The Areas of PhilosophyNovember 19, 2018
The range of philosophy is large and basically unified. However, to clarify issues and build up expertise it divides its energies into areas of specialisation.
There are two characteristics of these areas. One is those that have a subject matter that seems to underpin most of what we think and do. The others underpin more particular concerns we have. The areas feed on one another and are interrelated. Philosophy is not built like other subjects from unquestioned basic foundation upwards.
It does not consist of easy bits we can all assume out of which the more complex bits are made. There is, as they say, no shallow end in philosophy – when one starts all the deep issues come into play straightaway.
As far as the subjects of the chapters in this book are concerned, philosophy can be divided into three groups.
Philosophy of mind
Philosophy of language
Philosophy of science
Modern philosophy: seventeenth and eighteenth centuries
Philosophy of religion
The relation between these subdivisions of philosophy is not one of difficulty but one of generality, with lesser generality as one moves away from the centre. This is not to say the outer subjects are less important. Rather it is that those subjects in Group I underpin the problems considered in Group II, and have consequences for the conclusions one reaches in Group II – Group II finds itself referring back to Group I constantly.
The subjects in Group III do not raise new fundamental philosophical considerations that are not dealt with in Groups I and II, but rather apply all the problems encountered in Groups I and II to specific areas. Here are some examples: Metaphysics may be concerned with what sort of entities fundamentally exist; aesthetics is concerned with thinking about in what way works of art exist; what sort of entities are they? Ethics examines what it is to say that we ought to do something, for something to be right or wrong; political philosophy studies the right way to organise society, if it should be organised at all.
The historical chapters listed here, such as Ancient Philosophy and Medieval Philosophy of course deal with all the central problems of philosophy as they are treated by a period or school of thinkers.