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philosophy [Gr.,=love of wisdom], study of the ultimate reality, causes, and principles underlying being and thinking. It has many aspects and different manifestations according to the problems involved and the method of approach and emphasis used by the individual philosopher. This article deals with the nature and development of Western philosophical thought. Eastern philosophy, while founded in religion, contains rigorously developed systems; for these, see Buddhism; Confucianism; Hinduism; Islam; Jainism; Shinto; Taoism; Vedanta; and related articles.

Distinguishing Characteristics

This search for truth began, in the Western world, when the Greeks first established (c.600 B.C.) inquiry independent of theological creeds. Philosophy is distinguished from theology in that philosophy rejects dogma and deals with speculation rather than faith. Philosophy differs from science in that both the natural and the social sciences base their theories wholly on established fact, whereas philosophy also covers areas of inquiry where no facts as such are available. Originally, science as such did not exist and philosophy covered the entire field, but as facts became available and tentative certainties emerged, the sciences broke away from metaphysical speculation to pursue their different aims. Thus physics was once in the realm of philosophy, and it was only in the early 20th cent. that psychology was established as a science apart from philosophy. However, many of the greatest philosophers were also scientists, and philosophy still considers the methods (as opposed to the materials) of science as its province.


Philosophy is traditionally divided into several branches. Metaphysics inquires into the nature and ultimate significance of the universe. Logic is concerned with the laws of valid reasoning. Epistemology investigates the nature of knowledge and the process of knowing. Ethics deals with problems of right conduct. Aesthetics attempts to determine the nature of beauty and the criteria of artistic judgment. Within metaphysics a division is made according to fundamental principles. The three major positions are idealism, which maintains that what is real is in the form of thought rather than matter; materialism, which considers matter and the motion of matter as the universal reality; and dualism, which gives thought and matter equal status. Naturalism and positivism are forms of materialism.

The History of Philosophy

Historically, philosophy falls into three large periods: classical (Greek and Roman) philosophy, which was concerned with the ultimate nature of reality and the problem of virtue in a political context; medieval philosophy, which in the West is virtually inseparable from early Christian thought; and, beginning with the Renaissance, modern philosophy, whose main direction has been epistemology.

Classical Philosophy

The first Greek philosophers, the Milesian school in the early 6th cent. B.C., consisting of Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes, were concerned with finding the one natural element underlying all nature and being. They were followed by Heraclitus, Pythagoras, Parmenides, Leucippus, Empedocles, Anaxagoras, and Democritus, who took divergent paths in exploring the same problem.

Socrates was the first to inquire also into social and political problems and was the first to use the dialectical method. His speculations were carried on by his pupil Plato, and by Plato's pupil Aristotle, at the Academy in Athens. Roman philosophy was based mainly on the later schools of Greek philosophy, such as the Sophists, the Cynics, Stoicism, and epicureanism. In late antiquity, Neoplatonism, chiefly represented by Plotinus, became the leading philosophical movement and profoundly affected the early development of Christian theology. Arab thinkers, notably Avicenna and Averroës, preserved Greek philosophy, especially Aristotelianism, during the period when these teachings were forgotten in Europe.

The Middle Ages to the Nineteenth Century

Scholasticism, the high achievement of medieval philosophy, was based on Aristotelian principles. St. Thomas Aquinas was the foremost of the schoolmen, just as St. Augustine was the earlier spokesman for the church of pure belief. The Renaissance, with its new physics, astronomy, and humanism, revolutionized philosophic thought. René Descartes is considered the founder of modern philosophy because of his attempt to give the new science a philosophic basis. The other great rationalist systems of the 17th cent., especially those of Baruch Spinoza and G. W. von Leibniz, were developed in response to problems raised by Cartesian philosophy and the new science. In England empiricism prevailed in the work of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and David Hume, as well as that of George Berkeley, who was the outstanding idealist. The philosophy of Immanuel Kant achieved a synthesis of the rationalist and empiricist traditions and was in turn developed in the direction of idealism by J. G. Fichte, F. W. J. von Schelling, and G. W. F. Hegel.

The romantic movement of the 18th cent. had its beginnings in the philosophy of J. J. Rousseau; its adherents of the 19th cent. included Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche, as well as the American transcendentalists represented by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Opposed to the romanticists was the dialectical materialism of Karl Marx. The evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin profoundly affected mid-19th-century thought. Ethical philosophy culminated in England in the utilitarianism of John Stuart Mill and in France in the positivism of Auguste Comte. Pragmatism, the first essentially American philosophical movement, was founded at the end of the 19th cent. by C. S. Peirce and was later elaborated by William James and John Dewey.

The Twentieth Century

The transition to 20th-century philosophy essentially came with Henri Bergson. The century has often seen a great disparity in orientation between Continental and Anglo-American thinkers. In France and Germany, major philosophical movements have been the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl and the existentialism of Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre. Positivism and science have come under the scrutiny of Jürgen Habermas of the Frankfurt School; he has argued that they are driven by hidden interests. Structuralism, a powerful intellectual movement throughout the first half of the 20th cent., defined language and social systems in terms of the relationships among their elements.

Beginning in the 1960s arguments against all of Western metaphysics were marshaled by poststructuralists; among the most influential has been Jacques Derrida, a wide-ranging philosopher who has pursued deconstruction, a program that seeks to identify metaphysical assumptions in literature and psychology as well as philosophy. Both structuralism and poststructuralism originated mostly in France but soon came to influence thinkers throughout the West, especially in Germany and the United States.

Major concerns in American and British philosophy in the 20th and 21st cent. have included formal logic, the philosophy of science, and epistemology. Leading early figures included G. E. Moore, Bertrand Russell, and Ludwig Wittgenstein; Anglo-American philosophy was later exemplified by logical positivists like Rudolph Carnap. In their close attention to problems of language, the logical positivists, influenced by Wittgenstein, in turn influenced the work of W. V. O. Quine and others in the philosophy of language. Later Anglo-American philosophers turned increasingly toward ethics and political philosophy, as in John Rawls' work on the problem of justice.


