Philosophy can be defined as the study of meaning in the universe. It tries to understand the principles and rules underpinning behavior, thinking and knowledge. It is the understanding of the general and crucial issues related to existence of human beings and other creatures, values, reasoning and the general functioning of the mind. “Philosophy as a term originates from the Greek term ‘philosophia” which means the love of wisdom. The subject of philosophy is divided into different branches which cover different aspects life including issues related to the nature of human beings, truth and meaning, ethics and morality and socio-political diversity of human beings.
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The first branch of philosophy is ethics and this is concerned with questions related to morals and values and how these relate to different situations in life. According to Velasquez, ethics encompasses different aspects of life. It has to do with a person’s feelings of what is right or wrong, the religious affiliation of a people and how this affects their behavior and also acting according to the requirements of the laws laid down. He further argues that ethics is relative in that there can be no one universal moral code that can be applied to every person at any particular time because people have different cultural orientations. Thus the judgment with regard to whether an action is correct or not is dependent on the moral norms in a particular society.
The second branch of philosophy is epistemology. This area of philosophy is concerned with understanding knowledge acquisition. It is the critical analysis of knowledge in terms of what it entails, how it is acquired and people’s awareness of the knowledge that they have. Knowledge can be acquired through either reason or sensory perception. Those who support knowledge acquisition argue that it is only through rationalization that we can understand the universe. That the universe is too complex to be understood solely through observation and sensory perception. However, the other school of thought argues that the universe can be understood through empirical observations which precede any reasoning. Quoting from the works of empiricists like John Locke and David Hume, Velasquez argues that the interpretations of world occurrences can be reduced to an empirical investigation.
Metaphysics in philosophy on the hand goes beyond the realm of science and strives to find answers to questions of identity and the world. This branch of philosophy goes beyond reason and empirical inquiry and is more concerned with explaining the basic nature of being. Understanding the nature of human beings in the universe and the purpose and nature of reality is a key underpinning of metaphysical discourse. Other issues of interest include issues related to people’s consciousness, the mind and self. Another key debate in metaphysics is with regard to the existence of God and the immortality of the soul. With regard to the existence of God, readings from the works of Aquinas and Descartes are used to delve into the evidence of God’s existence or non-existence and the origin of the world. Some of the arguments put forward with regard to the existence of God include the complexity of the solar system whereby it is argued that it is the way it is because of a designer who deliberately created it the way it is and continues to sustain it. However, a counter argument to God’s non-existence points at the existence evil as proof.
Another branch of philosophy is political philosophy and this is concerned with proposing the shape that should be taken by a social or political order to suit the interests of humans. It is an expression of the best ways by which people can define their collective life in terms of political and social institutions. The philosophy sets out particular principles that define the existence of states, rights and resource allocation in a particular society. It therefore encompasses issues related to freedom, justice, authority and democracy and how these influence the people’s lifestyles. Some of the critical questions in political philosophy is with regard to rights of individuals, whether they are inalienable in any political or social order. Different states have different political systems that define their life. Some of these include liberalism, conservatism and socialism.
Philosophy of religion tries to understand and rationalize the relationship between religion and God. It tries to understand religious belief systems through the rationalization of people’s value systems and how they affect their relation with God. Philosophy of religion is not concerned with issues related to people’s faiths and beliefs but rationalizes religion as a whole. The branch focuses on issues like existence of miracles, prayers and evil in the world. The relationship between religion and ethics is also explored. Thus, this philosophy is basically concerned with a dispassionate analysis of different religious thoughts by both those who believe in a divine power and those who don’t. Furthermore, it explores social and personal practices entrenched in different societies. It is therefore more concerned with the relevant practical issues and less theoretical abstractions. Given the fact that most of the world’s population subscribe to a sort of religious affiliation, this kind of philosophy is relevant in tackling people’s values and commitments.
Human nature is also explored in philosophy and this has to do with the concept that individuals have inherently varying characteristics that distinguish them from others in terms of how they think, feel and act. The nature of a person is dependent on various factors that could be social, biological or environmental.
In conclusion, philosophy is a multi-faceted subject that incorporates most disciplines of study. It tries to understand principles underlying different fields of study through a systematic discourse. Therefore, through philosophy, a better understanding of events surrounding us can be achieved.
Velasquez, Manuel, Introduction to philosophy; a text of readings 11th edition. New York: McGraw Hill, 2011.