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Philosophy (from Greek φιλοσοφία, philosophia, literally "love of wisdom") is the study of general and fundamental problems concerning matters such as existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. The term was probably coined by Pythagoras (c. 570 – c. 495 BC). Philosophical methods include questioning, critical discussion, rational argument and systematic presentation. Classic philosophical questions include: Is it possible to know anything and to prove it? What is most real? However, philosophers might also pose more practical and concrete questions such as: Is there a best way to live? Is it better to be just or unjust (if one can get away with it)? Do humans have free will?
Historically, "philosophy" encompassed any body of knowledge. From the time of Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle to the 19th century, "natural philosophy" encompassed astronomy, medicine and physics. 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. In the modern era, some investigations that were traditionally part of philosophy became separate academic disciplines, including psychology, sociology, linguistics and economics.
Other investigations closely related to art, science, politics, or other pursuits remained part of philosophy. For example, is beauty objective or subjective? Are there many scientific methods or just one? Is political utopia a hopeful dream or hopeless fantasy? Major sub-fields of academic philosophy include metaphysics ("concerned with the fundamental nature of reality and being"), epistemology (about the "nature and grounds of knowledge [and]...its limits and validity" ), ethics, aesthetics, political philosophy, logic, philosophy of science and the history of Western philosophy.
Since the 20th century professional philosophers contribute to society primarily as professors, researchers and writers. However, many of those who study philosophy in undergraduate or graduate programs contribute in the fields of law, journalism, politics, religion, science, business and various art and entertainment activities.
Traditionally, the term "philosophy" referred to any body of knowledge. In this sense, philosophy is closely related to religion, mathematics, natural science, education and politics. Newton's 1687 "Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy" is classified in the 2000s as a book of physics; he used the term "natural philosophy" because it used to encompass disciplines that later became associated with sciences such as astronomy, medicine and physics.
Philosophy was traditionally divided into three major branches:
- Natural philosophy ("physics") was the study of the physical world (physis, lit: nature);
- Moral philosophy ("ethics") was the study of goodness, right and wrong, beauty, justice and virtue (ethos, lit: custom);
- Metaphysical philosophy ("logos") was the study of existence, causation, God, logic, forms and other abstract objects ("meta-physika" lit: "what comes after physics").
This division is not obsolete but has changed. Natural philosophy has split into the various natural sciences, especially astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology and cosmology. Moral philosophy has birthed the social sciences, but still includes value theory (including aesthetics, ethics, political philosophy, etc.). Metaphysical philosophy has birthed formal sciences such as logic, mathematics and philosophy of science, but still includes epistemology, cosmology and others.
Many philosophical debates that began in ancient times are still debated today. Colin McGinn and others claim that no philosophical progress has occurred during that interval. Chalmers and others, by contrast, see progress in philosophy similar to that in science, while Talbot Brewer argued that "progress" is the wrong standard by which to judge philosophical activity.
Philosophy and Culture
In one sense, philosophy is synonymous with wisdom or learning. In that sense, all cultures have a philosophical tradition.
- Western philosophy
Western philosophy dates to the Greek philosophers, who were active in Ancient Greece beginning in the 6th century BC. Pythagoras distinguished himself from other "wise ones" by calling himself a mere lover of wisdom, suggesting that he was not wise. Socrates used this title and insisted that he possessed no wisdom but was a pursuer of wisdom. Socrates' student Plato is often credited as the founder of Western philosophy. The philosopher Alfred North Whitehead said of Plato: "The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato. I do not mean the systematic scheme of thought which scholars have doubtfully extracted from his writings. I allude to the wealth of general ideas scattered through them."
- Eastern philosophy
Eastern philosophy is a term that encompasses the many philosophical currents originating outside Europe, including China, India, Japan, Persia and other regions. They have their own timelines, regions and philosophers. Major traditions include:
- African philosophy and Ethiopian philosophy
- Ancient Egyptian philosophy and Babylonian literature
- Indian philosophy, Jain philosophy and Hindu philosophy
- Iranian philosophy
- East Asian Neo-Confucianism and Buddhist philosophy, Japanese philosophy and Korean philosophy
- Persian Zoroastrianism
- Middle Eastern Islamic philosophy
- European Jewish philosophy and Christian philosophy
- Mesoamerican Aztec philosophy
Philosophy questions can be grouped into categories. These groupings allow philosophers to focus on a set of similar topics and interact with other thinkers who are interested in the same questions. The groupings also make philosophy easier for students to approach. Students can learn the basic principles involved in one aspect of the field without being overwhelmed with the entire set of philosophical theories.
Various sources present different categorical schemes. The categories adopted in this article aim for breadth and simplicity.
- Metaphysics and epistemology
- Value theory
- Science, logic and mathematics
- History of Western philosophy
- Philosophical traditions
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.
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 revolves 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.
Epistemology is the study of knowledge (Greek episteme). Epistemologists study the putative sources of knowledge, including intuition, a priori reason, memory, perceptual knowledge, self-knowledge and testimony. They also ask: What is truth? Is knowledge justified true belief? Are any beliefs justified? Putative knowledge includes propositional knowledge (knowledge that something is the case), know-how (knowledge of how to do something) and acquaintance (familiarity with someone or something). Epistemologists examine these and ask whether knowledge is really possible.
Skepticism is the position which doubts claims to knowledge. The regress argument, a fundamental problem in epistemology, occurs when, in order to completely prove any statement, its justification itself needs to be supported by another justification. This chain can go on forever, called infinitism, it can eventually rely on basic beliefs that are left unproven, called foundationalism, or it can go in a circle so that a statement is included in its own chain of justification, called coherentism.
