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 Definition The study of the meaning and justification of beliefs about the most general, or universal, aspects of things. [d] [e]
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Got to get to work on other things now. This article obviously needs to be greatly expanded. In keeping with other CZ articles under development, this needs to be completely reworked as a readable introduction to the topic, for people who actually might need an introduction to it. This means that it needs to be not mainly a big, long list of names, theories, and concepts, and subdisciplines (some such lists are obviously appropriate), but instead mainly an introduction to the subject itself. The effect of reading the article, for someone who didn't have the first clue about what philosophy really is, should be an improved understanding (preferably through some choice examples) of what philosophical problems are like, and how philosophers generally approach them. --Larry Sanger 14:16, 28 January 2007 (CST)

It's interesting that this elderly version of a Wikipedia is better than what's there now. --Peter J. King 05:54, 11 February 2007 (CST)

How to get started in philosophy

I'm not certain that a "how to" section is a good idea in the first place, but this version starts rather oddly. Most introductions to philosophy that I've seen mention the usage of "philosophy" in "everyone has a philosophy" only to point out that that's not what the introduction is concerned with. A perfect example is the introduction to A Dictionary of Philosophy by Flew & Priest:

"'My philosophy is...' [...] It is with philosophy in a second sense that this Dictionary deals."

I'm not certain how bold "be bold" means in this new venture; I'm tempted to remove the section as inappropriate for an encyclopaedia, but it's actions like that which tend to lead to silly editing wars at Wikipedia, so I thought that I'd ask here first. --Peter J. King 17:11, 11 February 2007 (CST)

Feel free to remove it--it most definitely needs to be rewritten, at the very least. I think the sense in which "everybody has a philosophy" here is not the one mentioned in those dictionaries of philosophy. It is that there is such a thing as "folk philosophy" in about the same sense as "folk psychology": people have all sorts of views about the nature of reality (it's all relative!), the standards of knowledge (if I feel very sure, I know it!), what things are most valuable in life, and so forth. These beliefs could be "my philosophy," in a sense different from what you see in "my philosophy about fly-fishing," because they really do concern the same questions that philosophers study. The notion then is that one can view a study of philosophy as the refinement of one's own "folk (or personal) philosophy." --Larry Sanger 17:27, 11 February 2007 (CST)

I see what you mean — in which case it needs more explanation rather than removal (though the "how to" aspect is still a bit unenyclopædic).
I've tried to get some of the editors from Wikipedia to join in here; the main Philosophy article there is a mess (as are many of the other philosophy articles), and the better and more knowledgeable editors were fighting a losing battle against some indefatigable oddballs. I've just seen that one of the former has placed a copy of your PHILOS-L recuitment message (which was how I came here) at his Wikipedia User page. I don't know if that's something that you'd either foreseen or wanted; it might bring in some of the good people, but I suppose it might attract the loonies.
The main problem there probably wan't so much expertise versus non-expertise (though that played a part) as a system that fails to deal adequately with people who have no interest in co-operation or any sort of community spirit of working together on a project. I see that Citizendium hasn't entirely escaped that, but I hope that it has more success than Wikipedia. --Peter J. King 08:30, 12 February 2007 (CST)

I'm afraid we will have to deal with a few loonies in any case--you have to take bad with the good (and then eject the irremediably bad). If someone feels moved to put the note on his user page, I wouldn't stop him.

One way in which I see CZ being different from a traditional encyclopedia (on the recent conception--not on the conception encoded in, for example, Diderot's Encyclopedie) is that it does contain "how to" material. Isn't procedural knowledge just as much knowledge as declarative knowledge? That's what I always thought, anyway. Cf. choosing a dog! --Larry Sanger 10:33, 12 February 2007 (CST)

So this means, in theory, Ludvikus can join Citizendium? Larry, you don't know about Ludvikus, but you can find out by visiting the other Philosophy page. -- Edward buckner 13:50, 12 February 2007}}
Ah, OK, fair enough — I'm too infected by Wikipedia perhaps. I'll recover in time. --Peter J. King 11:58, 12 February 2007 (CST)

Questions: I'll assume Ludvikus represents the prototypical "difficult" person. Is he a potential editor? If not, bear in mind that, well, you are--and you can settle content controversies here (in consultation with other philosophy editors, of course), without constantly having to justify yourself to authors. Then, how long do you think it will take before he is banned here for his difficult behavior? Because, surely, there is no reasonable way that we can simply transfer decisions from the dysfunctional management and community into this new community. That really wouldn't be due process. --Larry Sanger 15:17, 12 February 2007 (CST)

Ludvikus is uniquely difficult. He got banned twice in the month he joined, but has now realised that if he avoids obvious infringements, he can continue with constant low level disruption. No, he would not ever be an editor. Note I have not enrolled as an editor though, glancing at the other editors in the philosophy section, I would probably qualify (I have a lot of publications, although none recent). Is that necessary? I assume that so long as there are a bunch of people who reasonably understand the project, then people who specialise in the constant low-level disruption like Ludvikus can get evicted. Edward buckner 15:32, 12 February 2007 (CST)

Greetings philosophers

Hello Peter, and hello Larry. I'm off in a minute, but just to say I decided to join here. I did manage to prevail over the lunacy regarding the introduction to the Philosophy article at Wikipedia. I am chatting to some of the other (some of them quite good) editors at Wiki to see if they are interested in coming over. Best Edward buckner 13:47, 12 February 2007 (CST)

First impressions

Interesting that the introduction does not mention 'rational enquiry', which we were so determined to get into the WP version!

