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Philosophy (a combination of the Greek words philos meaning love and sophia meaning wisdom), as a practice, aims at some kind of understanding, knowledge or wisdom about fundamental matters such as reality, knowledge, meaning, value, being and truth. There is no consensus about which approach should be taken in these pursuits, including whether philosophy requires the ancient dialectical, i.e., dialogical, approach. Indeed, philosophy historically has been understood in different ways by different philosophers and outsiders to philosophy. Therefore, philosophy itself seems to require a meta-philosophy to adjudicate.

Philosophy may also refer to the collective works of major philosophers. It can mean the academic exploration of various questions raised by philosophers; it can also mean a certain critical, creative way of thinking. Contemporary Western academic 'philosophy' has two broad traditions: 'analytic' and 'continental' philosophy. The former tradition is commonly focused on conceptual analysis. The latter tradition is distinctive for its associations with particular problems. Eastern philosophy is another, distinct tradition. Each of these can be considered individually or in comparison with the others. Philosophy, thus, has several connotations in common speech. This article will focus on philosophy as a field of study.


Philosophical topics

Philosophers have been interested with such concepts as existence or being, morality or goodness, knowledge, truth, and beauty. Historically most philosophy has either centred on religious beliefs, or science. Philosophers may ask critical questions about the nature of these concepts--questions typically outside the scope of science. Several major works of post-medieval philosophy begin by asking the meaning of philosophy. Asking what philosophy is is itself a philosophical activity, though philosophers are more often motivated by specific questions such as:

  • What is truth? How or why do we identify a statement as correct or false, and how do we reason?
  • Is knowledge possible? How do we know what we know?
  • Is there a difference between morally right and wrong actions (or values, or institutions)? If so, what is that difference? Which actions are right, and which wrong? Are values absolute, or relative? In general or particular terms, how should I live?
  • What is reality, and what things can be described as real? What is the nature of those things? Do some things exist independently of our perception? What is the nature of space and time? What is the nature of thought and thinking? What is it to be a person?
  • What is it to be beautiful? How do beautiful things differ from the everyday? What is Art?

In Ancient Greek philosophy, these five broad types of questions were respectively called analytical or logical, epistemological, ethical, metaphysical, and aesthetic. They are not the only subjects of philosophical inquiry. Aristotle, who was the first to use this classification (as he believed that to call himself a sophist (lit. wise one) was immodest), also considered politics, modern-day physics, geology, biology, meteorology, and astronomy as branches of philosophical investigation. The Greeks, through the influence of Socrates and his method, developed a tradition of analysis, that divided a subject into its components to understand it better.

Other traditions did not always use such labels, or emphasize the same themes. While Hindu philosophy has similarities with Western philosophy, there was no word for philosophy in Japanese, Korean or Chinese until the 19th century, despite long-established philosophical traditions. Chinese philosophers, in particular, used different categories than the Greeks. Definitions were not based on common features, but were usually metaphorical and referred to several subjects at once [1]. Boundaries between categories are not distinct in Western philosophy, however, and since at least the 19th century, Western philosophical works have usually addressed a nexus of questions rather than distinct topics.

Motives, goals and methods

The word "philosophy" is derived from the ancient Greek (Φιλοσοφία, philosophia) which may be translated as "love of wisdom". It suggests a vocation for questioning, learning, and teaching. Philosophers are curious about the world, humanity, existence, values, understanding, and the nature of things.

Philosophy can be distinguished from other disciplines by its methods of inquiry. Philosophers often frame their questions as problems or puzzles, in order to give clear examples of their doubts about a subject they find interesting, wonderful or confusing. Often these questions are about the assumptions behind a belief, or about methods by which people reason.

Philosophers typically frame problems in a logical manner, historically using syllogisms of traditional logic, since Frege and Russell increasingly using formal systems, such as predicate calculus, and then work towards a solution based on critical reading and reasoning. Like Socrates, they search for answers through discussion, responding to the arguments of others, or careful personal contemplation. Philosophers often debate the relative merits of these methods. For example, they may ask whether philosophical "solutions" are objective, definitive, and say something informative about reality, On the other hand, they may ask whether these solutions give greater clarity or insight into the logic of language, or rather act as personal therapy. Philosophers seek justification for the answers to their questions.

