The aim of philosophy, abstractly formulated, is to understand how things in the broadest possible sense of the term hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term.

Wilfrid Sellars

A definition of philosophy is notoriously difficult. However, it is important, for anyone writing or training about doing philosophy, first of all to spell out what they mean by it so that the reader has some idea about what kind of philosophy they will encounter and, when training people to facilitate philosophy, to provide criteria. The Philosophy Foundation’s account attempts to capture something of its spirit, structure, content, method, aims and hopes, but our account is inextricably personal to us and culturally specific. So, consistent with the philosophical spirit we’ve tried to illustrate here, one might wonder whether philosophy is – at least in addition to what we have said it is – something other than what we have said it is; to accept our account uncritically would not be very philosophical, after all. 

The short answer

Philosophy is a way of thinking about certain subjects such as ethics, thought, existence, time, meaning and value. That 'way of thinking' involves 4 Rs: responsiveness, reflection, reason and re-evaluation. The aim is to deepen understanding. The hope is that by doing philosophy we learn to think better, to act more wisely, and thereby help to improve the quality of all our lives.

The longer one

You can read our longer definition on the document below.

What is Philosophy?

The film version

Peter Worley speaking at the Battle of Ideas 2015 'Can Children Do Philosophy?'

Philosophy is when you have questions in your head and you want to know more and more and then you realise you can't find out in the world so you have to go into your mind.

Ruby, aged 8

Types of questions we explore

  • Who should be in charge? How should we decide?
  • What is fairness?
  • What is responsibility?
  • What is beauty? Who decides?
  • Are some things absolutely wrong or right, or is it all relative?
  • Is zero a number?
  • What is freedom?
  • Would you like to live forever if you could?
  • Are people of equal value? 

In Philosophy it’s not that there are no answers it’s just that the answers are very difficult to find.

Adam, aged 11