See W. Windelband, A History of Philosophy (2d ed. 1901, repr. 1968); B. Russell, A History of Western Philosophy (rev. ed. 1961); W. K. C. Guthrie, A History of Greek Philosophy (3 vol., 1962–69); A. H. Armstrong, ed., The Cambridge History of Later Greek and Early Medieval Philosophy (1966); J. Passmore, A Hundred Years of Philosophy (2d ed. 1966) and Recent Philosophers (1985); A. Wedberg, A History of Philosophy (3 vol., 1982–84); F. Copleston, A History of Philosophy (9 vol., 1985); D. W. Hamlyn, A History of Western Philosophy (1987); R. Scruton, Modern Philosophy: An Introduction and Survey (1995); A. Gottlieb, The Dream of Reason: A History of Western Philosophy from the Greeks to the Renaissance (2001) and The Dream of Enlightenment: The Rise of Modern Philosophy (2016); P. Hadot, What is Ancient Philosophy (tr. 2002); E. Craig, ed., Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (1998).

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the academic discipline concerned to define and understand a range of central and linked questions, especially questions about the general nature of knowledge, language and concepts, which recur, apparently, in all special fields of investigation and reflection.

‘Philosophy’was once the generic term for human knowledge or world views, and it can be used in a sense wider than the academic, referring to a person's broad view of the world and his/her place in it, including an idea of what is valuable in life. As knowledge became specialized, philosophy was what remained, the questions which define it abstract, evasive and apparently deep. Philosophical questions also arise in connection with the bases, foundations or beginnings of the special disciplines. Thus, if in sociology one is interested in, say, the facts of female subjection, one might come to reflect on what the facts in a discipline like sociology actually amount to. This might provoke reflection on what ‘facts’ are, in general. The question ‘what is a fact?’ is a philosopher's question, not to be clinched by citing particular examples of‘facts’ drawn from a science.

Some further examples of the very general questions that define philosophy are: ‘How can we know anything?’, ‘What is there in the world?’, ‘How should we reason?’, ‘How should we act?‘At this level of generality these define fields or branches of philosophy Questions about what the world is made up of, its furniture, are the subject of ONTOLOGY. Questions about knowledge, what is certain, what probable and so on, are the subject of EPISTEMOLOGY. The philosophical study of reasoning is LOGIC, of oughts and obligations, ETHICS. If one asks ‘What, in general, is science?’, one is asking a question in the PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE, a major aspect of epistemology

Philosophies attempt answers to these questions, usually seeking to answer them in an interlinked way. They are generally considered to be extremely difficult questions, often raising seemingly insoluble problems, perennial in their reappearance. For this reason, it is probably inappropriate to try to ‘begin’ with them, to try to make answers to them one's secure foundation, or to be seduced by their ‘depth’ from other preoccupations. Proposing and discussing answers to them can be an absorbing activity for persons of a particular cast of mind, and often attending to philosophical questions is a necessary activity when a discipline encounters a crisis. The radically different kinds of answers to all such questions has led to philosophy being divided into many different schools. A successful innovation in philosophy is likely to be a revelation of new possibilities that raise the old questions in new ways, rather than arriving at final solutions.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a form of social consciousness that seeks to determine the general principles of being and cognition and to define man’s relation to the world; the science of the universal laws governing nature, society, and thought. Philosophy represents the attempt to work out a system of generalizations applicable to the world and to man’s place in the world; it explores the various aspects of man’s relation to the world—cognitive, evaluative, sociopolitical, moral, and aesthetic. As a world view, philosophy is inextricably bound to social class interests and to the political and ideological struggle. Since it is determined by social reality, philosophy exercises an active influence on the life of a society and contributes to the formation of new ideals and cultural values. As a theoretical form of consciousness whose principles are based on rational grounds, philosophy differs from the world views of mythology and religion, which are based on faith and which offer an imaginary reflection of reality.

The philosophy of Marxism has emerged as a scientific theoretical system expressing the world view of the working class. Marxism has subjected to critical examination, reworked, and synthesized all that was previously achieved in philosophy, science, and social practice, and—for the first time in the history of knowledge—it has made philosophy a directly applicable and consistent scientific tool of social progress. This was, in effect, a revolutionary approach, constituting the most important distinguishing trait of Marxist philosophy and of its two basic doctrines—dialectical materialism and historical materialism. Marxist philosophy performs the function of a consistently scientific philosophical world view as well as a methodology of knowledge that can be generally applied to the objective world and to revolutionary action. In carrying out this function, Marxist philosophy works out the means for man’s ideological orientation toward the world, a theoretical basis for the practical struggle of progressive social forces, and a basic methodology for research in any given science.

Subject matter and structure. The changing subject matter of philosophy in the course of history was closely linked to the development of society in all its nonmaterial aspects, including the development of science and of philosophical knowledge itself. While the emergence of philosophy can be traced back to the dawn of human civilization in India, China, and Egypt, it was in ancient Greece that philosophy reached full development in its classical form. According to various authors of ancient times, Pythagoras was known to have used the term “philosophy”; it was Plato, however, who first used it to designate a particular discipline. The emergence of philosophy coincides historically with the beginnings of scientific knowledge and the emergence of a new social need—the need to examine the general principles of being and cognition. Subsequently, more or less harmonious philosophical systems were developed, each laying claim to rational knowledge of the surrounding world. The early philosophers of antiquity sought, for the most part, to discover the single source of all the multiform phenomena of nature. Natural philosophy was the first historical system of philosophical thought.

With the increasing amount of knowledge of particulars and the development of specific research methods, the mass of previously undifferentiated knowledge was broken down into such individual disciplines as mathematics, astronomy, and medicine. While philosophy was now concerned with a narrower range of problems, this development was accompanied by the simultaneous growth in depth and enrichment of philosophical ideas proper, as well as the emergence of specific philosophical theories and currents. Separate philosophical disciplines were formed, such as ontology, or the study of being (a science concerned with the first principles of all existence); epistemology, or the theory of knowledge; logic, or the science dealing with the forms of correct (that is, coherent, consistent, and demonstrative) reasoning; philosophy of history; ethics; and aesthetics.

Beginning with the Renaissance, the demarcation between philosophy and the various individual sciences proceeded at an even faster rate. A contradictory quality marked the relationship between philosophy and these separate sciences; since the latter restricted themselves predominantly to empirical study, questions of general theory pertaining to such sciences remained the concern of philosophy. Philosophy, however, lacked sufficient empirical data for the study of such theoretical questions, insofar as the collection of data was generally still inadequate; consequently, philosophical investigations were abstract and speculative, and their results were frequently in contradiction to facts. This conflict between philosophy and the specific scientific disciplines became particularly acute in some of the idealist philosophical doctrines—specifically, those that were associated with religion. The encyclopedic systems that came into being in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries were marked by the juxtaposition of natural science, on the one hand, and the philosophy of nature on the other; history as a science, and the philosophy of history; jurisprudence, and the philosophy of law. Philosophy was regarded as the vehicle of “transexperiential” knowledge—that is, going beyond the bounds of experience. This misconception, however, was refuted by the subsequent development of individual scientific disciplines.

