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From Daniel J. Sullivan’s “An Introduction to Philosophy: Perennial Principles of the Classical Realist Tradition”

“Philosophy” comes from the Greek “philo-sophia,” meaning “love of wisdom.” But when the word was invented, ‘wisdom’ was a more inclusive word than we currently take it to be, as pointed out in Daniel J. Sullivan’s Intro to Philosophy:

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So let’s start with the basics of what is today considered to be included in the field of academic philosophy. The main branches of philosophy are easy to remember if you can recall Soren Kierkegaard’s idea that to live requires a “leap of faith” which is, by necessity, a philosophical one. So all you have to remember is:


which stands for…

Metaphysics, Epistemology, Logic, Ethics, Aesthetics, & Politics

Unlike other disciplines, the main branches of philosophy are more like different lenses through which you can look at a variety of topics, rather than just a way of dividing up philosophy’s subject matter.

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Alfred North Whitehead famously stated that all of philosophy is just “footnotes to Plato”

This is because the subject matter of philosophy is, potentially, anything. In fact, every academic discipline originated from the Ancient Greek philosophers, who were the first to ask questions about what they called “natural philosophy,” like…

➔ What is matter?
➔ What kinds of things are there?
➔ What is reality? 
➔ What is real? 
➔ How does causation happen?

These are the questions  led directly to the development of the physical sciences.

So the topics of philosophical investigation are much broader in scope than the branches listed above, but you can apply a philosophical lens, or multiple philosophical lenses, to virtually anything, since all “philosophy” means is the pursuit of wisdom.

The branches of philosophy are just the tools the philosopher uses to get closer to the simple but elusive goal of shining a light on the true nature of reality. But why, you may still be asking, spend my precious time studying dry old philosophy when there’s just SO MUCH NETFLIX TO WATCH. I feel you.

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from Daniel J. Sullivan’s “An Introduction to Philosophy”

This is a bit of a different approach than a lot of philosophers take in defending the existence of their field – in this quote Sullivan is claiming that there’s intrinsic value to philosophy in the same way we consider art or music to have intrinsic value.

Most philosophers would simply argue that philosophy is useful, which I also believe to be true – but I like this defense of philosophy because it’s the Oscar Wilde-esque, devil-may-care answer to those who would question the value of philosophical investigation.

Maybe, says Sullivan, philosophy is useless – but since when do we only care about and invest time into useful things?

I find this pretty persuasive even if you wanted to grant the premise that philosophy is useless. Sports, video games, television… One could make a pretty compelling argument that the human experiment itself isn’t particularly useful depending on the thing you’re supposing it’s being used for.

But then, how could a non-philosopher be expected to know the difference between intrinsic and instrumental value, when they never gave themselves the chance to consider their own philosophical predispositions to begin with?

Putting aside the “why” question, which you can also read about here, and the branches, which you can read more about here, another lens we can look at Philosophy through is a historical one. These are works in progress, but here at present are my mind maps of Philosophy in general, and some more specifics about the historical development of philosophy in the West, all of which we’ll dig deeper into later on…

Suggested Reading

Putting Philosophy to Work – Susan Haack
The Republic – Plato
An Introduction to Philosophy – Daniel J. Sullivan

Mind Maps

Philosophy Index
Blog Index

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