Samuel M. Thompson The Nature of philosophy

Book Review

Samuel M. Thompson „The Nature of Philosophy“. The book was published in January, 1961 Monmouth, Illinois.Samuel M. Thompson- a member of Monmouth College. In Monmouth Colleg‘s faculty he became chairman of the Philosophy Department. His first book, A Modern Philosophy of Religion, as well as his second book, The Nature of Philosophy, became widely used in many colleges and universities.This book is assigned mostly to beginning students. Its purpose is to introduce them to the kind of thinking from which philosophy derives. The book contains several sections that analysis different aspects of philosophy. It involves questions of philosophy origin, purpose, philosophical problems and so on. The book is divided into four parts. Each part includes different chapters towards philosophy. These parts are deeply connected with each other. The Nature of philosophy is exaustive book of philosophical history within all variety of its problematical aspects. Samuel M. Thompson begins its philosophical research out of ordinary experience. In all human experience there is a constant search for meaning and for intelligibility. All human beings, no matter from what continent they are, or what gods they believe in faces mostly the same existential problems. Philosophy is a window to our deeper knowledge. It takes all our areas of activity, no matter if it is mathematics, religion or ethics. I am going to discuss two parts of this book. The first part is called the nature and method of philosophy, the second part calls philosophy of science and mathematics.The Nature and Method of Philosophy ( part 1.)As it is important for every student and not only for him to get acquainted with philosophy, the first question arives: What is philosophy? This word came from the Greek language that expresses the love of wisdom. „ It is through wonder that men begin to philosophize, whether in older times or today…The result of wonderment and perplexity is to feel oneself ignorant; if then, it was to escape ignorance that men began to philosophize, it is evident that they were pursuing this sort of study in order to know and not from any motive of utility”. In other words, philosophy is an intelectual curiosity and its source is wonderment. Samuel M. Thompson even describes it as theoretical inquiry. Every person who takes his existance seriously, asks philosophical questions, such as: What makes life worth living? What is my place in this world…..? In all ages people were concerned with these questions. They asked them in different languages, in different manner, but the meaning of such questions was usually the same. The problem arives together with these questions, since the answer to them is usually unachievable or abstract. But even if we got lost in abundance of questions and the answer to them seems so distant, the attempt to find them makes as deserving to live in this world. „Without philosophy life either is lived blindly or else is lived on trust alone“.

Samuel M. Thompson describes philosophy as being different from other sciences. Philosophy is not so specializated as other scientific disciplines. It seeks to understand the wholeness of our world or objects observed. Despite this fact, philosophy has also analytical side as to study things just in their wholeness or broader relationship would be unacceptable. „ All philosophy is an endeavor to obtain a self- consistent understanding of things observed. Thus its development is quided in two ways, one is demand for coherent self- consistency, and the other is the elucidation of things observed.“Philosophy is not so closed as other sciences. It seeks for deeper and more universal knowledge. The facts, statistics is just secondary thing for it. Philosophy is anxious with more broader questions. It is a search for the meaning of exsistence. It includes not just such problems what we desire but what we ought to desire. To answer these questions, facts are not enough. We should look at our situation in broader context, to inquire in the whole scheme of things. Author gives several examples in order to show how different philosophy is from other sciences. All other special sciences are concerned with more or less narrow facts, but no of it studies man as man in an attempt to understand the meaning of human existence. Thus the search for deeper meaning brings us to the question of ultimates ( the final and the main things in existance). The book brings us back to the ancient thought in order to show what different attitudes towards ultimates were in those days. There are philosophies which even deny the existence of ultimates but with such denial they are setting forth theories of ultimate.Samuel M. Thompson emphasizes the great importance of language in philosophical inquiry. Language is the indispensable instrument of thought.
