What are the different types of philosophical inquiry?
How has the understanding of philosophy changed from the time of the Greeks to our modern
understanding or common understanding of today?
These questions have been lying around for a while. I just saw them again today... I'm not going to
tackle the first one.
The second one is more interesting, in a way. Let's do a little comparison. Suppose that you are a
reasonably educated person, young, with a good, solid high-school (or the equivalent) education, or
even the beginnings (2-3 years) of a college education. You read books, newspapers, etc., and you
can think about, a bit, and talk about, a bit, topics like relativity: "Einstein showed that mass and
energy are conserved" or "space is warped around stars" or something like that. Now, first, does this
make you a physicist? No, of course not. Second, do you understand physics? No, not really; not until
you can explain why these and many other statements are true (or not). Third, do you understand
what it isto be a physicist? No. Not until you can explain howthe explanations of the above
statements, and others, were arrived at. In other words, understanding physics is one thing, far
beyond playing with a few of its ideas. Knowing what doingphysics is, is another thing, beyond
understanding physics. And, finally, actually doingphysics, being a physicist, is yet a third thing,
beyond the other two. And then there's being a really good physicist, which is even harder.
Take an example. I mention "energy" above. What's that? Well, when you learn basic physics, you
learn that to accelerate a mass, it takes a force proportional to that mass. F = ma. Clear so far? Now,
if you know calculus, you can then derive E = 1/2mv2, if you integrate over time, because
acceleration, which we started with, is the change in velocity over time, and energy is the integration
of force over time. Or you can go the other way, start with simple motion, i.e., velocity is distance per
unit time, v = d/t. You can then differentiate by time and get a = v/t, i.e., acceleration is velocity per
time. Still following? So we have, from the first equation, F = mv/t, right? Multiply both sides by time
(or integrate), and we have E = mv2, which is basically where we were above (I'm not going to bother
with the constant here). Hey, relax, we're just starting basic Newtonian mechanics. We've got about
200 years to go yet before we get to Einstein... the rest of mechanics, optics, electromagnetics... then
when it gets past "special" to "general" relativity, and on to quantum mechanics, the math gets quite
seriously difficult. You still want to be a physicist, to "know" physics?
There's about 2-300 years of physics to learn, from Newtonian on up, from scratch, because it's all
interdependent, and you can'tunderstand relativity, not to mention dorelativistic physics, without
understanding the Newtonian physics on which it's based (sorry, but the idea that "paradigm shifts"
made all earlier work irrelevant is garbage, as any physicist knows). Then, of course, you have to
have the right kind of mind, to do the math, to think analytically. Not everyone has that. All in all, not
easy, and farbeyond playing conceptual games with "warped space", whatever that means when you
read it in the newspapers. Yes, fine, you can take "non-major" courses in physics, with no or
watered-down math, and simple concepts. At the end of those, if you're very bright and have a very
good teacher, you might possibly know a bit of what you're missing, and that you're missing most of it.
Sorry if this sounds negative, but this is just not simple stuff, not if you really want to understand it. It
just may be the case, depressing as it sounds, that in order to really get the concepts, you have to
start young, as in before high school, just as in order to become a good musician you have to start
young. Or, if you start older, you have to be extremelydedicated.
Well, here's the shocker, people... philosophy is about 2-3 thousandyears old, in the West. Physics,
not to mention biology, engineering, most of math, and dozens of other fields are derivedfrom
concepts in philosophy. Now what do you think it takes to be a philosopher? Well, just look at the
paragraphs above, and multiply by 10. Yes, that's about it (depending, actually, on where you want to
go in philosophy... you can keep it simple if you want, and just learn the equivalent of physics...
although I disapprove).
So... you want someone to tell you how "philosophy", that enormous, 3000-year collection of
concepts, symbolisms, history, literature, logic, and on and on, has changed since the Greeks. Well,
now you know why this question has been sitting around for so long. I could take a stab at telling you
how physics has changed; I have a degree in that, and it's only a couple of centuries of work. Easy,
haha. Philosophy? Forget it.
Steven Ravett Brown