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The School of Athens (1509-1511) by Raphael, depicting famous classical Greek philosophers in an idealized setting inspired by ancient Greek architecture Sanzio 01.jpg
The School of Athens (1509–1511) by Raphael, depicting famous classical Greek philosophers in an idealized setting inspired by ancient Greek architecture

Philosophy (from Greek : φιλοσοφία, philosophia, 'love of wisdom') [1] [2] [3] is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. [4] [5] Such questions are often posed as problems [6] [7] to be studied or resolved. The term was probably coined by Pythagoras (c. 570 – 495 BCE). Philosophical methods include questioning, critical discussion, rational argument, and systematic presentation. [8] [9] [lower-roman 1]


Historically, philosophy encompassed all bodies of knowledge and a practitioner was known as a philosopher . [10] From the time of Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle to the 19th century, "natural philosophy" encompassed astronomy, medicine, and physics. [11] For example, Newton's 1687 Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy later became classified as a book of physics.

In the 19th century, the growth of modern research universities led academic philosophy and other disciplines to professionalize and specialize. [12] [13] Since then, various areas of investigation that were traditionally part of philosophy have become separate academic disciplines, such as psychology, sociology, linguistics, and economics.

Today, major subfields of academic philosophy include metaphysics, which is concerned with the fundamental nature of existence and reality; epistemology, which studies the nature of knowledge and belief; ethics, which is concerned with moral value; and logic, which studies the rules of inference that allow one to deduce conclusions from true premises. [14] [15] Other notable subfields include philosophy of science, political philosophy, aesthetics, philosophy of language, and philosophy of mind.

Origins and evolution

Initially the term referred to any body of knowledge. [10] In this sense, philosophy is closely related to religion, mathematics, natural science, education, and politics. Though it has since been classified as a book of physics, Newton's Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (1687) uses the term natural philosophy as it was understood at the time, encompassing disciplines such as astronomy, medicine and physics that later became associated with the sciences. [11]

In section thirteen of his Lives and Opinions of the Eminent Philosophers, the oldest surviving history of philosophy (3rd century),

Diogenes Laërtius presents a three-part division of ancient Greek philosophical inquiry: [16]

In Against the Logicians the Pyrrhonist philosopher Sextus Empiricus detailed the variety of ways in which the ancient Greek philosophers had divided philosophy, noting that this three-part division was agreed to by Plato, Aristotle, Xenocrates, and the Stoics. [17] The Academic Skeptic philosopher Cicero also followed this three-part division. [18]

This division is not obsolete, but has changed: natural philosophy has split into the various natural sciences, especially physics, astronomy, chemistry, biology, and cosmology; moral philosophy has birthed the social sciences, while still including value theory (e.g. ethics, aesthetics, political philosophy, etc.); and metaphysical philosophy has given way to formal sciences such as logic, mathematics and philosophy of science, while still including epistemology, cosmology, etc.

Philosophical progress

Many philosophical debates that began in ancient times are still debated today. McGinn claims that no philosophical progress has occurred during that interval. [19] Chalmers, by contrast, sees progress in philosophy similar to that in science, [20] while Brewer argues that "progress" is the wrong standard by which to judge philosophical activity. [21]

Historical overview

In one general sense, philosophy is associated with wisdom, intellectual culture, and a search for knowledge. In this sense, all cultures and literate societies ask philosophical questions, such as "how are we to live" and "what is the nature of reality." A broad and impartial conception of philosophy, then, finds a reasoned inquiry into such matters as reality, morality, and life in all world civilizations. [22]

Western philosophy

Bust of Socrates in the Vatican Museum Socrates Pio-Clementino Inv314.jpg
Bust of Socrates in the Vatican Museum
Statue of Aristotle in the Aristotlepark of Stagira Aristoteles der Stagirit.jpg
Statue of Aristotle in the Aristotlepark of Stagira

Western philosophy is the philosophical tradition of the Western world, dating back to pre-Socratic thinkers who were active in 6th-century Greece (BCE), such as Thales (c. 624 – 546 BCE) and Pythagoras (c.570 – 495 BCE) who practiced a 'love of wisdom' (Latin : philosophia) [23] and were also termed 'students of nature' (physiologoi).

Western philosophy can be divided into three eras:

  1. Ancient (Greco-Roman)
  2. Medieval philosophy (Christian European)
  3. Modern philosophy

Ancient era

While our knowledge of the ancient era begins with Thales in the 6th century BCE, little is known about the philosophers who came before Socrates (commonly known as the pre-Socratics). The ancient era was dominated by Greek philosophical schools. Most notable among the schools influenced by Socrates' teachings were Plato, who founded the Platonic Academy, and his student Aristotle, [24] who founded the Peripatetic school. Other ancient philosophical traditions influenced by Socrates included Cynicism, Cyrenaicism, Stoicism, and Academic Skepticism. Two other traditions were influenced by Socrates' contemporary, Democritus: Pyrrhonism and Epicureanism. Important topics covered by the Greeks included metaphysics (with competing theories such as atomism and monism), cosmology, the nature of the well-lived life ( eudaimonia ), the possibility of knowledge, and the nature of reason (logos). With the rise of the Roman empire, Greek philosophy was increasingly discussed in Latin by Romans such as Cicero and Seneca (see Roman philosophy).

