Philosophy 220 • Mendocino CollegeInstructor: Molly Dwyer
Knowledge: Information that has been shaped by meaning.

What is Philosophy?

1) Quite literally, the term "philosophy" means, "love of wisdom." In a broad sense, philosophy is an activity people undertake when they seek to understand fundamental truths about themselves, the world in which they live, and their relationships to the world and to each other.

2) Philosophy is from the Greek, philo means love – or devotion – and sophia means wisdom. Philosophers are people devoted to wisdom.

3) Philosophy is an activity: a quest after wisdom. Philosophy is an activity of thought. Philosophy is a particular unique type of thought or style of thinking.

4) Being wise means attempting to live and die well, leading as good a life as possible within the troubled conditions of existence. The goal of wisdom is fulfillment. You could perhaps say ‘happiness’ but ‘happiness’ is misleading, for it suggests continuous chirpiness and joy, whereas ‘fulfillment’ seems compatible with a lot of pain and suffering, which every decent life must by necessity have.

5) Those who study philosophy are perpetually engaged in asking, answering, and arguing for their answers to life’s most basic questions.


At its core the study of metaphysics is the study of the nature of reality, of what exists in the world, what it is like, and how it is ordered. In metaphysics philosophers wrestle with such questions as:
  • Is there a God?
  • What is truth?
  • What is a person? What makes a person the same through time?
  • Is the world strictly composed of matter?
  • Do people have minds? If so, how is the mind related to the body?
  • Do people have free wills?
  • What is it for one event to cause another?


Epistemology is the study of knowledge. It is primarily concerned with what we can know about the world and how we can know it. Typical questions of concern in epistemology are:
  • What is knowledge?
  • Do we know anything at all?
  • How do we know what we know?
  • Can we be justified in claiming to know certain things?


The study of ethics often concerns what we ought to do and what it would be best to do. In struggling with this issue, larger questions about what is good and right arise. So, the ethicist attempts to answer such questions as:
  • What is good? What makes actions or people good?
  • What is right? What makes actions right?
  • Is morality objective or subjective?
  • How should I treat others?
  • When is the price of happiness too high?


Another important aspect of the study of philosophy is the arguments or reasons given for people’s answers to these questions. To this end philosophers employ logic to study the nature and structure of arguments. Logicians ask such questions as:
  • What constitutes "good" or "bad" reasoning?
  • How do we determine whether a given piece of reasoning is good or bad?

Can We Learn Ethics from Nature?

In 1802 William Paley published a Teleological Argument For The Existence Of God, which included his famous argument says that after seeing a watch, with all its intricate parts, which work together in a precise fashion to keep time, one must deduce that this piece of machinery has a creator, since it is far too complex to have simply come into being by some other means, such as evolution. The skeleton of the argument is as follows:
1. Human artifacts are products of intelligent design; they have a purpose.
2. The universe resembles these human artifacts.
3. Therefore: It is probable that the universe is a product of intelligent design, and has a purpose.
4. However, the universe is vastly more complex and gigantic than a human artifact is.
5. Therefore: There is probably a powerful and vastly intelligent designer who created the universe.

Trolley Problem—Who Should Be Saved?

Darwin wrote in a letter to botanist Asa Gray (1860)

"I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent & omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidæ with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice. Not believing this, I see no necessity in the belief that the eye was expressly designed. On the other hand I cannot anyhow be contented to view this wonderful universe & especially the nature of man, & to conclude that everything is the result of brute force. I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we may call chance. Not that this notion at all satisfies me. I feel most deeply that the whole subject is too profound for the human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton.— Let each man hope & believe what he can.—"
Discussion, Stephen Gould (Cat playing with a mouse at about 55 minutes in video)
The wasps who infest caterpillars

Asking Big Questions

World View & Resistance to Change

In 1614, when the telescope was new technology, a young man in Germany published a book filled with illustrations of the exciting new things being discovered telescopically: moons circling Jupiter, moon-like phases of Venus, spots on the Sun, the rough and cratered lunar surface. The young man was Johann Georg Locher, and his book was Mathematical Disquisitions Concerning Astronomical Controversies and Novelties. And while Locher heaped praise upon Galileo, he challenged ideas that Galileo championed – on scientific grounds. (From news article on Raw Story.)

Both Science & Religion Argued Against the Copernican World View (That the earth revolved around the sun.)