There is a long list further down which is reminiscent of Wikipedia. I had a plan for the Wiki article to take it thematically, rather than historically, i.e. pull out the central bits of the Western tradition and deal with the history on the way, with a separate purely historical article as a sub-article. Thus, start with Rationalism, Empiricism, Scepticism. Anti-metaphysical cross-currents, that sort of thing.

The family calls. See you tomorrow. Edward buckner 13:58, 12 February 2007 (CST)

This morning

I started off by editing the priority article list by theme, rather than a lot of bullet points. Some odd exclusions in the bio's (William James) and some odd exclusions (William Ockham). I've deleted some I thought really weren't philosophers, though left in Goethe (does he really belong there), and added ones like Abelard, Anselm, a few others.

I think we should encourage a bit more planning in article construction, also in the organisation of the 'philosophy department'. E.g. use links wherever possible in the more general articles, and restrict text in the general article as a mere thread to the more specific ones. We probably won't have the 'personal essay' problem so much here, but need to keep some discipline from the start. Edward buckner 03:27, 13 February 2007 (CST)

The problems of philosophy

I like the idea of kicking off with the big problems. But what should these be? How about a selection of questions that were prominent in each of the main periods of philosophy. This would be a way of introducing the main problems and giving a sense of the history of philosophy via the questions that were perceived as important in each era. (The current history section is very 'listy').

Ancient philosophy: The problem of change, the problem of what things really exist, the problem of whether human beings can ever have comprehension of the things that really exist. The problem of defining 'the good'. (some of these problems are still around in a big way of course)

Medieval philosophy: The problem of Free Will, reconciling Faith and Reason, the problem of individuation (and implications for questions such as damnation of unbaptised infants), universals vs particulars &c

Early Modern philosophy: the problem of the external world, Hume's fork

Modern philosophy: explaining a world without God, logical puzzles (Russell's paradox, the Liar, Godel's proof)

Contemporary philosophy: explaining a world with God back (i.e. resurgence of fundamentalism, naturalism vs supernaturalism), presentism, the problem of consciousness.

Just some ideas. Edward buckner 03:46, 13 February 2007 (CST)

Feel I should apologise for having a tinker with the history section - I am myself guilty of listiness. Felt I should see if this editing malarkey worked (Have never edited on WP or others before).

A barebone thematic approach to the history here may be good, but would possibly have to be careful to avoid obscuring continuities between periods - similar problems reoccur in various forms - and giving the appearance of completeness ('perceived as important' is an important qualifier, but it would have to be emphasised that any such account would miss more peripheral aspects of a period's thought)

Just a wee thought. Look forward to more discussion. --Drew Johnson 10:11, 15 February 2007 (CST)

Actually, you've got an excellent idea, there, Edward. In other words, don't simply list some leading philosophical ideas, but both introduce the history of philosophy and introduce some important ideas at the same time. Have at it, please! The current history of philosophy section is useless, I think, and needs to be scrapped. It doesn't really do anything more than catalog names surrounded by pretty uninformative (and unreadably dull) sentences. --Larry Sanger 10:20, 15 February 2007 (CST)

New introduction

Not entirely sure about the new introduction. It very much sets the tone for what the rest of the article is going to be. It is leisurely compared to what would be acceptable in the Wiki (nothing wrong with that), but we need to think how it would look with everything else completed. And not sure of the wisdom of introductions which say that the subject introduced is basically very difficult and virtually impossible to define, &c. Particularly the second paragraph which mentions the branches without saying what the branches actually are (e.g. that metaphysics is the reasoned investigation of what things can ultimately be said to exist, or whatever).

What should the plan for this article be? The Wiki plan was for a link to all the main articles on the subject, rather than something self-contained. Best Edward buckner 02:26, 27 February 2007 (CST)

Afterthought: I've changed the intro to avoid repeating the key idea, then setting out the paragraphs possible solutions to the definition, which are then rejected. But that leaves the fourth solution (the 'historical' one) hanging unconnected. If we really prefer the third solution (that is it a method) then the third solution should come fourth, and the historical approach third. Edward buckner 02:37, 27 February 2007 (CST)
I've now solved that problem by changing the paragraphs round. There's still a difficulty though: the para on history ends on a positive note: we can after all define philosophy as abstract intellectual endeavour. Oh dear. Now I really must go to work. Edward buckner 02:41, 27 February 2007 (CST)

I'm not sure about the claim that philosophers are unusual in disagreeoing over the nature of their subject. First, that's a disagreement to be found in many fields, buts econdly, I'm not sure that philosophers do disagree very much on this.

This claim was already there, I simply moved it up to the logical place. I would say that philosophers, excluding the variety found in WP, are pretty much agreed on the basics, i.e. it's clear, critical, logical thinking about the 'big questions'. But they are not so much agreed on questions like, are there uniquely philosophical claims, propositions &c that philosophy tries to prove? Some philosophers will say there are. Aristotle, e.g., thinks that there are special sorts of truths, that are truer than other truths in that they explain why the other truths are true. Among this group there are the extreme or moderate realists e.g. Aristotle and Plato, who think these philosophical claims are about reality. Then there are those, Ockham, Wittgenstein, who think these claims are really claims about language, the mind, second intentions or what have you, that masquerade as claims about reality, but are really something else. Another group, the naturalists, hold that there are no uniquely philosophical truths at all. Philosophy is just a set technique for getting to certain truths that the special sciences can use also. Edward buckner 05:55, 28 February 2007 (CST)

The list of branches is a fairly standard approach; it's not possible (or desirable)to explain each of them, partly because that's inappropriate for an introduction to philosophy (it would bog things down unnecessarily), partly because they're all linked to the relevant articles. --Peter J. King  Talk  09:26, 27 February 2007 (CST)

Cut from History of philosophy

Philosophy has a long history. Generally, philosophers divide the history of Western philosophy into ancient philosophy, medieval philosophy, modern philosophy, and contemporary philosophy.

