What are the major branches of philosophy?

(For instance, as a first-order approximation, mathematics can be sub-divided into three main categories at the first level: Analysis, Algebra, and Geometry.)

What are the first few books that every person attempting to "learn" these areas of philosophy at an undergraduate level read?

  • Western Philosophy? or Eastern or both?
    – Chris S
    Commented Jun 8, 2011 at 9:37
  • I think the mathematicians will dispute your overly simplistic division of their subject. See for example the tags at MathOverflow mathoverflow.net/tags, which are meant to be fairly coarse groupings. Many of their topics don't fit easily into your trichotomy.
    – JDH
    Commented Jun 21, 2011 at 18:02
  • @JDH: True. Probably if I include logic it will at-least be a very crude first order approximation of the main branches of mathematics.
    – user16
    Commented Jun 21, 2011 at 18:46
  • 2
    The most important branch of philosophy is engineering. Agriculture is probably the most important branch of engineering.
    – mwengler
    Commented Jun 27, 2012 at 17:09
  • This question is more interesting than it seems: it test the answering philosophers' abilities to apply the methods of studying a subject developed by philosophy to the subject of philosophy itself. Specifically, before identifying and classifying the branches of philosophy one ought to reflect on what classification is. It's a shame that none of the people who answered bothered to provide any analysis of classification of the branches of philosophy or any justification.
    – Michael
    Commented Nov 8, 2013 at 19:47

6 Answers 6


The traditional branches of philosophy generally include

  • Aesthetics
  • Epistemology
  • Ethics
  • Logic
  • Metaphysics / Ontology

We can go ahead and add a few contemporary branches on to this (more examples could certainly be adduced):

  • Philosophy of Science [referring to the hard sciences] (Mathematics, Technology, etc.)
  • Philosophy of Politics [referring to the social sciences] (Society, etc.)
  • Philosophy of Religion [actually two things -- question related to the existence of God or gods AND questions relating to the sociological phenomenon of religion. Generally, referring to the former]
  • Philosophy of Value (Axiology)
  • Philosophy of Language
  • Philosophy of Mind

Philosophy of language and philosophy of mind are sometimes done in ways that mirror the philosophy of the hard sciences [e.g. cognitive science] and sometimes not.

In addition, we could add many schools and movements (again, more examples could certainly be added). From the 20th century alone, there is:

  • Phenomenology (Husserl)
  • Schizoanalysis (Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari)
  • Chaosophy (Felix Guattari)
  • Non-philosophy (Francois Laruelle)
  • Existentialism (Sartre, et al.)
  • Vienna Circle/Logical Positivism

Finally, we can also consider the history of philosophy itself as constituting a series of fruitful conjunctions of cultures and eras where ideas were changing. The structure here is taken from Wikipedia's article on the History of Philosophy:

  • Western philosophy
    • Ancient philosophy
    • Medieval philosophy
    • Renaissance philosophy
    • Modern philosophy
    • Contemporary philosophy
  • Eastern philosophy
    • Indian philosophy
    • Persian philosophy
    • Chinese philosophy
    • Japanese philosophy
    • Buddhist philosophy
  • Abrahamic philosophy
    • Jewish philosophy
    • Christian philosophy
    • Islamic philosophy
  • 3
    +1 - That covers it quite well. As for saying which of these is the "most important" - we shouldn't go there.
    – boehj
    Commented Jun 11, 2011 at 23:00
  • 3
    I think you should add meta-ethics to the list of "modern" branches. And metaphysics and ontology are more or less the same thing, surely?
    – Seamus
    Commented Jun 20, 2011 at 12:22
  • You should add Philosophy of Language in the list of major modern branches. (There are tenured positions in it.) Commented Apr 11, 2013 at 19:13

I believe that following list will cover the main areas of Philosophy:

Metaphysics (Study of Existence - What's out there?)

Epistemology (Study of Knowledge - How do I know about it?)

Ethics (Study of Action - What should I do?)

Politics (Study of Force - What actions are permissible?)

Aesthetics (Study of Art - What can life be like?)

Apparently there is a philosophy of logic and philosophical logic which do differ.

Philosophy of logic is the arena of philosophy devoted to examining the scope and nature of logic.

Philosophy of logic is the investigation, critical analysis and intellectual reflection on issues arising in logic. The field is considered to be distinct from philosophical logic.

Philosophical logic is the branch of logic concerning aspects other than or outside of formal logic.

