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Philosophy is a complex, multidimensional phenomenon composed of interrelated yet distinct components. As such, it cannot be accurately understood or appreciated in a short, straightforward definition. However, we can construct a well-rounded, comprehensive conception of philosophy by means of a multi-perspectival approach. Therefore, in Part A below I propose an interpretive profile based on distinct yet related perspectives. As a supplement to Part A, you will receive a separate historical overview of representative definitions advanced by Western philosophers.

Nothing worthwhile was ever accomplished without great difficulty.

Plato (c.428-c.348 BC)


1. Etymology: Greek philosophia; from philos, love; or philia, friendship; plus sophia, wisdom. Hence, the love of wisdom, striving after wisdom, pursuit of wisdom, etc.

A. Greek wisdom: sophia

  • Theoretical wisdom (Greek, sophia): science, knowledge, truth, reality
  • Practical wisdom (Greek, phronēsis): ethics, life, virtue, character, conduct

2. Traditional Branches or Divisions:

A. Basic or foundational: Most general philosophical inquiry

  • Metaphysics/ontology
  • Epistemology
  • Ethics
  • Logic

B. Secondary or Dependent: Less general areas of philosophical inquiry

  • Aesthetics
  • Axiology
  • Social philosophy
  • Political philosophy

C. Specialized philosophies: Least general areas of philosophical inquiry
1. Philosophies of Subject:

  • Religion
  • History
  • Mind
  • Man, human nature (philosophical anthropology)
  • Language
  • Culture

2. Philosophies of Discipline:

  • Natural sciences
  • Social sciences
  • Law
  • Education
  • Psychology
  • Biology
  • Mathematics
  • Literature

3. Historical Periods:

  • Ancient or classical (6th century BC-3rd century AD)
  • Medieval (4th-14th century)
  • Renaissance (15th-16th century)
  • Modern (17th-18th century)
  • Contemporary (19th century-)

4. Contemporary Philosophy:

  • Analytic or Anglo-American
  • Continental or European

5.Geographical Philosophy:

  • British
  • American
  • French
  • German
  • Greek
  • Italian
  • Dutch
  • Indian
  • Chinese

6. Traditional Attitudes in the History of Western Philosophy:

  • Independence or self-sufficiency (Greek, autarkia)
  • Doubt, suspicion
  • Impartiality, rational objectivity
  • Adherence to principle over narrow self-interest and pragmatic expedience
  • Reflective, second-order reflexiveness
  • Theoretical comprehensiveness: synoptic, speculative, synthetic
  • Practical way of life (classical antiquity)
  • Critique of the historical present (cultural, moral, political, etc.)
  • Wonder, theoretical curiosity
  • Radicality: getting at the roots, persistent
  • Hypothetical: capacity to suspend judgment (Greek, epochē)
  • Open-minded: in principle committed to following relevant evidence
  • Universalistic, cosmopolitan
  • Logical: precise, rigorous, guided by rules of reasoning
  • Questioning what is taken for granted or uncritically assumed by a culture or society

7. Traditional Methods in the History of Western Philosophy:

  • Dialectic
  • Deduction
  • Induction
  • Methodical doubt
  • Analysis
  • Indirect logical proof: reductio ad absurdum (Latin = reduced to absurdity or nonsense)
  • Phenomenology
  • Reflection
  • Genealogy
  • Intuition

8. Historical Origin: From mythos to logos

9. Distinguished from Pseudo-philosophy: self-help psychology, new age spiritualism, esoteric occultism, etc.


1. Social-political, legal, cultural: critical function facilitates change in fundamental conceptions, values, trends, and practices.

2. Educational:

  • Conceptual clarity
  • Critical reasoning skill
  • Logical language use
  • Theoretical radicality and curiosity

3. Moral/ethical: conceptually refines, critically evaluates, and constructively addresses contemporary moral problems and practices.

4. Psychological: decenters or destabilizes various antirational and egocentric attitudes:

  • Prejudice, bias, partiality
  • Provincialism, narrow-mindedness
  • Egocentrism, narcissism
  • Superstition
  • Dogmatism
  • Traditionalism
  • Ethnocentrism
  • Rationalization

5. Personal: expansion and enrichment of one’s personal identity, integrity, and interests.

6. Practical/pragmatic: provides an array of cognitive tools and critical reasoning skills applicable to a wide range of problem-solving contexts.


1. Subjective: everyone’s personal philosophy, individual viewpoints, and supporting arguments are equally valid. It’s all merely a matter of opinion.

2. Impractical: philosophy displays an ivory tower attitude. It pretentiously presumes to be above the fray of earthly existence. It is naively idealistic and optimistic. In short, it is basically oriented beyond this world, toward the ideal.

3. Barren: unlike science, philosophy has made no progress throughout its long history. It is a sterile or fruitless enterprise of endless dispute without definitive answers.

4. Intellectually insular: philosophy is an elitist, professional game employing technical jargon inaccessible to the generally educated public.