Modern science represents a very diversified system of knowledge. All the world’s known phenomena have fallen into the particular purview of one or another specific science. This, however, by no means implies that philosophy has relinquished its subject matter. On the contrary, since it no longer claimed to be the carrier of universal knowledge, philosophy was now able to define more precisely its own place in the system of scientific knowledge. Each science has its own qualitatively distinct field of inquiry, dealing with a given system of objectively determined laws; but no one specific science has jurisdiction over the general laws that are common to natural phenomena, social development, and human knowledge. It is these laws that form the subject matter of philosophy.

The range of each particular science includes different levels of generalization, which do not, however, go beyond the bounds of a delimited sphere or aspect of being. These very generalizations of the particular sciences have become an object of philosophical analysis. Philosophy brings together the results of studies in all fields of knowledge, in an all-embracing synthesis of the universal laws of being and thought. In exercising this function, philosophical thought is frequently directed at objects that are still beyond the reach of empirical knowledge. Speculative philosophical systems exhibit this feature of philosophical thought in the form of an absolute.

The basic method of philosophical knowledge is theoretical reasoning based on the cumulative experience of mankind and on the achievements of all the sciences as well as of culture as a whole. Marxist philosophy is scientific in both subject and method; it truly and demonstrably reflects the objective laws of reality, which it uses as a basis to foresee future events. By utilizing their knowledge of the laws of social development and the methods of materialist dialectics, Marx, Engels, and Lenin predicted, as well as laid the foundations for, an age of unprecedented social changes long before such changes took place.

At the same time, Marxist philosophy is essentially different from any particular science in that it represents a world view—the principal distinctive trait of philosophy. The development of a truly scientific world view is, in fact, the historical mission of Marxist-Leninist philosophy, which deals not only with the essence and the laws of development of nature and society but also with moral and aesthetic ideas and beliefs.

The theoretical starting point of any philosophical doctrine is the question of the relationship of thought to being, of the spiritual to the material, of the subjective to the objective. “The great basic question of all philosophy, especially of more recent philosophy, is that concerning the relations of thought and being” (F. Engels, in K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 21, p. 282).

To resolve the fundamental question of philosophy one must begin by asking whether the mind, or consciousness, is the source of the material world or whether, on the contrary, the material world gives rise to consciousness. “The answers which the philosophers gave to this question split them into two great camps. Those who asserted the primacy of spirit to nature and therefore, in the last instance, assumed world creation in some form or other . . . comprised the camp of idealism. The others, who regarded nature as primacy, belong to the various schools of materialism” (ibid., p. 238). Furthermore, the question of the relationship of thought to being presupposes a definition of the relationship between the object and the subject of cognition. It was Marxism that provided a consistently scientific solution to the basic problem of philosophy: in the Marxist view, matter is regarded as the objective reality—a reality that precedes, exists outside of, and is independent of consciousness; consciousness is seen as an attribute of highly organized matter, and social consciousness as the reflection of social being—that is, primarily of society’s material life. Marxist philosophy asserts and substantiates the knowability of the world, viewing knowledge and concepts as reflections of objective reality.

Underlying the relationship of thought to being is man’s actual relationship to the world as a whole; man, endowed with mind and self-cognizant, is seen as a part of that whole. It was Marxism, in effect, that for the first time in the history of thought gave a genuinely scientific answer to the question of man’s essence, identifying man as the aggregate of all social relationships (see K. Marx, ibid., vol. 3, p. 3). Holding man to be the highest of all values—the focal point of the meaning of history—Marxist philosophy represents an integrated approach to man: man is perceived in the unity of the forms of his activity—namely, production, revolutionary transformation, and nonmaterial activity.

Man’s knowledge of the world and his awareness of his own place therein is a social process that develops on the basis of sociohistorical practice; such practice constitutes the premise, the purpose, and one of the chief objects of philosophical cognition. This is where the Marxist theory of knowledge differs profoundly from the old epistemological approach, which represented man in the image of a Robinson Crusoe and which was marked by naturalism, narrow individualism, and antihistoricism. Marxism has bridged the previously common philosophical gap between ontology and epistemology. Marxist principle embraces the unity, though not the identity, of being and thought: in Engels’ words, “so-called subjective dialectics, or dialectical thought, is only the reflection of the motion . . . which asserts itself everywhere in nature” (ibid., vol. 20, p. 526)—a reflection that is not absolutely identical but approximate; in its development, this reflection carries the imprint of a given consciousness in its particularity and actively creative nature.

In contrast to idealism, Marxist philosophy regards the sphere of thought not as the sphere of pure mind, cut off from the world and reigning over it, but rather as the reflection of the world itself. Hence an analysis of thought from the viewpoint of its content is simultaneously an analysis of the very reality that makes up such content, as well as of practical human activity.

The philosophy of Marxism-Leninism is dialectical materialism, integrally joined with historical materialism. Marxist-Leninist philosophy also includes philosophical problems in the natural sciences and psychology, ethics, aesthetics, scientific atheism, and the history of philosophy, all of which derive from dialectical materialism as applied to the world of moral consciousness, the laws of artistic development, the development of the natural sciences, and the history of philosophical thought. Philosophy is not merely the theory of objective dialectics or the logic of scientific cognition but also a general sociological, ethical, and aesthetic doctrine. The development of Marxist philosophy is linked to the emergence of new objects of study and previously unknown problems, which altered philosophy’s subject matter and increased its structural complexity.

History of pre-Marxist philosophy. The earliest philosophical doctrines first arose 2,500 years ago in India, China, and Greece. These early doctrines exhibited a spontaneous materialism and a naively dialectical nature. Historically, the chief proponent of the ancient dialectic was Heraclitus. An atomistic variant of materialism was proposed by Democritus, whose ideas were further elaborated by Epicurus and Lucretius. Idealism, first developed by the Eleatics and Pythagoreans and later by Socrates, was the movement that emerged in opposition to materialism. Plato, with his idealist dialectic of concepts, was the founder of objective idealism. Ancient philosophy reached its peak with Aristotle, whose idealist doctrine nevertheless contained profoundly materialist and dialectical ideas.

