What Are The Major Branches Of Philosophy?

Philosophy is more than a pretentious word people use to sound smart. It is an ancient discipline that arose out of human curiosity. The word Philosophy means "love of wisdom." This meaning embodies the field. Philosophy strives to answer some of life's big questions, including the nature of reality and what makes a good person. The study of philosophy has been a fundamental part of human development. Historically, different disciplines, including science, physics, and psychology, came from philosophy. 

Philosophy itself is a broad word used for an umbrella of topics. The field has five main branches to better understand the questions the discipline seeks to answer. These branches include Metaphysics, Aesthetics, Ethics, Logic and Epistemology. Here, we will take a closer look at each branch to better understand philosophy. 


Statue of Plato.
Plato, an ancient Greek philosopher, contributed significantly towards the development of the field of Metaphysics.

Some of the earliest questions asked by philosophy were about the nature of being and existence. The branch of philosophy focusing on these questions is Metaphysics. Some of the most commonly asked questions in Metaphysics include: 

  • Is there anything that must be true of absolutely everything that exists?
  • Must anything that exists stand in some relation to something else?
  • Can there be things that exist that are not in time?

Traditionally, Metaphysics has two components: Cosmology and Ontology. Cosmology focuses on answering questions about the origin, evolution, and fate of the universe. This branch crosses over into science. Ontology, by contrast, investigates the relationship between various types of things that exist.

The cosmological questions date back to ancient philosophers who first investigated the question of being. They focused on uncovering the nature of reality and understanding existence. From this period of philosophy, two streams in Metaphysics came about: Materialism and Idealism. Each stream understands being differently. As the name suggests, materialism sees the nature of reality as made out of material components. Some philosophers believed existence comes from an element such as water or fire. This is very different from idealism, which sees existence as more spiritual. For example, one of the famous philosophers, Plato, thought ideas were the first Beings since ideas are eternal. Material items, on the other hand, can fade and are easily destroyed. 


A lady admiring paintings. Such experiences are studied by Aesthetics.
A lady admiring paintings. Such experiences are studied by Aesthetics.

Another major branch of philosophy is Aesthetics. This branch deals with the study of beauty and art. It looks at what people think is beautiful and helps us evaluate our judgments of art. Aesthetics talks about visual art, performing art, and music. The discipline looks to answer questions such as:

  • How do we find something beautiful?
  • Is beauty always subjective?
  • Can everyone find something beautiful? 
  • What is art? Why does art matter?

The questions asked in Aesthetics date back to ancient times. There are generally two main approaches to interpreting questions about beauty and aesthetics. The first is the thought that beauty is objective and universal. In this view, there are certain standards that make a work of art beautiful. The opposing view is that beauty is something subjective and relative. This idea is where the saying, "beauty is in the eye of the beholder," comes from.

There are different interpretations of what makes something art. Some people say that the ability of a piece to imitate reality makes it an artwork. For example, a painting of a tree is an imitation of a tree. This painting is a work of art since it imitates something that is real. This is only one example of an interpretation of art. 


Statue of Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher.
Statue of Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher who contributed significantly to the field of Ethics.

One of the most important and practical philosophy branches is ethics. This discipline deals with questions about morality and what is right and wrong. It is the study of how to live a righteous and virtuous life. Ethics has different applications for different people. For example, discipline is useful for organizations, employees, families, and educators. Everyone deals with ethical questions in their day-to-day life. Some common questions asked in ethics include:

  • What is the nature of the life of excellence?
  • What does it mean to be moral?
  • What does it mean to be a good person?
  • How do we determine the right thing to do?

These are questions that many philosophers have contemplated and given different insights into how to live the best life. Aristotle based his view of ethics on virtue. He coined the term "golden mean," which was a specific combination of virtues. Aristotle said that the best way to live was by the golden mean. This meant living in accordance with certain virtues in moderation. For example, not being too courageous or too scared.

John Stuart Mill was a philosopher who subscribed to a different ethical theory known as Utilitarianism. According to Mill, actions are right when they promote happiness and wrong when they reverse happiness for the most amount of people. These are only a couple of the several ethical theories.


Logic is a word we often hear in common conversation. Someone might point out an idea mentioned isn't logical, or someone might question the logic in an idea is. Logic is one of the five traditional branches of philosophy. The discipline studies correct reasoning. Some of the commonly asked questions in logic include:

  • What is reasoning?
  • How can we better understand what is rational?
  • What do the words we use mean?
  • How can we say things so they only have one meaning?

In logic there is a specific formula for sentence structure, pioneered by Aristotle, called syllogism. There are usually two sentences called premises used to make a conclusion. This is one of Aristotle's principles of logic. He is the founder of the discipline and believed it was an important mental skill used for reasoning. 

Aristotle believed it was important to pay attention to our thoughts and how we make conclusions. While he didn't intend logic to be its own branch of philosophy, Aristotle stressed the importance of noticing our reasoning. This prompted him to write a book as a guide to logic called The Corpus Organon. 

 Logic has two components: formal and informal logic. Formal logic has a formula and looks at how conclusions follow from premises. It looks at the validity of an argument and analyzes the argument's structure. Informal logic deals with critical thinking and arguments in informal language. Today, logic isn't just a part of philosophy. It is a part of nearly every discipline, from science to mathematics. 


The formation of the Universe remains a mystery even today.

As philosophers attempted to answer questions in different areas of philosophy, they were supposedly gaining knowledge. However, they started to question even the knowledge they gained. For example, when asking questions about what exists in the world, it leads you to ask how the thinkers know about Being. And how do we know what they are saying is true? This is where the branch of philosophy known as Epistemology comes from. Some of the questions the discipline attempts to answer include:

  • What can we know?
  • What is knowledge?
  • Can knowledge ever be absolute?
  • Is there a limit to how much humans can know?

There are several different approaches to dissecting questions in epistemology, including Rationalism and Empiricism. Rationalism is the subfield of Epistemology that sees human reason as the best way of gaining knowledge. By contrast, empiricism claims that all knowledge comes from experience and that experience is the chief of all knowledge. Both approaches are in direct opposition, and there has been a debate spanning centuries arguing who is right.

The Rise Of New Branches 

All the branches listed above make up the core, traditional branches of philosophy. They have been around since the starting point of philosophy in ancient Greece. Today, philosophy has evolved, and more branches of philosophy have come about. A few include the history of philosophy, political philosophy, theology, the philosophy of science, and linguistics. As people continue to ask questions, it isn't unreasonable to expect more branches of philosophy to come about. This will help us gain more insight into a wider variety of topics by expanding the scope of philosophy. For anyone looking to learn more about philosophy, learning about the five core branches is a great starting point.


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