I was reading a post called "Why Do Philosophers Ignore Ayn Rand?" by John David Ward, and the author stated the following: "Philosophy is basically about the appreciation of wise thoughts, not the development of new ones". I was wondering if this is what everyone agrees upon because this seems limiting?

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    I doubt many philosophers would agree with that definition.
    – virmaior
    May 5, 2018 at 4:22
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    The philosophy of language tag is used for questions about the philosophy of language, a specific field of philosophy that examines topics like the nature of meaning, reference, and intentionality. This question is about the definition of philosophy, which is not what the philosophy of language is about. I think a better tag would be something like meta-philosophy because you're asking about what philosophers think the purpose or practice of philosophy itself actually consists of.
    – Not_Here
    May 5, 2018 at 5:13
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    Is he suggesting that Ms. Rand is providing us with some new thought?
    – Gordon
    May 5, 2018 at 5:29
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    The word "philosophy" has more than one meaning: you are using it to denote a sort of "attitude". But it means also (and primarely) a discipline : "the study of general and fundamental problems". May 5, 2018 at 8:50

2 Answers 2


I would say that few philosophers would agree with that definition. Philosophy, from its linguistic origins in Greek, is "the love of wisdom" (φιλοσοφία). Calling the "love of wisdom" "appreciation of wise thoughts" is like saying the football fan who decorates his car in his team's colors and holds giant parties when his team makes it to key games is "someone who likes sports." It's an understatement to a sufficient degree that it becomes reasonable to question whether it is even a truth. Such phrasing is indeed useful if one is actively dismissing philosophy (as Ward is), but those who call themselves philosophers are highly unlikely to accept it.

As a single example, I'd draw on my personal favorite philosopher Alan Watts. In his lectures, he provided his definition for a philosopher:

A philosopher is a sort of intellectual yokel who gawks at things that sensible people take for granted.

Now Watts had a poetic tendency with his words, but even here we see a difference between his opinions and that of Ward. Watts does not describe a "stiff," who merely passively appreciates the ideas of philosophy like an art critic appreciates art. Watts describes a vibrant artist, who is actively experiencing the rich ideas that flow around them.

If you follow more of Watt's lecture in which he provides this definition, you will find he has great disdain for the "9 to 5 philosopher," who only does philosophy at his desk. This 9 to 5 philosopher would fit well into the definition Ward provides, but Watts clearly considers these to be an inferior sort of philosopher, and holds the term "Philosopher" to describe someone quite different.


This is a reflective view and as such should be taken seriously. But I don't think it will quite do.

1 Philosophy needs a criterion for, or some way of telling, which thoughts are wise and which aren't. If this criterion or way of telling is a part of philosophy, then philosophy is not just the appreciation of wise thoughts - in addition to the appreciation it needs and includes the criterion (or more realistically, a set of criteria).

2 Philosophy at least since the time of the Ancient Greeks has been concerned with puzzles, aporiai - not just with these but certainly with these. How do we resolve the paradox of Epimenides the Cretan : 'All Cretans are liars', which is true on condition that it is false and false on condition that it is true ? Picking our way through this paradox is not just a matter of appreciating wise thoughts.

3 What is also missing from the characterisation of philosophy as the appreciation of wise thoughts is that a reflection on its own character or nature, a self-reflectiveness, is an essential part of philosophy. Is philosophy conceptual analysis ? high-level theorising about the fundamental nature of reality ? continuous with science or an autonomous discipline ? Philosophy is abuzz with such self-reflective questions, which can't be bracketed inside the restrictive formula of 'appreciation of wise thoughts'.

4 Finally, at least here, philosophy is home to various sorts of scepticism. If we can't know anything, as some sceptics suggest, then we can't know that some thoughts are wise and so cannot appreciate them.

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