I am reading a book on productivity. "Getting Results the Agile Way" (J.D. Meier) is the specific book, but substitute your favorite "pop psychology" book on anything from productivity to parenting to how to pick a career, etc.

It occurred to me that such a work might not fit well into a philosophical system, but on the other hand, there is an underlying assumption that advice on how to make good choices in a practical sense is the very essence of passing on wisdom, which is the core of what philosophy as a word derives from.

So what is the case with books that purport to help one navigate through life or to be successful in a particular area of life - are they philosophy proper?

I would assume they are typically based on inductive reasoning - empirical evidence that the wisdom shared works for at least some subset of humans, with more or less evidence for any one particular book...

If this is within the bounds of proper philosophy, then how is it categorized?

Philosophy of ... Life? Are there any specific technical terms to describe them?

And then, of course, do you have any quotes or sources of historical philosophers treating this particular aspect of philosophy (assuming that it is...)?

  • 3
    In German it in fact is "Lebensphilosophie", translation would be philosophy of life. There were the old greek handling this for example (Aristotle, Epicurus and the Stoics). Foucault tried to revive this branch a bit. Every form of substantial ethics (e.g. Philosophy of Virtue) would fall under this category, too.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Dec 14, 2015 at 22:45
  • Here is also another question going in similar direction that applies specifically to you, LightCC: What is the difference between philosophy and religion?
    – adamaero
    Commented Aug 6, 2016 at 0:17
  • It's practical wisdom rather than theoretical wisdom... Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 0:04
  • They do it by calling it Political Science.
    – Marxos
    Commented May 27, 2021 at 23:23

3 Answers 3


How to live [what]? How to live a moral life? Ethics. There are many definitions on what philosophy actually is. Yes, the classic definition, 'love of wisdom' is correct—but it is not the whole truth.

Although, it seems that this question is asking a much more simple question: What are the different types or definitions of philosophy? On one hand, "philosophy" is defined as formal philosophy: philosophers, logic, ethics, metaphysics, epistemology, etc. On the other hand, "philosophy" is defined as armchair (informal) philosophy: "What's your philosophy; what is your weltanschauung?" "What's your purpose in life?" *(See more detail on this below.)

Specifically for self-help books, which range widely on applications, there is a good chance that it will employ some sort of pragmatism. After all psychology developed from philosophy. For an example of another book with the underpinnings of a certain philosophical systems, even though this is not labeled as a self-help book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance ascribes to a type of Asian philosophy. Lastly, everything is not as clear cut as it may seem. There are synthetic philosophies which combine and deviate from the original. Off the top of my head, preference utilitarianism is not the same as classical utilitarianism. Each uses consequentialism, but they are different.

Similar questions

*A much larger—deeper—question is, "What is wisdom." To assume that a self-help book is wisdom itself may be a mistake. To assume that seeing results, or even the results themselves, may not be wisdom. Knowledge is not wisdom. I made that word-memory-swap when the professor of my Intro to Philosophy course asked, "What is philosophy?" picking my raised hand.

  • For that footnote (*), I was recalling another answer from a different question except they used 'product' instead of 'result': "Mainstream western culture places greater value on products (visual materiality) than processes (incremental materiality) in terms successful activity, particularly since we are addicted to immediate gratification. Therefore our value system allows the appearance of "doing nothing", thus organizing information for systemic comprehension is not valued do to its lack of visual materiality (you can not see it) which is attributed to being unproductive or slow."
    – adamaero
    Commented Aug 5, 2016 at 23:49

If we consider that Noah Webster's definitions (1828) are representative of traditional American (and beyond, Western European) views:

"The objects of philosophy are to ascertain facts or truth, and the causes of things or their phenomena; to enlarge our views of God and his works, and to render our knowledge of both practically useful and subservient to human happiness."

From that perspective, the answer to your first question is a resounding yes.

In particular, the modern separation between physical sciences (then called natural philosophy) from philosophy is rather fuzzy, considering that current consensus on the subject is that each 'science' (discipline) is based on a number of assumptions which do belong to philosophy. Einstein's fundamental ideas about space and time belonged to philosophy; yet his work had practical applications. Until the end of WWII, Einstein was mostly called "mathematician", then he became known as a "physicist" when that profession came to prominence. So trying to draw a line between what is philosophical or not is not that obvious, even when we get into highly practical activities such as engineering, finance, jurisprudence etc. (how much philosophy in a cell phone's GPS?), and indeed discussions about it might be moot. We might perhaps call it a frontier, a land full of nuances when one thing slowly turns into another.

For your second question (terminology), philosophy with application in mind (generally described as applied philosophy) was put in Ancient Greece under the heading of phronesis, the "wisdom relevant to pratical things". As such it was and is definitely part of philosophy (ethics being part of it).


Kant offers ( in Groundings of the metaphysics of morals) a typology of imperatives ( Ought-sentences) :

  • technical imperatives, aiming at efficiency : if you want to realize goal G, do action A

Note : at the level of technical imperatives, goal G may be of any type; it may be a morally valuable goal ( curing someone) or a morally bad one ( killing someone) , or a morally neutral one ( building a house)

  • prudental advices, pragmatic imperatives : if you want to be happy , you ought ( better) do action A

Note : here the goal is determined ( happiness/ well-being) ; but the problem is , according to Kant, that the means never lead to the end in an absolutely certain way, and can also have contradictory effects ( should I have frends in order to be happy? having friends will make life less boring, but at the same time, one often quarrels with friends, so I can never be certain that I should make friends in orfder to reach happiness)

  • genuine moral imperatives, unconditionnal : " do the right thing! !" , always act after a rule such that you would truly accept it to become a universal law .

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