Language is the philosopher’s primary tool. In the analytic tradition, debates about philosophical method have been closely connected to debates about the relationship between philosophy and language. There is a similar concern in continental philosophy. Meta-philosophy, the "philosophy of philosophy", studies the nature of philosophical problems, philosophical solutions, and the proper method for getting from one to another. These debates are also connected to debates over language and interpretation.

These debates are not less relevant to philosophy as a whole, since the nature and role of philosophy itself has always been an essential part of philosophical deliberations. The existence of fields such as pataphysics point to a lengthy debate that is beyond the scope of this article (see meta-philosophy).

Philosophy may also be approached by examining the relationships between components, as in structuralism and recursionism. The nature of science is examined in general terms (see philosophy of science), and for particular sciences, (biophilosophy).

Non-academic uses of the word

Popularly, the word philosophy is often used to mean any form of assimilated knowledge. It may also refer to someone's perspective on life (as in "philosophy of life") or the basic principles behind, or method of achieving, something (as in "my philosophy about driving on highways"). This is also commonly referred to as a worldview.

Reacting to a tragedy philosophically might mean abstaining from passionate reactions in favour of intellectualized detachment. This usage arose from the example of Socrates, who calmly discussed the nature of the soul with his followers before consuming a deadly potion of hemlock as ordered by an Athenian jury. The Stoics followed Socrates in seeking freedom from their passions, hence the modern use of the term stoic to refer to calm fortitude.

Philosophical traditions

Members of many societies have considered philosophical questions and built philosophic traditions based upon each other's works. The term "philosophy" in a Euro-American academic context may misleadingly refer solely to the philosophic traditions of Western European civilization. This is also called "Western philosophy", especially when contrasted with "Eastern philosophy", which broadly subsumes the philosophic traditions of Asia. Both terms group together diverse, even incompatible schools of thought.

Eastern and Middle Eastern philosophical traditions have influenced Western philosophers. Russian, Jewish, Islamic and recently Latin American philosophical traditions have contributed to, or been derivative of Western philosophy, yet retain a unique identity.

It is convenient to divide contemporary Western academic philosophy into two traditions, since use of the term "Western philosophy" over the past century has often revealed a bias towards one or the other.

Analytic philosophy is characterized by a precise approach to analysing the language of philosophical questions. The purpose is to lay bare any underlying conceptual confusion. This approach dominates Anglo-American philosophy, but has roots in continental Europe, where it is also practiced. The tradition of analytic philosophy began with Gottlob Frege at the turn of the twentieth-century, and was carried on by Bertrand Russell, G. E. Moore and Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Continental philosophy is a label for various dissimilar schools, predominant in continental Europe, but also at home in many English-speaking Humanities departments, that may examine language, metaphysical approaches, political theory, perspectivalism, or various aspects of the arts and culture. One of the focuses of recent continental philosophical schools is the attempt to reconcile academic philosophy with issues that appear non-philosophical, subverting common expectations of what philosophy is meant to be.

The divisions between all of these traditions are arbitrary. The differences between traditions are often based on their favored historical philosophers, or emphases on ideas, styles or language of writing. The subject matter and dialogues of each can be studied using methods derived from the others, and there have been significant commonalities and exchanges between them.

Other philosophical traditions, such as African, are rarely considered by foreign academia. On account of the widespread emphasis on Western philosophy as a reference point, the study, preservation and dissemination of valuable but not widely known non-Western philosophical works faces many obstacles.

Languages can either be a barrier or a vehicle for ideas. The question of which specific languages can be considered essential to philosophizing is a theme in the works of many recent philosophers.

Western philosophy

The Western philosophic tradition began with the Greeks and continues to the present day. Major Western philosophers include Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Augustine of Hippo, Thomas Aquinas, Michel de Montaigne, Francis Bacon, RenÚ Descartes, Baruch Spinoza, George Berkeley, John Locke, David Hume, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Arthur Schopenhauer, S°ren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Gottlob Frege, Bertrand Russell, Henri Bergson, Edmund Husserl, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, Theodor Adorno, Jacques Derrida, Willard van Orman Quine, and Karl Popper.

Other influential contemporary Western philosophers include Hilary Putnam, Ayn Rand, John Ralston Saul, David Wiggins , John Rawls, Bernard Williams, Saul Kripke, Donald Davidson, Thomas Nagel, Jerry A. Fodor, Frank Jackson , and Max More.

