Get Down to Brass Tacks with the Brassiness of Philosophy

Post by Kami B.
Feature image by Brian Hillegas “Close up of the Thinker”

Philosophy is inescapable. It is one’s integrated view of existence. One thing every human being has in common is a philosophy – it is simply that ubiquitous. One can either accept that they have a philosophy, or they can be a slave to their own subconscious notions, and principles, completely unbeknownst to them. Philosophy is applicable to anyone and everything.

There are five major branches of philosophy: Metaphysics, Epistemology, Ethics, Aesthetics, and Politics.

These can be conceptualized as a hierarchical tree:

  • Metaphysics, the study of existence and its nature, is at the root of the entire plant, from which come all the other branches.
  • Closely tied is Epistemology, the study of knowledge.
  • Dependent on Epistemology is Ethics, the study of action and how one should act.
  • A subset of Ethics is Politics, the study of force – as in how one should interact in a proper society and what even constitutes proper.
  • The loner branch residing in solitude on a slightly different side of the tree from the other branches is Aesthetics, the study of art and senses of life.image03

Original image can be found here.

Of these five branches, this blog will focus primarily on metaphysics.

Metaphysics is concerned with the nature of existence, being, and the world. It addresses questions regarding ideas such as  man’s place in the world, the nature of reality, the existence of a deity, (etc.). The word metaphysics itself is thought to have come from the title of one of Aristotle’s works. Metaphysics was divided into three smaller branches:

  • ontology, the study of existence. Also, it defines and classifies entities,
  • theology,  the study of a deity,
  • universal science, the study of the first principles.

A good example of a metaphysical thinker is Rene Descartes, who proposed that it is impossible to doubt that thinking minds exist, since in order to doubt, one must think. This thought directly conflicts with the conception of solipsism.


Solipsism states that all of existence is one’s own imagination. Everything is a reflection of one’s own self and one’s mind is the only thing that is sure to exist.

One of the criticisms of solipsism is that there is no way to distinguish whose mind is projecting the reality.

This fits with George Berkeley’s argument of radical empiricism, in which physical objects do not exist independently of the mind that perceives them. The twist from solipsism is that an item exists only as long as it is observed, otherwise, it ceases to exist.

For example, say one moment you are writing a blog for your Pre – AP Literature class, on a notebook with an industrial Sharpie, because you misplaced your bag of favorite pens. You put down the notebook and the Sharpie and walk away to feed your pet cockatiel, Faron, who is obstreperously screaming. Advocates of this concept would argue that the notebook and Sharpie have now ceased to exist since you are no longer looking at or thinking about them. They would also argue that Faron would cease to exist as he quiets down to eat and you turn away to resume writing (until he starts being loud again, mere moments later).


Faron, the cockatiel, photo by the author

(May it be noted that Berkeley’s take on this is derived from John Locke’s empiricism in this case is not the philosophy of William James.)

While solipsism is primarily a metaphysical theory, it takes on an epistemological position in that solipsism hold that knowledge of anything outside of one’s own mind is unsure; the external world and other minds cannot be known and may not exist outside of one’s mind.

image00Solipsism-ism by Jorndoe

Another difference between Berkeley’s view of radical empiricism and solipsism is that radical empiricism describes a deity of sorts through which all ideas are perceived. Here, advocates of solipsism would argue that one can only make one’s own observations, so they cannot be sure that this being exists.

Friedrich Nietzsche employs the ideas of solipsism in his interpretation of psychological egoism.

Psychological egoism is the viewpoint that every individual person’s actions are motivated ultimately by their own self interest and benefit, regardless of whether or not the person is aware of it. Even if the actions appear totally altruistic, they do so because of the personal benefits they themselves expect to obtain, directly or indirectly, from doing so.

Let’s refer back to the blog assignment and bird example.

This blog assignment is not being written with the benefit of other people in mind. It is being written with the author’s own interests in mind: passing this class and informing the public about philosophy (which the author views as vital, making it their interest).

Animals are prime examples of psychological egoism. Animals’ emotional processes are very different from humans and their societies are not structured like ours, so they can fulfill their own desires without quite as much restraint as may be placed upon humans by their ethics and morals.

Throughout the writing of this post, there has been a screaming bird deafening me. Faron, the cockatiel mentioned earlier, does not care about Pre – AP Literature classes or blog posts. His primary concerns are whether or not he gets food, water, daily affection, and electric blankets at night. He screams to get attention, regardless of whether or not one has the time at that very moment to give him what he wants.

Animals are biologically engineered to survive and at least maintain, if not increase, the population, and since not every organism can survive their entire lifetime, all animals are gifted with a strong sense of self. This, many advocates argue, is the primary cause of psychological egoism.

image05by Pheonix-chick 12

Nietzsche argued that cases of compassionate impulsion arise out of projection of our identity unto the object of our feeling. Solipsism is linked to this thought in that his interpretation claims that sympathy is extended to another being due to one reflecting their own selves onto it in some way.

For example, suppose you felt pity for me when you read the statement about the deafening bird. Nietzsche would argue that this could be because you maybe have a bird of your own and have been through a similar ordeal, or maybe you just value your hearing.

Philosophy is one of the few matters beside those essential for life (food, water, etc.) that the human brain naturally dwells upon, though some people dwell on it more than others. The societies and customs that hold us in order are founded upon philosophical ideals. The process individuals take to make choices and decisions reflects their values and philosophies. However, philosophy is horribly underrated, underacknowledged, and not given enough conscious contemplation. I am willing to hypothesize that if more people actively participated in philosophical thinking, the world would be a better place. Even a person who claims that considering philosophic questions is a waste of time is expressing what they think is important, worthwhile, or valuable. A rejection of all philosophy is in itself philosophy. Every human being orients their lives around their philosophies, but very few are aware of it, The ideas that inspire people, that people live and die for, that people take a stand, rebel, or kill others for, are all philosophical ideas.

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One thought on “Get Down to Brass Tacks with the Brassiness of Philosophy

  1. Your blog was extremely intriguing and interesting! It has compelled me to do my own research on the topic of philosophy.

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