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The question of how to define philosophy is one that is philosophical in its own right. For the purpose of introducing the concept, we can say that it is the study of the meaning and justification of beliefs about the most general, or universal, aspects of things – a study which is carried out, not by experimentation or careful observation, but instead typically by formulating problems carefully, offering solutions to them, giving arguments for the solutions, and engaging in the dialectic about all of the above. Philosophy studies such concepts as existence, goodness, knowledge, and beauty. It asks questions such as "What is goodness, in general?" and "Is knowledge even possible?". In general terms philosophy is the critical, speculative or analytical study of the exterior or interior in addition to reflective study on the method of studying such topics.

Members of many societies around the world have considered these same questions, and built philosophic traditions based upon each other's works. Philosophy may be broadly divided into various realms based loosely on geography. The term "philosophy" alone in a Euro-American academic context usually refers to the philosophic traditions of Western civilization, sometimes also called Western philosophy. The Western philosophic tradition began with the Greeks and continues to the present day. Famous Western philosophers include Plato, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Rene Descartes, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, G.W.F. Hegel, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Ludwig Wittgenstein.

In the West, the term "eastern philosophy" broadly subsumes the philosophic traditions of Asia and the East. Famous Eastern philosophers include Gautama Buddha, Bodhidharma, Lao Zi, Confucius, Zhuang Zi, and Mao Zedong. This article deals primarily with the Western philosophic tradition; for more information on Eastern philosophies, see Eastern philosophy.

Popularly, the word "philosophy" is often used to mean any form of wisdom, or any person's perspective on life (as in "philosophy of life") or basic principles behind or method of achieving something (as in "my philosophy about driving on highways"). That is different from the academic meaning, and it is the academic meaning which is used here.

Originally, "philosophy" meant simply "the love of wisdom." "Philo-" comes from the Greek word philein, meaning to love, and "-sophy" comes from the Greek sophia, or wisdom. "Philosopher" replaced the word "sophist" (from sophoi), which was used to describe "wise men," teachers of rhetoric, which were important in Athenian democracy. Some of the first sophists were what we would now call philosophers.

Originally the scope of philosophy was all intellectual endeavors. It has long since come to mean the study of an especially abstract, nonexperimental intellectual endeavor. In fact, and as was mentioned at the opening of this article, philosophy is a notoriously difficult word to define and the question "What is philosophy?" is a vexed philosophical question. It is often observed that philosophers are unique in the extent to which they disagree about what their field even is.

The introduction of the term "philosophy" was ascribed to the Greek thinker Pythagoras (see Diogenes Laertius: "De vita et moribus philosophorum", I, 12; Cicero: "Tusculanae disputationes", V, 8-9). This ascription is certainly based on a passage in a lost work of Herakleides Pontikos[?], a disciple of Aristotle. It is considered to be part of the widespread Pythagoras legends of this time. In fact the term "philosophy" was not in use long before Plato.

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Philosophical subdisciplines

As with any field of academic study, philosophy has many subdisciplines. This is mainly due to the fact that there tends to be a "philosophy of" nearly everything else that is studied.

Those new to philosophy are usually invited particularly to pay attention to logic, metaphysics, philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, epistemology, philosophy of science, ethics, and political philosophy as--arguably, of course--the "central disciplines" of philosophy.

How to get started in philosophy

It is a platitude (at least among people who write introductions to philosophy) that everybody has a philosophy, though they might not all realize it or be able to defend it. But at the same time the word "philosophy" as it is used by philosophers is nothing like what is meant by people who say "Here's my philosophy (of life,etc.): . . ." Such is the tension between pedagogy and scholarship.

If you're already interested in studying philosophy, your reason might be to improve the way you live or think somehow, or you simply wish to get acquainted with one of the most ancient areas of human thought. On the other hand, if you don't see what all the fuss is about, it might help to read the motivation to philosophize, which explains what motivates many people to "do philosophy," and get an introduction to philosophical method, which is important to understanding how philosophers think. It might also help to acquaint yourself with some considerations about just what philosophy is.

Applied philosophy

Philosophy has applications. The most obvious applications are those in ethics--applied ethics in particular--and in political philosophy. The political philosophies of John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Karl Marx, John Stuart Mill, and John Rawls have shaped and been used to justify governments and their actions. Philosophy of education deserves special mention, as well; progressive education[?] as championed by John Dewey has had a profound impact on educational practices in the United States in the twentieth century.

