From Academic Kids

Meta-philosophy (philosophy of philosophy) is the study of the subject, matter, methods and aims of philosophy. It is the "philosophy of philosophy". It is worth noting that many people consider the study of philosophy as very much a part of Philosophy proper-- that the study of philosophy is intertwined with all branches of philosophy just as Logic or Epistemology. The term Meta-philosophy, although explicit and sometimes useful, is seldom used to distinguish itself from Philosophy proper since the subject of Philosophy is commonly understood to encapsulate this area of inquiry.

The primary question for meta-philosophy is: "What is philosophy?" And because different philosophers have offered different answers, it is the task of meta-philosophy to adjudicate. But before adjudication can be undertaken, these alternative conceptions of the nature of philosophy must be identified, clarified, and understood.


Taxonomy of philosophical problems

What is not controversial, are the general types of problem branches which are included in philosophy. These are the major branches: metaphysics, epistemology, axiology or moral philosophy, and logic. Philosopher and encyclopedist Mortimer Adler however, excludes logic as being a separate endeavor and includes all second-order problems (generally questions pre-supposing the existence of abstract ideas and subsequently trying to understand them). Second-order problems are often found arranged under various branches of philosophy which start with the phrase "philosophy of ______". Adler (1994) divides these second-order philosophical problems into two branches: those dealing with objects of thought, such as Being, Cause, Change, Infinity, Fate, Love and those dealing with the subjects of thought (intellectual endeavors containing procedures) such as philosophy of religion, philosophy of history, philosophy of language, philosophy of science, the understanding of both branches of second-order thought aided by the other major branches, e.g. metaphysical knowledge in religion, epistemology in religion, axiology in religion. In any case, it is a problem of meta-philosophy to provide some kind of taxonomy.

Skepticism about philosophy

From a theoretical perspective, the most radical approach to the nature of philosophy is to take a skeptical stance, and proclaim that philosophy as such is either an impossible undertaking, that it is a deluded undertaking, that it is a worthless undertaking, or even that it is in some sense an evil or dangerous undertaking.

Less mitigated skeptics would make similar claims about one or more of the major or minor branches of philosophy. Thus, some would claim that metaphysics is either impossible, deluded, worthless, or dangerous; that epistemology is either impossible, deluded, worthless, or dangerous; that axiology is either impossible, deluded, worthless, or dangerous; that logic is either impossible, deluded, worthless, or dangerous; and so on.

For each of these skeptical approaches one can find some historical figure.

Progress in philosophy

Whether there is progress (philosophy) depends, of course, on what one thinks are the nature of philosophy and the criteria of progress.

Meta-philosophical writings

Many philosophers have written on meta-philosophy: The tradition goes back to Plato, whose dialogues are directly concerned with ethics, but constantly raise questions concerning the nature of philosophy and its methods (most explicitly addressed in the Meno), the value and proper aims of philosophy (in the Apology, Gorgias, Protagoras, etc.), and the proper relationship between philosophical criticism and everyday life (a theme running throughout all his works, but explored most famously in the Republic).

Although Ludwig Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and Philosophical Investigations are works directly concerning logic, the philosophy of language, and the philosophy of mind, the nature of philosophical puzzles and philosophical understanding is central to all of the discussions; Wittgenstein frequently diagnoses philosophical errors as involving confusions about the nature of philosophical inquiry.

C. D. Broad is known for distinguishing Critical from Speculative philosophy. See his "The Subject-matter of Philosophy, and its Relations to the special Sciences," ( in Introduction to Scientific Thought, 1923. "Critical and Speculative Philosophy," ( in Contemporary British Philosophy: Personal Statements (First Series), ed. J. H. Muirhead (London: G. Allen and Unwin, 1924): 77-100. "Some Methods of Speculative Philosophy" (, Aristotleian Society Supplement 21 (1947): 1-32. "Philosophy," ( Inquiry I (1958): 99-129.

Curt Ducasse, in (Philosophy as a Science (, examines several views of the nature of philosophy, and concludes that philosophy has a distinct subject matter: appraisals. Whether Ducasse is correct or wrong about this, is a matter for meta-philosophy, i.e., philosophy of philosophy, to decide.


Adler, Mortimer (1994). The Four Dimensions of Philosophy. New York: MacMillan.

See also

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