What Is Philosophy?
When asked this question, philosophers themselves are known to pause or even stumble around a bit before venturing an answer, and when one does propose an answer, you can bet your collected works of Immanuel Kant that it’ll differ from the answer of any other. This variance shouldn’t surprise us: the question, after all, is a philosophical one, and no two philosophers agree on everything.
Another difficulty comes from the variety of disciplines that fall under the title “philosophy.” You have metaphysics, ethics, logic, epistemology, and aesthetics, to name a few of the fields. You can also take a philosophical approach to just about anything and thus create philosophies of sciences, philosophies of math, of literature and of language, of interpretation, even of nothingness. Ask a “what” question about a generality and you may be asking a philosophical question: “What is politics?” or “What is biology?” or “What is a fictional character?” for example.
Etymologically, the word “philosophy” means the love of wisdom, and that’s a lovely definition, but it doesn’t really define, i.e., set clear boundaries around what is meant by the word. Personally, I lean toward defining philosophy as the creative and discursive study of general concepts and that which they disclose. In other words, philosophy is not concerned with particulars, at least not in themselves, but with universals. Its method is reason, as opposed to intuition or acceptance on authority, and it is creative because it uses language to produce something new and unique.
How would you define “philosophy?”
(H/T: Alex Knapp)