Canonically, histories of western philosophy trace the origins of philosophical problems, ideas and practice to roots in ancient Greece Template:Citation needed. Our sources for these roots are largely fragmented, and in most cases mediated throught the works of the later, better preserved Greek thinkers (see below). These pre-socratic philosophers are grouped in a timeline running from Thales (fl. c.585 BC) through to Protagoras(b. c.500 BC) and the thinkers of the Sophist schools . This classification is possibly misleading - various schools and movements can be distinguished across this period, and some were contemporaneous with Socrates and his successors.

Ancient philosophy was dominated by the trio of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. In medieval philosophy, topics in metaphysics and philosophy of religion held sway, and the most important names included Augustine, Peter Abelard and Aquinas. Modern philosophy, generally means philosophy from 1600 until about 1900, and which includes many distinguished early modern philosophers, such as René Descartes, John Locke, David Hume, and Immanuel Kant. Nineteenth-century philosophy is often treated as its own period, as it was dominated by post-Kantian German and idealist philosophers like Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Karl Marx, and F. H. Bradley; two other important thinkers were John Stuart Mill and Friedrich Nietzsche.

In the twentieth century, philosophers in Europe and the United States took diverging paths. The so-called analytic philosophers (or Anglo-American philosophers), including Bertrand Russell, G. E. Moore, and Ludwig Wittgenstein, were centered on Oxford and Cambridge, and were joined by logical empiricists emigrating from Austria and Germany (e.g., Rudolph Carnap) and their students and others in the United States (e.g., W. V. Quine) and other English-speaking countries.

On the continent of Europe (especially Germany and France), the phenomenologist Germans Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger led the way, followed soon by Jean-Paul Sartre and other existentialists; this led via other "isms" to postmodernism, which dominates schools of Critical Theory as well as philosophy departments in France and Germany.

Please see our more exhaustive list of philosophers as well as the history of philosophy article, from which the above was taken.

--Larry Sanger 10:03, 27 February 2007 (CST)

Problems of philosophy

It is a good idea to approach the history of philosophy through the problems that preoccupied the different eras. But when I tried this approach I found that to do justice to each problem (i.e. to explain it in a way that is comprehensible to the average reasonably intelligent reader) took some time - say 2 paragraphs.

With the 15 problems currently on offer, that adds to possibly 15 pages of material. Either

1. Is that length acceptable (that's what I meant above by asking about the 'vision' for this section).

2. If not, do we cut down the number of problems, or do we figure out a way of explaining the problems in the clear and simple way as above? The latter is a challenge. The Thales one I think is OK, but that is relatively straightforward. Edward buckner 06:02, 28 February 2007 (CST)

I've added some notes about the problem of change. Edward buckner 06:17, 28 February 2007 (CST)

I've got a certain narrative in mind, actually, which will make it possible, I think, to introduce the topics approximately one paragraph per topic. By constructing a narrative--selectively presenting certain figures and problems as part of "the story of philosophy"--the result can be more lean and streamlined than if we simply list off a bunch of problems. I think it is actually quite important, for the sake of readability, that we not collect and stitch together a catalog of problems. Anyway, I'll write a few more paragraphs, and I think you'll see what I mean.

The problem is that, as good as they are, your paragraphs about the Problem of Change don't really fit neatly into the narrative I have in mind. (That's the problem with narratives, they don't lend themselves to piecemeal replacement of parts.)

--Larry Sanger 11:29, 11 March 2007 (CDT)

Philosophical theories

- altruism -- anti-realism -- Buddhist philosophy -- coherentism -- Confucianism -- consequentialism -- constructivism -- deconstructionism -- egoism -- eudaimonism -- foundationalism -- hedonism -- historical materialism -- irrealism -- justified true belief -- nominalism -- Objectivism -- psychological egoism -- Platonism -- realism -- reliabilism -- Taoism -- Transcendentalism utilitarianism -- Populism and Nationalism -- Irrationalism and Aestheticism -- Stoicism -- [etc. continue the list please]

List now seems pointless. --Larry Sanger 13:16, 11 March 2007 (CDT)

The Problem of Change

The ancient philosophers were greatly preoccupied with the problem of change. Parmenides thought that all change must be impossible, for it results in some thing coming into existence (for example, my becoming a musician) that did not exist before. But 'being cannot come from non-being'. His disciple Zeno went even further and denied the possibility of motion.

Plato and Aristotle gave quite different solutions to the problem. Plato followed Parmenides in arguing that knowledge was of eternal, unchangeable truths, embodied in universal concepts that he called the Forms. These forms are unchangeable and perfect, and are only comprehensible by the use of the intellect or understanding. Mere opinion was of ephemeral, contingent truths. This approach, which emphasises the role of reason in discovering the truth, was later called Rationalism.

Aristotle rejected the Parmenidean dilemma of something coming either from what exists, or what does not exist (191a30). We must not treat terms as as if they were simple: 'nonbeing' and 'being', for they are both compound. We start with an unmusical man, which is one way a being (a man) and in another way a non-being (since it is not a musical-man). This led Aristotle to the idea of substance. A substance (in this case the man who changes from not being a musician, to being a musician) is the subject of change: that which remains the same throughout the change, such as being a man. Accidental characteristics, by contrast, qualify a substance at one time, and not another. [something about 'essence'? …]

This isn't a bad narrative either, but it isn't the one that I started with, or at least, it isn't the one I had in mind. The exercise as I see it is to pick a few strands that we can follow through the history of philosophy. These would be the nature of knowledge, universals, virtue, God, and adding a few more as we get into the 19th and 20th centuries.

