top of page

What is Philosophy?

          Congratulations, you have just done philosophy… sort of. The word philosophy comes from the Greek philosophia, which literally means “love of wisdom.” Philosophy as we know it today first began to develop around 500 BCE in Ancient Greece via Socrates, around the same time as Buddhism and Jainism developed elsewhere in the world. For the Greeks, philosophy comprised math and biology, poetry and art, political science and astrology. In this way, philosophy helped lay the foundation for all the many academic disciplines we study today

          Philosophy asks the questions that have no easy answer, questions which can’t be answered by simply observing the world. Different branches of philosophy ask different kinds of questions. Metaphysics examines “being,” asking what there is in the universe and what those things are like. Epistemology takes a look at knowledge, questioning what it means to know and how we can know what we know. Ethics is all about telling right from wrong, while aesthetics seeks to understand the nature of beauty. Logic is crucial for any philosophical discussion, so important that it constitutes its own branch of philosophy. These branches can be examined individually or alongside one another. Political philosophy, for example, must draw from ethics, epistemology, and metaphysics in order to advance the best ideas about how humans should organize themselves in society.

          These questions might seems very academic, things to discuss in stuffy classrooms and nowhere else. But philosophy does not just belong in the halls and classrooms of the academic world. It is able to be applied to almost every aspect of our lives as a way of explaining things that occur within them. As we’ve already discussed, philosophy asks the initial questions that lead to the creation of disciplines like psychology, biology, chemistry, sociology, economics, and political science. But even though these disciplines are studied separately from philosophy today, philosophy can contribute to their development by asking questions about the processes and underlying assumptions of these disciplines.

          But philosophy is about more than just asking questions. To do philosophy well, you must truly care about finding the answers. Philosophy is a great way to develop your critical thinking skills, but if you only take up philosophical questioning as a way to learn how to win arguments, you run the risk of practicing sophistry or arguing for the sake of winning. Philosophy should not just be about winning or losing. Rather it is about finding answers to the fundamental questions at the heart of human existence. Whatever else philosophy is, it should be genuine in its pursuit of truth.

          When we dedicate ourselves to the genuine pursuit of truth, we open ourselves up to tremendous potential for personal growth and discovery. We each have a unique filter through which we view the world. This filter includes our assumptions about how the world operates, the values that are important to us, and our lived experience of the world. Doing philosophy demands we critically examine our filters and address our biases. In this way philosophy helps us gain a better understanding of who we are and where we fit in the world. Philosophy also brings our perspective into conversation with that of others. It reminds us that behind every idea is a person whose life experience informs their views. Making a good faith attempt to understand these views and experiences both adds nuance to our own perspectives and teaches us to respect difference in others. Philosophy helps combat the ignorance at the heart of intolerance, helping us better navigate discourse and conversations in an often divided world.

Philosophy helps us relate to one another and respect difference rather than breed intolerance towards difference or erase difference all together.

          Philosophy is not easy to define. This is due in part to just how many areas of our lives it touches upon. But while it may not be easy to define philosophy, it is easy to see the benefits of philosophy. It sets a foundation for all other academic pursuits and gives us the tools to ask questions about these fields. It demands we set aside notions of winning and losing so that we can work collaboratively to find the truth. Philosophy helps us questions our presuppositions and understand the perspectives of others. Above all, philosophy reminds us that the world is full of wonder and opens us up to new ideas and experiences, which are essential to living a rich and fulfilled life.

bottom of page