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The Point of Philosophy

An Introduction for the Human Sciences


Ludo Abicht and Hendrik Opdebeeck

The core questions of philosophy about the origin of the world and people, the distinction between good and evil, and the meaning of life – these questions keep us all busy. In this introduction to philosophy, these three questions lead our journey. You want to understand the world and man. Then you try to acquire an outlook on the proper course of action. Perhaps you especially hope to gain insight into the meaning of your own life. And our society, as well, repeatedly collides with questions of its economic, social, and ecological limits. Again and again, philosophy is the necessary condition for finding answers in a rational manner to the demands for in-sight, outlook, and the search for meaning. This is a fascinating story of more than 2,500 years of thought, where the reader might feel inspired to add his or her own responses to the most important personal and social questions. But also to ask new questions – the point of philosophy.


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2. The Lasting Relevance of Classical Philosophy


19 2. The Lasting Relevance of Classical Philosophy 2.1. Before Socrates Usually, to philosophize is equated with abstract thinking: the more abstract, the more philosophical. Regarding the start of Western thinking, from the seventh century B.C.E. in Asia Minor, this was not the case at all. Asia Minor is the peninsula at the west end of Asia that overlaps with modern Turkey today. In the port cities, there lived a class of merchants and politicians who were greatly interested in applying the results of the sciences pragmatically – that is to say, materially – to shipping, trade, and politics. In order to use reality, they first had to know it (epistemology, logic), whether one dealt with the environment (geography, agricultural sciences), the seasons, the influence of the moon and the stars (cosmology), or the relations between humans (ethics, anthropology). Hence, the search for a “first or prime matter” and/or a structuring principle. 2.1.1. Thales of Miletus Around 624-545 B.C.E., Thales of Miletus, a town located in present- day Turkey, was one of the first scientists to study the aforementioned problems. Though a merchant, he did not restrict himself to applied sciences, but expanded his studies to mathematics (the measuring of distances and heights) and natural mysteries, such as magnetic forces. Moreover, he noticed that ice, water, and clouds were made of the same substance, and he ventured the hypothesis (hypo-titheimi, to put forward) that eventually everything consists of water. In light of today’s scientific knowledge (hydrogen, the composition of the human body)...

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