An Introduction to  Philosophy

Chapter 1 :   Introduction


Aristotle thought that Philosophy begins in wonder.  Wonder is some thing children do quite well.  It comes natural to them.  Unfortunately as a lot of us grow older we stop wondering and stop questioning and stop attempting to look at things in new ways or non-traditional ways.  We are rewarded for our acceptance and conformity to what is accepted by most people, for our adoption of whatever is popular.  Some of us stop wondering altogether.

 Consider two “Stories”

 One night a young mother brought her son (age 7) to class at the college where I was teaching an evening class.  Her babysitter was not able to be with her son that night.  Well I entered the room and he was sitting in a desk next to his mom and was looking in a book and later was coloring in coloring books.  At the time I was about the same age as his mom.  We sat around in a rectangular arrangement in the room so that everyone could see everyone’s face.  I sat at a student desk in the midst of all the others.  We started in on the topic for that evening class.  After about 20 minutes, the little fellow said: ”Hey, when is the teacher going to get here?” to his mom.  She explained that the teacher was there and that the teacher was myself.  He was a bit surprised because I wasn’t at the front of the room and using the blackboard.  He settled back in and the class went on to its conclusion.   After class his mom and I were talking about something pertaining to the course.  We were standing outside in the evening air and her son was standing beside his mom with his head down and after looking at the dirt around the hedges that were around the sides of the building he started to kick at the dirt lightly with the tip of one of his shoes.  I noticed he was doing this while I was speaking to his mom.  I asked her how her son was doing in school and she told me he was doing fine and that he was an average student.  I stopped speaking to her and inquired of the young boy: “What are you doing there?”  “Nothing.” He replied.  Most likely he thought that he was doing something wrong.  “No, you were doing something.”, I said.  “What was it?”  “Nothing, “ came his response again.  “I saw you kicking in the dirt.  Weren’t you kicking the dirt?” I asked. “Yes” he admitted. “Well, why were you doing that?” I asked further.  “No reason” he answered.  “You must have had some reason.” I responded. “No!” was his next response tome.  “What were you thinking while you were kicking in the dirt?” I pressed on with my questions.  “Nothing.” He answered. “You must have been thinking something.  We all think something all the time.” I answered and then I got what I was hoping for.  “I was just wondering about the dirt.” He said. “Wondering what?” I asked. “Well, where did it come from?” he responded.  “You mean the dirt?” I asked.  “Yeah” he said.  “Well it has always been her as part of the earth.” I answered.  Then he said. “No, I mean where did it come from before it was part of the earth?”  I was surprised by his question.  “You mean where was it before it was here?”  He answered with, “How would you even know where here was if there were no earth, if there was nothing at all?”

 Now I turned to his mother who thought that her son was only an average and well behaved little man and said to her, “Did you know that your son is wondering about the sort of questions that got Einstein thinking about matters that led him to the theory or relativity.  Your son is thinking about matters or relativity versus absolute space and time and location!”

 Well, nearly all of us when we are very young have questions about some of the most basic things that as we grow older we stop questioning and accept more and more what others tell us in many ways we must accept to be accepted ourselves. But it happens that some of us reach a point where we realize that:


 Philosophy begins in a sense of wonder.  It begins when we wonder about what otherwise is taken for granted or assumed to be true.  In this course I shall demonstrate how Philosophy arises in the West when a number of Greeks begin to wonder about the nature of the universe and about the nature of reality and the gods.    Wonder is a marvelous thing that we should cherish and hold on to as long as we can.  It is one of the hallmarks of youth.  Small children are filled with wonder.  Jesus, the Christ and Confucius have spoken highly of the minds of children.  Christ has said” Blessed are the children for they shall inherit the kingdom of heaven” and “To enter the kingdom of heaven, you should have the mind of a child.”  What is it about the mind of a child that merits such high value?  Is it the curiosity, inquiry and open-mindedness?

 Now, here is the second story.  This one is for you to wonder at.

At night when there are no clouds you can look up through the evening sky at what is it most would say they see?  Nearly everyone would say that they see stars and the moon, if it is visible from their position at the time.  Now, when asked what are those stars? , most people know that they are suns as our own and that they are giving off light as our own does.  Many people would be able to answer that the suns are emitting light as they turn hydrogen into helium in a process that emits enormous amount of energy, a good part in the form of photons of light.  And when asked what name do most people give to what they are looking out into at might?  Many, most, maybe even all, would say “SPACE.” Maybe “Outer Space” But SPACE nonetheless.


