Western philosophy refers to the philosophical
thought and work of the Western world
. Historically, the term refers to the philosophical thinking of Western culture
, beginning with the ancient Greek philosophy
of the pre-Socratics
. The word ''philosophy'' itself originated from the Ancient Greek
''philosophía'' (φιλοσοφία), literally, "the love of wisdom" (φιλεῖν ''phileîn'', "to love" and σοφία ''sophía
The scope of ancient Western philosophy included the problems of philosophy as they are understood today; but it also included many other disciplines, such as pure mathematics
and natural science
s such as physics
, and biology
, for example, wrote on all of these topics).
The pre-Socratic philosophers were interested in cosmology
; the nature and origin of the universe, while rejecting mythical answers
to such questions. They were specifically interested in the ''arche
'' (the cause or first principle) of the world. The first recognized philosopher, Thales of Miletus
(born in Ionia
) identified water as the arche (claiming "all is water"). His use of observation and reason to derive this conclusion is the reason for distinguishing him as the first philosopher. Thales' student Anaximander
claimed that the ''arche'' was the ''apeiron
'', the infinite
. Following both Thales and Anaximander, Anaximenes of Miletus
claimed that air
was the most suitable candidate.Pythagoras
(born ), from the island of Samos
off the coast of Ionia, later lived in Croton
in southern Italy (Magna Graecia
hold that "all is number", giving ''formal'' accounts in contrast to the previous ''material'' of the Ionians. The discovery of consonant intervals
in music by the group enabled the concept of ''harmony'' to be established in philosophy, which suggested that opposites could together give rise to new things. They also believed in metempsychosis
, the transmigration of souls, or reincarnation
argued that, unlike the other philosophers who believed the ''arche'' was transformed into multiple things, the world must be singular, unchanging and eternal, while anything suggesting the contrary was an illusion. Zeno of Elea
formulated his famous paradoxes
in order to support the Parmenides' views about the illusion of plurality and change (in terms of motion), by demonstrating them to be impossible. An alternative explanation was presented by Heraclitus
, who claimed that everything was in flux all the time
, famously pointing out that one could not step into the same river twice. Empedocles
may have been an associate of both Parmenides and the Pythagoreans.
He claimed the ''arche'' was in fact composed of multiple sources, giving rise to the model of the four classical element
s. These in turn were acted upon by the forces of Love and Strife, creating the mixtures of elements which form the world.
Another view of the ''arche'' being acted upon by an external force was presented by his older contemporary Anaxagoras
, who claimed that ''nous
,'' the mind
, was responsible for that. Leucippus
as an explanation for the fundamental nature of the universe. Jonathan Barnes
called atomism "the culmination of early Greek thought".
In addition to these philosophers, the Sophist
s comprised teachers of rhetoric who taught students to debate on any side of an issue. While as a group, they held no specific views, in general they promoted subjectivism
, one of the most influential Sophist philosophers, claimed that "man is the measure of all things", suggesting there is no objective truth. This was also applied to issues of ethics, with Prodicus
arguing that laws could not be taken seriously because they changed all the time, while Antiphon
made the claim that conventional morality should only be followed when in society.
The Classical period of ancient Greek philosophy centers on Socrates
and the two generations of students following him.
Socrates experienced a life-changing event when his friend, Chaerephon
visited the Oracle of Delphi
where the Pythia
told him that no one in Athens was wiser than Socrates
. Learning of this, Socrates subsequently spent much of his life questioning anyone in Athens who would engage him, in order to investigate the Pithia's claim. Socrates developed a critical approach, now called the Socratic method
, to examine people's views. He focused on issues of human life: eudaimonia
, and virtue
. Although Socrates wrote nothing himself, two of his disciples, Plato
, wrote about some of his conversations, although Plato also deployed Socrates as a fictional character
in some of his dialogues. These Socratic dialogue
s display the Socratic method being applied to examine philosophical problems.
Socrates's questioning earned him enemies who eventually accused him of impiety and corrupting the youth. The Athenian democracy tried him, was found guilty, and was sentenced to death. Although his friends offered to help him escape from prison, Socrates chose to remain in Athens and abide by his principles. His execution consisted of drinking poison hemlock
. He died in 399 BCE.
After Socrates' death, Plato founded the Platonic Academy
and Platonic philosophy
. As Socrates had done, Plato identified virtue
. This led him to questions of epistemology
on what knowledge is and how it is acquired.
Plato believed that the senses are illusionary and could not be trusted,
illustrating this point with the allegory of the cave
. He thought that knowledge had to be sourced from eternal, unchanging, and perfect objects, which led to his theory of forms
Alfred North Whitehead
claimed that "Philosophy is footnotes to Plato".
Socrates had several other students who also founded schools of philosophy. Two of these were short-lived: the Eretrian school
, founded by Phaedo of Elis
, and the Megarian school
, founded by Euclid of Megara
. Two others were long-lasting: Cynicism
, founded by Antisthenes
, and Cyrenaicism
, founded by Aristippus
. The Cynics considered life's purpose to live in virtue, in agreement with nature, rejecting all conventional desires for wealth, power, and fame, leading a simple life free from all possessions. The Cyrenaics promoted a philosophy nearly opposite that of the Cynics, endorsing hedonism
, holding that pleasure was the supreme good, especially immediate gratifications; and that people could only know their own experiences, beyond that truth was unknowable.
