Philosophy Today

Philosophy Today



Traditionally philosophy has been divided into four basic divisions, metaphysics, epistemology, logic, and ethics. These four areas have generally remained a common ground for philosophical propositions in every age and society. The history of philosophy reveals thinkers and philosophers in three major regions who have greatly contributed to the development of intellectual history, the ancient Greeks who made their impact in Europe and the Islamic world, the Chinese in the Orient, and the Indians of South and Southeast Asia. Western philosophy, on account of its dominant educational pattern, has mostly taken over philosophical discourse. However, a study of the philosophies of these regions shows that, although different thinkers and philosophers in different times emphasized one discipline of knowledge and neglected or marginalized others, there is a common strand of universal ethics and morality running through all of them. The depth and range of the thoughts and traditions of these three great regions reflect that “Of one Essence is the human race,” (Sa’adi Shirazi).


Today, as we are connected by a network of instantaneous exchange of knowledge, we are impelled to think and act globally. Philosophy is being understood through science, linguistic analysis, and phenomenology. Linguistic analysis attempts to probe through a systematic analysis of language what it means to “make sense” and to explain what is semantically structured in language. It tries to get at and to give a coherent account of the categorical structure of experience and thought and of the world as it is available to our epistemic powers. Phenomenology, the study or description of objects or appearances, strives to get at the essential structure of experience and thought and their objects by direct intuitive inspection. It is not characterized by argument, but intends to be descriptive and empirical without any presuppositions. The philosophy of linguistic analysis, viewed in broad perspective and with an understanding of its problems, seems more systematic, ingenious, disciplined, responsible, and useful method than phenomenological intuition.


In the long history of philosophy, philosophers have been arguing and writing mostly for intellectuals and other philosophers. But now we have arrived at an epoch in world history where there is a need to adopt and follow a philosophy to be read, understood, and practiced by intellectuals and non-intellectuals  alike. Many complex conflicting arguments and multiple contradictions in this task need to be addressed to achieve a simple and clear intellectual vision for the common man and his civilization in today’s world. In order to facilitate this approach, the mesmerizing achievements of science and its amazing computer technology have opened for the modern mind a new appeal to philosophical studies. The shrinking of the global spectrum is no more confined to material inventions only; modern internet technology is making it possible that none of the traditions and cultures will be left apart. The domination of scientific education and research and the growth of intellectual consortiums have generated a new form of global interpretation.


In the present era of history the grand role of philosophy as the supreme form of intellectual life, the queen of sciences, the chronicler of time and eternity, and the guide of religious or worldly life, has been demoted to that of handmaiden of science. This should not be seen as a change in philosophy’s cognitive role as the subject matter of an intellectual discipline nor is it to be understood as a gradual alienation from man’s life in favor of science. Rather, it is an act of progressive transformation of philosophy actualized by the scientific revolution in the West, where philosophy has now attained a place in scientific areas. In scientific research the use of embryonic stem cells and matters regarding cloning are issues of a serious nature to be clarified and justified by philosophy as morally acceptable for the society we are living in today.


The modern period is day by day projecting the increasing authority of science over other cultural, religious, and social fields that fall under the jurisdiction of philosophy. Science and technology have succeeded on account of their practical utility, becoming more and more a series of easy techniques and less and less a complicated system. This is because science as a technique has presented in practice a different outlook from the one found in theoretical philosophy. Technology has conferred such a great sense of power that human beings tend to feel less at the mercy of the environment than they did in the past. The last decade of the twentieth century’s cutting-edge biotechnological research and the boundless frontiers of computer science have enabled the transfer of knowledge and power from the physically strong to the mentally smart, from the rich and elite to the common man. Research and successes in genetic engineering, neurobiology, and superfast communication systems are amazingly and progressively changing the levels of philosophy to a practical rather than theoretical approach, bringing it closer to science than ever. Consequently many unanswered questions of philosophy have been answered by science.


Histories of philosophy only serve to legitimize models of progress that are wholly ideological. Philosophy deals in questions that people in general hardly agree on. In science many answers enjoy a general consensus because people agree on the assumptions of questions and the application of concepts within that discipline. Science and logical reality are constructed by language, and many different constructions are possible. But it is impossible to know what to do with scientific discoveries in genetics or biology without a vision of what sort of society we want to live in and what duties we assign to each other or to our descendants. Such questions lie in philosophy’s jurisdiction because the answers are essentially based on our conception of ourselves as human beings and what we think is the best way for us to live.

This article is contributed by Mr. Mirza I. Ashraf

What is Philosophy?

What Is Philosophy?


