Surely not all thinking or intellectual effort is philosophy, right?

Where to draw line between philosophy and all other thinking?

What, if any, feature is present only in philosophy?

  • 5
    The story goes: once upon a time, among the ancient Greeks, all academic knowledge was philosophy. Over time, some fields of study within philosophy became more and more specialized. These fields of study required specialist training to contribute to, so they had to be studied by groups of specialists different from the "mainline" philosophers. And so, over time the specialist fields split off into different departments: various sciences and mathematics. What we now call philosophy is what remained after all those specialist fields split off.
    – causative
    Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 3:35
  • 2
    @causative Why would the split happen?
    – Atif
    Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 3:47
  • 1
    @Atif because the specialist fields required long and specialized training to study, different from the training for the "rest" of philosophy. Different groups of people with drastically different training -> cultural split
    – causative
    Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 5:25
  • 2
    Depends on the definition. In general, you can say that philosophy means way of thinking. Consider that there's academic philosophy (way of thinking of classic and modern philosophers, so, philosophy is what is taught, what is included in the curricula), applied philosophy (way of thinking in life, the philosophy of the daily life, which is not precisely the same as the academic), and domain philosophy (the way of thinking in a domain, e.g. the philosophy of the Python programming language design).
    – RodolfoAP
    Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 7:59
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    I think the question should be "what is the difference between systematic philosophy and non-systematic philosophy"? Any type of inquiry or speculation can be considered a form of philosophy, even the layperson's.
    – Nikos M.
    Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 16:30

12 Answers 12


Your question assumes that the word 'philosophy' is unambiguous and that philosophy is a field with clearly defined boundaries. Neither of those assumptions is valid. If we restrict ourselves to the idea of philosophy as being an academic field of study, we can say that it overlaps to different extents with many other areas of study, including, for example, physics, mathematics, biology, neuroscience, computing, linguistics, jurisprudence, economics and so on. The essential characteristics that are distinctive about philosophy, and not about other fields of study, is that philosophy is largely concerned with speculations about matters concerning knowledge per se, and how we acquire and use it, that cannot yet, or can never be, established practically.

  • 2
    Not just knowledge though - philosophy also tackles questions in ethics, aesthetics, politics, ... where objective knowledge will not be forthcoming.
    – Frank
    Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 19:56
  • @frank, thanks and agreed! Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 20:07

I'm writing this from the perspective of someone who used to study and work in the context of academic philosophy for over a decade.

Philosophy means love of wisdom. In both western and eastern tradition, it originally was mainly about practice that can further insight, ie. the practice of contemplation/meditation in general and on what it means to do good/well in any human endeavour in particular.

In modern times, it generally turned into the inquiry into/analysis of the conceptual relations and logical dependencies in a given field of inquiry as well as checking the validity of the use of the concepts in use. In other words, it is a methodology.

Thus, philosophy uses language and existing knowledge and looks from there into the inner workings and outer relations of anything that is under philosophical scrutiny. The tools are logic, inference, argument, the goal is to further the understanding.

A good test is to see what the goal of a given author is. If it is solely stating something, or arguing against something, or trying to convince of something, it deserves the labels of rhetoric, polemic, sophistry. It becomes philosophy proper only if there is some level of intellectual engagement with different possible and existing positions (ie. a certain level of knowledge in the field should be reflected in the text/speech) and an intellectual process and candour to be seen. There should be the pursuit of the best possible answer to a question, ie. the starting point should never be an assertion/dogma/belief but an honest question.

  • 1
    "In modern times, it generally turned into the inquiry into/analysis of the conceptual relations and logical dependencies in a given field of inquiry.." you are talking mainly about analytic strand of modern academic philosophy. Some continental strands like Existentialism and Marxism are naturally opposed to such intellectualism.
    – Nikos M.
    Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 20:25
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    @NikosM. That is not true. Marx(ism) and even postmodernism very much analysed conceptual relations and logical dependencies. And even Nietzsche and Sartre wrote about why humans standing in relations and traditions of power cannot be free. That is not intellectualism. Just because it is done in a different style doesn't mean it's something entirely different.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 20:40
  • Every self-respecting school of thought defines its terms to a sufficient degree. Of course Marx had to define value in his economic writings. The difference is what happens after that. Revolving idly and paralyzingly around definitions is what is opposed, instead praxis is endorsed.
    – Nikos M.
    Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 21:04
  • 1
    Famous philosophers like Aristotle, Kant, Wittgenstein, Marx, Hegel, Singer, Sartre (basically any big name in philosophy) all argued for definite philosophical positions, and it is their argument for these positions for which they are best known. So it does not seem right at all to say that if an author is "solely stating something, or arguing against something or trying to convince me of something" that they are not doing philosophy. They could be doing the kind of philosophy the famous philosophers have all done and are known for.
    – causative
    Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 3:04
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    @causative There it becomes tricky as the practice of philosophy is what I describe whereas the presentation of the outcome of this process oftentimes appears more dogmatic/assertive.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 7:53

To my reckoning, perhaps it's more accurate to say in my humble opinion, all the major branches of knowledge we have at present (science at the head of the pack) have philosophical roots.

