The definition of philosophy – judging, at least, from very nearly every philosophy dictionary on the planet – has confounded philosophers for many centuries, the concept being too large, it is sometimes said, to properly convey in a concise fashion. Yet, at the same time, in all branches of philosophy, minutia is cataloged to complete weariness.
This annoying problem is really nothing more than skepticism and its little bitch postmodernism running amok again.
The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, for instance, a thoroughly postmodern compilation, says this:
“Some readers might be surprised to find that there is no entry simply on philosophy itself. This is partly because no short definition will do.”
That statement – and all others like it – is flatly false.
The definition of philosophy is as follows:
Philosophy: the science of rudiments and foundations; the study of fundamentals.
A philosophy is an organized system of ideas and arguments.
Etymologically, the word, as you know, comes from the Greek term philia(meaning love) or philos (meaning friend or lover); and sophia (meaning wisdom).
A fellow by the name of Diogenes Laertius claims that the term philosopherwas coined by Pythagoras, in place of the word sophist, which meant “wise man.” But Diogenes Laertius was squirrelly, and his Pythagorean claim is therefore dubious.
Oxford – evidently not as equivocal as Cambridge – defines philosophy thus:
“The investigation of the most general and abstract features of the world and the categories with which we think, in order to lay bare their foundations and presuppositions.”
Not bad; better still, however, is Penguin’s philosophy dictionary, which says that philosophy studies “the most fundamental and general concepts and principles involved in thought, action, and reality.”
And yet the best of them all comes not from a philosophy dictionary, exactly, but a man named Désiré-Félicien-François-Joseph Mercier – a.k.a. Cardinal Mercier – the late nineteenth-century thinker, who spoke well when he spoke thus:
“[Philosophy] does not profess to be a particularized science [but] ranks above them, dealing in an ultimate fashion with their respective objects, inquiring into their connexions and relations of these connexions.”
Philosophy, he continues, “deserves above all to be called the most generalscience” (A Manual of Modern Scholastic Philosophy).
Lexically, here’s all you really need to know:
Philosophy comes first, and last.
Philosophy is the alpha and the omega; it is the most fundamental science because it studies the foundations of all subsequent knowledge, and that is why all the other sciences depend upon it: because knowledge forms a hierarchy.
For humans, to live is to think; our life is in large part our consciousness: we are defined by the entirety of our actions, but our actions are shaped by our thoughts.
Thinking, as stated once before, is the human quiddity.
Philosophy provides the gauge for, and also defines the limits (or lack) of, all human knowledge, as well as systematizing the proper methods by which we are able to know.
That is the definition of philosophy.