Philosophy is a field of study in which people question, and create theories about, the nature of reality. It includes diverse subfields, such as aesthetics, epistemology, ontology, ethics, logic, metaphysics, and law. Philosophers concern themselves with such fundamental and mysterious topics as the existence or absence of a divine being, the nature of being and the universe, the pursuit of truth, the nature of consciousness, and the morality of actions.There are a number of broad approaches to the subject as a whole which vary according to the traditions of people all over the world. One notable approach is that of Western philosophy, a school of thought which developed in the West and which fundamentally uses reason to evaluate arguments. Eastern philosophy is considered its counterpart. The methodology of philosophy is itself debated within the field of metaphilosophy.
The term philosophy comes from the Greek word Φιλοσοφία (philo-sophia), which means "love of wisdom." If one were to ask the ancient Greeks for the meaning of "wisdom", their answers would have dwelt on virtue, the quest for genuine knowledge, and the eradication of false opinions. However, the term is notoriously difficult to define today (see definition of philosophy) because of the diverse fields of study to which it has been popularly applied. The Penguin Dictionary of Philosophy defines it as the study of "the most fundamental and general concepts and principles involved in thought, action, and reality". It goes on to observe that philosophy differs from science in that philosophy's questions cannot be answered empirically, and from religion in that philosophy allows no place for faith or revelation. However, these points are called into question by the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, which states: "the late 20th-century spirit of the subject [...] prefers to see philosophical reflection as continuous with the best practice of any field of intellectual enquiry". Indeed, many of the speculations of early philosophers in the field of natural philosophy eventually formed the basis for several kinds of modern scientific explanation.
Branches of philosophy
There is no
universal agreement about which subjects are the main branches of philosophy. In
The Story of Philosophy,
History of philosophy
The history of Western philosophy is traditionally divided into three eras: Ancient philosophy, Medieval philosophy, and Modern philosophy. Eastern philosophy has been, for most of its history, independent of Western philosophy. Some philosophers have argued that human civilization has passed into a new, "post-modern" period. Others believe that there is a distinction between "Modern" philosophy and Contemporary philosophy, but there is great disagreement about the content of this difference.
Ancient Greek philosophy may be divided into the pre-Socratic period, the Socratic period, and the post-Aristotelian period. The pre-Socratic period was characterized by metaphysical speculation, often preserved in the form of grand, sweeping statements, such as "All is fire", or "All changes". Important pre-Socratic philosophers include Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes, Democritus, Parmenides, and Heraclitus. The Socratic period is named in honor of the most recognizable figure in Western philosophy, Socrates, who, along with his pupil Plato, revolutionized philosophy through the use of the Socratic method, which developed the very general philosophical methods of definition, analysis, and synthesis. While Socrates wrote nothing himself, his influence as a "skeptic" survives through Plato's works. Plato's writings are often considered basic texts in philosophy as they defined the fundamental issues of philosophy for future generations. These issues and others were taken up by Aristotle, who studied at Plato's school, the Academy, and who often disagreed with what Plato had written. The post-Aristotelian period ushered in such philosophers as Euclid, Epicurus, Chrysippus, Hipparchia the Cynic, Pyrrho, and Sextus Empiricus.
The medieval period of philosophy came with the collapse of Roman civilization and the dawn of Christianity, Islam, and rabbinic Judaism. The medieval period brought Christian scholastic philosophy, with writers such as Augustine of Hippo, Boethius, Anselm, Robert Grosseteste, Albertus Magnus, Roger Bacon, Bonaventure, Thomas Aquinas, John Duns Scotus, William of Ockham, Nicholas of Cusa, and Francisco Suárez. A female Christian philosopher of the period was a student of Abelard named Heloïse. The philosophers in the scholastic Christian tradition and philosophers in the other major Abrahamic religions (such as the Jewish philosophers Saadia Gaon and Maimonides, and the Muslim philosophers Avicenna, Al-Ghazali, and Averroes) were each aware of the others' works. These religious traditions took on questions about the relation of man to God. The philosophy of this period is characterized by analysis of the nature and properties of God; the metaphysics involving substance, essences and accidents (that is, qualities that are respectively essential to substances possessing them or merely happening to be possessed by them), form, and divisibility; and logic and the philosophy of language.Many of these philosophers took as their starting point the theories of Plato or Aristotle. Others, however, such as Tertullian, rejected Greek philosophy as antithetical to revelation and faith.