The final school of philosophy to be established during the Classical period was the Peripatetic school
, founded by Plato's student, Aristotle
. Aristotle wrote widely about topics of philosophical concern, including physics, biology, zoology, metaphysics, aesthetics, poetry, theater, music, rhetoric, politics, and logic. Aristotelian logic
was the first type of logic
to attempt to categorize every valid syllogism
. His epistemology comprised an early form empiricism
Aristotle criticized Plato's metaphysics
as being poetic metaphor, with its greatest failing being the lack of an explanation for change
. Aristotle proposed the four causes
model to explain change - material, efficient, formal, and final - all of which were grounded on what Aristotle termed the ''unmoved mover
His ethical views identified eudaimonia
as the ultimate good, as it was good in itself.
He thought that eudaimonia could be achieved by living according to human nature, which is to live with reason and virtue,
defining ''virtue'' as the golden mean
Aristole saw politics as the highest art, as all other pursuits are subservient to its goal of improving society.
The state should aim to maximize the opportunities for the pursuit of reason and virtue through leisure, learning, and contemplation. Aristotle tutored Alexander the Great
, who conquered much of the ancient Western world. Hellenization
and Aristotelian philosophy
have exercised considerable influence on almost all subsequent Western and Middle Eastern philosophers
Hellenistic and Roman philosophy
and Roman Imperial periods
saw the continuation of Aristotelianism
, and the emergence of new philosophies, including Pyrrhonism
, and Neopythagoreanism
also continued but came under new interpretations, particularly Academic skepticism
in the Hellenistic period and Neoplatonism
in the Imperial period. The traditions of Greek philosophy heavily influenced Roman philosophy. In Imperial times, Epicureanism and Stoicism were particularly popular.
The various schools of philosophy proposed various and conflicting methods for attaining eudaimonia
. For some schools, it was through internal means, such as calmness, ''ataraxia
'' (ἀταραξία), or indifference, ''apatheia
'' (ἀπάθεια), which was possibly caused by the increased insecurity of the era. The aim of the Cynics
was to live according to nature and against convention with courage and self-control.
This was directly inspiring to the founder of Stoicism
, Zeno of Citium
, who took up the Cynic ideals of steadfastness and self-discipline, but applied the concept of ''apatheia'' to personal circumstances rather than social norms, and switched shameless flouting of the latter for a resolute fulfillment of social duties. The ideal of 'living in accordance with nature' also continued, with this being seen as the way to ''eudaimonia,'' which in this case was identified as the freedom from fears and desires and required choosing how to respond to external circumstances, as the quality of life was seen as based on one's beliefs about it. An alternative view was presented by the Cyrenaics
and the Epicureans
. The Cyrenaics were hedonists
and believed that pleasure was the supreme good in life, especially physical pleasure, which they thought more intense and more desirable than mental pleasures.
The followers of Epicurus
also identified "the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain" as the ultimate goal of life, but noted that "We do not mean the pleasures of the prodigal or of sensuality . . . we mean the absence of pain
in the body and trouble in the mind".
This brought hedonism back to the search for ''ataraxia''.Roman Epicurus
bustAnother important strand of thought in post-Classical Western thought was the question of skepticism
. Pyrrho of Elis
, a Democritean
philosopher, traveled to India
with Alexander the Great
's army where Pyrrho was influenced by Buddhist
teachings, most particularly the three marks of existence
. After returning to Greece, Pyrrho started a new school of philosophy, Pyrrhonism
, which taught that it is one's opinions about non-evident matters (i.e., dogma
) that prevent one from attaining ''ataraxia''. To bring the mind to ''ataraxia'', Pyrrhonism uses ''epoché
'' (suspension of judgment
) regarding all non-evident propositions. After Arcesilaus
became head of the Academy, he adopted skepticism as a central tenet of Platonism
, making Platonism nearly the same as Pyrrhonism
. After Arcesilaus, Academic skepticism diverged from Pyrrhonism. The Academic skeptics did not doubt the existence of truth
; they just doubted that humans had the capacities for obtaining it.
They based this position on Plato's ''Phaedo
'', sections 64–67, in which Socrates discusses how knowledge is not accessible to mortals.
Following the end of the skeptical period of the Academy with Antiochus of Ascalon
, Platonic thought entered the period of Middle Platonism
, which absorbed ideas from the Peripatetic and Stoic schools. More extreme syncretism
was done by Numenius of Apamea
, who combined it with Neopythagoreanism
. Also affected by the Neopythagoreans, the Neoplatonists
, first of them Plotinus
, argued that mind exists before matter, and that the universe has a singular cause which must therefore be a single mind.
As such, Neoplatonism become essentially a religion
, and had much impact on later Christian thought
Medieval philosophy roughly extends from the Christianization of the Roman Empire
until the Renaissance.
It is defined partly by the rediscovery and further development of classical Greek
and Hellenistic philosophy
, and partly by the need to address theological problems and to integrate the then-widespread sacred doctrines of Abrahamic religion
, and Islam
) with secular
learning. Some problems discussed throughout this period are the relation of faith
, the existence and unity of God
, the object of theology
, the problems of knowledge, of universals, and of individuation.
