Department of Philosophy


Why Take Philosophy Courses?

The best reason to take a philosophy course is that you are keen on philosophy. You feel tensions in your thinking that further positive inquiry will not resolve, and you want to resolve them. The difficult and perplexing matters with which philosophy deals matter to you.

Another good reason to take a philosophy course is that you desire to be well educated. You want to know what's happening in various disciplines throughout intellectual culture.

Another good reason to take a philosophy course is that thinking philosophically about art or literature or psychology or religion or science can help you to understand and to appreciate these fields better. That might be especially useful to you if one of them is your primary academic discipline.

Another good reason to take a philosophy course is that you want grapple seriously with the concrete ethical, social, and political issues of the day.

And another good reason to take a philosophy course is that you want to be a strong critical thinker, a person able to reason well about anything at all and someone not likely to fall prey to the bad reasoning of others.

Students who major in philosophy do better on average in graduate and professional school entrance examinations than do students from any other arts or humanities discipline. (Philosophy majors test as better readers and writers than English majors.) In the world of work, people with degrees in philosophy might start lower than people with degrees more relevant to the job, but they tend to climb faster and to retire higher than others do.

Courses in Philosophy

Each philosophy course is either a course on a problem in philosophy or a course in the history of philosophy – or both. Courses on problems in philosophy address philosophical issues directly. Students are challenged to resolve the issue as best they can. Courses in the history of philosophy ask how particular philosophers attempted to resolve the philosophical issues they discussed and how these philosophers influenced subsequent philosophers. Courses in the history of philosophy might also seek to understand how particular philosophers were shaped by and in turn shaped the world in which they lived.

Problems in philosophy can be roughly sorted into the categories metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics, with ethics being the metaphysics and epistemology of value. Metaphysics attempts to describe how things are; epistemology attempts to distinguish knowledge or sound belief from ignorance in all its forms. Ethics is concerned with how things should be and how we should act, and with what it is to reason well about how things should be and about how we should act.

Every course in philosophy is a course in critical thinking – that is, every course in philosophy seeks to improve students' reasoning skills. As well, some philosophy courses are specifically critical thinking courses, beginning with PHIL 1200.