The leading current of medieval Arabic philosophy was that of the Eastern Peripatetics, as represented by al-Kindi, al-Farabi, Avicenna, and Averroés.

With the rise of feudalism, Christianity became the dominant world view in Western Europe. The patristic school, which represented the first stage of medieval Christian philosophy, laid the groundwork for the development of Scholasticism in the period from the ninth to the 11th century. In the Scholastics’ view, the goal of philosophy was to substantiate religious dogmas. From the 11th to the 14th century the conflict between the idealist and materialist currents was manifested in the dispute between realism and nominalism. The realism of Anselm of Canterbury and Thomas Aquinas asserted the existence of general concepts outside the human intellect and their preexistence with respect to unique entities, or things. In nominalism, on the other hand—as taught by Roscelin, Duns Scotus, and William of Ockham—only the existence of single things was acknowledged.

The growth of material production and the increasingly acute class struggle led, of necessity, to the revolutionary change from feudalism to capitalism. The development of technology and of the natural sciences required that science throw off the fetters of the religious-idealist world view. The first blow against the religious view of the world was struck by such Renaissance thinkers as Copernicus, Bruno, Galileo, Montaigne, and Campanella. Their ideas were further elaborated by modern philosophy. The development of science and of knowledge based on experience demanded that scholastic reasoning be replaced by a new method of cognition addressing itself to the real world. While the principles of materialism and the elements of dialectics were taking shape, materialism was generally still mechanistic and metaphysical in character.

The founder of modern materialism was F. Bacon, who deemed it the highest goal of science to ensure man’s rule over nature. With T. Hobbes, the first comprehensive system of mechanistic materialism came into being. It was Bacon and, to a certain extent, Hobbes who developed the empirical, or experiential, method in the study of nature, while R. Descartes, the founder of rationalism, sought to work out a universal method applicable to all the sciences. A distinctive feature of Descartes’ doctrine is the dualism of “thinking” substance as against “extended” substance. B. Spinoza counterposed the doctrine of materialist monism to Descartes’ dualism. J. Locke developed a theory of knowledge based on sensory experience. G. Berkeley and D. Hume were among the proponents of subjective idealism, which arose in one or another variant in opposition to materialism. A profoundly dialectical conceptual system was the objective idealist doctrine worked out by G. von Leibniz.

The crisis of feudalism, which had become acute in France in the second half of the 18th century, finally erupted in the bourgeois revolution; the ideological groundwork for it had been laid by the materialist philosophers J. de La Mettrie, P. Holbach, C. A. Helvétius, and D. Diderot, who came out firmly against religion and idealism. The French materialism of the 18th century was metaphysical and mechanistic; nevertheless, Diderot’s doctrine contained dialectical elements. The distinguishing trait of 18th-century French materialism was its idealist conception of history—the absolute supremacy of ideas in the development of society.

A historically significant stage in Western European philosophy was reached with the development of the idealist dialectic by the German classical philosophers I. Kant, J. G. Fichte, F. W. von Schelling, and G. Hegel. The highest peak of German classical idealism is represented by Hegel’s dialectic, at whose core lies the doctrine of contradiction and development. Hegel’s dialectical method, however, was based on objective idealism. This idealism, as well as the reactionary aspects of Hegel’s sociological views, was subjected to a comprehensive criticism in the classical works of Marxism-Leninism—which, however, considered Hegel one of the precursors of Marxist-Leninist philosophy and highly valued his contributions. The doctrine of anthropological materialism was developed by L. Feuerbach in opposition to idealist philosophy and religion. While Feuerbach greatly influenced Marx’ and Engels’ philosophical views, his materialism was metaphysical and contemplative.

The 18th and 19th centuries saw the intensive development of progressive materialism in Russian philosophy. Its roots go back to the materialism of historical tradition as founded by M. V. Lomonosov—a world view that became firmly established among Russia’s progressive public figures, beginning with A. N. Radish-chev. Such leading Russian materialists as V. G. Belinskii, A. I. Herzen, N. G. Chernyshevskii, and N. A. Dobroliubov became the standard-bearers of Russian revolutionary democracy. Russia’s materialist philosophy of the mid-19th century was sharply critical of the idealist philosophy, and particularly of German idealism. It was in this context that the idea of dialectical development was worked out; nevertheless, 19th-century Russian materialism in its interpretation of society failed to overcome the inherent idealism of all pre-Marxist philosophy. The philosophy of the revolutionary democrats represented an important advance in the worldwide development of materialism and dialectics.

Origin and development of Marxist philosophy. Marxism as a whole, as well as its specific philosophical component, came into being in the 1840’s, when the proletariat entered the historical arena as an independent political force. The development of Marxist philosophy was conditioned by scientific theory, socioeconomics, and immediate political necessity. Marxism arose as the scientific response to the questions posed by social practice in all its aspects and the logic of the progress of human knowledge. Social reality was subjected by Marx and Engels to a profound and comprehensive analysis based on the mastery and critical reinterpretation of everything possessing any positive value that philosophy or the social or natural sciences had produced until that time. The world view that Marx and Engels created was qualitatively new; it was the world view of the working class, and it provided the philosophical grounds for the theory of scientific communism and the practice of the revolutionary labor movement.

The immediate ideological sources of Marxism were the major philosophical, economic, and political doctrines of the late 18th and first half of the 19th centuries. Marx and Engels brought to light the revolutionary elements of Hegel’s idealist dialectic —namely, the idea of historical development and the principle of contradiction as the moving force of such development. Feuerbach’s materialist doctrine played a major role in the formation of Marxism. The sources of Marxism also include the works of such classical bourgeois political economists as A. Smith and D. Ricardo, of such Utopian socialists as C.-H. Saint-Simon, C. Fourier, and R. Owen, and of the French historians of the Restoration period—J. Thierry, F. Guizot, and F. Mignet. Furthermore, Marxist philosophy is based on the premises of the natural sciences as expressed in the achievements of the late 18th and 19th centuries, including the discovery of the law of conservation and conversion of energy, the theory of the cellular structure of organisms, and the evolutionary doctrine of C. Darwin.