So as philosophy is a search of deeper meaning of our existence, it could be defined as a reflective inquiry. Its attempt not to seek new information but to try to discover the meaning of the facts we already know. It is an additional knowledge that principally is interested in a search for truth. Moreover, it contains the interest in method by which we try to find the truth. Philosophical reflection is concerned with ultimates. It involves the problem of how we know. „ Philosophical thinking is guided and evaluated in terms of its logical soundness“. It helps us to find out what is true and what is false. Such logical standards are necessity and universality.Philosophy is unique in its manner. Philosophy is not such autonomic discipline as others. Its context is broader as it includes all our ares of activity. In every our daily situation we face philosophical problems. As long as thought exists, philosophy exists. In the first chapter Samuel M. Thompson introduced us to the main attitudes of philosophy. He explained the great importance and singularity of this discipline. As the first chapter gave us some explict information about it, the second, The study of philosophy, brings us deeper. Now as the student is introduced to it, Samuel M. Thompson suggests him to go further, since many philosophical points are still undiscussed.The Study of PhilosophyAuthor begins with the idea that many of us are quite unaware of our contact with philosophy and our own personal use of it. First of all we should be aware of philosophical language. We should be introduced with such philosophical ideas as existance, knowledge, true and false, good and bad…Such ideas are active in our mind as it have deep historical roots.Samuel M. Thompson emphasizes the difference between two notions, having a philosophy and using a philosophy. In other words, the difference between having some ideas and using them.
We begin to participate in philosophy when we begin to think out for ourself. We can not begin to philosophize from a zero because philosophy has a long history of thought. Although, we have free mind we can philosophize just with a help of already made philosophical knowledge. „We begin to have a philosophy just as soon as we begin to get the idea that there is a world of real things and begin to distinguish between those real things and imaginary things“.Samuel M. Thompson gives an example with a child. A child understands what is real and what is not in the course of time or in other words, because of his experience. We do not begin our life with knowledge, we gain it in the course of time. First we see things, later we begin to know or understand them and just after this we can distinguish between what is true and what is false . We may know that boiling water is hot. So later we can assume the idea of heat. „Some at least of the things we sense, we also think. Besides an awareness of colour we have an awareness of something that is coloured.“. Our awareness comes from recognition. We must have some primary ideas in order to recognize things. „ In so far as we have a set of ideas by means of which we identify and recognize things we have a philosophy.“ Philosophy is more interested in the question how rather than what. How it is possible that some things exist and other not.Philosophy exists for a long time, so it is not surprising that some concepts we absorb from others. As it was said previously, man can not think without help or influence of other ideas. Later he can distinguish between them but he must have the basis for his considerations. Philosophy lies in our human nature.“ We begin to use philosophy long before we know that we are doing so“. We use philosophy when we think for ourselfs what some ideas, beliefs is.
As we absorb ideas from others, the first step usually is to learn the names of those ideas. There is a problem in usage of words. Superficial usage of words may lead us to some kind of confusion. If we use word without any consideration about it, we can bring ourselves and others to misapprehension.„We do not become philosophers by freeing ourselves from the ideas of others but by appropriating those ideas with understanding and critical examination. We have to turn from words to what the words mean, and this is to say that we have to think about the things and events to which the words refer.“ Philosophy also assumes a moral problem or the problem of the choice of ideas. How people should know what is wrong and what is right? What philosophical consideration should they take, in order to know how they should act in a particular situation? Samuel M. Thompson says that the action or attitude towards something depends on what kind of idea you will use. There are variety of ideas. The choice of a particular idea depends not only on people characters, but also on their living circumstances, culture and so on. Ideas have consequences. „ All of our initiative, all of our plans, all of our freedom, all of our purposes are based on ideas. In so far as we act for ourselves with freedom and responsibility, our action is governed by what we think is true and by what we think is valuable.“ This second chapter author finalizes with a statement that philosophy is worth to study. „ If we want to protect ourselves against the kind of ignorance which compromises the very foundation of knowledge and thought and action, we have no place to turn exept philosophy.“The Origin and Growth of Philosophy
The next chapter Samuel M. Thompson begins with an explanation of philosophical origin. According to author philosophy derived from a common sense idea. Common sense may be described as a general agreement among particular group of people. Common sense may be concerned as a particular beliefs which are not constant and reliable. Such beliefs are accepted without question as true. Samuel M. Thompson gives an example with hypnosis. People are influenced with an ideas of particular common sense. The same situation may be applied to hypnosis. As common sense is not reliable, people can be confused. In order to escape such misapprehension there is a need for deeper and more logical inquiry of particular ideas. Philosophy derives from such a need. Author describes philosophy as a rational inquiry. Common sense is a background for philosophical investigation. „ Inquiry cannot begin unless we already have some knowledge ( common sense) relevant to that inquiry“. Philosophical inquiry is an attempt to examine particular ideas, beliefs and to bring us to their truth or more precisely to the discovery of ultimates. Its method is logical. Philosophy begins its inquiry from thinking what is false. As philosophers searche the answers to a questions what is false and what is true, every philosophical aspect should be taken for granted. All mistakes of thought are natural for philosophy. While trying to examine and escape such mistakes, we are prooving our philosophical knowledge. „ The false starts and wrong turns of one philosopher have to be corrected by others. These others also make their own mistakes, to be discovered and exposed by still others.“ As our thought is full of complications, philosophy can not escape such predestination too. In other words, Samuel M. Thompson states that our way of discovery for truth extends through history of thought mistakes.Philosophical progress stars with a work of past thinkers.