Medieval era

Medieval philosophy (5th–16th centuries) is the period following the fall of the Western Roman Empire and was dominated by the rise of Christianity and hence reflects Judeo-Christian theological concerns as well as retaining a continuity with Greco-Roman thought. Problems such as the existence and nature of God, the nature of faith and reason, metaphysics, the problem of evil were discussed in this period. Some key Medieval thinkers include St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Boethius, Anselm and Roger Bacon. Philosophy for these thinkers was viewed as an aid to Theology (ancilla theologiae) and hence they sought to align their philosophy with their interpretation of sacred scripture. This period saw the development of Scholasticism, a text critical method developed in medieval universities based on close reading and disputation on key texts. The Renaissance period saw increasing focus on classic Greco-Roman thought and on a robust Humanism.

Modern era

Early modern philosophy in the Western world begins with thinkers such as Thomas Hobbes and René Descartes (1596–1650). [25] Following the rise of natural science, modern philosophy was concerned with developing a secular and rational foundation for knowledge and moved away from traditional structures of authority such as religion, scholastic thought and the Church. Major modern philosophers include Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Kant.

19th-century philosophy (sometimes called late modern philosophy) was influenced by the wider 18th-century movement termed "the Enlightenment", and includes figures such as Hegel a key figure in German idealism, Kierkegaard who developed the foundations for existentialism, Nietzsche a famed anti-Christian, John Stuart Mill who promoted utilitarianism, Karl Marx who developed the foundations for communism and the American William James. The 20th century saw the split between analytic philosophy and continental philosophy, as well as philosophical trends such as phenomenology, existentialism, logical positivism, pragmatism and the linguistic turn (see Contemporary philosophy).

Middle Eastern philosophy

An Iranian portrait of Avicenna on a Silver Vase. He was one of the most influential philosophers of the Islamic Golden Age. Avicenna Portrait on Silver Vase - Museum at BuAli Sina (Avicenna) Mausoleum - Hamadan - Western Iran (7423560860).jpg
An Iranian portrait of Avicenna on a Silver Vase. He was one of the most influential philosophers of the Islamic Golden Age.

The regions of the fertile Crescent, Iran and Arabia are home to the earliest known philosophical Wisdom literature and is today mostly dominated by Islamic culture. Early wisdom literature from the fertile crescent was a genre which sought to instruct people on ethical action, practical living and virtue through stories and proverbs. In Ancient Egypt, these texts were known as sebayt ('teachings') and they are central to our understandings of Ancient Egyptian philosophy. Babylonian astronomy also included much philosophical speculations about cosmology which may have influenced the Ancient Greeks. Jewish philosophy and Christian philosophy are religio-philosophical traditions that developed both in the Middle East and in Europe, which both share certain early Judaic texts (mainly the Tanakh) and monotheistic beliefs. Jewish thinkers such as the Geonim of the Talmudic Academies in Babylonia and Maimonides engaged with Greek and Islamic philosophy. Later Jewish philosophy came under strong Western intellectual influences and includes the works of Moses Mendelssohn who ushered in the Haskalah (the Jewish Enlightenment), Jewish existentialism, and Reform Judaism.

Pre-Islamic Iranian philosophy begins with the work of Zoroaster, one of the first promoters of monotheism and of the dualism between good and evil. This dualistic cosmogony influenced later Iranian developments such as Manichaeism, Mazdakism, and Zurvanism.

After the Muslim conquests, Early Islamic philosophy developed the Greek philosophical traditions in new innovative directions. This Islamic Golden Age influenced European intellectual developments. The two main currents of early Islamic thought are Kalam which focuses on Islamic theology and Falsafa which was based on Aristotelianism and Neoplatonism. The work of Aristotle was very influential among the falsafa such as al-Kindi (9th century), Avicenna (980 – June 1037) and Averroes (12th century). Others such as Al-Ghazali were highly critical of the methods of the Aristotelian falsafa. Islamic thinkers also developed a scientific method, experimental medicine, a theory of optics and a legal philosophy. Ibn Khaldun was an influential thinker in philosophy of history.

In Iran, several schools of Islamic philosophy continued to flourish after the Golden Age and include currents such as Illuminationist philosophy, Sufi philosophy, and Transcendent theosophy. The 19th- and 20th-century Arab world saw the Nahda movement (literally meaning 'The Awakening'; also known as the 'Arab Renaissance'), which had a considerable influence on contemporary Islamic philosophy.

Indian philosophy

Indian philosophy (Sanskrit : darśana, lit.  'point of view', 'perspective') [26] refers to the diverse philosophical traditions that emerged since the ancient times on the Indian subcontinent. Jainism and Buddhism originated at the end of the Vedic period, while Hinduism emerged after the period as a fusion of diverse traditions.

Hindus generally classify these traditions as either orthodox (āstika) or heterodox (nāstika) depending on whether they accept the authority of the Vedas and the theories of brahman ('eternal', 'conscious', 'irreducible') [27] and ātman ('soul', 'self', 'breathe') [28] therein. [29] [30] The orthodox schools include the Hindu traditions of thought, while the heterodox schools include the Buddhist and the Jain traditions. [lower-roman 2] Other schools include the Ajñana, Ājīvika, and Cārvāka which became extinct over their history. [31] [32]

Important Indian philosophical concepts shared by the Indian philosophies and virtues include: [33] [34]

Jain philosophy

Akalanka, an 8th century Jain monk and philosopher who wrote influential works on Indian Logic Aklank swami.jpg
Akalanka, an 8th century Jain monk and philosopher who wrote influential works on Indian Logic

Jain philosophy accepts the concept of a permanent soul ( jiva ) as one of the five astikayas (eternal, infinite categories that make up the substance of existence). The other four being dhárma, adharma , ākāśa ('space'), and pudgala ('matter').

