However hard I try, I cannot shrug off the impression that philosophy asks all the truly important questions, but has always been somewhat vague when it comes to giving staightforward answers to those very questions. Do people have to turn to religion to get final answers? Because one thing is for sure: they are looking for those final answers.

Beware of straightforward answers to questions -- otherwise, you may end up like the folks who built the computer Deep Thought to answer the question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. When Deep Thought delivered the answer ("42") after 7.5 million years, it was a very straightforward one. But in this case it turned out that to understand the answer, you have to understand the question -- and no one really did. Getting clear on what the truly important questions are -- and how they should be understood -- is thus critical if we are to have any hope at answers that we can make sense of. So the question-asking role of philosophy is not one to be lightly dismissed. That said, I don't think it's true that philosophy fails to provide answers. You might be interested in Gary Gutting's recent book, What Philosophers Know , which attempts to show some answers that philosophy has provided in recent years.

Dear Philosophers, Please don’t take offense at this question, but just what is philosophy? I go to Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy and search “philosophy”, and there is no entry that helps me. I’ll be directed to particular types of philosophy, but nothing that tells me what makes philosophy philosophy. I would have thought that philosophers, who are always asking themselves what makes X an X, would have been able to answer this question concerning their own discipline. Is it simply a matter of semantics—of figuring out the meaning of our terms (like “knowledge”, or “freedom”)? Or is it a matter of metaphysics—of figuring out what knowledge and freedom really are, in the same way that scientists figure out what DNA really is? Is it a matter of figuring out what our concepts are, or what they should be? What are its questions, and what are its methods for discovering answers to these questions? And why should we think that these methods are reliable...

It's okay -- no offense taken! It's often hard even for philosophers to explain exactly what philosophy is. But here's a passage from philosopher Thomas Nagel that I think might give a start to answering your question: “The main concern of philosophy is to question and understand very common ideas that all of us use every day without thinking about them. A historian may ask what happened at some time in the past, but a philosopher will ask, ‘What is time?’ A mathematician may investigate the relations among numbers, but a philosopher will ask, ‘What is a number?’ A physicist will ask what atoms are made of or what explains gravity, but a philosopher will ask how we can know there is anything outside of our own minds. A psychologist may investigate how children learn a language, but a philosopher will ask, ‘What makes a word mean anything?’ Anyone can ask whether it’s wrong to sneak into a movie without paying, but a philosopher will ask, ‘What makes an action right or...

Is there philosophy of humor? I want to know if any professional philosophers have written on the necessary and sufficient conditions for quality comedic material.

You might look at the essay on "Humour" by J. Levinson in the Routledge Encylcopedia of Philosophy . If you are at a college or university that has a subscription to this encylopedia, you can access the article online at #

I have always been wondering whether the behaviours of philosophers in daily life are greatly influenced or even somehow dominated by their study, e.g. when he/she is buying a T-shirt, will he/she keep thinking this shirt is not red as people normally think but some kind of colour that could never be discovered and described or will he/she think of whether all the things still exist inside of the room everytime he/she leaves the room and closes the door? These may not be good examples but I hope I have made myself clear. Thanks!

This question reminds me of a passage from Hume in his Treatise . First Hume works himself up about the problem of skepticism: "Where am I, or what? From what causes do I derive my existence, and to what condition shall I return? Whose favour shall I court, and whose anger must I dread? What beings surround me? and on whom have I any influence, or who have any influence on me? I am confounded with all these questions, and begin to fancy myself in the most deplorable condition imaginable, inviron'd with the deepest darkness, and utterly depriv'd of the use of every member and faculty." But he then steps back and notes the following: "Most fortunately it happens, that since reason is incapable of dispelling these clouds, nature herself suffices to that purpose, and cures me of this philosophical melancholy and delirium ... I dine, I play a game of back-gammon, I converse, and am merry with my friends; and when after three or four hour's amusement, I wou'd return to these...

It seems to me that one of the things that philosophy does, at least for me, a beginner, is to expose mysteries where I thought there were none. Do any of you feel the same way, do you like that chill up your spine when you realize what you thought was self-evident might not be? Is the feeling that you have solved the problem more exciting than the feeling of wonder?

I think this feeling of wonder is common among philosophers. It's one of the things that attracted me to philosophy in the first place. And many philosophers have commented on this phenomenon -- e.g., William James in Some Problems of Philosophy : Philosophy, beginning in wonder ... is able to fancy everything different from what it is. It sees the familiar as if it were strange, and the strange as if it were familiar. It can take things up and lay them down again. Its mind is full of air that plays round every subject. It rouses us from our native dogmatic slumber and breaks up our caked prejudices.... [A person] with no philosophy in him is the most inauspicious and unprofitable of all possible social mates.