Modern Western philosophy
Modern philosophy is generally considered to begin with the work of René Descartes. His work was greatly influenced by questioning from his correspondences with other philosophers. For example, the prodding of Pierre Gassendi and Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia obliged Descartes to try to formulate more cogent replies to the mind-body problem.Medieval philosophy had been concerned primarily with argument from authority, and the analysis of ancient texts using Aristotelian logic. The Renaissance saw an outpouring of new ideas that questioned authority. Roger Bacon (1214–1294?) was one of the first writers to advocate putting authority to the test of experiment and reason. Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527) challenged conventional ideas about morality. Francis Bacon (1561–1626) wrote in favor of the methods of science in philosophical discovery.
Analytic and Continental
The late modern period in philosophy, beginning in the late 19th century and lasting to the 1950s, was marked by a developing schism between the "Continental" tradition and the "Analytic" tradition associated with many English-speaking countries.What underlies the analytic tradition, especially the early analytic tradition, is the view (originally defended by Ockham) that much philosophical error arises from misunderstandings generated by language. According to some analytic philosophers, the true meaning of ordinary sentences is "concealed by their grammatical form", and we must translate them into their true form (understood as their logical form) in order to clarify them. The difficulty, so far unresolved, is to determine what the correct logical form must be. Some philosophers (beginning with Frege and Bertrand Russell) have argued that first-order logic shows us the true logical form of ordinary sentences. Other analytic philosophers, such as the late Wittgenstein, rejected the idea of logical form; and this issue of logical form figured prominently in early analytic philosophy. These debates over logical form are no longer as central to analytic philosophy as they used to be, and analytic philosophy now tends to address the full range of philosophical problems with all available philosophical methods. Today analytic philosophy's essence lies more in a style of writing and argumentation (that is, it aims to be clear and rigorous) than in its subject matter or ideas. An emphasis on carefully analyzing language to reveal philosophical errors still remains; but the “analysis” that figures in the name “analytic philosophy” is now just as likely to refer to the analysis of ideas, arguments, social institutions, and presuppositions."Continental" philosophy is most closely identified with the phenomenological movement inaugurated by Edmund Husserl and the various reactions to and modifications of Husserl's work. Phenomenology is primarily a method of investigation. As Husserl conceived it, to investigate phenomenologically is to examine the contents of conscious experience while bracketing all of the assumptions we ordinarily make concerning the existence of objects in the world. He believed that we could arrive at certain knowledge by deducing the necessary features of our conscious experience. Perhaps the most important such feature deduced by Husserl was called intentionality, which denotes the character of consciousness by which it is always directed at some object or other. The phenomenological method is an important alternative to the way that analytic philosophy typically proceeds. Instead of taking linguistic data as the starting point and linguistic analysis as the primary method of philosophy, phenomenology takes conscious experience as the starting point and the detailed analysis of such experience – that is, "phenomenological analysis" – as its method. Some important figures in the analytic tradition such as Wilfrid Sellars and Hector-Neri Castaneda have argued that linguistic analysis is actually a kind of phenomenological investigation because it appeals to our experience as language users to answer philosophical questions. In effect, they have argued that analytic philosophy is but one kind of phenomenology, the implication being that analytic philosophy can ignore the tradition that commences with phenomenology only to its detriment.While Husserl placed great emphasis on consciousness and took up an idealist position motivated largely by a firm distinction between a conscious ego and its objects, the subject-object disinction was deeply critiqued by Husserl's student, Martin Heidegger. Heidegger's 1927 book Being and Time was not only a critique of Husserl, but of a way of thinking that he believed infected the entire Western philosophical tradition of which Husserl was the latest expression. Arguably, Being and Time was the single most revolutionary work of twentieth century philosophy. Though Heidegger radically revised phenomenology, he still considered himself a phenomenologist. With him, phenomenology became existential phenomenology, which focused on producing a "hermeneutics of facticity" – an interpretation of the human condition as lived by real human beings. Heidegger was followed in this effort most famously by Jean-Paul Sartre in his book Being and Nothingness, which carried Heidegger's analysis further and applied it to concrete situations. Maurice Merleau-Ponty critiqued Sartre while still continuing on the path marked by Heidegger's emphasis on our practical engagement with the world as opposed to the Husserlian focus on explicit conscious awareness. The hermeneutical strand of Heidegger's work was developed by Hans-Georg Gadamer in Truth and Method. Together, hermeneutics – the theory of interpretation in the most general sense – and phenomenology constitute the main concerns of continental philosophy. These concerns tend to require a great deal of systematic thinking to make progress in them, and thus continental philosophy tends to look more often at the "big picture" and to deal more directly with everyday human concerns than does analytic philosophy – though like any stereotype, this generalization admits of many exceptions and should not be read to the letter.
