First Philosophy
Overview
A sketch of a conception of philosophy and of metaphysics closer to those of ancient Greece than to contemporary philosophy.
Modern conception's of philosophy, particularly those of analytic philosophers in the 20th century are narrow by comparison with those found at the roots of Western philosophy in ancient Greece. Our purpose here is to draw on some of these earlier ideas in a sketch of a liberal modern conception of the nature of philosophy.
Plato's views here are made plain in his similies of the line and of the cave, in which knowledge of Platonic forms is the only true knowledge.
Aristotle's views are found in Book I of his metaphysics. First philosophy lies at one exalted extreme of several linear orderings in which the various kinds of knowledge can be placed.
The core concern of pure positive philosophy is to understand the human predicament, both the cosmos in which we find ourselves, the nature of humanity and place in the universe.
Introduction
Modern conception's of philosophy, particularly those of analytic philosophers in the 20th century are narrow by comparison with those found at the roots of Western philosophy in ancient Greece. Our purpose here is to draw on some of these earlier ideas in a sketch of a liberal modern conception of the nature of philosophy.
The Scope of Greek Philosophy
It is sometimes said that in ancient Greece the distinction between science and philosophy had not yet been made. The evidence seems equivocal. My impression is that this holds truer of philosophers than of philosophy, in the sense that the same individuals did both philosophy and science, and of the distinctions between particular non-philosophical subject areas and what would be the related kind of philosophy.

Though there was science (of a kind) there were no scientists (as distinct from polymaths engaged also in philosophy) and there was no clear distinction between science and philosophy of science. The case of metaphysics is slightly different, especially in Aristotle, but also in Plato (and probably elsewhere as well, but these two will suffice for us here).

The term metaphysics appears first (so far as I am aware) with reference to Aristotle, and is the name given (though not by Aristotle himeself) to the volume which appears in his works after his volume on Physics. Aristotle has a different name for the subject matter of that volume, which is "first philosophy". In Plato before him, the central task of the philosopher is the contemplation of forms or ideas, and this without the name may be thought of as a kind of metaphysics (though not very close to Aristotle's conception).

Now this seems to me, especially in Plato but also in Aristotle in a different way, a kind of pure rather than applied philosophy. Both philosophers discuss these areas as if they were delineating true philosophy rather than separating out a particular kind or part of philosophy. Though Plato's ideal of a philosopher-king is someone with the knowledge and wisdom needed to run the state, this does not mean that philosophy itself is conceived as extending across all the knowledge that such a philosopher-king would need to have.
Philosophy
first philosophy was the term used by Aristotle in his Metaphysics for philosophy concerned with first causes and ultimate principles, and hence is another term for a kind of metaphysics. The distinctions between various kinds of knowledge on which it depends is present, and more sharply drawn, in Plato.

For Aristotle metaphysics in this sense was at the root of the tree of knowledge. For both Plato and Aristotle, there are important distinctions between different kinds of knowledge. Both of these conceptions of fundamental philosophy are broader than is generally found in contemporary philosophy, and it is to these which I turn to connect my own conception with its historical context.
Plato
Plato's views here are made plain in his similies of the line and of the cave, in which knowledge of Platonic forms is the only true knowledge.
ontology
Plato's theories about knowledge connect the various kinds of knowledge with various kinds of thing. There are three principle kinds of things, first the concrete individuals of the world of appearances, of which we can have by imperfect knowledge. Next come the objects of mathematics, and finally the Platonic forms.
knowledge
The inhabitants of the world of appearances are imperfect instances of the universals which are the Platonic forms. Because they are imperfect copies of the Platonic forms and because the senses are unreliable, our knowledge is mere opinion.

Neither the objects of mathematics nor the Platonic forms are known through the senses, they are known through reason.

The difference between the objects of mathematics and the Platonic forms is that the objects of mathematics are individuals, and there may be more than one of each kind. The Platonic forms are "universals" which correspond to concepts, they are the proper subject matter of philosophical thought.
Aristotle
Aristotle's views are found in Book I of his metaphysics. First philosophy lies at one exalted extreme of several linear orderings in which the various kinds of knowledge can be placed.
Aristotle's notion of Wisdom
Aristotle does not only, in his account of first philosophy, describe various kinds of knowledge with which first philosophy is concerned, he also takes the view that these are the kinds of knowledge which are properly called "wisdom", that they are superior to other kinds of knowledge as are those who possess them to others who do not. There are a lot of value judgements here which are not our present concern, which is to understand in outline the character rather than the merits of "first philosophy".
Kinds of Knowledge
  • sensation
  • memory (sensation + memory => experience)
  • artist having some "mechanical" competence
  • master-worker knowing theory
  • master of recreational rather then practical arts
"... the man of experience is thought to be wiser than the possessors of any sense-perception whatever, the artist wiser than the men of experience, the master-worker than the mechanic, and the theoretical kinds of knowledge to be more of the nature of Wisdom than the productive. Clearly then Wisdom is knowledge about certain principles and causes."
Aristotle's Four Principles or Causes
  1. substance or essence
  2. matter or substratum
  3. source of change (efficient cause)
  4. purpose and good (final cause)
Subjects Falling Under First Philosophy
Aristotle lists the following subjects:
  1. whether the investigation of the causes belongs to one or to more sciences
  2. whether such a science should survey only the first principles of substance, or also the principles on which all men base their proofs
  3. if the science in question deals with substance, whether one science deals with all substances, or more than one
  4. whether sensible substances alone should be said to exist or others also besides them
  5. whether our investigation is concerned only with substances or also with the essential attributes of substances
  6. are the principles and elements of things the genera, or the parts present in each thing, into which it is divided
  7. if they are the genera, are they the genera that are predicated proximately of the individuals, or the highest genera
  8. whether there is, besides the matter, any thing that is a cause in itself or not
  9. whether the principles are limited in number or in kind
  10. whether unity and being, as the Pythagoreans and Plato said, are not attributes of something else but the substance of existing things
  11. whether the principles are universal or like individual things
  12. whether they exist potentially or actually
  13. are numbers and lines and figures and points a kind of substance or not
Core Pure Philosophy
The core concern of pure positive philosophy is to understand the human predicament, both the cosmos in which we find ourselves, the nature of humanity and place in the universe.
Epistemology, Language, Metaphysics
In modern philosophy (since Descartes) epistemology has seemed to be the core of philosophy, giving way for most of the 20th century to Philosophy of Language. In "Neo-Positivism" epistemology, and some problems of language, remain important as part of what it takes to put together an understanding of the universe and out place in it. The central concern of philosophy has been surrendered to physics and cosmology (in its non-human aspect) and to softer sciences so far as the human predicament is concerned. Neo-positivism takes this scientific material as a starting point from which to probe for a deeper understanding. Science is in general conceived of as providing mathematical or other kinds of model of the cosmos, rather than as probing its true nature.

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