What is Philosophy? A Philosophy Definition.

As complex as the modern world has become, it seems unlikely that most of what surrounds us is actually the result of the ancient practice of philosophy. Everything from the structure of democratic governments to due process of law, from a physician’s Hippocratic oath to computer software, has its roots in philosophy. Sadly, philosophy as a course of study is disappearing from our nation’s colleges, yet its focus on analytical thinking and problem solving is more vitally important today than ever.

Philosophy is an academic discipline that exercises reason and logic in an attempt to understand reality and answer fundamental questions about knowledge, life, morality and human nature. The ancient Greeks, who were among the first to practice philosophy, coined the term, which means “love of wisdom.” Those who study philosophy are called philosophers. Through the ages, philosophers have sought to answer such questions as, what is the meaning and purpose of life? How do we know what we know? Does God exist? What does it mean to possess consciousness? And, what is the value of morals?

Philosophers attempt to answer such questions through the philosophical method. The method usually begins when a philosopher examines his own beliefs and begins to doubt their validity. From his doubt, questions emerge. Before answering a question, the philosopher thoroughly analyzes it to ensure it is clearly and properly defined. This helps narrow the path to the most precise answer. Next, the philosopher proposes possible answers to the question and provides reasoned arguments to support each one. The arguments are then critiqued by other philosophers, who may give rebuttals. Through this process of criticism and judgment, known as dialectic, philosophers attempt to prove the rationality of their beliefs and discover fundamental truths.

It’s no coincidence that the philosophical method has much in common with the scientific method. Indeed, early science was known as “natural philosophy.” Philosophers like Aristotle developed the concepts of inductive and deductive reasoning that form the basis of modern scientific study. The roots of the physical sciences like physics and geology can be traced back to ancient philosophy.

Philosophy itself is generally considered a type of social science, like sociology or psychology. That’s because early philosophy was primarily concerned with describing the best way to live and organize society. From that spawned many other disciplines: economics, political science, law, linguistics, literary and art criticism, and theology—along with sociology and psychology.

Though many of philosophy’s original topics have evolved into other fields of study over time, the discipline remains rich and varied. Modern philosophy contains six main branches of thought, each with their own unique focus:

Metaphysics: the nature of reality and the universe.
Epistemology: the study of knowledge and how it is acquired.
Logic: how to develop valid arguments; includes mathematical logic.
Ethics: the study of right and wrong and how people should live.
Politics: the study of government, citizen rights and political obligations.
Aesthetics: beauty, art and artistic perception.

At first glance, it would appear that such study has little application in the real world. Yet, philosophy shapes modern existence. Unlocking the secrets of knowledge acquisition is the primary concern of passionate educators of young people around the globe. Logic forms the basis of all computer technology, as more precise programming commands increase computing speed and efficiency. Ethics plays a major role in medicine, law and foreign policy. Indeed, the hottest debates surrounding the issues of our time—abortion, capital punishment, welfare, environmentalism, torture and end-of-life care—all stem from philosophical questions.

However, the study of philosophy is not necessarily about discovering all of the answers to life’s toughest questions. Skepticism lies at the heart of philosophy. Therefore, asking a question is more fundamentally important than answering one. In philosophy, questioning a deeply held belief or social practice sets one onto the path of true understanding, and it’s this understanding that leads to meaningful personal and social change. A good philosopher recognizes the danger of accepting knowledge at face value. Social or scientific theories may be untested or contain personal bias; trusting them immediately could result in terrible consequences.

Today, philosophers can be found working in nearly every career field. Some are scientists developing ways to test household products without using animals. Some are politicians and human rights activists fighting for changes in foreign policy that will alleviate war and poverty for millions of Third World citizens. Some are economists seeking practical solutions to economic inequality. Still others are programmers working on the cutting edge of technology to develop faster and more efficient computer software.

Those who study philosophy also tend to lead fulfilling and successful lives. Some of history’s most well-known figures were philosophers: Socrates, Plato, John Locke, Friedrich Nietzsche, John Stuart Mill, Adam Smith, Karl Marx and Noam Chomsky, to name a few.

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{ 59 comments… read them below or add one }

Adeniji Ayodeji April 18, 2012 at 11:59 am

I love it. Very interesting. I used it for my assignment.

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Derek Mckee April 24, 2012 at 1:01 am

I need to know who penned this. Your essay is crisp, but your language is not precise for the same reason that causes all academic philosphy studies to fall behind the accomplishments of material science.