Philosophy is more a method of study than a subject to study and so is universal in scope. There are certain standards one has to adhere to in philosophy, one of them is rationality and the other, as all of us have been reminded of politely and sometimes harshly, is clear language.


Method of Study (philosophy)

  1. Critical Thinking


  • 1
    Please add a bit about the 'method' aspect?
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 21:23

There is nothing that cannot be philosophy; it represents the relationship between the observation, interpretation and manipulation of the Experience. Philosophy is everywhere & in everything; and it is only distinguishable between each of its various kinds.


Therefore, each one has a different objective. On the one hand, science wants to explain what surrounds us, and it does so through its knowledge. For its part, philosophy knows what reality is like, but it is concerned with thinking about it.

Difference Between Science and Philosophy: Origin Philosophy has its origin in the 6th and 7th centuries BC. C. and, as many know, it was developed in Ancient Greece. Therefore, it could have something more than 2,500 years of life and that is a long time. Also, everyone knows great philosophers, like Plato or Socrates.

Regarding modern science as we know it today, it originated in the 17th century and its age is about 400 years. This makes it younger and therefore less mature. For this reason, philosophical principles can be useful to you.

Difference Between Science and Philosophy: One to One Let's take a closer look at some of the differences between the two. It must be taken into account that science is understood as a general concept and we do not focus on anyone in particular.

  1. Science drinks from philosophy, but not vice versa. Thus, science is based on the teachings of the great philosophers of humanity.
  2. Science uses the scientific method, philosophy does not. Therefore, the first is carried out in a series of more or less similar phases in which hypotheses are raised and answered. The second is based above all on logical reflection.
  3. Science is concrete, philosophy is abstract. In this way, science studies real phenomena from a theoretical or applied perspective. Philosophy focuses on concepts, images, thoughts or reasoning.
  4. Philosophy is objective and science subjective. Thus, philosophy is common to all areas of life. However, there are many sciences and although they have similarities, there are also differences between them.
  5. Finally, science accesses knowledge through specific questions about it. Philosophy, on the contrary, seeks to answer general questions.

I am a computational scientist. I am currently drafting a review paper that has the provisional title "Musings of a Computational Philosopher" For the purposes of that paper I define philosophy as the asking of good questions, to which you may or may not know the answers. I think it was Bertrand Russel who complained that it was tough to be a philosopher, because as soon as your question got answered it became part of Physics.

  • +1 just for the quotation alone
    – J D
    Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 18:34

Philosophy is a linguistically developed form of disagreement, possibly modeled on courts of law.

It requires opposed definitions by at least two interlocutors who share roughly the same "knowledge," linguistic rules, and locutionary status, but disagree on "meaning," which Luhmann neatly defines as the relation of actual to possible. Not simply the actual.

The locutionary status must be one of "friendship," to adopt the term used by Deleuze and Guattari and implied in Socratic dialogue. In other words, there must be a purposeful exchange, but an absence of coercion, command, dishonesty, particularity, and material interest. There must be a formal interest in true agreement, which is not the case, for example, in the courts of law or the market.

Thus, paradoxically, the disagreement must be elaborated on the premise of possible agreement. Yet to the extent that agreement is actually achieved the exchange ceases to be philosophy. To the extent that physics, for example, agrees upon its terms of validation and arrives at such validation it ceases to be philosophy and becomes a useful method of arriving at provisional agreement and knowledge.

This is why, as the other answers make abundantly clear, philosophers can never arrive at any agreed upon definition of philosophy, by definition, as it were. Philosophy may be instructive and assist in disclosures of knowledge, but it is less like science than like a highly suspenseful, unending detective story, a meaningful and permanent suspension of the truth.

Of course, there are many styles and rules to this form of reasoning or "giving reasons," as Rorty says. There is also, strangest of all, a cumulative forward progress. But not towards definition. It is a kind of organic growth, best captured in the voluptuous involutions of Hegelian dialectic, in my view.

Because of this organicism, philosophy cannot readily "disprove" old lines of argument. And this is why philosophers will generally agree that to do philosophy one must engage with other philosophers, living and dead, opening up the disagreement to redescription, if not falsifiability. Though Marx, for example, may be a philosopher (of philosophy), he ceases to be that when his arguments disengage from other philosophers to engage with "economists."

