Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

N.Z.U.S.A. Congress 1959. Curious Cove - New Zealand University Student Press Council

So this is Philosophy!

So this is Philosophy!

"This paper," said Father O'Brien, "was suggested by a question, 'Do you really think there is a connection between one philosophical subject and another?'" He went on to pose other questions. "What is philosophy as distinguished from other branches of study? What purpose does it serve? What are its principal parts, and how are they related among themselves?"

Father O'Brien stressed that, as we grew up, we found that the ideas of our teachers and companions would no longer do. We had to make up our own minds about right and wrong, or learn to assess the judgment of others. This was "the growth of personal thought". There were certain general questions which arose in most people's minds, and these questions were what made up philosophy.

"The primary question is the question on human life in this world. What am I here for? Is there any ultimate goal at which I am bound to aim? How should other men live?" Research done by Professor Murdoch had shown "that questions of theology outnumber all the rest ... it means that people are hungry for a solution of the ultimate problem of existence".

"This question of human life implies another general question—what is man, and what is the world we live in?" Father O'Brien continued. This was a factual question and it had to be decided before we could decide how to behave. For example, on our idea of the nature of animals would depend our judgment concerning their right to life, and might lead to a conclusion that it was our duty to become vegetarians.

A third question then arose—that of our power to decide on these matters, of the reliability of our mind and judgment. When and how could we be sure that we had found the truth? Until some decision had been made on these matters, we could not decide on the nature of man and the universe, and so on, how we should live.

"The philosopher is the man who reflects on these matters attentively and systematically, with the object of arriving at some general and coherent theory about these matters. Historically those who had studied them were called philosophers. For example, the ally, those who had studied them were first Greek philosophers studied the nature of the universe and Pythagoras set up an ascetical school.

Father O'Brien said that he had gvien the primary place among his topics to the problem of human life and conduct—"one's ethical principles govern all the actions of one's life; if they were mistaken, a wide knowledge of the real world . . . would not make up for their lack". This view of philosophy revealed its importance—no one could dispense with it. This supposed that philosophy was seen as a unified whole, not merely as a series of investigations.

"I would say that philosophy is a science. . . . Science proceeds by observation and experiment, followed by induction and deduction. Philosophy too begins from experience, from whence all knowledge must proceed; and it too attempts to discover the order and system of the objects with which it deals, their structure, their origin and purpose.

Earlier philosophers had been interested in everything, from the nature of the rainbow to politics; the philosopher was a "knowall". Later, these particular studies were taken over by specialists, as in recent years, the study of empirical psychology had been. What then was left to philosophy? The logical positivist answer was that "the purpose of philosophy is to expose and elucidate linguistic muddles; it has done its job when it has revealed the confusions which have occurred and are likely to recur in inquiries into matters of fact because the structure and use of language are what they are."

"My answer is still that philosophy deals with all things," said Father O'Brien. It dealt with the subject matter of the scientist from a different aspect—the metaphysical aspect. The positive scientist sought to know what things exist, their order, and to explain them. The philosopher began by considering reality as such, its nature and properties. He then went on to discover modalities of reality, and came to distinguish a unified reality from an aggregate; an unconditioned from a conditioned reality, and so on.

The principal objects of philosophy would still be the fundamental ones—whether God existed or not, and what laws He had issued to govern the world; the relationship between man and the material world. The philosopher studied the ultimate origin and principles of all things, and he tried to relate everything to them when he approached more particular matters.

Father O'Brien then went on to indicate the principal divisions of philosophy. It began with epistomology, the study of our consciousness and its contents. This led on to the study of Logic, the study of the reasoning process. Then there was Ontology, the study of reality as such and its general laws. From there, the philosopher must consider the existence and nature of the supreme being—Natural Theology. These latter two studies made up the science of Metaphysics.

Then there were two chief objects of study in the "multiple and finite realities"—the self and the world that surrounded it. The sicence of psychology Arts and so on. The study of the sub-is important here, but philosophy still had a part to play, and this study branched out into Philosophical Psychology, Ethics, the Philosophy of the human order of realities is given ft name Cosmology. Epistemological considerations must, of course, accompany all these studies.

This plan of study was nevertheless a highly unified one, largely deductive and applying its first principles to all fields of experience. "It is easy to see now," said Father O'Brien, "why the study of one field alone can hardly be called philosophy."

Father O'Brien discussed the difference between the scientist and the philosopher. The latter was like a man "tracing a river down from its source, the scientist like a man interested in the branches of a delta, who gradually moved inland". Nevertheless, there was a tendency for the sicenec of philosophy and the empirical sciences to unite. As the British Encyclopaedia pointed out, different streams of knowledge were coalescing and the artificial barriers between sciences breaking down.

Rev. Father B. O'Brien, S.J. B.A., A.Mus. T.C.L.—Trained as a Jesuit at the National University of Ireland; took philosophical course at Pullach, theological course at Louvain; lecturer at Loyola College, Melbourne; is now lecturing at Holy Name Seminary, Christchurch.