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Efren May 31, 2012 at 10:39 pm

Let’s not forget that philosophy is the river from which all the sciences have as their source. The only reason philosophy is behind is because of its sheer difficulty, the few who pursue studying it, and the time it takes for wisdom to be distilled, yet it has the most profound impact on currents of thought simply because it deals with these fundamental questions. The emphasis on scientific achievement is a trend originating in earlier philosophers such as Francis Bacon who thought that science would solve everything. However, the state of the world right now is evidence that despite technological progress, the world seems always on the brink of disaster. Philosophy is a timely reminder for the value of sustained reflection, analytic and critical thinking which aid, but do not replace, deeply held values about the nature of existence.

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BK June 4, 2012 at 11:54 am

Derek, No philosopher would let your comment go without asking you to give examples of imprecise language or what you mean by “accomplishments.” From there the philosophical dialogue starts and your sweeping generalization gets put into question.

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SRE September 25, 2012 at 6:39 pm

I was about to reply to this Derek gentleman but the other replies here hit everything on the head. Therefore I’ll just comment the following: well said.

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Alex O. May 7, 2012 at 4:52 pm

Philosophy is world wide knowledge or experience one has over an existence of natural beings, within or outside his or her environment after observation(s)has had been carried out.

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Aldrine Chipere May 17, 2012 at 5:25 pm

That essay is very good. It’s interesting and well written. Keep on doing this wonderful work for the world.

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Kizito onwumere May 26, 2012 at 6:36 am

This is fantastic. Keep it up.

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olorunfunmi Afolakemi June 2, 2012 at 7:21 am

I really love this. I need to know more about Human Existence and Logic.

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Princess August 23, 2012 at 12:05 pm

I want to know more about philosophy and what it has to do with politics

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rusatira masu June 5, 2012 at 3:49 pm

THE ESSAY IS GOOD AND I HAVE FOUND IT VERY USEFUL

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adamu hussaini June 14, 2012 at 11:10 am

You have done a wonderful job. You are helping students with your efforts.

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Laura June 14, 2012 at 11:10 am

Yes same I used it to and got a very good mark. thanks

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sheries jumetilco June 16, 2012 at 8:08 am

do you know some meanings of philosophy which are told by those famous philosophers?

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Leigh Nicole June 16, 2012 at 10:33 am

This has made me open my eyes to receive new knowledge and the need to gain more. Philosophy might not be a science subject but I could say that it is the origin of whatever subjects and courses we have in the present.

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omotoyosi adetayo June 18, 2012 at 11:44 am

thanks,i hope philosophy is not too difficult?
That is the course i want to study in school?

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tee June 21, 2012 at 3:28 am

thank you. i may be a philosopher. hey i have a
question..its been bothering me. some people
seem to know exactly what they want to do in
life and what they are passionate about. i simply
cannot pinpoint this in myself. i have many interest
but choosing just one profession or deciding upon
a reasonable order to accomplish several things eludes
me. can anyone help me..maybe shed some light
or wjsdom on this situation? thanks

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KAMAL DESTINE TAMPULI September 10, 2012 at 9:36 am

you are not alone in this dilemma but you can know what you are good at,first of all to know your passion you must see it as a hobby not work.with this in mind you develop curiosity for it hence leading you to know your calling in life.you have so many abilities but you dont get tired when you are doing a particular one,discover that and that is what would unlock your real self..i hope my little contribution would be of help,thanks.you can catch me on facebook book with my name for more intellectual conversation…

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Stephen Rennolds November 17, 2012 at 6:52 pm

I see two possibilities to start with:
1. You need more life experience before you will know. OR
2. You are a philosopher and you’ll never have a definite answer because you will always find another perspective.

Fortunately, the solution to both is the same. Start where you are. Do what is possible that first catches your attention. Don’t worry about it too much. Also, it’s okay to feel a little pride in this – many people go through their entire lives with no clue what they want to do and never even bother to ask the question.

Hope this helps!

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akande aderonke June 21, 2012 at 11:36 am

i do love this. Thanks for your good work.

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okoromarayeloveth June 28, 2012 at 8:03 am

Very Good essay , please keep it up.

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eric chirchir July 4, 2012 at 4:47 pm

okey the statements are good but it is shallowly discussed.okey the reason why philosophy have gone down is because of specialization of scholars on other fields forgetting to enhance meaning to philosophy so i believe it is like any other important subject and it is our effort to attach meaning to this subject.

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Ashaka Mayowa Isiaka July 7, 2012 at 7:55 pm

philosophy is the only reality of life…

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Gerlie Mae July 10, 2012 at 4:57 pm

Thank you for sharing such valuable insights. But how do i cite this article? i mean may i know who authored this?