 This is the story that many of us have come to believe.  We look out into space and see many suns.  We know however that those little specks of twinkling light are very, very far away.  In fact, we are taught that they are so far away that the distance cannot be measured as we normally do for the numbers would be so large.  To make it easier the distances that the stars and galaxies are from earth are measured in light-years.  A light –year is the distance light travels in one year.  Light moves at over 186,000 miles per second-some velocity!   So, the light we see that we associate with a star at night has been traveling for some time to get to your eyeball.  One star is 70 million light years away.  A galaxy may be 350 million light years away.  Another star might be 125 million light years away and another 23     million and another 450,000 light years from earth.  Another galaxy may be 5 billion light years away.  Now since it takes quite a while for the light to reach earth by the time it does arrive at you eyeball the source of the light might not even exist anymore.  A star may have gone into a nova or supernova, burnt out, or been merged into a black hole!  A galaxy may have merged with another in a cosmic collision.

Now it may come as a shock to some of you to realize that when you look out into the evening sky and into what you are thinking of as SPACE that what you are looking at it actually a composite of different periods of TIME.  You are looking at a collection of pasts.  What you are looking at, the exact configuration or arrangement of those points of light , well that configuration of the stars (some are galaxies): DOES NOT EXIST as it appears to your eye, NEVER HAS EXISTED as an actual arrangement in space as it appears to your eye, and NEVER WILL EXIST as some of those stars have gone into nova or black holes and no longer exist even when you are seeing the light from them in the present that is your present.  What you and all other humans are seeing is an ILLUSION.  It is the illusion of a simultaneous present for all the sources of light that are striking the eyeball of the human observer.. .

The relative locations of the stars and galaxies you are viewing are not real and never have been.  You are looking at where things were different times ago.  What you are experiencing as “seeing” is the intersection of light rays from different times in the past.  The experience for those of us on earth is totally unique to us.  


I want you to think about that idea.  Consider how many things you may believe that may not be true.  Think about how many things you believe may have other ways to be examined, viewed or explained   other than in the manner you have come to accept as the only way or the one true way or as the truth.

 We are going to look at the Greeks because they believed for a long time in stories that they took to be true and upon which they based their lives.  About the time of Socrates many Greeks were coming to question and even to disbelieve in those stories and when they no longer believed they were at a loss as to how they were to live their lives, in particular what were they to use as the basis for a GOOD life: a moral life. This was so because the moral guide that most were using was rested within those stories that now were being questioned or rejected as not being true.

 Socrates wondered and questioned.  I wonder and question.  Philosophers wonder and question. This work shall encourage each reader to wonder and question.  Now many times I shall make an effort to have you look at things you take for granted as being true and look at them differently.  I want you to open up your minds to the possibility that things may not be as you think they are.

 A dean at my college saw me one afternoon and asked me to come to his office.  I had been teaching there for only two years and didn’t know what to make of his summoning me.  I thought I might have done something wrong.  I met him in his office and he told me he just wanted to see how I was doing.  I was very young and full of enthusiasm and told him about all the exercises and projects I was doing with my classes and showed him my course outlines.  He was interested but he wanted me to relax.  He told me I should try to   keep in mind that if by the time the course in Philosophy was over I would have accomplished a great deal if some of the students, just  SOME of the students, would leave the course thinking that the universe was not just the way they thought all things were on the first day of the course. This is has become one of my goals: that some of you who read this text will come to consider that all things may not be as you think they are now.

 Socrates and Plato learned and taught that the senses are not to be trusted.  That wanted people to trust more in reason. Why? 

The senses can deceive you, and further, you should know better.

The sun looks to me to be

  •  not so far away,

  •  not so big and

  •  not so hot either.

  •  And I swear that the sun looks like it moves.

These ideas are  the result of what my senses tell me. 

 I see these things every day with my own eyes.  Nothing could be plainer.

 Are these ideas true?  

In the next section we shall examine why people believe and why they would believe in things that are not true.  Philosophy attempts to arrive at a basis for belief resting on reason.  Philosophy goes even further as it attempts to examine what is believed to be true and the very idea of truth itself.

Proceed to the next section

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Introduction to Philosophy by Philip A. Pecorino is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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