Philosophy Overview: Areas, Methods, Movements

Western Philosophy has an almost  3000-year history, with origins in ancient Greece and Rome, to its fully established form today. It is the intellectual discourse that accompanied Western civilization. At its core, philosophy is thinking, a process of reflection that operates on ideas, propositions, and their history. Philosophy as a discipline can be further divided by the particular questions it pursues. Its core disciplines are metaphysics ( what is

Philosophy as a discipline can be further divided by the particular questions it pursues. Its core disciplines are metaphysics ( what is reality?) ethics (how should we act?) and epistemology (what can we know?).

Like other disciplines, philosophy also employs different methods to investigate these questions. It uses a system of concepts created from differentiations and distinctions. (Scholasticism, Analytic Philosophy.) Thinking itself can be understood as a dynamic process with particular characteristics (dialectics.) Philosophy can also be understood as the reflection on the phenomena that appear to us: how does reality organize itself in human consciousness (phenomenology)? Some philosophers consider the nature of ideas, and warn against too much speculation. Their goal is not to pursue elusive concepts, but to find useful insights that help us improve our condition. They ask how ideas function in the world – what is their impact? (Pragmatism). In recent years, philosophy became increasingly self-absorbed: Is there really an underlying coherence to the discipline of philosophy, or is it not more like a particular form of literature? (Postmodernity.)

Philosophy can also be subdivided by the area it focuses on: there is the philosophy of nature, philosophy of science, philosophy of language, or philosophy of the mind. There is also a very influential field called “political philosophy,” a field that reflects on the political systems that organize human societies.

Every philosopher develops his or her unique style of thinking. Sometimes philosophers are the founders of schools, like Plato, Aristotle, Kant, or Hegel. It is probably best to start with a particular philosopher if one wants to understand philosophy better. Some of them are excellent writers or teachers, but others require hard work in order to become accessible. This website offers a selection of texts that should make it easy for beginners to find their “favorite” thinker.

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