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Wikipedia:Manual of Style/Philosophy

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This Manual of Style for Philosophy is a subpage of Wikipedia's general Manual of Style. This style guide for Wikipedia's philosophy articles contains guidelines for writing and editing clear, consistent, encyclopedic, attractive, and interesting articles in the area of philosophy. For general matters of style and format not treated specifically on this subpage, follow the main Manual of Style and its other subpages to achieve consistency of style throughout Wikipedia. If the Manual of Style does not address a preferred usage in a particular instance, please discuss the issue on the talk page.

Writing style in philosophy[edit]

One of the main functions of philosophy is clarification. Philosophical subject matter can be very abstract, complex and difficult for unfamiliar readers to understand. Philosophical terminology should be clarified so as to produce complete articles when standing alone.

Philosophy articles should not generally be written in a conversational style, as if a lecture is being presented to the reader, and the article is taking the place of the lecturer's chalkboard. An article that "speaks" to the reader runs counter to the ideal encyclopedic tone of most Wikipedia articles. However, a balance should be struck on how far this guideline should be taken in philosophy articles — an encyclopedic tone can make advanced philosophical topics more difficult to learn.

Philosophy articles should be written not from any particular POV, but rather from the perspective of a reasoner which every person is. This is to say that it should be possible for an average person to be able to reason things out so as to have an excellent and intellectual understanding of the topic merely by reading and following wikilinks. Toward this end, articles should not be written with jargon, nor terminology favoring one in-group of academicians over another. To the degree that any specialized language is necessary, the first instance should be wikilinked.


Articles about philosophy, like all Wikipedia articles, should adhere to a meta-perspective as their primary frame of reference. The approach is to describe the subject matter from a perspective outside of the philosophy and the publication in which it is embedded. This necessitates the use of both primary and secondary information.

Contextual presentation[edit]

The understanding of many topics in philosophy are inextricable from the historical context in which they are found. Broadly speaking, there are two possible issues to be considered: The context of the original discovery of a concept, and the subsequent context arising as a consequence of that discovery.

When the article is about the original concept, contextual historical information about the original idea should be included. This includes the era within the history of philosophy (e.g. Ancient, Medieval, Modern, and Contemporary) and any major philosophical traditions (e.g. Analytic, Continental, Eastern, etc.) from which the topic arises. However, when the article concerns, e.g., a later published article about the same concept, then it would not necessarily be important to discuss the content of the original source material. Details of the conception, development, etc. of a particular idea are more helpful if the reader understands the role of that element in the history of philosophy. This often involves providing literature summaries, biographical information, or direct quotations.

Presenting material from the original work is fine, provided passages are short, are given the proper context, and do not constitute the main portion of the article. If such passages stray into the realm of interpretation, secondary sources must be provided to avoid original research.

Prevailing and alternative views[edit]

There are numerous interpretations of philosophical works. Usually however, two or three major perspectives on a topic can be identified which represent a majority of the prevailing views. Every article should provide differing views on the topic from within each of the major perspectives in such a way that the overall article, itself, expresses a neutral point of view.


Wikipedia is an international general use encyclopedia, and as such the audience should be considered to be as broad as possible. What all Wikipedia users have in common is their rational capacity. Philosophy articles should be aimed at a person trying to reason things out for themselves. Any terms which may stand in need of clarification should be wikilinked.

Suggested article structure[edit]

Articles should be structured in such a way as to have identifiable beginnings, middles, and endings.

Lead section[edit]


Socrates (Σωκράτης)
Bornc. 469 / 470 BC
Deme Alopece, Athens
Died399 BC (age approx. 71)
EraAncient philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolClassical Greek
Main interests
Epistemology, ethics
Notable ideas
Socratic method, Socratic irony

The first thing in any philosopher article should usually be an infobox. In most cases, {{Infobox philosopher}} should be transcluded at the top of the page. After copying the infobox to the top of the article, other information such as images, birth and death dates can be added to it. For a detailed explanation of how to use the infobox, see its documentation.

Lead paragraph[edit]

The lead section of a Wikipedia article is the section before the table of contents and first heading. The lead serves both as an introduction to the article and as a summary of the important aspects of the subject of the article. The lead should be able to stand alone as a concise overview of the article. The article should account for all senses of the term as used within philosophy in the lead section. The lead section should establish the notability of the article's subject within philosophy.

Opening sentences
The opening sentence ideally should identify the topic by academic discipline (e.g. metaphysics, ethics, etc.) and ontologically. This is to say, that it tells the reader what it is by identifying its ontological category. This may take the form of an opening statement like:

All philosophy articles should be recursively wikilinkable to the article philosophy. This is to say that there should be some linked article in the lead section which links to the article philosophy or which links to such an article, et cetera.