The term philosophy is a composite word derived from two Greek words, philos, “love,” and sophia, “wisdom,” meaning “love of wisdom.” The wisdom that philosophy teaches relates to what it might mean to lead a good life. Philosophy is also concerned with knowledge of things as they are. One of the instincts leading human beings to philosophy is evident in the quest to know more and more about this universe. The subject of philosophy is to investigate the mostly general and fundamental principles that can be used to understand humankind and its responsibilities in this life and universe through rational and scientific reflection.

In everyday life people are usually busy and do not find time to think and argue in a philosophical manner. Most of their time is spent in the struggle for a livelihood. However, there have been people through the ages who ask straightforward but complex questions that do not bear practical answers: What is the true nature of reality? What is true and what is false? Do we have enough knowledge to be certain about anything? What are humans really like, and what is special about the human mind and consciousness? What are God and religion all about? Are humans free to choose who they are and what they do? Is scientific knowledge superior to other kinds of knowledge? There are many such questions. Overall, they concern the meaning of life and do not seem to have much to do with everyday survival. Nevertheless, those we recognize as philosophers continue to look for convincing answers to them.

The earlier philosophers were usually individual sages asking questions and providing answers about everything. But now philosophy is a very comprehensive subject classified into various branches. These include epistemology (theory of knowledge), metaphysics (theories about time, space, God, cause, and reality), ethics (principles of good and bad, value, and conduct), logic (theory of proof), aesthetics (about art and beauty), political philosophy (law, politics, and society), social philosophy (society and social science), philosophy of religion (reason and religion), philosophy of history (knowledge and doctrines of civilizations), and many more.  Generally philosophy, covering all these subjects, is the critical and systematic study of an unlimited range of ideas and issues, regulated by logical and rational argumentation.

According to some thinkers, philosophy evolves out of debate, argumentation, and criticism. For others, only deductive reasoning produces and develops philosophy. Some believe its development and evolution lie in the pursuit of knowledge. Others believe philosophy is “thinking about thinking” and that its major role is to define or clarify ideas and remove misunderstandings. For Plato, “philosophy begins in wonder.” Aristotle believed that “all men by nature desire to know.” Regardless of their viewpoint, however, philosophers and thinkers are obliged to produce some kind of doctrine, explanation, argument, or proof. Philosophy is thus, an attempt to answer ultimate, often agitating, questions with reasoning and attentive thoughtful scrutiny.

Al-Kindi the famous Arab philosopher of ninth century viewed that “philosophy is the knowledge of the reality of things within man’s possibility, because the philosopher’s end in his theoretical knowledge is to gain truth and in his practical knowledge to behave in accordance with truth.”1 Many Muslim philosophers following al-Kindi have emphasized the importance of practical role of philosophy. According to Bertrand Russell, “philosophy is merely the attempt to answer such ultimate questions, not carelessly and dogmatically as we do in ordinary life and even in the sciences, but critically, after exploring all that makes such questions puzzling, and after realizing all the vagueness and confusion that underlie our ordinary ideas.”2 He explains further that, “Philosophy, as I shall understand the word, is something intermediate between theology and science. Like theology, it consists of speculations on matters as to which definite knowledge has, so far, been unascertainable; but like science, it appeals to human reason rather than to authority, whether that of tradition or that of revelation. All definite knowledge—so I should contend—belongs to science; all dogma as to what surpasses definite knowledge belongs to theology. But between theology and science there is a ‘No Man’s Land,’ exposed to attack from both sides; this ‘No Man’s Land’ is philosophy.”3 Philosophy is continually attacked by religion and science and thus it becomes its job to draw rational evidence upon science and religion. Philosophy therefore, attempts to resolve those theoretical and abstract issues that are left unsolved by the natural and social sciences. It deals with questions about the nature and justification of knowledge, existence, belief and crucial concepts such as free will, God and truth. In short, a study of philosophers and their thought would probably yield a clearer idea of what exactly philosophy is.

Interestingly, philosophy is a unique activity that is not art or religion or science, but is still closely connected with these subjects. According to Bertrand Russell, “Philosophy, like all other studies, aims primarily at knowledge. The knowledge it aims at is the kind of knowledge which gives unity and system to the body of the sciences, and the kind which results from a critical examination of the grounds of our convictions, prejudices, and beliefs. . . . It is true that this is partly accounted for by the fact that, as soon as definite knowledge concerning any subject becomes possible, this subject ceases to be called philosophy, and becomes a separate science.”4 In science, religion, and art many questions are consensual in answers. But there are some questions whose suggested answers fall short of reasonable answers. All such questions become subjects of philosophy. However, with all their instinctive curiosity, philosophers often find it difficult to agree on a problem or question. This is understandable, since philosophical problems are complex and deal with questions over which people generally disagree. Confucius the Chinese sage said, “He who learns but does not think, is lost. He who thinks but does not learn is in great danger.”5 The business of philosophers is to learn by thinking and to challenge concepts and assumptions so that new ideas can emerge to deal with the all-time hardest-to-solve problems.

