On The Nature of Philosophy

In an essay titled “Religion versus Religion”, the late Ali Shariati stated that Western philosophy and Islamic philosophy were congruent in every sense except for the fact that the latter ended in monotheism whereas the former ends in multi-theism. The basic premise of Islamic philosophy which differentiates it from Western philosophy is that if there were multiple gods as opposed to just one, the universe and its contents would be in a state of chaos and turmoil. That is the primary reason why Islamic philosophy considers only one God rather than a multitude of gods. Everything stems from a single thought fed by a specific piece of information.

Philosophy, regardless of its cultural orientation, is a process that ends with a particular goal in mind. First is the acquisition of knowledge and information. The acquisition of knowledge and information leads to a metaphysical view of the world, which in turn develops into what the Germans called “weltanschauung.” In English, weltanschauung roughly translates into “worldview.” Martin Heidegger considered philosophy to be nothing other than metaphysics and the development of one’s weltanschauung. Culture and environment not only shape one’s weltanschauung, but they also shape the kind of knowledge and information that is acquired, which is of magnanimous implications given that knowledge and information stand on shaky epistemological grounds. Weltanschauung is also based on one’s experiences and habits, according to David Hume. The nature of one’s knowledge depends on the nature of reality itself, and reality depends on the totality of everything that exists. Therefore, the quality of knowledge and information depends primarily on the scope of one’s research.

            The development of one’s weltanschauung leads to a particular conclusion about God and the divine, and it is in fact the acquisition of knowledge and information regarding God and the divine that is the ultimate goal of the philosophical process. Socrates went as far as connecting aesthetic conditions such as love to the attainment of friendship with God. Ralph McInerny writes the following about the philosophical process:

“The whole aim of philosophy, as it was begun by the Greeks, is to achieve wisdom; wisdom is knowledge of the first principles and causes; but the first principles and causes are divine. Philosophy by definition strives towards knowledge of the divine, and if it is successful, ends as theology. Truths about God do not begin where philosophy ends; they are the telos of the whole philosophical enterprise.”

Any goal other than the acquisition of knowledge and information about God and the divine is pseudo-philosophical and pseudo-scientific, given that empirical research itself depends on epistemological status, scope, and an ultimate source that is the main determinant of one’s weltanschauung. After all, it was Saint Thomas Aquinas who argued that reason and faith can in fact be reconciled. Weltanschauung also suggests the possession of a particular discourse, which is in essence a string of words, thoughts, and units of connected speech that stem from a text, according to Foucault. Discourse can stem from virtue, but virtue usually stems from a text because it is primarily through text that God communicated to Man. The schism that occurred between theo-centric and anthropomorphic mindsets in the course of Western history was a faulty one that nearly ended in the destruction of Western civilization as a whole in the 20th century. Without an ultimate source that has a theological basis and is based on a particular text, the directionality of inquiry will lead to treacherous paths. As Foucault wrote, madness is the absence of an oeuvre.

There is believed to be six fundamentals of philosophy. For one, there is metaphysics, which is the endpoint of philosophy. Another is theology, which is the study of God’s qualities and the study of belief and creed. Teleology is the study of first causes. Ontology is the exploration of existence and the state of being. Epistemology is the study of the methodologies employed to acquire knowledge. Also, there is hermeneutics, which consists of the interpretation of texts. Furthermore, there are six distinct branches of philosophy: metaphysics, morals, medicine, mechanics, ethics, and physics.

As mentioned before, philosophy consists of the acquisition of knowledge, and in turn the acquisition of knowledge is directed towards the formation of what is known as “unitive knowledge” in the words of the Persian philosopher Mulla Sadra. Unitive knowledge serves as the foundation for specialization in the later stages of learning. According to Adam Smith, specialization in a particular branch of philosophy increases the overall quantity of scientific knowledge available to society:

“Like every other employment too, [philosophy] is subdivided into a great number of different branches, each of which affords occupation to a peculiar tribe or class of philosophers; and this subdivision of employment in philosophy, as well as in every other business, improves dexterity, and saves time. Each individual becomes more expert in his own peculiar branch, more work is done upon the whole, and the quantity of science is considerably increased by it.”

            There are also three schools of philosophical thought. Empiricism suggests that nothing exists beyond what can be deciphered by the five senses. John Locke was one of the major proponents of empiricism during the European Enlightenment. Rationalism is the pursuit of truths beyond the five senses; the basic ontological state of rationalism is that nothing material exists according to J.M.E. McTaggart, who was a Cambridge scholar in the early 20th century. Rene Descartes, whose major proclamation was “Cogito ergo sum” (I think, therefore I am) was the most prominent advocate of rationalism. Skepticism is based on doubting the veracity of knowledge itself, which is now common in our present day and age. Skepticism has its roots in Ancient Greece, but it became mainstream through Karl Marx. Ultimately, the truth is “one” but the ways to getting to the truth are different. Philosophy is also the foundation for the development of civilization, which is based on the advancement and refinement of culture and thought to the highest level. The “truth” is ultimately acquired through what Sir Bertrand Russell called “intuition”, and the development of intuition is the ultimate byproduct of the acquisition of divine knowledge. As a result, there are two types of minds. One type of mind is based on survival, whereas the other type of mind is subject to telepathy through the development of intuition and thought, according to the late J.B. Rhine. There are those who merely seek to survive, and there are those who have developed telepathic powers as a result of their immersion into contemplation and philosophy. That is why Adam Smith, in “The Theory of Moral Sentiment”, placed the philosopher in a mutually exclusive grouping: “A philosopher is company to a philosopher, only. The member of a club, to his own little knot of companions.” As a result, Aristotle happened to write that from the hour of birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule.