A prominent figure of this period was Augustine of Hippo
, one of the most important Church Fathers
in Western Christianity
. Augustine adopted Plato's thought and Christianized it. His influence dominated medieval philosophy perhaps up to the end of era and the rediscovery of Aristotle's texts. Augustinianism
was the preferred starting point for most philosophers up until the 13th century. Among the issues his philosophy touched upon were the problem of evil
, just war
and what time
is. On the problem of evil, he argued that evil was a necessary product of human free will
. When this raised the issue of the incompatibility of free will and divine foreknowledge
, both he and Boethius
solved the issue by arguing that God did not see the future, but rather stood outside of time entirely.
An influential school of thought was that of scholasticism
, which is not so much a philosophy or a theology as a methodology
, as it places a strong emphasis on dialectical reasoning
to extend knowledge by inference
and to resolve contradictions
. Scholastic thought is also known for rigorous conceptual analysis and the careful drawing of distinctions. In the classroom and in writing, it often takes the form of explicit disputation
; a topic drawn from the tradition is broached in the form of a question, oppositional responses are given, a counterproposal is argued and oppositional arguments rebutted. Because of its emphasis on rigorous dialectic
al method, scholasticism was eventually applied to many other fields of study.
[Patte, Daniel. ''The Cambridge Dictionary of Christianity.'' Ed. Daniel Patte. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010, 11132-1133]
Anselm of Canterbury
(called the 'father of scholasticism') argued that the existence of God could be irrefutably proved with the logical conclusion apparent in the ontological argument
, according to which God is by definition the greatest thing in conceivable, and since an existing thing is greater than a non-existing one, it must be that God exists or is not the greatest thing conceivable (the latter being by definition impossible). A refutation of this was offered by Gaunilo of Marmoutiers
, who applied the same logic to an imagined island, arguing that somewhere there must exist a perfect island using the same steps of reasoning (therefore leading to an absurd outcome
Boethius also worked on the problem of universals
, arguing that they did not exist independently as claimed by Plato, but still believed, in line with Aristotle, that they existed in the substance of particular things.
Another important figure for scholasticism, Peter Abelard
, extended this to nominalism
, which states (in complete opposition to Plato) that universals were in fact just names given to characteristics shared by particular
, an academic philosopher and the father of Thomism
, was immensely influential in medieval Christendom
. He was influenced by newly discovered Aristotle
, and aimed to reconcile his philosophy with Christian theology
Aiming to develop an understanding of the soul
, he was led to consider metaphysical questions of substance
, matter, form, and change.
He defined a material substance as the combination of an essence
and accidental features, with the essence being a combination of matter and form, similar to the Aristotelian view.
For humans, the soul is the essence.
Also influenced by Plato, he saw the soul as unchangeable and independent of the body.
Other Western philosophers from the Middle Ages include John Scotus Eriugena
, Gilbert de la Porrée
, Peter Lombard
, Hildegard of Bingen
, Robert Grosseteste
, Roger Bacon
, Peter John Olivi
, Mechthild of Magdeburg
, Robert Kilwardby
, Albertus Magnus
, Henry of Ghent
, Duns Scotus
, Marguerite Porete
, Dante Alighieri
, Marsilius of Padua
, William of Ockham
, Jean Buridan
, Nicholas of Autrecourt
, Meister Eckhart
, Catherine of Siena
, Jean Gerson
, and John Wycliffe
. The medieval tradition of scholasticism
continued to flourish as late as the 17th century, in figures such as Francisco Suárez
and John of St. Thomas
. During the Middle Ages, Western philosophy was also influenced by the Jewish philosophers Maimonides
; and the Muslim
, Ibn Khaldūn
, and Averroes
The Renaissance ("rebirth") was a period of transition between the Middle Ages and modern thought,
in which the recovery of ancient Greek philosophical
texts helped shift philosophical interests away from technical studies in logic, metaphysics, and theology towards eclectic inquiries into morality, philology, and mysticism.
[Frederick Copleston, ''A History of Philosophy, Volume III: From Ockham to Suarez'' (The Newman Press, 1953), p. 18: "When one looks at Renaissance philosophy ... one is faced at first sight with a rather bewildering assortment of philosophies."] [Brian Copenhaver and Charles Schmitt, ''Renaissance Philosophy'' (Oxford University Press, 1992), p. 4: "one may identify the hallmark of Renaissance philosophy as an accelerated and enlarged interest, stimulated by newly available texts, in primary sources of Greek and Roman thought that were previously unknown or partially known or little read."]
The study of the classics and the humane arts generally, such as history and literature, enjoyed a scholarly interest hitherto unknown in Christendom, a tendency referred to as humanism
[Frederick Copleston, ''A History of Philosophy, Volume III: From Ockham to Suarez'' (The Newman Press, 1953), p. 29: "The bulk of Renaissance thinkers, scholars and scientists were, of course, Christians ... but none the less the classical revival ... helped to bring to the fore a conception of autonomous man or an idea of the development of the human personality, which, though generally Christian, was more 'naturalistic' and less ascetic than the mediaeval conception."]
Displacing the medieval interest in metaphysics and logic, the humanists followed Petrarch
in making humanity and its virtues the focus of philosophy.
