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How to think Philosophically

Updated on July 13, 2011

Philosophy requires a certain kind of thinking

To do philosophy one must think philosophically. This is not as simple as it first seems. It requires you to train yourself to think in a way that is specific to philosophy, rather than, say, science. Like everything in philosophy, there is no unique right way, but there are some things you can practice to give yourself a good start.

Asking the right questions

Thinking philosophically requires you to ask the right questions. Think of it as though you are a child, full of amazement at the world. What sort of questions might you ask?

You probably wouldn’t ask questions like: ‘how can we stop the violence in my community?’, but would ask: ‘what is it about the world (or social organisations) that creates violence?’

You probably wouldn’t ask questions like: ‘what is the speed of gravity?’, but would ask: ‘are there causal laws in the world, or does everything happen by chance?’

You probably wouldn’t ask questions like: ‘what hobbies, activities, things I own, etc. makes me the person I am?’, but would ask: ‘what is it that makes me a person at all, or perhaps, why do I exist at all?’

It is this sort of questioning that pushes the boundaries of philosophy. Think to yourself: ‘what is reason?’, ‘what is ethics?’, ‘does God exist?’ These are all philosophical questions that have been raised, but never put to rest, for over two millennia of philosophical thinking.


How can I do this?

Just do it!

A good way to start thinking philosophically is to just do it! Get a notepad, or something similar, and write down some philosophical questions. Don’t worry if you don’t know the answers: if they are truly philosophical questions the chances are that you will never know the answers in the same way as you might know, for instance, how to stop violence in a particular community, the speed of gravity, your hobbies, and so on. Philosophical questions have a tendency to remain unanswered!

Read books on philosophy

There is a lot of philosophy out there! The best thing to do to get started is to try to find some fairly elementary books on philosophy. These books give you a general idea of the sorts of questions philosophy asks, without being too confusing. It is advisable to not get too far ahead of yourself; just get a bearing on the sorts of questions philosophy asks before moving on.


What now?!

Okay, so you have thought about some philosophical questions—you have even written down some of your own!—and you have read some interesting introductory material on the subject; what now? Well, there are many different avenues. Here is a list:

  • Do a course on philosophy at a University or College
  • Do a correspondence course in philosophy, such as through Open Universities Australia (http://www.open.edu.au
  • There are institutions that offer free education in philosophy, such as MIT (http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/linguistics-and-philosophy/)
  • Do your own further reading on the subject. Some big names you might want to consider are: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Descartes, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, Bertrand Russell. It is probably best to start with books about these philosophers (called secondary literature) before attempting to read these authors, themselves; some of their material is very complex.
  • Search the internet for, and join up to, some philosophy blogs. There are lots out there!
  • Talk to your friends about some ideas you have. In particular, if you have a friend who is doing a course in philosophy it would be great to speak to him/her.


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