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Adesoji Adeyemo July 13, 2012 at 5:46 am

Philosophy is an academic decipline that exercise reasoning thinking an logic in attempt to understand reality an answer fundamental questions

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Nadia July 20, 2012 at 7:31 am

HI:)
ARE THEIR ANY GOOD BOOKS ON PHILOSPHY THAT GOES IN DEPTH WITH THE SUBJECT? NEED IT FOR AN ASIGNMENT FOR COLLEGE:)
THANKS

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Onoja Monday July 20, 2012 at 9:21 pm

Infact, u pple have done a great job by telling us wht philosphy al about. Where can u work if u study d course philosphy in university? I need sombody 2 advice me by email me via onojamonday88@yahoo.com

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John Philosopher July 24, 2012 at 10:23 pm

Bury urself in philosophising,then u wil understand urself,cos u are a meta man.

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Keith July 27, 2012 at 5:51 pm

If you want truth, accept the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the author of truth. He say’s of himself that he is the way the truth and the life. Philosophy is the search for truth. Jesus Christ is that Truth. Jesus Christ said that He is the word, the logos. His Word the Bible has all of the answers to life, where man came from, where he is going, his condition of a fallen spiritual state and how to be Born again in the spirit. All of these answers are found in the Word. Christ is the image of God,God is the Omnipotent ruler and His SPirit is our guide. Philosophy is the search for Jesus Christ and it is the search for the void found within the soul of fallen man. Philosophy is the search of the answer of Jesus Christ.

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Kevin October 12, 2012 at 4:20 pm

Keith, I agree with you completely. My question is how does an individual best present the truth of God in Jesus Christ? Today, it seems, sin is an unpopular topic. I would agree exposing sin in a person’s actions could lead to hostility. The method I have been using is to systematically disprove a person’s wrong beliefs. The truth in our Lord Jesus Christ is also unpopular in the Universities. But as a student preparing to write a philosophy of education, I don’t want to deny the truth. For those like us, the truth is something we have found and from there, I can hopefully prove it.

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Vacanator July 27, 2012 at 5:56 pm

Many think philosophers are wack but i perosnally think they confuse that with wise people, i give props to all you philosophers out there. Yet, in a sense we are all philosophers, but others more than others.

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Keith July 27, 2012 at 6:17 pm

If you want to know the truth in life, investigate who Jesus Christ is. The claims he made about himself. He said he was the son of God. The Pharisees had him put to death for making such a claim. He was crucified and rose on the third day. He told his followers he would die that exact kind of death. He was asked what the signs were that would fortell his return to the earth. He said that there would be wars, rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes in various places. Nation would rise against nation, kingdom against kingdom (race against race.) He fortold of a world leader who would sit in the Holy temple and declare himself to be God. The Jews today are planning to rebuild that Temple. The prophesies declared that Jerusalem would be a “Cup of trembling” to the world, isn’t the Global governance fixated on declaring Jerusalem to be the future capital of the Palistinians?

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Keith July 27, 2012 at 6:25 pm

Jesus Christ is truth. His word declares your need for a saviour. You are in danger of eternal separation from God unless you make a decision to accept him as your sacrifice of forgiveness. This is not a philosophy, it is a fact of fallen man. If you have the inclination to read what fallen man experiences go to:

spiritlessons.com

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Galbe July 28, 2012 at 7:12 am

According to the penultimate paragraph a philosopher is not only someone with a degree in philosophy, and, more important yet, we can (and should) switch back and forth between the philosophical and the non-philosophical mode.
That is:
– A philosopher is someone who seeks the best way to solve a problem. (penultimate paragraph)

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Jen July 28, 2012 at 8:40 am

I find the information is clear and direct, very accessible. It is a pity that no credentials are listed, nor any name of the person who wrote this. As an advocate for the importance of philosophy, I’m sure you won’t mind that I make use of the philosophical tendency for scepticism, and question where you had sourced the information about the six main branches of philosophical thought. Also, would you liken philosophy to science in that both seem to be at the top of a branching tree of disciplines, and thus the name itself is not a subject but a collection of such? When you say philosophers are found in many professions, do you mean to say that the profession makes them a philosopher, or that some people just study it externally?

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Angel July 28, 2012 at 12:40 pm

Loved this article.
Is Spirituality linked with Metaphysics?
Or does Philosophy gives any scope to study Spirituality?
Thank you :)

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Kevin October 12, 2012 at 4:23 pm

Yes.

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ibraheem wasiu August 7, 2012 at 9:21 am

it is an interesting page

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Neema Ndatuje August 22, 2012 at 11:09 am

very interesting. i wish all people knew about this page.

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faturoti deborah August 8, 2012 at 2:50 am

this is good……but is axiology not a branch of philosophy?

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Meaddy Mawlong August 11, 2012 at 3:36 am

thank for your great work.

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OLOLADE Kindness Ayetomowo August 16, 2012 at 1:33 pm

Philosophy is a madman course to those that says there is no God

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C.L.Patton III August 20, 2012 at 2:22 pm

Excellent writing I must say. I asked google a simple question. What is philosophy? I have been led to a new found study that is in me patiently waiting to be released from what I had read. Your material is very informative, direct and motivational for our future philosophers. When and where does one actually knows thine found true happiness? For all who will like to go own the path of true understanding for “True Happiness”

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Anadu kossi gbougbo August 21, 2012 at 1:54 pm

I love this. So informative and educational. Keep it up.

