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Introduction to Philosophy

The Thinker, a statue by Auguste Rodin, is often used to represent philosophy.

Philosophy (from Greek: φιλοσοφία, philosophia, 'love of wisdom') is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Such questions are often posed as problems to be studied or resolved. The term was probably coined by Pythagoras (c. 570 – 495 BCE). Philosophical methods include questioning, critical discussion, rational argument, and systematic presentation.

Historically, philosophy encompassed all bodies of knowledge and a practitioner was known as a philosopher. From the time of Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle to the 19th century, "natural philosophy" encompassed astronomy, medicine, and physics. For example, Newton's 1687 Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy later became classified as a book of physics.

In the 19th century, the growth of modern research universities led academic philosophy and other disciplines to professionalize and specialize. Since then, various areas of investigation that were traditionally part of philosophy have become separate academic disciplines, such as psychology, sociology, linguistics, and economics.

Today, major subfields of academic philosophy include metaphysics, which is concerned with the fundamental nature of existence and reality; epistemology, which studies the nature of knowledge and belief; ethics, which is concerned with moral value; and logic, which studies the rules of inference that allow one to deduce conclusions from true premises. Other notable subfields include philosophy of science, political philosophy, aesthetics, philosophy of language, and philosophy of mind. (

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Kantian ethics refers to a deontological ethical theory developed by German philosopher Immanuel Kant that is based on the notion that: "It is impossible to think of anything at all in the world, or indeed even beyond it, that could be considered good without limitation except a good will." The theory was developed as a result of Enlightenment rationalism, stating that an action can only be good if its maxim—the principle behind it—is duty to the moral law, and arises from a sense of duty in the actor.

Central to Kant's construction of the moral law is the categorical imperative, which acts on all people, regardless of their interests or desires. Kant formulated the categorical imperative in various ways. His principle of universalizability requires that, for an action to be permissible, it must be possible to apply it to all people without a contradiction occurring. Kant's formulation of humanity, the second section of the categorical imperative, states that as an end in itself, humans are required never to treat others merely as a means to an end, but always as ends in themselves. The formulation of autonomy concludes that rational agents are bound to the moral law by their own will, while Kant's concept of the Kingdom of Ends requires that people act as if the principles of their actions establish a law for a hypothetical kingdom. Kant also distinguished between perfect and imperfect duties. Kant used the example of lying as an application of his ethics: because there is a perfect duty to tell the truth, we must never lie, even if it seems that lying would bring about better consequences than telling the truth. Likewise, a perfect duty (e.g. the duty not to lie) always holds true; an imperfect duty (e.g., the duty to give to charity) can be made flexible and applied in particular time and place. (Full article...)

Selected article of the week

Virtue ethics, one of the three major approaches in normative ethics, focuses on what makes a good person, rather than what makes a good action. It can be described as a teleological ethical system - one that seeks to define the proper telos (goal or end) of the human person. Virtue ethics emphasizes moral character, in contrast to other normative approaches which emphasize duties or rules (deontology) or which emphasize the consequences of actions (consequentialism). Three key concepts virtue ethics are arete (excellence or virtue), phronesis (practical or moral wisdom), and eudaimonia (usually translated as happiness or flourishing).


Academic Branches of Philosophy

Philosophy ponders the most fundamental questions humankind has been able to ask. These are increasingly numerous and over time they have been arranged into the overlapping branches of the philosophy tree:

