CONCEPTS

What are Philosophical Disciplines?

We explain what they are and what are philosophical disciplines, what they are concerned with and the characteristics of each one.

What are philosophical disciplines?

Philosophical disciplines, also called branches of philosophy , are the various aspects of study that philosophy encompasses , that is, that are inserted into it as a much larger field. Each has its own objectives and particular approaches to reasoning.

Together they constitute the different perspectives that philosophy offers regarding human existence . In addition, they have varied greatly since the origins of philosophy, back in times of classical antiquity, when it began its slow path of formal separation from religious knowledge and mysticism.

For that reason, many of the areas of knowledge that today we consider part of the sciences , such as astronomy (now part of physics ), were at some point branches of natural philosophy. It is for this reason that philosophy is considered as the mother of all sciences.

Philosophy is a field of study dedicated to thought , and that tries to answer the most transcendental questions of humanity, such as Who are we? Where we go? What is the meaning of life?

To some extent, there is a branch of philosophy for each of those transcendental questions that rarely have a simple answer. Next we will see each of the philosophical disciplines separately.

Branch of Philosophy

Metaphysics

Its name comes from the Latin metaphysics and means “beyond nature”, since it is the study of the fundamental aspects of reality . This happens by answering the difficult question of what reality is, but also defining basic concepts such as “entity”, “existence”, ” being “, “object”, ” time “, ” space ” and many others.

These notions cannot be explained by empirical research, but are figures of reasoning. Metaphysics has two main branches: ontology, which is the study of being as such, and teleology, which is the study of transcendent purposes.

Gnoseology

Also known as the ” Theory of knowledge “, it is the branch of philosophy that deals with thinking about what knowledge is, how it originates and what its limits are .

It does not deal with the possible types of knowledge, such as science, but the nature of knowledge itself, that is, its understanding as an object of study. For this reason it has many points of contact with disciplines such as psychology , education or logic .

Epistemology

branches of philosophy philosophical disciplines epistemology
Epistemology studies how knowledge is reached and how it is validated.

Its name comes from the Greek epistêmê that translates “knowledge”, and constitutes a branch close to gnoseology, although clearly differentiated from it. Epistemology studies the mechanisms of obtaining knowledge .

Specifically, it deals with the historical, psychological or sociological circumstances that lead to the obtaining and validation of human knowledge , as well as the criteria used to approve or invalidate it: truth , objectivity, reality or justification.

For many authors, epistemology would be a kind of theory of knowledge applied to scientific thinking , but there are different opinions about where the limits of this discipline are.

Logic

This branch of philosophy is also a formal science , like mathematics , to which it is very close. It deals with the distinction between reasoning processes that are valid and those that are not , based on the principles of demonstration and inference, which includes the study of paradoxes , fallacies and truth itself.

Logic has specific applications within the field of other scientific disciplines, such as mathematical logic, computational logic, etc.

Ethics

Also known as moral philosophy , ethics studies human behavior and intends to understand the differences between right and wrong , good and bad, and notions of virtue, happiness and duty. Ethics can also be considered the discipline that studies morality, although many use these two terms as synonyms.

Ethics is commonly divided into three sub-branches: metaethics, which studies the origin and nature of ethical concepts; normative ethics, which studies the standards or norms of regulation of human behavior ; and applied ethics, which studies controversies and ethical dilemmas to try to give them a useful answer.

Esthetic

branches of philosophy philosophical aesthetic disciplines
Aesthetics studies how we experience and judge beauty.

The name of this discipline comes from the Greek aistehetikê , which translates ” perception ” or “sensation.” It is the branch of philosophy that makes beauty its object of study. That is, study the essence and perception of beauty , aesthetic judgments, aesthetic experiences, and concepts such as the beautiful, the ugly, the sublime or the elegant.

Depending on the author, aesthetics can also be considered as the philosophical branch that studies perception, to try to find out why some things we consider pleasant and others not. It is common to take care of art forms , but also the feelings that they evoke us, or the values that may be contained in them.

Political philosophy

This discipline studies the relationship between individuals and society , and deals with fundamental concepts such as government , laws , politics , freedom , equality , justice , rights or political power . He wonders about what makes a government legitimate or not, what its functions are, and when it can be legitimately overthrown.

