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Raphael's School of Athens with the idealized representations of the founding fathers of Western philosophy. Although since Plato it has primarily been a matter of written treatise, animated conversation is an important part of philosophical life to this day.

In philosophy ( ancient Greek φιλοσοφία philosophía , Latinized philosophia , literally "love of wisdom") attempts to fathom, interpret and understand the world and human existence .

Philosophy differs from other scientific disciplines in that it is often not limited to a specific area or a certain methodology , but is characterized by the nature of its questions and its special approach to its diverse subject areas.

This article describes the western (also: occidental) philosophy, which began in the 6th century BC. BC in ancient Greece , treated. The traditions of Jewish and Islamic philosophy , which are in many ways connected with Western philosophy, and the traditions of African and Eastern philosophy that were originally independent of them are not dealt with here .

In the ancient philosophy , the systematic and scientifically oriented unfolded thinking . Over the centuries, the various methods and disciplines of exploring the world and the sciences have differentiated themselves directly or indirectly from philosophy, sometimes also in contrast to irrational or religious worldviews or myths .

The core areas of philosophy are logic (as the science of consistent thinking), ethics (as the science of right action) and metaphysics (as the science of the first reasons of being and reality ). Further basic disciplines are epistemology and philosophy of science , which deal with the possibilities of gaining knowledge in general and specifically with the modes of knowledge of the various individual sciences.


There are problems that cannot or only insufficiently be dealt with with the help of the exact sciences: the questions about what is “good” and “bad”, what “justice” means, whether there is a God, whether there is one immortal soul or what the " meaning of life " is.

Another class of questions cannot be the actual subject of e.g. B. be natural sciences:

  • Although biology examines the world of living things, it cannot determine what constitutes the “ essence ” of living things , whether and when living organisms may be killed, or what rights and obligations human life includes.
  • With the help of physics and mathematics, laws of nature can be expressed, but no natural science can answer the question of whether nature is structured according to laws at all.
  • The law investigate and determine when something happens in accordance with the laws; but what desirable contents of the code of law should be, this exceeds its scope.
  • In general, the question arises not only with regard to each individual science, but fundamentally how we should deal with the knowledge gained from it .
  • In addition, there are questions that touch the limits of thought, such as the question of whether the reality experienced individually at this moment actually exists.

In all such cases, the explanatory models of the individual sciences fail; they are philosophical questions.

The Greek philosopher Plato (428/27 - 348/47 BCE) therefore harbored doubts about the image that man developed of himself and of the world. In his famous allegory of the cave , he reflected, among other things, the limited perception and knowledge of ordinary people. He sits next to each other with his kind in a cave, all tied up in such a way that they can only look straight ahead at the cave wall in front of them. Light gives a fire that burns far behind the people in the distant part of the cave. Between the people and the fire - also in their backs - there is a wall behind which various objects are carried and moved, which tower above the wall and appear as mobile shadows to the people fixed on its cave wall. Voices and noises from the hustle and bustle behind the wall would therefore also have to be regarded by the fixed observers as the creation of the shadows before their eyes. With this scenario, Plato contrasts the “real” world we are familiar with in the sunlight outside the cave and, through this trick, makes it understandable why philosophers understand the truth, i.e. H. question the proximity to the reality of human perception.

Philosophy mostly deals with issues that initially seem completely natural in everyday life: “You shouldn't kill”, “Democracy is the best of all forms of government”, “Truth is what is verifiable”, “The world is what is found in the universe "Or" The thoughts are free ". For some philosophers is just the moment in which such beliefs, in which the question been going Hinge Exempt question worthy is the birth moment of philosophy. People, to whom nothing seems questionable, will therefore never practice philosophy. Childlike amazement is also often cited as the beginning of philosophical thinking:

"The amazement is the attitude of a man who truly loves wisdom, yes there is no other beginning of philosophy than this."

"As it is still today, amazement first prompted people to philosophize."

- Aristotle : Metaphysics I 2, 982 b 12

In contrast to religions , religious communities and world views, philosophy relies solely on reason when dealing with the above-mentioned “philosophical” questions. H. on rational reasoning that does not require any further prerequisites (such as belief in a certain underlying doctrine).

Definition of terms

Overview of the main places of work of some important philosophers in Europe.

“Philosophy” cannot be defined universally because everyone who philosophizes develops their own view of things. Hence, there are nearly as many possible answers to the question posed above as there are philosophers. Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker once put it: "Philosophy is the science that you can't talk about without doing it yourself." The term also has many softer connotations and can then mean worldview , corporate culture, etc.

The more astonishing is the precision of the materialistic version of the term, according to which philosophy is the science of the general laws of motion and structure of nature, society and thought (knowledge) as well as the position of man in the world.

The philosophical fields of work include the investigation of methods, principles and the validity of any knowledge gained as well as the arguments and theories on a scientific level. In this context, philosophy can be understood as a basic science. Because philosophical reflection and questioning has always stimulated the individual sciences and encouraged their development. Philosophy poses questions of a kind that special sciences have not (so far) been able to answer, that cannot be answered through experiments, calculations or other research with the previous instruments. Such problems can steer research in a new direction. In this way, new types of research questions are occasionally initiated in the individual sciences; Philosophy therefore makes a contribution to the formation of hypotheses beyond its very own field .

Further philosophical endeavors extend to a systematic ordering of human knowledge for the purpose of producing a coherent view of the world taking into account human values , rights and duties .

Meaning and ways of philosophizing

emblem (1635), detail: S APIENS D OMINABITUR A STRIS . The text is loosely translated: "Whoever attains true wisdom will be ruler over all the stars."

Many people practice philosophy for their own sake: to better understand themselves and the world in which they live; to put their actions, their worldview on a well-founded basis. Those who seriously philosophize ask critical questions of the world around them and of themselves, ideally they are not so easily fooled or manipulated mentally and spiritually by others, they practice truthfulness and do not easily make false conclusions . A critical potential of philosophy lies in questioning social conditions as well as in relativizing the claims of science and religion. Here philosophy is not limited to critical analysis, but also makes constructive contributions, for example through the rational reconstruction and specification of existing knowledge systems or the formulation of ethics. A self-determined and reason-based life based on one's own thinking ( sapere aude ! ) Is the goal of many philosophers.

There are two main types or orientations of philosophizing aimed at individual benefit:

The pursuit of world wisdom should provide the mind with orientation and security in all practical life contexts and promote the ability to meaningfully classify everything that comes across. It should, as it were, bring about the imperturbability of one's own intellect through what is happening in the world, so that the intellect can confidently deal with every situation in life. Whoever is awarded wisdom by his fellow men , gives the impression through his reactions and expressions that he has such sovereignty.

In contrast, philosophy as a way of life places the emphasis on the implementation of the results of philosophical reflection in one's own life practice. According to this, living in the right way and shaping everyday life requires correct thinking that has been practiced in a deeper form and developed from it . And vice versa, in order to authenticate philosophical thinking, it is necessary that it is clearly reflected in the way of life .

Jean-Léon Gérôme , "Diogenes", 1860. A fantasy that also shows the dogs that gave the name to the Cynics (old Gr .
Κύων ).

There were particularly pronounced forms of application of a philosophically determined way of life in antiquity , especially in the ranks of the Stoics , the Epicureans and the Cynics . The Cynic Diogenes of Sinope, through his radical abstinence, gave supporters and opponents of this type of philosophical orientation an example that is often cited for the ideal of the harmony of thought and action . However, the unity of theory and practice is also emphasized in Eastern philosophy.

Diogenes, who gave expression to his philosophical thinking by renouncing worldly hustle and bustle, also testifies to the fact that philosophizing requires rest and leisure . (The word school still goes back to the Greek word in the old meaning for "leisure" [ σχολή , scholḗ ].)

One of the great benefits of philosophizing is the training of thinking and reasoning, because both methodological and linguistic expression are subject to strict requirements in professional discourse . The academic philosophy differs from everyday not philosophizing in principle by the questions, but rather through the frame - usually the university  - and by certain forms of isolation and exclusion of philosophical activity. There are various agreements on the forms of argumentation and scientific publication as well as the permitted specialist terminology . The activities of the academic philosophizing include the methods mentioned below .

Philosophically educated people do not necessarily differ from the rest in that they have more ( useful ) knowledge at their disposal. However, they usually have a better overview of the arguments that have already been put forward in a philosophical debate on a particular topic. For example, in the case of a currently discussed problem (e.g. euthanasia ) , it can be helpful to ask what possible answers philosophy has offered over the past 2500 years and how the disputes about these suggestions have gone so far. In addition to this historical knowledge, a trained philosopher should be better able to differentiate between the positions that are in principle justifiable, to foresee their consequences and to recognize problems and contradictions.

