philosophy

philosophy

[fi-los-uh-fee]
philosophy [Gr.,=love of wisdom], study of the ultimate reality, causes, and principles underlying being and thinking. It has many aspects and different manifestations according to the problems involved and the method of approach and emphasis used by the individual philosopher. This article deals with the nature and development of Western philosophical thought. Eastern philosophy, while founded in religion, contains rigorously developed systems; for these, see Buddhism; Confucianism; Hinduism; Islam; Jainism; Shinto; Taoism; Vedanta; and related articles.

Distinguishing Characteristics

This search for truth began, in the Western world, when the Greeks first established (c.600 B.C.) inquiry independent of theological creeds. Philosophy is distinguished from theology in that philosophy rejects dogma and deals with speculation rather than faith. Philosophy differs from science in that both the natural and the social sciences base their theories wholly on established fact, whereas philosophy also covers areas of inquiry where no facts as such are available. Originally, science as such did not exist and philosophy covered the entire field, but as facts became available and tentative certainties emerged, the sciences broke away from metaphysical speculation to pursue their different aims. Thus physics was once in the realm of philosophy, and it was only in the early 20th cent. that psychology was established as a science apart from philosophy. However, many of the greatest philosophers were also scientists, and philosophy still considers the methods (as opposed to the materials) of science as its province.

Branches

Philosophy is traditionally divided into several branches. Metaphysics inquires into the nature and ultimate significance of the universe. Logic is concerned with the laws of valid reasoning. Epistemology investigates the nature of knowledge and the process of knowing. Ethics deals with problems of right conduct. Aesthetics attempts to determine the nature of beauty and the criteria of artistic judgment. Within metaphysics a division is made according to fundamental principles. The three major positions are idealism, which maintains that what is real is in the form of thought rather than matter; materialism, which considers matter and the motion of matter as the universal reality; and dualism, which gives thought and matter equal status. Naturalism and positivism are forms of materialism.

The History of Philosophy

Historically, philosophy falls into three large periods: classical (Greek and Roman) philosophy, which was concerned with the ultimate nature of reality and the problem of virtue in a political context; medieval philosophy, which in the West is virtually inseparable from early Christian thought; and, beginning with the Renaissance, modern philosophy, whose main direction has been epistemology.

Classical Philosophy

The first Greek philosophers, the Milesian school in the early 6th cent. B.C., consisting of Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes, were concerned with finding the one natural element underlying all nature and being. They were followed by Heraclitus, Pythagoras, Parmenides, Leucippus, Empedocles, Anaxagoras, and Democritus, who took divergent paths in exploring the same problem.

Socrates was the first to inquire also into social and political problems and was the first to use the dialectical method. His speculations were carried on by his pupil Plato, and by Plato's pupil Aristotle, at the Academy in Athens. Roman philosophy was based mainly on the later schools of Greek philosophy, such as the Sophists, the Cynics, Stoicism, and epicureanism. In late antiquity, Neoplatonism, chiefly represented by Plotinus, became the leading philosophical movement and profoundly affected the early development of Christian theology. Arab thinkers, notably Avicenna and Averroës, preserved Greek philosophy, especially Aristotelianism, during the period when these teachings were forgotten in Europe.

The Middle Ages to the Nineteenth Century

Scholasticism, the high achievement of medieval philosophy, was based on Aristotelian principles. St. Thomas Aquinas was the foremost of the schoolmen, just as St. Augustine was the earlier spokesman for the church of pure belief. The Renaissance, with its new physics, astronomy, and humanism, revolutionized philosophic thought. René Descartes is considered the founder of modern philosophy because of his attempt to give the new science a philosophic basis. The other great rationalist systems of the 17th cent., especially those of Baruch Spinoza and G. W. von Leibniz, were developed in response to problems raised by Cartesian philosophy and the new science. In England empiricism prevailed in the work of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and David Hume, as well as that of George Berkeley, who was the outstanding idealist. The philosophy of Immanuel Kant achieved a synthesis of the rationalist and empiricist traditions and was in turn developed in the direction of idealism by J. G. Fichte, F. W. J. von Schelling, and G. W. F. Hegel.

The romantic movement of the 18th cent. had its beginnings in the philosophy of J. J. Rousseau; its adherents of the 19th cent. included Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche, as well as the American transcendentalists represented by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Opposed to the romanticists was the dialectical materialism of Karl Marx. The evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin profoundly affected mid-19th-century thought. Ethical philosophy culminated in England in the utilitarianism of John Stuart Mill and in France in the positivism of Auguste Comte. Pragmatism, the first essentially American philosophical movement, was founded at the end of the 19th cent. by C. S. Peirce and was later elaborated by William James and John Dewey.

