Definition of philosophy

The definition of philosophy is a difficult matter, and many definitions of philosophy begin by stating its difficulty.

The "Oxford Companion to Philosophy" ["Oxford Companion to Philosophy"] says that most interesting definitions of philosophy are controversial. "Philosophy: The Basics" ["Philosophy: The Basics", by Nigel Warburton] says it is "notoriously difficult". "Mastering Philosophy" ["Mastering Philosophy", by Anthony Harrison-Barbet] says there is "no straightforward definition".

"Method": The "Penguin Dictionary of Philosophy" ["Penguin Dictionary of Philosophy"] says the method of philosophy is rational enquiry, or enquiry guided by the canons of rationality. OCP says it is explicitly rationally critical thinking 'of a more or less systematic kind'. The "Collins English Dictionary" mentions the use of 'rational argument'. "Modern Thomistic Philosophy" says 'natural light of reason'. PTB says that the most distinctive feature of philosophy is its use of logical argument. There is some agreement, therefore, that the philosophical method is rational, systematic and critical, or characterised by logical argument.

Intrinsic Character

Philosophy can be distinguished from empirical science and religion. The "Penguin Encyclopedia" says that philosophy differs from science in that its questions cannot be answered empirically, "i.e." by observation or experiment, and from religion, in that its purpose is entirely intellectual, and allows no place for faith or revelation. MTP says philosophy does not try to answer questions by appeal to revelation, myth or religious knowledge of any kind, but uses reason, "without reference to sensible observation and experiments". By contrast, The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy states that "the late 20th-century... prefers to see philosophical reflection as continuous with the best practice of any field of intellectual enquiry."

'Second-order' nature: PDP says it is a "common view" that philosophy enquiry is second order, having concepts, theories and presupposition as its subject matter. OCP says it is "thinking about thinking", and that philosophy has a "generally second-order character", being reflective thought about particular kinds of thinking. ODP says that in philosophy we study rather than use the concepts that structure our thinking, and that this is second-order reflection. The ODP admits that philosophy has a second-order character, but also warns that "the borderline between such 'second-order' reflection, and ways of practising the first-order discipline itself, is not always clear: philosophical problems may be tamed by the advance of a discipline, and the conduct of a discipline may be swayed by philosophical reflection". TYP also uses the expression 'second-order'.

Subject matter

PDP says the subject matter of philosophy is "the most fundamental and general concepts and principles involved in thought, action and reality". PE says "the most general questions about our universe and our place in it". MTP: The "absolutely fundamental reason of everything it investigates" or "the fundamental reasons or causes of all things". CED lists the branches of philosophy (see below). ODP says it is the investigation of the most general and abstract features of the world and the categories with which we think, in order to "lay bare their foundations and presuppositions". MP says it is the study of ultimate reality. TYP says that philosophy is about 'the big questions'.

Branches and goals

"Branches": These are metaphysics (PE, OCP, MTP, CED, IP) epistemology (CED, MTP, OCP, IP), ethics (OCP, MTP, IP, CED), logic or semantics (PE, CED), cosmology (MTP), theory of mind (MTP), political philosophy (IP), aesthetics (IP). Hence there is a broad agreement that metaphysics, epistemology and ethics and possibly logic are the main branches of philosophy.

"Goals": PDP says the goals of philosophy are "the disinterested pursuit of knowledge for its own sake". MTP says "to discover the absolutely fundamental reason of everything it investigates". CED says "making explicit the nature and significance of ordinary and scientific beliefs". MP says the purpose of philosophy is to unify and transcend the insights given by science and religion.



The names of authors are given only where the book is not a reference work.

* An Editor Recalls Some Hopeless Papers, by Wilfrid Hodges (from "The Bulletin of Symbolic Logic" Volume 4, Number 1, March 1998 (ERHP)
* "Collins English Dictionary" (CED)
* "Introducing Philosophy" (IP)
* "Modern Thomistic Philosophy" R. Phillips (MTP)
* "Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy" (ODP)
* "Penguin Encyclopedia" (PE),
* "Philosophy Made Simple" (PMS)
* "Teach Yourself Philosophy" (TYP)

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Definition of man — Definition of Man, sometimes now referred to as Definition of Human, originated from a summary essay of Kenneth Burke (1897 1993) which he included in his 1966 work, Language as Symbolic Action. Burke s work in communication has spanned many… …   Wikipedia

  • Definition of music — How to define music has long been the subject of debate; philosophers, musicians, and, more recently, various social and natural scientists have argued about what constitutes music. The definition has varied through history, in different regions …   Wikipedia

  • Definition of terrorism — terrorismThe word terrorism is politically and emotionally charged,Hoffman, Bruce Inside Terrorism Columbia University Press 1998 ISBN 0 231 11468 0. Page 32. See review in The New York Times [… …   Wikipedia

  • Outline of philosophy — For other uses, see Philosophy (disambiguation). See also: Index of philosophy articles The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to philosophy: Philosophy – study of general and fundamental problems concerning matters …   Wikipedia

  • History of philosophy — The history of philosophy is the study of philosophical ideas and concepts through time. Issues specifically related to history of philosophy might include (but are not limited to): How can changes in philosophy be accounted for historically?… …   Wikipedia

  • Topic outline of philosophy — Philosophy is an ongoing discussion about knowledge ; it is a broad field of inquiry in which the definition of knowledge itself is one of the subjects investigated. Philosophy is the pursuit of wisdom, spans the nature of the universe and human… …   Wikipedia

  • List of philosophy topics (I-Q) — II and thou I Ching I Ching I proposition I Thou I Thou relationshipIaIamblichus (philosopher)IbYahya Ibn Adi Yahya Ibn Adi Ibn al Arabi Muhyi al Din Ibn al Arabi Abu Bakr Ibn Bajja Abu Bakr Ibn Bājja Abu Bakr Muhammad Ibn Yahya Ibn as Say igh… …   Wikipedia

  • List of philosophy topics (R-Z) — RRaRabad Rabbinic law Rabbinic theology Francois Rabelais François Rabelais race racetrack paradox racism Gustav Radbruch Janet Radcliffe Richards Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan radical Aristotelianism radical behaviourism radical feminism radical… …   Wikipedia

  • List of philosophy topics (A-C) — 110th century philosophy 11th century philosophy 12th century philosophy 13th century philosophy 14th century philosophy 15th century philosophy 16th century philosophy 17th century philosophy 18th century philosophy 19th century philosophy220th… …   Wikipedia

  • List of philosophy topics (D-H) — DDaDai Zhen Pierre d Ailly Jean Le Rond d Alembert John Damascene Damascius John of Damascus Peter Damian Danish philosophy Dante Alighieri Arthur Danto Arthur C. Danto Arthur Coleman Danto dao Daodejing Daoism Daoist philosophy Charles Darwin… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”