What is Philosophy?

Sandra LaFave

Philosophy is critical thinking about presuppositions. A presupposition is a claim we take for granted and usually don’t analyze. For philosophy, presuppositions are controversial. “Philosophy does not answer questions; it questions answers.”


Consider two major groups of presuppositions:

  1. Presuppositions of ordinary life (“common sense”)

  2. Presuppositions of academic disciplines outside philosophy

This distinction cannot be rigid. Naturally, all academic disciplines take for granted the presuppositions of ordinary life listed below, in addition to presuppositions specific to the discipline.

The following table shows some presuppositions of ordinary life and corresponding branches of philosophy:

Ordinary Life Presupposition

Analyzed by

That there is a world independent of my mind


That the future will resemble the past


That I can know what the world is like using my senses


That my senses are not systematically deceiving me


That some statements are true and some false


That some persons are morally better than others


That humans are more important than non-human animals


That some arguments (pieces of reasoning) are better than others


The following table shows some presuppositions of academic disciplines and corresponding branches of philosophy (note that some presuppositions of academic disciplines are also presuppositions of ordinary life):



Analyzed by


That all people are equal under the law

Philosophy of Law


That the universe operates in an orderly way, that the future will resemble the past

Philosophy of Science


That there is a God, that souls exist, that there is life after death

Philosophy of Religion


That some artworks are better than others

Philosophy of Art

Women's Studies

That there is a specific female nature, or that gender is socially constructed

Feminist Philosophy

Some philosophical debates take place only in the world of professional philosophy. Even professional philosophers drive cars and eat food, without seriously questioning whether there is a world, or whether the future will resemble the past. Other philosophical issues, especially ethical ones, have direct impact on ordinary life. For example, should I be vegetarian? Should I give to charity? Who should I vote for? Should I pursue a boring but lucrative career or follow my dream?



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