Further applications and tasks of philosophy consist of

  • to address the basic concepts, questions, theses and positions used by the individual sciences. Philosophy, for example, asks what constitutes the term “ dignity ” when it is used in discussions of law or sociology .
  • to work out the unspoken concepts, questions, theses and positions on which other sciences are based. Ethics, for example, asks: “What is justice?” And also examines the concept, fundamentals and conditions of law in general.
  • to answer questions about thought patterns or thinking habits of bygone times, to which the traditional artifacts in the museum are unable to provide answers.


The methods of philosophy involve various mental endeavors. “Spiritual endeavors” can mean tracing schools of thought, schools of thought and schools of thought. Philosophy is always about thinking . Can think after thinking be analyzing or systematizing . Intuitive knowledge, truths of faith and rational arguments are tested on the basis of the reality of life of the philosophizing person with the help of the means of reasonable , rational and critical thinking.

In addition, the philosophical attitude of mind can radically question everything in a methodological doubt - even philosophy itself. Philosophy begins with every philosophizing person from scratch. It is part of the attitude of a philosophizing person to be able to question seemingly fundamental or everyday certainties. Such fundamental doubts often seem strange to people who are not also faced with the reality of life as a question or problem. Seen over a long period of time, philosophy repeatedly asks the same basic questions in central areas, the possible answers of which are fundamentally similar ( Philosophia perennis ). Due to the historical and social changes in living conditions and world views , new formulations for the answers to the basic questions of human beings are necessary. Unlike in the individual sciences, neither philosophy nor the individual philosophizing people accumulate knowledge or have definitive and generally recognized results (“ scandal of philosophy ”). They collect historical answers, reflect on them and can thus avoid time-bound narrowing of the perspective, as can be found in some specialist sciences. In this respect, the philosophical discourse can be viewed as a process that cannot be closed in itself - as a controversial conversation over the centuries.

Basically, two approaches or areas of today's "professional" philosophizing can be distinguished: the historical and the systematic approach:

  • Historically , philosophers work when they try to understand the positions and theses of thinkers such as B. Plato , Thomas Aquinas or Immanuel Kant to reconstruct and interpret . This also includes working out certain philosophical currents or arguments in history, as well as following the history of concepts and ideas.
  • Philosophers proceed systematically when they try to elaborate and defend standpoints on a certain problem area, to answer questions within the various philosophical disciplines or to analyze the open or unspoken assumptions of a certain question or assertion; or when you try to clarify the terms used in certain questions, theses or positions . For example, if the question is: “Does man have free will ?”, The terms “ will ”, “ freedom ” and “ man ” - perhaps even the meaning of “have” - must first be subjected to a precise meaning analysis.

The historical and the systematic approaches or areas can in principle be distinguished from one another by the respective goal of the philosophical investigations. However, many philosophers work both historically and systematically. Both approaches complement each other insofar as on the one hand the writings of outstanding philosophical authors contain helpful considerations for current systematic questions and on the other hand systematic elaborations often help to clarify the positions of the classics. In addition, in many cases today's questions can only be asked and answered precisely if the historical background for their emergence and the concepts and suggested solutions that have been developed since then for dealing with the problem are known and understood.

Concept history

The term “philosophy”, composed of the Greek φίλος ( phílos ) “friend” and σοφία ( sophía ) “wisdom”, literally means “ love for wisdom ” or simply “for knowledge ” - because sophía originally referred to any skill or expertise, too artisanal and technical. The verb philosophize first appears in the Greek historian Herodotus (484–425 BC) (I, 30,2), where it is used to describe the thirst for knowledge of the Athenian statesman Solon (approx. 640–559 BC). It cannot be assumed that Heraclitus already used the term philósophos . In ancient times, the introduction of the term philosophy was customarily attributed to Pythagoras of Samos . The Platonist Herakleides Pontikos narrated a story according to which Pythagoras is said to have said that only a god possesses true sophía , that man can only strive for her. Here, sophia already means metaphysical knowledge. The credibility of this - only indirectly and fragmentarily handed down - report by Herakleides is disputed in scholarship. Only in Plato do the terms philosopher and philosophize clearly appear in this sense intended by Herakleides, especially in Plato's dialogue Phaedrus , where it is stated that the pursuit of wisdom (philosophizing) and possession of wisdom are mutually exclusive and that the latter belongs only to God .

In the course of its history, philosophy has been defined as the pursuit of the good, the true and the beautiful (Plato) or wisdom, truth and knowledge ( Hobbes , Locke , Berkeley ). You research according to the highest principles (Aristotle) ​​and aim at the acquisition of true knowledge (Plato). It struggles for the knowledge of all things, including the invisible ( Paracelsus ), is a science of all possibility ( Wolff ) and of the absolute ( Fichte , Schelling , Hegel ). It organizes and connects all science (Kant, Mach , Wundt ), represents the "science of all sciences" ( Fechner ). The analysis, processing and exact definition of terms are in their focus (Socrates, Kant, Herbart ). However, philosophy is at the same time also the art of learning to die (Plato), normative value theory ( diaper band ), the rational pursuit of happiness ( Epicurus , Shaftesbury ) or the pursuit of virtue and efficiency (Aristotle, Stoa ).

From a European point of view, the term philosophy is associated with the origins in ancient Greece. The millennia-old Asian thought traditions ( Eastern philosophy ) are often overlooked or underestimated. Religious world views also belong to philosophy, insofar as their representatives argue philosophically rather than theologically .

History of science

The self-image of philosophy as a science has changed again and again in the course of its history. The first Greek philosophers up to about the time of Socrates and Plato understood their activity as a rational striving for knowledge in contrast to the mere adoption of a mythical worldview and religious traditions. On the one hand, thinking emancipated itself from myth, on the other hand, myths were not generally rejected in principle. The philosophers gladly made use of them and used poetic means of expression to spread their teachings.

While Socrates and his students viewed the quest for knowledge as an end in itself, the sophists offered their lessons for a fee. For some sophists, it was primarily about the art of defeating an opponent in a debate using rhetorical means and logical devices. Their aim was to use tricks ( sophisms ) , if necessary , to “turn the weaker side into the stronger” (cf. Eristik ).

"Philosophy is enthroned in the midst of the Seven Liberal Arts" - illustration from the Hortus Deliciarum by Herrad von Landsberg (around 1180)

After Christianity prevailed in late antiquity , philosophy was for many centuries only possible on the basis of the religious worldview of the time; it must not come into conflict with the basic assumptions of Christian theology . There was a similar limitation in Islam and Judaism. In Western Europe, therefore, the image of philosophy dominated for a long time as a "handmaid of theology " ( ancilla theologiae ), that is, an auxiliary science that should support the divine revelations with rational arguments.

At the universities that emerged in the Middle Ages , philosophy became a fundamental (“ propaedeutic ”) subject. The core of the course was determined by the so-called Artes Liberales , which included "grammar", "dialectics", "rhetoric" as well as "geometry", "arithmetic", "astronomy" and "music". A first degree in this general study at the so-called artist faculty was necessary in order to be able to take up the "higher" studies in medicine, law and theology. (The names of the academic degrees of BA , MA , Ph.D. or Dr. phil. Originate from this tradition to this day .

In Western Europe in the 13th century, the intensified engagement with the philosophy of Aristotle led to a higher degree of independence in philosophy, which exceeded the boundaries of the artes disciplines. Numerous philosophers and theologians such as Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas tried to keep up with the Aristotle reception of the East and to merge the Aristotelian philosophy with the teachings of the Catholic Church into a self-contained overall interpretation of reality. Thomas, for example, presented such a synthesis in the Summa theologica . Regardless of this, there has been a new appreciation of empirical knowledge since the 12th century, which was a prerequisite for the development of modern scientific thinking and the experimental approach.

Since the Renaissance , philosophy has increasingly exceeded the limits set by theology. Philosophers no longer shied away from advocating views that were incompatible with church teachings or even with Christianity. Since the times of Renaissance humanism and the Enlightenment , philosophy has dealt critically with religion up to the present day, has set itself apart from it, and has often viewed itself as superior. However, there have always been numerous philosophers who attached great importance to ensuring that their positions were fully in harmony with their religious convictions.

