Cogito ergo quaero.
ContentsA Basis for Philosophy
Bunge's Dictionary Preface
From Ortega y Gasset's The Revolt of the Masses
A Basis for Philosophy
The following is mostly a translation and partially an adaptation of previous work by my godfather, who underwent his philosophy studies at Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR) and was a professor at Universidad Nacional (UNA). He specialized in epistemology, by which I mean epistemología, in Spanish, and not gnoseología. English does not make a distinction between them, being both included in the broader term “epistemology”. It is necessary to consider this difference between the Romance languages and English. It will be addressed later.
The original writings that I worked upon were part of the beginning of a book my godfather drafted, but regrettably, never published. Wanting to have a elementary text that addressed the basis of what philosophy is —and therefore, epistemology— in order to share it with some friends, I performed this translation-adaptation.
Part I: On Definitions
Definitions are constructed; they are not spontaneous products of reasoning. As opposed to what common sense believes, the definition, more than a starting point, is the arrival point of a determined reasoning. Naturally, afterwards, the definition serves as point of departure, but also its utility is more limited than what may be supposed. The beginning of the reasoning with a constructed and coherent definition always requires to define the proper terms that form it, and for these terms, often unknown and themselves undefined, to be defined as part of an overwhelming vicious circle. It is only via the unfolding of its content that the definition, and the terms that it is composed of, acquire full meaning. Our definition of philosophy will be, then, the result of an expository process which extends and develops in space and time.
At least we know that philosophy is a class of knowledge, among the many others produced by the human mind. This first concept is sufficient to advance the argumentation. If philosophy is a form of human knowledge, what type of knowledge is it and what is its object of study?
Let us now continue with the etymological matter.
Part II: On Etymology
If we take into account the origin of the term, philosophy means “love of knowledge”, or, “love of wisdom”. The term derives from Latin philosophĭa, which is the transliteration of Ancient Greek φιλοσοφία (philosophía), which in turn comes from the combination of two words: φιλεῖν (philêin) “to love” and σοφία (sophía) “knowledge”, “wisdom”.
In order to address what type of knowledge it is, we will first look into two other Ancient Greek terms that were used to differentiate two spheres of knowledge. For practical purposes, let us use simplified transliterations, which will be ‘episteme’ and ‘doxa’.
Plato (428-347 BCE) used the word episteme to designate the most elaborate and developed level of human knowledge. According to him, knowledge possesses two clearly distinguishable spheres: an inferior one, doxa, which constitutes a zone “darker than science and clearer than ignorance”, to which belong sensory perceptions and all sensory knowledge in general. The other one, episteme, is the superior level of knowledge and it corresponds to the field of understanding which perceives the reality of things, not via the senses, but by means of intelligence. Thus, these terms can be translated from their original context as displayed in the following representation of the Platonic spheres of knowledge:
╠═══════ Episteme or true knowledge
╚═══════ Doxa or opinion
But neither of them are homogeneous spheres. They each possess, likewise, two differentiable developmental levels. In the lower level of episteme we find knowledge which, such as calculus, depart from certain ideas and, moving in the field of pure intelligence, arrive at certain demonstrations. In the upper level, Plato locates philosophical intelligence, “that which human reason achieves with its dialectic power”, and which reveals itself as a “clear vision of the being and of the intelligible”:
╠═══════ Pure knowledge
╚═══════ Hypothetical knowledge
Doxa, for its part, is not absence of knowledge, that is to say, ignorance. It is composed of images of reality which allow humans to be oriented in the world, but which do not procure true knowledge. It extends from the limits of ignorance to the limits of episteme, as represented below, and using the Platonic terms.
╠═══════ Clear images (“reflected images”)
╚═══════ Dark images (“shadows”)
In this manner, already since Plato different grades of development are distinguished in human knowledge. When interpreted from the perspective of our own historical context, this can be schematized like this:
║ ╠════ Philosophy (synthetic level)
║ ╚════ Science (analytical level)
╠════ Conjecture (proto-epistemic level)
╚════ Faith (pseudo-epistemic level)
Let us now continue with the historical narrative.
