Etymology of Philosophy

Philosophy is, according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, the study of ideas (such as the meaning of life, truth, knowledge, and so on). Wikipedia describes it as an academic discipline that looks for truth using reasoning, not empiricism.

Amusingly, philosophy claims that defining anything is a difficult task, so you’ll find that different books and dictionaries will give you different answers to the question “what is philosophy?“.


The etymology of philosophy is, fortunately, a little simpler. The oldest known roots of this word lie in the Greek and Latin words philo (beloved) and sophia (knowledge): philosophia (philosophy)… or literally love of knowledge.

Middle English imported philosophy from the Old French filosofie and later the Modern French and Anglo-Norman philosophie.

Philos in Ancient Greek is φίλος while sophia is σοφία. Thus, philosophia is φιλοσοφία.

Philosophy in Greece

The Greeks were extremely influential, with most modern philosophers claiming that many Western values were shaped by Greek philosophers.

Luis E. Navia’s book, The Adventure of Philosophy, explains that philosophy’s etymology takes us all the way back to ancient Greek, a language from which at least one third of all English words are derived.

Other words starting with “Phil” have related meanings (as in, the love of something), such as philanthropy (meaning love of people) and necrophilia (love of the dead).

References:,. ‘Philosophy | The Study Of Ideas About Knowledge, Truth, The Nature And Meaning Of Life, Etc.‘. N.p., 2015. Web. 25 Sept. 2015.

Navia, Luis E. The Adventure Of Philosophy. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1999. Print.

Wikipedia,. ‘Ancient Greek Philosophy‘. N.p., 2015. Web. 25 Sept. 2015.