Above all in certain phases of modern times, philosophy was understood as a universal science superordinate to all individual sciences , which, in order to grasp reality as a whole and to penetrate to the ultimate causes and principles, reveals and makes accessible eternal, general truths ( Philosophia perennis ). This means that the chance that philosophy will go under is probably the lowest of all subjects. If you only do philosophy, you don't need to specialize in anything, because philosophy is the subject that can use all the basics (Heissler).

Philosophy remained one of the four classical faculties into the 18th century . Furthermore, a basic education in philosophy was required before the students z. B. were allowed to turn to scientific questions and research. At some tradition-conscious universities, a “Philosophicum” is still mandatory for all students in the basic course.

In the 19th century, the natural sciences began to become increasingly independent, and later also the philological and social science subjects. As a result, the philosophical chairs increasingly came under the pressure to specialize in their content-related orientation as the specialist sciences were becoming independent. In the modern era, philosophy was temporarily only given the task of reflecting on the specialist sciences and discussing their requirements.

The modern science of philosophy draws its justification from the claim that philosophical methods could also be helpful for other areas of knowledge and practice. In addition, philosophers consider the discussion of ethical issues and questions of principle to be their own area. The universities are currently characterized in their self-image by teaching the traditional philosophical disciplines of logic, ethics, epistemology, philosophy of science and the history of philosophy within the framework of teacher training. Thus, the discourse of philosophy at universities is often separated not only from religion, but also from the social sciences, from literature and art, largely as theoretical philosophy with a strong emphasis on philosophy of science, language analysis and logic. Nonetheless, there are always impulses in the “specialist science of philosophy” to take part in contemporary public debates and take a stand, e.g. B. on ethical questions of the use of technology, on ecology, on genetics, (since ancient times also) on medical problems ( medical philosophy , medical ethics ) or on those of intercultural philosophy.

In addition to university philosophy, however, there have always been independent thinkers outside the institutions. Ever since the Enlightenment thinkers Voltaire , Rousseau and Diderot (as the initiators of the encyclopedia with the aim of enlightenment through knowledge) were named philosophes in France , in the tradition of Montaigne it was generally understood to include learned writers who dealt with popular, i.e. on topics of general interest expressed public interest - including polymaths like Goethe and Schiller . Thinkers of the 18th and 19th centuries like Adam Smith , Abraham Lincoln , Jean Paul , Friedrich Nietzsche , Émile Zola , Lew Tolstoy , Karl Marx , Sigmund Freud or Søren Kierkegaard had in common that none of them were affiliated with a university and none of them were academic School philosophy operated. Nonetheless, they gave rise to philosophical impulses that received much public attention and reflected the history of philosophy independently - comparable to thinkers such as Paul Watzlawick , Umberto Eco or Peter Sloterdijk, who are widely read today .

A fairly recent development is the establishment of philosophical practices that want to offer an alternative to other social counseling and orientation options.


Overview of the disciplines of philosophy according to a common classification.


Today's philosophy is divided into systematic disciplines and the history of philosophy . The former can essentially be assigned to the theoretical or practical direction (see below). Points of contact between systematic philosophizing and the history of philosophy can be found in systematology , for example . Systematic philosophy in the strict sense makes the claim "to represent the totality of the knowledge reached at any point in time as a whole, the parts of which are consistently linked in logical relationships".

Even if the area that philosophy as a whole encompasses cannot be narrowed down in a certain sense (since it deals with “everything”), there are certain domains in which it is mainly active. The philosopher Immanuel Kant summarized these in the following questions:

  1. What can i know
  2. What should I do?
  3. What can I hope for?
  4. what is the human?

In a somewhat less general way, these questions can be something like this:

  1. How can we come to knowledge and how are these insights to be assessed? (Epistemology and science theory, logic)
  2. How should we act? (Ethics)
  3. What is the world Why is there anything at all and “not rather nothing”? Is there a God or what should one even imagine by the term “God”? Is the story heading towards a goal and if so, which one? (Metaphysics, philosophy of religion and history)
  4. What kind of beings are we? How do we relate to the world we find? ( Philosophical Anthropology , Cultural and Social Philosophy, Philosophical Aesthetics )

Differentiation between theoretical and practical philosophy

The distinction between practical and theoretical philosophy goes back to Aristotle . For him, theoretical philosophy was aimed at the purpose-free knowledge of necessary reasons, while practical philosophy, on the other hand, focused on the optional, purpose-related practical and political action of man. From the 17th century onwards this distinction was taken up again and terminologically fixed - especially in Christian Wolff's school philosophy . Against the background of the demand for scientificity, however, the meaning of this distinction was reversed: Theoretical and practical philosophy should both become equally scientific.

According to a distinction made by Immanuel Kant that has often been accepted, practical philosophy deals with what ought to be , while theoretical philosophy deals with what is . Some interdisciplinary field of philosophy of the present oppose partially this dichotomy, see about the criticism of Juergen Habermas on Edmund Husserl and the controversy of freedom from value judgment .

Classically, the theoretical philosophy includes logic, metaphysics and ontology, epistemology and the theory of science, but also mathematical and natural philosophy . The first three in particular claim priority as the highest basic philosophical discipline. Practical philosophy includes ethics, legal philosophy, political philosophy, action theory , economic philosophy and social philosophy .

Theoretical Philosophy


Logic is not concerned with concrete content, but with the laws of consistency. She asks, based on which rules out certain conditions specific ( "premises") conclusions ( "conclusions") pulled or can not be drawn (see. Fallacies ). To that extent, it addresses the basis of all argument- based science.

In earlier times the term "logic" was used in a wider sense than it is today. The example of the logic of the Stoa is typical . This also included the area that is now called epistemology, problems of language philosophy and rhetoric . The same is true of many logic books up to the early 20th century.

In modern philosophy, logic, the science of correct reasoning, only refers to formal logic . This overlaps with areas from mathematics and computer science . The logicists even think the whole mathematics is, apart from Axiom finding only logical derivation and reasoning . The extent to which logic extends to other areas (e.g. argumentation theory , speech act theory ) is, however, controversial.

The most important logicians in the history of philosophy include Aristotle , Chrysipp , Johannes Buridanus , Gottlob Frege , Charles Sanders Peirce , Bertrand Russell with Alfred N. Whitehead , Kurt Gödel and Alfred Tarski .


System of human knowledge shown in figures (German translation of the “family tree of human knowledge” at the beginning of volume 1 of the Encyclopédie by D'Alembert and Diderot (1751)).

Epistemology asks about the possibility of acquiring and securing knowledge. The extent of knowledge , nature of knowledge , types of knowledge , sources of knowledge and structure of knowledge are examined, as well as the problem of the truth or falsity of theories . She puts the perception of reality to the test as well as the influence of language and thinking on the cognitive process. In addition, it tries to stake out the limits of knowledge and to define what can in principle be described as "scientific". Since Immanuel Kant, this critique of knowledge has represented the fundamental core of epistemology for many philosophers.

Important epistemologists were u. a. Plato , Aristotle , René Descartes , John Locke , David Hume , Immanuel Kant , Auguste Comte , Edmund Husserl and Ludwig Wittgenstein .

Philosophy of science

The philosophy of science is closely related to epistemology and analyzes or postulates the requirements, methods and goals of science . Above all, it defines the criteria for the terms “science” and “scientific” and tries to differentiate them from para- and pseudosciences . To this end, several basic methodological requirements that cannot be justified by the individual sciences themselves have emerged today. For example, the need for repeatability of experiments , the economic principle (" Ockham's razor ") and the principle of falsifiability as a prerequisite for meaningful scientific statements are components of these scientific models.

Furthermore, the philosophy of science deals with the relationship between scientific knowledge and the concepts of truth or reality. Also the possible division and order of human knowledge into areas and their hierarchization , as well as the investigation of the principles of scientific progress (cf. paradigm shift ) belong to her area of ​​responsibility.

Important representatives of the philosophy of science are z. B. Aristotle, Francis Bacon , Rudolf Carnap , Karl Popper , Thomas Kuhn , Paul Feyerabend and Hilary Putnam .

Metaphysics and ontology

Metaphysics has almost always been at the core of philosophy. It tries to put the whole of reality as it appears to us in a meaningful context - often also in a universal system. She examines the foundations and general structures of the world. Furthermore, she asks the “last questions” about the meaning and purpose of all being .

