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The Nature of Philosophy

Abstract: Links to lecture notes or tutorials are provided as an introduction to the subject of philosophy.

This course is designed as a first introduction to philosophical thought. Philosophy, here, is characterized as a fundamental inquiry into the ultimate assumptions or presuppositions of any subject.

We begin our philosophical quest by examining conventional and cultural foundations of our thought and action.

Online Notes in this Section:

The Divisions of Philosophical Inquiry: Philosophy, philosophical inquiry, and the main branches of philosophy are characterized.

Characteristics of a Philosophical Problem: A working definition of philosophy is proposed and a few philosophical problems are illustrated.

The Principle of Charity: The principle of charity is a presumption often made in philosophy whereby preconceptions about an argument, a topic, or a belief are set aside in the attempt to gain new understanding.

Further Reading:
  • Philosophy: A Brief Guide for Undergraduates. A discussion of the fields philosophy, the uses of philosophy, and the philosophical curriculum from the American Philosophical Association.
  • Philosophy. A survey of the branches of philosophy, the history of philosophy, and main philosophical issues with references, readings, and links to other sites from the Wikipedia.
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“Contrary to any other academic discipline, which deals with questions within a specific area, philosophy has no subject matter specific to it. Rather, philosophers ask fundamental questions that range over all human knowledge. Therefore, unlike other academic subjects, which have foundational principles needing to be understood and even memorized by students, philosophy has no established principles or even basic conceptual structures common to all philosophy. Instead, its nature is an intellectual journey of pursuing truth or wisdom based on rational scrutiny. Furthermore, although no definition of philosophy has been accepted by all philosophers, we may take the following definition as our starting-point: philosophy is rational enquiry into fundamental questions or issues about the world and human beings so that our beliefs of them can rest upon a firm foundation by clearing away errors about the true, the good, and the beautiful in the world.” Xuetai Qi, “Introducting Chinese Students to Western Philosophy,” APA Newsletter, (Fall 2008) Vol. 8 No. 1.

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