To be more clearer with the question let us compare for this instance sociology to philosophy, both being a broad subject. Sociology has many branches including political science, psychology, anthropology, etc., yet political science can be discussed without the participation of anthropology in other words it can exist by itself, since their objectives are compleltely distinct though sharing the same referent, the society. In philosophy most branches has the suffix "philsophy" to it like political philosophy, moral philsophy, relgious philsophy, etc., however they have different goals though sharing the same philosophical method. So is a philosophical branch an independent subject by itself than just being a branch under one subject or in other words can a certain branch of philosophy exist independently from other branches as in sociology?

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    What research have you done on this question already? Is there something you find particularly confusing about the answers you are finding in your research? – Michael Dorfman Sep 27 '12 at 6:53

1) Yes. Philosophy isn't holistic (or necessarily so). Until recently, philosophy itself wasn't an independent field of study. Remember that physics used to be called "natural philosophy." Newton's Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica translates as the "Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy." Philosophy, as an entity, is difficult to nail down: there are philosophy of mathematics and philosophy of science courses at most universities. Yet, what is the difference between an course on electromagnetism and a course on the philosophy of physics (or even the difference between the philosophy of physics and the history of physics)? --Perhaps, the difference is problem solving....

But what the hell is this "philosophy?" Is it so enigmatic that it continually changes its shape? Was it once the "love of wisdom" and something else now? Aristotle thought that wonder paved the way for philosophizing:

For it is owing to their wonder that men both now begin and at first began to philosophize; they wondered originally at the obvious difficulties, then advanced little by little and stated difficulties about the greater matters, e.g. about the phenomena of the moon and those of the sun and of the stars, and about the genesis of the universe. And a man who is puzzled and wonders thinks himself ignorant (whence even the lover of myth is in a sense a lover of Wisdom, for the myth is composed of wonders); therefore since they philosophized order to escape from ignorance, evidently they were pursuing science in order to know, and not for any utilitarian end. And this is confirmed by the facts; for it was when almost all the necessities of life and the things that make for comfort and recreation had been secured, that such knowledge began to be sought. Evidently then we do not seek it for the sake of any other advantage; but as the man is free, we say, who exists for his own sake and not for another's, so we pursue this as the only free science, for it alone exists for its own sake. (From Aristotle's Metaphysics, Book I, trans. Ross)

If the above account still applies to philosophy today, then it would seem that, as a whole, philosophy encompasses quite a bit; and yet, its branches are, or can be, quite separate. Few people today would claim that thermodynamics is a philosophical discipline; but, for example, Maxwell's demon is not an experiment for physics: it's a thought experiment. You see, philosophy isn't like other disciplines (I, for one, don't consider it a subject at all), and in many ways, philosophical dilemmas and questions helped create most, if not all, of the disciplines people study today. But, in my long, and perhaps fittingly rambly and scattered response, you should see that philosophy is not the kind of thing you thought it was.

2) Yes. Many philosophers only concern themselves with one or a few of the so-called branches of philosophy. For example, Wittgenstein was mainly concerned with logic, the philosophy of language, epistemology, and metaphysics; he didn't write about political philosophy or ethics (except for one, short lecture on ethics).