Traditionally, metaphysics is divided into a general and a special branch. The general metaphysics is the ontology , which in the tradition of Aristotle poses the question of the basic structures of all beings and being. Your subject area is unrestricted. In the history of philosophy, metaphysics is primarily shaped by three basic questions:

  1. Are there kinds of things that are fundamental to the existence of other kinds? (Aristotle's " Categories ")
  2. Is there a first / last cause on whose existence the existence of everything else depends? (Aristotle)
  3. Why is there something at all and not nothing? (after Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz , explained by Martin Heidegger as a basic question)

Special metaphysics is divided into three disciplines that ask the following questions:

  1. according to the existence of God and his possible properties (rational or natural theology );
  2. for the possibility of an immortal soul and free will, as well as for differences between spirit and matter (rational psychology );
  3. according to the cause, constitution and purpose of the universe (rational cosmology );

The natural sciences and their instruments cannot and do not want to deal with these questions for fundamental reasons, since the objects of metaphysics are in principle withdrawn from any (sensual) human experience. If the existence of areas of reality that cannot be empirically investigated is disputed or declared irrelevant, then the questions of metaphysics are superfluous. Traditional metaphysics has been criticized in two different ways. While positivism and advocates of analytical philosophy tended to push for the abolition of metaphysics through the logical analysis of language in the first half of the 20th century, Martin Heidegger , for example, attempted to overcome the history of metaphysics and radically turn the question to the analysis of the human Daseins to create a new approach to an alternative metaphysics ( fundamental ontology , existential philosophy ). In the meantime, traditional metaphysical, in particular ontological questions and problems are gaining broader attention in the philosophical discussion - also in much debated disciplines such as the philosophy of mind .

Important metaphysicians were u. a. Plato , Aristotle , Thomas von Aquin , René Descartes , Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and the representatives of German idealism and neo-scholasticism .

Philosophy of language

The philosophy of language examines the relationship between language , thought and reality. The analysis of language, e.g. B. by means of the precise decomposition of concepts , has always been practiced in philosophy. From the beginning, the paramount importance of language for communicative processes, finding truth, possibilities for knowledge and the description and perception of the world was a central theme of philosophy.

For example, the question was already discussed in antiquity whether a thing was given a certain designation “naturally” or only through an arbitrary definition by humans. The subsequent important topic of medieval philosophy - the universal dispute  - can partly be understood as a problem in this area.

The modern philosophy of language, which in the 20th century, the so-called " linguistic turn " ( linguistic turn ) triggered, dealt u. a. with the dependence of the apprehension of reality on the individual linguistic possibilities (see Sapir-Whorf hypothesis ), with the production of truth, knowledge and knowledge through communication (see language game ), how one carries out actions with the help of linguistic utterances ( John Langshaw Austin : " How to do things with words ", see pragmatics ), the distorting influence of language on reality (e.g. in feminist linguistics ) and the question of what " meaning " is.

The most important language philosophers include Gottlob Frege , Charles S. Peirce , George Edward Moore , Bertrand Russell , WvO Quine , Saul Aaron Kripke and Ludwig Wittgenstein . The students Ferdinand de Saussure ( structuralism ), Martin Heidegger ( etymology and neologisms ), Michel Foucault ( discourse analysis ) and Jacques Derrida ( poststructuralism ) also made important contributions .

Practical philosophy

According to the Aristotelian tradition, practical philosophy denotes that part of philosophy that is made up of the disciplines ethics , legal philosophy , state philosophy , political philosophy and the fundamentals of economics (see also economic philosophy ). Practical philosophy is directed to the philosophical exploration of human practice .

Aristotle had the theoretical philosophy faced, which is aimed at disinterested knowledge necessary reasons, practical philosophy (ethics, economics and politics), referring to the dedicated practical and political action concerns the people in the realm of what can also behave differently. Against the background of the demand for scientificity, however, the meaning of this distinction was relativized: Theoretical and practical philosophy should both become equally scientific. In the middle of the 19th century, the individual sub-disciplines of practical philosophy began to specialize and gradually develop as individual disciplines.

According to a distinction made by Immanuel Kant that has often been accepted, practical philosophy deals with what ought to be , while theoretical philosophy deals with what is . Some interdisciplinary field of philosophy of the present oppose partially this dichotomy, see about the criticism of Juergen Habermas on Edmund Husserl and the controversy of freedom from value judgment .

Ethics and metaethics

Philosophical ethics creates criteria for judging actions and evaluates them in terms of their motives and consequences . It differs from morality , which traditionally or conventionally prescribes certain actions, although the goal of normative ethics can be seen in the establishment of generally applicable norms and values.

Many philosophers consider this goal to have failed because, according to deontic logic as well as Hume's law, it is impossible to deduce norms from non-normative sentences, i.e. H. certain values, norms or preferences must always be assumed so that further norms can be derived. Rational ethics would therefore only consist of examining whether certain norms are logically compatible with overarching goals or not. In the case of a philosophy without presuppositions, however, ethical standards for basic purpose orientations could not be logically obtained.

Nonetheless, other philosophers try to find an absolute justification for norms in different, contradicting concepts. Best known in Germany is the transcendental , pragmatic , absolute justification of norms of discourse ethics according to Apel, according to which every skeptic is already a participant in a discourse and has therefore recognized ethical rules of discourse.

Practical philosophers also often try to find a supreme rule or general criterion for moral conduct. The golden rule is not very popular because it assumes the same wishes of all those involved. According to utilitarianism , the ultimate moral principle is to seek the greatest happiness from the greatest number. Kant's categorical imperative is also widespread :

“Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time want it to become a general law.”
“ Act in such a way that you use humanity both in your person and in the person of everyone else at the same time as an end, never just as Need funds. "

- Immanuel Kant : Fundamentals of the Metaphysics of Morals , Academy Edition Kant Works IV, p. 421 and p. 429, 10–12

The descriptive ethics , however, deals with the various existing morals and tries to put them precisely and to describe it is rather part of the empirical human sciences as philosophy.

The basis of general ethics is metaethics , which analyzes speaking about ethics and ethical terms (“ good ”, “ bad ”, “action”) as well as conclusions based on norms.

Ethics is one of the few disciplines of philosophy that has so far only been questioned to a small extent by (other) sciences. Logically, this is hardly possible, since empirical sciences only describe facts and develop and improve means for achieving purposes, but cannot say which purposes one should pursue at all.

The questioning of all ethical values ​​by amoralism and relativism stands in contrast to the social demand for area ethics such as medical , animal or scientific ethics up to hacking and information ethics , but also the creation of institutions such as the National Ethics Council .

Influential ethicists include Aristotle, the Stoics and Epicureans , Thomas Aquinas, Immanuel Kant, Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill , Max Scheler , Hans Jonas and Karl-Otto Apel .

Legal philosophy

Cover picture from Hobbes' Leviathan (1651). The body of the sovereign , endowed with the insignia of secular and spiritual power, is composed of the many individual bodies of the subjects .

A direct application of ethics can be found in legal philosophy, which at the same time represents one of the fundamental disciplines of law . Based on the assessment of actions as “good” and “bad”, the question of law and justice and the consequences of violating moral and ethical norms is posed. Of course, legal philosophy also asks about the origin, establishment and legitimation of law, the relationship between “ natural law ” (cf. human rights ) and “established law” (“ positive law ”), according to the order of importance of legal norms and their repeal. There is an overlap here with political philosophy.

Well-known legal philosophers are Hugo Grotius , Niccolò Machiavelli , Thomas Hobbes , Hans Kelsen , Gustav Radbruch , HLA Hart , Niklas Luhmann , Jürgen Habermas , John Rawls , Ronald Dworkin and Robert Alexy .

Political philosophy

Political philosophy, like the philosophy of law, has been largely taken over by the neighboring sciences. Large parts of the philosophical discussion take place in law and political science . The creation, legality and constitution of a state is examined by state theory. The political theory asks for the best rule sForm, the relationship between citizen and state, to power distribution, law , property , security and freedom .

Important contributions to this have u. a. the political thinkers Plato, Aristotle, Augustine , Marsilius of Padua , Niccolò Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke , Jean-Jacques Rousseau , Immanuel Kant, Karl Marx , Michail Bakunin , Carl Schmitt , Hannah Arendt , Karl Popper and Michel Foucault .

Newer disciplines

Philosophy of Mind and Consciousness

Although they deal with very old questions, the philosophy of the mind or the philosophy of consciousness is still a young, interdisciplinary discipline that borders on the cognitive and neurosciences . The focus is on questions about the nature of mind or consciousness , about the relationship between body and soul , matter and spirit. But also the possibility of free will , as well as the nature of mental states, of consciousness content and emotions ( qualia ) is examined here. Furthermore, this area deals with the assessment of various states of consciousness , considerations about artificial intelligence , the identity of the self and the problem of possible survival after physical death . The levels of investigation are ontological, epistemological, semantic and methodological.

