My own criterion is maximal coherence. A philosophy which gives most answers that are mutually consistent.

This is as far as I can get. I have made the attempt. Can anyone take my endeavour further - or show that it is misconceived ?

  • What does mean "better"? There are some you agree with in a greater degree and some with a smaller degree. In fact the problem is that if we define some measure for quality of philosophy through another philosophy P_1, we must measure the quality of P_1, adding P_2, P_3 and so on. Thus either we need to reject the notion of quality itself or define infinite hierarchy.
    – rus9384
    Commented Apr 27, 2018 at 7:02
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    Then we need to distinguish some properties of them. In fact what I said is followed by current philosophic thoughts themselves but I don't agree with them. Instead I think hierarchy is built from the top down and not from the bottom up. But that would cross out almost whole philosophy, mathematics and so on.
    – rus9384
    Commented Apr 27, 2018 at 7:11
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    You seem to be on the right track by comparing the coherence and explanatory reach of theories. Then there is elegance, parsimony, rigour, testability, provabability and other things. A crucial issue would also be profundity. A philosophical theory that is not fundamental is always going to be dubious and temporary, a castle in the air. I feel your criteria are correct but inadequate.
    – user20253
    Commented Apr 27, 2018 at 12:22
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    Highly related would be a quote from Alan Watts I love: "A philosopher is a sort of intellectual yokel. He goes around gawking at all the things everyone else takes for granted." Maybe I'm just strange, but I find that answers the question better than anything else I have come across.
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented May 1, 2018 at 0:28
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    Does this answer your question? What are the standards for good and bad philosophy?
    – user64125
    Commented Feb 1, 2023 at 0:33

3 Answers 3


There are multiple criteria for what makes a good philosophy - a good philosophical system, book, article and the rest.


I'll take John Locke, the 17th-century philosopher, here. One thing Locke produced was a theory or account of personal identity in An Essay concerning Human Understanding, 1690, Book II, chapter xxvii (Of Identity and. Diversity). This argues for an essentially psychological, continuity of consciousness and memory criterion of personal identity. The argument is not tight; and as Locke left it, it is subject to criticisms powerfully put by Butler and Reid. Yet the theory has proved immensely influential in the sense that to many philosphers even today there seems something deeply right about a psychological theory, and something deeply wrong about a purely physical theory. Debate is no longer conducted in the terms framed by Locke; but his theory launched personal identity theory in a direction in which many are still inclined to pursue it.


One of the many greatnesses of Plato's Republic (Politeia) is its connectedness of treatment of a wide range of philosophical inquiries. In the confines of one book there is ethics, politics, aesthetics, epistemology, metaphysics, theory of education, the philosophy of religion, the philosophy of mind. And Plato's is no facile linking of these inquiries : the book (defective a little bit in organisation - Bk X contains criticisms of art that should have been fitted in elsewhere) works through its various inquiries in a way that is not just consistent (for the most part) but interlocks them coherently. For example, one can understand Plato's strictures on art from the nature of his metaphysics, or his criticism of democracy (as the politics of ignorance) from his epistemology. Of course, there are creaks and strains but the connected treatment of so much material enables you to see philosophy if not quite whole then at least not reduced to disparate, self-contained inquiries - a tendency to which contemporary philosophy is inclined.


Here I'd take Quine as my point of departure, my illustrative example. In his essay, 'Two Dogmas of Empiricism' (1951) Quine exposed to sustained criticism a distinction that had by that time established deep roots in philosophy : the analytic/ synthetic disinction, the distinction between statements true by virtue of meaning ('All bachelors are unmarried men') and statements true by virtue of how the world is ('US public postboxes are dark blue'). Quine mounted a sustained assault on the idea of 'meaning' and 'synonymy' on which the notion of analyticity rested. Quine made problematic something that had become an orthodoxy.


Berkeley is my case study for this one. The Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous (1713) are full of ingenious arguments to show that all that exist are minds or spirits and their ideas. To most of us, this appears the height of paradox. Yet the deftness and ingenuity of Berkeley's wave upon wave of argument, and the real difficulty of fixing where and what his logical errors are (all right, 'if any') lends his work a permanent interest and makes him an important philosopher to this day.


The ontological argument, closely associated with St Anselm, which (loosely put) aims to prove the existence of a perfect being from the mere concept of a perfect being, has an impressive power of (apparent) recovery from the dire onslaughts directed against it, not least by Kant. I do not support the argument but every so often a new version is produced that shifts its exact form and leads to further debate. If this argument is dead, it certainly won't lie down.


Philosophers have concerned themselves with mathematics from the times at least of Pythagoras and Plato. Gottlob Frege (1848-1925) created a radically new mathematical logic with significant philosophical implications. Frege proposed new logical form analyses for propositions, offered a powerful account of quantification, and set out a rigorous concept of mathematical proof. This not only transformed the philosophy of mathematics but stimulated developments in, and transformed, the philosophy of language.


John Stuart Mill's On Liberty (1859) which defends the liberty of thought and expression and of action on condition (essentially) that there is no 'harm to others' finds its way into political argument, at least on one side of politics, into the present.


My representative philosopher here is Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-97) whose Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) enlarged the circle of ethics and politics. This work, not alone but decisively cracked the gender-blindness of traditional Western philosophy, its androcentricity, and the assumption of the due subordination of women to the higher rationality of men. It only made a start but it made a crucial start. (Plato's highly qualified recognition of the equality of women - as philosopher-rulers along with men in the Republic - deserved honourable mention but does not cut deep into the ethical and political status of women.)


This is a list, not a complete enumeration of the criteria of good philosophy. I think it is a separate question, and one not to be attempted here, which philosophers fulful which criteria to what degree.