  • Aesthetics: What is art? What is beauty? Is there a standard of taste? Is art meaningful? If so, what does it mean? What is good art? Is art for the purpose of an end, or is "art for art's sake?" What connects us to art? How does art affect us? Is some art unethical? Can art corrupt or elevate societies?
  • Epistemology: What are the nature and limits of knowledge? What is more fundamental to human existence, knowing (epistemology) or being (ontology)? How do we come to know what we know? What are the limits and scope of knowledge? How can we know that there are other minds (if we can)? How can we know that there is an external world (if we can)? How can we prove our answers? What is a true statement?
  • Ethics: Is there a difference between ethically right and wrong actions (or values, or institutions)? If so, what is that difference? Which actions are right, and which wrong? Do divine commands make right acts right, or is their rightness based on something else? Are there standards of rightness that are absolute, or are all such standards relative to particular cultures? How should I live? What is happiness?
  • Logic: What makes a good argument? How can I think critically about complicated arguments? What makes for good thinking? When can I say that something just does not make sense? Where is the origin of logic?
  • Metaphysics: What sorts of things exist? What is the nature of those things? Do some things exist independently of our perception? What is the nature of space and time? What is the relationship of the mind to the body? What is it to be a person? What is it to be conscious? Do gods exist?
  • Political philosophy: Are political institutions and their exercise of power justified? What is justice? Is there a 'proper' role and scope of government? Is democracy the best form of governance? Is governance ethically justifiable? Should a state be allowed? Should a state be able to promote the norms and values of a certain moral or religious doctrine? Are states allowed to go to war? Do states have duties against inhabitants of other states?

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Selected philosopher of the week

Charles Peirce 1839-1914

Charles Sanders Peirce (pronounced purse) was an American polymath, born in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Although educated as a chemist and employed as a scientist for 30 years, it is for his contributions to logic, mathematics, philosophy, and the theory of signs, or semiotics, that he is largely appreciated today. The philosopher Paul Weiss, writing in the Dictionary of American Biography for 1934, called Peirce "the most original and versatile of American philosophers and America's greatest logician" (Brent, 1).

Peirce was largely ignored during his lifetime, and the secondary literature was scant until after World War II. Much of his huge output is still unpublished. Although he wrote mostly in English, he published some popular articles in French as well. An innovator in fields such as mathematics, statistics, research methodology, the philosophy of science, epistemology, and metaphysics, he considered himself a logician first and foremost. While he made major contributions to formal logic, "logic" for him encompassed much of what is now called the philosophy of science and epistemology. He, in turn, saw logic as the formal branch of semiotics, of which he is a founder. In 1886, he saw that logical operations could be carried out by electrical switching circuits, an idea used decades later to produce digital computers.

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Did you know

Portrait of Francisco de Vitoria

Sebastian Petrycy's tomb effigy in Kraków

Rāmabhadrācārya meditating on the banks of Mandakini river during a Payovrata. He is seated in the Sukhasana pose with fingers folded in the Chin Mudra.

  • …that Jagadguru Rāmabhadrācārya (pictured), a blind Hindu religious leader, has observed nine Payovrata, a six-month diet of only milk and fruits, per the fifth verse of the Dohāvalī composed by Tulasidāsa, which says that chanting the name of Rāma subsisting on a diet of milk and fruits for six months will result in all the auspiciousness and accomplishments in one's hand?

Topics

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General images

The following are images from various Philosophy-related articles on Wikipedia.

Task forces

Tasks

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  • Falsificationism Looking for comments on lead.
  • Optimism should have a separate page that focuses on the philosophical idea of optimism and distinguishes the philosophical view from "positive thinking" and other everyday uses of the word.
  • Philosophy of social science, has some okay points but requires elaboration on Wittgenstein and Winch, perhaps other linguistic critiques, whether logical positivist or postmodernist.
  • Exchange value needs to be redone, it shouldn't be under 'Marxist theory'- although it's an important component of Marxist theory it's also vital for all economics. That said the article's weight on Marx is also absurd.
  • German Idealism and the articles related to it may need to be rewritten or expanded to avoid undue weight on Arthur Schopenhauer.
  • Protected values first section confuses right action and values and needs a copy edit, moving and wikifying
  • Quality (philosophy) needs a more clear explanation.
  • Socratic dialogues could do with some tidying and clarification. See the talk page for one suggested change.
  • Problem of universals: The introductory definition is (perhaps) fixed. But, the article is poor. Check out the German version.
  • Teleology: the article is shallow and inconsistent.
  • Existentialism: the quality of this article varies wildly and is in desperate need of expert attention.
  • Analytic philosophy This is a very major topic, but still has several sections which are stubs, and several topics which are not covered.
  • Lifeworld A philosophical concept that seems to have fallen exclusively into the hands of the sociologists. Could use some attention; it's a major and complex issue in phenomenology.
  • Perception Needs the attention of philosophically minded Wikipedians. This is only the start of an overhaul of perception and related articles.

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