Philosophy

 Whenever people think about deep, fundamental questions concerning the nature of the universe and ourselves, the limits of human knowledge, their values and the meaning of life, they are thinking about philosophy. Philosophical thinking is found in all parts of the world, present, and past.


In the academic world, philosophy distinguishes a certain area of study from all other areas, such as the sciences and other humanities. Philosophers typically consider questions that are, in some sense, broader and/or more fundamental than other inquirers’ questions: e.g., physicists ask what caused some event; philosophers ask whether causation even exists; historians study figures who fought for justice; philosophers ask what justice is or whether their causes were in fact just; economists study the allocation of capital; philosophers debate the ethical merits of capitalism.


When a topic becomes amenable to rigorous, empirical study, it tends to be “outsourced” to its own field, and not described in the present day as “philosophy” anymore: e.g., the natural sciences were once called “natural philosophy,” but we don’t now just think about whether matter is composed of atoms or infinitely divisible: we use scientific experiments. And most of the different doctoral degrees are called “Doctor of Philosophy” even when they’re in sociology or chemistry.


Philosophical questions can’t be straightforwardly investigated through purely empirical means:e.g., try to imagine a lab experiment testing whether societies should privilege equality over freedom—not whether people believe we should, but whether we actually should. What does moral importance look like in a microscope?


The main method of academic philosophy is to construct and evaluate arguments (i.e. reasons intended to justify some conclusion). Such conclusions might be that some theory is true or false or might be about the correct analysis or definition of some concept. These arguments generally have at least some conceptual, intellectual, or a priori, i.e., non-empirical, content. And philosophers often incorporate relevant scientific knowledge as premises in arguments

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