Rationalism is the emphasis on reasoning as a source of knowledge. It is associated with a priori knowledge, which is independent of experience, such as math and logical deduction. Empiricism is the emphasis on observational evidence via sensory experience as the source of knowledge.
Among the numerous topics within metaphysics and epistemology, broadly construed are:
- Philosophy of language explores the nature, the origins and the use of language.
- Philosophy of mind explores the nature of the mind and its relationship to the body. It is typified by disputes between dualism and materialism. In recent years this branch has become related to cognitive science.
- Philosophy of religion explores questions that arise in connection with religions, including the soul, the afterlife, God, religious experience, analysis of religious vocabulary and texts and the relationship of religion and science.
- Philosophy of human nature analyzes the unique characteristics of human beings, such as rationality, politics and culture.
- Metaphilosophy explores the aims of philosophy, its boundaries and its methods.
Value theory (or axiology) is the major branch of philosophy that addresses topics such as goodness, beauty and justice. Value theory includes ethics, aesthetics, political philosophy, feminist philosophy, philosophy of law and more.
- Main article: Ethics
Ethics, or "moral philosophy", studies and considers what is 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 meta-investigations about whether a best way to live or related standards exists. The main branches of ethics are normative ethics, meta-ethics and applied ethics.
A major point of debate revolves around consequentialism, where actions are judged by the potential results of the act, such as to maximize happiness, called utilitarianism, and deontology, where actions are judged by how they adhere to principles, irrespective of negative ends.
Aesthetics is the "critical reflection on art, culture and nature." It addresses the nature of art, beauty and taste, enjoyment, emotional values, perception and with the creation and appreciation of beauty. It is more precisely defined as the study of sensory or sensori-emotional values, sometimes called judgments of sentiment and taste. It divides into 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. The philosophy of film analyzes films and filmmakers for their philosophical content and explores film (images, cinema, etc.) as a medium for philosophical reflection and expression.
Political philosophy is the study of government and the relationship of individuals (or families and clans) to communities including the state. 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 what how people should live together.
Other branches of value theory:
There are a variety of branches of value theory.
- Philosophy of law (often called jurisprudence) explores the varying theories explaining the nature and interpretation of laws.
- Philosophy of education analyzes the definition and content of education, as well as the goals and challenges of educators.
- Feminist philosophy explores questions surrounding gender, sexuality and the body including the nature of feminism itself as a social and philosophical movement.
- Philosophy of sport analyzes sports, games and other forms of play as sociological and uniquely human activities.
Logic, science and mathematics
Many academic disciplines generated philosophical inquiry. The relationship between "X" and the "philosophy of X" is debated. Richard Feynman argued that the philosophy of a topic is irrelevant to its primary study, saying that "philosophy of science is as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds." Curtis White, by contrast, argued that philosophical tools are essential to humanities, sciences and social sciences.
Logic is the study of reasoning and argument. An argument is "a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition." The connected series of statements are "premises" and the proposition is the conclusion. For example:
- All humans are mortal. (premise)
- Socrates is a human. (premise)
- Therefore, Socrates is mortal. (conclusion)
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, 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 issue in the philosophy of mathematics revolves around whether mathematical entities are objective and discovered, called mathematical realism, or invented, called mathematical antirealism.
Philosophy of science
This branch explores the foundations, methods, history, implications and purpose of science. Many of its sub-divisions correspond to a specific branch of science. For example, philosophy of biology deals specifically with the metaphysical, epistemological and ethical issues in the biomedical and life sciences. The philosophy of mathematics studies the philosophical assumptions, foundations and implications of mathematics.
History of philosophy
Some philosophers specialize in one or more historical periods. The history of philosophy (study of a specific period, individual or school) is related to but not the same as the philosophy of history (the theoretical aspect of history, which deals with questions such as the nature of historical evidence and the possibility of objectivity).
Western philosophy has a long history dating back to the time of Socrates. It is conventionally divided into three large eras: ancient, medieval, and modern. Philosophy in the 20th century to present is considered "Contemporary philosophy". The history of philosophy is a rich field of study. This article does not aim for comprehensive detail but for a brief introduction to each period, with relevant links to other articles. The three historical periods are divided roughly as follows:
- Ancient (from 585 BC-400 AD)
- Medieval (400 - 1500)
- Modern (1500 - 1900)
Ancient philosophers first articulated questions about the "arche" (the cause or first principle) of the universe. Western Philosophy is generally said to begin in the Greek cities of western Asia Minor (Ionia) with Thales of Miletus, who was active around 585 B.C. and was responsible for the opaque dictum, "all is water." His most noted students were respectively Anaximander (all is apeiron (roughly, the unlimited)) and Anaximenes of Miletus ("all is air"). Pythagoras, from the island of Samos off the coast of Ionia, later lived at Croton in southern Italy (Magna Graecia). Pythagoreans hold that "all is number," giving formal accounts in contrast to the previous material of the Ionians. They also believe in metempsychosis, the transmigration of souls, or reincarnation.
The key figure in Greek philosophy is Socrates. Socrates studied under several Sophists but transformed Greek philosophy into a unified and continuous project that is still pursued today. It is said that following a visit to the Oracle of Delphi he spent much of his life questioning anyone in Athens who would engage him, in order to disprove the oracular prophecy that there would be no man wiser than Socrates. Socrates used a critical approach called the "elenchus" or Socratic method to examine people's views. He aimed to study human things: the good life, justice, beauty, and virtue. Although Socrates wrote nothing himself, some of his many disciples wrote down his conversations. He was tried for corrupting the youth and impiety by the Greek democracy. He was found guilty and sentenced to death. Although his friends offered to help him escape from prison, he chose to remain in Athens and abide by his principles. His execution consisting in drinking the poison hemlock and he died in 399 B.C.