Philosophy Defined:

  • Philosophy is the study of knowledge, or "thinking about thinking."
  • Philosophy concerns itself with questions of how one should live (ethics); what sorts of things exist and what are their essential natures (metaphysics); what counts as genuine knowledge (epistemology); and what are the correct principles of reasoning (logic).
  • Philosophy is an investigation of the nature, causes, or principles of reality, knowledge, or values, based on logical reasoning rather than empirical methods (American Heritage Dictionary)
  • Philosophy is the study of the ultimate nature of existence, reality, knowledge and goodness, as discoverable by human reasoning (Penguin English Dictionary)
  • Philosophy is the rational investigation of questions about existence and knowledge and ethics (WordNet)
  • The search for knowledge and truth, especially about the nature of man and his behavior and beliefs (Kernerman English Multilingual Dictionary)
  • Philosophy is the rational and critical inquiry into basic principles (Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia)
  • Philosophy is the study of the most general and abstract features of the world and categories with which we think: mind, matter, reason, proof, truth, etc. (Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy)
  • Philosophy is careful thought about the fundamental nature of the world, the grounds for human knowledge, and the evaluation of human conduct (The Philosophy Pages)
  • The study of philosophy involves not only forming one’s own answers to such questions, but also seeking to understand the way in which people have answered such questions in the past. So, a significant part of philosophy is its history, a history of answers and arguments about these very questions. In studying the history of philosophy one explores the ideas of such historical figures as: Plato; Aristotle; Aquinas; Descartes; Locke; Hume; Kant; Nietzsche; Marx; Mill; Wittgenstein; and Sartre.

A Cosmological History of the World


WATCH FOR JAN 31, 2017

BBC History Of The World In 2 Hours (It isn't two hours, even though it says it is.) Here's the link: BBC Documentary

Henry Fuseli (1741-1825) The Nightmare


A movement in the arts and literature that originated in the late 18th century, emphasizing inspiration, subjectivity, and the primacy of the individual. The BBC produced a series of three documentaries that trace the impact of Romanticism on the history of literature, art and thought.


the radical ideas of liberty that inspired the French Revolution opened up a world of possibility for great British writers such as William Blake, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth.


As the Industrial Revolution took hold of Britain during the late 18th Century, the Romantics embraced nature in search of sublime experience. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein emerged out of Romantic philosophies.


For the young Romantics (Keats, Byron and Shelley) poetry became the new religion, a way of reaching eternity.

Genius—Beautiful Minds, World Science Festival

(first eight minutes is presentation on genius)

Some Interesting Links:

What is Philosophy, Crash Course 1
You think, Therefore you are
Who am I? TedEx (Ship of Theseus)
Descartes, Crash Course #5
Kant's Ax Ted-Ex
Sartre—Example of Master Thinker Presentation
Math—Invented or Discovered
Newton's Laws
Free Will vs Determinism
Occam's Razor (ends abruptly)
Flat Earth
Empiricism—Locke & Berkeley
What is a person?
Understanding Pythagoras/Plato's Forms (Donald Duck at 8:12)
Fractals/Mandelbrot Set
Natural Law: St. Thomas Aquinas
The Boy from Aleppo
Does God Exist? Crash Course
St. Augustine
Hildegard von Bingen
Post Modernism
Post Modernism Too
The Insider — A Post Modern Movie
Post Modernism Lecture, University of Texas, Austin

god.jpgThoughts on God

Does God Exist? (Crash Course #9)
Aquinas & God (Crash Course #10)
Intelligent Design (Crash Course #11)
What is God? (Crash Course #12)
What About Evil? (Crash Course #13)
God is Dead—Nietzsche
Is Religion Necessary for Goodness? Kant
Evidence of a Great Flood

Thoughts, Literature & other good things

Isabel Allende TedTalk
The Old Man and The Sea (animation)
Homer's Odyssey
Greek Gods
Aristotle on Virtue
Aristotle on Politics (Cambridge/Oxford)

Ancient Non Western Philosophies & Religions

Mayan Civilization 1800 BCE-900
The Dogon of Mali, 2000 BCE-1500
The Buddha, 500 BCE
Teotihuacan 100 BCE-550
How to Draw a Mandala

Games & Mind Benders

Jeopardy Rocks
Philosophy Experiments—online questions & analysis

National High School Ethics Bowl

"High school ethics bowl is a competitive yet collaborative event in which students discuss real-life ethical issues. In each round of competition, teams take turns analyzing ethical cases and responding to questions and comments from the other team and a panel of judges. An ethics bowl differs from a debate competition in that students are not assigned opposing views; rather, they defend whichever position they think is correct, provide each other with constructive criticism, and win by demonstrating that they have thought rigorously and systematically about the cases and engaged respectfully and supportively with all participants."

The Mahabharata (circa 3500 BCE)

The Mahabharata is one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India, the other being the Ramayana.
The Mahabharata contains philosophical and devotional material, including works the text known as the Bhagavad Gita, which is considered one of the most important texts of the Hindu tradition. The Mahabharata is to Hindu culture like the Bible is to Christian culture. It is a teaching story about a war between brothers and lessons learned. It's authorship is attributed to Vyasa, one of the "seven immortals" of Hindu belief. In other words, The Mahabharata, like the Bible, is thought to have been authored by a being who transcends human knowledge and understanding. The film below was directed by Peter Brook and is five hours plus long, but well worth the effort. It's a remarkable story that few westerners are familiar with.
Click here for a documentary that uses Peter Brook's footage to explain The Mahabharata. (Watch it first.)
And here's a documentary on the origins of India's culture (from the video series Legacy: Origins of Civilization