At the point of passage from Renaissance into early/classical modern philosophy, the dialogue was used as a primary style of writing by Renaissance philosophers, such as Giordano Bruno
The dividing line between what is classified as Renaissance versus modern philosophy is disputed.
The term "modern philosophy
" has multiple usages. For example, Thomas Hobbes
is sometimes considered the first modern philosopher because he applied a systematic method to political philosophy.
By contrast, René Descartes
is often considered the first modern philosopher because he grounded his philosophy in problems of ''knowledge'', rather than problems of metaphysics.
Modern philosophy and especially Enlightenment
is distinguished by its increasing independence from traditional authorities such as the Church, academia, and Aristotelianism;
[Steven Nadler, ''A Companion to Early Modern Philosophy'', 2008, pp. 1–2: "By the seventeenth century ..it had become more common to find original philosophical minds working outside the strictures of the university—i.e., ecclesiastic—framework. ..by the end of the eighteenth century, hilosophywas a secular enterprise."] [Anthony Kenny, ''A New History of Western Philosophy'', vol. 3 (Oxford University Press, 2006), p. xii: "To someone approaching the early modern period of philosophy from an ancient and medieval background the most striking feature of the age is the absence of Aristotle from the philosophic scene."]
a new focus on the foundations of knowledge and metaphysical system-building;
[Donald Rutherford, ''The Cambridge Companion to Early Modern Philosophy'' (Cambridge University Press, 2006), p. 1: "epistemology assumes a new significance in the early modern period as philosophers strive to define the conditions and limits of human knowledge."] [Kenny, ''A New History of Western Philosophy'', vol. 3, p. 211: "The period between Descartes and Hegel was the great age of metaphysical system-building."]
and the emergence of modern physics out of natural philosophy.
[Kenny, ''A New History of Western Philosophy'', vol. 3, pp. 179–180: "the seventeenth century saw the gradual separation of the old discipline of natural philosophy into the science of physics .. the nineteenth century physics was a fully mature empirical science, operating independently of philosophy."]
Early modern (17th and 18th centuries)
Some central topics of Western philosophy in its early modern
(also classical modern)
[Richard Schacht, ''Classical Modern Philosophers: Descartes to Kant'', Routledge, 2013, p. 1: "Seven men have come to stand out from all of their counterparts in what has come to be known as the 'modern' period in the history of philosophy (i.e., the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries): Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume and Kant".]
period include the nature of the mind and its relation to the body, the implications of the new natural sciences for traditional theological topics such as free will and God, and the emergence of a secular basis for moral and political philosophy.
[Kenny, ''A New History of Western Philosophy'', vol. 3, pp. 212–331.]
These trends first distinctively coalesce in Francis Bacon
's call for a new, empirical program for expanding knowledge, and soon found massively influential form in the mechanical physics and rationalist metaphysics of René Descartes
[Nadler, ''A Companion to Early Modern Philosophy'', pp. 2–3: "Why should the early modern period in philosophy begin with Descartes and Bacon, for example, rather than with Erasmus and Montaigne? ..Suffice it to say that at the beginning of the seventeenth century, and especially with Bacon and Descartes, certain questions and concerns come to the fore—a variety of issues that motivated the inquiries and debates that would characterize much philosophical thinking for the next two centuries."]
Descartes' epistemology was based on a method called Cartesian doubt
, whereby only the most certain belief could act as the foundation for further inquiry, with each step to further ideas being as cautious and clear as possible. This led him to his famous maxim ''cogito ergo sum
'' ('I think, therefore I exist'), though similar arguments had been made by earlier philosophers.
This became foundational for much of further Western philosophy, as the need to find a route from the private world of consciousness to the externally existing reality was widely accepted until the 20th century.
A major issue for his thought remained in the mind–body problem
One solution to the problem was presented by Baruch Spinoza
, who argued that the mind and the body are one substance
. This was based on his view that God and the universe are one and the same, encompassing the totality of existence. Together, Descartes and Spinoza are considered influential early rationalists
In contrast to Descartes, Thomas Hobbes
was a materialist
who believed that everything was physical, and an empiricist who thought that all knwoledge comes from sensation which is triggered by objects existing in the external world, with thought being a kind of computation.
In his political thought, he argued that political society was necessary to prevent the violence of the alternative, anarchic state of nature
Furthermore, he believed that the sovereign of the state should have essentially unlimited power. John Locke
was another classic empiricist, with his arguments helping it overtake rationalism as the generally preferred approach.
In contrast to Hobbes, however, he was a strong advocate for liberalism
Together with David Hume
, they form the core of 'British empiricism'.
However, the Cambridge Platonists
continued to represent rationalism in Britain.
Other notable modern philosophers include Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz
, George Berkeley
, and Immanuel Kant
[Rutherford, ''The Cambridge Companion to Early Modern Philosophy'', p. 1: "Most often this eriodhas been associated with the achievements of a handful of great thinkers: the so-called 'rationalists' (Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz) and 'empiricists' (Locke, Berkeley, Hume), whose inquiries culminate in Kant's 'Critical philosophy.' These canonical figures have been celebrated for the depth and rigor of their treatments of perennial philosophical questions..."] [Nadler, ''A Companion to Early Modern Philosophy'', p. 2: "The study of early modern philosophy demands that we pay attention to a wide variety of questions and an expansive pantheon of thinkers: the traditional canonical figures (Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume), to be sure, but also a large 'supporting cast'..."]
