we begin to discuss Philosophy, we must first familiarize ourselves
with those words which discussions on this subject use in their own
sense, including words which you are unlikely to encounter in
discussing any other subject. Among these words are the names of the
recognized philosophical disciplines: Logic, Epistemology, Metaphysics,
History, Politics, Aesthetics, Ethics, and Religion.12
Certain of these words have meanings with which we might believe we are
familiar, such as Logic, History, Politics, Ethics, and Religion. But,
with the possible exception of History, in each case Philosophy imposes
its own quirks upon the meaning of these words. Logic, for example, has
nothing at all to do with computer hardware or Boolean mathematics.
Logic is "[t]he general science of inference. . . . The aim
of a logic is to make explicit the rules by which inferences may be
drawn, rather than to study the actual reasoning processes that people
use, which may or may not conform to those rules." In essence, the
purpose of Logic within the general science of Philosophy is to provide
an explicit rule base for decision making. Each person who constructs a
Philosophy must decide which matters to accept and reject along the
path to a complete Philosophy, and the usual way to make decisions of
that sort is by using an accepted Logic. Politics, when used in
Philosophy, means a more general subject of how people organize
themselves for joint decisions and joint action, and would include how
we decide who is "friend" and who is "foe" at any given point in time.
Ethics is a subject within Philosophy which embraces the entire
question of what sorts of individual conduct are required, permitted,
or not permitted in all possible situations in which an individual
might be found, not merely those circumstances which might involve some
job-related conduct of government officials. The job of Philosophy
should be to take History into the realm of unvarnished Truth, not
merely coloring History with biases and prejudices from some
then-current belief systems. Aesthetics is properly part of Philosophy
because what we "like" and what we "dislike" will be strongly colored
by our beliefs, and in particular, our Ethics. In Eastern philosophical
systems, Religion is never really seen as "separate from" Philosophy.
The concept is inexpressible because for Eastern Philosophy, Religion
supplies much of the Metaphysics and the Epistemology for Eastern
Philosophy. These last two "new" words, Metaphysics and Epistemology,
are at the very foundations of Philosophy, but are paradoxically the
least understood of all of the philosophical words mentioned above.
One source of confusion is a Religion which calls itself "Metaphysics." We must not allow ourselves to become confused by this deliberate attempt to confuse us over the distinct differences between these two very different subjects. The Religion of "Metaphysics" can somewhat justly lay claim to that name only by asserting that it answers, by way of divine revelation, all fundamental questions which are usually the subject of philosophical inquiry. If you choose to reject divine revelation as a source of Truth, you are still dealing with Metaphysics in a philosophical sense, but you are distinctly rejecting "Metaphysics" in a religious sense.
As Ayn Rand attempted to assert to the maximum of her abilities, the subject of Epistemology is probably the most important of the philosophical subjects, but is also the most easily neglected by those who make a too-rapid survey of Philosophy. The essence of her greatest work, the novel "Atlas Shrugged," is that the wrong choice for Epistemology leads to all kinds of disasters for mankind in general and various individuals in particular. Epistemology is the heart and soul of Philosophy because our basic choices here will determine the fundamental outcomes of virtually every other branch of philosophical inquiry into which we inject ourselves.
The short description for Epistemology is that it is the study of how we decide to choose what facts are "correct" and what facts are "incorrect" when we assess our need to act in some particular way. Probably the most basic choice that each of us makes for Epistemology is to choose either "divine revelation" as the most basic source of facts for the guidance of mankind, which leads inevitably to a suffocating blanket thrown down over scientific inquiry (in order to suppress the discovery of "inconvenient" facts), or "intellectual reasoning" as that basic source, which leads inevitably to agnostic or atheistic religious beliefs. In the former case, mankind will devolve towards a tyrannical dictatorship of the religious-political elite, which has been the destiny of each of the great civilizations studied by Oswald Spengler. In the latter case, we have no real idea what the end result would be because this view has never been adopted by anything more than a small minority of any given population.
However, Spengler would probably assert that virtually the same end result would occur, as the agnostic or atheist minority would clearly lack the inspiration provided by the Cultural Soul which caused the civilization to occur in the first place and would therefore just as surely decline into a similar tyrannical dictatorship. It remains to be seen whether or not this actually occurs, because (as noted above) it has never been tried. One objective of this book is to attempt a practical proposal for an agnostic civilization, which we would hope would still have some inspiration towards formation of a Culture. If this works, all of mankind "wins."
do we begin when we desire to study Philosophy? Is there a road map out
there for us to use? The answer is obviously "yes," but because many
philosophers held unpopular ideas, and wrote those ideas in a time and
place when they could quite easily have been condemned, ostracized, or
even put to death, simply for espousing those ideas, many of the
writings of the truly great philosophers are hidden inside obscure
forms of allegory or other kinds of fiction.13
And again, the truly great philosophers lived at times and places which
are so remote from our own existence, and wrote in languages which most
people cannot understand, that we lack the cultural context to give
meaning to those writings. This makes it extremely difficult to read
the original materials, and yet Philosophy loses so much in translation
and interpretation that it is virtually sinful not to read the original
works of at least the greatest philosophers of all time. You see, both
translation and interpretation impose the Philosophy of the translator
and/or interpreter onto the ideas of the philosopher in question.
