Saturday, May 14, 2011

Can philosophy be practical?

Hermeneutics is a very old term that gained new relevance in 1960 with the book Truth and Method by Hans-Georg Gadamer. Hermeneutics usually refers to the art of interpretation. In the 1700s, this artform was placed along with subjects such as grammar, rhetoric and dialectic. As an art form (Greek: TECHNE) hermeneutics goes back to another institution that has started to become more alive again, the Aristotelian philosophy. Here we find something called "practical philosophy". These were subjects who were alive in the  educational system from about 350 BC all the up to about the 1700s. Practical philosophy created a systematic framework for all forms of art if they were seen as useful to society.

What does practical philosophy mean? Philosophy was once a part of science, or rather, it was science. It had such a role until the 1700s. The modern dichotomy between theory and practice is different from the classical dichotomy, which had a dicotomy within knowledge itself. That knowledge in itself could be contradictory. Aristotle says in the book Politics that "theory is itself a form of practice"(1325b21). Today this may sound like a contradiction because we understand the practical as application of theory or scientific knowledge.

Practice (Greek: Praxis) is how we live our lives, a way of life, as lived in a certain way. The term was also used by Aristotle to define the status of the free citizens in the polis (city). Practical philosophy is not about a craft or skill, but the pursuits of creating an awareness of the characteristics of man, namely to make choices and take responsibility for the good.

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