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Thinking hardly
or hardly thinking?

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Major trains of thought
The good, the bad,
and the brain fart
Come to think of it
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“Sometimes, in doing philosophy, one just wants to utter an inarticulate sound.”
Ludwig Wittgenstein[1]

Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. It is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational argument. The word "philosophy" comes from the Greek φιλοσοφία (philosophia), which literally means "love of wisdom".


Philosophy is divided into branches.[notes 1] Some of the ones that interest us are:

  • Metaphysics is the study of the nature of reality, including the relationship between mind and body, substance and accident, events and causation, abstract and concrete. Traditional branches are cosmology (the study of existence as a whole i.e. the cosmos) and ontology (the study of what and how things fundamentally exist).
  • Epistemology is concerned with the nature and scope of knowledge, and whether knowledge is possible. Among its central concerns has been the challenge posed by skepticism and the relationships between truth, belief, and justification.
  • Formal epistemology is a subfield of epistemology that uses formal systems such as from mathematics and computer science.
  • Ethics, or "moral philosophy", is concerned primarily with the question of the best way to live, and secondarily, concerning the question of whether this question can be answered. The main branches of ethics are meta-ethics, normative ethics, and applied ethics. Meta-ethics concerns the nature of ethical thought, comparison of various ethical systems, whether there are absolute ethical truths, and how such truths could be known. Ethics is also associated with the idea of morality.
  • Aesthetics is concerned with art, taste and the psychology behind beauty and what makes something beautiful. It is more scientifically defined as the study of sensory or sensori-emotional values, sometimes called judgments of sentiment and taste. More broadly, scholars in the field define aesthetics as "critical reflection on art, culture and nature."
  • Political philosophy is the normative study of government and the relationship of individuals (or families and clans) to communities including the state. It, depending on the philosopher, includes questions about justice, law, property, and the rights and obligations of the citizen. Political philosophy and ethics are traditionally inter-linked subjects, as both discuss the question of what is good and how people should live, although there were philosophers that believed that government should not have anything to do with ethics.
  • Logic is the study of valid argument forms. Today the subject of logic has two broad divisions: mathematical logic (formal symbolic logic) and what is now called philosophical logic.
  • Philosophy of mind deals with the nature of the mind and its relationship to the body, and is typified by disputes between idealism, dualism and materialism. In recent years there has been increasing similarity between this branch of philosophy and cognitive science, as well as quantum mechanics. Some of the major questions in the philosophy of mind include the following. Is mind ultimately material or immaterial? The major answers include materialism, dualism and idealism. Is there free will? What is free will? What makes me the same person today as I was yesterday and as I will be tomorrow? This is a question of personal identity. How and why do we have qualia or phenomenal experiences? This is a question on the Hard Problem of Consciousness.
  • Philosophy of religion is a branch of philosophy that asks questions about religion.
  • Philosophy of language is the philosophical study of the nature of language. Fundamental questions in philosophy of language involve the nature of linguistic meaning, the relation between meaning and truth, and the ways in which language is used in communication. It is distinct from linguistics, although the two disciplines overlap significantly.

Most academic subjects have an associated branch of philosophy, for example the philosophy of science, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of law, etc.

Regional and cultural traditions[edit]

Raphael's The School of AthensWikipedia, showing a number of philosophers.

Due to the enormous distances in space and time that exist between human cultures, different philosophical traditions (not to be confused with 'schools', which share basic views of the world) have arisen. There is much discussion about which traditions existed and which did not, but as only a few peoples have ever been completely isolated from the world, traditions mostly flow into each other at any given time, so that any given tradition and its characterization is more or less constructed by outsiders and descendants.

Western philosophy[edit]

Modern Western philosophy is broadly divided into two camps. The first is so called Analytic philosophy, deriving from the work of the early 20th century Vienna Circle and the late 19th century Gottlob Frege. The second is so called Continental philosophy, which is a far more eclectic tradition that basically just indicates almost everyone else, though traditionally is associated with post-modernism, it also includes people stridently hostile to post-modernism. Minor traditions like German Idealism and American Pragmatism exist, but these dont have the same clout or power as Analytic and Continental philosophy, and often end up grouping or dialoguing themselves with one or the other. The main reason for this is that the divide is primarily one of style, where analytics write papers, and continentals write books. The analytic style itself is one of the main points of contention, with analytics consciously attempting to be "scientific", and continentals mocking them heavily for this.

Both sides engage in a variety of different topics. While continentals generally dont limit themselves to any particular subject, analytics generally avoid aesthetics and are most heavily focused on logic, ontology, and ethics. Both at present seem to be moving towards philosophy of mind, due to advances in neuroscience and then philosophical commentary on the same. This manifests mainly as bad takes from Žižek and Kant scholars screaming in pain as neuroscientists constantly conflate the mind and brain. Many a grad student has been subjected to the tortures of undergrads saying "yeah but its all like just the brain isn't it?"

Eastern philosophy[edit]

Eastern philosophy is structured by a holistic (going from the largest to the smallest) worldview and a teacheresque or poetic style of writing. The documentation of its philosophers is of questionable historical accuracy, so it is unknown if Confucius and Laozi ever actually existed, or if their ideas are simply the canonized ideas of hundreds of other unknown people. Eastern philosophy cannot be clearly separated from Eastern religions, as this tradition is not analytic. Such a thought did not occur to its main adherents, so it consists of mostly universal schools of thought, which penetrate into every branch of philosophy.

Indian philosophy[edit]

Indian (the subcontinent, not the American natives) philosophy is nearly indistinguishable from religion, being largely inspired by Hinduism and Buddhism. However, it also has the oldest known atheist traditions. Its style swings back and forth between holistic and analytic argumentation. The dearth of written records of these teachings owes itself to the fact that writing had historically been treated with contempt in the region. Instead, the philosophical and religious texts have been memorized word-for-word. The stories feature elaborate rhyming schemes, intended to allow for easier memorization and fluid recitation. The tradition of oral lore has resulted in the irony that Indian philosophical texts are more faithful to their origins than those of Western philosophers. An explanation for this curiosity involves the tendency of Western scribes to heavily abbreviate and condense the subject matter, even going as far as omitting entire passages of a text — sometimes the very concepts and ideas themselves were modified in order to adapt them into the Christian worldview of the Middle Ages.

Modern and contemporary philosophy[edit]

Due to the effects of colonization, imperialism (especially the Arabian EmpireWikipedia of the Middle Ages) and globalization, the mentioned traditions fuse more and more into a single tradition. Eastern philosophers picked up ideas of Western philosophers and vice versa (SchopenhauerWikipedia for example) by the 18th century. The style of modern works tends to follow the lines of Western philosophy, but some still argue for ideas of other traditions.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

Icon fun.svg For those of you in the mood, RationalWiki has a fun article about Philosophy.


  1. Which can often be interconnected.


  1. Wittgenstein, Ludwig (1953) Philosophical Investigations.
  2. Don Vito Mumbling (May 3, 2014) YouTube.