What is Philosophy
What is Philosophy
of Science
What is Verification
and Falsification
about Science
Science according to
Scientific method
Paradigm and
paradigm shift
Karl Popper -
Logic and status
Consequences of Popper's theses
Alternative Science
Chalmers: What is this
thing called Science?
Epistemology -
induction deduction

What is philosophy

This website discusses a branch within philosophy. When philosophers comment on the subject philosophy, sweeping statements like "seeking wisdom" are common. The area is sometimes called "Metaphilosophy".

Serious discussions about the term philosophy are rare. As a consequence, a definition of the term "philosophy" feels appropriate.



Definition of the term philosophy


The term "philosophy" can be defined as:


Philosophy implies discussion without
references to empirical foundations


ref: Paul Persson (2013)


An earlier (2012) proposed definition was "Philosophy implies discussion of topics
without references to empirical foundations". A softer definition is "discussion about how something can be, or could have been" (as opposed to how something is shown to be).

Why? - The contents of the definition of philosophy


The term "discussion" is included in the definition above in order to distinguish between philosophy and an arbitrary statement. The demarcation stresses that philosophy should include some type of argumentation for what the discussion wants to highlight. Only the phrase "a stone can be gray" should therefore, in my view, not be covered by the term philosophy, while a discussion of rocks and rock colors probably may be encompassed by this term.

...without references...

If a discussion is based on references to any matter of fact, it is categorized outside the area of philosophy. Some examples are history of philosophy (when the discussion refers to what other philosophers have expressed) or natural science (when the discussion refers to physical objects). Conclusions based on combinations of such references are still within the same areas.

The discussion about rock colors, according to paragraph "...discussion..." above, hence should not consider the real appearance of rocks, because it would in that case be categorized, not within the field of philosophy, but within geology.

See also below in the section "A complication for philosophy".

...empirical foundations...

With "empirical foundations", unlike "observations", is meant something that is reported in such a way that risks of errors are decreased. For example "I felt that..." is not, in my opinion, an empirical basis, although it may be said to be an observation.



A complication for philosophy


A significant problem for the discipline of philosophy is that a philosophical area transforms into a scientific area when empirical foundations becomes accepted within the area.

This problem has been mentioned earlier, e.g. by Bertrand Russell in "The Problems of Philosophy" (1912), p.240.

... as soon as definite knowledge concerning any subject becomes possible, this subject ceases to be called philosophy, and becomes a separate science.

Humanity gradually collects empirical evidence within increasing number of areas, thereby decreasing the possibilities for significant contributions within philosophy. This is especially notably within what in the 18th century was called natural philosophy, and today is called natural science.


Definition of the term philosophy by C. Ducasse:
"Formulated spontaneous appraisals"


Curt Ducasse discusses the term philosophy in the book "Philosophy as a Science: Its Matter and its Method" (1941).

Chapter headings in Part 1: "Some Recent Hypotheses as to the Nature and Method of Philosophy" are:

Philosophy as More General Than Science
Philosophy as Logically Articulated Faith
Philosophy as Poetic Literature About the Cosmos
Philosophy as Light On Social Problems
Philosophy as Identical With Logic
Philosophy as Systematic Study of Meaning
Philosophy as Logical Syntax of the Language of Science

Ducasse summarizes the book with a definition of the term "philosophy". The definition says: "Formulated spontaneous appraisals".


Comparison of definitions by Persson and Ducasse

Both definitions above are compatible to a certain degree. The terms "discussion" and "formulated appraisals" indicate that philosophy is something further than an arbitrary statement. The terms "without references to empirical foundations" and "spontaneous" indicate that philosophy is not concerned with pure matters of fact.



Details about philosophy - "point of view"

When we do not treat an area from what is acknowledged to be known within that area (empirical foundations), it becomes suitable to treat the area from certain points of view. Other expressions for this are to adopt certain premises or perspectives.

"Point of view" within philosophy often becomes what some other philosopher has stated, or some other dogmatic comprehension, e.g. religious or cultural conviction.

With "points of view" we hence do not necessarily treat properties in our perceived reality, but only such factors that are defined and limited to our premises.

Within scientific work, the points of view are everything relevant for the area that is reported in scientific publications. To find reports from relevant work is a tedious work (hopefully assisted by the supervisor) that is paid when the scientist's knowledge about the area can be supposed to represent the research front.

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