Many other contributors were philosophers, scientists, medical doctors, and politicians. A short list includes Galileo Galilei
, Pierre Gassendi
, Blaise Pascal
, Nicolas Malebranche
, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek
, Christiaan Huygens
, Isaac Newton
, Christian Wolff
, Pierre Bayle
, Thomas Reid
, Jean le Rond d'Alembert
, Adam Smith
, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau
The approximate end of the early modern period is most often identified with Kant's systematic attempt to limit metaphysics, justify scientific knowledge, and reconcile both of these with morality and freedom.
[Kenny, ''A New History of Western Philosophy'', vol. 3, p. xiii.] [Nadler, ''A Companion to Early Modern Philosophy'', p. 3.]
Late modern (19th century)
Late modern philosophy is usually considered to begin around the pivotal year of 1781, when Gotthold Ephraim Lessing
died and Immanuel Kant
's ''Critique of Pure Reason
German philosophy exercised broad influence in this century, owing in part to the dominance of the German university
s, such as Johann Gottlieb Fichte
, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling
, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
, and the members of Jena Romanticism
, and Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel
), transformed the work of Kant by maintaining that the world is constituted by a rational or mind-like process, and as such is entirely knowable.
's identification of this world-constituting process as an irrational will to live
influenced later 19th- and early 20th-century thinking, such as the work of Friedrich Nietzsche
The 19th century
took the radical notions of self-organization and intrinsic order from Goethean science
and Kantian metaphysics
, and proceeded to produce a long elaboration on the tension between systematization and organic development. Foremost was the work of Hegel, whose ''Phenomenology of Spirit
'' (1807) and ''Science of Logic
'' (1813–16) produced a "dialectical
" framework for ordering of knowledge.
As with the 18th century, developments in science arose from philosophy and also challenged philosophy: most importantly the work of Charles Darwin
, which was based on the idea of organic self-regulation found in philosophers such as Smith, but fundamentally challenged established conceptions.
After Hegel's death in 1831, 19th-century philosophy largely turned against idealism in favor of varieties of philosophical naturalism
, such as the positivism
of Auguste Comte
, the empiricism
of John Stuart Mill
, and the historical materialism
of Karl Marx
. Logic began a period of its most significant advances since the inception of the discipline, as increasing mathematical precision opened entire fields of inference to formalization in the work of George Boole
and Gottlob Frege
Other philosophers who initiated lines of thought that would continue to shape philosophy into the 20th century include:
* Gottlob Frege
and Henry Sidgwick
, whose work in logic and ethics, respectively, provided the tools for early analytic philosophy
* Charles Sanders Peirce
and William James
, who founded pragmatism
* Søren Kierkegaard
and Friedrich Nietzsche
, who laid the groundwork for existentialism
Contemporary (20th and 21st centuries)
The three major contemporary approaches to academic philosophy are analytic philosophy
, continental philosophy
. They are neither exhaustive nor mutually exclusive.
The 20th century
deals with the upheavals produced by a series of conflicts within philosophical discourse over the basis of knowledge, with classical certainties overthrown, and new social, economic, scientific and logical problems. 20th-century philosophy was set for a series of attempts to reform and preserve and to alter or abolish, older knowledge systems. Seminal figures include Bertrand Russell
, Ludwig Wittgenstein
, Edmund Husserl
, Martin Heidegger
, and Jean-Paul Sartre
. The publication of Husserl's ''Logical Investigations
'' (1900–1) and Russell's ''The Principles of Mathematics
'' (1903) is considered to mark the beginning of 20th-century philosophy. The 20th century also saw the increasing professionalization
of the discipline and the beginning of the current (contemporary) era of philosophy.
Since the Second World War
, contemporary philosophy has been divided mostly into analytic
traditions; the former carried in the English speaking world and the latter on the continent of Europe. The perceived conflict between continental and analytic schools of philosophy remains prominent, despite increasing skepticism regarding the distinction's usefulness.
In the English-speaking world, analytic philosophy
became the dominant school for much of the 20th century. The term "analytic philosophy" roughly designates a group of philosophical methods that stress detailed argumentation, attention to semantics, use of classical logic and non-classical logic and clarity of meaning above all other criteria. Though the movement has broadened, it was a cohesive school in the first half of the century. Analytic philosophers were shaped strongly by logical positivism
, united by the notion that philosophical problems could and should be solved by attention to logic
and G. E. Moore
are also often counted as founders of analytic philosophy, beginning with their rejection of British idealism, their defense of realism and the emphasis they laid on the legitimacy of analysis. Russell's classic works ''The Principles of Mathematics
" and ''Principia Mathematica
'' (with Alfred North Whitehead
), aside from greatly promoting the use of mathematical logic in philosophy, set the ground for much of the research program in the early stages of the analytic tradition, emphasizing such problems as: the reference of proper names, whether 'existence' is a property, the nature of propositions, the analysis of definite descriptions, and discussions on the foundations of mathematics. These works also explored issues of ontological commitment and metaphysical problems regarding time, the nature of matter, mind, persistence and change, which Russell often tackled with the aid of mathematical logic.
