Philosophy Background

The study of philosophy has traditionally been regarded as an essential component of a liberal arts education. Philosophy deals with fundamental questions about the ultimate nature of reality, our place in the world, and our relations with one another. What sort of person should I be? What are my obligations to others? What can we know? What is the relationship between science and ethics? Between science and poetry? What is the relationship between the mind and the body? Do we have free will? Is there a God?

Students of philosophy confront these and other questions through close study of the great thinkers throughout history, thinkers whose work informs our common cultural heritage. By reading and analyzing philosophical texts, students also sharpen their critical facilities. Each course taught in the Department of Philosophy, no matter how advanced, is designed to train the mind, awakening students to the demands and satisfactions of clear reasoning, cogent argument, and accurate explanation.

The philosophy department does not require that students begin with any single “gateway” course. Instead, they are free to choose from a number of introductory classes: first-year seminars, surveys of the history of philosophy (ancient and modern), and introductory topics courses. Many intermediate-level courses are also without prerequisites, and most are small classes with many opportunities for discussion. Typically these classes cover philosophical sub-fields, such as epistemology, philosophy of science, environmental ethics, and the philosophy of mind. Upper-level seminars are usually focused on a single philosopher or philosophical problem.