become increasingly evident, thus showing us, that we require something other than technology to bridge the gap. This is where philosophy is to play its major role.
But what is the intended meaning when a man uses the word philosophy? Every word or concept requires a definition that can at least be generally accepted for the purpose of communications. Yet the word philosophy evokes many different meanings when we hear it being uttered by another individual.
I believe that philosophy lies, like many other things, in the eyes of the beholder. Should we define philosophy as only the particular doctrines relating to some specific individual or school in history, we cannot be more wrong. On the contrary, philosophy is a personal outlook or perspective that an individual has on the world and all its properties either in reality or in imagination.
This means that philosophy, as a word, would include more than just generally accepted schools of thought like Plato or Aristotle. Taking its meaning loosely, philosophy is one’s perspective of life itself. Having said so, it is not surprising that the word has a different meaning when it is used by a different person.
The difficulty of such a definition is that almost every single individual in the world has a personal philosophy that overlaps with the philosophy of others while remaining distinctively different.
As Bertrand Russell once put it, ‘the definition of philosophy will vary according to the philosophy we adopt’. And in a world where so much diversity is present, it should not be surprising that the variance between different systems of beliefs should be as contrasting as night and day.
Adding to that, our continuous inability to form similar definitions for the same concepts and words remains a hindrance to a desired state of seamless communication while at the same time posing a source of conflict.
Take for example, how the word ‘philosopher’ is used. Seldom it is that we regard an individual as a philosopher unless that person has written a number of books, invented some famous quotation, or has argued his ‘philosophy’ with his every known acquaintance.
Yet if we acknowledge that every man has his own system of beliefs, regardless of how irrational it may be, and is capable of intellectual thoughts, would not every man be a philosopher?
At least every man that matters in this world would be and should be called a philosopher! The only difference is that an individual might make for a really poor philosopher in comparison to others.
I would say that it is a common misconception that one must follow the philosophy of a single man, be it, Spinoza, Descartes or Immanuel Kant, to be a philosopher. The word philosopher came from Ancient Greece where the word, ‘philosophos’, was used to describe anyone who was a lover of wisdom. The mission of philosophy is a simple and noble one, which is, ‘to advance the cause of human reason, to perfect its methods, and to extend their application across an ever widening range of pursuits’.
To this day, many have risen to the challenge and the richness and vitality of our current society in terms of the proliferation of knowledge stands testament to the labours and experiences of great men in history.
Philosophy must be understood as something that is inescapable regardless of the difference in intelligence, socio-economic status, race, gender and age. Unless one in either mentally impaired or living in an asylum, one would find that he is, inevitably, a subject to the sovereignty of philosophy and all her devices. At the core, philosophy can be divided into epistemology, metaphysics and logic.
In the middle circle, one would find moral philosophy (ethics), the philosophy of language, the philosophy of mind (psychology) and the philosophy of science.
On the outer circle, philosophy includes things that are more familiar to us, including, aesthetic, the philosophy of education, the philosophy of history, the philosophy of law, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of religion, political philosophy and social philosophy.
When we have outlined the vast scope that philosophy covers, we realize that philosophy is something that is unavoidable and relevant in every endeavour of our everyday lives. It is no mystery that a PhD in higher education means a doctorate in the philosophy of a certain area of study. To deny the importance of philosophy is similar to believing that we should not ‘think’ at all.
And this we know to be a great folly in a world as competitive and unforgiving as ours. Instead of avoiding the perils and difficulties of knowing philosophy, let us then rise up to the challenge of being a lover of wisdom in hope that the continuous accumulation of knowledge would foster a greater understanding of the world as it is and a greater degree of tolerance in society!
~ Ee Suen Zheng