--Larry Sanger 12:27, 11 March 2007 (CDT)

Well, I'm done for now. I expanded and almost finished the section about ancient philosophy. I suspect you, Edward, and Peter will be much better suited to write the medieval philosophy section. I hope what I've done so far makes sense, and if so, that you know "how to go on." --Larry Sanger 13:10, 11 March 2007 (CDT)

Of course, although I think you have put a little too much emphasis on Plato and not enough on Aristotle, particularly if, as the bullet points suggest, you intend to pick up medieval philosophy in the 12th century (with the meeting of secular methods & theology). And I still think an understanding of Aristotle's 'substance' is 'essential' to appreciating medieval philosophy. Was it secular methods or secular ideas that met up in the 12th century? Let me think about this again. The problem, as I suggested above, is 'granularity'. I think, as I said above, that we are approaching the article like one of those long things written by Eminent Person in an old-fashioned encyclopedia, or an online thing like the SEP or IEP, with which I don't think we are equipped to compete. The Wiki idea, by contrast, is to sidestep all that and have lots of separate articles with a parent article that threads them together. This article is looking too much like a grand old thing written by Eminent Person. Just a thought. Edward buckner 03:37, 12 March 2007 (CDT)
"with which I don't think we are equipped to compete". Why not? --Peter J. King  Talk  07:29, 12 March 2007 (CDT)
Well, the SEP has hundreds of contributors, and we appear to have two. In addition, why copy something that's already been done? I think there has to be careful thought about what the whole philosophy section looks like. How long is each article going to be (I suggest similar to the Wikipedia limit which is about 4 pages of a4). What the format should be. What the main articles would be. All that sort of thing. Edward buckner 07:38, 12 March 2007 (CDT)

Well, first, it only has one contributor (sometimes two) per article. Secondly, it started small and grew. Thirdly, in a sense every encylopædia copies something that's been done, in that it's an encyclopædia...

Fourthly, though — coincidentally I'd been thinking about article lengths, but more generally. Whenever I've been involved in writing for print encyclopædias (and Encarta), articles have been assigned word lengths according to their importance. Now, of course that's in part the result of space constraints, but there's also a good theoretical basis for it. After all, one of Wikipedia's many faults is that there's no proportionality: an article on some tenth-rate pop artist, a village school in Hertfordshire, or a character in a video game can be four times the size of an article on time, physics, ethics, etc. I wonder if there's a role for editors here at Citizendium in fixing certain (flexible) maximum size limits for articles? --Peter J. King  Talk  08:35, 12 March 2007 (CDT)

That's exactly what should be done. Being the train-spotter that I am, I recently went through every entry in the Cambridge companion to medieval philosophy and calculated the approximate number of lines allocated to each medieval philosopher. Unsurprisingly Scotus, Ockham and Aquinas are top 3, with Augustine and (surprisingly) Maimonides close behind. I have a list of the top ten somewhere, indeed a list of the whole 100-odd philosophers. That was a deliberate decision by the editors, and, as you say, you desperately need something rather like that, maybe not quite so inflexible, given that a paper encyclopedia has a fixed constraint on size.
That doesn't mean the guidelines can't be reviewed. Just that there would be some kind of pressure or process to ensure (1) that there was enough material on Aquinas, Scotus &c, but (2) that the articles on the Garland the computist or Frigidius of Tours (say) were not the size of those covered in (1).
Here's my list (10 = maximum) of how the philosophers score relative to each other. These do not reflect my estimate of their merit, but of where the average professional philosopher would rate them, or how much column inches they would be, relative to one another, in the average encyclopedia (excl. Wikipedia)

Plato 8 Aristotle 10 Aquinas 8 Scotus 7 Ockham 7 Locke 8 Berkeley 6 Hume 8 Kant 8 Hobbes 4 Leibniz 7 Descartes 8 Russell 9 Wittgenstein 8 Heidegger 8 Edward buckner 10:15, 12 March 2007 (CDT)

Edward, I agree that there is not enough emphasis on Aristotle. We could add a fair bit to that paragraph; I was thinking of adding his definition of 'virtue'. Of course Aristotle's concept of substance is essential to appreciating medieval philosophy, but this article can't hope to convey an appreciation of medieval philosophy in just a few paragraphs. The best it can do is, as I said, relate a narrative. If the narrative is focused enough, it will be possible for a beginner to follow it and get a tiny taste of something from many major philosophers.

What you call "the Wiki idea"--"have lots of separate articles with a parent article that threads them together"--I think of as the Wikipedia idea. Now, we can still have lots and lots of separate philosophy articles, more than Wikipedia, and a parent article that threads at least many of them together. What we might be disagreeing about is how to thread them together. I actually find the Wikipedia tendency simply to list information in a disconnected way to be less interesting and readable than what we're attempting with Philosophy and what seems well achieved with Biology. I can imagine reading one of these articles through; I can't imagine reading most Wikipedia articles all the way through, any more than I can imagine reading tables of statistics carefully all the way through.

Deciding which approach is best really comes down to what the purpose of an individual article is. Granted, an encyclopedia is generally used to look things up. Listed, disconnected, tabulated information seems well suited for that purpose. But isn't it also the purpose of an encyclopedia article to introduce the topic? We want some of both, but we definitely do want to introduce the topic to people who presumably need an introduction.

