7 junio, 2024

Philosophical methods: what they are and their characteristics

The philosophical methods They are the various ways that philosophers have used throughout the history of human thought to approach knowledge. Nowadays there is a consensus in saying that philosophy does not pretend to arrive at absolute truths, but rather seeks an explanation for certain human aspects.

Philosophy is a continuous intellectual dialogue, it is the rational and constant inquiry about the problems that can distress a society, to address issues such as morality, beauty, truth, existence, the mind, knowledge or language.

Those who do philosophy are aware that the concept reached can be refuted, reviewed and subjected to criticism. It could be said that the two bases on which philosophical work is mounted are the way of approaching a problem and the use of a rational discourse, through which it is argued.

What are the methods of philosophy?

maieutic method

Maieutics is to bring out the light of understanding that is in the intellect of each person through dialogue. Its main exponent, and who created the method, was Socrates, perfected by Plato, who was his disciple. This method was developed between the 5th and 4th centuries BC.

Maiéutica, in Greek, means «art of helping to give birth». Socrates’ mother was a midwife, and the philosopher redefined the concept and applied it to philosophy as the «way of helping to give birth to knowledge.»

Through dialogue he intended the interlocutor to reach the truth, but discovering it for himself. For this he used reasoning and irony (the so-called «Socratic irony»), with which he made the disciple understand that what is known is generally based on prejudices.

The Socratic maieutics assumed that knowledge was accumulated in individuals, offered by tradition, experiences and experiences of previous generations, and through dialogue the interlocutor was invited to let this knowledge out, reasoning, arguing and debating.

The philosopher, through questions, obliges (assists the childbirth) the disciple, who finally «gives birth», that is, comes to knowledge.

Rational empirical or ontological physical method

Ontology is a part of philosophy that studies what is around us, and the relationship between entities (or beings that are). Aristotle also called it «metaphysics» or «first philosophy» to refer to the study or investigation of being as it is.

This method is also called logical physical or rational empirical. Through observation and approach to nature, the human being understands it. That is why one starts from the experience and tries to explain it by applying reason.

When data is received from the senses, reason seeks to explain it in an intelligible and logical way. This line of thought was widely adopted by later philosophers, such as Saint Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century.

The Aristotelian method wants to obtain the truth, the knowledge of things, through deduction, induction and analogy. It is also known as Aristotelian logic.

rationalist method

It is also called the methodical doubt, or Cartesian method. The most notable representative of him was René Descartes, in the seventeenth century, with his famous method discourse and his famous phrase: “I think, therefore I am”.

Methodical doubt is the deductive procedure that questions reality; doubt is, then, the basis of the method, reason being the only legitimate source to produce knowledge. Everything that passes through reason will be true.

empiricist method

This method focuses on experience and evidence, through sensory perception, for the generation of knowledge. In other words, starting from the sensible world, concepts are formed.

Empiricism would be translated as experience, and it develops in Great Britain in the eighteenth century. Its main exponent is David Hume, and is usually opposed to the rationalist method, more developed in continental Europe.

For Hume, the human mind is a kind of blank slate, where it receives information from its surroundings and from nature, through the senses.

He distrusts reason and elevates aspects such as feelings and imagination. It is fundamentally inductive. At the moment it is related to the scientism of the 20th century.

transcendental method

It is also called transcendental idealism. According to Immanuel Kant, who was the one who proposed it in the 18th century, all knowledge requires the existence of two basic elements. The first is the object of knowledge, external to the subject, which is a material principle.

The second is the subject itself, which is known, and constitutes a formal principle. What Kant proposes is that knowledge does not start from the object but from the subject, since this is who knows.

In this way, what matters is not so much the object but who knows, that is, the subject, and this is a milestone in Western philosophy because from Kant, philosophy will revolve around that rational subject, and not about nature. .

This leads Kant to consider his philosophy as an anthropological philosophy.

phenomenological method

It was a philosophical movement founded by Edmund Husserl at the beginning of the 20th century, and it aims to study the world from subjective experience. That is to say, it tries to explain the phenomena (the objects external to the subject) from the subjective conscience.

For phenomenology, consciousness has intentionality insofar as it is consciousness of something, it needs an object foreign to it to be consciousness; In this sense, the awareness of the «I» is not enough, but one open to reality and to being in the world, intentionally.

Phenomenology had a decisive influence on other methods applied to other disciplines, such as literature, religion or psychology. And for the rise of existentialism.

Linguistic analytical method

This method arose in the 20th century, after World War II, in the United States and Great Britain. Try to decipher the world by explaining the language and the concepts that can be expressed with it.

One of its greatest exponents is Ludwig Wittgenstein, and his philosophy of language. His proposal is that most philosophical problems are based on an incorrect use of language, on erroneous interpretations.

The philosopher, then, through the analysis of language, will explain each human experience, since it is communicable. The words we use, and even the way we speak, will reveal certain hidden problems to the analyst, and even unconscious positions on things.

It is a widely used method in linguistics, psychology and disciplines focused on discourse analysis.

hermeneutic method

Hermeneutics is the art of interpreting texts. Although born from phenomenology, hermeneutics goes further. One of his illustrious precursors was Friedrich Nietzsche.

This method presupposes that the cultural environment cannot be ignored and that everything that surrounds the human being must be interpreted as verbal, written and non-verbal communication. Thus, the philosopher will try to decipher the hidden meanings behind each word, and through interpretation give an adequate explanation.

Martin Heidegger, Hans-Georg Gadamer and Paul Ricoeur developed this philosophical method that, together with the phenomenological and analytical, make up current philosophy, and it could be said that a large part of it is hermeneutic.

dialectical method

This method, as old as maieutics, has undergone notable changes in its scope throughout history. In its original meaning, it alluded to a dialogical argumentative method similar to logic.

But in the 18th century it assumed the current concept: two opposing ideas that, when colliding, promote the birth of a new idea, or its overcoming.

Schematically, it can be explained by presenting a problem, the thesis, which is contrasted with an opposite concept, which would be the antithesis, and whose resolution (or new understanding) will be the synthesis.

GWF Hegel was the one who carried it forward, proposing a continuous and incessant transformation of things and for the unity of opposites, where the synthesis would have more truth than the thesis and the antithesis.

Then Karl Marx would assume it when analyzing the socioeconomic reality of his time, saying that «the history of humanity is the history of the class struggle»: two opposing classes that promote the birth of a new one. It is Marxist dialectical materialism.


Daly, C. (2010). An Introduction to philosophical methods. Broadview Press. Taken from ustpaul.ca.
Philosophical Methods (2012). Taken from trazandocamino.blogspot.com.
Martin, S. (2019). Philosophy and its methods. UCR Magazine, University of Costa Rica, pp. 229-235. Taken from revistas.ucr.ac.cr.
Philosophical Methods (2020). Taken from datateca.unad.edu.co.
Transcendental Method (2020). Encyclopædia Herder. Taken from encyclopaedia.herdereditorial.com.

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