2.c.6 – Does philosophy have a biological function?

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February 21, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti


Does philosophy have a biological function?

An ancient tradition dates back to the famous philosopher Pythagoras the first definition of philosophy; he shows how philosophy is a continuing endless search of wisdom, a perfect wisdom to which we can bring close, but which in its entirety is reserved only to the gods.
Over time, changing the way to classify the different fields of knowledge, the term philosophy has had many variations of meaning; anyway the conception of Pythagoras retains its relevance because it is easy to understand, and because it is consistent with the modern naturalistic concept based on biological finalism that we’ll now introduce.
The human being is by nature curious and that curiosity has a biological function; indeed, it impels us to know the environment around us and accrue experience that will be useful during their lifetime. The information we gather are ordered, associated and interpreted; all this work leads to design the well-known mental map by which we orient ourselves both in everyday life and in long-term projects. Even if we are not aware of it, our curiosity and our imagination have therefore a practical purpose.
The development of the mental model is normally done in a spontaneous, not intentional manner. This work is not based only on personal experiences, but also on a cultural baggage that the community transmits to us. It thus happens  that our vision of the world heavily depends on our cultural environment and that in such environment everybody sees everything in a way similar to others. The formation of this image of the world is then the result of a research both collective and individual, and this research is basically the philosophy, according to the thought of Pythagoras. From a biological point of view, philosophy is therefore an effort to understand the world in order to be able to live better, is an evolutionary strategy with a clear biological function.
With the term philosophy we often mean also the result of the above research, i.e. the created image; then we can say that a certain philosophy consists in a particular way of seeing the world, a particular mental model.
We can bring together the two previous meanings in the following definition: specific study, intentional or not, meant as a search and form of knowledge about the nature of the world, of man and of their relations, aiming at an overall view of reality.
This concept, as it is formed, expresses a naturalistic vision of philosophy and proposes itself as one of the possible solutions to the secular problem of giving a definition of philosophy.
It should be remembered that in the study of this discipline, two basic approaches are used:
• the historical one, which follows the evolution of thought under consideration over time;
• the one based on fundamental issues or problems.
As in a map there are the cardinal points, so in our ideal map we have some truths, some basic concepts which are particularly important to guide our behavior: what is good and what is evil, what role we have in the universe and life, why this role was assigned to us, why nature sometimes is cruel, and so on.
To locate these basic concepts is equivalent to finding an answer to the so-called key questions that every man asks: Who are we? Where do we come from? What is the meaning of life? What is our role in the universe?
These questions can best be summarized as follows:
• What is our role in life and in the universe?
• What should we do accordingly? 
It is important to remember that it is possible to obtain a good behavior, correct and functional for the survival of the species even with absolutely incorrect answers. The  same can be said of any successful behavior that meets the favor of a population; this may explain the proliferation of schools of thought so diverse and in perennial disagreement.
Although the real purpose of our curiosity and our imagination is the creation of an imaginary but functional world, we have to remember that for being functional, a model must have a degree of consistency with the experience; the truth is therefore generally regarded as a supreme good and shown as a main or unique object of research, even if we should normally be satisfied with some surrogate. 





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