Part III: On History
During a long period in the history of humanity, knowledge was a relatively homogenous set of wisdoms. Back then, episteme was barely differentiated from doxa and found its maximum expression in the myth. In Classical Antiquity (fifth century BCE), episteme was then governed by a new form of knowledge: philosophy; and certain special fields received a powerful impulse, such as physics, logic, geometry, astronomy, etc. However, the image of the totality imposed itself in the Hellenic consideration of the cosmos, and none of those fields reached full differentiation from that nameless amalgam, which Plato called “love of wisdom”, and Aristotle “first philosophy”.
The process of detachment and differentiation of the sciences from the philosophical fold is very complex and extends through more than a thousand years before achieving its first results.
During the Middle Ages (fifth to fifteenth centuries CE), episteme plunged into a profound lethargy; philosophy was subordinated to theology and scientific knowledge was repressed and substituted by dogmas of faith. But with the rescue of spiritual liberty during the Renaissance (sixteenth to seventeenth centuries CE) and basically the emergence of modern science, the situation was radically transformed. There flourished astronomy, physics and biology, and the violent religious persecution of which they were object were unable to stop the profound revolution which scientific advances caused in the consciousness and the mentality of human beings. There arose the Copernican Revolution, the founding of modern science by Galileo and the taxonomical labour on plants and animals performed by Carl Linnaeus, who recollected and ordered the empirical evidence for successive generations.
The scientific revolutions opened new panoramas where new scientific experiences took place. Afterwards, during the seventeenth century, what followed where the great advances in calculus, optics and mechanics, which in turn prepared the ground for the definitive mathematization of natural science, for the extensive exploration of the universe via the invention and generalization of the telescope and the formulation of the theory of universal gravitation by Isaac Newton. In turn, anatomy and physiology prepared the way towards the concept of organism and the cellular theory. These processes were soon followed by Avogadro's molecular chemistry theory and the development of geology added to the advances in paleontology by Charles Lamark and Jacques Cuvier, thus announcing Darwin's evolutionary conception.
In parallel to this, much of scientific knowledge found practical applications in agriculture and industry, revealing its transcendent importance as a direct productive force. Therewith, the technical and social bases were prepared for the development of industry. Episteme shone again. As signaled by Friedrich Engels, the Renaissance sciences and all its precursors were distinctly collector sciences, which employed empirical methods of identification, classification and taxonomical organization. But with the scientific revolutions and the creation of the scientific method, the sciences evolved towards the theoretical level and towards the use of conceptual means of hypothetical deductive character, thus becoming essentially production sciences.
While the sciences progressively became particular focuses —and therefore partial— about reality, philosophy lost its position as “science of sciences”, and defined its focus of general character as a form of knowledge of reality as a whole. Even though by virtue of this philosophy continued to occupy an eminent place, episteme was “scientifized” rapidly, to the point that science —and particularly its technological application— has dominated the socioeconomic and intellectual panorama since then.
Part IV: On Disciplinarity
If philosophy is a study of reality, then what type of study is it and what are its principal problems? Let us try to summarize this sheaf of questions in the following concepts:
Philosophy is a differentiated form of human knowledge. Since Plato, let us remember, knowledge is divided into episteme and doxa. Episteme, in turn, is divided into two spheres: scientific knowledge, which provide a multitudinous set of partial images; and philosophical reason, whose view is not reduced to a particular piece of the world but instead encompasses the collection of partial focuses in order to elaborate an image, coherent and unified, of reality.
Philosophy is a general form of human knowledge. Indeed, both due to its content as due to its form, it constitutes a general reflexion of reality. Its object of study is the product of a generalization of particular contributions. As for its form, philosophical knowledge is the result of a peculiar synthesis of reason and does not possess referents that are either observational or perceptible via the senses. Such is the case, for example, of the philosophical concept of being, with which philosophy designates the property of existence in its most general sense.
