The Most Difficult Branch of Philosophy: Ranking the Challenging Realm of Metaphysics and Epistemology

Choose the branch you think is the most difficult!

Author: Gregor Krambs
Jun 16, 2023 10:17 (Updated on Dec 4, 2023 06:24)
Embark on an intellectual adventure with StrawPoll's latest ranking: "What is the most difficult branch of Philosophy?" Join thousands of inquisitive minds in exploring, debating, and voting for the most challenging philosophical concepts that have puzzled great thinkers for centuries. Will it be the perplexing nature of metaphysics or the mind-bending theories of epistemology? Perhaps the intricacies of ethics or the profound depths of ontology? Don't let your favorite branch be overshadowed—cast your vote, make your voice heard, and even suggest a missing option if you dare! Unravel the enigma and contribute to a collective quest for wisdom as we unravel the Gordian Knot of this fascinating discipline. Dive into the philosophical labyrinth with us and see which branch emerges as the most formidable!

What Is the Most Difficult Branch of Philosophy?

  1. 1
    Metaphysics deals with the fundamental nature of reality and existence. It can be difficult because it involves abstract concepts that are often difficult to define and understand.
    Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy that explores fundamental questions about the nature of reality, existence, and the relationship between mind and matter. It examines abstract concepts that are beyond the scope of empirical science.
    • Fundamental Questions: Metaphysics deals with questions such as the nature of reality, the existence of God, the nature of the self, and the origin of the universe.
    • Ontology: Metaphysics studies the nature of being, existence, and reality itself, often exploring concepts such as substance, form, essence, and existence.
    • Cosmology: Metaphysics investigates the fundamental structures and principles that govern the universe, including theories about time, space, causality, and determinism.
    • Epistemology: Metaphysics explores the nature and limits of human knowledge and understanding, examining questions about perception, intuition, logical reasoning, and the possibility of metaphysical truths.
    • Mind-Body Problem: Metaphysics addresses the relationship between mind and matter, investigating philosophical theories about the nature of consciousness, free will, and the interaction between the physical and mental realms.
  2. 2
    Epistemology is the study of knowledge and belief. It can be difficult because it involves the examination of the nature and limits of knowledge, and the methods used to acquire knowledge.
    Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that examines the nature, sources, limitations, and validity of knowledge. It seeks to answer questions such as 'What is knowledge?', 'How do we acquire knowledge?', and 'What are the criteria for justifying beliefs?'
    • Branch of Philosophy: Epistemology
    • Nature of study: Nature of knowledge and belief
    • Focus: Justification, acquisition, and limits of knowledge
    • Questions investigated: How knowledge is obtained, what knowledge consists of, and how knowledge can be justified or verified
    • Areas of inquiry: Different ways of knowing, sources of knowledge, criteria for determining knowledge
  3. 3
    Logic is the study of reasoning and argumentation. It can be difficult because it involves the examination of the principles of valid reasoning, and the construction of arguments that are sound and valid.
    Logic is a branch of mathematics that deals with formal reasoning and inference. It provides a systematic framework for analyzing and evaluating the validity of arguments. Logic is concerned with the study of propositions, the relationships between propositions, and the construction of proofs and logical arguments.
    • Propositions: Logic studies the structure and properties of propositions, which are statements that can be either true or false.
    • Logical Connectives: Logic defines various connectives such as AND, OR, NOT, IMPLIES, and IF AND ONLY IF to combine propositions and express relationships between them.
    • Logical Operators: Logic introduces operators like conjunction (∧), disjunction (∨), negation (¬), implication (→), and equivalence (↔) to manipulate propositions.
    • Inference Rules: Logic provides a set of inference rules that allow the derivation of new propositions from given premises or existing propositions.
    • Proof Theory: Logic employs proof theory to establish the validity of logical arguments through the construction of formal proofs.
  4. 4

    Philosophy of language

    Gottlob Frege
    Philosophy of language is the study of the nature of language and its relationship to reality. It can be difficult because it involves the examination of the structure and function of language, and the ways in which language can shape our understanding of the world.
    The philosophy of language is a branch of philosophy that focuses on the nature, function, and meaning of language. It explores how language is used to express thoughts, convey meaning, and facilitate communication. It also delves into the relationship between language, thought, and reality, and investigates topics such as reference, meaning, truth, interpretation, and communication.
    • Referential Theory of Meaning: The meaning of words is determined by their reference to objects or concepts in the world.
    • Sense and Reference distinction: Distinguishes between the sense (Sinn) and reference (Bedeutung) of expressions to account for the different ways words can convey meaning.
    • Theory of Descriptions: Analyzes definite descriptions and their role in quantifying language, focusing on the distinction between referring and non-referring expressions.
    • Truth-conditional Semantics: Proposes that the meaning of a sentence is its truth conditions, which are determined by the relations between the words and the world.
    • Speech Acts: Studies the performative function of language, emphasizing the practical and social aspects of communication.
  5. 5