Samuel M. Thompson describes philosophy as a long historical work of thought. Its work stretches from ancient times till nowadays. We can be passive towards philosophy, but anyhow we must acknowledge that our thought is directly or indirectly influenced by it. Chapter 4 is appointed to examine the method of philosophy. As we know the importance of philosophical inquiry, now it is time to know in what ways we can reach philosophical knowledge or what methods are typical in this area.The Method of PhilosophySamuel M. Thompson describes philosophical method as being different from scientific. Philosophy is not anxious with experimental method. Its material is more theoretical rather than practical. „ Philosophy is concerned with aspects of things which can be known and investigated by rational thinking“. It mostly examines various assumptions which always lead philosophy to the concern with ultimates.There are two philosophical methods. The first method is discovery by the use of abstraction, and the second is the method of proof ( argument).The method of discovery leads as into three ways. The first one is discovering that changing things have unity, the second that events involves the relation of cause and effect, and the last one is that a physical thing combines a distinguishable form with material. All this information we gain by reflecting on our sense experience. Argument is the method of proof. Philosophical argument is always reasoned argument. It tries to justify a particular statement or contrary not to do this. Because of the nature of philosophical inquiry, philosophical position can not be neutral. Philosophical inquiry begins from a certain point of view. Philosophical inquiry is endless. There is always philosophical interest in investigating new problems as its method is more concerned in search rather than in finding. To look at a particular situation from different aspects is one of the essential task for philosopher.
„ …The true procedure of philosophy…is thus that of a Platonic dialogue on a grand scale, in which the thesis, proposed proofs, objections, rejoinders, of numerous interlocutors are focused upon a given question, and the argument gradually shapes itself, through its own imanent dialectic, to a conclusion.“ Logic by its alone is not sufficient method of proof. In order to achieve best philosophical results, we must link our thought to experience in such a way that the truth of the premises of our thinking is guaranteed by existence itself.Authors considerations and explanations towards the nature of philosophy are detailed and consistent. He prooved the great importance of philosophy. Every person should take into account all philosophical aspects and problems that were introduced in this part of the book. Sometimes people are blind towards philosophical problems, as they are so accustomed to them. This book is full of theoretical and even practical information towards philosophical aspects. Samuel M. Thompson figuratively managed to introduce reader with its reading. Although his book contains more theoretical format, there are many good examples that makes its reading interesting and clearly understandable. I think that even begining student who is quite passive or ignorant towards philosophy should take pleasure while reading this part of the book.Philosophy of Science and Mathematics ( part 2.)The first part of this book was focused on philosophical aspects. Information about main scientific features was included just as much as it was suitable for deeper explanation of philosophical aspects. Although scientific method was usually exposed in contrast to philosophical method, these two parts are deeply connected with each other. Each basic science had its origin within philosophy so it is very important to devote a special part of this book to scientific attitudes. In this part there will be paid a special attention to the nature of mathematics, as every scientific knowledge leads us into inquiry of mathematics.