Think of it like this (if you will). Nobody is going to come to the "Philosophy" article expecting to find a coherent account of Aristotle's theory of substance. If someone wants that, he'll go to "Aristotle," "substance," or better yet, "Aristotle's theory of substance." Generally speaking, people will use a search engine to find the precise article that would seem to have the information they're looking for. And if they're looking for more than a definition, or for a statistic that will be easy to find in any case (certainly we'll tabulate information that it is appropriate to tabulate, such as population statistics), what will they be looking for? Presumably, a general narrative that will help them get a beginner's grasp on the topic: an introduction. Now, if topic T has several obvious subtopics, T1-Tn, then your suggestion (unless I'm greatly misunderstanding, which I might be) appears to be that a good article on T would consist of a string of very short articles about T1-Tn. But if I'm looking for an introduction to T, I think experience with Wikipedia's own articles shows that my curiosity will not be satisfied with the string of short articles on T1-Tn. Indeed, the string of short articles serves the purpose of introducing T very poorly.

You also describe a narrative introduction as "approaching the article like one of those long things written by Eminent Person in an old-fashioned encyclopedia, or an online thing like the SEP or IEP" and you say "I don't think we are equipped to compete" with them.

Here I must disagree, for reasons Peter gives, but also a few more. Most importantly, we're going to have a lot more philosophers arriving in the coming months and years. We can't expect to create a great encyclopedia of philosophy with the staff we have on hand right now (although I would say it wouldn't be too bad!), but bear in mind that we are constantly growing. Also, I think you may underestimate the power of collaboration, particularly when under the eye of experts. As much as we might decry the tendency of good Wikipedia articles to be degraded over time, it remains true that collaboration--given enough time--frequently results in prose that is of higher quality than, at least, what individuals working alone can produce. For instance, I am sure that I could write a passable "Philosophy" article. But I am also sure (because it's already started happening) that my prose can be greatly improved by edits and additions and deletions made by you and Peter and others yet to come. Now, I think SEP is a wonderful encyclopedia. But articles in it are, while authoritative, also sometimes rather idiosyncratic and heavy on the author's own views. These are precisely the problems that strong collaboration solves well.

So I actually maintain the opposite view, not strongly, but sincerely. If we get past the start-up phase and attract many more philosophers, then we will in relatively short order (compared to SEP) have a set of authoritative articles that are actually better than SEP's.

--Larry Sanger 10:30, 12 March 2007 (CDT)

Larry, you have convinced me on one point. I followed the link to the Biology article and I thought it was Very Good – all in 9 A4 pages too, which is quite an achievement (I didn't know anything about Biology before then but now I feel I know a little, and that is good as well). But remember I said talked about "a parent article that threads them together". This is where the expertise really comes in, and where Wikipedia falls down. The real expertise is in getting the right thread (my word – your word 'narrative' I think means the same). That means a comprehensive view of the whole subject, and understanding which things in this enormous subject need saying, and which can safely be left until later.
However, I still disagree with you on another point, namely 'substance'. It's not just important for medieval philosophy, it's central to Aristotle's Metaphysics, to metaphysics in general and (if we agree that metaphysics is the most important philosophical subject) to all philosophy. Think of all the philsophical subjects that it engages with – the problem of change, the dispute between rationalists and empiricists, the problem of, ultimately, what sorts of things there really are, the problem of individuation, reference and identity, the problem of universals, the 'categories', subject and predicate, connotation and denotation, sense and reference &c. I find it unbelievable that anyone would think of omitting it. Edward buckner 06:00, 13 March 2007 (CDT)
I do think, also, that the bullet points in the current version are roughly right, and also that a good philosophy article would be a very powerful argument for this way of doing things, as against the other way. No other online encyclopedia, to my knowledge, has an overview of all of philosophy. Well, except Wikipedia, ahem. Edward buckner 06:09, 13 March 2007 (CDT)
Another thought: one reason Wikipedia found it difficult to attract a critical mass of philosophers is the flagship article itself. Anyone with any knowledge of the subject, and any aversion to barbarous language, takes one look at that and goes away. A good flagship article is like an 'anchor' store in the High Street. So think of this article as like Waitrose. Edward buckner 06:12, 13 March 2007 (CDT)


The word "philosophical" was removed from many of these, without explanation. In many if not most cases it's important that this be retained, as without it there is genuine ambiguity or vagueness (one can study issues and questions philosophically or non-philosophically).

With regard to that word "study" — I haven't changed it, but it seems to me to be often inappropriate. Philosophers don't generally study things, they discuss, analyse, argue, defend, etc. "Study" strikes me as being both rather one-dimensional and misleading. --Peter J. King  Talk  15:58, 27 March 2007 (CDT)


I really can't agree with most of the recent copyedits to the article; the language has been systematically denatured, which is a bad thing. There is an interesting difference in tone and effect, for example, between merely "offering a definition" and "offering up a definition." Similarly, there is an important diffence between saying simply, "Aristotle wrote voluminously" and "It was Aristotle who wrote voluminously"--the idea is that many people know (or perhaps should know) that there was an ancient thinker who is famous for having written voluminously. That thinker was Aristotle: "it was Aristotle who..."

