“The unexamined life is not worth living.”
Socrates, 5th Century B.C.E.
“Philosophy begins in wonder.”
Aristotle, 4th Century B.C.E.
What is philosophy? We 'do' philosophy whenever we think about life’s big questions. Why am I here? What ought I to do? What can I know? What is the meaning of life? Why is there something rather than nothing? Philosophy begins in questioning. One cannot ‘do’ philosophy if one cannot come up with questions. Sometimes it is the questions that matter - even more so than the answers. Maybe you are taking a philosophy class for the first time and you have no idea what to expect. Don’t be intimidated by philosophy. A philosophy class is a great way to introduce students to inexplicable questions that have no easy answers.
Plato has Socrates say, "The Unexamined life is not worth living." On the door of the school in Athens, the inscription was read, a quote from the oracle at Delphi, "Know Thyself." It could be said these two quotes tell us something about what philosophy is. Philosophy takes nothing for granted. It is an examined life. To have an unexamined life would mean I never stop and reflect about life's meaning - where I am going, why I am here, etc. Socrates' motto is still valid for us today. Why? Because in our fast-paced world it is sometimes a good thing to stop and reflect on the basic questions.
The Greeks thought philosophy was a necessary part of life, not just an academic discipline. Socrates was put on trial for getting people to think for themselves. Philosophy can be an extraordinary way to not only reexamine our previously held beliefs, but if done correctly, to see the world in a different way. Philosophy does indeed begin in wonder. What is this wonder? It is all about trying to think about things in a different way, to rethink how we think, and to explore with a love of learning and desire for truth.
If you ask "Why does philosophy matter?" or "Why am I taking this course?" the answer will lead us back to ideas: Our minds need ideas like our bodies need food. The point of philosophy is to think hard about ideas. Martin Heidegger, a German philosopher of the 20th century, referred to philosophy as thinking. This is a good definition. Most of us go through our day, get up, go to work, come to class, etc. - the everyday grind. Philosophy is a discipline which forces us to stop and think carefully about what we believe.
Tips for doing well in a philosophy class:
● Learn to think creatively and abstractly.
● Read all of the assigned texts more than once to get the full gist of what the author is trying to say.
● Participate in class. Philosophy is done best with active discussion. Ask questions!
● For definitions use a philosophical glossary or your philosophy textbook's glossary.
● Be opened minded and be ready to re-evaluate your previously held assumptions.
● Start your philosophy homework early - unlike other courses, college philosophy homework takes time!
College students will find the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy to be a great free reputable source. And for understanding your college philosophy homework at all levels, don't forget to visit MIT's OpenCourseWare for the many online philosophy tutorials they offer such as the one called Ancient Philosophy.