Well-known representatives of these problem areas are Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz , Baruch de Spinoza , Alan Turing , Hilary Putnam , John Searle , Jaegwon Kim and Donald Davidson . Theories elaborated in the context of Buddhism are of great philosophical importance .

Modern philosophical anthropology

Modern philosophical anthropology deals with the essence of man, primarily not as an individual, but as a species. Since it is operated by people themselves, it is a ( dialectical ) self-reflection that simultaneously has an inner and an outer perspective. The existential situation of the human being is examined taking into account all important individual scientific findings.

The nature of man poses many puzzles. Its position in the cosmos , the relationship between culture and nature , isolation and communalization , the problems of gender , the role of love and death are some of the basic questions of philosophical anthropology. Whether a person is naturally good or bad, whether violence and suffering are an essential part of human existence, whether life has any meaning at all : all of these are further problems of this discipline. However, it also examines fundamental human needs and abilities such as self-realization , creativity , curiosity and thirst for knowledge, striving for power and altruism , the phenomenon of freedom and the perception of the other.

Important philosophers who have worked on anthropological problems are Thomas von Aquin , Immanuel Kant , Arthur Schopenhauer , Friedrich Nietzsche , Søren Kierkegaard , Max Scheler , Arnold Gehlen , Ernst Cassirer , Helmuth Plessner and the representatives of existential philosophy .

In the second half of the 20th century in particular, some philosophers criticized theories about general human traits, including (with different accentuation) Michel Foucault or Jürgen Habermas .

Rationality, action and game theory

One of the current problems of philosophical research is the analysis of human action from the point of view of reasonableness. In doing so, ethical motives are not taken into account, but rather purely mathematical cost-benefit considerations or the logical calculation, assuming that people usually act rationally.

Some philosophers use game theory to develop models for ethical problems. Both individual (e.g. the prisoner's dilemma ) and social paradoxes (e.g. the tragedy of the commons ) can be understood in this context, if not resolved. The action theory tries to explain motivated actions, such as whether and how it is possible for two alternative actions, free and deliberately held even worse to choose ( Akrasia ). The clarification of the term “ rationality ” is, especially when the rationality of actions is examined, an area that has recently been extensively debated. In the history of philosophy, the terms “ understanding ” and “ reason ”, “ ratio ” and “intellect” were often controversial. Their determination often decided which concept was represented by philosophy. In the modern age, “rationality” has become increasingly questionable in various respects, so that contemporary philosophy is faced with the task of critically questioning its own minimum definition.

Philosophical mysticism

Although mystical elements were often present in western and eastern philosophical traditions, the concept of " philosophical mysticism " is still young. On the one hand - similar to Philosophia perennis - it sticks to the fact that there are eternal, unchangeable and universally valid truths regarding reality and human beings to be recognized. On the other hand, like all mystical currents, it emphasizes the primacy of the present here-and-now existence, the importance of purposeless contemplation , the dignity of creation and the central importance of the embeddedness of individual existence in the whole of the world structure.

In her way of working she crosses the boundaries of reason and understanding and also emphasizes tangible, but nevertheless intersubjectively communicable and philosophically treatable certainties. Central themes of philosophical mysticism are u. a. the experience of the dissolution of the subject-object split , the collapse of all opposites in God ( coincidentia oppositorum ), the possible unity of man with the all-whole ( unio mystica ) and the trace of the divine in the human being ( scintilla animae ).

Some western philosophers whose teachings contain mystical elements are Plotinus , Meister Eckhart , Nikolaus von Kues , Jakob Böhme , Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Blaise Pascal , Baruch de Spinoza, Martin Heidegger, Simone Weil and Ken Wilber . In the non-European, especially the Eastern philosophy, mysticism traditionally plays a major role. Typically, it overcomes not only the limits of philosophy, but also those of religion , for example in Zen , yoga , Sufism , Kabbalah and Christian mysticism .


The history of Western philosophy begins in the 6th century BC. Chr. In ancient Greece . One of its essential characteristics is that new answers to the basic philosophical questions have been found, justified and discussed again and again. This can partly be traced back to the changing needs of the prevailing zeitgeist and partly to the ongoing development of the other sciences. However, from the point of view of some philosophers, philosophy hardly makes “progress” in the sense of a final refutation or proof of teachings. The philosopher Alfred North Whitehead once characterized the history of European philosophy since Aristotle as mere " footnotes to Plato". Since philosophical ideas and concepts do not become obsolete, the study of its own history is far more important to philosophy than to most other sciences.

Epochs and currents in the history of philosophy in a chronological overview


In the cities of ancient Greece , as a result of cultural advances and increased contact with neighboring cultures, there was growing criticism of the traditional, myth -shaped worldview .

It was in this intellectual climate that the pre-Socratics  - as the Greek philosophers were called before or during Socrates' lifetime - began the history of Western philosophy. Their thinking, which has only been handed down in fragments, is determined by questions of natural philosophy about the foundations of the world. Using a mixture of speculation and empirical observation, they tried to understand its nature and what goes on in it. They wanted to bring all things back to an original principle (Greek αρχη arché ), namely a "primordial material". The first well-known philosopher Thales von Miletus believed that water was this “primary substance”. Empedocles founded the doctrine of the four elements water, fire, earth and air, which prevailed in natural philosophy until the 18th century , from which all things are composed.

In addition to these approaches, there were other models of explaining the world. Pythagoras and his school considered the number to be the all-determining principle and thus anticipated an important principle of modern science. Heraclitus emphasized growth and decay and saw the logos as the basis of reality , a unifying principle of opposites . The philosophy of Parmenides , who, in contrast, assumed the unity and immortality of being, is understood as the beginning of ontology .

With the appearance of the Sophists in the middle of the 5th century, man became the focus of philosophical consideration ( Protagoras : “ Man is the measure of all things ”). They were particularly concerned with ethical and political problems, such as the question of whether norms and values ​​are given by nature or are established by people.

The Athenian Socrates (469–399 BC) became a model of European philosophy . His method of maieutics ("midwifery") consisted in the fact that Socrates, in apparent naivety, pointed out contradictions in their thinking to his interlocutors through a profound and targeted questioning technique and led to insights ("assisted in giving birth"), which led them to a philosophically changed view helped into the world. His demonstrative intellectual independence and his inappropriate behavior earned him a death sentence for godlessness and the corruption of youth (cf. Apology ).

Since Socrates himself did not record anything in writing, his image was largely determined by his pupil Plato (approx. 428–347 BC), in whose work Socrates played a central role. This work, written largely in dialogue form , forms a central point of departure for Western philosophy. Starting from the Socratic what is question ("What is virtue? Justice? The good ?") Plato created the beginnings of a theory of definition. He was also the originator of a theory of ideas based on the idea of ​​a two-part reality : the tangible object that can be perceived with the sense organs is opposed to an abstract, general correspondence on the level of ideas that is only accessible to the intellect that is receptive to it. Plato believes that knowledge of these ideas leads to a deeper understanding of the whole of reality.

Detail from Raphael'sThe School of Athens ” (1510–1511), fresco in the Stanza della Segnatura (Vatican).
Shown are u. a. Zeno of Kition , Epicurus, Averroes , Pythagoras, Alkibiades , Xenophon , Socrates, Heraclitus, Plato , Aristotle , Diogenes, Euclid , Zarathustra and Ptolemy .
The central perspective system of the mural in the Vatican aims at the imaginary representations of Plato and Aristotle at the center of the composition.
Opposite the fresco is the parallel work of the Disputa del Sacramento , the disputation on the sacrament , by Raphael.

Plato's student Aristotle (384–322 BC) rejected the doctrine of ideas as an unnecessary “doubling of the world”. For him, the essence of a thing did not consist in an additional existing idea, but in the form inherent in the thing. His school began to divide, analyze and scientifically organize the entire tangible reality - nature and society - into different areas of knowledge. In addition, Aristotle founded the classical logic ( syllogistics ), scientific systematics and philosophy of science . In doing so, he introduced basic philosophical terms that have remained relevant until modern times.

At the transition from the 4th to the 3rd century BC Two more philosophical schools arose in Athens under Hellenism , which, with a clear shift in emphasis compared to the Platonic Academy and the Aristotelian Peripatus, placed the individual salvation at the center of their endeavors: For Epicurus (approx. 341–270 BC) and his followers on the one hand, and for the Stoics around Zeno von Kition on the other hand, philosophy served mainly to achieve psychological well-being and serenity through ethical means. For this, Epicurus envisaged a moderately designed, well-dosed enjoyable life that kept away from all political activity. The Stoics sought peace of mind by maintaining equanimity towards all internal and external challenges. Above all, this should be achieved by controlling emotions in conjunction with a fate-affirming attitude in accordance with the order of the universe; at the same time, one knew about the obligations towards fellow men and the community. This doctrine later found its way into leading circles in the Roman Republic .

