ETYMOLOGY: Philosophy is the Love of Wisdom. “philos” comes from the verb “philein,” to love; “sophia” means wisdom.
Wisdom is different from knowledge. Knowledge is knowledge of something. Wisdom: is knowing what you do not know (Socrates); knowing the limits of your knowledge and this “knowing” is more like insight than fact.
Philosophy, as wisdom, is like learning to know where and how to begin and what we should strive for. We need to know what the questions are, what it is that we do not know, how to think about these questions, and what is the grander picture we are looking at the details of? The love of wisdom does not limit the thinker to knowing a set of skills--how to fix a bike, how to mend a heart, how to sing a song—rather it is a love of the totality of what is possible to know. Plato expressed this by saying that:
“... this feeling -- a sense of wonder -- is perfectly proper to a philosopher: philosophy has no other foundation, in fact”
--Plato, Theaetetus, 155d.
At its birth (in ancient China and Greece) philosophy included the study of logic, physics, medicine, natural sciences, ethics, politics, art, poetry, and religion … Philosophy was the science of thinking (wissenshaft, science, a system of knowing) and was everything that the thinking was about. Everything engaged in or by thought, including thought itself, is philosophy. In its truest sense, this is, still, what philosophy is today: it is the study of fundamental questions—one that requires vast knowledge, knowledge not that one has, but that one seeks, constantly, as a lover, so it is a life-long effort to draw closer to what is and gives value to life.
But today … philosophy is deemed as one study, as a single discipline, and not all love-guided seeking of wisdom. For the most part, the pursuit of wisdom has grown far from its roots and splintered greatly. Imagine the beginnings of philosophy as a great mirror that reflected every aspect of life … then imagine modernity shattering this mirror. Science is no longer considered philosophy; politics has its own department; art is done all by itself. And too, just like all of today's areas of education, Philosophy is like this shattered mirror: something made up of many, many divisions: what was before a cohesive tool that could be used to see, is now a loose pile of splinters. A main reason for this splintering was that everyone began to specialize in separate areas. While specialization has many benefits, its consequence is that we now cannot see the big picture. We have forgotten that philosophy is the love of wisdom, the pursuit of knowledge: not just one piece of wisdom or one type of knowledge.
The main contemporary division is between Continental & Analytical Thought:
Continental Philosophy: European 19th-20th c. thought. Influenced by the Greek’s holistic conception of philosophy and inclusive of the history of philosophy, it rejected the absolute reliance on modern science and logic to answer philosophical questions. Includes phenomenology, existentialism, hermeneutics, structuralism, deconstruction, and the history of philosophy.
Analytical Philosophy: British-American 19th-20th c. thought. It was a break away from idealism and strongly utilized linguistics and logic to try and seek the concrete and factual. Includes formal logic, positivism, linguistic analysis, and sometimes includes philosophy of science.
But, philosophy’s fundamental divisions came well before the 19th century … and from the GREEKS, themselves; they studied all of thought, but classified it in order to better understand it; thus, they give us divisions like:
Physics: “Physics” is from the Greek “physika,” which means “the things of nature.”
Metaphysics: was Aristotle’s manuscript that was filed “meta,” above, his work Physics and studied the nature of existence and reality.
Ontology: is the study of being, from the Greek “to on,” or “to be”; it asks about fundamental features & properties of human existence.
Epistemology: “Episteme” is Greek for “knowledge.” It is the branch of philosophy that asks what is knowledge: what is its nature, what is its source, its limits?
Ethics: from “ethos,” studying moral character and customs, it asks questions about moral judgments.
Politics: is a study of polis, the people, those formative of the state, asking questions of justice, freedom, equity, power.
Aesthetics: from“Aisthetikos,” of or for perception by senses through “Aisthesthai, “to perceive,” aesthetics is the branch of philosophy that examines art and beauty; this includes our value judgments about art and the beautiful.
Logic: from “logos,” is the study of correct reasoning, based upon premises, conclusions and the arguments that lead from the former to the latter.
And ... There is also the way of dividing philosophy into four (Western) historical periods:
Ancient Philosophy: Our earliest surviving writings forge the collective we refer to as the Pre-Socratic Philosophers: those who asked what is everything made out of (seeking most basic substance that explains reality), what can we know (limits of knowledge) and what can we doubt. The main focus of study in the Ancients is on Socrates / Plato and Aristotle: truly the foundations of Western civilization. There is no aspect of human thought not indebted in some way to Plato and Aristotle; they gave us a frame work by which to think (and left us thought on all of the above divisions).
Medieval Philosophy: Medieval philosophy (5th-15th c.) was half influenced by Plato and Platonists and half by Aristotle and Aristotelians (then further blended by the three Abrahamic religions and their mutual confrontation with numerous, various pagan beliefs). The two philosophic schools, while in competition, gave birth to new ideas that reconciled (and sometimes distorted) Plato and Aristotle’s arguments. The main topic of medieval philosophy was working out the theory of and for religion, but this means they could not avoid broaching fascinating questions about cosmology (the origin and development of the universe), thus, also time and space, being (our origin and human nature), ethics, logic and language, and many further questions concerning good and evil.
Modern Philosophy: Early Modern Philosophy, beginning with the Renaissance (ca. 14th-16th c.), redirects philosophical thought by breaking the Medieval reliance on authority (God, Pope, or tradition, meaning Plato and Aristotle) and seeks to establish a solid foundation upon which to ground thought. The two candidates for the terra firma and two greatest themes of modern philosophy is the dichotomy of experience and reason. In essence, the Early Moderns replaced the authority of God/philosophers with the authority of Science, those in the field fought for experience while the mathematicians fought for reason. This also grounds the period’s prevelance of political writing. (Late) Modern Philosophy begins after Kant’s critical project (1724-1804), which reconciled experience and reason, not erasing any problems, but permitting the same questions to flower in new ways. Romanticism and Idealism pursued the working of mind, morality, law, logic, aesthetics, and so forth.
Contemporary philosophy: Really begins with the rupture of the Analytic and Continental divide; both sides were making a turn to emphasize language, but in two dramatically different ways: one was by logical positivism that sought scientific fact and the other by phenomenology that sought subjective experience. In the Continental tradition, two early and key schools of thought include Phenomenology (that studies the way phenomena appear to us and how we describe (know) such— has a highly scientific method of epoché (bracketing bias to see the essence), but believes bodily, lived experience to be creative of meaning) and Existentialism (born out of phenomenology and is an intense return to the study of the individual in the world, emphasizing the anti-rational aspects of life and meaning; becomes more interdisciplinary, e.g., literature, film, psychoanalysis, which hearkens a return to the ancient Greek emphasis of lived philosophy).