Socrates' most important student was Plato. Plato founded the Academy of Athens and wrote a number of dialogues, which applied the Socratic method of inquiry to examine philosophical problems. Some central ideas of Plato's dialogues are the immortality of the soul, the benefits of being just, that evil is ignorance, and the Theory of Forms. Forms are universal properties that constitute true reality and contrast with the changeable material things he called "becoming".
Plato's most outstanding student was Aristotle. Aristotle was perhaps the first truly systematic philosopher and scientist. He wrote books on physics, biology, zoology, metaphysics, aesthetics, poetry, theater, music, rhetoric, politics and logic. Aristotelian logic was the first type of logic to attempt to categorize every valid syllogism. Aristotle tutored Alexander the Great. Aristotelian philosophy exercised considerable influence on almost all western philosophers, including Greek, Roman, Christian, Jewish, and Islamic thinkers.
- Early and late medieval philosophy
Medieval philosophy is the philosophy of Western Europe and the Middle East during the Middle Ages, roughly extending from the Christianization of the Roman Empire until the Renaissance. Medieval philosophy is defined partly by the rediscovery and further development of classical Greek and Hellenistic philosophy, and partly by the need to address theological problems and to integrate the then widespread sacred doctrines of Abrahamic religion (Islam, Judaism, and Christianity) with secular learning. Early medieval philosophy was influenced by the likes of Stoicism, neo-Platonism, but, above all, the philosophy of Plato himself.
Some problems discussed throughout this period are the relation of faith to reason, the existence and unity of God, the object of theology and metaphysics, the problems of knowledge, of universals, and of individuation. The prominent figure of this period was St. Augustine who adopted Plato's thought and Christianized it in the 4th century and whose influence dominated medieval philosophy perhaps up to end of the era but was checked with the arrival of Aristotle's texts. Augustinianism was the preferred starting point for most philosophers (including the great St. Anselm of Canterbury) up until the 13th century.
Thomas Aquinas, the father of Thomism, was immensely influential in Catholic Europe; he placed a great emphasis on reason and argumentation, and was one of the first to use the new translation of Aristotle's metaphysical and epistemological writing.
Philosophers from the Middle Ages include the Christian philosophers Augustine of Hippo, Boethius, Anselm, Gilbert of Poitiers, Peter Abelard, Roger Bacon, Bonaventure, Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus, William of Ockham and Jean Buridan; the Jewish philosophers Maimonides and Gersonides; and the Muslim philosophers Alkindus, Alfarabi, Alhazen, Avicenna, Algazel, Avempace, Abubacer, Ibn Khaldūn, and Averroes. The medieval tradition of Scholasticism continued to flourish as late as the 17th century, in figures such as Francisco Suarez and John of St. Thomas.
- Late Medieval and Renaissance
The Renaissance ("rebirth") was a period of transition between the Middle Ages and modern thought, in which the recovery of classical texts helped shift philosophical interests away from technical studies in logic, metaphysics, and theology towards eclectic inquiries into morality, philology, and mysticism. The study of the classics and the humane arts generally, such as history and literature, enjoyed a scholarly interest hitherto unknown in Christendom, a tendency referred to as humanism. Displacing the medieval interest in metaphysics and logic, the humanists followed Petrarch in making man and his virtues the focus of philosophy.
The term "modern philosophy" has multiple usages. For example, Thomas Hobbes is sometimes considered the first modern philosopher because he applied a systematic method to political philosophy. By contrast, René Descartes is often considered the first modern philosopher because he grounded his philosophy in problems of knowledge, rather than problems of metaphysics.
Modern philosophy and especially Enlightenment philosophy is distinguished by its increasing independence from traditional authorities such as the Church, academia, and Aristotelianism; a new focus on the foundations of knowledge and metaphysical system-building; and the emergence of modern physics out of natural philosophy.
- Early Modern
Some central topics of philosophy in this period include the nature of the mind and its relation to the body, the implications of the new natural sciences for traditional theological topics such as free will and God, and the emergence of a secular basis for moral and political philosophy. These trends first distinctively coalesce in Francis Bacon's call for a new, empirical program for expanding knowledge, and soon found massively influential form in the mechanical physics and rationalist metaphysics of René Descartes.
Other notable modern philosophers include Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Kant. Many other contributors were philosophers, scientists, medical doctors, and politicians. A short list includes Galileo Galilei, Pierre Gassendi, Blaise Pascal, Nicolas Malebranche, Isaac Newton, Christian Wolff, Montesquieu, Pierre Bayle, Thomas Reid, Jean d'Alembert, Adam Smith, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
The approximate end of the early modern period is most often identified with Immanuel Kant's systematic attempt to limit metaphysics, justify scientific knowledge, and reconcile both of these with morality and freedom.
Later modern philosophy is usually considered to begin after the philosophy of Immanuel Kant at the beginning of the 19th century.
German philosophy exercised broad influence in this century, owing in part to the dominance of the German university system. German idealists, such as Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, and Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, transformed the work of Kant by maintaining that the world is constituted by a rational or mind-like process, and as such is entirely knowable. Arthur Schopenhauer's identification of this world-constituting process as an irrational will to live influenced later 19th- and early 20th-century thinking, such as the work of Friedrich Nietzsche.