The Twentieth Century

The transition to 20th-century philosophy essentially came with Henri Bergson. The century has often seen a great disparity in orientation between Continental and Anglo-American thinkers. In France and Germany, major philosophical movements have been the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl and the existentialism of Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre. Positivism and science have come under the scrutiny of Jürgen Habermas of the Frankfurt School; he has argued that they are driven by hidden interests. Structuralism, a powerful intellectual movement throughout the first half of the 20th cent., defined language and social systems in terms of the relationships among their elements.

Beginning in the 1960s arguments against all of Western metaphysics were marshaled by poststructuralists; among the most influential has been Jacques Derrida, a wide-ranging philosopher who has pursued deconstruction, a program that seeks to identify metaphysical assumptions in literature and psychology as well as philosophy. Both structuralism and poststructuralism originated mostly in France but soon came to influence thinkers throughout the West, especially in Germany and the United States.

Major concerns in American and British philosophy in the 20th cent. have included formal logic, the philosophy of science, and epistemology. Leading early figures included G. E. Moore, Bertrand Russell, and Ludwig Wittgenstein; Anglo-American philosophy was later exemplified by logical positivists like Rudolph Carnap. In their close attention to problems of language, the logical positivists, influenced by Wittgenstein, in turn influenced the work of W. V. O. Quine and others in the philosophy of language. Later Anglo-American philosophers turned increasingly toward ethics and political philosophy, as in John Rawls' work on the problem of justice.

Bibliography

See W. Windelband, A History of Philosophy (2d ed. 1901, repr. 1968); B. Russell, A History of Western Philosophy (rev. ed. 1961); W. K. C. Guthrie, A History of Greek Philosophy (3 vol., 1962-69); A. H. Armstrong, ed., The Cambridge History of Later Greek and Early Medieval Philosophy (1966); J. Passmore, A Hundred Years of Philosophy (2d ed. 1966) and Recent Philosophers (1985); A. Wedberg, A History of Philosophy (3 vol., 1982-84); F. Copleston, A History of Philosophy (9 vol., 1985); D. W. Hamlyn, A History of Western Philosophy (1987); R. Scruton, Modern Philosophy: An Introduction and Survey (1995); E. Craig, ed., Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (1998); P. Hadot, What is Ancient Philosophy (tr. 2002).

Branch of philosophy that attempts to elucidate the nature of scientific inquiry—observational procedures, patterns of argument, methods of representation and calculation, metaphysical presuppositions—and evaluate the grounds of their validity from the points of view of epistemology, formal logic, scientific method, and metaphysics. Historically, it has had two main preoccupations, ontological and epistemological. The ontological preoccupations (which frequently overlap with the sciences themselves) ask what kinds of entities can properly figure in scientific theories and what sort of existence such entities possess. Epistemologically, philosophers of science have analyzed and evaluated the concepts and methods employed in studying natural phenomena, both the general concepts and methods common to all scientific inquiries and the specific ones that distinguish special sciences.

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Branch of philosophy that studies key metaphysical and epistemological concepts, principles, and problems of religion. Topics considered include the existence and nature of God, the possibility of knowledge of God, human freedom (the free will problem), immortality, and the problems of moral and natural evil and suffering. Natural theology is the attempt to establish knowledge of God without dependence on revelation. Traditional arguments for the existence of God include the ontological argument, the cosmological argument, and the argument from design.

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20th-century school of philosophy that emphasizes the elements of becoming, change, and novelty in experienced reality and opposes the traditional Western philosophical stress on being, permanence, and uniformity. Reality, including both the natural world and the human sphere, is essentially historical in this view, emerging from (and bearing) a past and advancing into a novel future. Hence, it cannot be grasped by old static spatial concepts that ignore the temporal and novel aspects of the universe given in human experience. The foremost contributors to process philosophy have been Henri Bergson and Alfred North Whitehead.

