Is there a formal definition of philosophy agreed upon by everybody. If any new- or third-party decides to subscribe to "philosophy", do they compulsorily accept the formal definition. Or does personal definition of philosophy eventually lead to thoughts of religion?

  • 1
    The word "philosophy" is just like every other word in the English language. There are various different meanings associated with it. Dec 10, 2023 at 7:56
  • I find the word 'meta' a large part of what defines philosophy (across people as well.) You step outside to look at the city from the hill: look at the big picture, what theories involve, inconsistency, organisational features, distinguish concepts that were wrongly confused. If we look at what philosophers do, it shows a lot of this, although it's not the only thing. There is also a large portion of thought experiments. Probably the best examples to use in a definition are Plato and Aristotle.
    – Mah Neh
    Jan 9 at 13:21

4 Answers 4


The answers to the various questions within your post are:

No, in common with the vast majority of similar words, there is no precise, authoritative definition of philosophy agreed by everybody. A dictionary definition would be too broad and equivocal to delineate a boundary even if there was one. In reality, philosophy is far too fuzzy a concept to have a sharp boundary.

Leaving aside the fact that the formal definition does not exist, nobody is under any compulsion to accept a definition of philosophy. That said, it your interpretation of the term was so far off the mark to be equivalent to bird-watching, say, or philately, you might find yourself getting a disproportionate number of downvotes on PSE.

The 'Or' at the start of your final question is misplaced. A personal interpretation of the scope of philosophy need not stray into religion at all. Indeed, some people I know would prefer it if questions of a religious nature were kept out of philosophy altogether.


If you want to communicate with other people, you need to use any word in the way that they do. There is flexibility, so that variations of the public definition can be understood. But your personal definition of philosophy will mislead other people unless it is reasonably close to the public definition.

A complicating factor is that there is wide variety of definitions in circulation and ideas about what philosophy is have changed over time.

The connection between philosophy and religion is a particularly complicated case. It is perfectly possible to do philosophy and ignore religion completely. It is also possible to think about religion philosophically without ever adopting the religion you are thinking about.


A personal definition of “philosophy” would be useless, because people do not understand each other if they use the common terms according to their private meaning.

It is good practice in scientific writing to explicitly state in the beginning the definition of some fundamental terms. The definition should capture a meaning to which most of the community agrees.

Unfortunatley the concept of philosophy is not well-defined, there is no generally accepted formal definition. In general the term philosophy has a positive connotation. Therefore sometimes persons are eager to declare certain thoughts as philosophy.

Often there is no demarcation between philosophy/religion, and also no demarcation between the meaning of philosophy in different cultures, e.g. east/west, presence/antiquity.

It is remarkable that the Stanford online encyclopedy has no entry “philosophy”, but a lot of different topics like “philosophy of …” or “culture-specific philosophy”. Some definitions focus more on the method, others more on the content.

IMO a necessary characteristic of the philosophical method is to present arguments and to discuss free from any bias.


By entering the field you need to talk on terms that are generally agreed upon or else no one will be able to understand what you're arguing/writing about without having to define everything. This makes things needlessly complicated. So when you ask:

If any new- or third-party decides to subscribe to "philosophy", do they compulsorily accept the formal definition?

I would say yes, to engage with philosophy you need to meaningfully agree with some standard definitions (especially on how you use the term 'philosophy'), unless those definitions are the subject of your critique of course.

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