The Jain thought separates matter from the soul completely, [37] with two major subtraditions: Digambara ('sky dressed', 'naked') and Śvētāmbara ('white dressed'), along with several more minor traditions such as Terapanthi. [38]

Asceticism is a major monastic virtue in Jainism. [39] Jain texts such as the Tattvartha Sutra state that right faith, right knowledge and right conduct is the path to liberation. [40] The Jain thought holds that all existence is cyclic, eternal and uncreated. [41] [42] The Tattvartha Sutra is the earliest known, most comprehensive and authoritative compilation of Jain philosophy. [43] [44]

Buddhist philosophy

Monks debating at Sera monastery, Tibet, 2013. According to Jan Westerhoff, "public debates constituted the most important and most visible forms of philosophical exchange" in ancient Indian intellectual life. [45]

Buddhist philosophy begins with the thought of Gautama Buddha (fl. between 6th and 4th century BCE) and is preserved in the early Buddhist texts. It originated in India and later spread to East Asia, Tibet, Central Asia, and Southeast Asia, developing various traditions in these regions. Mahayana forms are the dominant Buddhist philosophical traditions in East Asian regions such as China, Korea and Japan. The Theravada forms are dominant in Southeast Asian countries, such as Sri Lanka, Burma and Thailand.

Because ignorance to the true nature of things is considered one of the roots of suffering ( dukkha ), Buddhist philosophy is concerned with epistemology, metaphysics, ethics and psychology. Buddhist philosophical texts must also be understood within the context of meditative practices which are supposed to bring about certain cognitive shifts. [46] :8 Key innovative concepts include the four noble truths as an analysis of dukkha, anicca (impermanence), and anatta (non-self). [lower-roman 3] [47]

After the death of the Buddha, various groups began to systematize his main teachings, eventually developing comprehensive philosophical systems termed Abhidharma . [46] :37 Following the Abhidharma schools, Mahayana philosophers such as Nagarjuna and Vasubandhu developed the theories of śūnyatā ('emptiness of all phenomena') and vijñapti-matra ('appearance only'), a form of phenomenology or transcendental idealism. The Dignāga school of pramāṇa ('means of knowledge') promoted a sophisticated form of Buddhist logico-epistemology.

There were numerous schools, sub-schools, and traditions of Buddhist philosophy in India. According to Oxford professor of Buddhist philosophy Jan Westerhoff, the major Indian schools from 300 BCE to 1000 CE were: [46] :xxiv

After the disappearance of Buddhism from India, some of these philosophical traditions continued to develop in the Tibetan Buddhist, East Asian Buddhist and Theravada Buddhist traditions.[ citation needed ]

Hindu philosophies

Adi Shankara is one of the most frequently studied Hindu philosophers. Raja Ravi Varma - Sankaracharya.jpg
Adi Shankara is one of the most frequently studied Hindu philosophers.

Some of the earliest surviving Hindu mystical and philosophical texts are the Upanishads of the later Vedic period (1000–500 BCE). Indian philosophy is commonly grouped based on their relationship to the Vedas and the ideas contained in them (especially Ātman and Brahman ). [lower-roman 4]

The schools which align themselves with Vedic thought are often called the "orthodox" ( āstika ) Hindu traditions and they are traditionally classified into six darśanas : Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Samkhya, Yoga, Mīmāṃsā, and Vedanta. [50]

The Vedas as a knowledge source were interpreted differently by these six schools of Hindu philosophy, with varying degrees of overlap. They represent a "collection of philosophical views that share a textual connection," according to Chadha (2015). [51] They also reflect a tolerance for a diversity of philosophical interpretations within Hinduism while sharing the same foundation. [lower-roman 4]

Hindu philosophers of the six orthodox schools developed systems of epistemology ( pramana ) and investigated topics such as metaphysics, ethics, psychology ( guṇa ), hermeneutics, and soteriology within the framework of the Vedic knowledge, while presenting a diverse collection of interpretations. [52] [53] [54] [55] The commonly named six orthodox schools over time led to what has been called the "Hindu synthesis" as exemplified by its scripture the Bhagavad Gita . [56] [57] [58]

There are also other schools of thought which are often seen as "Hindu", though not necessarily orthodox (since they may accept different scriptures as normative, such as the Shaiva Agamas and Tantras), these include different schools of Shavism such as Pashupata, Shaiva Siddhanta, non-dual tantric Shavism (i..e Trika, Kaula, etc). [59]

The "Hindu" and "Orthodox" traditions are contrasted with the "unorthodox" traditions (nāstika, literally "those who reject"). These traditions reject the Vedas as authoritative and often reject major concepts and ideas that are widely accepted by the orthodox schools (such as Ātman, Brahman, and Īśvara). [32] These unorthodox schools include Jainism (accepts ātman but rejects Īśvara, Vedas and Brahman), Buddhism (rejects all orthodox concepts except rebirth and karma), Cārvāka (materialists who reject even rebirth and karma) and Ājīvika (known for their doctrine of fate). [32] [60] [61] [62] [63] [lower-roman 5] [64] [65]

East Asian philosophy

The Analects of Confucius (fl. 551-479 BCE) Rongo Analects 02.jpg
The Analects of Confucius (fl. 551–479 BCE)
Kitaro Nishida, professor of philosophy at Kyoto University and founder of the Kyoto School. Portrait-of-Kitaro-Nishida.png
Kitarō Nishida, professor of philosophy at Kyoto University and founder of the Kyoto School.