The lead should contain no more than four paragraphs, should be carefully sourced as appropriate, and should be written in a clear, accessible style to invite a reading of the full article.


It is universally recommended in articles under category Category:Philosophers that some formulation of the following be used to create a consistent format:

Philosophical literature[edit]

It is universally recommended for articles under category Category:Philosophical literature that some formulation of the following be used to create a consistent format:

  • X is a (book, article, journal) in Y-academic field.
Philosophical concepts[edit]

It is universally recommended for articles under category Category:Concepts that some formulation of the following be used to create a consistent format:

  • X is a concept in Y-academic field.
Philosophical theories[edit]

It is universally recommended for articles under category Category:Theories that some formulation of the following be used to create a consistent format:

  • Scientific: " T-ism is a [U-ist] V-ological theory in field-W which attempts to explain X phenomenon. It is based on the observation that Y events occur, which is called Z."
  • Philosophical: " T-ism is a [U-ist] V-ological theory in field-W which attempts to explain X concept. It is based on the concept that Y is the case, a concept which is called Z."
  • Religious/Spiritual: " T-ism is a [U-ist] V-ological theory in movement/religion-W which attempts to explain X concept. It is based on the belief that Y is the case, a concept which is called Z."
  • There should be an attempt to identify the theory within the category structure and vice versa.



The preferred structure of an article about a philosopher is:

  1. Biography
  2. Philosophy
  3. List of works
  4. Criticism

Philosophical literature[edit]

The preferred structure of an article about philosophical literature is:

  1. Historical context
  2. Structure and arguments
  3. Rhetoric and style
  4. Reception and legacy
  5. Publishing history

Philosophical theories and concepts[edit]

Formal definition[edit]

There should be an exact formal definition, in whatever philosophical terms contemporary philosophers are currently using. The formal definition may not be satisfactory to all perspectives, but is one supported by reliable authority. It may serve as a starting point for those wanting a more intellectual understanding.


Representative examples should be provided, if possible, so as to provide context as to when one might use the defined topic. Some examples of what the topic is not will also help to clarify. Examples should therefore strive to maintain an encyclopedic tone, and should be informative rather than merely instructional.

Guidelines for criticisms[edit]

Whenever possible, philosophy articles that contain criticisms or objections should also contain links to the groups, persons, or movements who raised the objection. If this is not possible, criticisms/objections must, at the very least, be attributed and documented, so that anyone can look it up in the original book/article. The reasons for this are:

  1. These are philosophy articles. Philosophy demands a certain level of thoroughness of research and verifiability in its argumentation, and we should try to present arguments as completely as possible.
  2. Just saying "some people think" gives the reader no resources to check out the arguments for themselves, and in philosophy it's the argument that counts, not that some, or most, or all people believe it to be true - speaking from the perspective of rational discourse, that someone presented an objection doesn't tell us anything about the soundness of their argument.
  3. It looks a little sloppy, like we haven't done our research.
  4. This sort of phrasing often seems to be a cover for original research at best, and a presentation of the writer's opinion masked as a philosophical viewpoint at worst (§ Unsupported attributions).
  5. It tends to lead to a sort of dialogue between two characters: "Some" and "Others", and this is an encyclopedia, not a theatre piece!

The general layout should be similar to the following (except they should be true):

Logical positivism makes the claim that the only meaningful propositions are those that make falsifiable claims about the world. Michael Jackson argues that the claim that the only meaningful propositions are those that make falsifiable claims about the world is not itself falsifiable, and therefore meaningless.
What sections for criticisms are[edit]

A section in a philosophy article outlining criticisms is:

  1. A place to put well known objections to a particular concept, philosophy, or philosophical position (the problem of evil in philosophy of religion articles, for example).
  2. A place for specific arguments by specific philosophers (see the description of Daniel Dennett's criticisms in the Qualia article for a good example).
  3. Provocative. It should encourage the reader to look more deeply into the topic, and provide links for them to do so.
What sections for criticisms aren't[edit]

A section in a philosophy article outlining criticisms isn't:

  1. A place for a dialogue between two opposing camps: "some say... others counter... a common reply is..."
  2. A place for the author's original work (§ Wikipedia is not a publisher of original thought).


See also section[edit]

Ideally, any relevant wikilinks will be incorporated into the text of an article. However, relevant topics not explicated in the text may be included in a "See also" section.

Philosophy conventions[edit]

In addition to the conventions herein contained, the individual philosophy task forces may maintain more detailed naming recommendations for particular topics.


