Introduction to Philosophy
#1 The Three Elements of Philosophy
According to both Plato and Aristotle the origin of philosophical thought lies in our ability to be amazed. Plato states that there is no other origin or principle in philosophy than just the pathos of being amazed. And according to Aristotle it is because of their amazement that people began to practice philosophy.
When we consider these statements we will soon find that they imply three elements of philosophy.
First of all, there is this inner experience that accompanies our perception of the world. It is truly a pathos in the sense that it is elicited from the outside. Nature around us, the tides of the sea, the movement of the stars in the sky make us wonder. It is this experience that interrupts our indifference. What seemed to be self evident and natural, turns out to be a miracle, a secret that invites us to investigate. Also according to Aristotle it is our senses, primarily our sight, that give us the urge to understand.
Secondly, we find ourselves in awe of this wondrous world, that appears to us as a secret. Our intuitions tell us that in this miraculous world of our perceptions, there is a cosmic order that hides itself in secrecy and yet reveals itself to our inquiring minds. The experience of awe that is connected to this amazement brings us to the persuasion that the world ultimately is a single coherent whole, in which essence and apparition are to be distinguished. The apparition of the many objects of our perception is somehow connected to the essence of the inner order of all things. That cosmic essence and order is not easily understood. Amazement and awe motivate us to do what is required here, i.e. the activity of reflection, of thought. It is not within our perception that this hidden cosmic order reveals itself, but only within thought.
The distinction between the manifold world of perception and the unified world of thought is also a distinction between the inner and the outer, the internal and the external. The inner essence of the world, the truth of the world, can only be found within the internal mind. The essence of the world corresponds to the inner world of the mind. The apparition of the world, with its almost infinite series of phenomena, corresponds to the external perception. In the history of philosophy the truth of this external world, was the primary objective of philosophy; in its history philosophy ultimately also discovered the inner world of the human mind.
Thirdly, one of the elements of philosophical amazement is the presupposition that the essence of the world is twofold, fixed and determined on the one hand, and moving and changing on the other hand. Change was obvious within the experience of nature, as was the determined character of thought, especially when written down. This basic experience of an opposition between being and becoming led to the third basic question of all philosophy.
So this is how amazement leads to philosophy: the essence of the world beyond mere perception is one coherent whole; the essence of the world is expressed within human rationality; there is some connection between the eternal concepts of the human mind and the diversity and transience of nature. These are the three basic questions that at first Greek philosophy try to answer.
All of this would have led nowhere if the answer to these questions would have been taken from mythology. Philosophy also requires the notion that these questions are to be posed in a critical manner, that is that answers can only be found by applying some rational method. This principle not only refutes and transcends the domain of mythology, but it also represents a basic humility, because the answers that philosophy can give us, can never be considered to be complete and exhaustive, they can never become “divine wisdom.” The method of philosophy is truly a path, a road that is determined in its direction, but never completed by reaching its goal. It is therefore truly philo-sophy, a love for wisdom that can never be fully satisfied.
Philosophy is therefore also different from the sciences. The interest behind the sciences is the urge to explain a particular set of phenomena. It requires a focus on particular objects and events. It poses questions about specific movements. Sciences are always striving for a particular knowledge and are therefore analytic. Philosophy however asks the question what phenomena are in general; it focuses on the objective world as a whole and asks the question about the essence of all events; it poses questions about movement as such. Sciences are focused on the particular; philosophy is focused on the universal. It is Aristotle that defined philosophy as the search for the answer to the question about that which truly is, about being as such, that is, the essence.
All of these three elements including the critical and rational method, can be found in what we usually accept to be the first true philosopher: Thales of Miletus. And indeed the scarce fragments of his philosophy speak about essence, the external world and the meaning of change. Because he is a true philosopher, our interest in him cannot be just historical interest. Thales discusses the three elements of philosophy that are truly universal. That is why we must say that as a philosopher he is a contemporary while in a historical sense he is separated from us by 2500 years.