Introduction to Philosophy
Philosophy (from Greek: φιλοσοφία, philosophia, 'love of wisdom') is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about reason, existence, knowledge, values, mind, and language. Such questions are often posed as problems to be studied or resolved. The term was probably coined by Pythagoras (c. 570 – c. 495 BCE). Philosophical methods include questioning, critical discussion, rational argument, and systematic presentation.
Historically, philosophy encompassed all bodies of knowledge and a practitioner was known as a philosopher. 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. 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 derive conclusions from true premises. Other notable subfields include philosophy of science, political philosophy, aesthetics, philosophy of language, and philosophy of mind. (
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Gary Edward Varner (born March 10, 1957) is an American philosopher specializing in environmental ethics, philosophical questions related to animal rights and animal welfare, and R. M. Hare's two-level utilitarianism. He is a professor in the Department of Philosophy at Texas A&M University, and has been based at the university since 1990. He was educated at Arizona State University, the University of Georgia and the University of Wisconsin–Madison; at Madison, where he was supervised by Jon Morline, he wrote one of the first doctoral theses on environmental ethics. Varner's first monograph was In Nature's Interests?, which was published by Oxford University Press in 1998. In the book, Varner defended a form of biocentric individualism, according to which all living entities have morally considerable interests.
From 2001, Varner embarked on a research project exploring animals in Hare's two-level utilitarianism. Personhood, Ethics, and Animal Cognition
, published by Oxford University Press in 2012, was the first monograph arising from this project. In the book, Varner moved away from his biocentrism, instead endorsing a developed version of Hare's ethics. Varner draws a distinction between persons, near-persons and merely sentient beings; although all are morally considerable, the lives of persons are of the most significance, and the lives of merely sentient beings are of the least. The practical consequences of this view, though initial comments were offered in Personhood, Ethics, and Animal Cognition
, will be explored in Sustaining Animals
, forthcoming with Oxford University Press. (Full article...
Selected article of the week
Scientific method is a body of techniques for investigating phenomena and acquiring new knowledge, as well as for correcting and integrating previous knowledge. It is based on gathering observable, empirical, measurable evidence, subject to the principles of reasoning.
Although procedures vary from one field of inquiry to another, there are identifiable features that distinguish scientific inquiry from other methods of developing knowledge. Scientific researchers propose specific hypotheses as explanations of natural phenomena, and design experimental studies that test these predictions for accuracy. These steps are repeated in order to make increasingly dependable predictions of future results. Theories that encompass wider domains of inquiry serve to bind more specific hypotheses together in a coherent structure. This in turn aids in the formation of new hypotheses, as well as in placing groups of specific hypotheses into a broader context of understanding.
Academic Branches of Philosophy
Philosophy ponders the most fundamental questions humankind has been able to ask. These are increasingly numerous and over time they have been arranged into the overlapping branches of the philosophy tree:
- Aesthetics: What is art? What is beauty? Is there a standard of taste? Is art meaningful? If so, what does it mean? What is good art? Is art for the purpose of an end, or is "art for art's sake?" What connects us to art? How does art affect us? Is some art unethical? Can art corrupt or elevate societies?
- Epistemology: What are the nature and limits of knowledge? What is more fundamental to human existence, knowing (epistemology) or being (ontology)? How do we come to know what we know? What are the limits and scope of knowledge? How can we know that there are other minds (if we can)? How can we know that there is an external world (if we can)? How can we prove our answers? What is a true statement?
- Ethics: Is there a difference between ethically right and wrong actions (or values, or institutions)? If so, what is that difference? Which actions are right, and which wrong? Do divine commands make right acts right, or is their rightness based on something else? Are there standards of rightness that are absolute, or are all such standards relative to particular cultures? How should I live? What is happiness?
- Logic: What makes a good argument? How can I think critically about complicated arguments? What makes for good thinking? When can I say that something just does not make sense? Where is the origin of logic?
- Metaphysics: What sorts of things exist? What is the nature of those things? Do some things exist independently of our perception? What is the nature of space and time? What is the relationship of the mind to the body? What is it to be a person? What is it to be conscious? Do gods exist?
- Political philosophy: Are political institutions and their exercise of power justified? What is justice? Is there a 'proper' role and scope of government? Is democracy the best form of governance? Is governance ethically justifiable? Should a state be allowed? Should a state be able to promote the norms and values of a certain moral or religious doctrine? Are states allowed to go to war? Do states have duties against inhabitants of other states?
Selected philosopher of the week
Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell was an influential British logician, philosopher, and mathematician, working mostly in the 20th century. A prolific writer, Bertrand Russell was also a populariser of philosophy and a commentator on a large variety of topics, ranging from very serious issues to the mundane. Continuing a family tradition in political affairs, he was a prominent liberal as well as a socialist and anti-war activist for most of his long life. Millions looked up to Russell as a prophet of the creative and rational life; at the same time, his stances on many topics were extremely controversial.
Born at the height of Britain's economic and political ascendancy, he died of influenza nearly a century later when the British Empire had all but vanished; its power dissipated in two victorious, but debilitating world wars. As one of the world's best-known intellectuals, Russell's voice carried enormous moral authority, even into his early 90s. Among his other political activities, Russell was a vigorous proponent of nuclear disarmament and an outspoken critic of the American war in Vietnam.
