Philosophy is the study of reality, existence, knowledge, morality and human nature. It is usually divided intobranches – natural philosophy, moral philosophy, and metaphysical (meaning “beyond the physical”) philosophy. The word “philosophy” comes from the Greek word philosophia, meaning “love of wisdom” or “friend of wisdom”, and is thought to have originated with the ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras. The term ‘philosophy’ can refer to any body of knowledge, such as a business philosophy or a teaching philosophy.
Everything that we do in life involves philosophy. In fact a doctorate is referred to as a PhD, which means “doctorate of philosophy”, whether the area of study is economics, medicine, chemistry, music, or philosophy itself. When you use a computer or a mobile device, you’re using technology that was produced through natural philosophy in the scientific method regarding electrons and circuitry. When you get medical attention, your physician is treating you based on the medical training he or she received through years of study at institutions of higher learning stemming from the academies of the ancient Greek philosophers. When you discuss politics, you’re discussing your views on how governments should be run, which is taken from the world of philosophy and is now called political science. Whether we realize it or not, philosophy is always with us in one form or another.
Epistemology is the area of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope of knowledge, such as the relationships between truth, belief, perception and theories of justification. Within the scope of epistemology are empiricism (relating to reality through experience or what can be perceived by the senses), idealism (relating to reality apart from the senses in things like theories, faith, and intuition), rationalism (the view that reason is the main source and test of knowledge), and skepticism (which questions the validity of all human knowledge).
Logic is the study of the principles of sound reasoning. Arguments use either deductive reasoning (drawing a conclusion based on certain premises or “statements of facts”) or inductive reasoning (drawing an inference or determining probabilities based on certain premises). For example:
- Humans have two ears, two eyes, and one nose. John is a human, therefore John has two eyes. (Deductive)
- 99% of Americans don’t speak French. John is an American. Therefore, John doesn’t (or probably doesn’t) speak French. (Inductive)
Metaphysics deals with the nature of reality. Within metaphysics there’s a wide range of theories.
- Sparse (maintaining a simple approach by limiting the scope) vs. abundant (abandoning a limited scope for the sake of greater understanding)
- Rational (truth is derived through the intellect) vs. empirical (truth is derived through the senses)
- Dogmatic (a common approach during the Middle Ages where ideas couldn’t be challenged) vs. critical (an approach where all ideas are subject to question)
- Individual (seeking truth through one’s own pursuit of it) vs. collective (seeking truth by acquiring knowledge gathered by others as a whole)
- Piecemeal (dealing with questions about reality one at a time) vs. systematic (dealing with those questions as a whole)
Ethics and political philosophy
Ethics, or “moral philosophy,” is the branch of philosophy that deals with the question of the best way to live, and whether this question can even be answered. Within the scope of ethical philosophy are:
- Business ethics
- Relational ethics
- Political ethics
- Military ethics
Philosophy has laid the groundwork for advances in math, logic, physics, rhetoric, forensics, political science, economics, education, biology, astronomy, law, psychology, technology, theology, and botany. Its impact has been immeasurable.