The 19th century took the radical notions of self-organization and intrinsic order from Goethe and Kantian metaphysics, and proceeded to produce a long elaboration on the tension between systematization and organic development. Foremost was the work of Hegel, whose Logic and Phenomenology of Spirit produced a "dialectical" framework for ordering of knowledge.
As with the 18th century, developments in science arose from philosophy and also challenged philosophy: most importantly the work of Charles Darwin, which was based on the idea of organic self-regulation found in philosophers such as Smith, but fundamentally challenged established conceptions.
After Hegel's death in 1831, 19th-century philosophy largely turned against idealism in favor of varieties of philosophical naturalism, such as the positivism of Auguste Comte, the empiricism of John Stuart Mill, and the materialism of Karl Marx. Logic began a period of its most significant advances since the inception of the discipline, as increasing mathematical precision opened entire fields of inference to formalization in the work of George Boole and Gottlob Frege. Other philosophers who initiated lines of thought that would continue to shape philosophy into the 20th century include:
- Gottlob Frege and Henry Sidgwick, whose work in logic and ethics, respectively, provided the tools for early analytic philosophy.
- Charles Sanders Peirce and William James, who founded pragmatism.
- Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche, who laid the groundwork for existentialism and post-structuralism.
The 20th century deals with the upheavals produced by a series of conflicts within philosophical discourse over the basis of knowledge, with classical certainties overthrown, and new social, economic, scientific and logical problems. 20th century philosophy was set for a series of attempts to reform and preserve, and to alter or abolish, older knowledge systems. Seminal figures include Gottlob Frege, Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Edmund Husserl.
Since the Second World War, contemporary philosophy has been divided mostly into analytic and continental traditions; the former carried in the English speaking world and the latter on the continent of Europe. The perceived conflict between continental and analytic schools of philosophy remains prominent, despite increasing skepticism regarding the distinction's usefulness.
In the English-speaking world, analytic philosophy became the dominant school for much of the 20th century.
The term analytic philosophy roughly designates a group of philosophical methods that stress detailed argumentation, attention to semantics, use of classical logic and non-classical logics and clarity of meaning above all other criteria. Though the movement has broadened, it was a cohesive school in the first half of the century. Analytic philosophers were shaped strongly by logical positivism, united by the notion that philosophical problems could and should be solved by attention to logic and language.
Bertrand Russell and G.E. Moore are also often counted as founders of analytic philosophy, beginning with their rejection of British idealism, their defense of realism and the emphasis they laid on the legitimacy of analysis. Russell's classic works The Principles of Mathematics, On Denoting and Principia Mathematica with Alfred North Whitehead, aside from greatly promoting the use of mathematical logic in philosophy, set the ground for much of the research program in the early stages of the analytic tradition, emphasizing such problems as: the reference of proper names, whether 'existence' is a property, the nature of propositions, the analysis of definite descriptions, and discussions on the foundations of mathematics. These works also explored issues of ontological commitment and metaphysical problems regarding time, the nature of matter, mind, persistence and change, which Russell often tackled with the aid of mathematical logic.
Gottlob Frege's The Foundations of Arithmetic was the first analytic work, according to Michael Dummett (Origins of Analytical Philosophy). Frege took "the linguistic turn," analyzing philosophical problems through language. Some analytic philosophers held that philosophical problems arise through misuse of language or because of misunderstandings of the logic of human language.
In 1921, Ludwig Wittgenstein, who studied under Russell at Cambridge, published his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, which gave a rigidly "logical" account of linguistic and philosophical issues. Years later, he reversed a number of the positions he set out in the Tractatus, in for example his second major work, Philosophical Investigations (1953). Investigations was influential in the development of "ordinary language philosophy," which was promoted by Gilbert Ryle, J.L. Austin, and a few others.
In the United States, meanwhile, the philosophy of Quine was having a major influence, with the paper Two Dogmas of Empiricism. In that paper Quine criticizes the distinction between analytic and synthetic statements, arguing that a clear conception of analyticity is unattainable.
Notable students of Quine include Donald Davidson and Daniel Dennett. The later work of Russell and the philosophy of Willard Van Orman Quine are influential exemplars of the naturalist approach dominant in the second half of the 20th century. But the diversity of analytic philosophy from the 1970s onward defies easy generalization: the naturalism of Quine and his epigoni was in some precincts superseded by a "new metaphysics" of possible worlds, as in the influential work of David Lewis. Recently, the experimental philosophy movement has sought to reappraise philosophical problems through social science research techniques.
Some influential figures in contemporary analytic philosophy are: Timothy Williamson, David Lewis, John Searle, Thomas Nagel, Hilary Putnam, Michael Dummett, Peter van Inwagen, Saul Kripke and Patricia Churchland.
Analytic philosophy has sometimes been accused of not contributing to the political debate or to traditional questions in aesthetics. However, with the appearance of A Theory of Justice by John Rawls and Anarchy, State, and Utopia by Robert Nozick, analytic political philosophy acquired respectability. Analytic philosophers have also shown depth in their investigations of aesthetics, with Roger Scruton, Nelson Goodman, Arthur Danto and others developing the subject to its current shape.
Continental philosophy is a set of 19th- and 20th-century philosophical traditions from mainland Europe. 20th-century movements such as German idealism, phenomenology, existentialism, modern hermeneutics, critical theory, structuralism, poststructuralism and others are included within this loose category. While identifying any non-trivial common factor in all these schools of thought is bound to be controversial, Michael E. Rosen has hypothesized a few common Continental themes: that the natural sciences cannot replace the human sciences; that the thinker is affected by the conditions of experience (one's place and time in history); that philosophy is both theoretical and practical; that metaphilosophy or reflection upon the methods and nature of philosophy itself is an important part of philosophy proper.
