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What is Philosophy?

What is Philosophy?

David Kelley Ph.D

3 Mins
June 14, 2010

Question: What is philosophy?

In order to live, man must act; in order to act, he must make choices; in order to make choices, he must define a code of values; in order to define a code of values, he must know what he is and where he is––i.e., he must know his own nature (including his means of knowledge) and the nature of the universe in which he acts––i.e., he needs metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, which means: philosophy. ––Ayn Rand, The Romantic Manifesto

If Objectivism is a philosophy, the first question to ask is "What is philosophy?"

A philosophy is a comprehensive system of ideas about the world and our place in it, about human nature, about the validity of our knowledge, about the values we should pursue, for ourselves and in our relationships to others. It is a guide for living, because it addresses the course we take in life.

Philosophy has distinct branches that address fundamental questions:

  • Metaphysics (What is reality?)
  • Epistemology (How do I know?)
  • Ethics (What is important for life as a human being?)
  • Politics (What is the purpose of government?)
  • Aesthetics (What is the role of art?)

The most widespread philosophical systems are religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or Buddhism. Each religion is a philosophy with its own specific views on issues in each branch. The belief in God, or gods, or a realm beyond the natural world is a metaphysical belief. Many religions have a lot to say about ethics, values, and moral principles.

What is ancient greek philosophy study guide

But religions are only one type of philosophy. In ancient Greece, for example, Plato and Aristotle developed distinctive philosophical systems to address all the major issues, from metaphysics to aesthetics, but did not include the idea of a personal god. Objectivism is similar in this respect.

In politics, philosophical views are often known as ideologies, such as liberalism, conservatism, socialism, and libertarianism. Political philosophies like these offer systematic views on issues such as the proper functions of government, the rights of individuals, and the role of democracy.

Next >   Why Does Anyone Need a Philosophy?

David Kelley


David Kelley

David Kelley is the founder of The Atlas Society. A professional philosopher, teacher, and best-selling author, he has been a leading proponent of Objectivism for more than 25 years.