What is Philosophy?

Philosophy comes from the Greek for ''love of wisdom'', but a general definition of the term might be the study and pursuit of truth and wisdom through the fundamental questions of life. Socrates, the first of the great philosophers of history, believed that wisdom was sought through the examination of one's own life, the questioning of those ideas and concepts that people take for granted. He thought that the wisest way to go about this examination in pursuit of virtue was through critical inspection of accepted beliefs and conceptual clarification. In the footsteps of Socrates, most modern philosophers are concerned with subjecting human beliefs and ''common sense'' to rigorous logical scrutiny. Some of the questions that emerge from these examined beliefs include:

Does free will exist, or is all determined?

What is the basis for morality?

What gives something artistic value?

Is there a god?

How can one know that they know anything?

Is life inherently meaningful?

People all over the world have struggled with these questions since ancient times. Occasionally, philosophy overlaps with religion, such as with Zoroastrianism, Confucianism, Daoism, Jainism, and Buddhism. Hindu philosophical theories include those of Raja Yoga, Vedanta, and Advaita Vedanta. Islamic philosophers count Rumi among them. In the west, philosophers like St. Augustine and Søren Kierkegaard mixed Christianity with their philosophical writings.

The main branches of modern philosophical inquiry are metaphysics, epistemology, audiology (ethics and aesthetics), and logic, but there are two primary groups into which most modern philosophers are grouped; these are analytic and continental philosophy. These terms were originally a geographic distinction, but over time became descriptive as well, with the analytic philosophy of Britain and America focusing primarily on the analysis of language for clarity and resolution of arguments, and the continental philosophy of mainland Europe focusing on the speculative side theory.

While these shades of the two great western philosophical schools have roots in the philosophies of Socrates and Plato, both schools trace their lineage and divergence to a more recent philosopher, Immanuel Kant. From there, analytic philosophers focus on the works of Carnap, Davidson, Frege, Mill, Quine, Russell, and Wittgenstein, while the continental philosophers take up the questions of Bergson, Derrida, Foucault, Hegel, Heidegger, Husserl, Nietzsche, and Sartre.

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The longstanding nature and breadth of the research performed in philosophy has made it one of the most well-represented humanities represented on Study.com. Dozens of college-level courses, along with those at the high school level, cover examples of philosophical schools and approaches, the basic concepts and theories that the field relies on, the lexicon philosophers employ, and much more. Courses include quizzes, writing projects, study guides, and practice tests to ensure philosophy students are gaining and retaining the information they need for success in this storied discipline.

Philosophy Courses

Philosophy is an ancient discipline whose etymology means ''the love of wisdom'' in Greek. Over thousands of years, the field has investigated and theorized every aspect of human life, resulting in many philosophical theories, concepts, and approaches. Study.com has hundreds of lessons available that cover these very topics, and students of philosophy will find courses on the history and study of philosophy, the philosophy of education and other disciplines, and stoicism and other philosophical schools.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the main definition of philosophy?

    The main definition of philosophy is the pursuit of truth, wisdom, and virtuous life through the investigation of the fundamental questions of life. Socrates believed this was best done by conceptual clarification and the questioning of beliefs taken for granted.

  • What are examples of philosophies?

    Examples of philosophies include the two main schools of modern western philosophy: analytic and continental. Other, more ancient, philosophies include Cynicism, Stoicism, Epicureanism, (Neo-)Platonism, Hermeticism, Yoga, and Vedanta.