Note: These are excerpts from Philosophy Who Needs It, November 1984, published by Signet, division of Penguin Books. It is a supplement for answering The Tandem Project Questionnaire: “The Ultimate Meaning of Life and How to LiveAccordingly.” The Questionnaire is part of the Tandem Project Human Rights Education Manual: How to Monitor Human Rights and Freedom of Religion or Belief.

A philosophic system is an integrated view of life. If you want to understand what this means the book suggests you approach your life as a detective story: follow every trail, clue and implication in order to discover the process you are following. The five basic branches of philosophy are guidelines to help you do this step-by-step in logical order.

1. Metaphysics: Aristotle called it the study of existence or being as such-beyond physics. Metaphysics is the study of ultimate meaning, first principles, and core concerns-the first branch of philosophy. Metaphysics is a basic foundation for discovering an integrated view of life. The starting point or paradigm can be religious, non-religious, theistic, non-theistic, atheistic, or holding no metaphysical position, no religion or belief.

2. Epistemology: The theory of knowledge, or how we come to know our metaphysical beliefs. Do we acquire knowledge through a process of scientific experiments, reason, faith, scripture, doctrine, prayer, all or none of the above? The second branch of philosophy with metaphysics forms the basic foundation for step three.

3. Ethics : The third branch of philosophy builds on the first two branches and may be regarded as their technology, how metaphysics and epistemology are expressed in life. Ethics defines a moral code of values and is an expression of conscience. Ethics can be held by one person or by a group of persons who agree on a common set of values. It applies to every aspect of life: character, actions and relationship to all of existence.

4. Politics: The fourth branch of philosophy, politics; are the principles of a social system where ethics find expression in the public market place. Politics as an expression of ethics results in legislation and laws. One description of politics in this context is an arena where people of diverse philosophical, religious and social ethics come together to determine the moral codes, legal norms and standards for the conduct of a given society.

5. Esthetics: The last branch of philosophy gives conscious and unconscious expression of the other branches-metaphysics, epistemology, ethics and politics. It is the refueling, so to speak-of personal or group consciousness through artistic expression in a culture or given society.