Philosophical method (or philosophical methodology) is the study of how to do philosophy. A common view among philosophers is that philosophy is distinguished by the methods that philosophers follow in addressing philosophical questions. There is not just one method that philosophers use to answer philosophical questions.
Some common features of the methods that philosophers follow (and discuss when discussing philosophical method) include:
- Methodic Doubt - a systematic process of being skeptical about (or doubting) the truth of one's beliefs.
- Argument - provide an argument or several arguments supporting the solution.
- Dialectic - present the solution and arguments for criticism by other philosophers, and help them judge their own.
Doubt and the sense of wonder
Plato said that “philosophy begins in wonder” Theaeteus 155 d (tr. Benjamin Jowett), a view which is echoed by Aristotle in his Metaphysics 982b12: "It was their wonder, astonishment, that first led men to philosophize and still leads them." Philosophizing may begin with some simple doubts about accepted beliefs. The initial impulse to philosophize may arise from suspicion, for example that we do not fully understand, and have not fully justified, even our most basic beliefs about the world.
Formulate questions and problems
Another element of philosophical method is to formulate questions to be answered or problems to be solved. The working assumption is that the more clearly the question or problem is stated, the easier it is to identify critical issues.
A relatively small number of major philosophers prefer not to be quick, but to spend more time trying to get extremely clear on what the problem is all about.
Enunciate a solution
Another approach is to enunciate a theory, or to offer a definition or analysis, which constitutes an attempt to solve a philosophical problem. Sometimes a philosophical theory by itself can be stated quite briefly. All the supporting philosophical text is offered by way of hedging, explanation, and argument.
Not all proposed solutions to philosophical problems consist of definitions or generalizations. Sometimes what is called for is a certain sort of explanation — not a causal explanation, but an explanation for example of how two different views, which seem to be contrary to one another, can be held at the same time, consistently. One can call this a philosophical explanation.
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