In order to help us understand the meaning of Philosophy we must first understand the long debates regarding what it means to be human, and how “being” differs from “to be”. Does an individual become human or is “that” individual only “that” individual? How does being differ from to be? The fundamental capacity to understand the world outside the world of the individual and his or her internal world includes the ability to interpret, characterize, and associate what things seem to be singular, or at least, singular groups of things.
Understanding the process of being as compared to the process of becoming and distinctly separate concepts for Plato, Pieper, and Thoreau are directly related to that capacity of understanding. For Plato, the physical things of the world must have bodily form. They must be both visible and tangible, yet their state of being is not the same thing as their essence. Plato, through his stories of Socrates and Socrates views, began the debate that has served both as an intellectual argument and an effort to understand human existence for millennia.
In Walden, Henry David Thoreau wrote about his account of an extended stay in the woods. Thoreau wrote that he wanted to follow nature’s example, to “see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived” (Walden 172). And, for Pieper, God’s role in the life of every individual and the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, courage, temperance, and love are the ways by which human beings understood truth. He believed the natural world would reveal its truth if and when one had the proper attitude toward the divine.
Clearly, from the most ancient of times to only a century ago, humanity has sought to understand its place in the order of the cosmos and has predicated deal of its philosophical wonderings on that search. It is important to understand that Socrates’ primary goal was to require people to think. Certainly, his most famous statement ever was that the “unexamined life was not worth living precisely because an examined life was essential to answering the question “how should I live my life? ” Apology 63).
He also was determined that his words be conveyed on a level by which people could better understand their own motives and thoughts and, thus, allow them to be much more aware of why they made certain decisions or took specific actions. The “doctrine” of Socrates was one that was expressed in terms of a symbolism of love, truth, and humility, all of which were embodied in the personality of Socrates himself. The “apprehension and appreciation” of formal reality is what makes life worth living, according to Socrates. Of equal importance is the fact that it also makes one moral.
Therefore, it seems clear that in order to fully cultivate the most meaningful life, one must be willing to look inward toward the reality of one’s own life and beliefs in order to understand what it is to be fully alive. Without that willingness to “examine” one’s own life, a person is only partially alive. His final days, as documented in Plato’s works are the Apology, Euthyphro, Crito, and Phaedo. While each illustrates Socrates thinking regarding his willingness to drink poison as ordered by the court, the Crito best illustrates his philosophy regarding his view of life.
When Crito brings word that Socrates must die within a few days, he urges him to escape. But Socrates refuses saying that he cannot go against the decisions of the law anytime such decision does not suit him or else there would be an end to law. Justice is and must be first, says Socrates, then considerations of family and friends (Crito 86-87). Socrates believes that the collective group of people chosen to make decisions about governance and all aspects of daily life are considered to be good people, and Crito agrees that the leaders of Athens are good men, and then they must be followed even when they make a bad decision.
Henry David Thoreau had gone to Walden Pond, a small body of water outside Concord, Massachusetts, in order to write a book dedicated to his dead brother. Instead, he wrote about his solitary opportunity to observe nature directly. “We need,” he wrote, “the tonic of wildness, to wade sometimes in marshes where the bittern and the meadow-hen lurk, and hear the booming of the snipe; to smell the whispering sedge where only some wilder and more solitary fowl builds her nest, and the mink crawls with its belly close to the ground” (Walden 339).
It was in “Walden” that Thoreau launched his major criticism of American civilization; its materialistic values and its unthinking work ethic and his philosophy that it was possible to redefine, through his time at Walden Pond, what the true “necessaries” of life really are (Walden 111). Thoreau notes that the real necessities of life, which are essential to people anywhere, can be answered with only a few items: food, shelter, clothing and fuel. He then contrasts such “necessities” with the luxuries or comforts humans think they must have but that are, in reality, impediments to the discovery of an individual higher nature.
Obviously, Thoreau’s antidote to what he saw as the poison infecting the modern “civilized” man was to take to the woods, in order to learn more about the world, what it means to be fully human, and himself: “My purpose in going to Walden Pond was not to live cheaply nor to live dearly there, but to transact some “private business” with the fewest obstacles. ” That “private business” was to search his own soul (Walden 119). In that search, Thoreau found that: “Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is” (Walden 178).
Josef Pieper lived in some of the most turbulent of modern times. As a German man reaching intellectual and philosophical maturity during the middle of the twentieth century, he ultimately developed a wider following of readers interested in his philosophy in countries other than Germany. He believed “What it means to inhabit a system of thought long enough to see the world in its terms. But that same truth remains elusive, beyond our complete comprehension, because the things whose truth we seek to know are bathed in an abyss of light into which we cannot look directly.
Only in the beatific vision-the end toward which philosophy, the love of wisdom, is oriented-will those limits be overcome”. In the mind and the writings of Josef Pieper the Greek philosophical tradition and the Christian theological tradition met and enriched each other. In conclusion, the primary focus should be “What is the meaning of philosophy? ” In my opinion philosophy is a reasoned pursuit of fundamental truths, a quest for a comprehensive understanding of the world, and a study of the principles of conduct.
Philosophy is in a sense inescapable: life confronts every thoughtful person with some philosophical questions, and nearly everyone is often guided by philosophical assumptions, even if unconsciously. One need not be unprepared. To a large extent one can choose how reflective one will be in clarifying and developing one’s philosophical assumptions, and how well prepared one is for the philosophical questions life presents. Philosophical training enhances our problem-solving capacities, our abilities to understand and express ideas, and our persuasive powers.
It also develops understanding and enjoyment of things whose absence impoverishes many lives: such things as aesthetic experience, communication with many different kinds of people, lively discussion of current issues, the discerning observation of human behavior, and intellectual zest. In these and other ways the study of philosophy contributes immeasurably in both academic and other pursuits. Therefore, the goal of philosophy is to understand one’s self, one’s being, and one’s place in the universe.