The emergent Marxist philosophy, embracing and drawing together social practice and scientific knowledge, represented the greatest revolution in the history of human thought. The upheaval that Marx and Engels effected in philosophy was revolutionary in its essential and basic features: it succeeded in giving the proletariat its own scientific world view and extending the application of materialism to the knowledge of society; it provided materialist grounds for regarding social practice as the major factor in cognition; it wedded theory to practice and creatively elaborated the concepts of materialism and dialectics, joining them in organic union—the materialist dialectics emerging as the end result of this process.

Historical materialism represents the greatest achievement of human thought; it was only in the light of historical materialism that the role of social practice in cognition and in the development of consciousness could be scientifically understood. The scientific explanation of the fundamental premises and basic objective conditions of human history was what made it possible to apply the criterion of practice to the theory of knowledge. The qualitative difference between the philosophy of Marxism and previous philosophical systems was pointed out by Lenin: “The application of materialist dialectics to the reshaping of all political economy from its foundations up, its application to history, natural science, philosophy and to the policy and tactics of the working class—that was what interested Marx and Engels most of all, that was where they contributed what was most essential and new, and that was what constituted the masterly advance they made in the history of revolutionary thought” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5thed., vol. 24, p. 264).

Many other works made important contributions to the development of Marxist philosophy, the dissemination and defense of Marxist tenets, and the struggle against bourgeois ideology—for example, the works of G. V. Plekhanov, A. Labriola, A. Gram-sci, A. Bebel, F. Mehring, and P. Lafargue.

Marking a new phase in the creative development of Marxist philosophy, Lenin’s interpretation of dialectical and historical materialism was based on his analysis of the era of imperialism and proletarian revolutions as well as on the general conclusions he drew from the most recent achievements of the natural sciences. In his comprehensive elaboration of the Marxist theory of knowledge, Lenin revealed the dialectical nature of the cognitive process; he clarified the theory of truth, including the dialectics of absolute and relative truth, as well as the role that practice plays in cognition. Lenin was particularly concerned with the development of dialectics as a scientific method for knowing and transforming the world. He developed and applied the principle of partiinost’, or party spirit, in his comprehensive criticism and evaluation of the contemporary varieties of idealism, agnosticism, and metaphysics, as well as revisionist interpretations of Marxism.

The creative development of Marxist philosophy went hand in hand with its defense against revisionism and against the onslaught of bourgeois ideology; this process was very closely connected with Lenin’s development of the theory of socialist revolution and with his precepts on the revolutionary party, the alliance between the working class and the peasantry, the socialist state, and the building of socialism. Following Lenin’s lead and recognizing the importance of educating the working masses in the Marxist-Leninist spirit, the Communist parties have devoted their intensive efforts to propagandizing dialectical and historical materialism and creatively furthering its development. The philosophical problems of Marxism-Leninism were set forth in the documents of the congresses of the CPSU and the plenums of the Central Committee of the CPSU and of the fraternal Communist and labor parties, as well as in the works of Marxist philosophers. The Marxist-Leninist philosophy has served as the formative base for the scientific world view of the great mass of workers.

Bourgeois philosophy from the mid-19th century to the present. From the 1840’s to the 1860’s, Western European bourgeois philosophy witnessed the disintegration of classical idealism. The vulgar materialism of L. Büchner, K. Vogt, and J. Moleschott, evolving as a reaction to the idealist philosophy—and especially to the German classical school—was metaphysical and mechanistic in character; its proponents rejected any specific characterization of consciousness, holding matter and consciousness to be identical. The first half of the 19th century had seen the emergence of positivism, as represented by A. Comte, J. S. Mill, and H. Spencer; this subjective-idealist trend, which came into its own in mid-century, rejected the interpretation of philosophy as the embodiment of a world view. In the irrationalist doctrine set forth by A. Schopenhauer, the will was regarded as the unconscious first principle on which the world is based. Voluntarism, which represented a pessimistic conception of the world, was a doctrine worked out by Schopenhauer’s follower E. von Hartmann. Neo-Kantianism, a current that took shape in the 1870’s and 1880’s, had gained many adherents by the turn of the century; the best known were W. Windelband, H. Rickert, P. Natorp, and H. Cohen. Under the slogan “Back to Kant,” the neo-Kan-tians rejected “things-in-themselves” and reinforced the Kantian tendency toward subjective idealism; the social and ethical concepts of neo-Kantianism formed the basis for reformism and ethical socialism.

The period from the 1870’s to World War I was the time when the philosophical principles of imperialist ideology were formed. The school of intuitivism, which attained great influence during this period, was based on the principle of intuitive understanding as opposed to rational cognition; its chief proponents were H. Bergson and N. O. Losskii. In a revival of speculative philosophy, the neo-Hegelians—F. H. Bradley, T. H. Green, J. Royce, B. Croce, R. Kroner, and A. Liebert—developed an irrationalist interpretation of Hegel’s dialectic. A variant of positivism that gained currency was Machism, also known as empiriocriticism; the leading representatives of this school, E. Mach and R. Avenarius, were known for their subjective-idealist treatment of “pure” experience; viewing cognition as a means of biological adaptation to the environment, they opposed the materialist theory of reflection and proposed in its stead the principle of the “economy of thought.”

A current that attracted a considerable following in the early 20th century was pragmatism—represented by C. S. Peirce, W. James, and J. Dewey; the pragmatists interpreted truth as that which possessed practical utility corresponding to the individual’s subjective interests. Another turn-of-the-century philosophical school was the irrationalist-voluntarist movement known as the philosophy of life, propounded by F. Nietzsche, W. Dilthey, and G. Simmel; this school was characterized by its psychologistic and subjectivist conception of “life.” O. Spengler, an adherent of Nietzsche’s doctrines, represented an extreme version of irrationalist thinking.

The Great October Socialist Revolution marked the beginning of a new phase in the evolution of bourgeois philosophy—a phase that was linked to the general crisis of capitalism. The new trends and schools that came into being set themselves the task of providing new grounds for idealism—a doctrine that had relinquished its dominant position. A school that exerted great influence over the idealist philosophy of the 20th century was E. Husserl’s phenomenology, which initially sought to transform philosophy into a “rigorous science”; the subsequent evolution of phenomenology led—in M. Scheler and the late Husserl—to the concept of the “life world,” which was akin to the irrationalist aspects of the philosophy of life.

