Are all areas of philosophy, with the exception of logic, subjective (can't be proven, varying interpretations)? For example, consider Chinese philosophy (e.g., Confucianism): I've been looking into it looks more like a religion than actual philosophy, unlike the logical basis Western philosophy is founded upon.

I ask because I wish to only study the areas of philosophy that concern themselves with the means of obtaining truth (e.g., logic), and also because I want a more comprehensive understanding of what philosophy actually is.

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    You should devote evening, or two, better three, or perhaps four to thinking that nothing is objective. Then when you will laugh and say - 'Come on! there are tons of objective things!' --> take a vacation and spend four more days at the ocean thinking about absence of objective things in the universe. – Asphir Dom May 9 '14 at 16:21
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    I'm not sure how or why you're concluding that "Confucianism" is a religion rather than a philosophy. Can you spell out what exactly you are reading that leads you to say that? – virmaior May 9 '14 at 17:46
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    If your definition of "subjective" is "something that can't be proven or can be interpreted in different ways," then logical statements are subjective. They can be interpreted in different ways. – senderle May 9 '14 at 19:44
  • "I wish to only study the areas of philosophy that concern themselves with the means of obtaining truth" -> Obviously you should then define your truths clearly and pick the appropriate means of obtaining them, lol. Anything which calls itself philosophy is ostensibly involved with discerning truth from falsity, including religion, even if its conclusions and methods are dubious. You seem to be asking for more of a politispeech type hammer so you can say, "Philosophy says this is true" -- stop now and choose religion instead then, please ;\ – selfConceivedAsEvil May 10 '14 at 2:48

I think you're mixing up two questions,

  • what parts of philosophy or approaches to philosophy employ the idea of truth, and
  • what parts of philosophy are true.

Logic, epistemology, and philosophy of science are among the areas of philosophy that discuss truth, the first set. If you're interested in discussing truth, try those areas.

However, the positions taken in logic, epistemology, and philosophy of science are not distinct from other areas of philosophy in their truth status. Philosophers who work on logic analyze what assumptions logics should be grounded on, and there are considerable debates about this. Logicians don't just state truths. They try to figure out what models of truth-preservation are the best ones, and why. They argue for them in the same way other philosophers do.

Logic shares with all areas of philosophy an interest in getting philosophical claims right, and works with similar standards of success and failure.


Of course not. For most areas of philosophy we lack certainty about the answers, and there is disagreement about the right answers, but that doesn't mean that this is subjective. For something to be subjective means that there is no one true answer, but rather the answer is different from subject to subject (for example, the question of whether spinach is tasty might be thought to be subjective). But most (analytic*) philosophers believe that the answers they give to questions are objectively right, even if others disagree with the answers that they give. There are certainly some answers that all philosophers (or nearly all philosophers) think are wrong (and thus objectively wrong).

*Analytic philosophy is what I know about, so I'm not sure how much this answer applies to, say, continental philosophy or Eastern philosophy. That said, even if practitioners of these kinds of philosophy think that a lot of enquiry is subjective, they presumably think that that claim is objectively true; global subjectivism is likely self-defeating for that reason (see here for a version of this claim by philosopher Simon Blackburn)

  • Okay, then what about Chinese philosophy? I've been looking into it looks more like a religion than actual philosophy, unlike the logical basis Western philosophy is founded upon. – George Newton May 9 '14 at 17:24
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    @GeorgeNewton - but try to read the original Plato : the myth of the cave, the Timaeus, ... How much of it is different from "modern" rational philosophy ! And what about Parmenides or Eraclius ? I agree with some other comment: being not-certain does not mean subjective; we can discuss rationally ideas and opinions, also if we are not able to state "absolute" truth. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA May 9 '14 at 18:11
  • I don't know much about Chinese philosophy, which is why I didn't mention it. I'll edit my answer to make that clearer. – J.P. May 9 '14 at 19:58
  • @GeorgeNewton I find Chinese philosophy less like religion than most modern western philosophy (e.g. Rawls). It may be more empirical, rather than deductive. – Warren Dew May 10 '14 at 9:37

Your question uses a false assumption, namely that true ideas can be proven to be true are objective. By that standard, no idea would be objective, including logical ideas. To prove an idea using an argument you would have to prove that the premises and rules of inference are correct and to prove them you need another argument, whose premisses and rules of inference have to be proven, so you get an infinite regress.

The way you actually find truth is to guess and then criticise the guesses (this criticism can include experiments, looking for inconsistencies with other ideas, looking for problems that your ideas don't solve and other stuff), as explained by Karl Popper, see "Realism and the Aim of Science", Chapter I. You can't prove that you have found truth, but you can try to weed out bad ideas.

Some ideas are put in such a way as to make it difficult to tell what their implications are, such as the work of bad philosophers. But these ideas can still be criticised by pointing out that since you can't tell what their implications are they can't be used to solve problems, which is a criticism.


For example, consider Chinese philosophy (e.g., Confucianism): I've been looking into it looks more like a religion than actual philosophy, unlike the logical basis Western philosophy is founded upon.

Don't confuse "logical" with the philosophical assumption of materialism.

Logic is just the rule-based manipulation of information. All logic begins with axioms and statements simply arbitrarily defined as true e.g.

A is a subset of B (axiom)
B is a subset of C (axiom)
therefore, A is a subset of C (logic) 

Your logical conclusions are only as good as your axioms or, as we programmers like to say: GIGO, for Garbage (flawed axiom) In, Garbage (flawed logic) Out. If B isn't a subset of C, then the above is garbage even though it is logical.