Western philosophy is sometimes divided into various branches of study, based on the kind of questions addressed. The most common categories are: metaphysics, epistemology, ethics and aesthetics. Some other disciplines include logic, philosophy of language and political philosophy. For more information, see Western philosophy.

Eastern philosophy

Eastern philosophy follows the broad traditions that originated from, or were popular within. ancient India and China. Major Eastern philosophers include Kapila, Yajnavalkya, Gautama Buddha, Akshapada Gotama, Nagarjuna, Confucius, Lao Zi (Lao Tzu), Zhuang Zi (Chuang Tzu), Mencius, Xun Zi, Zhu Xi, Wang Yangming, Dharmakirti , Sankara, Ramanuja, Narayana Guru, Vivekananda, Aurobindo and Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan.

Indian philosophy is perhaps the most comparable to Western philosophy. For instance, the ancient Nyaya school of Hindu philosophy explores logic as some modern Analytic philosophers do; similarly the school of Carvaka was openly atheistical and empirical. However there are important differences - e.g. ancient Indian philosophy traditionally emphasized the teachings of schools or ancient texts, rather than individual philosophers, most of whom either wrote anonymously or whose names were simply not transmitted or recorded. For more information on Eastern philosophies, see Eastern philosophy.

Other philosophical traditions are linked below.

Applied philosophy

Though often seen as a wholly abstract field, philosophy is not without practical applications. The most obvious applications are those in ethicsapplied ethics in particular — and in political philosophy. The political philosophies of Confucius, Kautilya, Sun Tzu, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Karl Marx, John Stuart Mill, Mahatma Gandhi, Robert Nozick, 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. It could be argued that some New Age philosophies, such as the "Celestine Prophecy", inadvertently educate people about human psychology and power relationships through the use of spiritual metaphor.

Other important applications can be found in epistemology, which might help one to regulate one's notions of what knowledge, evidence, and justified belief are. Two useful ways that epistemology and logic can inform the real world are through the fields of journalism and police investigation. Informal logic has fantastic applications, helping citizens to be critical in reading rhetoric and in everyday discussion. Philosophy of science discusses the underpinnings of the scientific method. 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.

Often, philosophy is seen as an investigation into an area not understood well enough to be its own branch of knowledge. What were once merely philosophical pursuits have evolved into the modern day fields of psychology, sociology, linguistics, and economics (among others). Computer science, cognitive science and artificial intelligence are modern areas of research that philosophy has played a role in developing.

Moreover, a burgeoning profession devoted to applying philosophy to the problems of ordinary life has recently developed, called philosophical counseling. Many Eastern philosophies can and do help millions of people with anxiety problems through their emphasis on meditation for calming the mind and the connection between the health of the body and the health of the soul.

See also



For beginners

  • Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction by Edward Craig
  • The Complete Idiot's Guide to Philosophy (2nd Edition) by Jay Stevenson
  • Philosophy and Living by Ralph Blumenau
  • Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder
  • Philosophy Now magazine
  • Big Questions: A Short Introduction to Philosophy by Robert C. Solomon
  • A Short History of Philosophy by Robert C. Solomon, Kathleen M. Higgins
  • The Problems of Philosophy by Bertrand Russell
  • Philosophy: The Basics by Nigel Warburton.
  • Sober, E. (2001). Core Questions in Philosophy: A Text with Readings. Upper Saddle River, Prentice Hall.
  • What Philosophy Is
  • Introducing Philosophy Series

Topical introductions

  • What Does It All Mean? A Very Short Introduction to Philosophy by Thomas Nagel
  • A Short History of Modern Philosophy by Roger Scruton
  • World Philosophies by Ninian Smart
  • Indian Philosophy: a Very Short Introduction by Sue Hamilton
  • A Brief Introduction to Islamic Philosophy by Oliver Leaman
  • Eastern Philosophy For Beginners by Jim Powell, Joe Lee
  • An Introduction to African Philosophy by Samuel Oluoch Imbo
  • Philosophy in Russia: From Herzen to Lenin and Berdyaev by Frederick Copleston
  • Continental Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction by Simon Critchley
  • Complete Idiot's Guide to Eastern Philosophy by Jay Stevenson
  • Classic Asian Philosophy: A Guide to the Essential Texts by OmegaX


