Sunday, April 7, 2013

Everyday Philosophy

Previously in this space I have made the argument that we all employ philosophical reasoning every day without knowing it, because logic and demonstration simply are the way that human beings think. This extends, too, to phrases we use that assume a certain philosophical principle. Let me give you a few examples of what I mean...


When we receive information, we gain new insight or understanding about the thing in question; we come to know it better. Have you ever considered what a funny sounding term this is, though? Compare it to the synonymous words I used a moment ago: "understand"--all right, this new knowledge now "stands under" me so that it lifts me up to new heights; "insight"--OK, this new knowledge allows me to "see into" this thing, to apprehend it more clearly. But what about "information"? Actually, this very word assume's an Aristotelian theory of how we come to know things. I've mentioned before Aristotle's theory of form and matter, that everything consists of the possibility-of-being (matter) and the essential what-it-is-that-makes-it-what-it-is (form). Aristotle said that when we perceive a thing, we come to know it so that the form of the thing is impressed onto our intellect; its essence, its form, becomes a part of us: that is, we are "in-form-ed" by the thing. Which connects to this phrase...

"Takes one to know one"

When your intellect receives the form of the thing, Aristotle concluded that it rightly can be said that in some way you become the thing that you know. If I know what a nightingale is, it's because the form of nightingale has been impressed upon my intellect, so that I participate in the form or essence of "nightingale-ness;" I cannot know it unless it's a part of me. For Aristotle, it really does take one to know one.

"Haters gonna hate"

A phrase used by the kids these days to mean "You have a prejudice or bias against my idea which is causing you to react negatively to it without considering its merits; that is, because you already hate it, you can do no other but hate." This (I say with tongue in cheek but hoping it can get the message across) is an example of the Aristotelian-Thomistic principle of agere sequitur esse, or "action follows being." A thing will behave according to its nature determined by its essence, its form, the sort of thing it is; and by looking at the actions of a thing, you can determine what sort of thing it is. Dogs bark and cats meow. Woodpeckers peck wood and woodchucks chuck wood (that is, if woodchucks could chuck wood). Human beings act rationally. (Well, some of them, anyway.) So, if you see someone hating, clearly they're a hater... 'cause haters gonna hate.

If you have ever used any of these phrases, congratulations: you're an Aristotelian!


  1. GROAN ....woodchuck. Not bad, really. But I love these where you explain everyday things by the philosophical reasoning.