The Literal meaning of the word philosophy is, “the love of knowledge” but this does not capture much of the sense of this word. In many ways, philosophy is about questioning and understanding the world and about how we see it. By utilizing the techniques and procedure of philosophy and by learning how to love the search for knowledge we can find a portion of the value and significance of philosophy. Nothing else is quite as important and as disregarded as philosophical thought.
Philosophy as a Field
Philosophy is unique as a field. Rather than building on its self like most realms of study, the history of philosophy and philosophy itself are one and the same. Philosopher’s works are very rarely are usurped by more modern text; instead, modern text seeks to understand and interpret the works of past philosophers and, if refinements are present they are found more commonly as alternatives rather than replacements. Throughout this long history, philosophy has had thinker that were more influential than others who have contributed and advanced many thoughts and ideas to a variety of fields of philosophy and to this day much of their work is studied and analyzed by modern philosophers.
Philosophy is also known for is having a lot of “-isms”. It is true that philosophers have created many terms to categorize and describe their philosophy, in many ways the archaic terminology is necessary to cover the breadth of ideas philosophers yield. For example;
- Rationalism – The philosophy that at least some things are knowable outside of experience,
- Idealism – The philosophy that the world exists only as thought or in someone’s mind,
- Materialism – The philosophy that in some sense a physical world does exist etc.
Philosophy is also typically divided into two main categories: by area of study, and whether the philosophy is analytic or continental. The primary fields of study within philosophy are typically broken down into the following 4 groups:
- Metaphysics – the philosophical study of being
- Epistemology – the philosophical study of knowledge,
- Ethics and Aesthetics – the philosophical study of value
- Logic – the philosophical study of correct reasoning. The bigger difference is in the analytic vs. continental divide. The difference is complicated but to put it simply:
Analytic philosophy focuses on logic and rigor and is typical of the English speaking world, whereas Continental philosophy is usually done on Continental Europe and covers, with much less rigor, a very wide variety of philosophers. In conclusion, to fully answer what philosophy is in a few short sentences is difficult. Philosophy covers, at least to some extent, all areas of human knowledge and any kind of definition you would give to it would far from doing the subject justice. To truly understand the spirit of philosophy nothings helps more than learning, thinking, and philosophizing. To quote one the philosophers, “Wonder is the feeling of the philosopher, and philosophy begins in wonder.”