The founder of phenomenology, Edmund Husserl, sought to study consciousness as experienced from a first-person perspective, while Martin Heidegger drew on the ideas of Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Husserl to propose an unconventional existential approach to ontology. In the Arabic-speaking world, Arab nationalist philosophy became the dominant school of thought, involving philosophers such as Michel Aflaq, Zaki al-Arsuzi, Salah al-Din al-Bitar of Ba'athism and Sati' al-Husri.
Phenomenologically oriented metaphysics undergirded existentialism (Heidegger, Sartre, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Albert Camus) and finally poststructuralism (Gilles Deleuze, Jean-François Lyotard, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida). The psychoanalytic work of Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan, Julia Kristeva, and others has also been influential in contemporary continental thought. Conversely, some philosophers have attempted to define and rehabilitate older traditions of philosophy. Most notably, Hans-Georg Gadamer and Alasdair MacIntyre have both, albeit in different ways, revived the tradition of Aristotelianism.
Transcendental idealism, advocated by Immanuel Kant, is the view that there are limits on what can be understood, since there is much that cannot be brought under the conditions of objective judgment. Kant wrote his Critique of Pure Reason (1781–1787) in an attempt to reconcile the conflicting approaches of rationalism and empiricism, and to establish a new groundwork for studying metaphysics. Although Kant held that objective knowledge of the world required the mind to impose a conceptual or categorical framework on the stream of pure sensory data—a framework including space and time themselves—he maintained that things-in-themselves existed independently of human perceptions and judgments; he was therefore not an idealist in any simple sense. Kant's account of things-in-themselves is both controversial and highly complex. Continuing his work, Johann Gottlieb Fichte and Friedrich Schelling dispensed with belief in the independent existence of the world, and created a thoroughgoing idealist philosophy.
The most notable work of this German idealism was G. W. F. Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit, of 1807. Hegel admitted his ideas were not new, but that all the previous philosophies had been incomplete. His goal was to correctly finish their job. Hegel asserts that the twin aims of philosophy are to account for the contradictions apparent in human experience (which arise, for instance, out of the supposed contradictions between "being" and "not being"), and also simultaneously to resolve and preserve these contradictions by showing their compatibility at a higher level of examination ("being" and "not being" are resolved with "becoming"). This program of acceptance and reconciliation of contradictions is known as the "Hegelian dialectic".
Philosophers influenced by Hegel include Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach, who coined the term projection as pertaining to humans' inability to recognize anything in the external world without projecting qualities of ourselves upon those things; Karl Marx; Friedrich Engels; and the British idealists, notably T. H. Green, J. M. E. McTaggart and F. H. Bradley. Few 20th-century philosophers have embraced idealism. However, quite a few have embraced Hegelian dialectic. Immanuel Kant's "Copernican Turn" also remains an important philosophical concept today.
Edmund Husserl's phenomenology was an ambitious attempt to lay the foundations for an account of the structure of conscious experience in general. An important part of Husserl's phenomenological project was to show that all conscious acts are directed at or about objective content, a feature that Husserl called intentionality. Husserl published only a few works in his lifetime, which treat phenomenology mainly in abstract methodological terms; but he left an enormous quantity of unpublished concrete analyses. Husserl's work was immediately influential in Germany, with the foundation of phenomenological schools in Munich and Göttingen. Phenomenology later achieved international fame through the work of such philosophers as Martin Heidegger (formerly Husserl's research assistant), Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Jean-Paul Sartre. Through the work of Heidegger and Sartre, Husserl's focus on subjective experience influenced aspects of existentialism.
Existentialism is a term applied to the work of a number of late 19th- and 20th-century philosophers who, despite profound doctrinal differences, shared the belief that philosophical thinking begins with the human subject—not merely the thinking subject, but the acting, feeling, living human individual. In existentialism, the individual's starting point is characterized by what has been called "the existential attitude", or a sense of disorientation and confusion in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world. Many existentialists have also regarded traditional systematic or academic philosophy, in both style and content, as too abstract and remote from concrete human experience.
Although they did not use the term, the 19th-century philosophers Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche are widely regarded as the fathers of existentialism. Their influence, however, has extended beyond existentialist thought.
Structuralism and post-structuralism
Inaugurated by the linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, structuralism sought to clarify systems of signs through analyzing the discourses they both limit and make possible. Saussure conceived of the sign as being delimited by all the other signs in the system, and ideas as being incapable of existence prior to linguistic structure, which articulates thought. This led continental thought away from humanism, and toward what was termed the decentering of man: language is no longer spoken by man to express a true inner self, but language speaks man.
Structuralism sought the province of a hard science, but its positivism soon came under fire by poststructuralism, a wide field of thinkers, some of whom were once themselves structuralists, but later came to criticize it. Structuralists believed they could analyze systems from an external, objective standing, for example, but the poststructuralists argued that this is incorrect, that one cannot transcend structures and thus analysis is itself determined by what it examines. While the distinction between the signifier and signified was treated as crystalline by structuralists, poststructuralists asserted that every attempt to grasp the signified results in more signifiers, so meaning is always in a state of being deferred, making an ultimate interpretation impossible.
Structuralism came to dominate continental philosophy throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, encompassing thinkers as diverse as Claude Lévi-Strauss, Roland Barthes and Jacques Lacan. Post-structuralism came to predominate from the 1970s onwards, including thinkers such as Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze and even Roland Barthes; it incorporated a critique of structuralism's limitations.
