For centuries philosophy was an umbrella term for all the methods of rational enquiry. Gradually, however, more and more disciplines gained their independence. Especially after the apparent failures of grand philosophical systems (such as Hegel's), its field was rapidly shrinking. On the one hand, philosophy could not compete with science in studying the natural world. On the other hand, any turn to the subjective experience would blur its boundaries with the mystical or religious with which few philosophers wanted to be associated - for fear of losing credibility. Philosophers tried to develop logic into an elaborate system, an exact meta-language that could rival mathematics, but this endeavour hit a dead-end when it transpired that logic can never be completely logical (only shortly before it happened to mathematics itself). So, they focused on the relationship between subject and object, the so-called ‘human condition'. The domain of philosophy became relations not particulars that relate, which freed philosophy from being bound to a specific subject. It is now considered to be a method of enquiry that develops defensible arguments based on reason (rather than observation or experience). The aim of philosophy is understanding, which necessitates the examination of the relation between awareness of the world and the world as the material of awareness. For example, philosophy is not primarily concerned with the question ‘does God exist?', but rather ‘does the idea of God make sense?', or ‘does the concept of reality without the idea of God make sense?' This is why philosophy can never be conclusive - people are changing, so their understanding is changing too.
A COMMON MISCONCEPTION ABOUT PHILOSOPHY
It is irrelevant - the inconclusiveness of philosophy has led to a widespread belief that philosophy does not matter. Yet, throughout history philosophy has influenced every sphere of life, from science and religion, to education, politics, economics, art and even fashion. Stoicism served as the working ideology of the Roman Empire, the writings of Plato and Plotinus were instrumental in transforming an intellectually rudimentary offshoot of Judaism into one of the dominant world religions. Descartes and Leibniz directly contributed to the 17th century rise of science, while Voltaire and Rousseau inspired the French Revolution. More recently, the philosophy of Marx and Engels' stirred political changes from Cuba to China, while existentialism and later post-modernism shaped Western culture.