According to Emmanuel Kant the role of philosophy is not to prescribe rules or set principles but its business is to analyze the independent judgments of common reason. Although philosophy does not set rules, as the sciences and many other branches of knowledge do, its importance cannot be underemphasized. Our discoveries in science and technology show us that it is not possible to know and establish what to do with such discoveries without having a vision of what sort of society human beings want to live in.

Societal, political, and technological changes have been bound up with the ideologies and philosophical outlook of thinkers and philosophers. “To understand an age or a nation, we must understand its philosophy, and to understand its philosophy we must ourselves be in some degree philosophers.”6 The ideologies of great thinkers have played an important role in the formation of societies. Great nations like the United States and the Soviet Union were born of the philosophical conceptions of Thomas Paine and Karl Marx. Modern India owes a lot to Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence. The idea of Pakistan is the brainchild of philosopher-poet Muhammad Iqbal. The present Saudi Arabian kingdom stands on the theological and philosophical propositions of the eighteenth century Muslim scholar Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab.

Throughout history every philosophy in its time bears the mark of its origin. Ancient Greek philosophy, which is described as inquisitive, grew out of a way of thinking that emphasized good reasoning. Chinese philosophy is humanistic, not in the modern sense of humanism, but focused on the intrinsic values of human life and relationships among social, moral, and political issues. Indian philosophy, having evolved out of the Vedic texts and traditions, is meditative. Islamic philosophy is spiritual, being based on religious faith supported by reason. French philosophical conception is rationalistic, which emphasizes the belief that knowledge can be achieved through the use of reason. German philosophy is speculative, reconciling intellect and the senses, or in other words, rationalism and empiricism. British philosophy is recognized as empirical, defining that knowledge can be attained through sense experience. American philosophical quest is founded on realistic considerations, such as that truth is what works or is useful and that all knowledge is pragmatic.

This article is contributed by Mr. Mirza I Ashraf


Mirza Ashraf’s Ghazal as a tribute to Faiz Ahmed Faiz


فیض کی یاد میں


”رات یوں دل میں تری کھوئی ہوئی یاد آئی”
جیسے بھولے ہوئے نغموں کو نئی داد آئی

بے وجہ ہولے سے اس دل کو قرار آنے لگا
جیسے پھر کُنجِ قفس میں سحر ِآزاد آئی

جانِ شوریدہ میں پھر جوشِ جنوں اُٹھنے لگا
لمحہ لمحہ جو وہی رسم ِ حَکم یاد آئی

دل کی آواز جو خاموش تھی بیدار ہوئی
نقش ِ فریادی کے ہر نقش سے فریاد آئی

کلمہء صدق و صفا پھر سے گنہگار ہوا
اہل ِ اِیوان ِ ہوس میں شب ِ بیداد آئی

اب نہ وہ دار نہ زنجیر نہ وہ طوق و رسن
چلتے پھرتے سر  ِمقتل کی یہ ایجاد آئی

کیوں ہوے قتل نہ مقتول نہ قاتل کو خبر
بے وجہ دہر میں یوں صَرصَر ِبرباد آئی

فیض پھر اہل ِ وطن کو ہے ضرورت تیری
ہائے صد حیف ترے بعد تری یاد آئی

دور ِ آمر ہو یا جمہوری مگر دیکھ اشرف
فکرِ دوراں میں غمِ فیض کی روداد آئی


Prophet Mohammad’s letter to the Christians

Prophet Mohammad’s letter to the Christians

A very important Islamic principle, unfortunately misunderstood and
wrongly practiced by many so called Muslims around the Globe.

The Greek Orthodox monks living in the monastery at the foot of Mount
Sinai have in their possession many precious documents going back many
centuries. Their library is one of the finest in the world for ancient
manuscripts. One of the most precious documents of all is the copy of a
letter narrated by Prophet Muhammad  to the monks in the year
628. Its contents might come as a surprise to many, since in this
precious manuscript Muslims are exhorted to protect the Christians
living within their midst. The words are so beautiful that we repeat
them in full here:

•This is a message from Mohamed ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those
who adopt Christianity, near and far, we are with them.•Verily I, the
servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians
are my citizens; and by Allah! I hold out against anything
that displeases them.•No compulsion is to be on them.•Neither are their
judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their
monasteries.•No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage
it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses.•Should anyone
take any of these, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey
HisProphet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter
against all that  they hate.•No one is to force them to travel or to
oblige them to fight.•The Muslims are to fight for them.•If a female
Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her
approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to
pray.•Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be
prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants.•No
one of the nation (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the Last
Day(The end of the world – Judgement day.).
It should be quite clear from this that, far from being a threat, Islam
is actually the guardian of the Christian presence in the Middle East.

These words of the Prophet Mohammed should be made known to Muslims and
non-Muslims throughout the world.