This is a highly circular description, of course. But it is necessary to prevent definition, closure, and death and to keep reason itself alive in the face of brutal authority, somewhat in the coy, infuriating manner of Scheherazade. Montaigne remarked that the only thing he could not bear was agreement, and I suspect most philosophers would agree with that.

  • +1 This is a fantastic answer. Would you be willing to point me towards a way to approach Luhmann's thinking auf Englisch, bitte? I'm not familiar with him or his work.
    – J D
    Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 20:24
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    @JD, There is little development of Luhmann's work in English, no "school" of L. But his main works have been translated and several "guides" are available in English. He is influenced by systems theory, Whitehead, and sociology, Parsons. Known for his debates with Habermas, from the conservative side. I find him very interesting, though my L "phase" was awhile back. Since I have no formal training I generally start with a short work and a guide work, in my case "The Reality of the Media" and "Luhmann Explained." Plenty at Amazon. Very eclectic, idiosyncratic, not quickly grasped. Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 20:43
  • Thoroughly indebted, thanks.
    – J D
    Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 20:53
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    @JD I recommend thorough knowledge of first generation Frankfurt School beforehand as Luhmann builds upon a lot of the critical theory. To be honest, the one about Luhmann was one of my least enjoyable university courses. We had to read over 200 pages per week (13 sessions/1 semester) to get some insight into his thought over these long-winded, intellectually over-sophisticated lines. Not as bad as Adorno in terms of technicality but much worse in terms of succintness.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Jan 20, 2023 at 5:49
  • @PhilipKlöcking Thanks, you boss man! I'll take your advisory earnestly. Still drilling down on Kant-Frege-Russell-Dummett. Then I'll swing by Kant-Hegel-Feuerbach. Then maybe Kant-Husserl-Heidegger. Now it looks like Kant-Husserl-Frankfurt-Adorno/Luhmann might be another axis of advance to compare and contrast the two mighty traditions. I will hold you to your offer on the analysis of AI from philosophical anthropology someday; but that's a couple of years off.
    – J D
    Commented Jan 20, 2023 at 8:52

This is an interesting question and I think it's easier to flip it around and ask what makes something not-philosophy. We don't call carpentry or structural engineering 'philosophies'. We don't have a 'philosophy of flight' (things can fly, or they can't). We don't call a theory of physics (e.g. General Relativity) a philosophy.

We do, though, have philosophy of physics (which I find highly entertaining and interesting.) It's not about what the rules of physics are but rather what they mean.

So, I'll propose that for something to be considered not-philosophy, it must have some direct manifestation in reality. For example, if you believe a 'philosophy of eating' which claims it is unnecessary, there are direct consequences that we can observe by you following that. Alternately, you can believe a philosophy of quantum mechanics that states there are branching realities and I can believe that superpositions (for example) are simply part of our (singular) reality. Our opposing beliefs don't change anything about the results of experiments and until some experiment or other proof is shown that one (or both) are incorrect (in reality) they remain in the realm of philosophy.

I am aware that the concept of 'reality' is a philosophical question in itself, but this appears to me to be the practical contemporary distinction.

  • +1 For getting to the (what I think, DareWithTruth should confirm) heart of the question. I would have upvote second time for the reasoning. You are saying that practicing and I would add experimenting part is not philosophy. In other words just observing and analyzing is philosophy.
    – Atif
    Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 4:52
  • As an aerodynamicist, I would claim that we do have a philosophy of flight. There are not only things that can or cannot fly but also things that can or cannot "fly well" Flying well has to be defined in terms of need. A flying squirrel just wants to glide from tree to tree, and flies well if this is bit easier that jumping. It does not have to fly as well as a seagull. In those cases where it matters, flying well always implies treating the air as gently as possible. In the course of evolution, all creatures must pass through a stage of "not-well flying"
    – Philip Roe
    Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 19:27
  • @PhilipRoe I think you miss the point. Is 'flying well' something that can be measured? Something like "if it looks good it flies good" might be a better fit. I'm not saying that you can't have a philosophy of flight but whether something can fly (or how well/efficiently) is not a philosophical argument. It's something that we can verify empirically.
    – JimmyJames
    Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 19:34
  • hmm.....I think you miss my point. I am not trying to verify something. I am trying to achieve something. For that it is helpful to have a philosophy.
    – Philip Roe
    Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 16:51
  • @PhilipRoe I'm not sure what that has to do with the answer here.
    – JimmyJames
    Commented Jan 30, 2023 at 14:47

Hello DareWithTruth!

One of the simplest questions one can ask when beginning is 'What is philosophy?'. If there is 'philosophy', and not everything is 'philosophy', then there is 'non-philosophy'. Then the question becomes 'how do we discriminate between philosophy and non-philosophy'? All great questions. Let's provide a quick response to set you up for answering the question yourself.