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angeldust August 29, 2012 at 6:21 pm

cool….now i want to know more….

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kyaw hlaing August 30, 2012 at 3:04 am

I LIKE PHILOSOPHY . ALL ARE FREE FROM DANGERSTO DO IN YOUR BUSINESS

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akwasi osei September 1, 2012 at 2:28 pm

Very useful treatise, summarises the whole subject matter of philosophy into digestible components even for the uninitiated

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Maddie Fraser September 6, 2012 at 11:34 pm

When using this beautiful explanation for a school paper, how would I cite this paper? I don’t see any dates or the person who wrote it. I did cite the website and the date retrieved in order to turn in my assignment in on time but it would give others valuable source information.
This has to be the best knowledge I found anywhere for my paper. Thank you!

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sippy September 7, 2012 at 5:59 am

Good. It explains what Philosophy is in nutshell. But I doubt, whether it went dragging at one two places. Hope you do not mind my little freedom to ask whether only theses six brancher consists of Philosophy ? As I did a batchlors in Philosophy, it CAN include much more, not just six !. For Philosophy is mother of language, reason, reality, existance, values, knowledge and more if any. As you rightly explained, Philosophy is Love of Wisdom.

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jerry September 9, 2012 at 7:39 pm

Excellent: but here is still unclear to me, are you trying to say that philosopy is the base of all science?

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James H September 10, 2012 at 11:05 pm

There doesn’t seem to be such a thing as “philosophy” because it seems like everything can be/and not be philosophy simultaneously. For instance, the notable philosophers were trained in other areas: political economy, linguistics, economics, etc. So if their background is not “philosophy” then what constitutes philosophy?
Furthermore, most disciplinary traditions are defined either by theoretical orientations or the methods they use. “Rational arguments” are not the sole domain of philosophy as any graduate student in any social science can attest. What exactly is the “philosophical method”?
From this short article it seems that philosophy is defined as the attempt to theorize about the world without using any actual evidence or data – even keeping in mind that data, its production and interpretation, will be socially and culturally influenced.
I would ask for you to offer what philosophy is opposed to and why – it’s through opposition that many things gain their meaning.

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Dr. G. Padmakumar September 11, 2012 at 11:32 am

Precise explanation. It is very good for a beginner to pursue academic philosophy.

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jonathan makhuvele September 11, 2012 at 5:48 pm

I find it very interesting because im winning my test preparation

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Ahmad M Zayyad September 14, 2012 at 3:01 pm

This is a good message,i believe you have communicated.Phylosophy is a love of wisdom in the sence that any thing a man think and put it into reality is a philosophy.Qur an is the only reveal book that talk about every aspect of human life,so i believe that philosophy is not just a topic but what was been revealed to our prophet Mohammed (S A W),and those philosopher that don’t agree in the existance of God,the are not philosophers rather the are rehposoliph.So i want u people to know that eny human dat can think and bring idea on his own is a philosopher,but ur stage determined ur level of philosophy.

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Rafaqat Ashraf September 21, 2012 at 12:57 am

I agree with this information so great it clears so many doubts and gives a good knowledge about philosophy.

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Siamir Marulafau September 21, 2012 at 7:19 am

Philosophy is a study dealing with logic to find the truth.To find the truth based on how the philosophers philosophizing what they see, experience, in life.But, every philosopher has different background of life, knowledge with the different pattern of thought.Surely, every work of philosophers will teach us good lessons and provide us good morals since they tend to urge the truth based on their philosophical context.There are many kinds of philosophy according to its forms such as supernatural philosophy; existential philosophy, natural philosophy,etc.

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siamir marulafau September 26, 2012 at 6:52 am

Philosophy is a study to find the truth.While philosopher is a person, who has an expert to philosophize what he sees , experience in life based on the theory of philosophy.

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olanrewaju September 26, 2012 at 6:47 pm

this is a good write up i appreciate the writer , but i would have appreciated better if the writer did not focus on philosophy as a particular course . in real sense philosophy is a way of life that is inherent in every human being infact it is what makes us human ,

anytime you question the validity of a statement , the benefit of a way of life ,the possibility of an alternative , the beauty of an arrangement , the loyalty of a government , the orthodox method of doing things you are excersing the natural philosophy in you. philosophy itself gavebirth to religion ,science ,economics ,medicine infact all other studies are philosophy in different manifestations.

if there is no philosophy the world would not move forward

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poli sernas September 30, 2012 at 3:44 am

nice i love it

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