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Branch of philosophy that analyzes the state and related concepts such as political obligation, law, social justice, and constitution. The first major work of political philosophy in the Western tradition was Plato's Republic. Aristotle's Politics is a detailed empirical study of political institutions. The Roman tradition is best exemplified by Cicero and Polybius. St. Augustine's City of God began the tradition of Christian political thinking, which was developed by Thomas Aquinas. Niccolò Machiavelli studied the nature and limits of political power. Thomas Hobbes's Leviathan (1651) raised the problem of political obligation in its modern form. Hobbes was followed by Benedict de Spinoza, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the exposition of a social-contract theory. This was rejected by David Hume and also by G.W.F. Hegel, whose Philosophy of Right (1821) was fundamental for 19th-century political thought. Hegel's defense of private property stimulated Karl Marx's critique of it. John Stuart Mill developed Jeremy Bentham's utilitarian theory of law and political institutions, so as to reconcile them with individual liberty. In the 20th century John Dewey sought to counteract the dehumanizing aspects of modern capitalist society through a freer form of education. Until the end of the Cold War, the field of political philosophy was characterized by a division between Marxists and more traditional liberal thinkers, as well as by disagreements between left- and right-leaning liberals, such as John Rawls and Robert Nozick (1938–2002), respectively. From the 1970s, feminist political philosophy drew attention to the apparent gendered nature of many concepts and problems in Western political philosophy, especially autonomy, rights, liberty, and the public-private distinction.

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Theory that derives duty from what is valuable as an end, in a manner diametrically opposed to deontological ethics. Teleological ethics holds that the basic standard of duty is the contribution that an action makes to the realization of nonmoral values. Teleological theories differ on the nature of the nonmoral goods that actions ought to promote. Eudaemonism emphasizes the cultivation of virtue in the agent as the end of all action. Utilitarianism holds that the end consists in the aggregate balance of pleasure to pain for all concerned. Other teleological theories claim that the end of action is survival and growth, as in evolutionary ethics (Herbert Spencer); power over others (Niccolò Machiavelli and Friedrich Nietzsche); satisfaction and adjustment, as in pragmatism (Ralph Barton Perry and John Dewey); and freedom, as in existentialism (Jean-Paul Sartre).

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Branch of philosophy concerned with the nature of ultimate value and the standards by which human actions can be judged right or wrong. The term is also applied to any system or theory of moral values or principles. Ethics is traditionally subdivided into normative ethics, metaethics, and applied ethics. Normative ethics seeks to establish norms or standards of conduct; a crucial question in this field is whether actions are to be judged right or wrong based on their consequences or based on their conformity to some moral rule, such as “Do not tell a lie.” Theories that adopt the former basis of judgment are called consequentialist (see consequentialism); those that adopt the latter are known as deontological (see deontological ethics). Metaethics is concerned with the nature of ethical judgments and theories. Since the beginning of the 20th century, much work in metaethics has focused on the logical and semantic aspects of moral language. Some major metaethical theories are naturalism (see naturalistic fallacy), intuitionism, emotivism, and prescriptivism. Applied ethics, as the name implies, consists of the application of normative ethical theories to practical moral problems (e.g., abortion). Among the major fields of applied ethics are bioethics, business ethics, legal ethics, and medical ethics.

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Ethical theories that maintain that the moral rightness or wrongness of an action depends on its intrinsic qualities, and not (as in consequentialism) on the nature of its consequences. Deontological ethics holds that at least some acts are morally wrong in themselves (e.g., lying, breaking a promise, punishing the innocent, murder). It often finds expression in slogans such as “Duty for duty's sake.” Deontological theories are often formulated in such a way that the rightness of an action consists in its conformity to a moral rule or command, such as “Do not bear false witness.” The most important exponent of deontological ethics is Immanuel Kant. Seealso categorical imperative.

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Branch of philosophy that studies the nature of mind and its various manifestations, including intentionality, sensation and sense perception, feeling and emotion, traits of character and personality, the unconscious, volition, thought, memory, imagination, and belief. It is distinguished from empirical studies of the mind (e.g., psychology, biology, physiology, sociology, and anthropology) by its method, which emphasizes the analysis and clarification of concepts. Seealso cognitive science.

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Branch of philosophy concerned with the epistemology and ontology of mathematics. Early in the 20th century, three main schools of thought—called logicism, formalism, and intuitionism—arose to account for and resolve the crisis in the foundations of mathematics. Logicism argues that all mathematical notions are reducible to laws of pure thought, or logical principles; a variant known as mathematical Platonism holds that mathematical notions are transcendent Ideals, or Forms, independent of human consciousness. Formalism holds that mathematics consists simply of the manipulation of finite configurations of symbols according to prescribed rules; a “game” independent of any physical interpretation of the symbols. Intuitionism is characterized by its rejection of any knowledge- or evidence-transcendent notion of truth. Hence, only objects that can be constructed (see constructivism) in a finite number of steps are admitted, while actual infinities and the law of the excluded middle (see laws of thought) are rejected. These three schools of thought were principally led, respectively, by Bertrand Russell, David Hilbert, and the Dutch mathematician Luitzen Egbertus Jan Brouwer (1881–1966).

