"At one time philosophy was the central intellectual discipline, now it is peripheral. Few care about the ‘latest developments’ in philosophy. Some might say there are none: that philosophy doesn’t develop, it just asks the same old questions over and over"

"Philosophy was originally the study of everything. Much of its remit was theology and metaphysics. For an epoch, science was called ‘natural philosophy’. However, as science stole the bulk of philosophy, philosophy has redefined itself – one could say withdrawn – into a narrower spectrum. Its subjects today revolve around the mind: What is consciousness? What is knowledge? What is language? What is logic? What is ethics?"

"Philosophy, it seems, currently has three main avenues, which, though clogged, it tries to flow through. One is academic philosophy, which is, one gathers, largely mired in esoteric analysis or self-referential in-house debates. Another might collectively be called ‘street philosophy’. It wants to be some modern version of ancient Greek marketplace philosophy, but the correspondence doesn’t stick. The third realm is ‘hidden philosophy’, held non-publicly by individuals whose intellect and values funnel out into practice and postures seen and unseen" https://philosophynow.org/issues/98/What_Is_The_Present_Nature_And_The_Future_Of_Philosophy

Hegel's philosophy inspired Marx and defined the history of the 20th century.

Do we know what significant particular philosopher inspired in the 21st century?

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    Osama Bin Laden.
    – g s
    Commented Jun 12 at 1:55
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    'Philo' means love, so Philosophy is "the love of wisdom", it wasn't regarded as science. (probably still isn't)
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jun 12 at 10:30
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    Carl Sagan was pretty wise, but he was last millennium. Here's a name: Yuval Noah Harari. I'm thinking we would have been better off without Marx.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jun 13 at 2:43
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    Be careful what you wish for, Nietzsche and Spengler also inspired and it was not all wisdom. Post-truth did not come out of nowhere either. On the other hand, there was Orwell, Hannah Arendt, who helped Germany wash off fascism, Freud, Husserl, Rawls, the father of modern liberalism, feminist thinkers, etc. 21st century is still young, we do not know yet who will have comparable influence. But philosophy was never a science and science did happen, taking over the ‘latest developments’. Wisdom and unwisdom take longer to simmer.
    – Conifold
    Commented Jun 13 at 9:14
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    Im reasonably persuaded that Marx would have been Marx with or without Hegel. I see Marx as essentially an emotional force without intelligence — People are suffering so much lets make a revolution! Its way too late before people realize that the sufferings only increased with the revolution (@ScottRowe). Just to be clear I dont think capitalism is any better in the long run than communism
    – Rushi
    Commented Jun 13 at 15:57

3 Answers 3


The author of the second quote refers to three distinct time periods. Indeed, in ancient times 'philosophy' was a name given to pursuit of theoretical knowledge, episteme, as such. It would be contrasted with art (or craftsmansship generally), politics and medicine. Then it would include theology, the study of the Highest Being, which was, e.g. for Aristotle, equivalent to metaphysics, i.e. first philosophy. Then, in medieval times, theology and philosophy were separate disciplines. Philosophy was still the general pursuit of theoretical knowledge by means of reason, but not the study of knowledge given in revelation (sacred scripture) which was the object of theology. But these weren't the only disciplines: law and medicine were autonomous subjects, since their purpose was primarily practical, and thus they were considered distinct from philosophy. This is the reason why at the end of nineteenth century physics, mathematics or biology were still considered a part of the philosophy faculty by most German universities. This had no theoretical grounds and was solely due to institutional inertia, although it incentivized increased collaboration between philosophy and the natural sciences, of course.

What eventually became philosophy as we know it today (mainly due to Kant's efforts) was recognized as distinct field (under the name of "metaphysics", for example, even though many philosophers after Kant were explicitly anti-metaphysical) for a very long time, even if, e.g. Leibniz or Newton worked in natural science, mathematics and (what nowadays we would call) philosophy. The fact that the name "natural philosophy" or "experimental philosophy" (Newton) was needed itself shows that there was an awareness that metaphysics, i.e. Aristotle's "first philosophy", and natural science have somewhat different concerns. I see no need to regret this change - the term "natural philosophy" is antiquated just like Kant's use of "natural history" in the name of his famous treatise, where he introduced the nebular hypothesis, or Aristotle's use of "physics", which for him encompassed also psychology (as physics is the study of motion, and motion is found both in inanimate and animate matter).

Through the nineteenth century various branches of humanities were separating from philosophy proper (as in: not philosophy as all theoretical knowledge) - initially, there was a lot of collaboration between philosophers and psychologists, philosophers and sociologists etc. Many of them initially hoped to reclaim philosophy as being identical with their developing discipline either by claiming (like Brentano) that philosophy reduces to psychology or claiming that all philosophical questions which fail to reduce to psychology (or some other Geisteswissenschaft) are not worth pursuing. Of course this was a hopeless attempt but it meant that the humanities and philosophy became strongly linked, which is the root of the current sociological situation in philosophy, with it being considered a part of the humanities and/or social science departments by many academic institutions. Is this a correct classification? Not exactly, but, given the diverse nature of the human and social sciences in general, it's not really incorrect either.

What has happened to philosophy? It still exists. The core concerns of philosophers haven't changed much since Kant, even if the tools by which these problems are investigated are more sophisticated (which is not always the case, sadly). And probably there's a deeper, if not undisturbed, continuity of philosophical research from Aristotle's "first philosophy" aka "metaphysics" to modern philosophy, just like there's a deeper continuity of mathematical research between Euclid and modern mathematicians.