While the supporters of the Pyrrhonic skepticism fundamentally denied the possibility of certain judgments and indubitable knowledge, Plotinus reshaped Plato's doctrine of ideas in the 3rd century ( Neo-Platonism ). His conception of the gradation of being (from "one" down to matter) offered Christianity manifold possibilities for connection and was the dominant philosophy of late antiquity .

middle Ages

The philosophy of the Middle Ages only gradually separated itself from theology and even then remained largely shaped by religious institutions, ways of life and teachings. In terms of method and content, it was strongly oriented towards traditions and authorities. In the Christian context, the foundations and reference values ​​were essentially the teachings that the patristic church fathers had created.

Until the beginning of the late Middle Ages , the views of Augustine of Hippo proved to be decisive . He saw world history as a ceaseless battle between the kingdom of evil and the kingdom of good. Society and church, theology and philosophy therefore form a unity that leaves no room for doubt about the decisions of the church .

The “last Roman” and “first scholastic” Boethius stood at the beginning of the medieval attempts to form a synthesis between Platonic and Aristotelian thought, founded medieval logic, formed terms such as “ person ” or “ nature ”, triggered the universality dispute and drafted a momentous conception of science, which was followed by the School of Chartres .

While the Greek-speaking Byzantine Empire preserved important parts of ancient knowledge in the east , the fragmentary preservation of the ancient heritage in the “Latin West” was largely limited to the monastery and cathedral schools until the beginning of the late Middle Ages . Only a few philosophers emerged until 1100, including Anselm von Canterbury , who formulated a purely philosophical proof of God that was granted lasting effects.

Benozzo Gozzoli , “Triumph of St. Thomas Aquinas over Averroes” (1468/84), detail. Thomas is enthroned between Aristotle and Plato, whose teachings he tried to connect with one another, while the Spanish-Arabic philosopher Averroes lies prostrate before him. (Fantasy portraits)

Western philosophy experienced an upswing from the late 11th century . The dissemination of translated works by Arabic-speaking philosophers, who in turn linked to ancient traditions, played an essential role.

One of the main themes of medieval philosophy was the universal dispute early on . The question was whether general terms are mere conceptual abstractions and conventions for the purpose of understanding or whether they designate an independent objective reality, as the Platonic tradition with its theory of ideas claims. In connection with this problem area, many thinkers dealt intensively with the logic of language ; The result was “speculative grammar”, which asks about the connection between a theory of grammar and a theory of reality . Many philosophers took mediating positions in the universality dispute, including Petrus Abelardus . This contributed a lot to the development of the scholastic method of contrasting and weighing opposing doctrines.

In the 13th century, numerous works by Aristotle previously unknown in the West became accessible in new translations; in addition there were the writings of the Arabic-speaking Aristotle commentators. They became the basis of university teaching. Albertus Magnus and his student Thomas von Aquin in particular ensured the spread of Aristotelianism, which ultimately prevailed over the previously prevailing Platonism and Augustinism and remained the main philosophical direction in the academic world until well into the early modern period . Thomas founded Thomism , a large-scale attempt to merge Aristotelian philosophy with the teachings of the Catholic Church. While the Dominican Order implemented this conception, which was initially still condemned, early on, thinkers of the Franciscans such as Johannes Duns Scotus designed alternatives. This recognized u. a. the independence of philosophy from theology. For him, the object of metaphysics was not God (Averroes), but beings as beings ( Avicenna ). In addition, he insisted on the difference between believed God and God thought in the context of philosophy , which made numerous purely philosophical proof procedures - for example for the immortality of the soul - impossible.

Concepts in which intellectual knowledge aimed not at the general but at the individual enabled the establishment of an experience-oriented science, as also demanded by another forerunner of scientific thinking, Roger Bacon : by turning away from speculation and belief in authority. Another pioneer of modernism was the most prominent pioneer of nominalism , Wilhelm von Ockham , who embarked on a new path in philosophy in the early 14th century ( via moderna ). Marsilius of Padua founded a new theory of the state in which important ideas of the modern age ( social contract , separation of church and state ) were announced.

The most important representative of Christian mysticism of the Middle Ages was Meister Eckhart , who saw himself as a “ master of life” and emphasized the importance of the practical implementation of philosophical knowledge in one's own life. Nikolaus von Kues , who anticipated many developments in the following centuries on the threshold of modern times, was also in this tradition . His ideas, which range from the unknowability of God to the laws and limits of physics or knowledge, point to later thinkers such as Immanuel Kant, Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein .

Early modern age

The transition from the Middle Ages to the modern age is marked by the Renaissance and humanism . During this epoch, alongside the broad current of traditional scholasticism, modern philosophy was gradually able to establish itself.

Albrecht Dürer : Self-Portrait (1500). The picture was often interpreted in such a way that with its representation of an individual in the pose of Christ and thus of a God it marks the fundamental change in the direction of gaze from God to the individual at the turn of the ages between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

Political philosophy in particular was in motion during the Renaissance: Niccolò Machiavelli's thesis that the exercise of political rule should not be judged from a moral point of view, but solely from a usefulness point of view, is still offensive today. Thomas More took a completely different direction , who in his Utopia ( Utopia , 1516) designed a state with education for everyone, with religious freedom and without private property , thereby anticipating some ideas of modernity.

While the humanist Pico della Mirandola tried to show that all philosophical traditions were fundamentally in agreement, the thinking of men like Johannes Kepler , Nicolaus Copernicus or Giordano Bruno was determined by the attempt to combine philosophy and the natural sciences. Ideas such as the heliocentric view of the world , that of the infinite cosmos or belief in all Gods met with fierce resistance from the Church.

The scientific worldview, the methods of mathematics and the belief in reason determined the philosophy of modern times in the 17th and 18th centuries. In theory, it anticipated the political upheavals that culminated in the French Revolution .

Rationalism's explanation of the world is based on “reasonable conclusions”, thus also the Cartesianism established by René Descartes (1596–1650) . His sentence “ I think, therefore I am ”, with which he believed to have found the unquestionable origin of all certainties, is one of the best-known philosophical theses. Thinkers like Spinoza and Leibniz further developed his approach in large metaphysical system designs (see Monad ). This epistemological approach was applied to all branches of philosophy; attempts were made to derive even the elementary principles of human morality from “reasonable” considerations, which are as compelling as geometric proofs ( Ethica, ordine geometrico demonstrata , 1677).

In the theory of empiricism , only those hypotheses are recognized that can be traced back to “sensory perception”. Obliged to him were u. a. Thomas Hobbes , John Locke and David Hume . The principle of derivation of all knowledge from sense has serfahrungen as the basis of the nature of scientific work is of paramount importance to the present day. Analytical philosophy is also rooted in this tradition of thought.

The emancipatory- bourgeois movement of the Enlightenment raised reason to the basis of all knowledge and the standard of all human action. She called for human rights and thought about restoring an "unadulterated natural way of life". She advocated the state separation of powers ( Montesquieu ) and a say, especially for the bourgeoisie . A theoretical basis for this was the idea of ​​a social contract (e.g. with Jean-Jacques Rousseau ); Constitutions should safeguard the new rights. The French enlighteners Voltaire and Diderot criticized the power of the church and the absolutist monarchs. The encyclopedists ( d'Alembert ) tried for the first time to summarize the entire knowledge of their time in a lexicon. More radical representatives of the French Enlightenment were Holbach , who for the first time designed a naturalistic view of man in the sense of natural science without God and metaphysics, La Mettrie , who saw man as a machine and pleasure as a goal in life, and Sade , who drew the consequences from both, any to deny generally binding ethics.

Finally, one of the central philosophers of the modern age, Immanuel Kant , developed his epistemological criticism , which many contemporaries saw as revolutionary . It says that we cannot know things themselves , but only their appearances , which are pre-formed by the possibilities offered by the mind and the senses. According to this, every knowledge is always dependent on the knowing subject. Also Kant's other works u. a. on ethics (“ categorical imperative ”), aesthetics and international law ( To Eternal Peace , 1795/96) were of considerable importance for the following centuries.