's ''The Foundations of Arithmetic
'' (1884) was the first analytic work, according to Michael Dummett
(''Origins of Analytical Philosophy'', 1993). Frege took "the linguistic turn
," analyzing philosophical problems through language. Some analytic philosophers held that philosophical problems arise through misuse of language or because of misunderstandings of the logic of human language.
In 1921, Ludwig Wittgenstein
, who studied under Russell at Cambridge, published his ''Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus
'', which gave a rigidly "logical" account of linguistic and philosophical issues. Years later, he reversed a number of the positions he set out in the ''Tractatus'', in for example his second major work, ''Philosophical Investigations
'' (1953). ''Investigations'' was influential in the development of "ordinary language philosophy
," which was mainly promoted by Gilbert Ryle
and J. L. Austin
In the United States, meanwhile, the philosophy of Willard Van Orman Quine
was having a major influence, with the paper "Two Dogmas of Empiricism
". In that paper Quine criticizes the distinction between analytic and synthetic statements, arguing that a clear conception of analyticity is unattainable.
Notable students of Quine include Donald Davidson
and Daniel Dennett
. The later work of Russell and the philosophy of Willard Van Orman Quine are influential exemplars of the naturalist approach dominant in the second half of the 20th century. But the diversity of analytic philosophy from the 1970s onward defies easy generalization: the naturalism of Quine and his epigoni was in some precincts superseded by a "new metaphysics" of possible worlds
, as in the influential work of David Lewis
. Recently, the experimental philosophy
movement has sought to reappraise philosophical problems through social science research techniques.
Some influential figures in contemporary analytic philosophy are: Timothy Williamson
, David Lewis
, John Searle
, Thomas Nagel
, Hilary Putnam
, Michael Dummett
, John McDowell
, Saul Kripke
, Peter van Inwagen
, and Patricia Churchland
Analytic philosophy has sometimes been accused of not contributing to the political debate or to traditional questions in aesthetics. However, with the appearance of ''A Theory of Justice
'' by John Rawls
and ''Anarchy, State, and Utopia
'' by Robert Nozick
, analytic political philosophy acquired respectability. Analytic philosophers have also shown depth in their investigations of aesthetics, with Roger Scruton
, Nelson Goodman
, Arthur Danto
and others developing the subject to its current shape.
is a set of 19th- and 20th-century philosophical traditions from mainland Europe. 20th-century movements such as German idealism
, modern hermeneutics
(the theory and methodology of interpretation), critical theory
and others are included within this loose category. While identifying any non-trivial common factor in all these schools of thought is bound to be controversial, Michael E. Rosen has hypothesized a few common continental themes: that the natural sciences cannot replace the human sciences; that the thinker is affected by the conditions of experience (one's place and time in history); that philosophy is both theoretical and practical; that metaphilosophy or reflection upon the methods and nature of philosophy itself is an important part of philosophy proper.
The founder of phenomenology, Edmund Husserl
, sought to study consciousness as experienced from a first-person perspective, while Martin Heidegger
drew on the ideas of Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Husserl to propose an unconventional existential
approach to ontology
Phenomenologically oriented metaphysics undergirded existentialism
, Jean-Paul Sartre
, Maurice Merleau-Ponty
, Albert Camus
—and finally post-structuralism
, Jean-François Lyotard
(best known for his articulation of postmodernism
), Michel Foucault
, Jacques Derrida
(best known for developing a form of semiotic
analysis known as deconstruction
). The psychoanalytic
work of Sigmund Freud
, Carl Jung
, Jacques Lacan
, Julia Kristeva
, and others has also been influential in contemporary continental thought. Conversely, some philosophers have attempted to define and rehabilitate older traditions of philosophy. Most notably, Hans-Georg Gadamer
and Alasdair MacIntyre
have both, albeit in different ways, revived the tradition of Aristotelianism
is a term applied to the work of a number of late 19th- and 20th-century philosophers who, despite profound doctrinal differences,
[''Oxford Companion to Philosophy'', ed. Ted Honderich, New York (1995), page 259.]
shared the belief that philosophical thinking begins with the human subject—not merely the thinking subject, but the acting, feeling, living human individual.
In existentialism, the individual's starting point is characterized by what has been called "the existential attitude", or a sense of disorientation and confusion in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world.
Many existentialists have also regarded traditional systematic or academic philosophy, in both style and content, as too abstract and remote from concrete human experience.
Although they did not use the term, the 19th-century philosophers Søren Kierkegaard
and Friedrich Nietzsche
are widely regarded as the fathers of existentialism. Their influence, however, has extended beyond existentialist thought.
emerged in Germany in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It developed out of the work of Immanuel Kant
in the 1780s and 1790s.
, advocated by Immanuel Kant, is the view that there are limits on what can be understood since there is much that cannot be brought under the conditions of objective judgment. Kant wrote his ''Critique of Pure Reason
'' (1781) in an attempt to reconcile the conflicting approaches of rationalism and empiricism, and to establish a new groundwork for studying metaphysics. Although Kant held that objective knowledge of the world required the mind to impose a conceptual
or categorical framework
on the stream of pure sensory data—a framework including space and time themselves—he maintained that things-in-themselves
existed independently of human perceptions and judgments; he was therefore not an idealist in any simple sense. Kant's account of things-in-themselves is both controversial and highly complex. Continuing his work, Johann Gottlieb Fichte
and Friedrich Schelling
dispensed with belief in the independent existence of the world, and created a thoroughgoing idealist philosophy.
