I’m having an interesting time taking an Introduction to Philosophy course from the University of Edinburgh offered through Coursera. The opening lectures suggested that philosophy is concerned with addressing questions that matter to us and working out the right way to think about important things.
Reading and listening to the material on epistemology (theories of what constitutes knowledge and how knowledge is gained) illuminated for me that there are really different ways of thinking. Different questions matter to different people. For myself, the question of what constitutes propositional knowledge doesn’t seem that important; at least not important to start with.
Siddhartha Gautama, before embarking on his spiritual search for awakening, asked himself this question:
Why should I, myself being subject to birth, aging, sickness, death, sorrow, and defilement, seek what is also subject to birth, aging, sickness, death, sorrow, and defilement? … Suppose that, being myself subject to birth, having understood the danger in what is subject to birth, I seek the unborn, the supreme security from bondage – Nirvana. Suppose that, being myself subject to aging, sickness and death, to sorrow and defilement, I seek the unaging, unailing, deathless, sorrowless and undefiled state, the supreme security from bondage – Nirvana.
It seems like presuppositions of “Western thought” prevented that question from having arisen in the span of Western philosophy. I mean, our worldview doesn’t even have a place for this to be considered. But I think it’s a darn good question!
This then inspires many other questions – What are the causes of birth, aging, sickness, death, etc.? Is the unborn, deathless, sorrowless state of nirvana really possible? What are its causes?
Then, it makes more sense to start to ask questions about the nature of my perception, about how I relate to and apprehend my self and other objects, about how to discern deceptive appearances from true knowledge.
This type of investigation, then, has a very clear goal – happiness. Overcoming an unsatisfactory existence of repetition and delusion and stress.
I haven’t yet gotten clear about the goal of the field of epistemology. Perhaps there is no clear destination, but people just want to know what’s going on for the sake of knowing. That’s fine, too.
Tonight, I’ll reflect on what the important questions are to me and why. I’ll try to see the perspectives of others, not just to understand where others are coming from, but to be able to really learn from them. Hopefully, this will help to expand my awareness of how other people think and to increase my own wisdom, so that I may be able to relate to others in a harmonious, meaningful, and constructive way.