Philosophy as the Self-Defining Discipline

Stephen Richard Palmquist

Research output: Chapter in book/report/conference proceedingConference contribution


This paper defends a simple and surprisingly adequate definition of philosophy: as suggested by the “know thyself” imperative, philosophy is the “self-defining” discipline. The task of philosophizing is therefore best described as the task of self-defining. In responding to various objections, I defend four senses in which this definition holds. First, when other academic disciplines seek to define the nature of their discipline, they are generally recognized as exploring the philosophy of their discipline; only for philosophy is such an inquiry self-referential, remaining fully within the discipline itself. Second, while some genuinely philosophical topics do not explicitly involve self-defining, philosophy as a way of life always has self-examination at its core. Third, even though psychology may have largely usurped philosophy’s classical role as the guardian of self-knowledge, the goal of helping persons to refine their own self-understanding is still crucial for philosophers today. Finally, in a deep but paradoxical sense, genuine philosophy is self-authenticating. While Socrates’ maxim, “the unexamined life is not worth living” should not be taken too literally, it does correctly convey the fact that only an authentic life is really worth living.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the XXIII World Congress of Philosophy
PublisherPhilosophy Documentation Center
ISBN (Electronic)9781634350389
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2018
EventThe XXIII World Congress of Philosophy - Athens
Duration: 4 Aug 201310 Aug 2013


ConferenceThe XXIII World Congress of Philosophy

User-Defined Keywords

  • defining philosophy
  • self-knowledge
  • applied philosophy
  • authenticity


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