How To Distinguish Between Philosophy And Non-Philosophy?

The TLDR is much like the question of what demarcates the sciences from the pseudosciences, the question of demarcation between philosophy and non-philosophy doesn't have a simple answer. This is because the question of what philosophy is, is itself up for debate among philosophers, and any one who is convinced they know what philosophy is exactly probably lacks critical thinking skills. Those who do have good critical thinking skills find themselves engaged in metaphilosophy (IEP). To wit:

What is philosophy? What is philosophy for? How should philosophy be done? These are metaphilosophical questions, metaphilosophy being the study of the nature of philosophy. Contemporary metaphilosophies within the Western philosophical tradition can be divided, rather roughly, according to whether they are associated with (1) Analytic philosophy, (2) Pragmatist philosophy, or (3) Continental philosophy.

This classification isn't canon. And these are contemporaneous positions. For instance, a number of the Ancient Greeks simply pursued eudaimonia which might be characterized as the pursuit of goodness with reason. Sometimes you'll hear this referred to as philosophy with a capital P. Another example of a tradition of philosophical thinking is process philosophy (SEP), which if the article's author is to believed has essential three tasks according to the tradition.

Thus, before one can even discriminate between philosophical and non-philosophical thinking, one has to determine what philosophical thinking entails. Today, one generally hears that philosophy is composed of several major domains: aesthetics, ethics, metaphysics, ontology, and epistemology, though these terms are highly interrelated. Understanding their broad natures is a good start to deciding what is philosophy and what is not.

Furthermore, can ontological and epistemological questions be applied to any domain? Most philosophers seem to concede the point. This gives rise to a great number of philosophies-of. For example:

  • Philosophy of philosophy (metaphilosophy)
  • Philosophy of Physics
  • Philosophy of Chemistry
  • Philosophy of Biology
  • Philosophy of Psychology
  • Philosophy of Sociology
  • Philosophy of Math
  • Philosophy of Logic
  • Philosophy of Computer Science
  • Philosophy of Architecture

ad nauseum! While there's a lot of disagreement over what exactly is philosophy one can wade into the question by weighing famous philosophers on the matter. For instance, Deleuze and Guattari were French thinkers who tackled the question in their What is Philosophy?. There seems to be broad consensus that leads to an essentialist definition, like the one offered by MW. And if you look at what universities teach, you'll get a better sense of what common topics are. Surely logic and reason are central to any method, and a familiar with ideas and concepts (which themselves open to ontological interpretation).

So the simple answer is, even armed with a good notion of what philosophy is, distinguishing between the philosophical and non-philosophical is tough and open to interpretation. Where does the philosophy of psychology end and psychology proper begin? My advice is you best get comfortable with vague predicates and free yourself from the tyranny of exclusions in categorization.


The same can be asked about parts of philosophy: what is metaphysics? for example, which claims are claims in metaphysics and which are not? Note, that this has also changed over time. Modern philosophers in metaphysics handle more questions than their Ancient or Medieval counterparts used to. See https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/metaphysics/. So defining philosophy is going to be hard, if even its parts are changing over time.


Philosophy gathers many specialities and each specialities may be different but concerning ethics and moral philosophy, the purpose is the following.

Philosophy's main purpose is to challenge human's will and understand how individual build his thinking. Philosopher believes that individual's represention affect individual's life. Due to that belief, philosopher trys to find and explains individual's activities objectivly by assessing the individual's bias of thinking. Philosophy is also a tool design to understand how individuals influence society . Philosophy , due to his specific process of argumentation and information source, cant be assimilated to opinion which is primary lead by pleasure. Philosophy have to be distinguish from psychology which is focus on individual's behaviour ruled by fact and event where philosophy's is focus on individual's representation ruled by concept and schema.


Philosophy is observation. Just look at whats there. Analyze it.

Science is more than that. In science you do more than "idle" observation. You try to repeat occurance of what you have seen happening. You even try to make novel things happen which are never seen happening.

Poetry is fundamentally same as philosophy. Poet take a very close look at things and either explain what he has seen or make a general comment / make a theory about what he has seen.

  • 2
    All terms are incorrect here. Philosophy has two main branches: science (what is physical, perceptible with the senses) and metaphysics (what is ideal, numbers, God, the beautiful). "Observation" falls only into the first one, philosophy is both; science is not about repetition, that is the scientific method. Science is just empirical knowledge. Poetry is about aesthetics, which is a small and isolated section of metaphysics. Poetry is not at all "fundamentally same" as philosophy.
    – RodolfoAP
    Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 7:52
  • Good start, how can we refine it. What is the motivation to do philosophy? Why bother?
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 11:48

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