What is the most basic philosophical question


What is philosophy

"Philosophia" means something like "love of wisdom" in ancient Greek. The term was coined about two and a half thousand years ago by Socrates, one of Europe's first philosophers.

A wise person is someone who thinks sensibly about fundamental, existential questions and who is reasonably oriented in his actions based on the insight he has gained. Whoever loves wisdom, who philosophizes, thinks about fundamental, existential questions. Even children do this spontaneously when they ask themselves why they are actually themselves and not someone else. In their later youth, however, many people have largely forgotten how to think about basic questions for themselves and would rather stick to established opinions than take them for granted.

Philosophy classes try to counteract this: Assumptions that are supposed to be taken for granted are made with reservations and then checked to what extent they are reasonably justified. The astonishing openness of fundamental questions of our existence should be exposed.

Basic philosophical questions

According to the world-famous German philosopher Immanuel Kant, all philosophical questions can be traced back to four basic questions, which correspond to the major areas of philosophy. In each case it is indicated in brackets when we deal with the respective areas in philosophy class:

Basic question 1: What can I know?

= Logic, epistemology (EPH), philosophy of science (Q2.2)

e.g. Is there real truth or just different opinions? Can you ever really be certain about something? What is scientific knowledge and does it have its limits?

Basic question 2: what should I do?

= Ethics (Q1.2), political philosophy (Q2.1)

E.g. Should you try to be a good person or should you just look for your own advantage as wisely as possible? What is really good without limitation? Should the lives of a few people be sacrificed in order to save that of many? Can you really never lie? What is the best form of government?

Basic question 3: What can I hope for? (EPH, Q1.1)

= Metaphysics

E.g. Have science proven that there is no God? Is our death really the end of everything for us? Is our existence the result of a meaningless accident?

Basic question 4: What is a person? (Q1.1)

= Anthropology

e.g. Are we just one kind of biological machine? Are freedom, as well as responsibility and guilt, only illusions? Does human life make sense?

Philosophy as the "mother of all sciences"

Understanding philosophical questions and knowing important answers from great philosophers are an essential part of a general education for Europeans and citizens of the world. This begins with watching films and reading better newspapers, where in the political part it is assumed that the reader has an idea of ​​the political philosophy of Thomas Hobbes ‘or Kant, in the cultural part of Feyerabend or Rousseau. The history of art and literature cannot be understood without a knowledge of philosophy, history and law cannot get by without philosophy, just like economics. But even in the natural sciences, the transition to philosophy - for example in theoretical physics or scientific psychology - is often a fluid one. Classics of philosophy always belong to the classics of the respective subjects.

The reason for this is that all of today's individual sciences have only gradually developed out of philosophy and its fundamental questions in the course of European intellectual history. That is why philosophy is also called the "mother of all sciences". This is not only the historical origin of all science, but also lasting as the “most general” science that tries to consider all results of all sciences in context and from the ground up.

Philosophy as a professional qualification

As experts for looking beyond the edge of their plate, philosophically educated people are still valued today in many individual areas of knowledge and ability: They will not become over-specialized idiots, and therefore also have the prerequisites for comprehensive innovation in the areas entrusted to them. Anyone who deals with philosophy therefore develops skills not just for a single possible professional specialization, but for many. He / she acquires a decisive prerequisite for overseeing the spectrum of different scientific and professional specializations and for orienting oneself in it.

Philosophy as a subject

For philosophy lessons in school, this means that it is always interdisciplinary and interdisciplinary: if we are interested in people, for example, we will also deal with biological theories, and if we think about the origin of the world, then we will also interested in the world descriptions of physics.

Reading philosophers' texts is challenging, not least because many of them were written a long time ago. This is why there is often strenuous text work in philosophy lessons, including in the exams. In general, philosophy, also as a subject, has a certain rigor that is part of its nature: It is about really thinking carefully about really important questions. The point is not to be satisfied with the first babble that someone makes in a halfway meaningful tone.

Philosophy and religion

Religion also answers fundamental questions: While philosophy and religion often appear to be opposites at school, they are by no means so in history. In the common undertaking of answering fundamental questions and providing fundamental orientation, religions and philosophies in European intellectual history have always inspired and connected with one another. The late antiquity and the Middle Ages in Europe were above all a time when the Christian religion (also: the Muslim and Jewish) became philosophical, and philosophers of this time were always Christians (or Muslims or Jews). It was only in the modern era that new types of atheistic philosophies came into opposition to religion, but this does not apply to many of the most important philosophers of the modern era, such as Kant.

When is philosophy offered?

In secondary level 1, i.e. grades 5 to 9, philosophy lessons are initially offered - in an age-appropriate form - as a subject of practical philosophy. There it replaces Christian religious instruction for those who do not belong to any Christian denomination or to no denomination at all. In the upper level, philosophy can then be chosen as an alternative to religious instruction. It can be both a written and an oral Abitur subject.

Practical Philosophy (PPL) at the Herkenrath High School

The ancient Greeks believed that with philosophy Wonder begins. If this assumption is true, then children and young people should make great philosophers because they are naturally interested in knowing many things. In the practical philosophy subject, this question-sense should be encouraged and steered in many directions.


The word "philosophy" was coined by the Greeks and means "Love of wisdom". A philosopher is not necessarily wise, but a philosopher wants to become wise. And that, following the philosophical tradition, in every respect: in relation to your own person, the people around you and the world in which we live.

In the practical philosophy subject, life-related topics are therefore dealt with, which can be assigned to the 7 groups of questions:

1. The question of the self

2. The question of the other

3. The question of good behavior

4. The question of law, state and economy

5. The question of nature, culture and technology

6. The questions about truth, reality and the media

7. The question of origin, future and meaning.

In the course of the class, the young philosophers receive an overview of the origins and history of philosophy and deal with real-life topics using exemplary examples that are conveyed through different methods and media and always relate to the 7 groups of questions.


The methods for implementing the learning content are broad and depend on the respective learning content. Here are some important methods of teaching philosophy:

  • Project work
  • Lead arguments
  • Thought experiments
  • Writing conversations
  • Dilemma discussions
  • Developing philosophical texts

Students who choose practical philosophy should be willing to reflect on and question what is given, to exchange and discuss them with others.