19th century

Part of philosophy in the first half of the 19th century was shaped by the striving to “complete”, “improve” or surpass Kant's knowledge. Characteristic of German idealism ( Fichte , Schelling , Hegel ) are the all-encompassing speculative metaphysical systems in which the “I”, the “absolute” or the “spirit” determine the foundations of the world.

Adolph von Menzel : " The iron rolling mill " (1872/75). The picture is often used as an illustration of the social catastrophe that industrialization meant for wage workers . This led to the development of philosophical theories that would determine world history for 150 years.

Empirically shaped currents such as positivism , which defined the world solely with the help of the empirical sciences, took a different direction . H. wanted to explain without metaphysics. In England developed Bentham and Mill the utilitarianism that the economics and ethics through a rigorous cost-benefit concept and the idea of a kind of "Prosperity for All" (the principle of the greatest happiness of the greatest number were) important impetus. The economy is in addition to the philosophy of history in the center of the philosophy of Marx , the and the following Hegel materialists to communism justified. Marx demanded that theoretical reflections be measured against the transformation of concrete social conditions:

“The philosophers have only interpreted the world in different ways; but it depends on changing them. "

- Karl Marx : Theses on Feuerbach , MEW Vol. 3, p. 535 (1845)

Prominent thinkers who broke new ground were Arthur Schopenhauer , Sören Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche . Following the Indian philosophy, Schopenhauer emphasized the priority and superiority of the will over reason. His pessimistic worldview, which is determined by the experience of suffering, is also based on Buddhist ideas. Friedrich Nietzsche, who like Schopenhauer had great influence on the arts, described himself as an immoralist . For him, the values ​​of traditional Christian morality were an expression of weakness and decadence . He thematized ideas of nihilism , the superman and the "eternal return", the endless repetition of history. The religious thinker Sören Kierkegaard was in some ways a forerunner of existentialism . He represented a radical individualism that does not ask how one can basically act correctly, but how one as an individual should behave in the respective concrete situation.

20th century

The philosophy of the 20th century was characterized by a wide range of positions and currents. In the beginning, this century was marked by a strong belief in progress and science. It was only in the second half of the 20th century - which had brought about the experience of the two world wars , the Shoah and the threat to the planet from nuclear weapons on a social level , and which highlighted the threat to ecosystems by humans themselves - that came largely to Rousseau marginalized progress skeptics also reassert themselves more strongly in philosophy.

The enormous successes of technology in the 19th century led to a strengthening of neopositivist positions. The logical empiricist Rudolf Carnap pleaded for philosophy to be entirely replaced by a " logic of science" - i. H. by the logical analysis of scientific language  - to replace.

The critical rationalist Karl Popper argued that scientific progress mainly comes about by refuting individual theories through experiments (" falsification "). In his view, those scientific theories that come closest to the truth prevail in an evolutionary selection process . Thomas S. Kuhn , on the other hand, considered different theories on the same question to be in principle incomparable, so that a superiority of one over the other could not be factually justified, making the dominance of a theory a matter of rhetoric . Paul Feyerabend's plea for methodical freedom went in a similar direction . Finally, for pragmatism , theories must be assessed from the point of view of their usefulness and applicability in practice.

Franz von Stuck , Sisyphus (1920). The myth of Sisyphus was used by Albert Camus to symbolize the senselessness of life felt by modern man. Sisyphus assumes the absurdity of its existence in a random , chaotic world.

As a reaction to the increasing scientification of all areas of life, those currents of thought can be understood that turn towards the individual and life. The basic understanding of the philosophy of life was that the holistic nature of life cannot be described by science, terms and logic alone. Henri Bergson, for example, saw a fundamental difference between the individually experienced time and the analytical time of natural science. Edmund Husserl , the founder of phenomenology , also called for a similarly critical demand for the analytical consideration of things to initially adhere to what appears immediately to the consciousness in order to avoid a premature interpretation of the world. The existential philosophy of his student Martin Heidegger was of great influence . Its starting point was the analysis of the general human condition and led him to the question of the meaning of being in general.

Following Heidegger, existentialism , represented in particular by Jean-Paul Sartre , advocated the thesis that man was “condemned to freedom”. With each of his actions he must make a choice for which he is responsible.

“There is only one really serious philosophical problem: suicide . To decide whether life is worth living or not is to answer the basic question of philosophy. Everything else - whether the world has three dimensions and the mind has nine or twelve categories - comes later. These are gimmicks; you have to answer first. "

- Albert Camus : The Myth of Sisyphus , chap. "The absurd and suicide" (1942)

The 20th century was marked by social upheavals and the conflict between Soviet communism and Western capitalist forms of society. In the course of this dispute, which culminated in the Cold War and took on worldwide dimensions with globalization , questions of history and social philosophy were strongly emphasized in the philosophical debate.

The "Reich of Freedom" promised by Karl Marx at the end of all class struggles , Ernst Bloch tried in principle to show hope as a concrete utopia that had the advantage over all previous utopias of being based on the foundation of dialectical materialism . Even Herbert Marcuse and the founder of Critical Theory , Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer , developed their philosophical approaches to the problem of alienation in the context of social analyzes of Marx and Engels . With Jürgen Habermas , the Critical Theory, also known as the Frankfurt School , has produced a philosopher who, with his theory of communicative action and the ideal of "domination-free discourse ", is also committed to the model of a society freed from dependency relationships, but who is committed to the promising potential of Western democracies appreciates. The thought leader of communitarianism Charles Taylor warns of the dangers of an “atomistic individualism” in modern societies , who sees the way to the maintenance or creation of humane social and overall ecological living conditions in a still to be found balance between individual rights and community obligations of people.


The philosophy of the present is faced with the problem of grasping its object at all, since a retrospective evaluation of the various approaches has not yet been carried out. The philosophy of science has, however, been further developed by coining clearer terms of “confirmation” and “theory reduction”.

Since the end of the 19th century, language has been given an increasingly central position in philosophy. Ludwig Wittgenstein designed a completely new understanding of language, which he understood as an unmanageable conglomerate of individual "language games". The philosophy only treats "pseudo-problems", i. H. she merely heals her own "language confusions". Philosophizing is therefore not an "explanatory" but a "therapeutic" activity:

"Philosophy is a struggle against the bewitching of our minds by the means of our language."

- Ludwig Wittgenstein : Philosophical Investigations , p. 109 (1953)

The analytical philosophy , which was initially mainly oriented towards the philosophy of language, dominates the method of academic philosophy in Anglo-Saxon contexts and increasingly also in the German-speaking area. At most universities, however, there is a pronounced pluralism in terms of the philosophical topics and currents taught.

In the German-speaking countries, neo-scholasticism , especially Neuthomism , represents an influential current in contemporary philosophy worldwide since the Catholic Church made it an official teaching content at the end of the 19th century. a. who had raised priestly training.

The postmodernism (z. B. Gilles Deleuze , Jean-François Lyotard , Jean Baudrillard , Jacques Derrida ) is a countermovement to the ideas of modernism and emphasizes the differences of thinking and living environments. She also considers human identity to be unstable. The feminist philosophy , which is close to postmodernism, aims at the dependence of the world interpretation on gender.

Teaching and research operations

Philosophical teaching and research includes the scientific institutions of the subject philosophy. In Europe, these are mostly state-funded philosophical institutes that are part of a university . Their scientific tasks are, first, the organization of teaching operation, of prospects under a legally regulated studies can be run and secondly the research . For this purpose, the institutes have paid positions available, both for academic employees and administrative officials. In addition to the university institutes, there are own philosophical institutions such as the Munich University of Philosophy .

In 2011, there were 1,191 full-time philosophers in Germany, compared to 869 in 2002. In 2008 there were around 330 professors in over 150 chairs. In the same year about 15,000 people studied philosophy. This number fell significantly compared to 1996, when 24,000 people were studying, resulting in a significant improvement in the student-student ratio.

In Austria philosophy can be studied at the universities of Vienna , Graz , Innsbruck , Salzburg and Klagenfurt . In 2010 there were a total of 3,651 people enrolled. The largest institute is located at the University of Vienna.