            Knowledge, therefore, is ultimately the vehicle to faith. Knowledge ultimately reaches a dead end, and as Kant proclaimed, one must deny knowledge in order to establish faith. There are also tangible benefits to faith. As the American psychologist William James found in his research that was published in book form titled “The Varieties of Religious Experience”, those who follow through with the climactic spiritual act of letting go had better mental health outcomes than those who refused to believe in a higher power. Carl Jung broke off from Freud due to a disagreement over the contents of the subconscious mind. Freud believed Eros was the fundamental force driving the subconscious mind, whereas Jung believed religious archetypes drove the operations of the subconscious mind. As Jung wrote:

“In addition to our immediate consciousness, which is of a thoroughly personal nature and which we believe to be the only empirical psyche (even if we tack on the personal unconscious as an appendix), there exists a second psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals. This collective unconscious does not develop individually but is inherited. It consists of pre-existent forms, the archetypes, which can only become conscious secondarily and which give definite form to certain psychic contents.”

Jung insured his theory of archetypes with yet another theory known as “synchronicity” where a single cause excludes the possibility of chance and affirms the idea that two parallel chains of events are in fact related to one another. It was Spinoza who argued that God was “absolutely” the first cause.

            Thus, we have come full circle to the idea of God being by logic the impetus of philosophy given that both Western philosophy in the case of Aristotle’s “Unmoved Mover” and in Islamic philosophy as a result of Al-Ghazali’s “Uncaused Cause” and his “Kalam” cosmological argument render God as the impetus behind the creation of the universe approximately 13.7 billion years ago. By this logic, God is also the author of aesthetics, and part of the philosophical endeavor is the application of aesthetics. Carl Jung argued that psychology is merely the application of aesthetics. Nevertheless, a major element of aesthetics in the Western tradition is a set of virtues stemming from the Greco-Roman age. It was the failure to uphold basic morals and virtues and the pervasiveness of vice that led to the collapse of the Roman Empire, as suggested by Saint Augustine of Hippo:

“What is there left of the ancient virtue which the illustrious poet Ennius declared was the mainstay of the Roman state? We are aware only that it has been so utterly cast to the winds that morals are not merely unobserved, but are positively ignored. What can we say of the men? Precisely for want of men the good old customs have been lost, and for so great an evil not only are we responsible but we should face judgment, like culprits fearing the penalty of death. By our own vices, not by chance, we have lost the republic, though we retain the name.”

The decline of a multi-theistic West and the relative rise of a monotheistic East does not come as a surprise, for such a phenomenon had in fact been forewarned to us by a relatively obscure German writer by the name of Oswald Spengler. In a two-volume book titled “The Decline of the West”, Spengler concluded that the result of the West’s decline would be the usurpation of power by an authoritarian figure who would seek to salvage what was left of Western civilization in the 21st century. With the forging of post-9/11 laws and the rise of Donald Trump that shifts immense power to the executive branch, Spengler’s prophecy seems to be reaching a point of realization. Thus, the theme of the 21st century becomes one of the “world turned upside down” as transmitted by Charles Taylor: “It is in the end no laughing matter. Indeed, the world turned upside down is the one we daily live in, in which sin has upset all order.” What is at play, however, is what Aristotle called “generation and corruption” and the law of rise and subsequent decline.

Philosophy then takes on a soteriological character. From antiquity, philosophy had been symbolized by the iconic Star of David, where one triangle represents knowledge and the other represents spirituality. Both triangles combined represent the “Tree of Life” that stands in the heavenly abode, known in the Bible as the Garden of Eden, and it is to be attained solely through the attainment of knowledge and the cultivation of spirituality in this world. What is to be reconciled through philosophy is the difference in what Wael Hallaj called thought structures that are based on the differing theological paradigms between East and West. To reconcile the two thought structures would lead to the ultimate goal, which is equilibrium between East and West.

As long as the West disrupts the natural equilibrium inherent in East-West relations, Western society will ultimately suffer scourges similar to what Ancient Egypt went through in antiquity, one of which can be considered the coronavirus. Thus, the goal of philosophy is the establishment of equilibrium between East and West in this world, and the attainment of a heavenly abode in the next world. We can either immerse ourselves in the philosophical journey and enrich both our worldly and spiritual state, or as John Dewey put it, we can merely subsist and frustratingly live a bare bones life of survival that lacks any aesthetic or spiritual significance.

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