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Bust of Socrates. Roman copy of an original thought to be carved by Lysippos.

Philosophy is the study of wisdom. In fact, Philosophia is the Ancient Greek word for the "love of wisdom".[1]

A person who works in the field of philosophy is called a philosopher. A philosopher is a kind of thinker and researcher. A "philosophy" can also mean a group of ideas or way of living suggested by philosophers.[2]

Philosophy is a way of thinking about the world, the universe, and society. In the past, natural sciences were a part of philosophy.

Ideas[change | change source]

The ideas in philosophy are often general and abstract. However, this does not mean that philosophy is not about the real world. For example, ethics talks about how to be good in our day-to-day lives. Metaphysics questions how the world works and what it is made of. Sometimes, people talk about how they have a ‘personal philosophy’, which means the way a person thinks about the world. This article is not about people's ’personal philosophies’. This article is about the ideas that have been discussed by philosophers.

Questions[change | change source]

Questions related to philosophy are called philosophical questions. Most philosophical questions can never be answered with certainty. They focus on important topics, such as the meaning of life, death, and morality. An example of a philosophical question is this: "Is there any knowledge in the world which is so certain that no reasonable man could doubt it?".[3] Other questions asked by philosophers are:

History[change | change source]

The word 'Philosophy' directly translates to 'love of wisdom'. It comes from the Greek word 'Philosophia', with 'Philo' meaning 'lover' and 'Sophia' meaning 'wisdom'.[4]

There are different types of philosophy from different times and places. Some philosophers came from Ancient Greece, such as Plato and Aristotle. Others came from Asia, such as Confucius, Buddha, Adi Shankara, and Laozi. Some philosophers were from the Middle Ages in Europe, such as William of Ockham or Saint Thomas Aquinas.

Influential philosophers from the 1600s and 1700s include Thomas Hobbes, René Descartes, John Locke, Gottfried Leibniz, David Hume, and Immanuel Kant. Some major philosophers from the 1800s are Georg Hegel, Søren Kierkegaard, and Friedrich Nietzsche, whereas the 1900s gave us Martin Heidegger and Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Areas of inquiry[change | change source]

Philosophy seeks to understand truths about the world and how we view it. It tries to answer important questions by making conclusions based on observations of human nature and the real world.

Sometimes, philosophy tries to answer the same questions as religion and science. Philosophers give different answers to the same question. Many types of philosophy criticize or even attack the beliefs of religion.

In his work Critique of Pure Reason, Immanuel Kant asks the following questions:[5]

  1. What can I say?
  2. What shall I do?
  3. What dare I hope?
  4. What is man?

The answers to these questions give the different categories of philosophy.

Categories in philosophy[change | change source]

Philosophy can be divided into different groups based on the types of questions asked. Below is a list of the questions split into groups. One possible list of answers to these questions can be called a 'philosophy'. There are many different philosophies, because all of these questions have different answers according to different people. Not all philosophies ask the same questions. These are the questions that are usually asked by philosophers from the Western world:


Metaphysics is sometimes split up into ontology (the philosophy of real life and living things), the philosophy of mind and the philosophy of religion; but these sub-branches are very close together.


  • What is the world that we see around us? (What is reality?)
    • Is there more to the world than what we see and hear?
    • If nobody sees something happen, does that mean that it did not happen?
    • What does it mean to say that something is possible? Do other worlds exist?
  • Is there anything very special about being a human being, or being alive at all?
    • If not, why do some people think that there is?
  • What is space? What is time?

The philosophy of mind:

  • What is a mind?
  • What is a body?
  • What is consciousness?
  • Do people make choices, or can they only choose to do one thing? (Do people have free will?)
  • What makes words or ideas meaningful? (What is the relation between meaningful words or ideas and the things that they mean?)

The philosophy of religion:

  • Do people have souls?
  • Is there a God who created the Universe?

In epistemology:

In ethics:

  • What are right and wrong, good and bad?
  • Should people do some things and not others?
  • What is justice?

In aesthetics:

  • What is beauty? What if one person thinks a painting is beautiful, but another person thinks the painting is ugly? Can the painting be beautiful and ugly at the same time?
  • Are true things beautiful?
  • Are good things beautiful?
  • What is art? We commonly think that a sculpture in a museum is art. If a sculptor sculpts a sculpture of a rock from clay, and puts it in a museum, many would call it art. But what if a person picks up a rock from the ground - is the rock a piece of art?