East Asian philosophical thought began in Ancient China, and Chinese philosophy begins during the Western Zhou Dynasty and the following periods after its fall when the "Hundred Schools of Thought" flourished (6th century to 221 BCE). [66] [67] This period was characterized by significant intellectual and cultural developments and saw the rise of the major philosophical schools of China, Confucianism, Legalism, and Daoism as well as numerous other less influential schools. These philosophical traditions developed metaphysical, political and ethical theories such Tao, Yin and yang, Ren and Li which, along with Chinese Buddhism, directly influenced Korean philosophy, Vietnamese philosophy and Japanese philosophy (which also includes the native Shinto tradition). Buddhism began arriving in China during the Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE), through a gradual Silk road transmission and through native influences developed distinct Chinese forms (such as Chan/Zen) which spread throughout the East Asian cultural sphere. During later Chinese dynasties like the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) as well as in the Korean Joseon dynasty (1392–1897) a resurgent Neo-Confucianism led by thinkers such as Wang Yangming (1472–1529) became the dominant school of thought, and was promoted by the imperial state.

In the Modern era, Chinese thinkers incorporated ideas from Western philosophy. Chinese Marxist philosophy developed under the influence of Mao Zedong, while a Chinese pragmatism under Hu Shih and New Confucianism's rise was influenced by Xiong Shili. Modern Japanese thought meanwhile developed under strong Western influences such as the study of Western Sciences (Rangaku) and the modernist Meirokusha intellectual society which drew from European enlightenment thought. The 20th century saw the rise of State Shinto and also Japanese nationalism. The Kyoto School, an influential and unique Japanese philosophical school developed from Western phenomenology and Medieval Japanese Buddhist philosophy such as that of Dogen.

African philosophy

African philosophy is philosophy produced by African people, philosophy that presents African worldviews, ideas and themes, or philosophy that uses distinct African philosophical methods. Modern African thought has been occupied with Ethnophilosophy, with defining the very meaning of African philosophy and its unique characteristics and what it means to be African. [68] During the 17th century, Ethiopian philosophy developed a robust literary tradition as exemplified by Zera Yacob. Another early African philosopher was Anton Wilhelm Amo (c. 1703–1759) who became a respected philosopher in Germany. Distinct African philosophical ideas include Ujamaa, the Bantu idea of 'Force', Négritude, Pan-Africanism and Ubuntu. Contemporary African thought has also seen the development of Professional philosophy and of Africana philosophy, the philosophical literature of the African diaspora which includes currents such as black existentialism by African-Americans. Some modern African thinkers have been influenced by Marxism, African-American literature, Critical theory, Critical race theory, Postcolonialism and Feminism.

Indigenous American philosophy

A Tlamatini (Aztec philosopher) observing the stars, from the Codex Mendoza. Tlamatini observe stars - Codex Mendoza.jpg
A Tlamatini (Aztec philosopher) observing the stars, from the Codex Mendoza.

Indigenous-American philosophical thought consists of a wide variety of beliefs and traditions among different American cultures. Among some of U.S. Native American communities, there is a belief in a metaphysical principle called the 'Great Spirit' (Siouan: wakȟáŋ tȟáŋka ; Algonquian: gitche manitou). Another widely shared concept was that of orenda ('spiritual power'). According to Whiteley (1998), for the Native Americans, "mind is critically informed by transcendental experience (dreams, visions and so on) as well as by reason." [69] The practices to access these transcendental experiences are termed shamanism . Another feature of the indigenous American worldviews was their extension of ethics to non-human animals and plants. [69] [70]

In Mesoamerica, Aztec philosophy was an intellectual tradition developed by individuals called Tlamatini ('those who know something') [71] and its ideas are preserved in various Aztec codices. The Aztec worldview posited the concept of an ultimate universal energy or force called Ōmeteōtl ('Dual Cosmic Energy') which sought a way to live in balance with a constantly changing, "slippery" world.

The theory of Teotl can be seen as a form of Pantheism. [72] Aztec philosophers developed theories of metaphysics, epistemology, values, and aesthetics. Aztec ethics was focused on seeking tlamatiliztli ('knowledge', 'wisdom') which was based on moderation and balance in all actions as in the Nahua proverb "the middle good is necessary." [72]

The Inca civilization also had an elite class of philosopher-scholars termed the Amawtakuna who were important in the Inca education system as teachers of religion, tradition, history and ethics. Key concepts of Andean thought are Yanantin and Masintin which involve a theory of “complementary opposites” that sees polarities (such as male/female, dark/light) as interdependent parts of a harmonious whole. [73]

Women in philosophy

Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) was an English writer and philosopher. Mary Wollstonecraft by John Opie (c. 1797).jpg
Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) was an English writer and philosopher.