I tend to fall back on questioning basic epistemological assumptions for basically everything, so here's how I'd approach it:

What knowledge can be got about a thing (or activity) called philosophy and a quality called good? I think if you can't come up with a satisfying answer to either of these questions, you don't pass go or collect your monies.

With respect to your preferred criterion, a philosophy which is maximally coherent, it sounds like you'd really love philosophy of mathematics really a lot. It is extraordinarily coherent and fearsomely comprehensive. Whether mathematical truth has a meaningful relation or correspondence to reality is, of course, a live question.

That said, I think there is no reason to prefer the explanatory value of something that is coherent, maybe even especially if it is comprehensively so. There is no evidence to suggest reality is coherent; indeed, it seems to be full of discontinuities. So if reality is what you are looking to explain by way of philosophical inquiry, then probably you ought to be suspicious of any theory which neatly explains a lot of things.

  • Thanks but it seems you're saying there is no criteria for a good philosophy.
    – Mr. Sigma.
    Commented Apr 30, 2018 at 16:44
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    No, I'm not at all suggesting that. I'm saying that, in order to get at your question, you have to answer a couple of others first. The only way to get "no criterion" from my response is if you take epistemological positions that prohibit getting knowledge of the subjects of either of those two questions. I take no such position. If I did, I wouldn't have offered a critique of your proposed criteron, because what would be the point?
    – simpatico
    Commented Apr 30, 2018 at 19:51

Your question is for the criteria for GOOD Philosophy. So I should focus on the word, 'Good'.

A long period in the past is longer than a short period in the present. I mean, some philosophies might have lasted for a long period in the past. Some philosophies emerged in the ancient times might be coherent at that time. Only because it had a 'maximal' coherence we cannot say it is the better one. PEOPLE'S INABILITY to verify the coherence may influence while comparing two Philosophies. So, this types of carelessness should be avoided when we enlist the criteria for good philosophy.

To compare two Philosophies one needs to stand on a higher step above Philosophy. So, a mere philosopher can't compare two philosophies always. He must have the ability to stand on a higher step above both of them always. That means, he must be someone who is more than a philosopher and the subject must be something higher than Philosophy. [This is the limitation of Philosophy in answering this question.]

Though I haven't heard of a criteria, I think, that which helps to maintain Dharma and which is closer to the Eternal truth must be the better one. Both are important. But the problem here is, 'who should decide this?' Since the decision maker's position is above a philosopher, he must be a person who realized the Truth.

The Eternal truth is not related to Philosophy. If I say it is, that means it is the monopoly/product of Philosophy..or, the Eternal truth cares only for Philosophy. Actually, the Eternal truth is beyond both Dharma and Adharma also. That is why I am saying so.

Ramana Maharshi says,  "Where philosophy ends spirituality begins."

If a person doesn't know himself we cannot say he is wise in all aspects. Philosophy, 'love of wisdom', if it needs to last not only for a long time, but for ever, the philosopher's philosophy must come from the root. That means, the truth ... and it must influence the protection of Dharma also. Many Philosophies can be treated only as thoughts, if etymological meaning (of Philosophy) is given great importance. A Philosophy if it is not related to Dharma OR Truth, it would be better to treat it as a mere thought.

Why I gave great importance to the two things--'Truth and Dharma'?


There are several Gitas based on Indian Philosophy. [I am only a layman; not the person to decide whether they are good or bad....but many great men have appreciated Indian Philosophy]...however....

The Bgagavad Gita and the Avadhoota Gita are just two among them. As you know, the former is the most popular one. But the latter, the Avadhoota Gita is regarded by almost all sages as the greatest treatise on Advaita Vedanta. Here the Avadhoota Gita concentrated on the Eternal truth while the former one, on both Dharma and the Eternal truth. Though the Avadhootha Gita is an advice from the root, most people can't appraise it. Since the Bhagavad Gita is for the common man as well as for the wise, most people find the Bhagavad Gita, in which both the Dharma and the Eternal truth are given importance, useful. So we will have to select the Bhagavad Gita as the better one among these two.

So, the two words for criteria should never be ignored. This implies, whatever criteria you suggest according to one's ability, these are the most essential words for GOOD Philosophy. You had better treat only as a thought if it is not good for the upliftment of the society.

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    "the person who realized the truth" - accepted subjective truth is more accurate.
    – rus9384
    Commented Apr 27, 2018 at 14:10
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    A person who accepted subjective truth sometimes need to refer something to decide. Sometimes he can't decide it correctly. But this is not the case of the person who realized the truth. He doesn't need to search for a reference. He becomes the reference. Commented Apr 28, 2018 at 5:39
  • @SonOfThought - Spot on. You'll know Al -Halaj,, who died horribly for claiming 'I am Truth'. But metaphysical analysis is perfectly capable of deciding the best global theory just on the basis of freedom from contradiction. The basic fact that establishes the Dharma is the logical absurdity of extreme metaphysical positions. Once we dispose of all those positions our choice is very limited. Nagarjuna shows how simple logic proves which is the best philosophy. .
    – user20253
    Commented Apr 28, 2018 at 11:11
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    "The Eternal truth is not related to Philosophy." - right, this is faith-based doctrine.
    – rus9384
    Commented Apr 28, 2018 at 11:28
  • @rus9384:The statement becomes a faith-based doctrine only when one can't find anything more than this material world. He might include everything in faith or doctrine. I am helpless to explain this. Good seekers would believe what I said here only when they realize it. I think you are one such person. I never believe in dogmas. Commented Apr 28, 2018 at 12:50

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