Etymology of the word "Philosophy"

We explain the etymology of the word "philosophy". In addition, we explore various definitions and discussions of this term by several philosophers.

Gilles Deleuze
Gilles Deleuze holds that the lover of wisdom is one who wants to possess it.

The word "philosophy" has its origin in the Ancient Greek philosophia (φιλοσοφία). Philosophia is the combination of the Greek -phílos (φίλος), which is translated as "friend" or "lover," and -sophía (σοφία), understood as "wisdom." Hence, the most common translation of philosophia is "love of wisdom" or "love of knowledge".

Discussions of its meaning

The term philosophia comes from the Greek roots -phílos and -sophía. The meaning of sophia is widely accepted as "wisdom", since the philosopher is associated with the figure of the sage: one who does not possess knowledge but seeks it.

Most of the discussions around the meaning of "philosophy" revolve around phílos, a term that has its origin in the verb phileîn (φιλεῖν), which means "to love." While this is not confusing per se, it is often overlooked that in the Greek world, love understood as phileîn did not refer exclusively to romantic love but could also refer to the love for friends. Though this distinction may seem a matter of taste, it is not a minor issue, since there is a difference between lover and friend.

Contemporary French philosopher Gilles Deleuze (1925-1995) holds that the lover of wisdom is one who wants to possess it, whereas the friend is one who seeks it but never attains it. In What is Philosophy?, co-authored with Félix Guattari (1930-1992) in 1991, Deleuze argues that for the Ancient Greeks, the philosopher was not the sage, as philosophers, understood as friends of wisdom, did not formally possess it, but were in constant search of it.

This etymological understanding of philosophy is reflected in figures like Socrates (470-399 BC), for example. In the Apology of Socrates, Plato put into the mouth of his teacher the famous dictum "I know that I know nothing”. This statement should be understood as the assertion of someone who, acknowledging that he is ignorant, longs for and seeks the company of wisdom as one who seeks the company of a friend.

French philosopher J.-F. Lyotard (1924-1998), explains in his work Why Philosophize? (1989) that philosophy is grounded in desire. Drawing on the origin of the god Eros, born of poverty and abundance, he argues that the desire for philosophy is precisely that: the dual condition of one who continually seeks, yearning for what they seek but can never attain it.

References

  • Deleuze, G., Guattari, F., & Kauf, T. (2001). ¿Qué es la filosofía?. Barcelona: Anagrama.
  • Lyotard, J. F., & Veiga, J. M. (1989). Por qué filosofar?: cuatro conferencias. Paidós.
  • Griego, D. M. (1967). Griego clásico-español. Vox

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ESPÍNOLA, Juan Pablo Segundo. "Etymology of the word "Philosophy"".
Encyclopedia of Humanities. 19 January, 2024, https://humanidades.com/en/etymology-of-the-word-philosophy/.

About the author

Author: Juan Pablo Segundo Espínola

Bachelor of Arts in philosophy (University of Buenos Aires)

Translated by: Marilina Gary

Degree in English Language Teaching (Juan XXIII Institute of Higher Education, Bahía Blanca, Argentina).

Updated on: 19 January, 2024
Posted on: 28 September, 2023

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