An Introductory Note about Philosophy

Philosophy derives from the Greek and some trace its origin to the ancient Greeks Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, or even earlier to pre-Socratic thinkers. It literally means the love of wisdom (philo means love, and sophia means wisdom). Ethics is a study within philosophy and investigates whether we can reason about ethics. Philosophy tries to get away from relying on just whatever people happen to say, even if they are in positions of authority, and requires people to justify what they say. Other areas of philosophy also emphasize reason: metaphysics reasons about the nature of reality (i.e., Do we really make free choices? Are we entirely physical or do we have minds beyond the brain and the body? Do souls exist? What is the nature of time?); epistemology reasons about what we can claim to know, or how we can justify our opinions; aesthetics investigates what is beautiful; and political philosophy tries rationally to compare different systems of social organization.

The study of reasoning itself is called logic. Reasoning refers to many things, but part of what it involves is paying careful attention to what is evident, and being very careful about drawing conclusions. People reason using arguments, which are sets of statements which seek to arrive at certain statements, namely conclusions, from other statements, called premises (i.e., the statements one starts out with, or the basis of our conclusions). Consider the following example of an argument:

  1. Socrates is a man. (Premise 1)
  2. All men are mortal. (Premise 2)

  3. Therefore Socrates is mortal. (Conclusion)

We call this a valid argument. Validity means that one cannot assert the premises, in this case 1. and 2., and deny the conclusion, without contradicting oneself. In other words, it would be inconsistent to agree with the premises and to deny the conclusion of a valid argument. By contrast, the following is an example of an invalid argument:

  1. Worms move.
  2. Socrates moves.

  3. Therefore Socrates is a worm.

This is an invalid argument because one can state that the premises are true and deny the conclusion without contradicting oneself. We call “jumping to conclusions” as we see here committing a fallacy, or error in reasoning, which is different from falsehood. Truth and falsehood apply to statements or propositions, but fallacies (and there are specific kinds of these) apply to arguments or reasoning. Another term of logic is that an argument is sound if (1) it is valid (that is, the conclusion inevitably follows if the premises are true) and (2) the premises are true. Sound arguments are rare prizes, passionately sought after in philosophy, and philosophers are equally concerned with identifying and discarding reasoning that is unsound. In this website we will see reasoning carefully applied to ethics, since peace is an ideal and ethics reasons about what we should consider ideal in general: what is good and bad, right and wrong, etc. Is peace a good? How so? What do different ethical theories entail or imply about peace? Is non-violence an acceptable principle of ethics? Under what circumstances? Let us investigate these questions about peace ideals with an open mind and attempt to reason about these issues.

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