  • Philosophic Classics: From Plato to Derrida (4th Edition) by Forrest E. Baird
  • Classics of Philosophy (Vols. 1 & 2, 2nd edition) by Louis P. Pojman
  • Classics of Philosophy: The 20th Century (Vol. 3) by Louis P. Pojman
  • The English Philosophers from Bacon to Mill by Edwin Arthur Burtt
  • European Philosophers from Descartes to Nietzsche by Monroe Beardsley
  • Contemporary Analytic Philosophy: Core Readings by James Baillie
  • Existentialism: Basic Writings (Second Edition) by Charles Guignon, Derk Pereboom
  • The Phenomenology Reader by Dermot Moran, Timothy Mooney
  • Medieval Islamic Philosophical Writings edited by Muhammad Ali Khalidi
  • A Source Book in Indian Philosophy by Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Charles A. Moore
  • A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy by Wing-Tsit Chan
  • Kim, J. and Ernest Sosa, Ed. (1999). Metaphysics: An Anthology. Blackwell Philosophy Anthologies. Oxford, Blackwell Publishers Ltd.

Reference works

  • The Oxford Companion to Philosophy edited by Ted Honderich
  • The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy by Robert Audi
  • The Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (10 vols.) edited by Edward Craig, Luciano Floridi (also available online by subscription); or
  • The Concise Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy edited by Edward Craig (an abridgement)
  • Routledge History of Philosophy (10 vols.) edited by John Marenbon
  • History of Philosophy (9 vols.) by Frederick Copleston
  • A History of Western Philosophy (5 vols.) by W. T. Jones
  • Encyclopaedia of Indian Philosophies (8 vols.), edited by Karl H. Potter et al (first 6 volumes out of print)
  • Indian Philosophy (2 vols.) by Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan
  • A History of Indian Philosophy (5 vols.) by Surendranath Dasgupta
  • History of Chinese Philosophy (2 vols.) by Fung Yu-lan, Derk Bodde
  • Encyclopedia of Chinese Philosophy edited by Antonio S. Cua
  • Encyclopedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion by Ingrid Fischer-Schreiber, Franz-Karl Ehrhard, Kurt Friedrichs
  • Companion Encyclopedia of Asian Philosophy by Brian Carr, Indira Mahalingam
  • A Concise Dictionary of Indian Philosophy: Sanskrit Terms Defined in English by John A. Grimes
  • History of Islamic Philosophy edited by Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Oliver Leaman
  • History of Jewish Philosophy edited by Daniel H. Frank, Oliver Leaman
  • A History of Russian Philosophy: From the Tenth to the Twentieth Centuries by Valerii Aleksandrovich Kuvakin
  • Ayer, A. J. et al. Ed. (1994) A Dictionary of Philosophical Quotations. Blackwell Reference Oxford. Oxford, Basil Blackwell Ltd.
  • Blackburn, S., Ed. (1996)The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy. Oxford, Oxford University Press.
  • Mauter, T., Ed. The Penguin Dictionary of Philosophy. London, Penguin Books.
  • Runes, D., ED. (1942). The Dictionary of Philosophy. New York, The Philosophical Library, Inc.
  • Angeles, P. A., Ed. (1992). The Harper Collins Dictionary of Philosophy. New York, Harper Perennial.
  • Bunnin, N. et. al.,Ed.(1996) The Blackwell Companion to Philosophy. Blackwell Companions to Philosophy. Oxford, Blackwell Publishers Ltd.
  • Popkin, R. H. (1999). The Columbia History of Western Philosophy. New York, Columbia University Press.

External links

Some of these websites contain links to online texts of philosophy, as do many related articles on Wikipedia.



  • Philosophy Forums -- a place to discuss Philosophy with a discursive library on Philosophical topics.
  • I Love Philosophy
  • Talk Philosophy -- A place to discuss topics in all areas of philosophy from ethics to aesthetics.
  • The Academy -- a place to discuss philosophy from basic to advanced levels, with a library of introductory essays for beginners.
  • PhiloWiki -- the Internet's first online Wiki for the development of multiple points of view on a range of philosophical topics.
  • Groves of Academe -- A discussion board covering Philosophy, Logic/Mathematics, Culture, Literature, The Arts, and Technology.
  • Blueskyboris' Love Of Wisdom Debates Ongoing debate on the veracity of the words of the greats.

Organizations, Websites and Associations

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