Many societies have considered philosophical questions and built philosophical traditions based upon each other's works. Eastern and Middle Eastern philosophical traditions have influenced Western philosophers. Russian, Jewish, Islamic and recently Latin American philosophical traditions have contributed to, or been influenced by, Western philosophy, yet each has retained a distinctive identity.The differences between traditions are often based on their favored historical philosophers, and varying stress on ideas, procedural styles, or written language. The subject matter and dialogues of each can be studied using methods derived from the others, and there are significant commonalities and exchanges between them."Eastern philosophy" refers to the broad traditions that originated or were popular in India, Persia, China, Japan, and to an extent, the Middle East (which overlaps with Western philosophy due to being the origin of the Abrahamic religions).
Metaphysics and epistemology
Rationalism and empiricism
René Descartes, who is often called the father of modern philosophy, proposed that philosophy should begin with a radical skepticism about the possibility of obtaining reliable knowledge. In 1641, in Meditations on First Philosophy, he used this method of doubt in an attempt to establish what knowledge is most certain. He chose as the foundation of his philosophy the famous statement Cogito ergo sum ("I think, therefore I am"). He then attempted to rebuild a system of knowledge based on this single supposedly indubitable fact. His approach became known as a species of rationalism; it attracted such philosophers as Baruch Spinoza, Gottfried Leibniz, and Christian Wolff.In response to the popularity of rationalism, John Locke wrote An Essay Concerning Human Understanding in 1689, developing a form of naturalism and empiricism on roughly scientific principles. Hume's work A Treatise of Human Nature (1739-40) combined empiricism with a spirit of skepticism. Other philosophers who made major contributions to empiricism include Thomas Hobbes and George Berkeley (Bishop Berkeley).During this era, religious ideas played a mixed role in the struggles that preoccupied secular philosophy. Bishop Berkeley's famous idealist refutation of Isaac Newton is a case of an Enlightenment philosopher who drew substantially from religious ideas. Other influential religious thinkers of the time include Blaise Pascal, Joseph Butler, and Jonathan Edwards. Other major writers, such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Edmund Burke, took a slightly different path. The restricted interests of many of the philosophers of the time foreshadow the separation and specialization of different areas of philosophy that would occur in the twentieth century.
philosophy and the rise of idealism
Phenomenology and hermeneutics
In the mid-twentieth century, existentialism developed in Europe, particularly in France and Germany. The most prominent exponent of existentialism is Jean-Paul Sartre, although existentialist thought received major impetus from the nineteenth century philosophers Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche, both of whom pre-date existentialism and whose contributions extend beyond existentialist thought.Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher generally considered the "Father of Existentialism", argued that "truth is subjectivity", meaning that what is most important to an existing being are questions dealing with an individual's inner relationship to existence. Objective truths (e.g. mathematical truths) are important, but detached or observational modes of thought can never truly comprehend human experience. Kierkegaard postulated complex ethico-religious philosophical premises, based in part on the three stages on life's way: the aesthetic, the ethical, and the religious. Nietzsche postulated complex aesthetico-philosophical premises, based in part upon the concept of the will to power.Existentialists sometimes view Nietzsche's thought as characteristic of existentialism, due to the manner in which it places high value in individualism and self-creation, or self-defining.Drawing on these ideas, existentialism rejects the notion of a human essence, instead trying to draw out the ability of each person to live authentically, which is to say that each person is able to define and determine his or her own life. Sartre's expression of existentialism in Being and Nothingness (1943). Other influential existentialists include Albert Camus, Simone de Beauvoir, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Karl Jaspers. Fyodor Dostoevsky, Franz Kafka, and other literary figures, although not usually considered philosophers, have also contributed greatly to this thought.
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