The most notable work of absolute idealism
was G. W. F. Hegel
's ''Phenomenology of Spirit
'', of 1807. Hegel admitted his ideas were not new, but that all the previous philosophies had been incomplete. His goal was to correctly finish their job. Hegel asserts that the twin aims of philosophy are to account for the contradictions apparent in human experience (which arise, for instance, out of the supposed contradictions between "being" and "not being"), and also simultaneously to resolve and preserve these contradictions by showing their compatibility at a higher level of examination ("being" and "not being" are resolved with "becoming"). This program of acceptance and reconciliation of contradictions is known as the "Hegelian dialectic
Philosophers influenced by Hegel include Ludwig Feuerbach
, who coined the term "projection" as pertaining to humans' inability to recognize anything in the external world without projecting qualities of ourselves upon those things; Karl Marx
; Friedrich Engels
; and the British idealists
, notably T. H. Green
, J. M. E. McTaggart
, F. H. Bradley
, and R. G. Collingwood
Few 20th-century philosophers embraced the core tenets of German idealism after the demise of British idealism. However, quite a few have embraced Hegelian dialectic, most notably Frankfurt School critical theorist
s, Alexandre Kojève
, Jean-Paul Sartre
(in his ''Critique of Dialectical Reason
''), and Slavoj Žižek
. A central theme of German idealism, the legitimacy of Kant's "Copernican revolution
", remains an important point of contention in 21st-century post-continental philosophy
Marxism and critical theory
is a method of socioeconomic analysis, originating from Karl Marx
and Friedrich Engels
. It analyzes class relations
and societal conflict using a materialist interpretation of historical development
and a dialectical view
of social transformation. Marxist analyses and methodologies influenced political ideologies and social movements. Marxist understandings of history and society were adopted by academics in archeology, anthropology, media studies, political science, theater, history, sociology, art history and theory, cultural studies, education, economics, geography, literary criticism, aesthetics, critical psychology and philosophy.
In contemporary philosophy, the term "critical theory" describes the Western Marxist philosophy
of the Frankfurt School
, which was developed in Germany in the 1930s. Critical theory maintains that ideology
is the principal obstacle to human emancipation
Phenomenology and hermeneutics
was an ambitious attempt to lay the foundations for an account of the structure of conscious experience in general.
An important part of Husserl's phenomenological project was to show that all conscious acts are directed at or about objective content, a feature that Husserl called ''intentionality
Husserl published only a few works in his lifetime, which treat phenomenology mainly in abstract methodological terms; but he left an enormous quantity of unpublished concrete analyses. Husserl's work was immediately influential in Germany, with the foundation of phenomenological schools in Munich (Munich phenomenology
) and Göttingen (Göttingen phenomenology). Phenomenology later achieved international fame through the work of such philosophers as Martin Heidegger
(formerly Husserl's research assistant and a proponent of hermeneutic phenomenology
, a theoretical synthesis
of modern hermeneutics
and phenomenology), Maurice Merleau-Ponty
, and Jean-Paul Sartre
. Through the work of Heidegger and Sartre, Husserl's focus on subjective experience influenced aspects of existentialism.
Structuralism and post-structuralism
Inaugurated by the linguist Ferdinand de Saussure
sought to clarify systems of signs through analyzing the discourse
s they both limit and make possible. Saussure conceived of the sign as being delimited by all the other signs in the system, and ideas as being incapable of existence prior to linguistic structure, which articulates thought. This led continental thought away from humanism, and toward what was termed the decentering of man: language is no longer spoken by man to express a true inner self, but language speaks man.
Structuralism sought the province of a hard science, but its positivism soon came under fire by post-structuralism, a wide field of thinkers, some of whom were once themselves structuralists, but later came to criticize it. Structuralists believed they could analyze systems from an external, objective standing, for example, but the poststructuralists argued that this is incorrect, that one cannot transcend structures and thus analysis is itself determined by what it examines. While the distinction between the signifier and signified was treated as crystalline by structuralists, poststructuralists asserted that every attempt to grasp the signified results in more signifiers, so meaning is always in a state of being deferred, making an ultimate interpretation impossible.
Structuralism came to dominate continental philosophy throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, encompassing thinkers as diverse as Claude Lévi-Strauss
, Roland Barthes
and Jacques Lacan
. Post-structuralism came to predominate from the 1970s onwards, including thinkers such as Michel Foucault
, Jacques Derrida
, Gilles Deleuze
and even Roland Barthes
; it incorporated a critique of structuralism's limitations.
is a philosophical tradition that began in the United States around 1870. It asserts that the truth of beliefs consists in their usefulness and efficacy rather than their correspondence with reality.
Charles Sanders Peirce
and William James
were its co-founders and it was later modified by John Dewey
. Since the usefulness of any belief at any time might be contingent on circumstance, Peirce and James conceptualized final truth as something established only by the future, final settlement of all opinion.
Pragmatism attempted to find a scientific concept of truth that does not depend on personal insight (revelation) or reference to some metaphysical realm. It interpreted the meaning of a statement by the effect its acceptance would have on practice. Inquiry taken far enough is thus the only path to truth.