In 1950, Russell was made a Nobel Laureate in Literature "in recognition of his varied and significant writings in which he champions humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought".
Related Academic Fields
Did you know
- …that Francisco de Vitoria (pictured), a Spanish Renaissance Roman Catholic theologian, was the founder of the tradition in philosophy known as the School of Salamanca?
- ...that Collective Intentionality is a topic in the Philosophy of Mind that has been explored by John Searle, Margaret Gilbert, and J. David Velleman, among others?
- …that a 2001 discovery of lost manuscripts by Majorcan philosopher and writer Ramon Llull showed that he had indeed discovered the Borda count and Condorcet criterion, and as a result he has been called the father of computation theory?
- …that although the paradox, Buridan's ass, is named after French priest Jean Buridan, it had already been previously stated in De Caelo by Aristotle?
- …that besides being a philosopher, Gottfried Leibniz was an engineer, lawyer, philologist, sinophile, and a famed mathematician who co-invented calculus?
- …that while most Enlightenment scholars criticized the Byzantine system of the Eastern Roman Empire, Konstantin Leontiev, a scholar from the Russian Empire praised it for the very same reasons?
- …that Marc Sautet started the philosophical cafe known as Café Philosophique?
- …that criteria of truth are standards and rules used to judge the accuracy of statements and claims?
- …that a deductive fallacy is an argument that has true premises, but may still have a false conclusion?
- …that Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers is the first dated book printed in England?
- …that Wikipedia has information on everything?
- …that a successful experimental system must be stable and reproducible enough for scientists to make sense of the system's behavior, but unpredictable enough that it can produce useful results?
- …that the ancient Chinese text Huangdi Yinfujing, attributed to the mythical emperor Huangdi in the 3rd century BCE, may have been a forgery from the Tang Dynasty (618–907 CE)?
- …that Time magazine editor Otto Fuerbringer was responsible for the controversial 1966 Is God Dead? cover?
- …that alternative theories of speciation besides natural selection include Lamarckism and orthogenesis?
- …that before the 17th century it was believed that all organisms grew from miniature versions of themselves that had existed since the beginning of creation, a theory called preformationism?
- …that children have trouble attributing implicit meaning to aspect verbs implicating non-completion such as start, but find implicit meaning in degree modifiers such as half, as in half-finished?
- …that Jagadguru Rāmabhadrācārya (pictured), a blind Hindu religious leader, has observed nine Payovrata, a six-month diet of only milk and fruits, per the fifth verse of the Dohāvalī composed by Tulasidāsa, which says that chanting the name of Rāma subsisting on a diet of milk and fruits for six months will result in all the auspiciousness and accomplishments in one's hand?
Oscar Wilde reclining with Poems, by Napoleon Sarony, in New York in 1882. Wilde often liked to appear idle, though in fact he worked hard; by the late 1880s he was a father, an editor, and a writer.
Friedrich Schiller (1759–1805) was a German poet, philosopher, physician, historian and playwright.
The center third of Education (1890), a stained glass window by Louis Comfort Tiffany and Tiffany Studios, located in Linsly-Chittenden Hall at Yale University. It depicts Science (personified by Devotion, Labor, Truth, Research and Intuition) and Religion (personified by Purity, Faith, Hope, Reverence and Inspiration) in harmony, presided over by the central personification of "Light·Love·Life".
Leo Tolstoy in 1897. Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy was a Russian writer who is regarded as one of the greatest authors of all time.
The following are images from various Philosophy-related articles on Wikipedia.
The parable of the blind men and the elephant illustrates the important Jain doctrine of anēkāntavāda
Statue of Aristotle (384–322 BCE), a major figure of ancient Greek philosophy, in the Aristotlepark, Stagira
Painting of Zera Yacob from Claude Sumner's Classical Ethiopian Philosophy.
Adi Shankara is one of the most frequently studied Hindu philosophers.
Kitaro Nishida, considered the founder of the Kyoto School of philosophical thought, c. 1943
- Falsificationism Looking for comments on lead.
- Optimism should have a separate page that focuses on the philosophical idea of optimism and distinguishes the philosophical view from "positive thinking" and other everyday uses of the word.
- Philosophy of social science, has some okay points but requires elaboration on Wittgenstein and Winch, perhaps other linguistic critiques, whether logical positivist or postmodernist.
- Exchange value needs to be redone, it shouldn't be under 'Marxist theory'- although it's an important component of Marxist theory it's also vital for all economics. That said the article's weight on Marx is also absurd.
- German Idealism and the articles related to it may need to be rewritten or expanded to avoid undue weight on Arthur Schopenhauer.
- Protected values first section confuses right action and values and needs a copy edit, moving and wikifying
- Quality (philosophy) needs a more clear explanation.
- Socratic dialogues could do with some tidying and clarification. See the talk page for one suggested change.
- Problem of universals: The introductory definition is (perhaps) fixed. But, the article is poor. Check out the German version.
- Teleology: the article is shallow and inconsistent.
- Existentialism: the quality of this article varies wildly and is in desperate need of expert attention.
- Analytic philosophy This is a very major topic, but still has several sections which are stubs, and several topics which are not covered.
- Lifeworld A philosophical concept that seems to have fallen exclusively into the hands of the sociologists. Could use some attention; it's a major and complex issue in phenomenology.
- Perception Needs the attention of philosophically minded Wikipedians. This is only the start of an overhaul of perception and related articles.