What is Philosophy and why do we need it?


The term ‘philosophy’ roughly translates to ‘love of wisdom.’ The term ‘philosopher’ translates to ‘lover of wisdom.’ This is where any intro to philosophy will begin when explaining philosophy and with good reason. The name in fact already explains everything one needs to know about philosophy and philosophers. They are concerned  with wisdom and its pursuit . While philosophy has become an academic discipline which concerns itself with the explanation and critique of other philosophical texts, this was not what philosophy meant for the ancient Greeks. In fact they did not distinguish between science and philosophy, or between scientists and philosophers. They were the same discipline. Furthermore, philosophy was not merely an activity of thinking. It was also practiced in the daily life of the philosopher. It even had its own exercises. Plato for example had his own school of philosophy called the The Academy. Besides an education in philosophy, students also trained  their bodies in The Gymnasium.

Plato's academy
Plato’s academy

Thus philosophy is something that changes throughout time. That makes it hard to pin it down to one definition. But one can ask what separates philosophy. from mere thinking. What is a philosophy? A philosophy is a comprehensive system of concepts arranging human nature and the reality we live in. By its very nature it affects the way we live because of its profound claims which change the way we perceive reality and ourselves. This is more clear in some branches of philosophy than others. For example ethics directly impacts our life. Logic is less clear. But learning about logic affects the kind of reasoning we accept and use.

This already leads us into asking: ‘what is the meaning of philosophy?’ The meaning of philosophy does not necessarily consist in finding the answers for its question. Its main merit is shaping the minds and life of those who practice it. These philosophers in turn affect their surrounding in a positive way. The study of philosophy teaches one to think critically and independently. These are important traits for living a good life. By asking the big questions of philosophy and studying the texts of great philosophers we escape from our daily confines and consider reality as greater than merely our own small existence.

Due to its changing nature it is hard to study philosophy and its history. One must delve into the thoughts and minds of those living in that time to truly understand their philosophy. To make research a little easier, scholar divide and categorize philosophy in different branches. It is much easier to answer questions like ‘what is political philosophy’, ‘what is life philosophy’ or ‘what is philosophy of education.’ But nonetheless it is important to reflect on the nature of philosophy as a whole and what it means to live a philosophical life. Even though philosophy is not an eternal practice that defies the flow of time, it is possible to consider the importance of philosophy in our time and what it means to be a lover of wisdom in our present time.
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