Although men have generally dominated philosophical discourse, women philosophers have engaged in the discipline throughout history. Ancient examples include Hipparchia of Maroneia (active c.325 BCE) and Arete of Cyrene (active 5th–4th centuries BCE). Some women philosophers were accepted during the medieval and modern eras, but none became part of the Western canon until the 20th and 21st century, when many suggest that G.E.M. Anscombe, Hannah Arendt, Simone de Beauvoir, and Susanne Langer entered the canon. [74] [75] [76]

In the early 1800s, some colleges and universities in the UK and US began admitting women, producing more female academics. Nevertheless, U.S. Department of Education reports from the 1990s indicate that few women ended up in philosophy, and that philosophy is one of the least gender-proportionate fields in the humanities, with women making up somewhere between 17% and 30% of philosophy faculty according to some studies. [77]

Branches of philosophy

Philosophical questions can be grouped into various branches. These groupings allow philosophers to focus on a set of similar topics and interact with other thinkers who are interested in the same questions.

These divisions are neither exhaustive, nor mutually exclusive. (A philosopher might specialize in Kantian epistemology, or Platonic aesthetics, or modern political philosophy). Furthermore, these philosophical inquiries sometimes overlap with each other and with other inquiries such as science, religion or mathematics. [78]


Aesthetics is the "critical reflection on art, culture and nature." [79] [80] It addresses the nature of art, beauty and taste, enjoyment, emotional values, perception and with the creation and appreciation of beauty. [81] It is more precisely defined as the study of sensory or sensori-emotional values, sometimes called judgments of sentiment and taste. [82] Its major divisions are art theory, literary theory, film theory and music theory. An example from art theory is to discern the set of principles underlying the work of a particular artist or artistic movement such as the Cubist aesthetic. [83]


The Beijing imperial college was an intellectual center for Confucian ethics and classics during the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. BeijingConfuciusTemple9.jpg
The Beijing imperial college was an intellectual center for Confucian ethics and classics during the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties.

Ethics, also known as moral philosophy, studies what constitutes good and bad conduct, right and wrong values, and good and evil. Its primary investigations include how to live a good life and identifying standards of morality. It also includes investigating whether or not there is a best way to live or a universal moral standard, and if so, how we come to learn about it. The main branches of ethics are normative ethics, meta-ethics and applied ethics. [84]

The three main views in ethics about what constitute moral actions are: [84]


Dignaga founded a school of Buddhist epistemology and logic. Dignaga.jpg
Dignaga founded a school of Buddhist epistemology and logic.

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that studies knowledge. [85] Epistemologists examine putative sources of knowledge, including perceptual experience, reason, memory, and testimony. They also investigate questions about the nature of truth, belief, justification, and rationality. [86]

Philosophical skepticism, which raises doubts about some or all claims to knowledge, has been a topic of interest throughout the history of philosophy. It arose early in Pre-Socratic philosophy and became formalized with Pyrrho, the founder of the earliest Western school of philosophical skepticism. It features prominently in the works of modern philosophers René Descartes and David Hume, and has remained a central topic in contemporary epistemological debates. [86]

One of the most notable epistemological debates is between empiricism and rationalism. Empiricism places emphasis on observational evidence via sensory experience as the source of knowledge. Empiricism is associated with a posteriori knowledge, which is obtained through experience (such as scientific knowledge). Rationalism places emphasis on reason as a source of knowledge. Rationalism is associated with a priori knowledge, which is independent of experience (such as logic and mathematics).

One central debate in contemporary epistemology is about the conditions required for a belief to constitute knowledge, which might include truth and justification. This debate was largely the result of attempts to solve the Gettier problem. [86] Another common subject of contemporary debates is the regress problem, which occurs when trying to offer proof or justification for any belief, statement, or proposition. The problem is that whatever the source of justification may be, that source must either be without justification (in which case it must be treated as an arbitrary foundation for belief), or it must have some further justification (in which case justification must either be the result of circular reasoning, as in coherentism, or the result of an infinite regress, as in infinitism). [86]


The beginning of Aristotle's Metaphysics in an incunabulum decorated with hand-painted miniatures. Aristotle, Metaphysics, Incunabulum.jpg
The beginning of Aristotle's Metaphysics in an incunabulum decorated with hand-painted miniatures.

Metaphysics is the study of the most general features of reality, such as existence, time, objects and their properties, wholes and their parts, events, processes and causation and the relationship between mind and body. Metaphysics includes cosmology, the study of the world in its entirety and ontology, the study of being.

A major point of debate is between realism, which holds that there are entities that exist independently of their mental perception and idealism, which holds that reality is mentally constructed or otherwise immaterial. Metaphysics deals with the topic of identity. Essence is the set of attributes that make an object what it fundamentally is and without which it loses its identity while accident is a property that the object has, without which the object can still retain its identity. Particulars are objects that are said to exist in space and time, as opposed to abstract objects, such as numbers, and universals, which are properties held by multiple particulars, such as redness or a gender. The type of existence, if any, of universals and abstract objects is an issue of debate.


Logic is the study of reasoning and argument.

