Collin & Køppe (1995, p. 10-15) discuss the classification of the humanities. They speak about the human "sciences" (Danish: "Videnskaber"). (See: Arts & Humanities in general). (In this context should "sciences" be understood as "scientific, social scientific and scholarly disciplines", not as "natural sciences" as this word is mainly understood in English).


Philosophy is discussed separately. "Philosophy is strictly regarded not a science - if science is understood as an explanatory and interpretative activity based on empirical data collection.” . . . ”Classical philosophical questions . . . cannot be decided by scientific methods. For this reason we shall not consider philosophy as belonging to the human sciences in this book”.


There are some problems in Collin & Køppe's (1995)  view on philosophy. They are making a distinction between philosophy on the one hand and on the other hand the empirical sciences. Implicitly they claim that the critical-analytical methods used by philosophy are not used in the empirical sciences. This is not the case, however. Every scientific domain make, more or less,  use of empirical, rational, historical and pragmatic methods. Philosophy cannot claim any kind of monopoly on critical-analytical methods, why the distinction made by Collin & Køppe (1995) must be wrong.


But if philosophy cannot be defined this way, is it then a useless field without any specific content or method? Some people are critical about the very existence of philosophy as a field and about its ability to contribute to the solution of problems (e.g., Naur, 2001). But what do philosophers learn during their education? (and what should they learn?). A great deal of time is spend reading original works of great works in the history of thinking. An implication could very well be that philosophy is part of the humanist study of products of human acts. They are concentrating on the most fundamental and general problems which have been examined in the history of mankind. (What problems have such a status may in itself be a problem and the object of controversy related to different philosophical schools or "paradigms"). This object also provide philosophy a status a kind of metascience, which may explain why it is difficult to classify philosophy among the human sciences.

It should be said that the term "philosophy" have changed meaning. When Newton wrote his Principia, this work was considered philosophy (natural philosophy), not science. (Today it is regarded the model work of classical science). When Hulme in 1911 introduced the concept of literary warrant he considered the Periodical System of chemistry and physics as philosophical classification. Today we regard it a product of chemical and physical research, not of philosophy.


Philosophy was for many centuries taught as introduction to higher studies in both science, medicine, law and theology. This was terminated, for example, at the University of Copenhagen in 1971, but few years later courses in philosophy of science were introduced in most fields of higher education.


Philosophy has an important role to play as a synthesizing discipline and as a cross-disciplinary bridge. Until the time of Kant philosophers played the role as superior judges in matters of scientific controversy. Since then, the sciences became "independent" and fragmented. Although such "independency" is overall a good thing, it can be driven too far, why there is a need to cumulate and teach the most general findings, methods, and perspectives. Here lies the importance of philosophy and just as science can become too speculative and need more empirical and special investigation, it can also become too trivial in its fragmentation, why there is a need for "food for thought".  The popularity of courses in the philosophy of science in almost any discipline demonstrates the importance of philosophy.


Any investigation is always made by subjects influenced by former thinkers. Most people may not be aware that they are influenced by rationalist philosophers such as Descartes because they way this influence is provided is through the teaching of geometry in schools. Knowledge about the history of thinking make people aware about the origin of their own thoughts, which is necessary in order to examine them critically.





Bell, K. & Mills, J. (1992). Bliss bibliographic classification. 2nd ed. Class A/AL: Philosophy and Logic. London: Bowker-Saur .


Collin, F. & Køppe, S. (1995). Indledning. IN: Humanistisk videnskabsteori. By Finn Colin et al. Copenhagen: Danmarks Radio.


Naur, P. (2001). Antiphilosophical dictionary. Thinking, speech, science/scholarship. publishing.


Persson, O. (2002). The Discourse of Philosophy 1940-1999. Available at:






See also: Philosophy (Epistemological Lifeboat).








Birger Hjørland

Last edited: 22-07-2006