The word “philosophy” is derived from the ancient Greek philosophia which roughly means “love of wisdom”. It suggests a vocation for questioning, learning, and spreading knowledge. Many philosophers are curious about the world, humanity, existence, values, understanding, and the nature of things.
Some authorities distinguish philosophy by its methods of inquiry. Many philosophers frame their questions as problems or puzzles, in order to give clear examples of their doubts about a subject they find interesting, wonderful, or confusing. Often these questions are about the assumptions behind a belief, or about methods by which people reason.
Philosophers then attempt to answer these doubts. Many philosophers frame problems in a logical manner, using syllogisms, and then work towards a solution based on critical reading and reasoning. Others, like Socrates, search for answers through discussions, or by responding to the arguments of others. Still other philosophers put more emphasis on the practice of careful personal contemplation. Philosophers also debate these methods, asking whether “solving” a philosophical problem is like answering a question in the natural sciences: whether or not, for example, philosophical “solutions” are objective, definitive, and say something informative about reality; or rather whether these solutions just give more clarity or insight on the logic of our language, or even act as personal therapy.
Most philosophers prefer that philosophical answers follow from justifications. Philosophers rarely accept a philosophical belief without asking for justification.
In the recent Analytic tradition, debates about philosophical method have been closely connected to debates about the relationship between philosophy and natural science, and arguments over whether philosophy makes (or can make) progress in the same ways as the natural sciences. There is an entire field of philosophy—called meta-philosophy, the “philosophy of philosophy”—the subject of which is the nature of philosophical problems, philosophical solutions, and the proper method for getting from one to another (cf. Pataphysics). These debates may also be connected to debates over language and interpretation, as in Continental philosophy.
These debates are not less relevant to philosophy as a whole, since the nature and role of philosophy itself has always been an essential part of philosophical deliberations. On the contrary, the existence of fields like Pataphysics, indicates a lengthy debate beyond the scope of this article. Such questions are discussed at more length elsewhere.