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Philosophical study of the nature and scope of logic. Examples of questions raised in the philosophy of logic are: “In virtue of what features of reality are the laws of logic true?”; “How do we know the truths of logic?”; and “Could the laws of logic ever be falsified by experience?” The subject matter of logic has been variously characterized as the laws of thought, “the rules of right reasoning,” “the principles of valid argumentation,” “the use of certain words called logical constants,” and “truths based solely on the meanings of the terms they contain.”

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Philosophical tradition that emphasizes the logical analysis of concepts and the study of the language in which they are expressed. It has been the dominant approach in philosophy in the English-speaking world from the early 20th century. With respect to its problems, methods, and style, it is often contrasted with Continental philosophy, though the significance of the opposition has been widely challenged. Analytic philosophers have differed regarding the nature of so-called “ordinary” language and the methodological value of appeals to ordinary usage in the logical analysis of concepts. Those known as formalists hold that, because ordinary language is potentially a source of conceptual confusion, philosophy and science should be conducted in a logically transparent formal language based on modern mathematical, or symbolic, logic. Those known as informalists reject this view, arguing that attempts to “improve” ordinary language in this way inevitably oversimplify or falsify it, thereby creating conceptual confusion of just the sort that the formalists are concerned to avoid. Three figures conventionally recognized as founders of the tradition are Gottlob Frege, G.E. Moore, and Bertrand Russell. Other major figures include Ludwig Wittgenstein, A.J. Ayer, Rudolf Carnap, J.L. Austin, W.V.O. Quine, and David Lewis (1941–2001). Seealso logical positivism; Vienna Circle.

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Philosophical study of the nature and use of natural languages and the relations between language, language users, and the world. It encompasses the philosophical study of linguistic meaning (see semantics), the philosophical study of language use in communication (see pragmatics), and philosophical reflection on the nature and scientific status of linguistic theories, known as the philosophy of linguistics. Major areas of investigation have included the theory of reference and the theory of truth. It was the dominant field in analytic philosophy for most the 20th century.

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Application of philosophical methods to the theory and practice of education. Among the topics investigated in the philosophy of education are the nature of learning, especially in children; the purpose of education, particularly the question of whether the chief goal of educators should be imparting knowledge, developing intellectual independence, or instilling moral or political values; the nature of education-related concepts, including the concept of education itself; the sources and legitimacy of educational authority; and the conduct of educational research. Major figures in the history of the philosophy of education include Plato, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and John Dewey.

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System of critical philosophy created by Immanuel Kant and the philosophies that have arisen from the study of his writings. Kantianism comprises diverse philosophies that share Kant's concern to explore the nature and limits of human knowledge in the hope of raising philosophy to the level of a science. Each submovement of Kantianism has tended to focus on its own selection and reading of Kant's many concerns. In the 1790s there emerged in Germany the so-called semi-Kantians, who altered features of Kant's system they viewed as inadequate, unclear, or even wrong; its members included Friedrich Schiller, Friedrich Bouterwek (1766–1828), and Jakob Friedrich Fries (1773–1843). The period from 1790 to 1835 was the age of the post-Kantian idealists (see idealism). A major revival of interest in Kantian philosophy began circa 1860. Seealso Johann Gottlieb Fichte; G.W.F. Hegel; Neo-Kantianism; Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling.

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Collective term for the many distinct philospohical traditions, methods, and styles that predominated on the European continent (particularly in France and Germany) from the time of Immanuel Kant. It is usually understood in contrast with analytic philosophy, also called Anglo-American philosophy. In the 20th century it encompassed schools such as phenomenology, existentialism, structuralism, and deconstruction and thinkers such as Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Michel Foucault, and Jacques Derrida. Seealso structuralism; poststructuralism.

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Not to be confused with the subiectum or hypokeimenon in Aristotelianism.

In philosophy, a subject is a being which has subjective experiences, subjective consciousness or a relationship with another entity (or "object"). A subject is an observer and an object is a thing observed. This concept is especially important in Continental philosophy, where 'the Subject' is a central term in debates over human autonomy and the nature of the self.