Other important, but less immediate applications can be found in epistemology, which might help one to regulate one's notions of what knowledge, evidence, and justified belief are. Philosophy of science discusses the underpinnings of the scientific method, among other topics sometimes useful to scientists. Aesthetics can help to interpret discussions of art. Even ontology, surely the most abstract and least practical-seeming branch of philosophy, has had important consequences for logic and computer science. In general, the various "philosophies of," such as philosophy of law, can provide workers in their respective fields with a deeper understanding of the theoretical or conceptual underpinnings of their fields.

Moreover, recently, there has been developing a burgeoning profession devoted to applying philosophy to the problems of ordinary life: philosophical counseling.

Philosophy contrasted with other disciplines

Natural Science: Many of the natural sciences historically developed as offshoots of philosophy. This reflects an older division of subject matters in general: originally the scope of philosophy was all intellectual endeavour. Aristotle did what would now be called biology, meterology, physics, and cosmology, alongside his metaphysics and ethics. Even in the eighteenth century physics and chemistry were still classified as natural philosophy[?] (that is, the philosophical study of nature). Psychology, economics, sociology, and linguistics were once the domain of philosophers insofar as they were studied at all, but now have only a weaker connection with the field. In the late twentieth century cognitive science and artificial intelligence could be seen as being forged in part out of "philosophy of mind."

In general, once a branch of philosophy begins to be prosecuted by its own specialists, using distinct rigorous, agreed-upon methods of observation and experimentation, philosophers of a more general stripe find less and less to contribute to it. The scope of philosophy has gotten smaller and smaller, then, as different sciences have spun off and become independent disciplines in their own right. Philosophy has been closely related to science, then; but philosophers disagree about whether it essentially ought to be.

Traditionally philosophers have held that philosophers must use basically different methods from science, or only very specially refined versions of those methods: philosophy is done a priori, does not rely on experiment, and must be able to justify the methods science without depending on them It aslo depends on non-scientific methods, such as interpretation[?]. But many nowadays hold that philosophy is very close to science in its character and method; Analytic philosophy often urged that philosophers should emulate the methods of natural science; Quine later claimed that philosophy just is a branch of natural science, simply the most abstract one. This approach, common nowadays, is called "philosophical naturalism[?]"

Philosophers have always devoted some study to science and the scientific method, and to logic, and this involves, indirectly, studying the subject matters of those sciences. Whether philosophy also has its own, distinct subject matter is a contentious point. Traditionally ethics, aesthetics, and metaphysics have all been philosophical subjects, but many philosophers have, especially in the twentieth century, rejected these as futile questions (the Vienna Circle). Philosophy has also concerned itself with explaining the foundations and character knowledge in general (of science, or history), and in this case it would be a sort of "science of science" but some now hold that this cannot consist in any more than clarifying the arguments and claims of other sciences. This suggests that philosophy might be the study of meaning and reasoning generally; but some still would claim either that htis is not a science, or that if it is it ought not to be prsued by philosophers.

All these views have something in common: whatever philosophy essentially is or is concerned with, it tends on the whole to proceed more "abstractly" than most (or most other) natural sciences. It does not depend as much on experience and experiment, and does not contribute as directly to technology. It clearly would be a mistake to identify philosophy with any one natural science; whether it can be identified with science very broadly construed is still an open question.

Philosophy of Science: Philosophy of science is an active discipline pursued by both trained philosophers and scientists. Philosophers often refer to, and interpret, experimental work of various kinds (as in philosophy of physics and philosophy of psychology). But this is not surprising: such branches of philosophy aim at philosophical understanding of experimental work. It is not the philosophers in their capacity as philosophers, who perform the experiments and formulate the scientific theories under study. Philosophy of science should not be confused with science it studies any more than biology should be confused with plants and animals.

Theology and Religious studies: Like philosophy, most religious studies, are not experimental. Parts of theology, including questions about the existence and nature of gods, clearly overlap with philosophy of religion. Aristotle considered theology a branch of metaphysics, the central field of philosophy, and most philosophers prior to the twentieth century have devoted significant effort to theological questions. So the two are not unrelated. But other part of religious studies, such as the comparison of different world religions, can be easily distinguished from philosophy in just the way that any other social science can be distinguished from philosophy. These are closer to history and sociology, and involve specific observations of particular phenomena, here particular religious practices.

Nowadays religion plays a very marginal role in philosophy. The Empiricist tradition in modern philosophy often held that religious questions are beyond the scope of human knowledge, and many have claimed that religious language is literally meaningless: there are not even questions to be answered. Some philosophers have felt that these difficulties in evidence were irrelevant, and have argued for, against, or just about religious beliefs on moral or other grounds. Nonetheless, in the main stream of twentieth century philosophy there are very few philosophers who give serious consideration to religious questions.