The second and third decades of the 20th century were marked by the rise of neorealism, whose leading proponents were G. E. Moore, R. B. Perry, E. B. Holt, and W. P. Montague; the neo-realists, like the positivists, attempted to steer a middle course between materialism and idealism. The cosmological school of S. Alexander, A. N. Whitehead, and J. C. Smuts was a trend that arose within neorealism; its concept of “emergent evolution” was antithetical to the dialectical-materialist theory of development. The school of critical realism, represented by G. Santayana, C. A. Strong, and D. Drake, arose in the 1920’s and 1930’s as a reaction against neorealism; a contention of this school of thought was that the cognitive process is mediated by the “datum,” which is interpreted idealistically—by Santayana, for example—as the logical essence of things.

Neopositivism, which is one of the major trends in 20th-century bourgeois philosophy, is associated with the names of B. Russell, L. Wittgenstein, R. Carnap, M. Schlick, and O. Neurath. The neopositivists deny philosophy’s potential role in the application of theoretical knowledge to man’s view of the world; they juxtapose science and philosophy, restricting the latter’s function to logical analysis of the language of science. While neopositivism played an important part in the development of modern logic, semiotics, and the logic of science, it failed to provide an effective solution to current philosophical and methodological problems in science; such failure was due to the unfound-edness of the basic neopositivist tenets, characterized by idealist empiricism and phenomenalism. The major currents in neopositivism are logical empiricism, or the philosophy of logical analysis, represented by Carnap, P. Frank, and H. Reichenbach; the logical pragmatism of W. Quine and N. Goodman; and linguistic philosophy, in which linguistic studies took the place of philosophical research—represented by the late Wittgenstein, G. Ryle, J. Austin, P. Strawson, and J. Wisdom. Analytical philosophy, representing neopositivism in its contemporary form, is chiefly associated with the name of K. Popper.

By the mid-20th century, a religious-idealist trend known as personalism had gained some currency through the works of N. Berdiaev, E. Mounter, and R. Flewelling; according to this view, “personality” is the highest spiritual value, and the world as a whole is the realization of the acting “supreme person” —namely, god. Another major current of 20th-century bourgeois philosophy is existentialism—a contemporary form of irrational-ism expressing the critical state of bourgeois society. M. Heidegger, J.-P. Sartre, and A. Camus are the leading proponents of “atheistic” existentialism; G. Marcel, K. Jaspers, and M. Buber, of religious existentialism. Rejecting scientific philosophy, the existentialists consider man to be the central issue; they regard man not as a natural and social being but rather in terms of his spiritual existence, whose potential is realized in the act of absolutely free choice.

Among modern religious philosophers, the most influential are the neo-Thomists J. Maritain, E. Gilson, and J. Bochenski. The leading school of Catholic philosophical thought, neo-Thomism is the theological version of modern objective idealism; its metaphysical philosophy revives the basic principles of the medieval Scholasticism of Thomas Aquinas. Modern scientific theories are interpreted by the neo-Thomists from the religious point of view, based on the principle of the “harmony of reason and faith.”

Modern bourgeois philosophy is a manifestation of the profound contradictions of late-capitalist society. The general crisis of capitalism is reflected in the crises that mark the development of bourgeois philosophy as the theoretical basis of bourgeois ideology. The distinguishing features of 20th-century bourgeois philosophy are its idealist and metaphysical character, its irrationalist distortion of dialectics, its rejection of the function of science in shaping man’s view of the world, its affirmation of the religious world view, its eclecticism, and its attempts to “overcome” the contradiction between materialism and idealism (as in the new variants of neorealism or the conceptual system of the “Frankfurt school”). Because of the groundlessness of their fundamental principles—above all, of the principles of idealism—and because of their rejection of dialectics, the various trends and schools of bourgeois philosophy have proved incapable of scientifically analyzing the essence and objective laws of the modern era or providing answers to the pressing questions that arise with respect to being, cognition, and society. Marxist-Leninist philosophy, supported by the achievements of social practice and science, is engaged in an irreconcilable struggle against all forms of modern idealism and metaphysics.

The place and role of Marxist philosophy in the system of scientific knowledge. History has shown that philosophy must necessarily rely on mankind’s accumulated knowledge in its entirety; all the major thinkers of the past were at the level that science had reached in their own time. It was philosophy that first advanced many of the fundamental propositions of modern science, including the concepts of atomism and of the reflex, the principle of the conservation of momentum, the theory of determinism, and the idea of development. The principle of the inexhaustibility of matter, which had great import for the natural sciences, was formulated by Lenin early in the 20th century. Much of today’s theoretical work—dealing, for example, with concepts of space and time or with the principles of conservation—is closely linked to philosophy. In its turn, philosophy has been and continues to be enriched by scientific progress. Every great scientific discovery has contributed to the philosopher’s world view and has served to advance the methodology of thought. The development of Marxism-Leninism marked a radical change in man’s understanding of social processes as well as in the entire structure of scientific thought.

A genuinely scientific philosophy is no substitute for the individual sciences; rather, it provides them with a world view, a general method of cognition, and a theory of thought, thus serving a key function in science as a whole. As a rule, the methods of any individual science are limited in application to the field of inquiry of the given science. In contrast, the methods of philosophy are universal in nature; these methods, however, rather than being directly applied to any specific field of knowledge, are refined and adapted into a specific system of principles applicable within any given science.

The materialist dialectic, in its application to modern science, is the method that has proved to be most universally satisfactory: materialism serves as the impetus for tracing back the products of theoretical reasoning to their bases in reality, while the dialectical process enables the researcher to reach more deeply into the very essence of things. In the words of F. Engels, “it is precisely dialectics that constitutes the most important form of thinking for present-day natural science, for it alone offers the analogue form, and thereby the method of explaining, the evolutionary processes occurring in nature, interconnections in general, and transitions from one field of investigation to another” (Dialectics of Nature, in K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 20, p. 367).

The isolation of the individual sciences from philosophy must inevitably force scientists to repudiate the concept of world view and general methodology as basic principles of research. Even when it seems to a scientist that he is solely relying on the logical apparatus of his own specialized field, he is actually utilizing the accumulated results of the cognitive activity of all mankind, fixed into philosophical categories. By consciously maintaining philosophical connections, the specialist can avoid a one-sided approach toward the research object—an approach that has very adverse effects in the context of today’s tendency toward narrowly specialized scientific activity. This is particularly important in the 20th century, at a time when natural science is subject to the enormous influence of such integrative tendencies as the emergence of cybernetics and the various attempts to construct a general theory of elementary particles, a general theory of biological evolution, or a general theory of systems. Such levels of generalization cannot be successful without solid philosophical foundations.