Philosophical logic is the application of formal logical techniques to philosophical problems

Philosophy of Computer Science - is concerned with philosophical issues that arise from reflection upon the nature and practice of the academic discipline of computer science.

Philosophy of science - is concerned with the assumptions, foundations, methods and implications of science.

  • Where does Logic fit in?
    – user16
    Commented Jun 8, 2011 at 0:51
  • @Silvaram - I am looking into it since Logic is very vast subject
    – Darius
    Commented Jun 8, 2011 at 0:52
  • What about the philosophy of technology and the philosophy of science? Commented Jun 8, 2011 at 2:41
  • @Brian - I do see their existence and as of now they are part of the main Philosophy but I wanted to keep this answer more traditional.
    – Darius
    Commented Jun 8, 2011 at 2:53
  • Logic was not a classical area of philosophy (though there is such philosophy now). Instead, it was considered a preliminary area of study to be ready for philosophy.
    – virmaior
    Commented Sep 26, 2014 at 4:20

Nigel Warbuton (Open University lecturer of Philosophy)'s books cover the basics very well. Philosophy the Basics is the best one to cover the main areas, the books is broken down into:

  • God and ontology
  • Right and Wrong, ethics and morals
  • Politics: democracy and freedom
  • The external world: realism, am I dreaming etc.
  • Science
  • Mind and body: dualism
  • Art

I don't think that there is a single useful non-overlapping set of branches. For instance, philosophy of mathematics and philosophy of logic are, on some views, contained within one another (on some views philosophy of logic is a branch of philosophy of mathematics, on others the containment goes the other way). Both take up issues that are also clearly within Epistemology and Metaphysics.

The way I would characterize the branches at the top level is:

  1. Metaphysics
  2. Epistemology
  3. Value Theory (includes moral and political philosophy and the philosophy of art)
  4. Philosophy of Language
  5. Philosophy of Mind
  6. Logic
  7. Philosophy of the special sciences (philosophy of mathematics, philosophy of physics, philosophy of history, etc.)

This list has a good deal of overlap, too. Metaethics arguably straddles all of the first 3; philosophy of mind overlaps with at least metaphysics, etc.

Philosophy of language seems an odd man out, but given its importance in analytic philosophy and that it cannot be comfortably subsumed under any other branch on my list, I'm stuck with the oddity.

  • If we're talking analytic philosophy, I'd put phil. of language as a brother of phil. of logic. And since phil. of logic is basically inseparable from metaphysics, I'd say, broadly speaking, that phil. of language is a part of the metaphysics tree.
    – boehj
    Commented Jun 11, 2011 at 23:59
  • Interesting, and helps to show the endeavor is fraught. As a philosopher of logic, I think of it as more epistemological than metaphysical, though it of course overlaps with both.
    – vanden
    Commented Jun 12, 2011 at 0:12
  • Very interesting. I agree: This will be an impossible task.
    – boehj
    Commented Jun 12, 2011 at 0:16

The following chart (that I edited for amelioration) depicts, includes, and better organises many more subfields of philosophy than all of the other answers in this thread.

Source: Inside of the Back Cover, Introducing Philosophy for Canadians: A Text with Integrated Readings (2011 1 ed).

enter image description here

  • I actually very much like this answer, as it is based on a source. I would question some of the paths, as e.g. free will is certainly something heavily discussed in ethics as well (which is to blame to the author, though), but it is a good start and not just a popped out of my head answer, so +1.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Jul 30, 2016 at 10:14
  • @PhilipKlöcking Thank you for your support. Please feel free to edit this chart further, to ameliorate the paths.
    – user8572
    Commented Jul 31, 2016 at 1:03

being a student of this subject,i think that philosophy can be divided in major three catagories

  1. Ontology or Metaphysics
    a. Monism
    i. Idealism
    ii. Materialism
    iii. Neutralism
    b. Dualism
    c. Pluralism

  2. Epistemology
    there are two basic theories here in epistemology
    a. Rationalism
    b. Empiricism

  3. Axiology
    a. logic
    b. aesthetics
    c. ethics
  • 3
    While I do think that this is reasonable, I don't see how this summary is more precise, broad or informative than the old answers. Did you check them out? Maybe you can find a way to add information you think is necessary to what has already been posted?
    – iphigenie
    Commented Apr 11, 2013 at 20:41
  • +1 because I think you were objective and succinct, which are great values in philosophy.
    – Rodrigo
    Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 0:09

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