Pragmatism asserts that the truth of beliefs consists in their usefulness and efficacy rather than their correspondence with reality. Peirce and James were its co-founders and it was later modified by Dewey as instrumentalism. Since the usefulness of any belief at any time might be contingent on circumstance, Peirce and James conceptualised final truth as something established only by the future, final settlement of all opinion.
Pragmatism attempted to find a scientific concept of truth that does not depend on personal insight (revelation) or reference to some metaphysical realm. It interpreted the meaning of a statement by the effect its acceptance would have on practice. Inquiry taken far enough is thus the only path to truth.
For Peirce commitment to inquiry was essential to truth-finding, implied by the idea and hope that inquiry is not fruitless. The interpretation of these principles has been subject to discussion ever since. Peirce's maxim of pragmatism is, "Consider what effects, which might conceivably have practical bearings, we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then, our conception of these effects is the whole of our conception of the object."
Critics accused pragmatism falling victim to a simple fallacy: that because something that is true proves useful, that usefulness is an appropriate basis for its truthfulness. Pragmatist thinkers include Dewey, Santayana, Quine and Lewis. Pragmatism was later worked on by Rorty, Lachs, Davidson, Haack and Putnam.
A variety of other academic and non-academic approaches have been explored.
The ideas conceived by a society have profound repercussions on what actions the society performs. Weaver argued that ideas have consequences. Philosophy yields applications such as those in ethics—applied ethics in particular—and political philosophy. The political and economic philosophies of Confucius, Sun Tzu, Chanakya, Ibn Khaldun, Ibn Rushd, Ibn Taymiyyah, Machiavelli, Leibniz, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, Marx, Tolstoy, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. have been used to shape and justify governments and their actions. Progressive education as championed by Dewey had a profound impact on 20th century US educational practices. Descendants of this movement include efforts in philosophy for children, which are part of philosophy education. Clausewitz's political philosophy of war has had a profound effect on statecraft, international politics and military strategy in the 20th century, especially around World War II. Logic is important in mathematics, linguistics, psychology, computer science and computer engineering.
Other important applications can be found in epistemology, which aid in understanding the requisites for knowledge, sound evidence and justified belief (important in law, economics, decision theory and a number of other disciplines). The philosophy of science discusses the underpinnings of the scientific method and has affected the nature of scientific investigation and argumentation. Philosophy thus has fundamental implications for science as a whole. For example, the strictly empirical approach of B. F. Skinner's behaviorism affected for decades the approach of the American psychological establishment. Deep ecology and animal rights examine the moral situation of humans as occupants of a world that has non-human occupants to consider also. Aesthetics can help to interpret discussions of music, literature, the plastic arts and the whole artistic dimension of life. In general, the various philosophies strive to provide practical activities with a deeper understanding of the theoretical or conceptual underpinnings of their fields.
Philosophy and Society
Some of those who study philosophy become professional philosophers, typically by working as professors who teach, research and write in academic institutions. However, most students of academic philosophy later contribute to law, journalism, religion, sciences, politics, business, or various arts. 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, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Bryer and vice presidential candidate Carly Fiorina.
Germany was the first country to professionalize philosophy. At the end of 1817, Hegel was the first philosopher to be appointed Professor by the State, namely by the Prussian Minister of Education, as an effect of Napoleonic reform in Prussia. In the United States, the professionalisation grew out of reforms to the American higher-education system largely based on the German model.
Within the last century, philosophy has increasingly become a professional discipline practiced within universities, like other academic disciplines. Accordingly, it has become less general and more specialized. In the view of one prominent recent historian: "Philosophy has become a highly organized discipline, done by specialists primarily for other specialists. The number of philosophers has exploded, the volume of publication has swelled, and the subfields of serious philosophical investigation have multiplied. Not only is the broad field of philosophy today far too vast to be embraced by one mind, something similar is true even of many highly specialized subfields." Some philosophers argue that this professionalization has negatively affected the discipline.
The end result of professionalization for philosophy has meant that work being done in the field is now almost exclusively done by university professors holding a doctorate in the field publishing in highly technical, peer-reviewed journals. While it remains common among the population at large for a person to have a set of religious, political or philosophical views that they consider their "philosophy", these views are rarely informed by or connected to the work being done in professional philosophy today. Furthermore, unlike many of the sciences for which there has come to be a healthy industry of books, magazines, and television shows meant to popularize science and communicate the technical results of a scientific field to the general populace, works by professional philosophers directed at an audience outside the profession remain rare. Philosopher Michael Sandel's book "Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?" and Harry Frankfurt's "On Bullshit" are examples of works that hold the uncommon distinction of having been written by professional philosophers but directed at and ultimately popular among a broader audience of non-philosophers. Both works became New York Times best sellers.
Many inquiries outside of academia are philosophical in the broad sense. Novelists, playwrights, filmmakers, and musicians, as well as scientists, social scientists, and others engage in recognizably philosophical activity.
Ayn Rand is the foremost example of an intellectual working contemporaneously with contemporary philosophy but whose contributions were not made within the professional discipline of "philosophy": "For all her [Ayn Rand's] popularity, however, only a few professional philosophers have taken her work seriously. As a result, most of the serious philosophical work on Rand has appeared in non-academic, non-peer-reviewed journals, or in books, and the bibliography reflects this fact."
