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The term Philosophy derives from a combination of the Greek words philos meaning love and sophia meaning wisdom. What philosophy is, or should be, is itself a philosophical question that philosophers have understood and treated differently through the ages.

Philosophy can mean the academic exploration of various questions raised by philosophers; or to the collective works of major philosophers; it can also mean a certain critical, creative way of thinking. Contemporary Western academic 'philosophy' has two broad traditions: 'analytic' and 'continental' philosophy. The former tradition is commonly focused on conceptual analysis. The latter tradition is distinguished by its associations with particular problems. Eastern philosophy is another, distinct tradition. Each of these can be considered individually or in comparison with the others. Philosophy, thus, has several connotations in common speech. This article will focus on philosophy as a field of study.

The word "philosophy" is derived from the ancient Greek (Φιλοσοφία, philosophia) which may be translated as "love of wisdom". It suggests a vocation for questioning, learning, and teaching. Philosophers are curious about the world, humanity, existence, values, understanding, and the nature of things.

Philosophy can be distinguished from other disciplines by its methods of inquiry. Philosophers often frame their questions as problems or puzzles, in order to give clear examples of their doubts about a subject they find interesting, wonderful or confusing. Often these questions are about the assumptions behind a belief, or about methods by which people reason. Philosophers typically frame problems in a logical manner, historically using syllogisms of traditional logic, since Frege and Russell increasingly using formal systems, such as predicate calculus, and then work towards a solution based on critical reading and reasoning. Like Socrates, they search for answers through discussion, responding to the arguments of others, or careful personal contemplation. Philosophers often debate the relative merits of these methods. For example, they may ask whether philosophical "solutions" are objective, definitive, and say something informative about reality, On the other hand, they may ask whether these solutions give greater clarity or insight into the logic of language, or rather act as personal therapy. Philosophers seek justification for the answers to their questions.

Language is the philosopher’s primary tool. In the analytic tradition, debates about philosophical method have been closely connected to debates about the relationship between philosophy and language. There is a similar concern in continental philosophy. Meta-philosophy, the "philosophy of philosophy", studies the nature of philosophical problems, philosophical solutions, and the proper method for getting from one to another. These debates are also connected to debates over language and interpretation.

These debates are not less relevant to philosophy as a whole, since the nature and role of philosophy itself has always been an essential part of philosophical deliberations. The existence of fields such as pataphysics point to a lengthy debate that is beyond the scope of this article (see meta-philosophy).

Philosophy may also be approached by examining the relationships between components, as in structuralism and recursionism. The nature of science is examined in general terms (see philosophy of science), and for particular sciences, (biophilosophy).


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