As Ayn Rand notes, in her essay, Philosophy: Who Needs It, first given as a speech to the 1974 graduating class at West Point:14
"Philosophy studies the fundamental nature of existence, of man, and of man's relationship to existence. As against the special sciences, which deal only with particular aspects, philosophy deals with those aspects of the universe which pertain to everything that exists. In the realm of cognition, the special sciences are the trees, but philosophy is the soil which makes the forest possible."
And later in that same lecture she says:
"You have no choice about the necessity to integrate your observations, your experiences, your knowledge into abstract ideas, i.e. into principles. Your only choice is whether these principles are true or false, whether they represent your conscious, rational, convictions - or a grab-bag of notions snatched at random, whose sources, validity, context and consequences you do not know, notions which, more often than not, you would drop like a hot potato if you knew.
"But the principles you accept (consciously or subconsciously) may clash with or contradict one another; they, too, have to be integrated. What integrates them? Philosophy. A philosophic system is an integrated view of existence. As a human being, you have no choice about the fact that you need a philosophy. Your only choice is whether you define your philosophy by a conscious, rational, disciplined process of thought and scrupulously logical deliberation - or let your subconscious accumulate a junk heap of unwarranted conclusions, false generalizations, undefined contradictions, undigested slogans, unidentified wishes, doubts, and fears, thrown together by chance, but integrated by your subconscious into a kind of mongrel philosophy and fused into a single, solid weight: self doubt, like a ball and chain in the place where your mind's wings should have grown."
In one sense,
all fields of knowledge are the children of Philosophy; and yet each
person is charged with the creation of their own Philosophy, organizing
everything which they know, and motivating everything which they do. As
Ayn Rand explained, a very simplified view of the function of
Philosophy is that it deals with a series of questions, such as: "What
do I know?";15
"How do I know it?"; and "What do I do next?" Those are questions that
anyone operating in a problem-solving environment might have asked in a
process of trying to find a solution to some problem. But no matter
what the particular conditions of any given problem are, those
conditions are merely the tip of the iceberg: the real conditions
include a mountain of assumptions about philosophical points which
we've absorbed through the process of our own education. If a person
has not ordered their own thought processes enough to develop an
integrated and organized Philosophy, then the unseen part of the
iceberg, the mountain of assumed conditions for each problem we face in
life, will consist of the junk heap referred to by Ayn Rand.
Because Philosophy embraces all fields of knowledge, it is truly a daunting task to undertake to form the necessary philosophical order into your own thoughts. However, as the individual sciences have split off from Philosophy, philosophers have tended to not discuss them any further. Those subjects gain their own experts, and their own language, and any mere philosopher will clearly lack the qualifications to discuss that subject in any detail. In one sense, this is good because it simplifies and reduces the subject matter which concerns Philosophy; but at the same time, it is dangerous because it remains the task of Philosophy to integrate all of human knowledge into a unified whole.
When Will Durant wrote his summary of Philosophy in 1929, he enumerated eight "realms" which were ruled by "The Queen Of The Sciences," Philosophy: Logic, Epistemology, Metaphysics, History, Politics, Aesthetics, Ethics, and Religion. By the time Ayn Rand wrote her 1974 essay, she had reduced this list to Metaphysics, Epistemology, Ethics, Politics, and Aesthetics. It seems clear to me that she considered Logic and History to be their own sciences,16 and that she had nothing but unkind words to say for Religion, and thus excluded Religion from Philosophy. The former omissions are most likely correct; but omitting Religion from Philosophy is clearly erroneous because, as Spengler noted, Religion embodies the Soul of the Culture. And you cannot make the bogeyman go away by the simple expedient of ignoring it; your subconscious mind will remember. To exorcise the evil spirits of Religion, Philosophy must embrace Religion and confront those evil spirits head-on. Accordingly, my list consists of Ayn Rand's five, plus Religion.
One way to know when some field of knowledge has become its own science is to simply note the point at which that field subjects itself to the rigors of scientific method. At that point, it becomes science and is no longer part of Philosophy in any but a most general sense. The most recent departure would probably be cosmology, as that science is now yielding much Truth about the universe in which we live.
12 See The Mansions of Philosophy, by Will Durant, 1929.
13 For example, Nietzsche put his greatest thoughts into the epic poem Also Sprach Zarathustra, while Ayn Rand put hers into the novel Atlas Shrugged.
14 These quotations are from her posthumous book of the same name, published shortly after her death in March of 1982.
15 The actual first question posed by Ayn Rand is: "Where am I?" but the text makes clear that she meant that question in a metaphysical sense. Accordingly, I have altered the first question according to my own interpretation of the thought she actually intended to convey, because there are several very good reasons why I cannot quote enough of the text for you to draw your own conclusion. See what I mean about the difference between reading the original and reading an interpretation of the original?
16 And in fact, Will Durant's book, The Mansions of Philosophy, predicts that the creation of special fields of knowledge will continue to nibble away at, and reduce the scope of, the "realms" of Philosophy. I believe it is "logical" that History and Logic should have become their own fields, but we should never forget that they exist as "realms" which we MUST study.
Please send us your feedback!