In this approach, political philosophy can approximate Political Science or political science; but while the latter are concerned with the history , current and future of politics, philosophy deals with theorizing about its fundamental concepts.

Language philosophy

As the name implies, this discipline is dedicated to the philosophical study of language. Investigate the most fundamental aspects of language such as meaning, reference, its limits , or the relationship between language, the world and thought.

To do this, they can use knowledge that belongs to linguistics, although the latter studies language from an empirical perspective, while the philosophy of language does not distinguish between written, spoken or any other manifestation. In addition it only uses mental experiments.

The philosophy of language usually includes two subdisciplines that are semantics (also shared with linguistics) that deals with meaning and meaning, that is, with the links between language and the world; and pragmatics, which studies the relationships between language and its users.

Philosophy of mind

Also called Philosophy of the Spirit, this discipline makes the human mind its object of study. Study perceptions, sensations, emotions, fantasies and dreams, thoughts and even beliefs. It is questioned what defines that something belongs to the field of the mental. In addition, the philosophy of the mind reflects on how much we can know our own mind .

In this approach, the philosophy of the mind approaches other sciences such as cognitive science or psychology, but as in other cases, the philosophical discipline always remains in the questioning of the fundamental concepts, that is, the essential and basic questions , instead of empirical knowledge .

Some of the fundamental dilemmas of this discipline are the relationship between the mind and the body, the permanence in time of personal identity or the possibility of recognition between minds.

What do we understand by philosophy?

Philosophy is a very ancient field of study, which has its origin in ancient Greece, where thinkers were already wondering questions about life, knowledge and death. His contributions have allowed the birth of many currents of thought, science and theoretical orientations . It is a system of knowledge that straddles theology and science, and that is based on reason.

Thus, philosophy encompasses a series of knowledge that seeks to answer questions such as: Where do we come from? What is the meaning of man? Etc. In addition, it is important to note that the psychology that we know today was born from philosophy.

That is, it aims to answer transcendental questions of the human being, through the exploration of knowledge, reflection and reason . In addition, it also explores other aspects such as ethics, morals, beauty or language, through the questioning of reality.

Philosophy examples for everyday life

Congress has unanimously agreed to make philosophy compulsory again in the 4th year of secondary school and in the 1st and 2nd year of high school, as it was before the 2013 law. Since then, it was only mandatory in the first year of high school.

The subject was no longer considered a “priority area” and has been questioned for its impractical nature. But, as the philosopher Marina Garcés reminded us , “philosophy is not useful or useless. It is necessary”. It is a “fundamental language” for learning to think critically.

Anyway, by now there will be readers saying something like, “Okay, great. Philosophy is pretty. It can be a hobby, like playing chess or solving crosswords. But it doesn’t translate into anything that can help me. I will never find myself in the situation of doubting whether the world exists, like Descartes.

But reflection and analysis of fundamental questions have much more practical consequences than it seems. Philosophy not only helps us see the world differently, it can also change how we interact with it. From how we can help others to how to face death or whether we should tweet in anger. Critical thinking and the tools that philosophy provides us help us make thoughtful decisions.

1. How can I help more people?

Suppose you want to donate 10 euros to an NGO. Which one should you choose? One whose name sounds familiar to you? Anyone who is working in the catastrophe field? Or maybe another that works in your city?

Philosophers advocating the “effective altruism” stream believe that donations, no matter how small, can help a lot more than we think. Australian philosopher Peter Singer reminded Verne that countries in extreme poverty “live on less than $ 700 a year and often do not have access to clean water, basic sanitation and education for their children.” That is, those 10 euros can go much further in one of these countries with a worse economic situation.

Besides that, not all initiatives work the same. In his book Doing Good Better , Oxford University philosopher William MacAskill advises asking ourselves questions such as the following: Are we helping in an area that is neglected and therefore in need of resources? Or do we donate when a catastrophe occurs and, therefore, there are already many people lending a hand?

MacAskill also advocates taking into account whether there is evidence of the extent of the NGO’s actions. For example, although it may sound paradoxical, roundworm elimination programs are more helpful in reducing truancy in Kenya than buying textbooks.

A lot of work for 10 euros? If it is. But there are organizations that offer this information, such as Give Well , which analyzes the impact of the NGOs it recommends, and The Life You Can Change , by Singer himself, which even includes a calculator that allows you to know what each donation will be for.