Problems of methodology have become increasingly important in the various areas of modern science—for example, in analyzing the apparatus of logic, the various types of theories, the methods by which theories are constructed, the interaction of empirical and theoretical levels of cognition, and the basic concepts and axioms of science. All such problems are philosophical in nature, and they require the joined efforts of philosophers and of those working in the natural sciences and humanities.

The development of science and scientific practice as a whole, rather than individual experience, determines the place that philosophy occupies within the system of scientific knowledge. Philosophy operates at a certain level—the level at which fundamental hypotheses are proposed and substantiated, theories are constructed and their internal contradictions are brought to light and resolved, the essence of basic scientific concepts is disclosed, new facts are interpreted as they reflect on principles, new conclusions are drawn from such facts, and research methods are refined. Philosophical analysis plays a particularly important role in science in the case of a crisis situation or scientific revolution—that is, in a situation that demonstrates the dialectical path of cognition. The essence of such situations is the contradiction between a previously established conceptual system and a set of newly discovered facts; the crisis can only be resolved by drawing on the philosophical foundations and premises of the pertinent science. This is where disregard of philosophy can lead to gross errors in terms of both world view and methodology. Engels justly remarked that philosophy avenges itself on those natural scientists who have forsaken it (see Dialectics of Nature, ibid., p. 520). Significantly, such scientists as W. Heisenberg, M. Planck, L. de Broglie, M. Born, and A. Einstein emphasized the major role of the philosophical world view in scientific research.

The scientific import of Marxist philosophy is most clearly demonstrated in its social aspect; Marxist philosophy provides the means to understand the laws governing the connection between natural science and existing social conditions as well as the social significance of scientific discoveries and of their application in practice. The scientific and technological revolution and massive social displacements have created a situation in which mankind is faced with extremely pressing social questions. It is only in Marxist-Leninist philosophy that well-founded answers to these questions can be obtained.

In a situation of acute ideological conflict, the scientist who works in a specialized field of knowledge, if not armed with a scientific world view and methodology, is often helpless before the onslaught of bourgeois ideology. In order to successfully oppose it, the scientist “must be a modern materialist, a conscious adherent of the materialism represented by Marx, that is, he must be a dialectical materialist” (V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5thed., vol.45, p.30).

Marxist-Leninist philosophy provides a world view and a methodological basis for all social cognition; it arms social thought with an understanding of the general laws that govern the historical development of mankind.

Marxist-Leninist philosophy and politics. Philosophy has always served as one of the principal weapons in the ideological struggle between social groups; it was also the arena in which political parties played out their theoretical clashes. Men’s views of the world, by their very essence and function, are related to classes and—by the same token—to parties. Whatever the nature of a social class—whatever its status and position in the system of social relations and its resultant historical mission—such is also its philosophical world view.

The struggle of world views, which is the manifestation of the class struggle in the history of society, becomes particularly acute during the crucial periods of history. It is precisely at such times that philosophy’s point of view urgently needs to be applied to social processes, as the conflict between the forces of progress and those of reaction becomes more acute—not only in politics and economics, but in ideology and philosophy as well. Thus the Renaissance witnessed the rise of philosophical materialism and humanism in opposition to the religious world view, and the revolution that was effected in the minds of men by the ideologues of the emergent bourgeoisie was a presage of the social revolution; the ideological premises of the French Revolution were formulated by the philosophers of the French Enlightenment. The Marxist-Leninist world view was manifested in practice in a succession of socialist and popular-democratic revolutions that took various forms. In view of the growing importance of the struggle between the communist and the bourgeois world view, the ideological role of philosophy has come increasingly to the forefront in the modern era.

The Marxist-Leninist philosophy is the theoretical foundation of the proletariat’s world view, and, at the same time, it scientifically demonstrates the inevitability of the collapse of capitalism and the victory of socialism and communism; this twofold function determines its sociopolitical significance. It was the Marxist-Leninist world view alone that, having transformed Utopian socialism into socialism as a science, set the proletariat and its party on the only true path—the path of the struggle to build communism. This effectiveness that characterizes Marxist philosophy is implicit in all its underlying principles, which faithfully reflect life in its dynamics and perspectives.

The materialist concept of history leads to specific political conclusions: the elimination of social ills can be achieved first of all through changes in the life of society, rather than through the mere restructuring of people’s consciousness. As Lenin pointed out, people have always been, in politics, the gullible victims of deception and self-deception, and they will always be so deceived until they learn to distinguish the interests of one or another class behind all moral, religious, political, and social utterances, pronouncements, and promises of any kind. In contrast to all the various forms of idealism, the materialist world view is based on the proposition that material force must be driven back by like material force. The idea itself of the social revolution of the proletariat, born of capitalist reality, is closely linked to the dialectical approach to social phenomena; the materialist dialectic, rejecting all that is stagnant, conservative, and decayed, recognizes and affirms the continuous forward movement and revolutionary struggle to reconstruct the world.

The Marxist philosophy represents both the world view and the methodological basis of the program, the strategy and tactics, and the political line of the Communist and labor parties, as expressed in action. In Lenin’s words, the political line of Marxism is always and in all respects “inseparably bound up with its philosophical principles” (ibid., vol. 17, p. 418). That is why the Marxist parties regard the defense of the philosophical principles of Marxism-Leninism as their most important concern.

The ideologues of the bourgeoisie, along with the revisionists in their following, advocate the de-ideologizing of philosophy—the view that philosophy must be raised up and stand above the practical and political interests of specific social groups, classes, and parties. The advocates of this position might be reminded of Marx’ comment on Feuerbach, who “refers too much to nature and too little to politics. That, however, is the only alliance by which present-day philosophy can become truth” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 27, p. 375).

