Philosophy

About the Department

Philosophy is the oldest academic discipline. Such fields as physics and politics have their origins in it, but the study of philosophy itself will endure as long as human beings seek understanding. Philosophy can be described as the application of reason to the most general and fundamental questions of human concern, in order to give them the best justified possible answers. The questions that have occupied philosophy across its history can be located in three categories. First, there are questions about the nature of reality-ourselves and the world in which we find ourselves. Second, philosophy considers questions about how we should live, including questions about moral choice, about the place of the individual in the community, and about what is valuable or worthwhile. A third kind of question concerns what it is possible to know, and what constitutes good reasoning and secure justification. Despite these categories, many philosophers seek a comprehensive and unified vision of the world and our place in it. Even those philosophers who are skeptical of such grand designs typically answer one kind of question-"Do people have minds over and above their bodies (or their brains)?"-by considering another-"How could I know about another person's mind?" In fact, the question of how we know pervades philosophy.

For the discipline of philosophy, its history-especially the work of its great figures-is unusually important. Philosophy's peculiarly reflective and self-critical approach to these questions originated with the philosophers of ancient Greece and developed in a dialogue that has extended across the centuries in philosophical traditions developed in Europe, northern Africa, and western and central Asia. Philosophy is a living subject as well, pressing now as much as ever for answers to its central questions. Therefore the department's curriculum also presents the best contemporary thinking, upon a foundation of established works from the past.

Students completing the major in Philosophy will have gained:

  1. The ability to carefully engage in close reading of demanding texts;
  2. The ability to produce precise and carefully structured writing, constructing sustained arguments and analyzing and criticizing the arguments of others;
  3. The ability to participate extensively in reasoned discussion;
  4. The ability to make cogent and carefully constructed oral presentations;
  5. Familiarity with and an appreciation of a range of contemporary philosophical texts, theories and methods;
  6. Familiarity with and an appreciation of a range of texts and theories drawn from the history of philosophy;
  7. Familiarity with and an appreciation of modern deductive logic and the ability to employ the technical resources of symbolic logic in their philosophic work;
  8. The ability to develop and defend their own philosophical position and to engage in sustained and critical reflection on their own values and beliefs;
  9. The ability to reflect meaningfully on themselves, others and the world.

Students who major in the department's program undertake, and succeed in, a variety of endeavors upon graduating. Those who wish to do graduate work are well prepared for it. Others pursue professional programs in such fields as law, education, media studies, business, public administration, divinity, and even medicine and public health. Without further education, many Philosophy graduates add their own energy and good sense to the abilities developed in them by the study of philosophy, and find rewarding positions in business, in the arts, in journalism, and in government. Virtually any career that requires clear thinking, intellectual creativity, good command of language, and a perspective on competing values and systems of belief provides opportunities for a graduate in Philosophy. But equally important is the value of an education that develops a reflective understanding of ourselves, and of our experience of the world and of others.

Students majoring in Philosophy should satisfy university core curriculum requirements primarily with courses from other departments.