2. Should I join the controversy of the day on Twitter?

Well, you have already donated the 10 euros. Now you take out your mobile to take a tour of Twitter. As often happens in these cases, after a few seconds you are already very angry with someone who has said a lot and you want to say four things very clear.

Although it may not be a good idea. Psychologists Paul Bloom and Matthew Jordan wondered in The New York Times a few weeks ago if we are all “harmless torturers” because of social media. This nickname refers to a thought experiment that Derek Parfit raises in Reasons and People , a 1986 book. The philosopher, who died in 2017, imagines torturers who years ago had to cause the maximum possible pain to a single person each , but now have a system that exempts them from responsibility. All they have to do is press a button that increases the pain felt by each one of the thousand prisoners by one thousandth.

That is, the torturers can claim that they have not made much of a difference in the suffering of these people. “If I had stopped pushing the button, his pain would have gone from 1000 to 999, so why would I risk getting fired?” Or, if we talk about Twitter, if for 280 characters not much will change, why am I going to stop running out of my retweets even at the cost of humiliating or insulting someone?

But, of course, we don’t really act alone. There is not much difference for a single person, but each of the torturers is still responsible for the damage caused. Especially if we take into account that it is likely that he only presses the button because he thinks that the other 999 will press it.

3. Who can I vote for?

One of the examples is that we do not usually act alone is the elections. A vote can help make a difference, so this decision must be made with some responsibility. For example, do we want to help create a more equitable society or do we prefer to promote individual freedom?

The American philosopher John Rawls proposed in A Theory of Justice (1971) that we imagine that we have all come together to agree on the fundamental principles of society. There is a but: we do not know what our position will be in this society. We may be rich or poor, we may be healthy or sick, we may be intelligent or rather fair. We don’t even know if we will be born in Spain or Somalia. We are under “the veil of ignorance”, in what Rawls calls the “original position.”

In these circumstances and according to Rawls, we will all imagine that we run the risk of being in a more unfavorable position, so we will choose a society that protects us, arriving at two basic principles:

1. The first ensures basic and equal freedoms for all citizens, such as freedom of expression and religion.

2. The second refers to social and economic equality. Inequalities are only allowed if they benefit the worst-off members of society. According to Rawls, to know if a society is fair one does not have to look at total wealth or how it is distributed. It is enough to examine the situation of those who are having the worst.

But not everyone agrees with the results of this approach. If Rawls laid the foundations for contemporary social democratic thought, Robert Nozick did the same for modern liberalism with his Anarchy, State, and Utopia in 1974.

For Nozick, the term “redistributive justice” is not appropriate. In his opinion, wealth is not something that is there and only has to be distributed: wealth has to be created. When people make free decisions about financial matters, some end up with more money and others with less. As long as there has been a free exchange, the result is fair.

4. How should I deal with death?

On the other hand, does any of this matter? After all, our lives are too short for a handful of votes, a few tweets or donating 10 euros every now and then to make a significant difference.

Schopenhauer said that the fact that our lives are surrounded by nothingness leads us to feel metaphysical anxiety, “an existential anguish that assails us when we try to contemplate the eternal abyss of Nothingness”, as Simon Blackburn sums up in The Big Questions .

The two nothingness do not distress us equally. It may make us dizzy to know that millions of years passed until we were born. But the nothing that will happen to us is the one that usually scares us the most: millions of years will pass (probably) when we are already dead. Why do we ignore the Roman philosopher Lucretius when he tells us in his On the Nature of Things that this eternity until our birth is a mirror of what will happen after our death?

In fact, for Epicurus, this fear is irrational. Death is nothing, since once we are dead we will not be able to feel anything at all. We should not fear it because when it comes to us, we are no longer there.

Epicurus’s words are often greeted with admiration, but without much effect. Before we were born we did not exist, but we did exist before we died. Surely we will not get to know what it is like to be dead, but we will know “what it means to die”, as Oriol Quintana points out in 100 philosophical questions .

What if we could be immortal? According to Briton Bernard Williams, immortality would be tedious and would make our lives meaningless. There will always be time to do everything and, consequently, we would not have any urgency to do anything. That is, we may not be able to get rid of the fear of death, but at least it can serve to remind us that we must take advantage of our lives. And not even if they are brief, but precisely because they are.

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