Deductive reasoning is when, given certain premises, conclusions are unavoidably implied. Rules of inference are used to infer conclusions such as, modus ponens, where given “A” and “If A then B”, then “B” must be concluded.

Because sound reasoning is an essential element of all sciences, [87] social sciences and humanities disciplines, logic became a formal science. Sub-fields include mathematical logic, philosophical logic, Modal logic, computational logic and non-classical logics. A major question in the philosophy of mathematics is whether mathematical entities are objective and discovered, called mathematical realism, or invented, called mathematical antirealism.

Other subfields

Mind and language

Philosophy of language explores the nature, origins, and use of language. Philosophy of mind explores the nature of the mind and its relationship to the body, as typified by disputes between materialism and dualism. In recent years, this branch has become related to cognitive science.

Philosophy of science

The philosophy of science explores the foundations, methods, history, implications and purpose of science. Many of its subdivisions correspond to specific branches of science. For example, philosophy of biology deals specifically with the metaphysical, epistemological and ethical issues in the biomedical and life sciences.

Political philosophy

Thomas Hobbes, best known for his Leviathan, which expounded an influential formulation of social contract theory. Thomas Hobbes (portrait).jpg
Thomas Hobbes, best known for his Leviathan , which expounded an influential formulation of social contract theory.

Political philosophy is the study of government and the relationship of individuals (or families and clans) to communities including the state.[ citation needed ] It includes questions about justice, law, property and the rights and obligations of the citizen. Politics and ethics are traditionally linked subjects, as both discuss the question of how people should live together.[ citation needed ]

Philosophy of religion

Philosophy of religion deals with questions that involve religion and religious ideas from a philosophically neutral perspective (as opposed to theology which begins from religious convictions). [88] Traditionally, religious questions were not seen as a separate field from philosophy proper, the idea of a separate field only arose in the 19th century. [lower-roman 6]

Issues include the existence of God, the relationship between reason and faith, questions of religious epistemology, the relationship between religion and science, how to interpret religious experiences, questions about the possibility of an afterlife, the problem of religious language and the existence of souls and responses to religious pluralism and diversity.


Metaphilosophy explores the aims of philosophy, its boundaries and its methods.

Applied and professional philosophy

Martin Luther King Jr. Martin Luther King Jr NYWTS.jpg
Martin Luther King Jr.

Some of those who study philosophy become professional philosophers, typically by working as professors who teach, research and write in academic institutions. [89] However, most students of academic philosophy later contribute to law, journalism, religion, sciences, politics, business, or various arts. [90] [91] For example, public figures who have degrees in philosophy include comedians Steve Martin and Ricky Gervais, filmmaker Terrence Malick, Pope John Paul II, Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger, technology entrepreneur Peter Thiel, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Bryer and vice presidential candidate Carly Fiorina. [92] [93] Curtis White has argued that philosophical tools are essential to humanities, sciences and social sciences. [94]

Recent efforts to avail the general public to the work and relevance of philosophers include the million-dollar Berggruen Prize, first awarded to Charles Taylor in 2016. [95] Some philosophers argue that this professionalization has negatively affected the discipline. [96]

See also

Related Research Articles

Epistemology Branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope of knowledge

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy concerned with knowledge. Epistemologists study the nature of knowledge, epistemic justification, the rationality of belief, and various related issues. Epistemology is considered one of the four main branches of philosophy, along with ethics, logic, and metaphysics.

Metaphilosophy is "the investigation of the nature of philosophy". Its subject matter includes the aims of philosophy, the boundaries of philosophy, and its methods. Thus, while philosophy characteristically inquires into the nature of being, the reality of objects, the possibility of knowledge, the nature of truth, and so on, metaphilosophy is the self-reflective inquiry into the nature, aims, and methods of the activity that makes these kinds of inquiries, by asking what is philosophy itself, what sorts of questions it should ask, how it might pose and answer them, and what it can achieve in doing so. It is considered by some to be a subject prior and preparatory to philosophy, while others see it as inherently a part of philosophy, or automatically a part of philosophy while others adopt some combination of these views.

Metaphysics Branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of reality

Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that examines the fundamental nature of reality, including the relationship between mind and matter, between substance and attribute, and between potentiality and actuality. The word "metaphysics" comes from two Greek words that, together, literally mean "after or behind or among [the study of] the natural". It has been suggested that the term might have been coined by a first century AD editor who assembled various small selections of Aristotle’s works into the treatise we now know by the name Metaphysics.

Philosophy of religion is "the philosophical examination of the central themes and concepts involved in religious traditions". Philosophical discussions on such topics date from ancient times, and appear in the earliest known texts concerning philosophy. The field is related to many other branches of philosophy, including metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics.

Philosopher Practitioner of philosophy

A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy. The term philosopher comes from the Ancient Greek: φιλόσοφος, romanized: philosophos, meaning 'lover of wisdom'. The coining of the term has been attributed to the Greek thinker Pythagoras.

Sutra A text in Hinduism, Buddhism or Jainism, often a collection of aphorisms

Sutra in Indian literary traditions refers to an aphorism or a collection of aphorisms in the form of a manual or, more broadly, a condensed manual or text. Sutras are a genre of ancient and medieval Indian texts found in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.

