What Is First Philosophy?

Can any sort of philosophical engagement make a claim to the title of "first philosophy"? What would "first" mean in that case? (For that matter: what would be "second" or "third" philosophy?) Does this phrase still have any legitimacy?

Historically, of course, the position one took on "first philosophy" provided a good indication as to one's entire philosophical orientation. For Aristotle, the first philosophy (prōtē philosophia) was the study of entities as entities and particularly of ousia akinētos, "unchanging presence." For Thomas Aquinas (reading Aristotle) first philosophy (philosophia prima) was rather the consideration of primae rerum causae, "the first causes of things." For Descartes it had to be the search for absolutely certain knowledge. For Husserl it was phenomenology, the science of essences as intuitively given. Kant, Wittgenstein, and Heidegger never made much use of the phrase, but they might have said it was "critique of reason," "elucidation of language," and "fundamental ontology" respectively.

So what is "first philosophy" for us, if anything??

Let's get together and hash it out!! We won't read any particular text for this meetup, but you're welcome (and even expected) to drag in all of the above and more. This one is all about getting clear on philosophical fundamentals - come to play, people!

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  • Brian

    It is expected to rain tonight. WILL YOU BE WITHOUT AN UMBRELLA? You know who you are.

    April 6, 2013

    • George

      Sorry to have missed this one especially. I am always without an umbrella (at least shortly after it begins to rain).

      April 12, 2013

  • Ivan

    This was a great discussion

    1 · April 7, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    And my temperament seems to be such that, I need to understand what something is, before I can ask what it would me to know it. I need to understand what something is, before I can talk about whether, and how, it ought to be valued. How we think of political and social issues has much to do with the ontological status of aggregates, as compared to the individuals of which they are/may be composed.

    March 26, 2013

    • eric

      Hey Brian...have you ever come across Spiral Dynamics? It's based on this longitudinal study by Clare Graves on values. Here is a good primer by one of his students in an interview. http://www.enlightenn...­

      April 5, 2013

  • Paul T

    Practical questions: What should be the 1st philosophy taught to one's own child? And how should it be imparted, or at least not contradicted, during the period when the child lacks the use of language and reason sufficient to ask good questions?

    1 · March 28, 2013

  • Brian

    Wow I've been thinkng about this.. How Timely!

    March 26, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    I won't be able to make the meeting, so I'll throw out a few of my own thoughts here.

    I've found it necessary to start with metaphysics/ontology/process-ology­. I spent time studying in the overlap of two areas--philosophy of education, and political theory--where they jumped immediately into questions of value without asking questions about the things being valued, and therefore smuggling in assumptions about them.

    So, for instance, if we talk about educational fairness, as philosophers of education spend most of their time doing...well, what is a learner? What is the nature of an educational relationship (at all, before we start talking about a good one?)

    Or...in political theory...starting with an assumption that nation-states always have existed, in a very substance-like way, and always would...despite, among other things, that that's simply historically false.

    I think that James is right that philosophy has a lot to do with temperament....

    March 26, 2013

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