For Peirce commitment to inquiry was essential to truth-finding, implied by the idea and hope that inquiry is not fruitless. The interpretation of these principles has been subject to discussion ever since. Peirce's maxim of pragmatism
is, "Consider what effects, which might conceivably have practical bearings, we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then, our conception of these effects is the whole of our conception of the object."
Critics accused pragmatism falling victim to a simple fallacy: that because something that is true proves useful, that usefulness is an appropriate basis for its truthfulness.
Pragmatist thinkers include Dewey, George Santayana
, and C. I. Lewis
Pragmatism was later worked on by neopragmatist
s Richard Rorty
who was the first to develop neopragmatist philosophy in his ''Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature
'' (1979), Hilary Putnam
, W. V. O. Quine
, and Donald Davidson
. Neopragmatism has been described as a bridge between analytic and continental philosophy.
is a tradition beginning with Alfred North Whitehead
, who began teaching and writing on process and metaphysics when he joined Harvard University
in 1924. This tradition identifies metaphysical reality
Process philosophy is sometimes classified as closer to continental philosophy than analytic philosophy, because it is usually only taught in continental departments. However, other sources state that process philosophy should be placed somewhere in the middle between the poles of analytic versus continental methods in contemporary philosophy.
Influence by non-Western philosophy
The Ancient Greek philosopher Pyrrho
accompanied Alexander the Great
in his eastern campaigns, spending about 18 months in India. Pyrrho subsequently returned to Greece and founded Pyrrhonism
, a philosophy with substantial similarities with Buddhism
. The Greek biographer Diogenes Laërtius
explained that Pyrrho's equanimity and detachment from the world were acquired in India. Pyrrho was directly influenced by Buddhism in developing his philosophy, which is based on Pyrrho's interpretation of the Buddhist three marks of existence
. According to Edward Conze
, Pyrrhonism can be compared to Buddhist philosophy, especially the Indian Madhyamika
Buddhist Philosophy and Its European Parallels
Philosophy East and West 13, p.9-23, no.1, January 1963. University Press of Hawaii.
The Pyrrhonists' goal of ataraxia
(the state of being untroubled) is a soteriological
goal similar to nirvana
. The Pyrrhonists promoted suspending judgm ient (epoché
) about dogma
(beliefs about non-evident matters) as the way to reach ataraxia. This is similar to the Buddha's refusal to answer certain metaphysical questions
which he saw as non-conductive to the path of Buddhist practice and Nagarjuna
's "relinquishing of all views (drsti
)". Adrian Kuzminski argues for direct influence between these two systems of thought. In ''Pyrrhonism: How the Ancient Greeks Reinvented Buddhism''
[Adrian Kuzminski (2008), ''Pyrrhonism How the Ancient Greeks Reinvented Buddhism''; for a recent study see Georgios T . Halkias]
"The Self-immolation of Kalanos and other Luminous Encounters among Greeks and Indian Buddhists in the Hellenistic World"
2015, ''Journal of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies'' 8, 163–186.
According to Kuzminski, both philosophies argue against assenting to any dogmatic assertions about an ultimate metaphysical reality behind our sense impressions as a tactic to reach tranquility and both also make use of logical arguments against other philosophies in order to expose their contradictions.
philosopher Hegesias of Cyrene
is thought by some to have been influenced by the teachings of Ashoka's Buddhist missionaries.
Similarities between Spinozism
and Eastern philosophical traditions have been discussed by many authorities. The 19th-century German Sanskritist Theodore Goldstücker
was one of the early figures to notice the similarities between Spinoza's religious conceptions and the Vedanta
tradition of India. It has also been said that Spinozism is similar to the Hindu
doctrines of Samkhya
. Though within the various existing Indian traditions there exist many traditions which astonishingly had such similar doctrines from ages, out of which most similar and well known are the Kashmiri Shaivism
tradition, apart from already existing Samkhya and Yoga.Disguised and overt Spinozism around 1700 – Page 133
* African philosophy
* Eastern philosophy
* Glossary of philosophy
* History of metaphysical realism
* History of metaphysical naturalism
* History of philosophy
* Index of philosophy
* List of philosophers
* List of philosophical theories
* List of philosophies
* American philosophy
* British philosophy
* French philosophy
* German philosophy (including Austrian philosophy)
* Polish philosophy
* New realism
* Post-analytic philosophy
* Post-Continental philosophy
* Theosophy (Theosophy and Western philosophy)
*Copleston, Frederick (1946–1975). ''A History of Philosophy'', 11 vols. Continuum.
*Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich (1996) 892 Kegan Paul Haldane, Elizabeth Sanderson, ed. ''Vorlesungen über die Geschichte der Philosophie'' Hegel's_Lectures_on_the_History_of_Philosophy,_3_vols.''.html" style="text-decoration: none;"class="mw-redirect" title="Lectures on the History of Philosophy">Hegel's Lectures on the History of Philosophy, 3 vols.''">Lectures on the History of Philosophy">Hegel's Lectures on the History of Philosophy, 3 vols.'' Humanities Press International.
*Kenny, Anthony (2010). ''A New History of Western Philosophy''. Oxford University Press.
*Russell, Bertrand (1945). ''A History of Western Philosophy''. Simon & Schuster.
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Category:Philosophy by culture