I was recently asked to draft an outline for a Philosophy reading assignment. I gladly accepted the job as I had nothing else better to do. My, oh my! I never realized the subject, “What is philosphy?” could be that broad a topic. The chapter starts off not with the origins of philosophy, nor does it end with a definition of the concept; rather, it starts off with a discourse between Socrates and his students on the idea of “wonder” and “astonishment” on a variety of subjects including math, science, art. Surprisingly, Socrates, in the discourse simply said that he did not really refer to these areas but rather he was actually full of wonder about “himself”, that of being human, that is “know thyself”. This, in later years Descartes philosophized as “I think, therefore I am.”
I was able to draft the outline, and it was according to the professor’s dictate, a sentence outline. It was passed and it somehow got an above average rating. Yay! At least I’ve not lost my touch. It was of course accompanied by a short tutorial on the topic as the student was not really keen on philosophy. It was one of those prerequisites that every one in the college level would have to pass in order to move on to the round of prerequisites.
Anyway, going back to the study of philosophy, “Know thyself”, and “wonder” and “astonishment”, I remember back in my college days my own philosophy course was based on the Aquinian philosophy. This one concentrated on the fact that man is made up of form and matter. Putting all three together, knowing oneself as consisting of different “faculties” brings about that sense of “wonder” and “astonishment” – how will/must I, therefore live my life?
First off, what is this philosophy of Socrates about human nature? Socrates in the draft that I was made to do discussed about the concept that man’s nature consists in “reason”, that which motivates him to pursue the ideal; and let me stop here.
On the other hand, as I remember pretty well, the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas revolves around man being made up of form and matter. This refers to man’s body which decays after death, and a man’s soul which lives on after death. The two put together makes up what it is to be a human being. Matter, which is our body consists of our emotions, our senses and appetites, that which is “corruptible”. Form consists in our reason, our quest for living the “ideal”, our sense of right and wrong and those that we strive to attain to be better “people” so to speak.
What matters here is that, to use a passage that has been said time and again about the physical nature of man, a man’s brain was placed up over his heart which means that man is always to use his head in all aspects of his life. His heart is lower than his brain because he is always to control his emotions, those which may cloud his judgment in his pursuit of the ideal – all that which is good. And, man is by nature, good. He knows in his mind that he is not to go against the natural order of the world he lives in and he knows that he is always to abide by it.
And of course, herein comes different world views on man and his environment, man and politics, man and art, man and religion… it goes on and on.
Simply, it’s best to end this random thoughts on humanity by saying we are created for a specific purpose. We have the irascible nature, that which makes us part of the animal kingdom which understandably is why we have propagated and have used all other “lower forms” around us to survive; but we were also endowed with reason, that which makes us better and be above all the animals and other creation and to take control of the “animal in us”. Thus, we live accordingly but we are likewise expected to live the “ideal” — to be the guardian and protector of this world and make sure that all of these we see around us continue to survive as it should for all years to come.