Mathematics: Mathematics uses very specific, rigorous methods of proof that philosophers sometimes (only rarely) try to emulate. Most philosophy is written in ordinary prose, and while it strives to be precise it does not usually attain anything like mathematical clarity. As a result, mathematicians hardly ever disagree about results, while philosophers of course do disagree about their results, as well as their methods.

Of course "philosophy of mathematics" is a branch of philosophy of science; but in many ways mathematics has a special relationship to philosophy. This is because the study of logic,of reasoning, has itself has traditionally been considered a central branch of philosophy, and mathematics is the most rigorous, rule governed kind of argument known to most people, and has always been taken as a paradigm example of logic. In the late ninteenth and twentieth centuries logic made great advances, and mathematics has been proven to be reducible to logic (at least, to first-order logic with some set theory). The use of formal, mathematical logic in philosophy now resembles the use of math in science, although it is not as frequent.

Some tentative generalizations about what philosophy is

So philosophy, it seems, is a discipline that draws on knowledge that the average educated person has, and it does not make use of experimentation and careful observation, though it may interpret philosophical aspects of experiment and observation.

More positively, one might say that philosophy is a discipline that examines the meaning and justification of certain of our most basic, fundamental beliefs, according to a loose set of general methods. But what we might mean by the words "basic, fundamental beliefs"?

A belief is fundamental if it concerns those aspects of the universe which are most commonly found, which are found everywhere: the universal aspects of things. Philosophy studies, for example, what existence itself is. It also studies value--the goodness of things--in general. Surely in human life we find the relevance of value or goodness everywhere, not just moral goodness, though that might be very important, but even more generally, goodness in the sense of anything that is actually desirable, the sense, for example, in which an apple, a painting, and a person can all be good. (If indeed there is a single sense in which they are all called "good.")

Of course, physics and the other sciences study some very universal aspects of things; but it does so experimentally. Philosophy studies those aspects that can be studied without experimentation. Those are aspects of things that are very general indeed; to take yet another example, philosophers ask what physical objects as such are, as distinguished from properties of objects and relations between objects, and perhaps also as distinguished from minds or souls. Physicists proceed as though the notion of a physical body is quite clear and straightforward--which perhaps in the end it will found to be--but at any rate, physics assumes that, and then asks questions about how all physical bodies behave, and then does experiments to find out the answers.

Quotes "Science is what we know and philosophy is what we don't know."

--Bertrand Russell
"What is your aim in philosophy? To show the fly the way out of the fly-bottle."
--Ludwig Wittgenstein
"Philosophy, n. A route of many roads leading from nowhere to nothing."
--Ambrose Bierce

Philosophical theories Further categorization is needed here

altruism -- anti-realism -- Aristotelianism[?] -- Buddhist philosophy -- conceptualism[?] -- coherentism[?] -- Confucianism -- Conscience -- consequentialism -- constructivism -- deconstructionism-- determinism -- egoism -- empiricism -- empiricist philosophy[?] -- epicureanism -- eudaimonism[?] -- existentialism -- existentialist philosophy[?] -- foundationalism -- formalism[?] -- hedonism -- historical materialism -- historicism -- idealism -- intuitionism -- Irrationalism and Aestheticism -- irrealism -- knowledge -- logical positivism -- materialism -- mechanism[?] -- mentalism[?] -- memetics -- naive realism[?] -- nominalism -- nondualism -- operationalism[?] -- philosophical naturalism -- philosophical pessimism -- physicalism -- Platonism -- Populism and Nationalism -- pragmatism -- probabilism[?] -- psychological egoism -- rationalism -- realism -- reality enforcement -- relativism -- reliabilism -- stoicism -- subjectivism -- scholasticism -- sensationalism[?] -- sensualism[?] -- solipsism -- Taoism -- teleology -- traditionalism -- Transcendentalism -- utilitarianism -- Vedic -- vitalism --

Philosophy of Science

causation -- evidence and theory[?] -- nature of experimentation[?] -- faith and rationality -- free will and determinism -- induction and probability[?] -- nature of (scientific, natural) laws[?] -- the problem of other minds -- problem of the criterion -- scientific explanation[?] -- the reality of theoretical entities[?] -- the reality of unobservables[?] -- technology and science[?] -- validity of the social sciences[?] --

Philosophical Movements

Critical Theory -- Existentialism -- American Pragmatism[?] -- British Empiricism[?] -- French materialism -- German idealism -- nativism --

See also:

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