The two Greek words – 'philo', which means love, and 'sophia', which means wisdom – are the beginnings of the word we use today: philosophy, the love of wisdom.

Do the preparation task first. Then read the article and do the exercise.

We are such stuff as dreams are made on and our little life is rounded with a sleep. Shakespeare

Does this sentence make you think? What does it make you think about? Shakespeare was a dreamer, and some say he was a philosopher too. In this sentence he tells us that our lives are short but we can think up big and important ideas in that short time.

The two Greek words – 'philo', which means love, and 'sophia', which means wisdom – are the beginnings of the word we use today: philosophy, the love of wisdom.

Most people have a philosophy on life. Everybody has an idea of what is right and what is wrong, and why things are the way they are, and who they are and who to trust. A lot of people believe somebody else’s philosophy. That person may be a religious or political leader, or anybody you look up to. Some people have their own philosophy on life, which might be a mixture of theories. Others are philosophers – people who want to know the truth about life for themselves and spend their time studying, thinking and asking questions.

One of the earliest Eastern philosophies was Taoism, which came from China. We are all aware of the yin and yang halves of the universe – nothing can exist without its opposite. Another great Eastern philosophy is Buddhism, which is a religion and also a system of beliefs which help us to understand ourselves and others better. One branch of Western philosophy, existentialism, is very similar to Buddhist ideas. Both ask questions about what really exists in life and help us to decide what is important.

The first Western philosophers lived in Greece. They encouraged people to find their own answers to questions about life instead of believing the gods did everything. Socrates was the most famous of these. He is one of the most famous philosophers in the world, yet he said, ‘One thing I know and that is that I know nothing.’ This is why he never wrote or lectured. He only discussed. He did not believe he could tell anybody anything, that it was better to encourage individual thinking.

Today philosophers are still encouraging people to think. Schools in some countries teach philosophy to children. Reading books written by old philosophers can be difficult because the language is from the past. So stories are used to help schoolchildren make their own decisions about what is right and wrong and think about the best way to solve problems.

Why do we need philosophy? There are plenty of people who think that killing animals is cruel, but eating animals is fine. If you are one of these people, you should ask yourself why. Why is killing animals cruel? Why is it OK to eat animals? You might find that the answer to each question is very different and you could have an argument by yourself using your own ideas! Go on and argue – you will understand more about what you believe. You will begin to understand the subject more deeply. And this helps you to feel comfortable with it. And you might change something or you might not. When we ask ourselves questions, we start to understand ourselves and our lives, and it’s up to us to make changes or not. If the ideas in your head agree, this means you have integrity. What you say and what you do are the same. Everyone respects someone who has integrity!

By thinking and questioning, we can understand more and maybe prevent problems caused by misunderstanding. But philosophy can also cause problems and conflict when people don’t agree. When one group of people choose one philosophy to believe and another group of people choose a different philosophy, when they need to think or make a decision together, they start trying to change each other instead of working together on bigger ideas about life.

So when you have some spare time, ask yourself the following philosophical questions:

Does the world own us or do we own the world? Which is more important, humans or stars? If a tree falls where nobody can hear it, does it make a sound? And the Zen Buddhist riddle: What is the sound of one hand clapping?



Language level

Upper intermediate: B2


- Does the world own us or do we own the world?
The world own us because we are just a particle or a sand of this world.
- Which is more important, humans or stars?
Stars are more important. Without stars the world as well as we would be changed but without humans things would be the same.
- If a tree falls where nobody can hear it, does it make a sound?
Yes, it still makes a sound.
- And the Zen Buddhist riddle: What is the sound of one hand clapping?
Clapping is performed by two hands, so one hand can't make sound of clapping but whistle.
As I understand, we just a tiny part of universe and nature that we have to follow them to live well. Around us, there are an enormous number of other species, trees or so on. Understanding, adapting and obeying rules of universe is a must if we want to live best.

Hi team,

Thank you so much for sharing this amazing article here.
I'd like to ask one question. what's the usage of 'that' in this sentence, 'He did not believe he could tell anybody anything, that it was better to encourage individual thinking.'?
Thanks in advance.

My best,

Hello again Eon

In this case, 'that' shows that the clause that follows it is to be understood as a continuation of the verb 'believe' (which came earlier in the sentence). In other words, the full sentence is: 'He did not believe [that] he could tell anybody anything, [and he believed] that it was better to encourage individual thinking.' This sentence could actually cause a little confusion, since the verb is negative in the first clause and affirmative in the second, but I'm quite sure that was the writer's intention.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

It was mind-blowing, not only did I enjoy reading, but also learnt that humans' brain is very strong.

May I say 'love you' to the BC/LE team? The articles here always bring me different angle of view and make me think. My answer to the sound of one hand clapping is disappointment, frustration or angry but silence. It's a Chinese idiom.
I have a question about the sentence of integrity,'If the ideas in your head agree, this means you have integrity. ' What does it means for 'ideas' here? and 'agree' (with) what?

Thank you.


When a person has integrity, their actions are in alignment with their principles. For example, let's say that I believe that I should never take anything that is not given to me. If I find a 100€ note on the floor at work, I should not keep it. If I do keep it, especially if I know who it belongs to, then I have little integrity because my principles do not match my actions (because I have taken something that does not belong to me). In this article, when the writer speaks of 'ideas in your head', they are referring to the principles that we have as well as our actions, since we carry out most actions with some kind of intention -- in this way of speaking, intentions are also sets of ideas.

We're so glad that you find our articles interesting and thought-provoking. This new year we will be releasing a lot more new content, so keep your eyes on the site for more!

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, Kirk.
Thanks for answering my question. Now I can understand that integrity means 'ideas in your head' are in alignment with('agree' with) your actions, rather than with the ideas in the article of the writer. Am I right?

Then I have a new question about integrity. If I took the 100€ note because I thought it was lost on the ground and it belonged to nobody, I could to have it. That is, my action is alignment to my principles. Does it mean that I have integrity?

All the best


Hi BING70,

THis is a question which is really philosophical in nature rather than linguistic. I'm sure you can find lively debates on the nature of integrity on forums devoted to moral philosophy.

In terms of how we use the word 'integrity' in English, I would say that it describes a person who is characterised by not changing their principles for personal gain or benefit. We wouldn't really apply the term to a situation in which the action taken is in the person's interests in any case. Rather, we would look at a situation in which a person acts against their own immediate interests because they are following a moral principle.

Thus, a politician who refuses a bribe because they think it is morally wrong is showing integrity. A person who hands in lost money to the police because they think it is the right thing to do is similarly showing integrity.



The LearnEnglish Team

I'm thinking still her if so i'm idiot.........

this reading certainly has something good and something bad good this reading says that what is phiscology but this really is phisicology? let's ask ourselves how many times have we been told that it is a better way of life when you give life to yourself with your way of living with your way of being? For example, I have a teacher who says that phisicology is better than stealing fresh ideas from, the Fuerturo of this world I'm not against it, of course, but there should be something more than just saying that, you need to recover what is already broken so that the world changes and you have a better future