Charvaka, also known as Lokāyata, is an ancient school of Indian materialism. Charvaka holds direct perception, empiricism, and conditional inference as proper sources of knowledge, embraces philosophical skepticism and rejects ritualism and supernaturalism. It was a very popular belief system in India before the emergence of Jain and Buddhist tradition.

Eastern philosophy Set of philosophies originating in Asia

Eastern philosophy or Asian philosophy includes the various philosophies that originated in East and South Asia including Chinese philosophy, Indian philosophy, Japanese philosophy, and Korean philosophy which are dominant in East and Southeast Asia.

Analytic philosophy Style of philosophy

Analytic philosophy is a branch and tradition of philosophy using analysis which is popular in the Western World and particularly the Anglosphere, which began around the turn of the 20th century in the contemporary era and continues today. In the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Scandinavia, the majority of university philosophy departments today identify themselves as "analytic" departments.

Hindu philosophy Various systems of thought in Hinduism

Hindu philosophy encompasses the philosophies, world views and teachings that emerged in ancient India. These include six systems (shad-darśana) – Sankhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Mimamsa and Vedanta.

Indian philosophy Philosophical traditions of the Indian subcontinent

Indian philosophy refers to philosophical traditions of the Indian subcontinent. A traditional classification divides orthodox (āstika) and heterodox (nāstika) schools of philosophy, depending on one of three alternate criteria: whether it believes the Vedas as a valid source of knowledge; whether the school believes in the premises of Brahman and Atman; and whether the school believes in afterlife and Devas.

Modern philosophy

Modern philosophy is philosophy developed in the modern era and associated with modernity. It is not a specific doctrine or school, although there are certain assumptions common to much of it, which helps to distinguish it from earlier philosophy.

The development of Indian logic dates back to the anviksiki of Medhatithi Gautama ; the Sanskrit grammar rules of Pāṇini ; the Vaisheshika school's analysis of atomism ; the analysis of inference by Gotama, founder of the Nyaya school of Hindu philosophy; and the tetralemma of Nagarjuna.

Bimal Krishna Matilal was an eminent Indian philosopher whose writings presented the Indian philosophical tradition as a comprehensive system of logic incorporating most issues addressed by themes in Western philosophy. From 1977 to 1991 he was the Spalding Professor of Eastern Religion and Ethics at the University of Oxford.

Anekāntavāda is the Jain doctrine about metaphysical truths that emerged in ancient India. It states that the ultimate truth and reality is complex and has multiple aspects. Anekantavada has also been interpreted to mean non-absolutism, "intellectual Ahimsa", religious pluralism, as well as a rejection of fanaticism that leads to terror attacks and mass violence. Some scholars state that modern revisionism has attempted to reinterpret anekantavada with religious tolerance, openmindedness and pluralism.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to philosophy:

Metaphysical naturalism is a philosophical worldview which holds that there is nothing but natural elements, principles, and relations of the kind studied by the natural sciences. Methodological naturalism is a philosophical basis for science, for which metaphysical naturalism provides only one possible ontological foundation. Broadly, the corresponding theological perspective is religious naturalism or spiritual naturalism. More specifically, metaphysical naturalism rejects the supernatural concepts and explanations that are part of many religions.

Buddhist logico-epistemology

Buddhist logico-epistemology is a term used in Western scholarship for pramāṇa-vāda and Hetu-vidya. Pramāṇa-vāda is an epistemological study of the nature of knowledge; Hetu-vidya is a system of logic. These models developed in India during the 5th through 7th centuries.

Western philosophy Philosophy of the Western world

Western philosophy refers to the philosophical thought and work of the Western world. Historically, the term refers to the philosophical thinking of Western culture, beginning with the ancient Greek philosophy of the pre-Socratics. The word philosophy itself originated from the Ancient Greek philosophía (φιλοσοφία), literally, "the love of wisdom".

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to metaphysics:



