The main branches of philosophy are exciting fields of knowledge of great importance and with millennia of history.
These currents seek to know, understand and explain existential elements and key factors of human societies and coexistence.
So, would you like to know what 6 of these branches are about and what are their main characteristics? If so, keep reading!
What are the 3 branches of philosophy?
The 3 main branches of philosophy are:
Reflecting on knowledge itself, the values that should govern society, our reason for existing, how we perceive beauty, what relationship we have with science… All of this is essential if we are to advance as a society.
It is a very complex doctrine, which is why over the years it has been divided into more specific branches that allow us to separate Philosophy into different fields of study. And this is precisely what we will do in today’s article: we will review the main branches of Philosophy, detailing what each one of them consists of.
What is philosophy?
Defining “Philosophy” is not easy, but perhaps the best way is to present the etymological origin of the word. Philosophy” comes from the Latin “philosophia”, a word coined by Pythagoras (one of the great philosophers of antiquity) which means “love of wisdom”.
Philosophy, then, is exactly that: the passion for knowledge. Having its origin in Greece and Ancient Rome, Philosophy was born approximately between the year VI BC and VII BC.
The first philosophers (Socrates, Marcus Aurelius, Cicero, Plato, Aristotle…) wanted to understand the world away from religion and mythology. Therefore, Philosophy was the first form of scientific thought, since they tried to give answers to our questions using the observation of natural phenomena, elaborating hypotheses and thinking rationally.
Since then, Philosophy has evolved a lot, but it still maintains that will to answer the questions that we humans ask ourselves the most, generally related to the meaning of life and our role in the Universe.
Without falling into reductionism, we could define philosophy as the doctrine that, through the use of logical reasoning and the application of theories of knowledge, reflects on generally abstract concepts such as the meaning of life, truth, ethical values, morality, the origin of thought and the purpose of living.
What are the 3 main branches of Philosophy?
As we have just seen, philosophy covers practically everything. That is to say, any concept that has to do with knowledge can be used by philosophy to reflect on it. Therefore, it has been absolutely necessary for this doctrine to be divided into branches.
Talking about philosophy always brings to our minds the ancient Greek civilisation, with its great exponents such as:
- Thales of Miletus, is considered the first philosopher of Western culture.
- Heraclitus, was nicknamed “the dark one of Ephesus”.
- Pythagoras, was a great philosopher and mathematician.
- Socrates, was considered the wisest philosopher of the Greeks.
- Plato, was the first to study the body as separate from the Soul.
- Aristotle, sought the ultimate essence of the human being, among many other great thinkers of this ancient culture.
Talking about the branches of philosophy implies focusing on the present, because throughout history this science, as well as the problems it studies, have varied. Such is the case of the study of the heavens, which today we call astronomy, but which at the beginning of philosophy was one of its objects of study.
The following is a brief description of some of the areas of study that philosophy covers today.
“Beyond Physics.” This is what is meant by metaphysics, the branch of Philosophy that studies reality as a whole, from the existence of life forms to concepts such as time, the origin of what we see, the relationship between the different objects of the Cosmos and the reason for the existence of everything.
This branch of philosophy developed thanks to such illustrious authors and thinkers as Immanuel Kant, Socrates, Rene Descartes and Aristotle.
Perhaps, this is the most complex and abstract philosophical current, since it focuses on nothing more and nothing less than the study of existence.
In the first place, metaphysical philosophy seeks to answer what existence is, and then to analyze the nature of existence. In addition to delving into our origins and evolution, this branch helps to analyze and answer questions about the realities of today.
Within this field, two sub-disciplines occupy an important place in the study of metaphysics: ontology and theology.
Its study is divided into two main areas:
Its aim is the study of being and its essence. Its basic premise is the study of what there is. It attempts to answer general questions such as: what is the matter? does God exist? what makes an object real? as well as the way in which existing entities are related, or the relationship between an act (Charles drank water) and its participants (Charles and water).
Theology is the discipline that focuses on the study of God and His essence. It pursues the understanding of divine nature by means of reason.
Metaphysics uses various forms of approaches to answer the questions it raises. One such approach is induction. Or it also does so through speculation. Its method is to construct a simple whole on the basis of assumptions, to use it as a starting point until it finds the answers it seeks.
The word ethics comes from the Greek language “ēthikós” meaning “the form”, and is one of the branches of philosophy that studies human behaviour from the perspective of the individual’s actions. Right and wrong, happiness, duty, virtue, morality and good living are all studied by this branch of philosophy.
As is common in the main branches of philosophy, ethics revolves around a great dilemma: what is good and what is evil?
In order to this balance between good and evil, in relation to the actions and thoughts of individuals and social groups, this current analyzes moral codes and the impact of behaviours and decisions on the collective.
Thanks to this philosophical branch we owe the almost unanimous acceptance of certain values considered universal, among these: love, equality, honesty, solidarity, truth, love and, of course, peace.
Ethics and morality are often confused, although they are not the same thing. While morality represents the set of norms, rules, beliefs, values, customs and conventions that direct the conduct of people in society, ethics represents the study of morality. It is the theoretical explanation of morality. In other words, morals are the norms that regulate behaviour and ethics is the explanatory study of norms.
It was the philosopher Socrates who first theorised the basic moral concepts: good and virtue. He put it this way: “the greatest good of man is to speak of virtue all the days of his life”.
The word Epistemology comes from the Greek “epistḗmē”, meaning knowledge, and “lógo”, meaning study. Epistemology is a branch of philosophy that focuses on the study of scientific knowledge. Knowledge is arrived at by means of reflection, foundations and the relationship with one’s own environment.
Epistemology must analyse the coherence of the reasoning that leads to knowledge. This knowledge must follow a methodology based on objectives, historical context, limitations, and sociological context.
To understand epistemology we must answer the following questions: What scientific knowledge can we attain, or in other words, what can we know, and what methods should we use?
Epistemology must examine the limits of knowledge and, to do so, it must ask whether the methods that have been used for knowledge respond satisfactorily to the questions that have been generated from the lack of knowledge.
For this reason, it is very important to evaluate the methodology used, both positively and negatively. Epistemology may question whether it is useful to analyse animal behaviour by means of experiments in order to extract knowledge about human behaviour.
However, we must differentiate it from methodology, since the latter deals with physical questions. Thus, following the previous example, methodology will focus on whether the laboratory conditions were correct or whether the animal chosen for the scientific study is the right one.
Epistemology is a branch of philosophy that emerged in the Renaissance, its most relevant figures being René Descartes, David Hume and John Locke.
You already know what the main branches of philosophy are! As you can see, each one plays a transcendental role in a certain area and, in general, they help us to better understand the world and our own existence.
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Wittgenstein, L., & Pears, D. (2014). Tractatus logico-philosophicus. Oxfordshire, England: Routledge.
Benton, M. (2017). Epistemology Personalized. The Philosophical Quarterly. 67 (269): pp. 813 – 834.