Also working from outside the profession were philosophers such as Gerd B. Achenbach (Die reine und die praktische Philosophie. Drei Vorträge zur philosophischen Praxis, 1983) and Michel Weber (see his Épreuve de la philosophie, 2008) who have proposed since the 1980s various forms of philosophical counseling claiming to bring Socratic dialogues back to life in a quasi-psychotherapeutic framework.
Pierre Hadot is famous for his analysis on the conception of philosophy during Greco-Roman antiquity. Hadot identified and analyzed the "spiritual exercises" used in ancient philosophy (influencing Michel Foucault's interest in such practices in the second and third volumes of his History of Sexuality). By "spiritual exercises" Hadot means "practices ... intended to effect a modification and a transformation in the subjects who practice them. The philosophy teacher's discourse could be presented in such a way that the disciple, as auditor, reader, or interlocutor, could make spiritual progress and transform himself within." Hadot shows that the key to understanding the original philosophical impulse is to be found in Socrates. What characterizes Socratic therapy above all is the importance given to living contact between human beings. Hadot's recurring theme is that philosophy in antiquity was characterized by a series of spiritual exercises intended to transform the perception, and therefore the being, of those who practice it; that philosophy is best pursued in real conversation and not through written texts and lectures; and that philosophy, as it is taught in universities today, is for the most part a distortion of its original, therapeutic impulse. He brings these concerns together in What Is Ancient Philosophy?, which has been critically reviewed.
Role of women
Although men have generally dominated philosophical discourse, women have engaged in philosophy throughout history. Women philosophers have contributed since ancient times–notably Hipparchia of Maroneia (active ca. 325 BC) and Arete of Cyrene (active 5th–4th century BC). More were accepted during the ancient, medieval and modern eras, but no women philosophers became part the Western canon until the 20th and 21st century, when some sources indicate that Susanne Langer, Hannah Arendt and Simone de Beauvoir entered the canon.
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. In 2014, Inside Higher Education described the philosophy "...discipline's own long history of misogyny and sexual harassment" of women students and professors.University of Sheffield philosophy professor Jennifer Saul stated in 2015 that women are "...leaving philosophy after being harassed, assaulted, or retaliated against."
In the early 1990s, the Canadian Philosophical Association noted a gender imbalance and gender bias in the academic field of philosophy. In June 2013, a US sociology professor stated that "out of all recent citations in four prestigious philosophy journals, female authors comprise just 3.6 percent of the total." Susan Price argues that the philosophical "...canon remains dominated by white males—the discipline that...still hews to the myth that genius is tied to gender." According to Saul, "[p]hilosophy, the oldest of the humanities, is also the malest (and the whitest). While other areas of the humanities are at or near gender parity, philosophy is actually more overwhelmingly male than even mathematics."
In 2000, the Open Court Publishing Company began publishing a series of books on philosophy and popular culture. Each book consists of essays written by philosophers for general readers. The books "explore the meanings, concepts and puzzles within television shows, movies, music and other icons of popular culture" analyzing topics such as the TV shows Seinfeld and The Simpsons, The Matrix and Star Wars movies and related media and new technological developments such as the iPod and Facebook. Their most recent publication (as of 2016) is titled Louis C.K. and Philosophy; its subject is the comedian Louis C.K..
The Matrix makes numerous references to philosophy including Buddhism, Vedanta, Advaita Hinduism, Christianity, Messianism, Judaism, Gnosticism, existentialism and nihilism. The film's premise resembles Plato's Allegory of the cave, Descartes's evil demon, Kant's reflections on the Phenomenon versus the Ding an sich, Zhuangzi's "Zhuangzi dreamed he was a butterfly", Marxist social theory and the brain in a vat thought experiment. Many references to Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulation appear in the film, although Baudrillard himself considered this a misrepresentation.
- List of important publications in philosophy
- List of years in philosophy
- List of philosophy journals
- List of unsolved problems in philosophy
- Lists of philosophers
- Social theory
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- Jenny Teichmann and Katherine C. Evans, Philosophy: A Beginner's Guide (Blackwell Publishing, 1999), p. 1: "Philosophy is a study of problems which are ultimate, abstract and very general. These problems are concerned with the nature of existence, knowledge, morality, reason and human purpose."
- A.C. Grayling, Philosophy 1: A Guide through the Subject (Oxford University Press, 1998), p. 1: "The aim of philosophical inquiry is to gain insight into questions about knowledge, truth, reason, reality, meaning, mind, and value."
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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.in Honderich 1995.
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The English word "philosophy" is first attested to c. 1300, meaning "knowledge, body of knowledge."
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Ancient Greek philosophy was divided into three branches of knowledge: natural science, ethics, and logic.
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E*pis`te*mol"o*gy (?), n. [Gr. knowledge + -logy.] The theory or science of the method or grounds of knowledge.
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- Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy, Volume II: From Augustine to Scotus (Burns & Oates, 1950), p. 1, dates medieval philosophy proper from the Carolingian Renaissance in the eighth century to the end of the fourteenth century, though he includes Augustine and the Patristic fathers as precursors. Desmond Henry, in Edwards 1967, pp. 252–257 volume 5, , starts with Augustine and ends with Nicholas of Oresme in the late fourteenth century. David Luscombe, Medieval Thought (Oxford University Press, 1997), dates medieval philosophy from the conversion of Constantine in 312 to the Protestant Reformation in the 1520s. Christopher Hughes, in A.C. Grayling (ed.), Philosophy 2: Further through the Subject (Oxford University Press, 1998), covers philosophers from Augustine to Ockham. Gracia 2008, p. 620 identifies medieval philosophy as running from Augustine to John of St. Thomas in the seventeenth century. Kenny 2012, volume II begins with Augustine and ends with the Lateran Council of 1512.