  1. Quinton, Anthony. 1995. "The Ethics of Philosophical Practice." P. 666 in The Oxford Companion to Philosophy , edited by T. Honderich. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN   978-0-19-866132-0. "Philosophy is rationally critical thinking, of a more or less systematic kind about the general nature of the world (metaphysics or theory of existence), the justification of belief (epistemology or theory of knowledge), and the conduct of life (ethics or theory of value). Each of the three elements in this list has a non-philosophical counterpart, from which it is distinguished by its explicitly rational and critical way of proceeding and by its systematic nature. Everyone has some general conception of the nature of the world in which they live and of their place in it. Metaphysics replaces the unargued assumptions embodied in such a conception with a rational and organized body of beliefs about the world as a whole. Everyone has occasion to doubt and question beliefs, their own or those of others, with more or less success and without any theory of what they are doing. Epistemology seeks by argument to make explicit the rules of correct belief formation. Everyone governs their conduct by directing it to desired or valued ends. Ethics, or moral philosophy, in its most inclusive sense, seeks to articulate, in rationally systematic form, the rules or principles involved." (p. 666).
  2. Potter, Karl (1961). "A Fresh Classification of India's Philosophical Systems". Journal of Asian Studies . 21 (1): 25–32. doi:10.2307/2050985. JSTOR   2050985. "Whatever the source of the generally accepted classification of Indian philosophical systems, its six divisions do not appear to most scholars in this field to stem from logic. As a systematic attempt to deal with theoretical problems of metaphysics, logic, epistemology, and related topics, the “six systems” account has several glaring deficiencies. Two of these will be mentioned briefly.… A second deficiency in the “six-system” account is that it only covers orthodox philosophers, i.e., the Hindu schools of thought. From a philosophical standpoint, the views of the Buddhists and Jains are equally important."
  3. Gombrich, Richard (2006). Theravada Buddhism. Routledge. ISBN   978-1-134-90352-8. "All phenomenal existence [in Buddhism] is said to have three interlocking characteristics: impermanence, suffering and lack of soul or essence." (p. 47).
  4. 1 2 Sharma, Arvind (1990). A Hindu Perspective on the Philosophy of Religion. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN   978-1-349-20797-8. "The attitude towards the existence of God varies within the Hindu religious tradition. This may not be entirely unexpected given the tolerance for doctrinal diversity for which the tradition is known. Thus of the six orthodox systems of Hindu philosophy, only three address the question in some detail. These are the schools of thought known as Nyaya, Yoga and the theistic forms of Vedanta." (pp. 1–2).
  5. Wynne, Alexander. 2011. "The ātman and its negation." Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 33(1–2):103–05. "The denial that a human being possesses a "self" or "soul" is probably the most famous Buddhist teaching. It is certainly its most distinct, as has been pointed out by G.P. Malalasekera: 'In its denial of any real permanent Soul or Self, Buddhism stands alone.' A similar modern Sinhalese perspective has been expressed by Walpola Rahula: 'Buddhism stands unique in the history of human thought in denying the existence of such a Soul, Self or Ātman.' The 'no Self' or 'no soul' doctrine (Sanskrit : anātman; Pali : anattan) is particularly notable for its widespread acceptance and historical endurance. It was a standard belief of virtually all the ancient schools of Indian Buddhism (the notable exception being the Pudgalavādins), and has persisted without change into the modern era.… [B]oth views are mirrored by the modern Theravādin perspective of Mahasi Sayadaw that 'there is no person or soul' and the modern Mahāyāna view of the fourteenth Dalai Lama that '[t]he Buddha taught that ... our belief in an independent self is the root cause of all suffering.'
  6. Wainwright, William J. 2005. "Introduction." Pp. 3–11 in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Religion , edited by W. J. Wainwright. New York: Oxford University Press. "The expression “philosophy of religion” did not come into general use until the nineteenth century, when it was employed to refer to the articulation and criticism of humanity's religious consciousness and its cultural expressions in thought, language, feeling, and practice." ( Oxford Handbook , p. 3, at Google Books).


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Further reading

General introduction

Topical introductions




Historical introductions



  • Knight, Kelvin. Aristotelian Philosophy: Ethics and Politics from Aristotle to MacIntyre. ISBN   978-0-7456-1977-4


Modern & contemporary

  • Existentialism: Basic Writings (Second Edition) by Charles Guignon, Derk Pereboom
  • Curley, Edwin, A Spinoza Reader, Princeton, 1994, ISBN   978-0-691-00067-1
  • Bullock, Alan, R.B. Woodings, and John Cumming, eds. The Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thinkers, in series, Fontana Original[s]. Hammersmith, Eng.: Fontana Press, 1992 [1983]. xxv, 867 p. ISBN   978-0-00-636965-3
  • Scruton, Roger. A Short History of Modern Philosophy. ISBN   978-0-415-26763-2

Reference works

  • Chan, Wing-tsit (1963). A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy. Princeton University Press. ISBN   978-0-691-01964-2.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Huang, Siu-chi (1999). Essentials of Neo-Confucianism: Eight Major Philosophers of the Song and Ming Periods. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN   978-0-313-26449-8.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy by Robert Audi
  • The Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (10 vols.) edited by Edward Craig, Luciano Floridi (available online by subscription); or
  • The Concise Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy edited by Edward Craig (an abridgement)
  • Edwards, Paul, ed. (1967). The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Macmillan & Free Press.; in 1996, a ninth supplemental volume appeared that updated the classic 1967 encyclopedia.
  • International Directory of Philosophy and Philosophers . Charlottesville, Philosophy Documentation Center.
  • Directory of American Philosophers . Charlottesville, Philosophy Documentation Center.
  • 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
  • History of Italian Philosophy (2 vols.) by Eugenio Garin. Translated from Italian and Edited by Giorgio Pinton. Introduction by Leon Pompa.
  • 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
  • Instructions for Practical Living and Other Neo-Confucian Writings by Wang Yang-ming by Chan, Wing-tsit
  • 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, Nicholas; Tsui-James, Eric, eds. (15 April 2008). The Blackwell Companion to Philosophy. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN   978-0-470-99787-1.
  • Hoffman, Eric, Ed. (1997) Guidebook for Publishing Philosophy. Charlottesville, Philosophy Documentation Center.
  • Popkin, R.H. (1999). The Columbia History of Western Philosophy. New York, Columbia University Press.
  • Bullock, Alan, and Oliver Stallybrass, jt. eds. The Harper Dictionary of Modern Thought. New York: Harper & Row, 1977. xix, 684 p. N.B.: "First published in England under the title, The Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought." ISBN   978-0-06-010578-5
  • Reese, W.L. Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion: Eastern and Western Thought. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1980. iv, 644 p. ISBN   978-0-391-00688-1