Philosophy is a highly mediated form of knowledge. This means that, even if it revolves around reality and deepens our knowledge about it, it is indirect knowledge. In effect, between philosophy and reality there is a series of intermediate links which need to be analyzed.
Firstly, the collection of the sciences constitutes the most important communication link between philosophy and reality. In the elaboration of a thorough image of the world and of the place humans occupy in it, scientific knowledge performs a role of decisive importance. The sciences are to philosophy what the nervous system is to the mind: the possibility of nexus, the necessary link, the means of relation. It is by means of the sciences that philosophy refers to reality.
Secondly, having attributed to it the importance that it has, science is not the only particular form of knowledge. In addition to it, there are art and ideology, which, even though they work upon aesthetic taste and social values, that is to say, albeit they are not a matter of science, they do constitute special forms of knowledge and they socially have an influence on human beings and on the wheel of history.
Philosophy Ideology Reality
Likewise, as we shall see later, the link between the sciences and reality is not, at all, immediate and direct; on the contrary, scientific knowledge is highly mediated by the ensemble of procedures and techniques that constitute the scientific method.
Thirdly, philosophy is metatheoretical knowledge. Therein resides the special character of philosophy. Due to its general nature, it is a form of knowledge not directly about reality but about other forms of knowledge about it; philosophy is a peculiar synthesis of the available knowledge about reality, primarily that of scientific character. Due to this reason, from the epistemological point of view, philosophy is nourished by the principal products of science, the scientific theories. It is thus that philosophy presents itself as a (general) theory of (particular) theories, that is to say, as a metatheory.
╔══►══►══╗ ╔══►══►══╗ ╔══►══►══╗Philosophical Scientific Scientific
Realitymetatheory theories method
╚══◄══◄══╝ ╚══◄══◄══╝ ╚══◄══◄══╝
Fourthly, various intermediate levels are developed between philosophy and science. There are theories with a variety of levels of generality, as well as special metatheories, which gather the theories that pertain to multiple particular fields (for example, informatics) and general metatheories, which refer to ample domains of human knowledge and of which physics manifests their maximum development: epistemology constitutes the general metatheory of science, sociology being that of ideology and aesthetics of art.
╔══►══►══╗ ╔══►══►══╗ ╔══►══►══╗General Special Scientific Universal metatheories metatheories method philosophical of art on nature (cognitive methods metatheory science and society and and experimental ideology thought techniques)
╚══◄══◄══╝ ╚══◄══◄══╝ ╚══◄══◄══╝
Bunge's Dictionary Preface
Este es un diccionario de conceptos, problemas, teorías y principios filosóficos modernos. Se limita a la filosofía occidental moderna. Lejos de ser neutral, adopta un punto de partida naturalista y cientificista. Por consiguiente, existe un sesgo en la elección de los términos, autores y análisis —escasamente disimulado en la mayoría de los casos.
Tres advertencias han de tenerse en cuenta. La primera: las entradas son desiguales en cuanto a su longitud; mientras la mayoría son breves, unas pocas son miniartículos. Estos últimos tratan de tópicos que, en mi opinión, son importantes pero no se han tratado adecuadamente en la literatura. La segunda: algunas entradas contienen material técnico que un lector no especialista puede pasar por alto o dejar para más adelante. La tercera: he evitado la solemnidad. La estolidez es característica de una filosofía momificada, no de una filosofía viva; y en cuanto al pesimismo, mejor dejarlo para los agoreros. La genuina filosofía debe alumbrar, no abrumar; iluminar, no oscurecer; ayudar a vivir una vida agradable, no preparar para una jubilación ociosa, ni mucho menos para la muerte.
