It is a no-brainer that explaining philosophy to someone who doesn’t know is not an easy take therefore, in this paper, I will be highlighting methods to explain this area of study, the primary areas of philosophy as well as the kind of questions covered in those areas. First and foremost, the method that I will be applying to explain philosophy is through the story of an engineer, mathematician, and philosopher who are traveling on a train to Scotland together.
So, the story begins with these three men taking a train to Scotland as their final destination. A couple of minutes after the train had crossed the Scottish borders, the three of them immediately notice five brown cows standing on a green field. The engineer then states “So, now we are all well aware that Scottish cows are brown”, however, the mathematician immediately disagrees and says “No, now we know that there are at least five brown cows in Scotland”. The philosopher looks at both and them and says “You’re both wrong, the only thing we, as humans know, is that there are five cows in Scotland that are brown on one side, the side that we saw”. Astonished, the mathematician and engineer are out of words to say to the philosopher. This explains philosophy. The most essential thing in philosophy is not taking anything for granted and thinking of things in a way that is out of the box, taking everything into consideration and most importantly, not being ignorant of different possibilities.
That is what I would call an extremely rational investigation on a subject that is beyond the reach of science. The reason why I would use this method to explain philosophy to someone who doesn’t know is due to the ability to relate. The person on the other end can understand this complex subject in a way that is more relaxed and easier to digest. Through this story, I didn’t have to use any definition or terminology to explain this area of study. Instead, I gave an example which would unveil the difference in the thinking of a philosopher and other people at question. Secondly, I would try and seek answers to questions that most philosophers spent almost their entire life thinking about. If a person comes up to me and asks me to explain what philosophy is in words, I would instead turn the questions towards them. I would begin by asking them whether they believe God exists, the meaning of life, what is the best form of government, why do innocent people suffer and so on.
It is highly likely that the person will have the answer to all my questions since we all as human beings have opinions and are entitled to it. For instance, when asked whether God exists or not, a religious person would not be hesitant and would answer yes to my question right away however, on the contrary, an atheist person might disagree with the fact that God exists. Now, there is no right and wrong answer to this question, both of these people will have their own valid arguments as to why they gave such an answer. Similarly, during this question and answer session (Socrates’ dialectic method), I would explain to them that philosophy is based entirely on the code of values and beliefs by which a person lives (Soccio, 2016). You do not need to be a philosopher to ask philosophical questions. This would explain what philosophy means, “the love of wisdom”. Anyone who wants to gain wisdom can engage in philosophical questions, ask themselves the meaning of different things and why they exist or why things happen (Why do people suffer, does might make right).
Moving on the primary areas of philosophy which include metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, social and political philosophy. There are a lot more areas however, I will be putting a spotlight on these 4 areas only. Firstly, metaphysics is the study of what is sometimes termed as the “ultimate reality”. This area of study will put emphasis on questions about reality that go beyond the sense experience and of course ordinary science. Questions in this area involve the mind-body relationship, the existence of supernatural things, free will, personal immorality, and the nature of being (Soccio, 2016). Examples of metaphysical questions include “Can there be things that exist that are not in time?”, “Can there be necessarily existent entities”, “Must anything that exists have intrinsic properties?”, “Is space real or merely just an illusion”? and, “Does the physical universe depends upon the existence of an immaterial creator?”. All in all, metaphysics can be described as an area of philosophy that explores fundamental questions, that include concepts of being, existence as well as reality. Secondly, epistemology is an area of philosophy that asks questions about knowledge, its nature and origins and the answer to whether or not it is even possible (Soccio, 2016).
Questions in this branch of philosophy include sources of knowledge, the standards of evidence, truth, belief and the gradation of knowledge, memory and perception. Epistemological questions would include “Is it possible to have knowledge at all?”, “Does our knowledge represent reality as it really is?” and “Does reason provide us with knowledge of the world?”. Therefore, this branch of philosophy highlights the theory of knowledge (logical discourse). Thirdly, ethics is the study of moral problems, practical reasoning, virtues and vices, good and bad, right and wrong, character, moral duty, issues that are related to nature, origins, and scope of moral values (Soccio, 2016). According to the book, it is also not uncommon to see ethicists specialize in different areas namely medical ethics, business ethics, environmental ethics, academic ethics, issues regarding ethnicity, and gender and the nature of a good life. Questions relating to this branch include “is it considered stealing if I take pens from a bank or if I get extra napkins from a restaurant?”, “Is it unfair to move into better seats at a sport event?”, “Is it okay for me to fantasize about someone else when I am with my spouse?”. Ethnical issues also involve things like relativism and universality.
Lastly, social and political philosophy are concerned with the nature and origins of the state, the exercise of power, sovereignty the effect social institutions have on individuals, ethnicity, gender, social status and the strengths and weaknesses of the different types of societies. Examples of social and political questions include “Should there be a government?”, “What kind of government should we have?”, “What should the social world be like?”. All in all, social and political philosophy puts a spotlight on social philosophy studies questions regarding social behavior and political philosophy puts emphasis on topics such as liberty, politics, justice, property, law and rights. To conclude, I would explain philosophy to someone who doesn’t know by sharing the story of the 3 men travelling to Scotland as well as engaging in question and answers to make them better understand what this field of study is all about.
Also, the primary areas of philosophy include Metaphysics (questions regarding reality), Epistemology (questions regarding knowledge), Ethics (Questions in regard to moral problems and practical reasoning) as well as Social and Political philosophy (questions regarding the nature and origins of the state, exercise of power etc.).