    Philosophy of mind

    René Descartes
    Philosophy of mind is the study of the nature of consciousness and mental processes. It can be difficult because it involves the examination of the relationship between the mind and the body, and the ways in which mental states are related to physical states.
    The Philosophy of Mind is a branch of philosophy that examines the nature of the mind, consciousness, and mental processes. It seeks to understand how the mind interacts with the physical world and how mental phenomena are related to the brain and the body.
    • Dualism: The concept that the mind and body are separate entities.
    • Materialism: The belief that mental states can be explained solely in terms of physical processes.
    • Functionalism: The idea that mental states are defined by their functions and roles.
    • Identity Theory: The proposition that mental states are identical to brain states.
    • Consciousness: The study of subjective experience and self-awareness.
  6. 6
    Ethics is the study of moral principles and values. It can be difficult because it involves the examination of what is right and wrong, and the reasons why certain actions or behaviors are considered ethical or unethical.
  7. 7
    Aesthetics is the study of beauty and art. It can be difficult because it involves the examination of subjective concepts such as taste and aesthetic experience, and the ways in which art can be evaluated and appreciated.
    Aesthetics is the branch of philosophy that deals with the study of beauty, art, and taste. It explores concepts related to sensory perception, aesthetic judgment, and the creation and appreciation of artworks. Aesthetics aims to understand the nature and significance of beauty and its role in our experiences and lives.
    • Subjectivity: Aesthetics often involves subjective judgments and interpretations.
    • Form and content: It examines the relationship between the formal elements and the content of artworks.
    • Aesthetic experience: It investigates the feelings, emotions, and sensations evoked by artworks.
    • Beauty: It explores the concept of beauty and its various interpretations.
    • Artistic expression: It analyzes the ways artists communicate their ideas and emotions through art.
  8. 8
    Political philosophy is the study of government and political systems. It can be difficult because it involves the examination of the nature of power and authority, and the ways in which political systems can be organized and justified.
    Political philosophy is a branch of philosophy that explores the concepts of justice, power, authority, rights, governance, and the relationship between individuals and society. It examines the ways in which political systems and institutions can be justified, evaluated, and designed to promote the well-being and freedom of individuals. Political philosophy delves into questions on how political power should be distributed, the role of the state, the nature of political obligation, and the legitimacy of political authority.
    • Origins: Political philosophy finds its roots in the writings of ancient philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle, and later developed further by thinkers like Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
    • Key Concepts: Some key concepts within political philosophy include justice, equality, liberty, democracy, social contract, rights, and the relationship between individuals and the state.
    • Different Approaches: There are different approaches to political philosophy, including liberalism, libertarianism, socialism, conservatism, feminism, and communitarianism, each offering distinct perspectives on the organization and values of society.
    • Contemporary Debates: Contemporary political philosophy engages with debates on topics such as distributive justice, multiculturalism, human rights, global governance, environmental ethics, and the ethics of war.
    • Role of State: Political philosophy examines the role and limits of state power, exploring issues related to individual liberty versus state authority, the functions of government, and the protection of citizens' rights.
  9. 9