Philosophical Materialism is an axiom which asserts that nothing exists beside s the material universe of matter i.e. that nothing "supernatural" exists. It is the axiom upon which science is based but it is just an axiom. There is no empirical means of using observations of the material universe to determine if something non-material exists or not. In science, we state that all observable events or states have a material basis and then apply logic based on that axiom to our observations.

The following are both perfectly logical:

Divine beings exist. (axiom) 
Divine beings can manipulate in the material universe at will. (axiom)
Lighting struck Bob's house. (observation) 
Therefore, A Divine being may have directed the lightening to strike bob's house. (logical conclusion.) 


No divine being exists / only the material universe exists (axiom)
Lighting struck Bob's house. (observation) 
Therefore, lighting struck Bob's house solely because of materialistic events. (logical conclusion) 

Which one is ultimately "true" depends on which set of axioms is true.

Historically, materialism as an axiom is only a few centuries old at best. Arguably, it didn't take off at all until the 1700s. Beyond some stabs at what we would today label as agnosticism e.g. Epicurus, all philosophies of all cultures before assumed the existence of some type non-materialist events or states that somehow influenced the observable universe. Easy to see why. Nobody had any ability to explain why anything happened and any curious five year old could destroy any philosophical construct just by repeatedly ask "why?" to every statement.

To build up a kind of logical framework for any philosophical viewpoint or world model, the thinkers of the past had to evoke the axiom of the existence of non-material so that they had a foundation for their subsequent logic.

In this regard, Confucius is no more "religious" than Socrates, Aristotle, and or Plato as all assumed the existence of Gods or non-materialistic ideal forms and the like. If they hadn't, they wouldn't have much to write about.

The dialogues of Confucius et al are every bit as logical as those of comparable Western philosophers they just slightly different axioms. Eastern philosophies appear more mystical to modern readers because they all evolved centuries before the evolution of in the West of philosophical materialism in the last few centuries. If you were reading Confucius in the 1500s, he wouldn't seem more mystical than any Western philosophers.

  • "There is no empirical means of using observations of the material universe to determine if something non-material exist or doesn't." blatantly untrue. Do you know what we call non-material things that have been shown to exist? Material things. There is no evidence that anything supernatural exists. They don't exist. That is fact. – Miles Rout May 10 '14 at 3:39
  • Can you substantiate the claim that Confucius believed in any sort of god? None of the classic texts reference this. – virmaior May 12 '14 at 14:32
  • @Vimaior - The concept of en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandate_of_Heaven, The Mandate of Heaven is Central to Confucius theory of a legitimate state. Confucius took the existence of a supernatural as a given, although it did not take the form of Western monotheism. – TechZen May 13 '14 at 21:40
  • @Miles Rout -The definition of material things as things we can observe is a tautology e.g. if its materially observable its exist, if it isn't materially observable exist it doesn't exist,it isn't, which is just a restatement of the axiom that only material things exist. – TechZen May 13 '14 at 21:49
  • @MilesRout - It's easy to see from the Virtually Reality thought experiment that it would be easy to construct a perceptual universe so constructed that no observation by the inhabitants of the VR could infer the existence of the programmer. The programmer could arbitrarily change the functioning of the simulation and the inhabitants could never tell that the changes came from outside their observable universe. – TechZen May 13 '14 at 21:56

There are (at least) two distinct meanings of the word Philosophy. It can mean the search for knowledge and it can mean a particular set of teachings about the way the world is. When somebody speaks of "Confucian philosophy" they probably mean the latter, whereas the academic study of "philosophy" generally means the former.

If you are concerned with knowledge the first branch of philosophy you need to look at would be epistemology, which concerns itself with what it means to know something, whether we actually can know anything, and so on. The philosophy of science is really a branch of epistemology, and addresses matters like what claims for science can actually be justified and which can't.

Logic, as you have identified, underpins all critical reasoning, so you will get involved in that whatever branch of philosophy you study.

It's a matter of hot debate and disagreement in philosophy whether matters such as ethics are subjective or not -- is it only a matter of opinion whether the Holocaust was morally wrong?

And so on. Absolutely all branches of philosophy in my first sense concern themselves with questions of truth, although they all (even logic) admit to problems in determining what actually is true. After all, is there even such a thing as "objective" knowledge? Everything you know you have perceived through your senses or have worked out for yourself (I only know of the work of Newton, Darwin and Einstein because I have perceived people talking about them, perceived writing about their work and so on) so all knowledge is ultimately subjective, isn't it? :)

  • Unfortuantely, this is highly inaccurate on the meaning of the term "Confucian philosophy." I someone said Confucianism, they might mean that (if they mean *Ruism 儒教) – virmaior May 12 '14 at 14:31

Nothing is objective, including logic. "The study of mental objects with reproducible properties is called mathematics." -- from "The Mathematical Experience" by Davis and Hersh.

This does not mean that knowledge is unattainable. I think the best reference why would be Karl Popper's books on epistemology.

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    Although I second your recommendation of Karl Popper, Popper would not say that nothing is objective. Popper argued that knowledge and logic are objective, see "Objective Knowledge", that reality is objective, see "Realism and the Aim of Science" and that morality is objective in the sense that some institutions are better than others, see "Open Society and Its Enemies". – alanf May 12 '14 at 11:02

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