See also

Portal: Philosophy  - Overview of Wikipedia content on philosophy



Philosophy Bibliography : Introductions to Philosophy - Additional Bibliography on the Subject

  • Arno Anzenbacher : Introduction to Philosophy. 10th edition. Herder, Freiburg i.Br. u. a. 2004, ISBN 3-451-27851-0 (tried and tested introduction, combining historical and systematic aspects, written by a theologian)
  • Kwame Anthony Appiah : Thinking it Through - An Introduction to Contemporary Philosophy. Oxford University Press, Oxford u. a. 2003, ISBN 0-19-516028-2 (systematic introduction with consistent application of the Socratic method )
  • Karl Bärthlein : On the history of philosophy. Volume 2: From Kant to the present. Kastellnaun 1983.
  • Peggy H. Breitenstein, Johannes Rohbeck (ed.): Philosophy: History - Disciplines - Competencies. Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2011, ISBN 978-3-476-02299-8 (systematic and historical overview at a high level, derived from bachelor lectures)
  • Rafael Ferber : Basic Philosophical Concepts. 2 volumes. Beck, Munich 2003, ISBN 3-406-45654-5 (introduction to the central concepts of philosophy)
  • Johannes Hübner: Introduction to Theoretical Philosophy. JB Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2015.
  • Thomas Nagel : What does it all mean? A very brief introduction to philosophy. Reprint. Reclam, Stuttgart 2002, ISBN 3-15-008637-X (short, dense introduction based on philosophical everyday problems: meaning of life, justice, etc.)
  • David Papineau (Ed.): Philosophy. An illustrated journey through thought. WBG, Darmstadt 2006, ISBN 3-89678-565-6 eRef
  • Hans Reiner : Philosophizing. An introduction to philosophy. PAIS-Verlag, Oberried 2002, ISBN 978-3-931992-15-6 .
  • Jay Rosenberg : Philosophizing. A guide for beginners. Klostermann, Frankfurt am Main 2002, ISBN 3-465-01718-8 (Instructions for philosophizing)
  • Jens Soentgen : Think for yourself! Peter Hammer Verlag, Wuppertal 2003, ISBN 3-87294-943-8 (especially an introduction to philosophy aimed at younger readers with an introduction to the most important philosophers)
  • Elisabeth Ströker , Wolfgang Wieland (Ed.): Handbook Philosophy. 10 volumes. Alber, Freiburg / Munich 1981–1996. (Each volume deals with a philosophical discipline)
  • Lukas Trabert (ed.): Philosophical guide. Alber, Freiburg / Munich 2010, ISBN 978-3-495-48500-2 (101 authors comment on questions about the present and future importance of philosophy and about their self-image as philosophers. They also provide information about what they are particularly worth reading and which theses you would like to discuss.)
  • Stefan Jordan, Christian Nimtz (ed.): Basic concepts of philosophy. Reclam-Verlag premium 2019, ISBN 978-3-15-019630-4 (list of the most important basic concepts of philosophy with extensive explanations)

Aids / reference works

Philosophy Bibliography : Philosophy Tools - Additional literature references on the subject

Compact dictionaries
Comprehensive reference works
  • Donald M. Borchert (Ed.): Encyclopedia of Philosophy , 10 vols., Detroit [u. a.]: Thomson Gale, Macmillan Reference 2. A. 2006, ISBN 0-02-866098-6 , also available in electronic form (current standard work)
  • Historical Dictionary of Philosophy , ed. by Joachim Ritter [u. a.], continued by Karlfried Gründer [u. a.] [= 2nd edition of: Rudolf Eisler : Dictionary of philosophical terms] , I-XII Basel [and Darmstadt] 1971–2005. (The most comprehensive work of its kind, German-language standard work)
  • Jürgen Mittelstraß (Hrsg.): Encyclopedia Philosophy and Philosophy of Science. Complete works in eight volumes. Metzler, Stuttgart 2005 ff. 2. revised. and extended edition, ISBN 978-3-476-02108-3 (science-oriented, strong in the field of logic and mathematics)
  • Hans Jörg Sandkühler (Ed.): Encyclopedia Philosophy. 3 volumes. Meiner, Hamburg 2010, ISBN 978-3-7873-1999-2 (only comprehensive articles on factual topics)
  • Edward Craig (Ed.): The Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy . 10 vols. Routeledge, London 1998. (a very extensive reference work; also published as a one-volume, albeit very brief, abridged version; also available on CD-ROM and as an online version)
  • Hermann Krings , Hans Michael Baumgartner , Christoph Wild (Hrsg.): Handbook of Philosophical Basic Concepts. 3 volumes (study edition: 6 volumes) Kösel, Munich 1973–74.
    • on CD-ROM (PDF files): 2nd, fully revised edition 2003, ISBN 978-3-936532-22-7
    • in succession: New handbook of basic philosophical concepts . Edited by Petra Kolmer and Arnim G. Wildfeuer. Karl Alber, Freiburg i. Br. / München 2011 ff. Volume 1 (A – F), ISBN 978-3-495-48222-3 (195 authors treat basic concepts of philosophy in 215 treatises.)
  • Franco Volpi (ed.): Large dictionary of works of philosophy. 2 vols. Anniversary edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2004, ISBN 3-520-83901-6
  • Dictionnaire des philosophes. 2 vols. 2nd ed. Denis Huisman. Presses universitaires de France, Paris 1993, ISBN 2-13-045524-7
  • Ernst R. Sandvoss: History of Philosophy , Directmedia Publishing , Berlin 2007, digital library , CD-ROM, KDB Volume 47, ISBN 978-3-89853-347-8
Recommended reading


Web links

Wiktionary: Philosophy  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Philosophy  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Philosophy  - Sources and Full Texts
Wikiversity: Philosophy  - Course Materials
Wikibooks: Shelf: Philosophy  - Learning and teaching materials
Wikibooks: Philosophizing means  learning to die - learning and teaching materials
→ For aids to the history of philosophy see there.
List of philosophy journals

Individual evidence

  1. Plato, Politeia 514a-520d (the actual aim of Plato's evidence - the political leadership role assigned and assigned to the philosophers in the polis - can be excluded here)
  2. Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker: The Unity of Nature (1971)
  3. The US military spoke z. B. in an internal paper on the treatment of prisoners of war from a "Confinement Philosophy" and meant general rules of conduct such as the prohibition of harassment. See Standard Operating Procedure, Camp Bucca, Iraq, March 27, 2004.
  4. Article "Philosophy". In: Georg Klaus, Manfred Buhr (Hrsg.): Philosophical dictionary. 11th edition, Leipzig 1975.
  5. Fragment 35 DK , online .
  6. Plato: Phaedrus 278d.
  7. Reinhart Heissler: David Lewis' Possible Worlds (2010), p. 140.
  8. ^ Dietrich von Engelhardt : Philosophy and Medicine. In: Werner E. Gerabek , Bernhard D. Haage, Gundolf Keil , Wolfgang Wegner (eds.): Enzyklopädie Medizingeschichte. De Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2005, ISBN 3-11-015714-4 , pp. 1150-1152.
  9. ^ So Christoph von Sigwart on the philosophical systematics, Ders .: Logic. Freiburg 1873–1878 , II.2 vol., P. 695.
  10. Immanuel Kant: Critique of Pure Reason , II 2 2
  11. Martin Heidegger , Introduction to Metaphysics (1935)
  12. Jürgen Habermas : Knowledge and Interest . In: Technology and Science as »Ideology«. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt, Edition 287, 4 1970 ( 1 1968), [1965 Merkur] pp. 146-169.
  13. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz: Reason-based principles of nature and grace . In: Ders .: Small writings on metaphysics . Ed. U. trans. by Hans Heinz Holz. Darmstadt 1985, § 7
  14. Martin Heidegger: What is metaphysics? [1929]. In: Ders .: waymarks. Frankfurt a. M. 2004, pp. 103–121 (here p. 121)
  15. For an overview of the questions of the philosophy of language cf. Albert Newen / Markus A. Schrenk: Introduction to the philosophy of language. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 2008, ISBN 978-3-534-15459-3 , p. 11f and Johannes Hübner: Introduction to theoretical philosophy , Stuttgart / Weimar 2015, p. 90f.
  16. Jürgen Habermas : Knowledge and Interest . In: Technology and Science as »Ideology«. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt, Edition 287, 4 1970 ( 1 1968), [1965 Merkur] pp. 146-169.
  17. For an overview of the questions posed by the philosophy of spirit cf. Ansgar Beckermann : Analytical introduction to the philosophy of the mind , Walter de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 3rd edition 2008, ISBN 978-3-11-020424-7 , pp. 1-4.
  18. ^ Alfred N. Whitehead, Process and Reality (1929), p. 91.
  19. Protagoras is quoted as follows by Plato in Theaetetos 152a: “ Man is the measure of all things. Of those who are as they are. Those who are not the way they are. "
  20. René Descartes: Discours de la méthode (1637) or Meditationes de prima philosophia (1641)
  21. Marion Hartig:
This article was added to the list of excellent articles on August 27, 2006 in this version .