    Philosophy of science

    Karl Popper
    Philosophy of science is the study of the nature of scientific inquiry and knowledge. It can be difficult because it involves the examination of the principles of scientific reasoning, and the ways in which scientific theories can be evaluated and justified.
    The philosophy of science is a branch of philosophy that focuses on the nature and methodology of science, including its assumptions, principles, and goals. It explores the epistemological, metaphysical, and ethical aspects of science, investigating questions such as the nature of scientific knowledge, the criteria for evaluating scientific theories, and the relationship between science and society.
    • Falsifiability criterion: Karl Popper's concept that scientific theories must be able to be tested and proven false.
    • Inductive reasoning: The use of empirical observations to form generalizations and theories.
    • Scientific realism: The view that scientific theories aim to provide an understanding of the world as it really is.
    • Scientific method: The systematic approach used by scientists to investigate phenomena, involving empirical observation, hypothesis formation, experimentation, and analysis.
    • Scientific revolution: The period of significant paradigm shifts in scientific thought, such as the Copernican revolution.
  10. 10
    Philosophy of religion is the study of the nature of religion and religious belief. It can be difficult because it involves the examination of the nature of God or the divine, and the ways in which religious beliefs can be justified or evaluated.
    The philosophy of religion is a branch of philosophy that explores the questions, concepts, and theories related to religion. It seeks to understand the nature of religion, the existence of a higher power or deity, the relationship between science and religion, and the significance of religious experiences and beliefs in human life.
    • Nature of Religion: Examines the essence, characteristics, and origins of different religious traditions.
    • Existence of God: Explores arguments for and against the existence of a higher power or deity.
    • Problem of Evil: Addresses the philosophical challenge of reconciling the existence of evil with the nature of an all-powerful and benevolent God.
    • Faith and Reason: Investigates the compatibility between religious faith and rationality, including the relationship between religious beliefs and scientific knowledge.
    • Religious Language: Analyzes the nature and limitations of language used to describe religious experiences and concepts.

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Ranking factors for difficult branch

  1. Abstractness
    How removed a branch is from concrete, everyday experience. Greater abstraction can lead to more difficult concepts and discussions.
  2. Complexity
    The range and depth of concepts and theories within a branch, as well as the number of different perspectives and positions that must be considered.
  3. Logical rigour
    The extent to which a branch demands precise, systematic reasoning and analysis. Some branches may require greater attention to logical detail and conceptual clarity.
  4. Interdisciplinary connections
    The extent to which a branch overlaps with other fields of inquiry, both within and outside philosophy. More interdisciplinary connections can make a branch more challenging, as it requires understanding of multiple fields.
  5. Historical development
    The historical context and evolution of ideas within a branch can add layers of complexity and nuance. Understanding the historical development of a branch may be essential to grasp and engage with its core debates.
  6. Technical vocabulary
    The degree to which a branch of philosophy utilizes specialized terminology or relies on a unique conceptual framework. A higher degree of technical vocabulary can make a branch more challenging to grasp and communicate effectively in.
  7. Controversy and disagreement
    The extent to which a branch is characterized by ongoing disputes among philosophers, which may indicate deeper challenges in reaching consensus or resolving foundational questions.
  8. Real-world applicability
    The degree to which a branch deals with issues that directly or indirectly impact our lives, personal conduct, and societal functioning. A lower degree of real-world applicability might make a branch more challenging to relate to and apply in practical situations.
  9. Intuitiveness
    The degree to which a branch aligns with or challenges our intuitions and common-sense beliefs. More counterintuitive branches can be more challenging to grasp and accept.
  10. Personal interest and temperament
    The degree to which a branch resonates with an individual on a personal level, based on their interests, beliefs, and intellectual inclinations. Difficulty can vary significantly from person to person, depending on their personal affinities and background knowledge.

About this ranking

This is a community-based ranking of the most difficult branch of Philosophy. We do our best to provide fair voting, but it is not intended to be exhaustive. So if you notice something or branch is missing, feel free to help improve the ranking!


  • 188 votes
  • 10 ranked items

Voting Rules

A participant may cast an up or down vote for each branch once every 24 hours. The rank of each branch is then calculated from the weighted sum of all up and down votes.


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More information on most difficult branch of philosophy

Philosophy is a vast field that encompasses a range of different branches and areas of study. From metaphysics and epistemology to ethics and aesthetics, there are many different topics and perspectives to explore in the world of philosophy. One of the most challenging branches of philosophy is undoubtedly metaphysics, which deals with questions about the nature of reality, existence, and being. This branch of philosophy is concerned with exploring the fundamental principles and structures that underlie the world around us, and it often involves grappling with complex and abstract concepts like causation, time, space, and identity. Another difficult branch of philosophy is epistemology, which deals with questions about knowledge and belief. This area of study is concerned with understanding how we can know things about the world, and how we can be sure that our beliefs are true and justified. It involves exploring the nature of evidence, the limits of reason, and the ways in which our cognitive processes can be biased or flawed. Overall, philosophy is a challenging and rewarding field that can help us to explore some of the most fundamental questions about ourselves and the world around us. Whether we are delving into the mysteries of metaphysics or grappling with the complexities of epistemology, there is always more to learn and discover in the fascinating world of philosophy.

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