What Is Social Philosophy?

Social philosophy is a branch of philosophical inquiry that explores issues of social organization, behavior, institutions and viewpoints. It commonly addresses such topics as the notion of individualism and how people behave in group environments. Social philosophy also regularly sees extensive overlap with other philosophical sub-fields and social science disciplines.

Social philosophy often has much in common with political science and philosophy due to its interest in ideas of authority, rights and property as well as in issues surrounding class stratification, class identification, counter- and subculture. Social philosophy also examines alternative sources of social influence or power, such as those exerted by a celebrity or intellectual unaffiliated with government. Similarly, social philosophy may concern itself with socio-cultural phenomena, such as cults, fashion fads, music, crowd behavior and religion.

Because social philosophy is often linked with several of the social sciences, it frequently appeals to empirical data as part of its process, unlike some other areas of philosophy, beholden mainly to thought experimentation. Some of the sciences most often affiliated with social philosophy are sociology, economics, political science, psychology and various areas of anthropology.

In a more abstract area, social philosophy shares a variety of concerns with philosophical ethics, or axiology. It is interested in the ability to isolate proper virtues and how notions of morality are applied to individual and group behavior. In a famous example, Jeremy Bentham argued for a concept called Utilitarianism, which proposed that individual well-being should always be subordinate to the good of the group. Detractors of this philosophy argue that it places too high a premium on the will of the masses, while ignoring possible protections for the single citizen or for minorities.