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Friday, 22 May 2009

History of Philosophy: What is Philosophy?

When I was a child, every summer, like most of my friends I would visit my grandparents. My paternal grandfather lived in a village about 800 KMs away from Jamshedpur (Where I spent 17 years of my life) and about 200 years back in time.
I found him intelligent even though he had a very minimal formal education. He dropped out of class 3 when was beaten by his master. Still he had all answers to my inquisitive mind.
In every visit of mine at least once he would talk about an earthquake which occurred when he was young. It was difficult for me to imagine him as young. I have always seen him old and sick lying folded on his bed with a towel tied around his back and legs enabling him to rock on his back. Every visit he would tell me that I have grown taller but to my surprise he always looked the same. I never found a change in him. Always lying on his bed and rocking on his back.

I asked him, what causes an earthquake? With an authority like a head master he explained that the Earth is placed on the hump of a giant tortoise that is in Vaikunth (the abode of Lord Vishnu). When the tortoise makes any movement the earth shakes and there is an earthquake. I believed him because he himself believed in this thesis. It was not a simple solution to a curious child’s mind but it was a deeply ingrained belief carried to this date by mythology . The exposition perfectly satisfied my curiosity.
Time passed by. My visit to my grandfather became more and more infrequent. The reason was my studies. But I vividly remembered his stories and his logics. As I studied Geography and Physics, I started doubting my Grandfather’s hypothesis. Gradually the doubt turned into negation and then ridicule. The reason of this was the ‘Plate tectonic’ theory's explanation of Earth quakes. It was very logical and made a lot of sense. I was convinced the same way as I got convinced about a decade back by the 'Tortoise hump' theory.
And then I read more of Geography and more of Science. From a Shallow Surface I dug deep into theories and again my beleif started shaking. From conviction it led to doubt, to utter confusion and then to despair. Many scientists have expressed the limitation of Science in predicting phenomenon. There are phenomena which cannot be expressed with available tools (mathematical formulas, theories, Logic etc) and this is the limitation of Science. It’s inability to express. The biggest challenge in front of scientists today is to express their understanding and this is where Science, like Theology or religion, becomes subjective.
So at this point I am unsure about the cause of an Earthquake. I can not take my grandfather’s theory and Science does not give me a definite and conclusive explanation.

Where I am now with respect to earthquake, early human beings were with respect to their existence. They wanted to know why they exist, what is this universe, who created it , what happens after death? And their quest was neither satisfied by categorical theologians nor the empiricists. There was a vast chasm between theology and Science. And that is when philosophy came into existence as a subject. It occupies the No man’s land between theology and Science. Like Science it is logical. Like theology it was speculative.
The book I am reading now is “The history of Western Philosophy” by Bertrand Russell. In that book Russell write:
"Philosophy, as I shall understand the word, is something intermediate between theology and Science. Like Theology, it consists of Speculations on matter as to which definite knowledge has so far, been unascertainable, but like science, it appeals to human reason rather than to authority, whether that of tradition or that of revelation."

In this Blog series, which I have named same as the book titled by Russell, I intend to collate philosophies of various philosophers from the time of antiquity till Date. The ideas would primarily from the books which I have read and it include 3 books.
1) The Story of Philosophy by Will Durant
2) The History of Philosophy by Weber & Perry
3) The History of Western Philosophy.
If all goes as I intend then I will take up Indian Philosophy and I am very keen on that.

Now coming back to earthquakes, how does Philosophy deals with it?
As of now, it doesn’t. Through ages philosophers have been trying to come up with answer to the primal question of being and becoming. Once that is done then probably philosophy will take up other issues, till that time I have to choose between the ‘Plate tectonics’ or the ‘Tortoise hump’ theory. Or else I will have to come up with my own theory which will convince me.


Pilot-Pooja said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pilot-Pooja said...

Amazingly wonderful post PD.
Especially how you've correlated your grandfather's visit, his beliefs to the amazing shades of philosphy.

Lot to learn from you!

Prashant said...

Hope you are doing good.
Thanks a lot for your appreciation.