The notions of logical consistency, pertinence and possibly relevance seem important for a philosophical inquiry on some matter to be fruitful and interesting.

Other notions once considered important, such as the notion of causality, are possibly irrelevant and even inadequate in certain contexts.

I wonder if it would be possible to mention some highly frequent unifying characteristics or general principles of most historically relevant philosophical theories and proposals?

  • In analytic philosophy rationality, unification, explanatory power, simplicity, scope of application, internal coherence, coherence with accepted science, continuity with tradition would be some widely recognized virtues. Of course, subtlety and creativity are also valued, even more so in continental philosophy. This generally goes under the title of cognitive/epistemic values.
    – Conifold
    Jun 27 at 3:32
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    Why would philosophy have different principles for effective reflection/inquiry than anything else? Jun 27 at 6:38
  • @DavidGudeman Well, if you look to natural sciences, most of them has a set of well established principles. On the other hand if you look at maths, it seems there is wildly diverse set of rules, without many unifying principles.
    – Davius
    Jun 27 at 13:22
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    A general principle is a true philosophical reflection should look like a mirror so that it can help you clearly "see" thyself from the said enquiring image of reflection in such a way that you can clearly connect its causal chain without excessive sentences or formulas thus you feel you gain an axe for the frozen sea within your confusion while in the same time every previously thought certainty now could be mysterious and manifold. I call it the "Delphic Oracle Principle" since it satisfies all 3 Delphic maxims... Jun 28 at 1:32
  • Perhaps the most general criterions philosophical argumentation is judged by are logical ones - most apparent sufficiency and neccesity. But even those are not necessarily required for some traditions in philosophy, so it can be argued that any attempt to view a "unification" in philosophy in general is to misunderstand the history of philosophy. You might find it more fruitful to limit your question to a specific tradition, as Conifold provided for modern analytic philosophy. Jul 2 at 10:52

2 Answers 2


When it comes to political philosophy, one unifying challenge is to describe the position of every person in the society once the new philosophical system is in place. It is common for a philosophical work to go on and on about the benefits that will fall out of the sky for certain favored groups, and ignore completely the groups that will shoulder the burden of providing these benefits. Maybe the disfavored group deserves its loss (as in the example of masters losing their rights to enslaved persons), but the philosopher is obligated to say that out loud and to explain why.


I would say the unifying principle is what Plato called dialectic. Roughly, the social practice of giving and asking for reasons while seeking the truth.

Note that I said "seeking the truth" above to avoid the implication that philosophical dialectic will ever terminate in some final perfectly true theory. In fact, the Socratic roots of philosophy indicate that the wisdom gained from engaging in philosophy is coming to the realization that one likely will never know anything with certainty (epistemic fallibilism). That is fallibilism is not a prior principle of philosophy, but a shift in existential stance that may result from the practice of philosophy.

Many of the other principles mentioned by the original poster and in some of the comments are views articulated within philosophical discourse rather than being framing conditions of philosophy itself. Even the principle of non-contradiction is put forward and defended as a philosophical thesis in Aristotle, and certainly there are philosophical texts both before and after Aristotle that have challenged the truth of the principle of non-contradiction (dialetheism) although this is a minority position.

One could say that some Continental philosophy challenges the idea that philosophy is a game of giving and asking for reasons seeking truth, and instead reframing it as a play of texts (Derrida), a form of artistic expression (Deleuze), or a raw power struggle (Nietzsche, Foucault). However, I am unconvinced by this. I would say that in each case, these authors only succeed in shifting the genre of their thought from philosophy to something else. One can argue that we should stop doing philosophy and instead engage in these other kinds of thinking or text-generating activities, but that is not an argument against philosophy itself being essentially what Plato called dialectic.

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