An article should generally be placed at the most common name used to refer to the topic.

  • Articles wholly pertaining to philosophy should be parenthesized "(philosophy)", unless the article name is unambiguous without the parenthetical. The parenthetical title should be the academic area which most specifically and completely relates to the topic Value (ethics).
  • Articles should not be limited to a single field of philosophy, unless including everything relevant to two or more fields is impractical or awkward. For example, instead naming an article "Value (logic)" or "Value (aesthetics)", the article should be called Value (philosophy).
  • In article names, references to "Philosophy" should not be capitalized (e.g. Postmodern philosophy).
  • When a philosopher has the same name as some other person, the philosopher may be disambiguated with the parenthetical "(philosopher)". See, for example, William Barrett (philosopher).

Types of articles[edit]

General and introductory articles[edit]

These include Philosophy, together with the main philosophical topics such as Epistemology, Metaphysics or Ontology, Ethics, Logic, as well as the philosophy of... articles such as Philosophy of language, Philosophy of science.

By their nature, such articles tend to be lists of the various positions and arguments of the field, along with outlines of the views of the significant philosophers. The emphasis should be on breadth rather than on depth. Each section should link to the appropriate main article using the appropriate template ({{Main article|Page}}, or {{See also|Page}}).

These articles should be written for the general reader. In these articles

  • Use minimal technical language
  • Explain any jargon as soon as it occurs
  • Describe key arguments briefly and link to their main article rather than presenting them in detail in the body of the article
  • Introduce the views of key philosophers and link to their main article rather than describing their work in detail.


These articles describe the body of work and biographical details of significant philosophers.

As with the main articles, the biographical articles should be written for the general reader. However some detail is to be expected in order to accurately explain the view of the philosopher concerned. Judgement will be needed in determining the placement of arguments. For instance, Karl Popper describes falsification briefly, linking to the main article falsifiability; whereas John Searle presents detailed arguments.

  • Biographical articles should include the {{Infobox philosopher}} template.
  • Biographical articles should be included in Category:Philosophers, at the top level, as well as in any appropriate sub-categories.

Philosophical literature[edit]

These articles describe important publications in philosophy.

These articles should present sufficient information to understand the arguments being presented in the publication. They might present the argument in a more accessible way than the original article, targeting readers with a deeper understanding of the topics involved. As a rule of thumb, the reader of these articles might be assumed to be familiar with the general features of the field under discussion, and understand some jargon that is relevant to the topic. See The Unreality of Time; The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. The emphasis should be on depth.

Philosophical concepts[edit]

There are many hard to classify articles whose subject matter is an idea, concept, or abstraction. It is preferred that the fundamental concepts, which may be about a "type of concept" shared by other concepts be identified as such by wikilinks in its lead section and by its categories. (e.g. we are talking about articles like theorem as opposed to Gödel's completeness theorem).


Articles that present specific arguments, for example Regress argument, Is-ought problem. Again, the emphasis should be on depth, and it is reasonable to assume some familiarity with jargon and technicalities. For instance, it is reasonable to assume that the reader of Raven paradox is familiar with inductive logic, and be able to make sense of Bayes' theorem.

Philosophical theories[edit]

Philosophical (or "conceptual") theories are distinct from empirical theories in that the subject matter which they attempt to explain consists of concepts, rather than physical, observable, objects or properties. Theories are distinct from concepts in that theories are comprised of two or more concepts. Articles whose subject matter is a conceptual theory should be identified as such by wikilinks in its lead section and by its categories.


The Philosophy category structure is constructed so as to conveniently capture almost every article within the scope of WikiProject Philosophy. An attempt should be made to place each and every article within four broad types of classifications, meaning that, ideally, they will each have at least four categories, one each for: philosophical school or tradition, what kind of instrument of philosophy it is, which academic branch of philosophy it falls under, and which era within the history of philosophy it occurs. This guideline is with the understanding that have all four classifications will not always be strictly possible. Under this scheme there are very few hard to classify articles. Over time, as general categories become populated by them, patterns emerge that make the creation of new categories increasingly obvious. In general, it should also be possible to connect any article via recursive wikilinks to at least one of the four main topic classifications.

