An Introduction to Philosophy

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Etymology:

The word "philosophy" was derived from the Greek word ‘philosophia’. The word ‘philosophia’ came from the words ‘philein’ and ‘sophia’. ‘Philein’ means ‘to love’ and ‘sophia’ means ‘wisdom’. So the word ‘philosophy’ means ‘to love wisdom’ or ‘love for wisdom’ and the word ‘philosopher’ means ‘lover of wisdom’.  

Definition:

‘Philosophy’ can refer to a lot of things. The entries given by different dictionaries can be divided into 3 groups: 

  1. Philosophy as a set of beliefs or worldview
  2. Philosophy as an academic discipline
  3. Philosophy as a study or inquiry

However, this article will only focus on philosophy as an academic discipline.

The simplest definition of philosophy is that it is a discipline that studies knowledge, nature, truth, and human existence and tries to come up with some solutions to some ‘larger than life’ questions. Philosophy is the only discipline that encompasses all other sections and disciplines of knowledge. So defining philosophy is not easy. However, there are some people who are wild enough to do that. Here are some definitions of philosophy:    

  • ‘Philosophy is the attempt to think rationally and critically about life’s most important questions in order to obtain knowledge and wisdom about them.’ – J.P. Moreland
  • ‘Philosophy is the study of the most general and abstract features of the world and categories with which we think: mind, matter, reason, proof, truth, etc.’ – Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy
  • ‘Philosophy is the study of the ultimate nature of existence, reality, knowledge, and goodness, as discoverable by human reasoning.’ – Penguin English Dictionary

Disciplines of Philosophy 

  • Epistemology (Theory of Knowledge)
  • Ethics/Moral (Theory of Right Action)
  • Metaphysics (Theory of Existence)
  • Axiology (Theory of Value)
  • Aesthetics (Theory of Beauty/Art)
  • Logic (Theory of Correct Inference)

Why Philosophy? 

  • Philosophy is the mother of all other disciplines of knowledge.
  • It helps us defend ourselves with logic.
  • It assists us to engage in constructive arguments that produce solutions to many problems.
  • It helps us analyze everything we see and know more about ourselves.
  • It permeates systematic theology to add clarity to our belief system.
  • Most importantly, it teaches us to be a better version of ourselves.

History of Philosophy: 

Philosophy is the most ancient discipline of knowledge and education because from the time immemorial people have been looking for answers to the things they perceive. So it has the richest history among all other disciplines. Here is a brief summary of the periods of this discipline: 

The historical periods of this discipline can be divided into mainly three parts:

  1. Ancient
  2. Medieval
  3. Modern

Ancient Period

The Pre-Socrates Period

Dates (approximate)

Philosophers

The Milesian School

7th-6th Centuries BC

  • Thales
  • Anaximander
  • Anaximenes

The Eleatic School

6th-5th Centuries BC

  • Xenophanes
  • Parmenides
  • Zeno of Elea

Greek Philosophers

5th Century BC

  • Anaxagoras of Clazomenae
  • Protagoras

The Socrates/Classical Period

Socrates

425 BC

  - Socrates

Plato

400 BC

- Plato

Diogenes of Sinope

375 BC

 - Diogenes

Aristotle

350 BC

 - Aristotle, Epicurus

Hellenistic Period

325 – 275 BC

  • Pyrrho
  • Epicurus
  • Eratosthenes
  • Chrysippus

School of Stoicism

300 BC

 - Zeno of Citium

Roman Period

 

 

Marcus Tullius Cicero

120 – 25 BC

 - Marcus Tullius Cicero

Alexandrian

25 BC – 50 AD

 - Philo of Alexandria

School of Stoicism

50 – 138 AD

 - Epictetus

Marcus Aurelius

125 – 175 AD

 - Marcus Aurelius

Plotinus

200 – 275 AD

 - Plotinus

St. Augustine of Hippo

350 – 425 AD

 - St. Augustine of Hippo

Boethius

475 – 525 AD

 - Boethius

  

Medieval Period

Schools of Philosophy

Dates (approximate)

Philosophers

Aristotelianism

11th and 12th Centuries AD

  • Avicenna (Ibn Sina)
  • Maimonides

Scholasticism

11th to 14th Centuries AD

  • Averroës (Ibn Rushd)
  • St. Anselm
  • St. Thomas Aquinas
  • Peter Abelard
  • Albertus Magnus
  • John Duns Scotus
  • William of Ockham

Renaissance

15th and 16th Centuries

  • Erasmus
  • Machiavelli
  • Sir Thomas More
  • Francis Bacon

 

Modern Period

Early Modern Period

Dates (approximate)

Philosophers

Age of Reason

17th Century

  • Thomas Hobbes
  • Rene Descartes,
  • Blaise Pascal
  • Baruch Spinoza
  • John Locke
  • Nicolas Malebranche
  • Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz

Age of Enlightenment

18th Century

  • Bishop George Berkeley
  • Voltaire
  • David Hume
  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau
  • Adam Smith
  • Immanuel Kant
  • Edmund Burke

Modern Period

19th, 20th and 21st Centuries

  • Jeremy Bentham
  • Johann Gottlieb Fichte
  • G.W.F. Hegel
  • Friedrich Schelling
  • Arthur Schopenhauer
  • Auguste Comte
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • John Stuart Mill
  • Søren Kierkegaard
  • Henry David Thoreau
  • Karl Marx
  • Charles Sanders Pierce
  • William James
  • Friedrich Nietzsche
  • John Dewey
  • Alfred North Whitehead
  • Bertrand Russell
  • George Edward Moore
  • Ludwig Wittgenstein
  • Gilbert Ryle
  • Jean-Paul Sartre
  • Willard Van Orman Quine
  • Alfred Ayer
  • Michel Foucault  
  • Jacques Derrida
  • Edward Said


Philosophy as a discipline is so vast that it is quite impossible to discuss it briefly. Everything can be included as the subject matter of this discipline.

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