To suck the sweets of sweet philosophy.      – Shakespeare: Taming of the Shrew I.1

Philosophy is as ancient in human culture as thinking and wondering. The etymology of the word in most European languages is from Greek,  meaning  love of wisdom or knowledge. Knowledge is what we know; wisdom is the capacity to use knowledge for individual and collective  good.

Hebrew and Russian use the same word for it as English.  Arab thinkers coined the word  falsifa for philosophy. In Sanskrit the word for philosophy is darshana which  means a view or vision of something significant. In my language Tamil one calls it tattuvam which means essence. Combining these  we may regard philosophy as love for views on the essence of things.

The world, to all appearances, consists of gross matter, subtle energy, and throbbing life-forms. Life is a series of fleeting experiences. For humans these include joy and sorrow, hope and despondency. Beyond sensory titillations we have a mind that is capable of extraordinary feats. One of these is reflection on what is experienced. Philosophy is serious reflection on any aspect of  human life. In simple terms, then, the moment we go beyond just reacting to sensory inputs and begin to comment on any experience we are philosophizing. One is philosophizing even when one  makes fun of philosophy with answers like: What is matter? No matter. What is mind? Never mind. Pascal put it this way: Se moquer de la philosophie, c’est vraiment philosopher: Ridiculing philosophy is really philosophizing.

No thinking person can avoid philosophizing now and then. This makes every person a philosopher of sorts.  I say of sorts because some do it at a loftier level than others. Many have seen the Niagara Falls, the Himalayas, and other natural wonders. Most people exclaim, “How beautiful!” or “How magnificent!” But some write a poem on the experience. Many people witness quarrels and rivalries, broken love and exploitation. But  a few turn them into  novels or epics.

So it is with philosophy. Reflection on any aspect of human thought and experience is sublimated to serious philosophy when it ascends to higher regions of thought. A sandwich at a burger-joint is food as much as a gourmet banquet, but there is a difference. You may tell a despondent friend, “Come on, don’t say life worthless!” But the poet says, “Tell me not in mournful numbers life is but an empty dream!” So it is between the simple exclamation, “We can’t be sure of anything!” and a treatise on Agnosticism. There is a difference between a limpid airless balloon and a full blown colorful one soaring in the air.

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Over the centuries  thinkers in all cultures have reflected on various aspects of human thought and condition. Their serious reflections constitute what we call philosophies. This multiplicity is what I call polysophy.

The truth content of scientific propositions are governed by criteria of consistency, coherence, and verifiability/falsifiability. They are not the opinions of individuals. The strength of philosophical positions rests on reasoned arguments, cultural context, and emotional appeal: they often originate from individuals, but may spread to form schools of thought.

Scientific results have had significant impacts on human civilization. Philosophical reflections have influenced human culture subtly and palpably. Both science and philosophy affect our worldviews in meaningful and substantial ways.

In this new bi-weekly series I plan to write brief essays on various elements of polysophy and their originators.

Many of you have already expressed your interest in renewing your inclusion in my distribution  list (DL). You are welcome to forward this to your DL and/or send me the e-mails of friends who you think may be interested in receiving these. 

Be well!