Philosophy is one of the oldest sciences. Many philosophical systems have been developed by the most diverse social classes and groups in different historical conditions and countries. In order to find our bearings in this multitude of philosophical systems, ascertain their scientific value and determine the place that each occupies in the history of philosophical thought, it is necessary in the first place to see how a philosophical system or a philosopher solves the fundamental question of philosophy.
If we look carefully at the surrounding world we shall see that all objects and phenomena are either material, or ideal, spiritual Material phenomena embrace everything that exists objectively, i.e., outside of man’s consciousness and independently of it (objects and processes on Earth, the countless bodies of the Universe, etc.). On the other hand, all that exists in the consciousness of man and all that comprises the sphere of his mental activity (thoughts, sensations, emotions, etc.), is related to the sphere of the ideal, the spiritual.
How are the material and the spiritual connected? Is 15the spiritual, the ideal engendered by the material, or vice versa? It is the nature of this connection, of the relation of consciousness to being, of the spiritual to the material that constitutes the fundamental question of philosophy.
The relation of consciousness to being is the fundamental question of philosophy because the answer to it determines the solution of all other philosophical problems: the unity of the world, the character of the laws governing its development, the essence of knowledge and ways of cognising the world, etc. Hence, it is impossible to create a philosophical system and draw a picture of the world as a whole without first solving the fundamental question of philosophy.
There are two aspects to this question. The first is the solution of the problem, what is primary, matter or consciousness—was it matter that was the source of consciousness—or vice versa. The other aspect answers the question, is the world cognisable, can man’s reason penetrate the secrets of nature and ascertain the laws of its development.
Pondering the content of the fundamental question of philosophy it is easy to perceive that there can be only two diametrically opposite approaches:. to recognise either matter or consciousness as primary. That accounts for the existence of two basic trends in philosophy—materialism and idealism—which appeared a long time ago.
Philosophers who regard matter as primary and consciousness as secondary and as a derivative of matter, are materialists (from Latin materia, meaning matter). They maintain that matter is eternal, that no one had ever created it and that there are no supernatural forces in the world. As regards consciousness, it is the product of the historical development of matter, a property of that exceptionally complex material body, the human brain.
Philosophers who believe that the “spirit”, or consciousness is primary are idealists. They maintain that consciousness existed prior to matter and brought it into being, and that it is the primary foundation of everything that exists. Idealists are divided on the question what kind of consciousness “creates” the world. The so-called subjective idealists assert that the world is “created” by the consciousness of the individual—the subject. Objective idealists, on the other hand, insist that the world is “created” by some kind of an 16objective (super-individual) consciousness. Though in different philosophical systems this objective consciousness is called either an “absolute
idea”, or “universal will”, etc., it is easy to discern that it presupposes God.
The views of the philosophers on the solution of the other aspect of the fundamental question of philosophy are likewise divided.
The world is knowable, assert the materialists. Man’s knowledge of the world is trustworthy, his reason can penetrate the internal nature of things and cognise their essence.
Many idealists deny the knowability of the world. They are called agnostics (from Greek agnostos—unknown, unknowable, not knowing). Other idealists, even if they believe that the world is knowable, in reality distort the essence of knowledge. They claim that man cognises his own thoughts, emotions (subjective idealists), or a mystic “idea”, a “universal spirit” (objective idealists), and not the objective world, nature.