La elección de los términos ha sido dictada por su uso, utilidad y valor perdurable, no por tendencias de moda. Las modas son por definición locales y efímeras. Por esto aparecen aquí términos tradicionales como «cosa», «cambio», «prueba», «verdad» y «bien», mientras que «abducción», «monismo anómanlo», «atomismo lógico», «aprehensión», «designador rígido», «implicación estricta» y otros arcaísmos o curiosidades efímeras no aparecen. El lector interesado en ampliar ideas o en diferentes enfoques puede consultar mi Treatise on Basic Philosophy (8 volúmenes, Dordrecht-Boston: Reidel/Kluwer, 1974-89) o diccionarios más extensos.
Estoy muy agradecido a Martin Mahner por sus numerosas críticas constructivas.
Dedico este libro a Marta, mi querida esposa desde hace cuarenta años.
Department of Philosophy
McGill University, Montréal
This is a dictionary of modern philosophical concepts, problems and theories. It is limited to modern occidental philosophy. Far from being neutral, it adopts a naturalistic and scientistic point of departure. Consequently, there is a bias in the selection of the terms, authors and analyses —scarcely dissimulated in the majority of cases.
Three warnings are to be taken into account. The first one: the entries are unequal in length; while most are brief, a few are mini-articles. The latter treat topics that, in my opinion, are important but have not been adequately addressed in the literature. The second one: some entries contain technical material that a non-specialist reader can disregard or leave for later. The third one: I have avoided solemnity. Stolidity is characteristic of a mummified philosophy, not of a living philosophy; and as for pessimism, better leave it to the doomsayers. Genuine philosophy ought to enlighten, not to overburden; to illuminate, not to obscure; to help live an agreeable life, not to prepare for an idle retirement, much less for death.
The choice of terms has been dictated by their usage, utility and enduring value, not by fashionable tendencies. Fashions are, by definition, local and ephemeral. This is why there appear here traditional terms such as “thing”, “change”, “truth” and “good”, whereas “abduction”, “anomalous monism”, “logical atomism”, “apprehension”, “rigid designator”, “strict implication” and other archaisms or ephemeral curiosities do not appear. The reader interested in amplifying ideas or in different focuses can consult my Treatise on Basic Philosophy (8 volumes, Dordrecht-Boston: Reidel/Kluwer, 1974-1989) or more extensive dictionaries.
I am very grateful to Martin Mahner for his numerous constructive critiques.
I dedicate this book to Marta, my beloved wife since forty years ago.
Department of Philosophy
McGill University, Montréal
1. Siglo XXI Editores, 2005. The author's preface in his Dictionary of Philosophy, which was published originally in English in 1999, given his extensive career in Canada. Translated by María Dolores González Rodríguez and first published in Spanish in 2001. [↑]
2. My own reverse translation.[↑]
From Ortega y Gasset's The Revolt of the Masses
La misión del llamado «intelectual» es, en cierto modo, opuesta a la del político. La obra intelectual aspira, con frecuencia en vano, a aclarar un poco las cosas, mientras que la del político suele, por el contrario, consistir en confundirlas más de lo que estaban. Ser de la izquierda es, como ser de la derecha, una de las infinitas maneras que el ser humano puede elegir para ser un imbécil: ambas, en efecto, son formas de la hemiplejía moral.
The mission of the so-called “intellectual” is, in a certain way, opposed to that of the politician. Intellectual work aspires, frequently in vain, to clarify things a bit, while the politician's tends, on the contrary, to consist in confusing them more than they were. To be from the left is, like being from the right, one of the infinite ways the human being can choose to be an imbecile: both, in effect, are forms of moral hemiplegia.
— José Ortega y Gasset
La rebelión de las masas (1930)
The Revolt of the Masses
1. Ortega y Gasset. Obras Completas, IV, Revista de Occidente, 1966. The Revolt of the Masses was first published as a book in 1930.[↑]
2. My own translation.[↑]