Philosophy

About the Department

Philosophy is the systematic consideration of timeless and timely questions of human concern. What is it to be human? What is real? How should we live? What can we know? Such timeless philosophical questions have not only generated the academic disciplines that comprise a liberal arts education, but continue to interrogate and inform their intellectual foundations. How does race structure social reality? How does gender influence the transmission of knowledge? What is our moral responsibility toward future generations impacted by climate change? Could a machine think? Such timely philosophical questions apply the same systematicity to conditions that confront us today so that we can better understand what the world is, who we are, and what we should do.

The timeless and timely questions of philosophy can be very roughly divided into two categories. Questions regarding knowledge and reality systematically consider the relation between ourselves and the world. Questions within value theory systematically consider what matters to us and how values inform our judgments, feelings, actions, and relationships. Finally, the study of history and traditions of philosophy reveals responses to these questions across cultures and eras. The pursuit of philosophy allows us to consider timeless and timely questions of human concern so that we can better provide answers to them for our place and our time.

The Philosophy Department strives to introduce students to influential historical and vibrant contemporary philosophical work. In so doing the Department stresses certain intellectual values traditionally associated with the discipline: breadth of outlook, rigorous argument, imagination, consistency, systematicity, and the dialectical interplay of different minds. It thereby contributes to the liberal arts education of all students taking its courses, helping students better understand how the world is, who they are, and what they should do. At the same time, it provides majors with the basis for graduate study in philosophy as well as related fields, such as linguistics, psychology, politics, and religion. The Department also provides its majors with a springboard for training in a variety of professional fields, such as law, bioethics, environmental policy, education, social work, technology, international affairs, and business.

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;
  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. The ability to construct sustained arguments and analyze and criticize the arguments of others;
  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, technology, 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.