Social Philosophy

by Scott Hughes

Social philosophy explores philosophical questions about social issues and social behavior. Social philosophy deals with a broad range of subjects. Common examples of ideas in social philosophy include social contract theory, cultural criticism, and individualism.

The various topics in social philosophy cross over between many other philosophical categories, including epistemology, metaphysics, philosophy of politics, morality, and so on.

Major themes in social philosophy include the self, social entities, and the relationship between them. Individualism often comes up in social philosophy, including questions regarding the separation, or lack thereof, of individual persons from society and each other.

Social philosophy often mixes with sociology, cognitive anthropology, and psychology. In that those fields offer the science and experimentation that social philosophers can then study and contemplate. Any given discussion or theory may often have elements of social philosophy as well as social sciences.

Major parts of social philosophy do overlap with political philosophy, especially in regards to authority, revolution, property, and rights. However, social philosophy also deals with more subtle forms of social interaction, authority, and conflict. For example, while legal philosophy addresses issues of formal government and formal law, social philosophy addresses more informal issues such as the social structure of voluntarily formed groups, such as the social power of a celebrity. In this way, we can contrast legal power, such as that of a governor, with social power, such as that of a popular high-school student.

Social philosophy can also address group dynamics and the ways in which people group together or otherwise act in union. Topics can include fashion, fads, cults, crowds, and so on and so forth.

Social philosophy also deals with social values. Social values can relate to morality, especially in regards to moral theories that define morality by what society encourages and discourages. For this reason, social philosophy can overlap with morality and moral values.

Some people may refer to social philosophy as the philosophy of society, but doing so may confuse the field with a paticular society's philosophy.

I hope this article answered all of your questions about social philosophy. If you have any remaining questions, or if you have any comments or suggestions, please post them in our Philosophy Forums.