The principle in operation behind the recent copyedits is that if you can remove any words at all, remove them. I think that crafting good prose is quite a bit more complicated than following that injunction. --Larry Sanger 07:51, 30 March 2007 (CDT)

I was probably overzealous in changing "offered up" to "offered"; I've changed that back. I thought "it was Aristotle who..." suggested that Aristotle was the only person ever to do so which, if true, should be said explicitly; is my new wording better? I've changed "claim" back to "purport" in the interests of minimal interference, but left it as a verb; it's purport, not know, that's the key word.
I'm going on holiday tomorrow, so feel free to revert my edits without further discussion if you're still not convinced. Ben Plommer 12:44, 30 March 2007 (CDT)
"Claim" was much better, and "offered up" is (to be honest) peculiar and wrong here; "offered" is surely what was meant (one offers up a sacrifice, for example, and I don't see how that could have been meant). Also, I'm not sure that Aristotle is famous for having "written voluminously". He is supposed to have written a great deal, most of it having been lost; what's left is limited, and its status as (wholly) his own work is often in doubt. I'd have thought that the quantity of his writing is something for which he's not at all famous. --Peter J. King  Talk  13:20, 30 March 2007 (CDT)
As to "offer up," I think you are insisting on one meaning when, in fact, a derivative meaning is in fact more usual now, as this Google search makes clear. The phrase in most of search results, and in my use, means "to offer, especially for consideration, as if to the gods." So it is not peculiar in the least, or wrong, to speak of Laches offering up a definition (for Socrates' careful consideration). We can change that Aristotle is famous for writing voluminously, which is a sloppy way of saying he's famous for having voluminous writings which are attributed to him. But the point is that it is Aristotle, of early Western thinkers, who developed systems of thought about a very wide range of subjects. --Larry Sanger 21:30, 2 April 2007 (CDT)

I wnder if this is U.S. English rather than British. "Offer" would be correct in both, though, and is the standard term used when talking about this sort of thing, I think. I find the word "voluminous" odd in this context; it refers to volume not quantity (a skirt is said to be voluminous, but to apply it to writings jars me). I agree that the description of \Aristotle needs to be clarified. --Peter J. King  Talk  04:42, 3 April 2007 (CDT)

A tool for CZ philosophers

Potentially useful for CZ philosophers: Philosophy Topics A-C, D-H, I-Q, R-Z. - Kevin M I Schutte 20:30, 8 April 2007 (CDT)

Contemporary philosophers

Why not Quine, then? Davidson? Or David Lewis? They're all arguably as or more important than Putnam and Strawson. Quine certainly is. Maybe Nelson Goodman? Sellars? Plantinga? Even Popper, or even Ayn Rand? Why not Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, Derrida, Gadamer, Foucault, or other trendy continentals? --Larry Sanger 12:24, 20 April 2007 (CDT)

If the Ayn Rand debates are going to occur here too, I may as well stay over at the other place. (This is just a comment, not an accusation.) - Kevin M I Schutte 21:05, 26 April 2007 (CDT)

Outline, deleted

Recently we came to the conclusion that it's better to leave articles un-outlined on the article page, as this acts as an impediment to others working on the article. So I've deleted the outline that was on the article page (an outline I wrote, by the way). You needn't feel constrained by this, I'm just including it here for your reference. --Larry Sanger 04:36, 15 August 2007 (CDT)

Medieval philosophy

Anselm and Aquinas on God

Aquinas and Bonaventura on the beginning of the world

The medieval problem of universals

Early modern philosophy: the origins of knowledge

Descartes: skepticism and innate knowledge

Locke: empiricism as a rejection of innatism

Hume: skeptical consequences of the theory of ideas

Reid and the Scottish School reject the theory of ideas

Kant and later philosophers mostly embrace it and move toward 19th century idealism

19th and 20th century philosophy: the rise of the great divide

Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and later existentialists

Frege and Russell: the rise of formal logic

Moore and Wittgenstein: back to common sense and the constraints of our language games

The great divide: analytic vs. continental


I like the tone and style of this article, and yet somehow it doesn't really crystallise for me the questions that I have about philosophy. It has seemed to me that philosophy is really about gaining understanding about ourselves and the world we live in through pure reason, and science diverges from philosophy in the extent by which it uses experiments and observation as its primary tools. Einstein was denied a Nobel Prize for his greatest contribution relativity (although he gained one for quantum theory) because this was, it is said, regarded as philosophy not physics because at the core of the idea were his "thought experiments" by which he interrogated the internal consistency of contemporary understanding of light, motion etc. The contributions of scientists that last are often their theoretical contributions - do we think of them retrospectively as philosophers when their theoretical contribution has become recognised as significant? Was Darwin a philosopher or a scientist or both?

I guess I suspect that contemporary philosophy is defined by what academic philosophers do, and this is a closed group that gives retrospective membership to dead people who have said things that they find interesting. ? :-) Gareth Leng 05:41, 15 August 2007 (CDT)

I don't think I can offer much enlightenment here. I think the domain of philosophy (or "moral philosophy" as opposed to "natural philosophy") has whittled down gradually as different sciences developed systematic, well-agreed methods of their own. Eventually it became clear that what made the topics that were left were the non-experimental aspects. This meant, however, that all general sciences still have a toe in philosophy, because they all have basic concepts that are clarified not by experimentation but by "pure reason" and dialectic. That's why there are "philosophies of" this and that, and why for example theoretical physics and philosophy of physics are sometimes hard to distinguish.

I sometimes think of philosophers as being the ones who like to argue a lot--but rationally and fairly and respecting the merits, and going back to fundamental principles. --Larry Sanger 06:02, 15 August 2007 (CDT)

I think this is perhaps the key - that philosophers are concerned fundamentally with the process of drawing conclusions from reasoned argument, on any subject. Does this really come across as strongly as it might?Gareth Leng 09:43, 15 August 2007 (CDT)

Tom, I think that the new wording on the intro reads much better. I've added a block of text to counter the (almost invariable) oversight of Eastern traditions and influences. This is NOT intended to be critical or even controversial. I hope it won't be taken that way. Obviously an essay can be written on this topic, but not here - this is just to 'point out' the ohter side of the tradition. We could source these points if need be.

