I am pretty sure the word "metaphilosophy" is the only word for "philosophy of philosophy", but I wasn't quite sure it was the only word. Is there any other word that could be used as a synonym? Because you would think there would be other words, but upon trying to find related words, I couldn't find anything that matched the criteria.

Using a thesaurus, I got these:

hermeneutics 0.777966

gadamer 0.764499

epistemology 0.759714

intuitionism 0.756310

contextualism 0.745138

holism 0.742702

ricoeur 0.741946

hermeneutical 0.732353

rorty 0.729782

dialogism 0.723686

I am thinking there could be a word that meant "philosophy above philosophy" or some variant thereof that could have a similar meaning, but I couldn't find any such term. In law, you have the concept of "Law of laws", but I am wondering if there are similar concepts.

  • 1
    Metaphilosophy as Second-Order Philosophy medium.com/@paulaustinmurphy2000/… – user47436 Aug 15 '20 at 6:40
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    Martin Heidegger did believe in metaphilosophy (again, without using that term). He wrote: “When we ask, ‘What is philosophy?’ then we are speaking about philosophy. By asking in this way we are obviously taking a stand above and, therefore, outside of philosophy.” medium.com/@paulaustinmurphy2000/… – user47436 Aug 15 '20 at 6:43
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    Metaphilosophy as outside of philosophy : Heidegger, therefore, seems to contradict himself. At first he says that metaphilosophy is “outside philosophy” and/or “above” philosophy. Then he says that his metaphilosophy has a “direction [that] must at the same time give us the guarantee that we are moving within philosophy and not outside of it and around it”. medium.com/@paulaustinmurphy2000/… – user47436 Aug 15 '20 at 6:46
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    Perhaps Heidegger’s metaphilosophy is both above/beyond philosophy and “within philosophy” at one and the same time. medium.com/@paulaustinmurphy2000/… – user47436 Aug 15 '20 at 6:49
  • Where did you get those numbers from and what are they supposed to mean?? – curiousdannii Aug 15 '20 at 13:31

The answer to your question is that there is really only one term, and it is metaphilosophy. While some people reject its usage, note there is a journal that was founded in 1970 (50 years ago), and unsurprisingly, it's called Metaphilsophy. The SEP has at least one entry with the usage here. The IEP has an entry 'metaphilosophy'. Routledge has an entry too!

So, if someone tells you your question is malformed, you might want to ask them to explain why no less than 4 online sources have entries with the term. If someone tells you that metaphilosophy doesn't mean anything, you might want to ask them how come there's at least 1 journal that has 50 years of publication devoted to the topic.

See, the problem with rationalism it pays so little to what really happens. Rationalism is important, but it's value is lessened when it used to answer matters that are primarily empirical in nature. Some believe that metaphilosophy shouldn't be used, but that doesn't mean it isn't used. Metaphysics goes beyond physics, metacommunication is communication about communication, metalangauges are languages about languages, and meta-analysis is the act of analyzing analysis in some form. This morpheme /MEta/ is so pragmatic for discourse it has it's own entry which lists other examples and demonstrates an undeniable real linguistic practice. Compare also language prescriptivism vs. descriptivism.

So to reiterate, no, metaphilosophy is the best extant term and really has no synonyms. You have a good nose for questions!


Being able to talk about the X of X doesn't mean talking about some higher thing by default. For example, "truth of truth," "fact of facts," "existence of existence," "God of God" (Nicenewise), "story of stories," "thinking of thinking," "love of love," don't necessarily seem to be "greater" than their base case, or an example of something beyond the base type. Philosophy of philosophy is like that: given what kinds of things are counted as philosophical, e.g. questions in mathematics, ethics, physics, politics, law, biology, theology, etc. a claim to go through a substantive "hyperphilosophy" to stand outside those questions completely would seem to otherwise look a lot like a philosophical claim, so what would be gained by an overly elevated hypercategory?

OTOH, there is also "history of philosophy" to consider. It is just an empirical fact, at least, that some philosophical arguments are more widely known than others, or have mostly been so over time in different ways, etc. The danger, if you will, here, is ending up with too strong a history of ideas, in the sense of an overly argumentative model of history vs. one hardly complete idea (to which the historian is beholden).

Edit: but to cite Kant, "transcendental philosophy" might count, as "how we know what philosophy is," in a way (how we recognize metaphysical and physical questions, say).

  • Intereseting view. By convention, meta- is a prefix to do precisely just that, though 'beyond' might be a better translation than 'above'. Metacommunication is communication that goes beyond communication, because it ABOUT communication.. – J D Aug 15 '20 at 14:49
  • Then is it possible just by use of a prefix to construct the validity or reality of this beyond, as if we spoke of metatruth, even though, "Metatruth is greater than truth," would have to be true, so beyond truth would depend on truth, which seems pointless? Also, where do we stop? In principle, there is n-order logic, not only for all n, but also for all transfinite ordinals. Would we not speak of a philosophy of metaphilosophy, even, then? "Philosophy of" is itself a lot like "meta-" as a qualifier in the first place. – Kristian Berry Aug 15 '20 at 15:07
  • Well, adding a prefix to a word doesn't give it reality unless it is adopted by speakers. Generally speaking, language prescriptivism is ineffective. Adding the morpheme as a prefix, however, does constitute a rule as it gives a hint to the meaning of the extended concept. Whether or not you reject the usage, it's widespread. Another perfectly legitimate example is a meta-analysis: an analysis of analyses. Would meta-truth be pointless? I don't know that the term has any currency, but in formal systems of language... – J D Aug 16 '20 at 9:01
  • one must differentiate between a language and a metalanguage. (Hee hee.) A meta-truth were it to be adopted would easily be a true statement in the metalanguage as opposed to a truth in the object language. N-order? Well, there are pragmatic limits to repeating a morpheme and keeping the meaning of the term in mind, but certainly we can agree that were there to be a journal calle Metacommunication, and one were to conduct a meta-analysis of the studies in it, one could discuss the methodology of metacommunication studies. Thus meta-metacomm... – J D Aug 16 '20 at 9:06
  • Well you get the idea. I reject that the philosophy of biology is equivalent to metabiology. The former is an extant body of literature, but the latter is meaningless. One couldn't have metabiology on the basis that the biology of biology doesn't have meaning. What metacommuncation, metalanguage, metaphysics, and meta-analysis have in common is they're all examples of the application of discourse to examine that same form of discourse. Thus,meta seems to me to be constrained in usage. – J D Aug 16 '20 at 9:09

There is a book with the title "The philosophy of philosophy":

"Likewise, the primary task of the philosophy of philosophy is to understand philosophy, not to give philosophers advice - although I have not vigorously abstained from the latter." -- Timothy Williamson, The Philosophy of Philosophy (2008)

So, a philosopher doesn't feel the need to use any other expression than "the philosophy of philosophy".

Maybe he decided that nobody would understand another expression to mean "philosophy of philosophy".

Yes, the only expression that means "philosophy of philosophy" is the expression "philosophy of philosophy" itself.

A dictionary would have told you that.

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