- Schmitt & Skinner 1988, p. 5
- Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy, Volume III: From Ockham to Suarez (The Newman Press, 1953) p. 18: "When one looks at Renaissance philosophy … one is faced at first sight with a rather bewildering assortment of philosophies."
- Brian Copenhaver and Charles Schmitt, Renaissance Philosophy (Oxford University Press, 1992), p. 4: "one may identify the hallmark of Renaissance philosophy as an accelerated and enlarged interest, stimulated by newly available texts, in primary sources of Greek and Roman thought that were previously unknown or partially known or little read."
- Gracia, Jorge J.E. Philosophy 2: Further through the Subject. p. 621.
the humanists … restored man to the centre of attention and channeled their efforts to the recovery and transmission of classical learning, particularly in the philosophy of Plato.in Bunnin & Tsui-James 2008.
- Copleston, ibid.: "The bulk of Renaissance thinkers, scholars and scientists were, of course, Christians … but none the less the classical revival … helped to bring to the fore a conception of autonomous man or an idea of the development of the human personality, which, though generally Christian, was more 'naturalistic' and less ascetic than the mediaeval conception."
- Schmitt & Skinner 1988, pp. 61, 63
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- "Hobbes: Moral and Political Philosophy". Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. "Hobbes is the founding father of modern political philosophy. Directly or indirectly, he has set the terms of debate about the fundamentals of political life right into our own times."
- "Contractarianism". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.: "Contractarianism […] stems from the Hobbesian line of social contract thought"
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- Steven Nadler, A Companion to Early Modern Philosophy, pp. 1–2: "By the seventeenth century […] it had become more common to find original philosophical minds working outside the strictures of the university—i.e., ecclesiastic—framework. […] by the end of the eighteenth century, [philosophy] was a secular enterprise."
- Anthony Kenny, A New History of Western Philosophy, vol. 3 (Oxford University Press, 2006), p. xii: "To someone approaching the early modern period of philosophy from an ancient and medieval background the most striking feature of the age is the absence of Aristotle from the philosophic scene."
- Donald Rutherford, The Cambridge Companion to Early Modern Philosophy (Cambridge University Press, 2006), p. 1: "epistemology assumes a new significance in the early modern period as philosophers strive to define the conditions and limits of human knowledge."
- Kenny, A New History of Western Philosophy, vol. 3, p. 211: "The period between Descartes and Hegel was the great age of metaphysical system-building."
- Kenny, A New History of Western Philosophy, vol. 3, pp. 179–180: "the seventeenth century saw the gradual separation of the old discipline of natural philosophy into the science of physics […] [b]y the nineteenth century physics was a fully mature empirical science, operating independently of philosophy."
- Kenny, A New History of Western Philosophy, vol. 3, pp. 212–331.
- Nadler, A Companion to Early Modern Philosophy, pp. 2–3: "Why should the early modern period in philosophy begin with Descartes and Bacon, for example, rather than with Erasmus and Montaigne? […] Suffice it to say that at the beginning of the seventeenth century, and especially with Bacon and Descartes, certain questions and concerns come to the fore—a variety of issues that motivated the inquiries and debates that would characterize much philosophical thinking for the next two centuries."
- Rutherford, The Cambridge Companion to Early Modern Philosophy, p. 1: "Most often this [period] has been associated with the achievements of a handful of great thinkers: the so-called 'rationalists' (Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz) and 'empiricists' (Locke, Berkeley, Hume), whose inquiries culminate in Kant's 'Critical philosophy.' These canonical figures have been celebrated for the depth and rigor of their treatments of perennial philosophical questions..."
- Nadler, A Companion to Early Modern Philosophy, p. 2: "The study of early modern philosophy demands that we pay attention to a wide variety of questions and an expansive pantheon of thinkers: the traditional canonical figures (Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume), to be sure, but also a large 'supporting cast'..."
- Bruce Kuklick, "Seven Thinkers and How They Grew: Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz; Locke, Berkeley, Hume; Kant" in Rorty, Schneewind, and Skinner (eds.), Philosophy in History (Cambridge University Press, 1984), p. 125: "Literary, philosophical, and historical studies often rely on a notion of what is canonical. In American philosophy scholars go from Jonathan Edwards to John Dewey; in American literature from James Fenimore Cooper to F. Scott Fitzgerald; in political theory from Plato to Hobbes and Locke […] The texts or authors who fill in the blanks from A to Z in these, and other intellectual traditions, constitute the canon, and there is an accompanying narrative that links text to text or author to author, a 'history of' American literature, economic thought, and so on. The most conventional of such histories are embodied in university courses and the textbooks that accompany them. This essay examines one such course, the History of Modern Philosophy, and the texts that helped to create it. If a philosopher in the United States were asked why the seven people in my title comprise Modern Philosophy, the initial response would be: they were the best, and there are historical and philosophical connections among them."
- Rutherford 2006, p. 1
- Kenny, A New History of Western Philosophy, vol. 3, p. xiii.
- Nadler, A Companion to Early Modern Philosophy, p. 3.
- Shand, John (ed.) Central Works of Philosophy, Vol.3 The Nineteenth Century (McGill-Queens, 2005)
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- Religious thinkers were among those influenced by Kierkegaard. Christian existentialists include Gabriel Marcel, Nicholas Berdyaev, Miguel de Unamuno, and Karl Jaspers (although he preferred to speak of his "philosophical faith"). The Jewish philosophers Martin Buber and Lev Shestov have also been associated with existentialism.
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