According to Wikipedia, science can be divided into empirical science (such as natural science and social science) and formal science (such as mathematics, logic, statistics). I was wondering if philosophy belongs to empirical science or formal science?

I think it belongs to the formal science, because I think scientific method is what characterize empirical science and philosophy lacks it.

However philosophy is listed as an area of social science, and social science belongs to empirical science. So it looks like philosophy belongs to empirical science?

If philosophy belongs to neither, what does it belong to?

I have read a previous post regarding if philosophy belongs to science or science belongs to philosophy, but the discussion there seems not clarify many things.

Note that in my questions above, by philosophy, I am considering not its obsolete ancient meaning, but its contemporary one

Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. 1 It is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational argument.

I also welcome alternative and maybe equivalent definition of philosophy that helps to distinct itself from non-philosophy.

2 Answers 2


Classically, philosophy precedes both empirical science and formal science. Some branches of philosophy, for example logic, could easily be considered to be a formal science similar to mathematics. But whether or not all of philosophy can be reduced to formal systems is a much heated debate. Early in the 20th century, quite a few philosophers argued that all of philosophy could be reduced to logic. This way of thinking is now passe and few philosophers hold it.

The best contemporary treatments, I think, are those like van Fraasen who treat philosophy (and empiricism for that matter) as a mood or disposition. Science can rise out of an empirical disposition but not all empiricism is science. In a way, this is a return to something closer to the classical stance.

For a good overview of the classical stance, I would refer the reader the medieval Arabic philosopher al-Farabi's treatment in his treatise "The Enumeration of the Sciences". This makes an excellent contrast to the more modern division of Hobbes in "The Leviathan". Both of these stand opposed to the early logical positivists which can perhaps most fairly be summed up in Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. For more contemporary views of the relationship between science and philosophy that espouse the view I mentioned above where philosophy is more of a mood, I would recommend Feyerabend's "Against Method" or van Fraasan's "The Empirical Stance".


The Wikipedia article on Science has a graphic which places philosophy as a branch of formal science, as a subset of logic. Philosophy can inform the process of thinking but no longer concerns the explanation of natural phenomena.

"The Scientific Universe" by Efbrazil "The Scientific Universe" by Efbrazil - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - Link to File and License

  • That's a pretty bizarre graph and way to figure out what is what...
    – virmaior
    Commented Jul 30, 2014 at 3:04

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