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The Ancient SPA

Panorama - Nouveau Magazine, May 2008
Alan Fetterman

As one who embraces philosophy, I am often asked why I waste my time with such an obscure field. In fact, for some people, the idea of studying philosophy is akin to watching apples fall from a tree; yet for others, the sight of falling apples can well result in a fresh set of understandings. My personal observation? I think that to some degree we are all philosophers and therefore all directly benefit from our own discerning thoughts. In general, philosophy is a study of knowledge, reality and existence that concerns itself with how we live and the essence or nature of the things around us. In Greek, the word philosophy literally means the love of wisdom. And we all contemplate existence and concern ourselves with politics and val- ues, so we all (at times) apply a philosophical theory as a guiding principle for our behavior or actions. And in conjunction, we mix these ideas and experiences to establish conclusions.

As a civilized people, we share our findings and then debate possibilities. The outcome of all this concentrated thought is, we hope, that humanity continues to bring forth new understandings of goodness and reason, hence bringing light that provides a better way of life for us all. Historically speaking, western philosophy is essentially credited to the ancient Greeks. The pre-Socratics and what I call the SPA-thinkers basically poured a sturdy foundation of logical thought and reason to support the halls of academia. As an acronym, SPA refers to the chronological lineage of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle and recalls an era when bathing and thinking went hand in hand. The list of philosophical doctrines is long and elaborate and ever unfolding, but I think it is reasonable to suggest that our brightest future will be found via the insight and thought processes of philosophers. In general, the current schools of philos- ophy in the Western world are analytic philosophy and continental philosophy.

Analytic philosophy is a broad term used to represent a style of thinking dominant during the 20th century in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and a few other countries. It emphasizes the clarity of formal logic and mathematics and respects the natural sciences. Continental philosophy, on the other hand, is often considered a contrast to analytic philosophy and tends to reject the natural sciences. Instead, it concentrates on space, language, culture and history and falls into the camp of historicism. Traditions include existentialism, phenomenology and German idealism.

In a nutshell, philosophy is the study of the human condition. Yes, it deals with pro- found complexities but also with the universals that surround us. And although the contemporary philosopher receives few offers of paid employment, it must be noted that as citizens of this society we all to some degree embrace philosophy and the love of wisdom. Best of thoughts....


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