A Brief Introduction philosophy

A Brief Introduction to Western Philosophy: Explaining our experiences, justifying our beliefs.


There are three main branches of Western Philosophy: Metaphysics, Epistemology, and Moral Philosophy. Let’s look at one interesting problem posed in each.

Problem 1: Metaphysics – Persistence

Metaphysics is the study of being or existence. Commonly asked questions include:

  • What is existence?
  • What kinds of things are there? (e.g. material vs immaterial; particulars vs. universals)?
  • Does god exist?
  • How can we explain persistence?

Theseus is traveling on his ship from point A to point B. He encounters some difficult weather and is forced to replace every single part of his boat. The question is, “Is the boat at the end the same boat which began the journey?”

If yes, there must be some immaterial form or substance that the boat possesses or it must be an immaterial “bundle” of properties rather than one thing. If not, why not? It’s tempting to say that it is different because all of the pieces were changed, however, the human body completely replaces itself every 7-10 years, but we’re the same people even though all of our cells have been replaced. . . .right?

Problem 2: Epistemology – Justified True Belief

Are there cows in the field? Prove it! Photo: Mike van Schoonderwalt.

Epistemology is the study of knowledge. Common questions include:

  • What is knowledge?
  • When I say that I “know something,” what does that mean?
  • Are there limits to what we can know?
  • How do our answers to these questions affect our answers to other questions?

You are driving into a new town, see cows in a field, and make the judgment, “There are cows in that field.” This belief is true and you are justified in believing it, after all, you are perceiving cows in the field. You are in possession of justified, true belief (JTB), what many consider to be knowledge. Congratulations, you know nothing!

For, unbenounced to you, you are perceiving cardboard cut-outs of cows with real cows standing behind each one. You have JTB, but you don’t have knowledge.

This funny yet powerful counter-example shows us that knowledge doesn’t equal JTB. But if knowledge isn’t JTB, what is it? When we say that we “know” something, what are we claiming?

Problem 3: Moral Philosophy – Actions

Photo: Pixabay

Common questions in Moral Philosophy include:

  • Which actions are morally blameworthy, neutral, or praiseworthy?
  • What is “happiness?”
  • How can one acquire the virtues?
  • What does it mean for humans to “flourish?”

Let’s look at the question of which actions we should take?

  • Utilitarianism says we should take actions that bring the most amount of pleasure to the most amount of people while causing the least amount of pain to the least amount of people.
  • Deontology says we should follow a strict set of rules.
  • Virtue Ethics says that we should make choices in line with what a virtuous person would do (e.g. someone who is courageous, loving, compassionate, etc.).


It is not my intention in this piece to attempt any answers. I hope you enjoy the process of discovering them!

Paul T Johnson

Any of these topics interest you and want to learn more? Here are some places you can start:

Book: William Lawhead, “The Journey of Discovery.”

YouTube: “Philosophies for Life: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Living”

Why start anywhere else? Plato’s “Euthyphro”

A Brief Introduction

The Difference Between TESL, TEFL, and TESOL

The difference between teaching English as a second language (TESL) and teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL), which is what I do, is primarily in where one is teaching and in why the students are learning. 

For example, my grandmother taught TESL at Long Beach State University in Los Angeles, California. Her students were mostly people who had moved to the US and wanted to improve their English because they were most likely going to need it and use it everyday. I distinctly remember a phone call with her where I was asking for advice in motivating my English language students. She told me that a lack in student motivation was never a problem in her clases. For her students, English was immediately relevant. Being able to speak English would help them in their social, academic, and career lives. English would be their second language (or third, etc). 

I teach English at Woosong University in Daejeon, South Korea. My students are not learning English because they will use it on a daily basis; rather, they are learning it because it is the lingua franca. Learning it may not immediately help them in their career or social lives, but it will help them in their academic lives, and learning English can be an important step in becoming an active member of the global community. English’s place on the top of the language hierarchy is not without it’s controversy, but as things currently stand, learning English can be a crucial step in expanding one’s world. Because students may not have ample opportunities to practice in their daily lives, TEFL classes often focus on re-creating authentic linguistic environments. 

Teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL) encompasses both. I’m working towards my MSc TESOL at the University of St Andrews. My fellow students are from all over the globe and are working towards or furthering their careers in diverse countries and settings. An instructor teaching English as a foreign language in Japan and an instructor teaching a pre-sessional course  in the UK (a course which helps overseas students prepare for academic English use) are both working in TESOL.  As long as they’re teaching someone for whom English is not their first language, they are working in the field of TESOL. Both me and my grandmother would be TESOL instructors. 

And just as English is not the first language of most English speakers, most TESOL instructors have first learned English before teaching it. This offers them a unique perspective from those for whom English is their first language. They have already achieved what their students want, and have an insider understanding of the process. This should encourage TESOL instructors for whom English is their first language to learn a second language, so that they may better understand the process, in particular, that often terrifying feeling when a speaker of your target language asks you a question, and waits for your response.

30 July 2021 – Paul T Johnson

A Brief Introduction

A Brief Introduction Series

The ip blog is about edtech, language teaching, ethics, and games and gamification. So, I’ll be writing Brief Introductions to different issues in these fields. The aim is to write informative, educational, concise pieces, in 500 words or less.

Topics I’d like to cover will include Brief Introductions to:

  • Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL)
  • Making a Career in TEFL
  • Second Language Acquisition (SLA)
  • Games and Language Teaching
  • Gamification
  • EdTech
  • Ethics
  • Philosophy
  • Virtue Ethics
  • Stoicism
  • Etc. 

I am also fortunate enough to have friends and colleagues who are much smarter than me, and I will try and convince some of them to contribute in fields in which they are experts. 

Let me know about any other issues you would like me to cover. 

I hope you enjoy this series.

Paul T Johnson