In this brief guide we are going to answer the question ‘’What are the 4 major branches of philosophy?’’ We will talk about what philosophy is, how it came into being, and we will detail the object of study of each branch.
What are the 4 major branches of philosophy?
The 3 major branches of philosophy are:
From a contemporary point of view, philosophy is a kind of mother science from which almost all the specialised disciplines we know today are derived. It focuses its interests on reflection, specifically on subjects such as morality, beauty, experience, language and existence itself.
Its name comes from the Greek words filein (“to love”) and sophia (“wisdom”), we would have to conclude that it is a love of knowledge, a passion for understanding, or something similar. It is impossible to understand what philosophy is without considering its origins, its particular history and the place it still occupies in the contemporary world.
It is almost easier to say what philosophy is not, for example, its particular quest for wisdom is much broader (as well as deeper and more transcendental) than that of the sciences, especially the applied sciences.
It is also different from the search proposed by religion since the latter is based on faith, whereas philosophy is based on human reason. It also differs from esotericism, occultism and pseudo-sciences in that it works with verifiable, logical, organised and legitimate knowledge.
However, since the fields of philosophical study are so broad, they often coincide with those of many other disciplines; but at the same time, philosophy transcends them. Broadly speaking, it is knowledge about knowledge, that is, it is thought about thought itself and about the human being capable of producing it.
What are the 4 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, who is considered the first philosopher of Western culture.
- Heraclitus, who was nicknamed “the dark one of Ephesus”.
- Pythagoras, a great philosopher and mathematician.
- Socrates, considered the wisest philosopher of the Greeks.
- Plato, who was the first to study the body as separate from the Soul.
- Aristotle, who 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.
The word “logic” has its origin in the ancient Greek “logikḗ”, meaning “endowed with reason”. Logic is the formal science derived from philosophy (and closely related to mathematics) that studies the principles of demonstration and valid inference, fallacies, paradoxes and the notion of truth.
Inference is the object of study of logic, just as life is for biology and matter is for chemistry.
Inference refers to the mind’s process of evaluating propositions. It is the result or conclusions derived from the deductive process from premises.
Generally, three kinds of inference are distinguished:
- Deduction: an argument in which the conclusion reached is necessarily inferred from the premises (propositions).
- Induction: refers to the reasoning that studies the evidence that allows the probability of arguments to be measured, as well as the rules for constructing strong inductive arguments.
- Abduction: generates a hypothesis from the description of a fact or phenomenon, in order to explain the possible reasons or motives for the fact by means of the premises obtained.
Logic is traditionally considered a branch of philosophy, but has demonstrated an intimate relationship with mathematics, thus giving rise to mathematical logic.
Philosophy is one of the longest-standing disciplines in human history. Its importance is not exclusive to the humanities or to scholars of art or history. Its proliferation of branches and specialisations allows it to think about the dilemmas of contemporary human beings and to be applied to different areas of knowledge.
It represents the possibility of thinking about the way we are changing the world, that is, the way we are changing ourselves and, at the same time, the way we are thinking about it. Philosophy is a mirror in which to look at ourselves in order to know who we are.
Wittgenstein, L., & Pears, D. (2014). Tractatus logico-philosophicus. Oxfordshire, England: Routledge.
Benton, M. (2017). Epistemology Personalized. The Philosophical Quarterly. 67 (269): pp. 813 – 834.