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The origin of philosophy shrouded in mystery

The starting point of philosophy is sometimes said to be wonder and curiosity. The view that philosophy begins in wonder is generally attributed to Plato. Evidently, Chinese philosophy and Indian philosophy did not begin in mere wonder. It is doubtful that any philosophy of life can really begin in wonder.

The problems of life have a seriousness about them that it is not always associated with wonder. Confucius was made to reflect by the chaos and confusion that prevailed in China of the time. Such chaos was not a cause of wonder but of pain. The Upanisadic thinkers were certainly not impressed by the defects and imperfections of social and political life. Yet they were keenly sensitive to the defects and imperfections of life in general, the conditions of phenomenal existence.

The Republic

Plato wrote his ‘Republic’ because he was dissatisfied with conditions of society at the time. The urge for writing The Republic did not originate in wonder.

Socrates was serious in his inquiries, and so was his disciple Plato.

So, neither with the Upanisadic thinkers nor with Confucius, Socrates or Plato did philosophy start in wonder.

With Buddha it started with the idea of suffering; the world is full of suffering, how can man overcome it? So, no philosophy that wanted to show a way of life could have begun in mere wonder.

It was a desire for some existence higher than the present, whether in the cosmos, society, or the state and for a perfect life, happier and less defective than the present, that offered the motive for every philosophy of life.

Whitehead said thought starts with negation or negative judgement. In logic the negative may presuppose the affirmative; but in life the first act of reflection starts with the negative.

Negation

If life runs smoothly and unobstructed, there will be no thought and consequently no philosophy.

When there is obstruction, either thought must arise or life must become extinct. But life resists extinction and produces thought. Thought seizes upon the obstruction, avoids it, or discovers a way for overcoming it.

It is man's hope that perfection can be attained and life can be made smooth, pleasant and happy by improving the condition of the world and making them conform to the nature of man or by making man conform to them or by doing both.

Without dissatisfaction with the present, there is no science and no philosophy, because thought then has no stimulus to commence its work.

Science

What is sometimes said about religion – that it could not have started without some pessimism – holds true of philosophy also.

In the oft-quoted words of the Pope “The proper study of mankind is man.” Man has two dimensions, which are also the direction of his conscious being, a being never static but directed outwards towards the objects of sensation, perception, emotion, feeling and thought or inwards and through his very core to something which is variously called the universal spirit god and so forth.

Men have always believed that the limit of their inward consciousness is the same for all; God or universal spirit is one, not many. In between the two limits, men are many and seperate from each other.

This is a very complex situation: and the philosophies of the world, Indian, Chinese and Western, have attempted to understand it in various ways.

Consciousness

In the child of humanity the consciousness of the inward and the outward could not have been very clear and definite. Each was taken for the other in different degrees.

The methods for understanding each and the position of man with reference to them were first crudely and naively grasped: it was only as the thought of mankind matured that the methods also developed with the resulting conceptions.

Sometimes the outward was regarded as primary, and even as the only reality; at other times primacy was assigned to the inward. In between there were various degrees of overemphasis of under emphasis on one or the other, according to the temperament, stimuli and urgency of the problems offered by the social, political, and natural environment of the philosopher.

Concept of matter

Philosophy based on the concept of matter alone or of life alone or of spirit alone cannot be adequate. It must be based upon man. So one could come to the conclusion that philosophy should start with man.

He has to be the central idea. Dissatisfied with approaches from spirit, the philosopher started with physical nature or matter in order to have a sure foundation for philosophy.

Unable to explain life, man's ethical nature, and spiritual experience from the side of matter, some started with life, thinking that it was a less intangible foundation than spirit. But they were unable to explain matter and spirit from the side of life. Faith in the supernatural sometimes got the upper hand.

Then man lost confidence in reason, experience, and action, even so far as this world was concerned.

Then why not start with man, for whom philosophy is meant as a guide to life and for whom lie, mind and spirit have meaning and significance? (In man all have met and been integrated. Philosophy has to clarify the nature of this integrality and give man a picture of what he is.

Treatises on philosphical beginnings show how man struggled hard in different parts of the world to understand himself and his environment, to discover the meaning of his life.

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