What is Philosophy?
Philosophy (from the Greek for “the love of wisdom”) begins with questions and, if you’re lucky, turns into a quest. Some of these questions cluster around similar topics which have become known as the branches of philosophy. While current work on these questions is ongoing, the rich and vibrant history of philosophy continues to attract attention and close study by students and scholars around the world. I created the following diagram to illustrate the five branches of philosophy and how it’s just as possible to study, for example, “ancient aesthetics” or “early-modern epistemology” as it is to study contemporary ethics or metaphysics.
Vizzini: Let me put it this way. Have you ever heard of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates?
Man in Black: Yes.
Man in Black: Really.
While my current research centres on contemporary problems in the philosophy of law and emotion, I maintain a great interest in my first love: ancient philosophy. This is the study of the languages, literature, ideas, and culture of the ancient Graeco-Roman world. Far more than being merely the most fascinating time in our history (in my humble opinion), the writings and art of Greece and Rome depict the greatest stories about the greatest men, women, and civilisations the world has ever seen. The political thought which shaped those civilisations has had an enduring, founding influence on the way our society is run. It is embedded–quite literally–in the language we speak, the politics we engage in, the laws we follow, the religions we practice, and the social norms we’ve come to take as given. Studying ancient philosophy is thus not only a way to understand the way our world works, but it offers us the tools to shape it further.
WHAT CAN YOU DO AFTER STUDYING ANCIENT PHILOSOPHY?
This free online course is run by the University of Edinburgh, and offers a brilliant introduction to the main issues and questions in contemporary philosophy, from bending time to bending morality.
Another free online course run by the good folk at Edinburgh, in which you will “learn about the historical and philosophical foundations of contemporary science and explore cutting-edge debates in the philosophy of the physical sciences and philosophy of the cognitive sciences.”
Prof. Peter Adamson, of King’s College London, produces this BRILLIANT and hilarious weekly podcast which aims to “look at the ideas and lives of the major philosophers (eventually covering in detail such giants as Plato, Aristotle, Avicenna, Aquinas, Descartes, and Kant) as well as the lesser-known figures of the tradition.” Each episode is about 20 minutes long, and the series provides a really great and accessible introduction to the history of philosophy. Download the episodes for free on itunes here.
Run across a philosophy term, author, idea, or -ism and want to learn more? Wait!Don’t go to Wikipedia! The SEP provides clear, engaging, and thorough articles on almost any issue or figure in philosophy–with great bibliographies too! Here are some ideas to get you going: Time Travel, Virtue, Knowledge vs. Belief, and thePrisoner’s Dilemma!
Speaking of bibliographies…this site contains helpful introductions and reading lists for several subjects (from Anthropology and Buddhism to Media Studies and Victorian Literature) including: Classics, and Philosophy, edited by Edinburgh’s own Prof. Duncan Pritchard.
All the major ancient texts, online, with full parsing, lexicon entries, and a veritable treasure trove of other Classics goodies.
FUN PHILOSOPHY STUFF
- “What did the Romans ever do for us??” – A Monty Python classic.
- The news in Ancient Greek
- Historians Admit To Inventing Ancient Greece – “Way more stuff than any one civilization could have come up with, obviously.”
- Plato’s Symposium, the movie?? – Um. I’m a little too excited about this one.
- “The Origin of Love” – Great song from Hedwig and the Angry Inch, a paraphrase of Aristophanes’ speech!
- Philosophy Action Figures – Hilarious.
- Eytmology Online – For when you want to channel Sir Bernard Woolley.
- What I do in Ethics tutorials…
- Join the Tautology Club.
- And yet more philosophical humour.