20th and 21st century philosophy: Good research paper topics

Philosophy studies the ideas of knowledge, truth and nature. (Credit: Studio5)

Philosophy studies the ideas of knowledge, truth and nature. (Credit: Studio5)

Here are some tips for college students looking for good research paper topics for a philosophy major. You can use effective search terms and keywords to search the Internet for primary and secondary sources such as a scholarly article, a university’s philosophy department website, philosophy databases or online books.

Approaching a philosophy paper

According to Harvard University’s Department of Philosophy: “Philosophy is the systematic and critical study of fundamental questions that arise both in everyday life and through the practice of other disciplines.” It encompasses a wide variety of subjects. Because it is not science, it doesn’t rely on provable facts or research.

For your research paper, you will need to have an opinion on an issue and argue your case in a clear and logical manner. Some fundamental and eternal philosophical questions have been around since the dawn of mankind; others are timely and topical. Or take an old debate and update it for the 21st century, such as a paper on the philosophy of language in which you talk about Twitter, text speak, and other electronic influences in how we use language today.

Start your research—plenty of topics to choose from

ErraticImpact.com offers a Philosophy Research Base and study guide. The 20th Century Philosophy Topics & Ideas page explores the Continental tradition, which includes the existentialists, phenomenologists, structuralists, post-structuralists, critical theorists, theoretical feminists, psychologists, post-modernists and deconstructionists. Another category is the American/British Analytic tradition that includes the philosophers of mind, scientific epistemologists, neopragmatists, logical positivists and ordinary language philosophers.

Questia.com offers a vast library of philosophy topics. 20th and 21st century philosophy was characterized by analytic philosophers who “consider their work similar in method and validity to science. They focus on the thorough analysis of phenomena, in order to find an objective truth.” Categories include analytic philosophy, pragmatism, neo-Thomism, realism, critical theory and realism.

University databases

Search large university library databases for philosophy topics. For example, Yale University offers the Philosophy Research Guide page, which provides resources and strategies for all areas and periods in philosophy, including subject headings for searching Orbis and links to online books. The guide offers major subjects of study including aesthetics, metaphysics, moral philosophy, philosophy of religion and political philosophy.

Other databases you can try: Blackwell Reference Online; Cambridge Companions to Philosophy, Religion, and Culture; Continuum Guides for the Perplexed; Oxford Handbooks; Oxford Readings in Philosophy; Oxford Scholarship Online; Routledge Contemporary Introductions to Philosophy; Routledge Philosophy GuideBooks.

Topic idea for the 20th century philosophy

For a paper on the origins of analytic philosophy, check out Frege Explained: From Arithmetic to Analytic Philosophy, by Joan Weinter, 2004, on Questia.com. The writings of Gottlob Frege (1848-1925), German mathematician and philosopher, were the origin of modern mathematical logic. He worked to determine the nature of our knowledge of the truths of arithmetic. “Frege’s approach is widely regarded today as the origin of analytic philosophy, the dominant school in contemporary Anglo-American philosophy,” wrote Weinter.

Topic idea for the 21st century philosophy

For very recent discussions on philosophy, research Secular Philosophy and the Religious Temperament: Essays 2002-2008, by Thomas Nagel, 2010, found on Questia.com. Nagel offers insight on the relations between science and religion, and secondarily with the interpretation of liberal concepts of justice and their application to the world as a whole.

Other philosophy topics

Gathered from around the Internet, here are a few more good research paper topics for philosophy:

- How do you define philosophy?

- In business ethics, does the end (profit) justify the means?

- What can art say about the human condition?

- Political philosophy: The best form of government is _____

- Would it be ethical to get a brain implant that gives you perfect memory?

- For or against the separation of Church and State

- Are human behaviors derived from their genes or the surrounding environment?

- The effects of morality on self-development

For a variety of philosophy topic ideas, check out Questia.com’s 20th and 21st Century Philosophy research pages. 

What will you write your philosophy research paper topic on? Share your ideas in the comments.

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