The Marxist-Leninist principle of the unity of philosophy and politics flows from the realization that these two spheres are profoundly interconnected; this principle, moreover, is incompatible with any vulgarizing attempt to dissolve philosophy in the stream of politics. Earlier, even Hegel had ridiculed those who called for the “de-ideologizing” of social cognition and for its nonpartisan-ship (see Soch., vol. 3, Moscow, 1956, p. 330). In forthright opposition to the notion of “nonpartisanship”—itself hardly a non-partisan idea—Marxism posits the fundamental Leninist principle of partisanship, or partiinosf. As Lenin pointed out, there can be no “impartial” social science in a society that is built on the class struggle; in his words, “no living person can help taking the side of one class or another (once he has understood their interrelationships), can help rejoicing at the successes of that class and being disappointed by its failures, can help being angered by those who are hostile to that class, who hamper its development by disseminating backward views, and so on and so forth” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 2, pp. 547–48). Lenin demonstrated that in bourgeois society the “nonpartisanship” and “impartiality” of philosophy is merely hypocrisy, or a disguise used by those who belong to the party of the oppressors; he further emphasized that “materialism includes partisanship, so to speak, and enjoins the direct and open adoption of the standpoint of a definite social group in any assessment of events” (ibid., vol. l, p. 419).

It is asserted by the bourgeois ideologues that partisanship is incompatible with scientific objectivity. This is indeed the case in the context of bourgeois philosophy, which reflects the interests of a given class—a class that wants to perpetuate man’s exploitation of man and to suppress the revolutionary labor and national-liberation movement. The scientific world view, on the other hand, correctly reflecting the objective laws of development of natural and social phenomena, defends the interests of those classes that are the bearers of progress and thus have the future before them. In the world of today, such is the world view of Marxism-Leninism. There can be no compromise on the question of one’s world view. “The only choice is—either bourgeois or socialist ideology. There is no middle course (for mankind has not created a ‘third’ ideology, and, moreover, in a society torn by class antagonisms there can never be a non-class or an above-class ideology). Hence, to belittle the socialist ideology in any way, to turn aside from it in the slightest degree means to strengthen bourgeois ideology” (ibid., vol. 6, pp. 39–40).

The partisanship and the scientific nature of the Marxist-Leninist philosophy constitute a unity based on the coincidence of the proletariat’s class interests with the actual “logic” of history, and therefore with the interests of all progressive mankind as well. A consistently scientific approach to reality is the only one that answers the interests of the working class and enables it to base its practical and political activity on the firm foundation of science.

Present-day revisionists declare that recognizing the partisanship of theory would lead to an oversimplified division of philosophers into materialists and idealists and a rejection of everything that has any value in non-Marxist philosophy, sociology, economic theory, historiography, and other disciplines. Nevertheless, in the history of knowledge itself, it is a long-established fact, still fully valid, that philosophers are divided into two major “parties”—the party of the materialists and that of the idealists. Materialism is one of the two parties in philosophy, and idealism is the other. “Recent philosophy,” in Lenin’s words, “is as partisan as was philosophy two thousand years ago” (ibid., vol. 18, p. 380), and the struggle between materialism and idealism, in the final analysis, reflects the class struggle in society. The partisanship of Marxist philosophy is demonstrated by its consistent adherence to the materialist line; its struggle against idealism, metaphysics, and all forms of mysticism, agnosticism, and irrationalism; and its exposure of the social-class roots of all such schools of thought as well as of the reactionary political conclusions drawn from them. At the same time, as Lenin pointed out, Marxist partisanship demands the mastery and critical elaboration of the achievements of bourgeois scientists (see ibid., p. 364).

Our own times are marked by the unprecedented growth and increasingly complex nature of the practical, theoretical, ideological, and political problems that confront society; closely related thereto is the ever greater role played by the Marxist-Leninist philosophy.

At the center of the Marxist-Leninist philosophy is the problem of working out the theory, principles, laws, and categories of the materialist dialectic. The questions that are most pressing are those pertaining to the dialectics of various spheres of objective reality, and above all the dialectics of social processes. The examination of methodological questions in the natural and social sciences is an area of particular concern. The further elaboration of the problems of historical materialism is inextricably bound to the analysis of the dialectics of social development. The most important studies in this field are those concerned with the theory of socioeconomic formations, the social and philosophical problems of advanced socialist societies, the dialectical development of a world socialist system, and the dialectics of the worldwide revolutionary process. The philosophical point of view is applicable to a broad range of problems related to the scientific and technological revolution and its social consequences. Of particular importance today is the philosophical analysis of problems relating to man and communist education.

Neither any theory of natural science nor anything that the sciences have discovered in nature or that technology has devised—nothing has wrought such a revolutionary transformation in the fortunes of mankind as Marxism has. The Marxist-Leninist philosophy, when thoroughly mastered, raises the ideological-theoretical level of the toiling masses and unites them under the great banner of the Marxist-Leninist world view, opening up bright prospects and inspiring the workers of the world with confidence in the triumph of communism.


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Marx, K. “Tezisy o Feierbakhe.” Ibid.
Marx, K. Nishcheta filosofii. Ibid., vol. 4.
Engels, F. Anti-Dühring. Ibid., vol. 20.
Engels, F. Dialektika prirody. Ibid.
Engels, F. L. Feierbakh i konets klassicheskoi nemetskoi filosofii. Ibid., vol. 21.
Lenin, V. I. Materializm i empiriokrititsizm. Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 18.
Lenin, V. I. Filosofskie tetradi. Ibid., vol. 29.
Lenin, V. I. “O znachenii voinstvuiushchego materializma.” Ibid., vol. 45.
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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


Aristotle (384–322 B.C.)
eminent Greek philosopher. [Gk. Hist.: NCE, 147]
Confucius (c. 551–479 B.C.)
classic Chinese sage. [Chinese Hist.: NCE, 625]
Plato (427–347 B.C.)
founder of the Academy; author of Republic. [Gk. Hist.: NCE, 2165]
Socrates (469–399 B.c.) Athenian
philosopher, propagated dialectic method of approaching knowledge. [Gk. Hist.: NCE, 2553]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. the academic discipline concerned with making explicit the nature and significance of ordinary and scientific beliefs and investigating the intelligibility of concepts by means of rational argument concerning their presuppositions, implications, and interrelationships; in particular, the rational investigation of the nature and structure of reality (metaphysics), the resources and limits of knowledge (epistemology), the principles and import of moral judgment (ethics), and the relationship between language and reality (semantics)
2. the particular doctrines relating to these issues of some specific individual or school
3. the critical study of the basic principles and concepts of a discipline
4. Archaic or literary the investigation of natural phenomena, esp alchemy, astrology, and astronomy
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


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