What Is Philosophy?

​​From the Greek for "the love of wisdom," philosophy seeks answers to life’s "big questions." The purpose of trying to answer such questions is to form a coherent, complete and existentially satisfying worldview — a total view of reality which informs a person’s values, judgments, decisions and actions. Philosophers ask three primary types of questions.

  • Ontology: Questions about the nature of what exists (e.g., What is human nature like? Do humans have free will? Does God exist? What is God like? Is reality mental, physical or both?)
  • Epistemology: Questions about truth and knowledge (e.g., Can we know any truth? What are the tests of truth? Are there different kinds of truth? Is scientific truth different from religious truth? How can we know historical truth that we didn’t witness? How can I know that I am not dreaming "reality"?)
  • Axiology: Questions about values (e.g., What is beauty? What qualifies as art? What is good character? What is good? What is the best kind of society? What makes it wrong to murder, is war murder and should I take the extra change I’m given at the fast food restaurant?)

Philosophers also ask many subsets of questions relating to specific areas of life. There are philosophers of nearly every discipline, including history, medicine, art, religion, logic, politics, education, the mind and many others. In fact, the most commonly awarded doctoral degree is the Ph.D., which is a doctorate of philosophy — suggesting that there are philosophical foundations to be studied in every academic discipline. Therefore, along the way to forming an integrated worldview, students of philosophy should acquire concepts and vocabulary that will assist their study of other academic disciplines.