What is Philosophy?
To ask what Philosophy is, is to ask a philosophical question. Given how difficult philosophical questions are to answer, it unlikely that a satisfactory answer can be provided here. However, the prospective student of philosophy might want to have only a taste of what the discipline is about, rather than a definitive answer that would satisfy all philosophers – a notoriously sceptical and argumentative group of people.
Philosophical questions tend to be very basic, foundational or ultimate questions. For example, whereas scientists and social scientists ask about the causes of physical, chemical, historical, political or economic events, philosophers ask what causes are and whether there are any such things. Similarly, while all academic disciplines aim at knowledge of their fields, philosophers ask what knowledge is and whether we can know anything.
Given this character of philosophical questions, they are all too often glossed over by non-philosophers. Yet they are important questions, which have a magnetic attraction for those with a philosophical temperament. Among the questions philosophers ask are: “What is truth?”; “What does it mean for a word or sentence to mean something?”; “What is beauty?”; “What is (moral) goodness?”; “What form of government, if any, is best?”; and “Do our lives have meaning?”
Philosophy is a very broad area of inquiry, not least because it asks questions about every other area of inquiry. Thus there is a philosophy of mathematics, of logic, and of language, a philosophy of science, of medicine and of psychology, a philosophy of history and of economics, a philosophy of religion and of art and music, to name but a few.