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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, reason, knowledge, values, mind, and language. Such questions are often posed as problems to be studied or resolved. Some sources claim the term was coined by Pythagoras (c. 570 – c. 495 BCE), others dispute this story, arguing that Pythagoreans merely claimed use of a preexisting term. 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 derive 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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Avicenna, the proponent of the argument, depicted on a 1999 Tajikistani banknote

The Proof of the Truthful (Arabic: برهان الصديقين, romanized: burhān al-ṣiddīqīn, also translated Demonstration of the Truthful or Proof of the Veracious, among others) is a formal argument for proving the existence of God introduced by the Islamic philosopher Avicenna (also known as Ibn Sina, 980–1037). Avicenna argued that there must be a "necessary existent" (Arabic: واجب الوجود, romanized: wājib al-wujūd), an entity that cannot not exist. The argument says that the entire set of contingent things must have a cause that is not contingent because otherwise it would be included in the set. Furthermore, through a series of arguments, he derived that the necessary existent must have attributes that he identified with God in Islam, including unity, simplicity, immateriality, intellect, power, generosity, and goodness.

Historian of philosophy Peter Adamson called the argument one of the most influential medieval arguments for God's existence, and Avicenna's biggest contribution to the history of philosophy. It was enthusiastically received and repeated (sometimes with modification) by later philosophers, including generations of Muslim philosophers, Western Christian philosophers such as Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus, and Jewish philosophers such as Maimonides. (Full article...)

Selected article of the week

Hilary Whitehall Putnam (born July 31, 1926) is an American philosopher who has been a central figure in analytic philosophy since the 1960s, especially in philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, and philosophy of science. He is known for his willingness to apply an equal degree of scrutiny to his own philosophical positions as to those of others, subjecting each position to rigorous analysis until he exposes its flaws. As a result, he has acquired a reputation for frequently changing his own position.

In philosophy of mind, Putnam is known for his argument against the type-identity of mental and physical states based on his hypothesis of the multiple realizability of the mental, and for the concept of functionalism, an influential theory regarding the mind-body problem. In philosophy of language, along with Saul Kripke and others, he developed the causal theory of reference, and formulated an original theory of meaning, inventing the notion of semantic externalism based on a famous thought experiment called Twin Earth.

In philosophy of mathematics, he and his mentor W. V. Quine developed the "Quine-Putnam indispensability thesis," an argument for the reality of mathematical entities, later espousing the view that mathematics is not purely logical, but "quasi-empirical." In the field of epistemology, he is known for his critique of the well known "brain in a vat" thought experiment. This thought experiment appears to provide a powerful argument for epistemological skepticism, but Putnam challenges its coherence. In metaphysics, he originally espoused a position called metaphysical realism, but eventually became one of its most outspoken critics, first adopting a view he called "internal realism", which he later abandoned in favor of a pragmatist-inspired direct realism. Putnam's "direct realism" aims to return the study of metaphysics to the way people actually experience the world, rejecting the idea of mental representations, sense data, and other intermediaries between mind and world.

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?

List articles


Selected philosopher of the week

Thomas Aquinas 1225-1274

Saint Thomas Aquinas [Thomas of Aquin, or Aquino] (c. 1225 7 March 1274) was an Italian philosopher and theologian in the scholastic tradition, known as Doctor Angelicus, Doctor Universalis. He is the foremost classical proponent of natural theology, and the father of the Thomistic school of philosophy, which was long the primary philosophical approach of the Roman Catholic Church. The work for which he is best-known is the Summa Theologiae. One of the thirty-three Doctors of the Church, he is considered by many Catholics to be the Church's greatest theologian. Consequently, many institutions of learning have been named after him.


Wikipedia Philosophy Resources

Internet Philosophy Resources

Did you know

Sebastian Petrycy's tomb effigy in Kraków

  • …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?


Selected picture

General images

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

Task forces


  • 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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