The sharp distinction between subject and object corresponds to the distinction, in the philosophy of Rene Descartes, between thought and extension. Descartes believed that thought (subjectivity) was of the essence of the mind, and that extention (the occupation of space) was of the essence of matter.

In the modern continental tradition, which may plausibly be said to date from Descartes, debates over the nature of the Subject play a role comparable to debates over personhood within the distinct Anglo-American tradition of analytical philosophy.

In critical theory and psychology, subjectivity is also the actions or discourses that produce individuals or 'I'; the 'I' is the subject — the observer; I/eye — the bearer of the gaze.

The subject in German idealism

Subject as a key-term in thinking about human consciousness began its career with the German Idealists, in response to David Hume's radical skepticism. The idealists' starting point was Hume's conclusion that there is nothing to the self over and above a big, fleeting bundle of perceptions. The next step was to ask how this undifferentiated bundle comes to be experienced as a unity - as a single subject. Hume had offered the following proposal:

"...the imagination must by long custom acquire the same method of thinking, and run along the parts of space and time in conceiving its objects.

Kant, Hegel and their successors sought to flesh out the process by which the subject is constituted out of the flow of sense impressions. Hegel, for example, stated in his Preface to the Phenomenology of Spirit that a subject is constituted by "the process of reflectively mediating itself with itself."

Hegel begins his definition of the subject at a standpoint derived from Aristotelian physics: "the unmoved which is also self-moving" (Preface, pgph. 22). That is, what is not moved by an outside force, but which propels itself, has a prima facie case for subjectivity. Hegel's next step, however, is to identify this power to move, this unrest that is the subject, as pure negativity. Subjective self-motion, for Hegel, comes not from any pure or simple kernel of authentic individuality, but rather, it is

"...the bifurcation of the simple; it is the doubling which sets up opposition, and then again the negation of this indifferent diversity and of its anti-thesis" (Preface, pgph. 18).

The Hegelian subject's modus operandi is therefore cutting, splitting and introducing distinctions by injecting negation into the flow of sense-perceptions. Subjectivity is thus a kind of structural effect - what happens when Nature is diffused, refracted around a field of negativity and the "unity of the subject" for Hegel, is in fact a second-order effect, a "negation of negation". The subject experiences itself as a unity only by purposively negating the very diversity it itself had produced. The Hegelian subject may therefore be characterized either as "self-restoring sameness" or else as "reflection in otherness within itself" (ibid.)

Postmodern subjects

The thinking of Marx, Nietzsche and Freud provided a point of departure for questioning the notion of a unitary, autonomous Subject, which for many thinkers in the Continental tradition is seen as the foundation of the liberal theory of the social contract. These thinkers opened up the way for the deconstruction of the subject as a core-concept of metaphysics.

Nietzsche critiqued the groundworks of subjectivity, stating that the subject was a "grammatical fiction"; "there is no doer behind the doing".

Sigmund Freud's explorations of the unconscious mind added up to a wholesale indictment of Enlightenment notions of subjectivity.

Among the most radical re-thinkers of human self-consciousness was Heidegger, whose concept of Dasein or "Being-there" displaces traditional notions of the personal subject altogether.

Jacques Lacan, inspired by Heidegger and Saussure, built on Freud's psychoanalytic model of the subject, in which the "split subject" is constituted by a double bind: alienated from jouissance when he or she leaves the Real, enters into the Imaginary (during the mirror stage), and separates from the Other when he or she comes into the realm of language and difference in the Symbolic or the Name of the Father.

Thinkers such as Althusser, Foucault or Bourdieu theorize the subject as a social construction. According to Althusser, the "subject" is an ideological construction (more exactly, constructed by the "Ideological State Apparatuses").

It is constituted through the process of interpellation; according to Foucault, it is the "effect" of power and "disciplines" (See Discipline and Punish: construction of the subject as student, soldier, "criminal", etc.).

Subjectivity in analytic philosophy

In contemporary analytic philosophy, the issue of subject -- and more specifically the "point of view" of the subject, or "subjectivity" -- has received attention as one of the major intractable problems in philosophy of mind (a related issue being the mind-body problem). In the essay What is it like to be a bat?, Thomas Nagel famously argued that explaining subjective experience -- the "what it is like" to be something -- is currently beyond the reach of scientific inquiry, because scientific understanding by definition requires an objective perspective, which, according to Nagel, is diametrically opposed to the subjective first-person point of view. These additional features of subjective experience are often referred to as qualia (see Frank Cameron Jackson and Mary's room).

See also

Philosophers

Endnotes

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