Philosophy: what is it?

Many of the questions studied in Philosophy are ones that occur naturally to us, such as: Are morals simply matters of personal opinion? Do we have free will? What kinds of things can we know for certain? Why should I obey the law? Is there any rational basis for a belief in God? Is the mind just a machine (or: can machines think)? Is truth relative? Under what conditions, if any, is it right to take a human life? What is meaning? What is knowledge? Is there some way other than science of knowing reality?

As you can see, philosophical questions are very general, and cut across the other domains of human knowledge (Philosophy has traditionally been called the 'Queen of Sciences'). These include questions about how knowledge is achieved (Epistemology, the Theory of Knowledge), about the ultimate nature of the reality that particular sciences seek to know (Metaphysics), and about the ultimate basis of rational conduct (Ethics). The philosophical way of answering these questions is for the most part the use of reason, as opposed to observation or experiment as in natural science, and as opposed to revelation or direct insight as in religion. Because of this, Logic, the systematic study of valid argument (correct reasoning) is also a central philosophical subject. Furthermore, Philosophy is uniquely general: it seeks to understand how all the other domains of human knowledge and culture fit together, and how, in the most general terms, they connect to reality.

The study of philosophy is distinctively valuable in its own right, but is also of immense practical value in any career or academic discipline that demands skills of analysis, criticism, argumentation and clarity of thought and writing. Evidence suggests that students with first degrees in philosophy consistently outperform other students on standardized admissions tests for postgraduate study.