In logic:

  • What do the words we use mean?
  • How can we say things (especially ideas) in a way that only has one meaning?
  • Can all ideas be expressed using language?
  • How does the truth of an argument's premise affect the truth of its conclusion?
  • How can we reason correctly?

In axiology

  • What has value?
  • Is time really money? or have we made it so?
  • Does love, beauty, or justice hold any value?

Other divisions include eschatology, teleology and theology. In past centuries, natural science were included in philosophy, and called "natural philosophy".

Is philosophy good or bad?[change | change source]

It is easy to argue that philosophy is a good thing because it helps people understand the world better. Philosophy helps people learn how to act and think. Philosophers believe that asking philosophical questions is useful because it helps people learn about themselves, the world, and others. It can be argued that "Is philosophy good or bad?" is a philosophical question itself.

However, some people think philosophy is harmful because it encourages free-thinking and questions the beliefs that others hold. Some philosophies also clash with religion, and oppose religious beliefs. For example, philosophies such as some existentialist views say that there is no meaning to life or human existence, except the meaning that we make up or invent. Most religions disagree with this belief.

Many major sciences, including physics, biology, psychology, and chemistry, were once considered a part of philosophy. As facts about nature became more understood, these subjects separated into their own fields. In modern times, subjects such as consciousness, decision theory, and applied ethics have found independence from philosophy. It can be argued that philosophy helped promote the development of these sciences, and that it has historically been an important field of study.

Purpose[change | change source]

Philosophers ask questions about ideas, and tries to find answers to those questions. A philosopher also analyzes concepts, arguments, and problems in philosophy.

Some are academics that work for universities or colleges. These philosophers may write books and articles about philosophy and teach classes about the subject to university or college students.

Some are also monks, artists, or scientists. They also think about philosophical ideas and questions.

Philosophers often use both real and imaginary examples to make a point. For example, they may write about a real or fictional person in order to show what they think a good person or a bad person is like.

Some philosophers look for the simplest way to answer a question and say that is probably the right answer. This is a process called Occam's razor. Others believe that complicated answers to questions can also be right. For an example of a philosophical problem, see the God paradox.

Philosophers use logic to solve problems and answer questions. Logical consistency is a cornerstone of any acceptable theory. Philosophers who disagree with a theory will often try to find a logical contradiction in a theory. If they find a contradiction, this gives them a reason to reject that theory. If they do not find an inconsistency, the philosopher might show that the theory leads to a conclusion which is either unacceptable or ridiculous. This second approach is called reductio ad absurdum.

Famous philosophers[change | change source]

People listed here should be genuine philosophers, rather than social or political campaigners. The lists are not meant to be complete.

Related pages[change | change source]

General sources[change | change source]

  • Blumenau, Ralph. Philosophy and living. ISBN 978-0-907845-33-1
  • Craig, Edward. Philosophy: a very short introduction. ISBN 978-0-19-285421-6
  • Harrison-Barbet, Anthony. Mastering philosophy. ISBN 978-0-333-69343-8
  • Russell, Bertrand. The problems of philosophy. ISBN 978-0-19-511552-9
  • Sinclair, Alistair J. 2008. What is philosophy? An introduction. ISBN 978-1-903765-94-4
  • Sober, Elliott 2001. Core questions in philosophy: a text with readings. Upper Saddle River, Prentice Hall. ISBN 978-0-13-189869-1
  • Solomon, Robert C. Big questions: a short introduction to philosophy. ISBN 978-0-534-16708-0
  • Warburton, Nigel. Philosophy: the basics. ISBN 978-0-415-14694-4
  • Nagel, Thomas. What does it all mean? A very short introduction to philosophy. ISBN 978-0-19-505292-3
  • Pojman, Louis P. Classics of Philosophy (vols. 1, 2, & 3)
  • Arthur, Edwin The English Philosophers from Bacon to Mill
  • Beardsley, Monroe European Philosophers from Descartes to Nietzsche
  • Cottingham, John 2008. Western philosophy: an anthology. 2nd ed. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., .
  • Tarnas, Richard. The passion of the Western mind: understanding the ideas that have shaped our world view. ISBN 978-0-345-36809-6

References[change | change source]

  1. "Philosophy". Encyclopædia Britannica. August 20, 2020.
  2. "Philosophy". Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary. Merriam-Webster. Retrieved November 21, 2020.
  3. Russell, Bertrand 1912. The problems of philosophy. Home University Library.
  4. "Etymology of Philosophy". english-ingles.com. Archived from the original on 2020-02-01. Retrieved 2020-02-01.
  5. Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, II 2 2

Other websites[change | change source]