Eastern provenance of Greek philosophy

Martin, you added:

"Yet the historical record is clear, philosophy started in the East, and flourished in North Africa before eventually taking root in Western Europe."

Well, theorizing called philosophical started in China before the Presocratics. This does not by itself mean that it found its way across Asia and somehow inspired the Presocratics to start theorizing in the peculiarly areligious and abstract way for which they are celebrated.

"Plato's dialogues draw heavily upon Pythagoras,"

How heavily, however, for his substantive doctrines or for his method? Isn't there considerable disagreement about this? Of course there is, I see upon doing a little "research"; see this SEP article. Like all the Presocratics, we hardly know what Pythagoras actually believed, let alone--beyond speculation--what his major influences were. Am I wrong?

But much more important than that is the fact that Plato, like his main teacher Socrates, was a great innovator. That is why he is famous. There are many concepts, arguments, and so forth to be found first in Plato. This isn't to say that philosophy arose, Athena-like, from the brains of Socrates and Plato--of course they, both of them, were men of their times and deeply influenced by their philosophical predecessors (the Sophists and various Presocratics). Plato admittedly wrote about Pythagoras and was influenced by the Pythagoreans...but also many others.

"...who in turn drew heavily upon the Eastern Philosophers."

Is there actual proof of this anywhere? Or is it merely conjecture? Is this a widely-accepted fact or merely some people's theory? I am completely ignorant of this, so I'm asking.

Let's suppose that all this is true: Plato "drew heavily" on Pythagoras, Pythagoras "drew heavily" on some Eastern philosophers. Does this mean that "philosophy started in the East" in the sense that there is a continuous tradition from East to West and that Western, ancient Greek philosophy is merely a development of Eastern philosophy? No; that's a non sequitur. Even if there are influences, even if they are "heavy" influences which I doubt the evidence supports, that does not entail that "philosophy started in the East."

--Larry Sanger 04:17, 12 November 2008 (UTC)

Western thought as religious as eastern?

The article (Martin) says: "Eastern thought is often contrasted with Western philosophy, and criticised for not offering a clear distinction between philosophy and religion, yet, of course, up until the nineteenth century Western philosophy was presented, at least on the face of it, as a search by believers for knowledge of God."

I'm not really impressed with the sentiment here. It rejects without examination what reason we might have for saying that Eastern philosophy and religion are of a piece. The main reason, of course, is that in the East, the writings that are considered the most religious (Analects, Tao Te Ching, the Vedas, etc.) are also considered philosophical. In the West, holy scriptures and religious commentary on them are pretty clearly distinguished from philosophy. The Republic was never (to my knowledge) considered a religious text, and similarly with the rest of the philosophical canon.

Even those philosophical writings, especially from the Middle Ages, that are explicitly about religious themes like God, are not counted as holy texts or even first and foremost exegesis of holy texts, but instead abstract examinations of concepts that are tied in only in an ancillary way, a la Aquinas for example, to holy texts.

There is another point that might be worth mentioning, namely, Western philosophy (with some notable exceptions) tends to consist of texts laying out abstract problems, offering definitions, arguments, and refutations, often in a more or less systematic or logically organized fashion. Eastern philosophy is only rarely like this. I know there are exceptions, but generally it closely resembles the sort of writing we associate with the wisdom writing in the Bible...and Nietzsche in Thus Spake Zarathustra, which imitated the Bible.

Anyway, the above quoted sentence really should be recast somehow so as to acknowledge these obvious points. --Larry Sanger 04:58, 12 November 2008 (UTC)

Greek vs. Easterm. flow of ideas in preindustrial times, independent thought?

Let me preface these remarks by saying that I am by no means expert in the scope of philosophy. There are areas in which I have a substantive interest, such as ethics (subfields bioethics, and Just War Theory), and an aspect of knowledge structure that I sometimes privately consider epistemological engineering.

Perhaps I am being naive, but, given the level of communications between East Asia and Southern Europe, why is unreasonable to assume there was indepenent thought? Tom, as far as I was concerned, was making the Greek point as etymological for the English word "philosophy". I'd be delighted to know what the corresponding vernacular was for similar areas of inquiry in Eastern civilization. In the Eastern culture, I'm most familiar with the interactions among bushido, Zen, and other forms of the mind that might or might not be "philosophical". Was Miyamoto Musashi a philosopher?Howard C. Berkowitz 04:59, 12 November 2008 (UTC)

Of course ideas can develop independently. If the article makes any definite claims or even theories about influence, I hope we'll get some explanation/sources. --Larry Sanger 05:07, 12 November 2008 (UTC)

General editing

Just a few comments on my edits. I converted the punctuation to American, since that is what appeared in the article earlier. I removed a lot of scare quotes, because frankly I didn't understand why they were necessary. Do we really need to put scare quotes around "Western philosophy," as if we doubted such a thing exists? I also edited/toned down a lot of the more, um, forthright claims, per discussion above.

Frankly, as an introduction to Eastern philosophy as part of this article, this just won't do. The section about Eastern philosophy, if it deserves any mention in our Philosophy article, should not be placed so that its main interest appears to be in the question, "How deeply is Western philosophy influenced by it?" As a question, that makes up a miniscule portion of the interest of Eastern philosophy; most of its interest is in the figures and philosophies themselves. So I think perhaps we should just move this section further down in the article and recast it as a brief introduction to Eastern philosophy in general. Of course, to be placed properly in the context of this article, it should address not only any purported mutual or one-way influences, but also and more importantly how they are different (or similar), regardless of such questions of influence. --Larry Sanger 05:04, 12 November 2008 (UTC)

Let me stress that I make my comments only as a Ph.D. philosophy author, not as Editor-in-Chief, and I will not fall back on my EIC authority to support anything I say here. I just wanted to make that clear. --Larry Sanger 05:15, 12 November 2008 (UTC)

This is the dialectic!