It is expected that every article should be capable of being categorized as belonging to a particular philosophical tradition: Platonism, Aristotelianism, Empiricism, Rationalism, Analytic philosophy, Continental philosophy, or Eastern philosophy. If it is an article that is not clearly to be classified under one of these broad major traditions, then an attempt should be made to classify it under some other more specific philosophical theory.
It is expected that every article should be capable of being categorized as being about an only one particular ontological category of thing, and not others. For instance, a philosopher, a work of philosophical literature, a philosophical concept, or a philosophical theory. An article may cover the works, and concepts of a particular philosopher, for instance, but the article should mainly be about the philosopher, and, if possible, his or her works, and ideas should stand as separate articles.
It is expected that every article should be capable of being categorized as being the subject matter of at least one major branch of philosophy: aesthetics, epistemology, logic, metaphysics, social philosophy or political philosophy. If it is an article that is not clearly to be classified under one of these broad major branches of philosophy, then an attempt should be made to classify it under some other more specific field of philosophy.
It is expected that every article should be capable of being categorized as occurring during one era within the history of philosophy: Ancient philosophy, Medieval philosophy, Modern philosophy, or Contemporary philosophy.


Every philosopher should be in at least one category for each of the following:

Philosophical literature[edit]

Every article about a piece of philosophical literature should be in at least one category for each of the following:

Philosophical theories[edit]

Every article about a philosophical theory (or "conceptual theory") should be in at least one category for an academic areas: (Ethical theories, Metaphysical theories, etc.) In addition, many theories are clarifications of more general theories. In those cases the article should be within the category of the more general theory or major tradition: (Platonism, Aristotelian, Analytic, Continental, Eastern)

Philosophical concepts[edit]

Every article about a philosophical concept should be in at least one category for an academic area: (Concepts in ethics, Concepts in metaphysics, etc.)

Category headers[edit]

In general, any category which is the main category for a task force will have a header with links to the other main categories related to that category. For example:


There are articles which fall through the cracks of the above scheme. In those cases, they should be placed in a general category such as Category:Philosophy until other similar articles appear making the need for a specific category more obvious.

Including references and literature[edit]

There are a number of templates that help format citations for common philosophy web sites. Full instructions are available on their respective pages. Note, {{Infobox philosopher}} should integrate the most common ones.


Philosophy articles should have all of the first instances of terms which are names of articles within WikiProject Philosophy wikilinked.


The following colors should be used in all tables, charts, and templates:

  • Default background color: #FFF1DD
  • Header/title color: #FFD699
  • Highlighted item color: #FFE5BE


Templates should always be aligned on the right-hand side of the page, or along the bottom, except when the template is small (see the philosophy portal template for an example).

Most of these guidelines do not apply to templates whose purpose is to introduce an article. See Bertrand Russell for an example.

Philosopher infobox[edit]

Every philosopher should have an {{Infobox philosopher}} included.

Typographical elements[edit]

The default font should never be changed, though within tables or templates the font size may be reduced.



Use of italics should be restricted to that described in Wikipedia:Manual of Style. Quotations should never appear in italics, unless the original quote appears italicized, or unless emphasis is added by the article editor (in which case this should be noted after the quote).

Bold face[edit]

Text should never be manually bolded. The only words in an article which appear in bold face should be the first occurrence of the article title, which should appear in the first or second sentence of the article.


Short quotes should be contained within the body of text, within quotation marks. Long quotes (more than a sentence) should be offset from the main text using the {{Quote}} template: {{Quote|text=Quoted material. |author=Attribution |source=Reference }}, which renders as:

Quoted material.

— Attribution, Reference

Quotations should always be attributed to a specific person, with a reference to the book it appears in, where applicable.

With the exception of ellipses, punctuation should not be added within quotations when it does not appear in the original quotation.

Original: "They could mean an instance of rabbitness or any number of other things."
Correct: "They could mean an instance of rabbitness", Quine insists.
Incorrect: "They could mean an instance of rabbitness," Quine insists.


For more information on the use of tables in Wikipedia, see: Wikipedia:How to use tables.

Tables should be placed so that they do not break the flow of text (usually this means right-aligning them), except when used as an illustrative device within the text, in which case there should be a line break before and after the table.

Basic table[edit]

Item1 Item2 Item3
Item4 Item5 Item6
Item7 Item8 Item9

Table with headers[edit]

Item1 Item2 Item3
Item4 Item5 Item6
Item7 Item8 Item9

Table with headers and highlighted data[edit]

Item1 Item2 Item3
Item4 Item5 Item6
Item7 Item8 Item9


For images relating to philosophy topics, see:

Images should be clear and easy to make out, not fuzzy or pixelated. They should be appropriately sized relative to the paragraph to which they are attached.

For instructions on how to place an image in a Wikipedia article, refer to the Wikipedia:Picture tutorial.


Charts which are made by Wikipedians and included in articles as images should generally try to use the color scheme outlined above. A good balance between readability and non-intrusiveness should be attempted. As with other images, charts should not appear pixelated or fuzzy.

See also[edit]