In the first chapter of this part Samuel M. Thompson introduces as with the roots of philosophy and sciences. There was scientific as well as philosophical thinking before such disciplines as philosophy and sciences arrived to as. Author figuratively presented prehistory of sciences and philosophy. Philosophy derived from myth. And although arts and crafts were predecessors of sciences, its origin lies in philosophy and mathematics. „ Each basic science came into the world by separating itself off from philosophy and assuming an independent existence of its own.“ Sciences originated as an attempt to solve theoretical ( philosophical) problems.As philosophy is unformalized rational inquiry, sciences in contrary are formalized rational inquiry. Therefore, sciences could not appear without mathematics. „ We may think of philosophy as the mother of sciences and of mathematics as their father.“ Sciences appeared as separated from its origin. They are independent and have its own test for truth. From this point Samuel M. Thompson begins his detailed and expressive explanation of scientific method- observation. Observation is a scientific test of truth that has a direct awareness of something as actual and present. Author distinguishes between two types of observation. Scientific observation is different from our daily observations. „ Scientific observation takes place only under conditions of technical control instituted by the observer. „ Every scientific statement must be explained. Scientific explanation is intelligible. It differs from understanding, as the latter is more or less custom for people. Every scientific explanation works along with mathematics. It explains things in relationships of mathematics. And as mathematics has its feature of being logical necessity, we may concider scientific explanations of being made on the logical background.Since mathematics is indistinguishable from sciences, in the next chapter of this part Samuel M. Thompson pays a special attention on this subject.Although mathematics is inseparable friend to sciences, it has many differences with the latter. Objects of mathematics are abstract while the objects of the sciences are actually existing things. We can not feel mathematical objects by our senses, we can just think about them. We recognize mathematical objects by the process of separation. Such process is called abstraction. Mathematical abstraction is mental abstraction. We can separate things in our mind by our thought. „ The mind when it is thinking the objects of Mathematics thinks as separate, elements which do not exist separate“ ( Aristotle). In order to perceive mathematical object we have to think it in abstraction from all actual groups of it. „ In mathematical abstraction what we hold apart in thought could not exist in its own right under any conditions „. When we think mathematically we have to reflect on what we perceive. „ Not only is mathematical thinking abstract, but the very things we think about when we engage in mathematical thinking are themselves abstract“.
Samuel M. Thompson gives a long and detailed example with a rosebush. It is possible to separate rosebush into parts mentally. If our thinking about these parts is connected with its actual object ( in this example that would be rosebush) , it is not mathematical thinking. But if we think about these parts abstractedly from its object, it is mathematical thinking. As mathematical method is followed by logical necessity, its knowledge of the objects is final and certain.The next chapter Samuel M. Thompson begins with problematic question. He asks, how can mathematics reveal to us the intelligible nature of the objects of scientific investigation. The answer to this question is not so abstruse. Although mathematical objects are abstract in their nature, the knowledge that we obtain about them reveals from our expierence of real things ( of the objects of natural sciences ). Our mathematical thinking has its basis on the really existing things. „ What is taken from the actual by thought in abstraction can be returned by thought to the actual.“ Someone may ask, how it is possible to return mathematical objects to existance. In other words, how can the complex and abstruse formulas of higher mathematics have any relevance to actual things. As it was mentioned previously mathematical knowledge is gained by abstraction. Although things of actual existance are not usually the same in their manner, they may have partial identities. Abstraction enables to open it. In this method differences among really existing objects are ignored. „ Mathematical formulations may hold good of actual things in so far as those actual things exemplify quantitative, structured, or ordered existence“. There are two phases of scientific inquiry. The first one is generalization and the second one is mathematical explanation. Generalization can be defined as entrance to science. It poses scientific problems. The method of generalization contains in taking note of uniformities and identities among the objects of experience.
Mathematical thinking or method is very useful as it processes such techniques as abstraction and logical analysis. Mathematics as well as sciences has its great contribution to development of our knowledge.„ The Nature of Philosophy“ is universal book. I would consider it as being not only a suitable material for a philosophical studies, but also as a pleasurable reading. The main aspects here are presented fluently. Theoretical information is interspersed with various examples and practical aspects. Although format of this book is more or less theoretical, its tone is not too sophisticated or scientific. Samuel M. Thompson appointed his book to every person who is more or less interested in philosophy. Author managed to escape from too big concentration on the scientific aspects, as his purpose was to introduce us with philosophy in its daily context.