It's another question whether philosophy is respected as much as it was 100-200 years ago. I would guess not, although this is partly due to a general trend towards atomization of research (which especially doesn't benefit an area such as philosophy).

  • Very nice Answer! I like the historical development explanation and why the changes occurred. I think that the tendency to regard Philosophy as 'primary' and other studies as merely practical is the enduring idea that some overall principles direct existence, and we can find them, separate from getting our hands dirty. I think people are beginning to give up on that, with the exception of Religion.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jun 13 at 2:56
  • I would dare to disagree. Hegel and Marx tried to explain global dynamics in the world. And religion is much closer to this subject than natural science. But nowadays, 'big' questions: Where it came from?, What is its purpose? - are largely excluded from philosophical studies with notable exceptions (The Simulator Theory). Commented Jun 13 at 4:23

Philosophy has merely evolved. The professional discipline we now know as philosophy is not the whole of philosophy. Philosophy was the pursuit of understanding. Many of those understandings have built their own homes - like physics,math,english lit, art and theology - the list goes on.

One way of noting this is a PhD stands for doctor of philosophy.

  • PhD means you are supposed to know more than just information about a subject, you are supposed to be wise. (and love the subject)
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jun 13 at 2:47
  • @Scott Rowe: I don't think PhD holders are necessarily wise. Todays world precludes it. Instead, they know a great deal about a small fragment of the whole. Simon Weil complained about how these virtuoso's of thought were helpless outside their narrow tower of specialisation. Actually, this is part of pop culture in describing them as nerds or geeks. Not originally a term of approbation. Commented Jun 13 at 2:51
  • We develop our knowledge until we reach an impasse. Like Ecclesiastes said.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jun 13 at 2:58
  • @Scott Rowe: The point of obstructions is to learn how to get past them - this is how knowledge develops. Otherwise we'll always be stuck at an impasse ... Commented Jun 13 at 3:01
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    @Scott Rowe: That has nothing to do with "we develop our knowledge until we reach an impasse". But simply, for the first, the more you know, the more you can see what is wrong with the world and are vexed in not being able to fix it and hence, gor the second sentence, increase ones sorrow. Commented Jun 13 at 3:24

You make it out as though philosophers used to deal in wisdom and this has stopped recently. Real philosophy has always happened "by mistake" (Of course exceptions prove the rule).

In Hellenic times the word for philosophy was "sophism" and philosophers were called "sophists". Socrates didn't like their modus operandi so he added 'philos' to 'sophos' as a sign that head and heart need to go together. I suppose you know what 'blessings' he received for doing philosophy. And this feature remains as the most central theme of the most important western philosopher (assuming western makes any sense):

Plato: The good is higher than the true; but since the good has no being we (philosophers) talk of the true

Spinoza was banned and excommunicated.

Descartes (who I admittedly dont like as a philosopher; though coordinate geometry is beautiful) was exiled.

Schopenhauer was ignored.

Nietzsche went mad. Also, presciently his most quoted and misunderstood line — God is dead — from his most cited work, Zarathustra, is in the mouth of a 'madman'.

William of Ockham was so true to his principle of parsimony that he suggested that the Pope should have no property — basic Christianity101! As a result he had to run for his life.

In one of the more wise lines of Wittgenstein's closest fans, they admit He is not one of us.

It may be worthwhile to stop and consider the gap between what shaped and made Wittgenstein with what 99% of philosophers fashionably associate with him. This is why I say philosophy always happens "by mistake."

The only significant exception I can think of who was an official academic and a great philosopher was Kant — exception to the rule?

Coming back to Socrates: He said They are sophists; that's ok but not enough (for me). So I am a philo-sophist

You can be sure the sophists continue to do their sophistry; they've just learnt to call themselves "philo-sophists"

In short, you're unlikely to find wisdom if you search for it with the official "philosophers". That doesn't mean there was no wisdom in twentieth century (the 21st is still too young).

Twentieth Century

Some notable contemporary names that come to mind that may be termed both wise and philosophical

  • Arnold Toynbee – historian
  • Carl Jung – psychologist
  • Jean-Paul Sartre – author
  • Carl Sagan – scientist
  • Roger Penrose – physicist
  • Robert Rosen – biologist
  • Gödel – logician
  • Einstein – of course!
  • Rupert Sheldrake – maverick scientist
  • Noam Chomsky – linguist
  • Benjamin Lee Whorf – Linguist
  • Marshall McLuhan – media
  • Hannah Arendt – journalist
  • Jean Baudrillard – sociologist
  • David Bloor – sociologist
  • Roland Barthes – critic
  • Edward Said – Palestinian activist
  • Vijay Prashad – Indian activist
  • Vine Deloria – native American activist
  • Eckhart Tolle – spiritual teacher
  • Robert Spira – non dual teacher
  • Alfred Korzybski – "independent scholar"
  • Dalai Lama – I'm not sure what to put here!

Noticing your title — science of wisdom — I add my own teacher, the physicist Ravi Ravindra, whose books are discipline-spanning like Science and the Sacred and culture-spanning like The Yoga of the Christ

  • "You make it out as though philosophers used to deal in wisdom and this has stopped recently." - In the quotes they are talking about lack of influence and breakthroughs. For me, it reminds religious studies. They just repeat the same texts over and over, trying to achieve wisdom by chanting. Commented Jun 13 at 13:20

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