Larry and colleagues - this latest version (Larry's edits) looks good to me - I think this is constructive. I have a gut objection to the artificial divide between 'European' and Eastern/African philosophy, and my edit was an attempt to:

1. flag the issue 2. offer some ideas for dealing with it

But not of course to be the final word! Nor indeed did I mean to preclude the possibility of the independence of and the differences of the traditions. Just to dispute the reverse idea, that there is NO linkage, and European ideas can be assumed to be wholly European in origin. Off the top of my head, we have several 'Western' Philosophies whose ideas have to be at least compared with Eastern notions:

Hegel, whose dialectic is a version of Chinese Taoism Spinoza, whose ethics is Buddhist pantheism Pythagoras, whose theory of heavenly numbers is 'North African'

I'm not sticking my neck out for any of thse views either - but they are certainly worth considering - when philosophy is grown 'from seed' as it were in 'Greece', we deprive it of its roots and lose a whole intellectual traditon.

Let's take Pythagoras, for example. It really does make sense to understand Pythagoras less as a lone genius than as a collector and concentrator of ideas. And these ideas were then (and I believe this is not controversial to say) clealry passed on to Plato to inspire some of his key dialogues.

I think we have a good section now on the Pythagoras page on these links which I contributed to, for example the 'uncontroversial' fact that:

  • at a time when such thoughts were rare, Pythagoras insisted that men and women were equal, that property should be held in common, and that adherents live and eat communally.

All of this reappears in the Republic as Plato's recommended lifestyle for the Guardians alongside the Pythagorean doctrines of the heavenly forms and the split between the world of knowledge and the world of matter (of which philosophers must remain aloof).

In addition:

  • In the Meno, Pythagoras' view of how learning is really recollection appears, as the 'slave boy' recalls the geometrical theorem that bears Pythagoras' name.
  • In the Gorgias, there is the Pythagorean doctrine that the better one knows something, the more one becomes like it.
  • The Timaeus is a Pythagorean description of the universe in terms of (musical) harmonies, and matter which is revealed mystically here as being made up of geometrical shapes, notably triangles.
  • In the Phaedo is the Pythagorean view that philosophy is a preparation for death and immortality [5]

As other editors note on the Pythagoras page too: "The contemporary British philosopher R. M. Hare also notes the influence in three places: first, the Platonic Republic reflects the idea of "a tightly organized community of like-minded thinkers", like the one established by Pythagoras in Croton; secondly, there is evidence that Plato took from Pythagoras the idea that mathematics and, generally speaking, abstract thinking is a secure basis for philosophical thinking as well as "for substantial theses in science and morals"; thirdly, Plato and Pythagoras shared a "mystical approach to the soul and its place in the material world". It is probable that both have been influenced by Orphism."

As i say, I don't think it necessary or desirable to rewrite the whole of Western Philosophy as really Eastern philosophy - even if it is so! The consensus and weight of research prevents such projects in reference works bound to follow where others have led. But we can make sure, as the 'principles' say, that we include a range of ideas, opinions and (most importantly) perspectives.

Another point - just for the debate - how homogenous is the 'European' tradition anyway? I know French philosophey is very different in its content and hierachies from its German, Spanish, and of course British neighbours.

Martin Cohen 11:46, 12 November 2008 (UTC)

Martin, thank you for the gracious reply. I'm very busy with launching just now or I'd re-engage myself. I'm sure we'll be able to come to reasonable compromises as needed. --Larry Sanger 02:23, 13 November 2008 (UTC)

Applied Philosophy

The section originally entitled 'Applied Philosophy' seems misleading to me...I've retitled it now to 'The role of philosophy'. Applied Philosophy is taken nowadays to be 'Applied Ethics' - the Society for Applied Philosophy, the Journal of Applied Philosophy etc never stray far beyond the ethical debates. This section looks like a discussion of the relevance of 'philosophy' to general life. That is a different subject. We could keep this text, but then it needs to be retitled and amended to make its character clear. For example, I think the discussion needs to start by noting that at one time 'philosophy' encompassed all the natural and social sciences, and that only gradually has a smaller 'core' of topics supposedly 'special to philosophy' emerged. In this sense, in short, I think the section is at present 'back to front'.

The phrase 'Appleid Ethcis' is objectionable, although becoming common, as ethics is 'usually' applied except when abstracted. That is to say, ethics is fundamentally about 'how to act in the world' and only lately about abstract arguments. These are better termed 'metaethics'. I'm putting up a few sentences on Applied Philosophy = Applied Ethics on its own page now.

I think Tom wrote most of it -so I'll refer him especially to the comments here and ask if he wants to respond. Martin Cohen 11:53, 19 December 2008 (UTC) and revised Martin Cohen 23:03, 19 December 2008 (UTC)

I don't object to the changes made so far. I think it can be tightened up a bit though. Might have a stab at it sometime. --Tom Morris 23:02, 20 December 2008 (UTC)

Definition of philosophy

I remember my philosophy professor, when asked about what philosophy is, said with a smile "reasoned discourse about reasoned discourse". Thought I'd mention that here in case somebody thought it worthy of inclusion.--Thomas Wright Sulcer 15:14, 15 February 2010 (UTC)

And Bertrand Russell defined it as the subject taught in the philosophy departments of universities. Peter Jackson 10:21, 2 April 2011 (UTC)