What Do You Study in Philosophy?

Those new to Philosophy might have a hard time conjuring up a clear image of what philosophers do. Popularly, Philosophy is associated with stargazing and asking questions that are as vague as they are irrelevant, and to which there are no answers. To the contrary, Philosophy deals in a clear and precise manner with the real world, its complex social and material nature, and our place in it. Because of this, philosophical fields of studies are diverse.

Philosophy – the love of wisdom – is an activity of attempting to understand the world, in all its aspects. There are four pillars of philosophy: theoretical philosophy (metaphysics and epistemology), practical philosophy (ethics, social and political philosophy, aesthetics), logic, and history of philosophy. Theoretical philosophy asks questions about knowledge such as “Is anything absolutely certain?” and “What grounds our belief that the past is a good indicator of the future?” and questions about the world such as “What is the world like independently of human perception?” and “Does God exist?” Studying Practical Philosophy exposes us to such questions as: How ought we to live our lives? Which social and political arrangements are just or legitimate? The study of Logic teaches us what distinguishes good from bad reasoning and thereby enables us to think critically. In History of Philosophy we learn how the greatest thinkers in the history of humankind answered these and similar questions. All of these areas of interest are grounded in facts and responsive to the theories put forth by experts in a myriad of disciplines, such as physics and psychology.

To study Philosophy is to see the connection between ideas, and to explicate that connection in a reasoned and logical way. An ethicist, for example, might draw upon behavioral psychology to argue that humans should lead a certain kind of life. This argument could have further implications about how government should legislate in order to ensure people can lead the lives they want to lead. A metaphysician or philosopher of science might help provide conceptual clarity and reason through the implications of competing quantum mechanical theories. All fields of inquiry are open to the philosopher’s refinement.

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