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  • I don't think that the observation that Wittgenstein concerned himself "mostly with logic, the philosophy of language, epistemology and metaphysics" is an affirmation on the question at hand. First of all that's already an enumeration of branches that might be inseparably connected, and second, I think we can agree on Wittgenstein having studied other fields beforehand. You can not "just start" with philosophy of language, therefore I don't agree with your answer. – iphigenie Sep 27 '12 at 12:29
  • I'll try to make myself clearer. Philosophy is not an entity as quantum physics, biological physics, mechanical engineering, and so on (though, some will argue that they're interconnected as well, and I wouldn't disagree). I got the impression that the question wasn't aimed at an existential explanation but rather a more pragmatic one (i.e. "yet political science can be discussed without the participation of anthropology in other words it can exist by itself"). That is, in the question, the branches of philosophy existed independently if they could be talked about independently. And they can! – Jon Sep 27 '12 at 16:40
  • But my response was aimed to trying to show (poorly) that philosophy isn't a subject at all. But your thinking that there are "branches that might be inseparably connected" seems based on the presumption that philosophy is somehow similar to, say, chemical biology. I'd hoped that the quotation from Aristotle could have helped nullify that idea. Again, philosophy has only recently become a discipline: one could argue that all human thought is "philosophical," or that the progress of human thought is the history of philosophy. – Jon Sep 27 '12 at 16:49
  • There's a story one of my professors once told. He was on a plane; the guy sitting next to him started up a conversation; my professor asked what he did, and the guy claimed the he was a philosopher (because he taught philosophy at a university). My professor smiled and said, "that's funny: there've only been seven philosophers in human history." But, perhaps, you don't find it ridiculous that someone can call himself/herself a "philosopher." Whereas, I see this sort of issue at the heart of Tito's question. Someone doesn't write a book on Kant and become a philosopher. – Jon Sep 27 '12 at 16:56
  • And lastly, the idea that you "can not "just start" with philosophy of language" is, perhaps, superficially correct, but practically wrong. I know, for instance, a few people who teach mathematics at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and yet, also teach the philosophy of mathematics at those same levels. You might argue that he/she is not a "philosopher" (and from my above comment, I'd agree), but you can't argue that the philosophy of mathematics is not a philosophical subject; further, it seems to me that political philosophy has very little to say about the philosophy of mathematics. – Jon Sep 27 '12 at 17:06

No, the branches of philosphy can´t exist independently. I would even claim that if we think of another possible world where there is only political philosophy, the other branches would soon turn up as well.

Why is that?

Let us think of our political philosopher, sitting in his garden. In order to do his work, he needs to know that there are other things besides him in general, e.g. other humans (ontology) and how we get to know about them (epistemology), that other humans have a consciousness (philosophy of mind), basic concpets of what is right and what is wrong (ethics) and how to properly speak and form rational arguments (philosophy of language and logic).

Of course one could argue that logic (not as a branche, but as logic itself) infact exists independently insofar as there would be the rules of logic even without humans and other living things. To answer this you would have to do some ontology, though ;)

Which then leads me to the question: Where is the border between science and philosphy (if there is one) and could science exist without philosphy?

One border might be the existence of experiments in science and the lack of it in philosphy. The latter one can be answered at least historical. Most of our sciences emerged out of philosophy. Still, the same motivation that attracts people to the sciences would motivate them to do philosophy aswell.

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  • From your argument, I'd be inclined to say that nothing exists independently. In fact, it would appear that Tito couldn't even study or discuss political science without somehow engaging in biology, physics, anthropology, and everything else. How is it that I can write and speak and think in English given my ignorance of Indo-European languages? Or, is this a straw man? You see, it seems that either everything is dependent on everything else; or, we can actually do things without concerning ourselves with everything on the periphery. Perhaps this is ignorance––or, it's just what people do. – Jon Sep 27 '12 at 17:35
  • On the one hand, my post was about a little thought-experiment, claiming that the branches of philosphy would arise in a world where the people only got political philosophy. On the other hand, i think I´m arguing more for some kind of hirarchy of branches. To study logic, you don´t need political philosophy nor epistemology. But to study political philosophy, you need logic. Maybe logic is some sort of cheating though, but we can run the argument with political philosophy and epistemology aswell. the former needs the latter, but not vice versa. – Lukas Sep 28 '12 at 6:53
  • @Jon: You are confusing theoretical knowledge with practical or rather pre-scientific knowledge. Tito didn't study physics, although he had a pre-scientific intuition of the physical world based on experience. Likewise, while certain branches of philosophy and of science can limit themselves to their own subject matter, they cannot contradict the others. For instance, physics cannot contradict metaphysics, but a physicist needn't know metaphysics theoretically. However, some fields are too tightly connected to be separated if one desires a full explanation. – danielm Oct 6 '12 at 9:49
  • @danielm. See my answer and comments below for clarification. I was specifically commenting on Lukas's post. But I'm interested in how you think your comment responds to anything I wrote. The context of my comment was that I disagreed with Lukas in that I don't see why certain areas of philosophy cannot be studied independently of the others. And, in fact, they are and can be. For example, some studiers and writers of philosophy consider metaphysics to consist mostly of nonsense and originate in certain misuses of language. – Jon Oct 6 '12 at 22:32

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