What is philosophy?

Philosophy concerns some of the biggest questions that have ever been asked, questions like What is the right way to live?, What do we really know?, Is there a God?, and Do we have free will?.  Philosophers don’t ask these questions as mere idle curiosities.  We try to formulate clear answers to them, and to evaluate whether our answers are true by considering the arguments on both sides.  (Read more.)

Areas of philosophy

There are many subfields within philosophy, but some of the most prominent include:

  • Ethics:  What is right way to live?  What are our moral obligations to other people?
  • Epistemology:  What do we know, and what do we merely believe?  Do we really know anything?  Is it rational to hold beliefs without strong evidence that they are true, and that the opposing views held by others are false?
  • Political philosophy:  How should society be organized?  Is it fair for some people to have so much while others have so little?
  • Philosophy of law:  What is the purpose of the law?  Should we legislate morality?  When is it appropriate to punish people for their actions, and why?
  • Metaphysics:  Is there a God?  Do we have free will?  What is the fundamental nature of reality?
  • Philosophy of Science:  Does science represent the world objectively in a way that non-scientific ways of understanding the world do not?  What is the scientific method, and how does it work?
  • Philosophy of Mind:  Do you have an immaterial soul?  Is it possible to survive the death of your body and brain?  What is the mind, and what is its relationship to the body and brain?

The philosophy department regularly offers courses in these and other subfields.  You can browse our upcoming courses on our courses page.

Introductory courses

In addition to courses focusing on particular topics and historical periods, philosophers, or historical periods, the department offers introductory courses that survey a wide range of issues.  These can be a good place to start for students who aren’t sure what is most appealing to them.

The history of philosophy

Philosophical questions have been widely debated for thousands of years.  So in addition to courses focusing on contemporary discussions of these questions, the philosophy department also offers historically-oriented courses focusing on the views and arguments from some of history’s greatest thinkers.  These include ancient philosophers like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle; philosophers from the very beginning of our modern intellectual history, including Rene Descartes, John Locke, David Hume, and Immanuel Kant; and 19th century thinkers like John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx, Frederich Nietzsche, and Sigmund Freud.  In addition to courses focusing on the Western tradition, the philosophy department regularly offers courses in Eastern philosophy, such as Indian Philosophy and Buddhist Ethics.

Logic

Because philosophers attempt to support their views using careful reasoning and argumentation, the study of logic is an important component of a philosophy education.  The department regularly offers beginning and intermediate courses in logic.

Majoring in philosophy

Information on majoring in philosophy can be found on our requirements page.  You can also schedule a meeting with a philosophy professor to discuss whether majoring in philosophy might be right for you.

Minoring or double-majoring in philosophy

Because of the breadth of topics covered in philosophy, it intersects with a wide range of other fields.  Many philosophy majors or minors pursue another major in religion, English, economics, political science, psychology and neuroscience, history, and classics, as well as many others.

Learn more

Want to learn more?  Visit our events page, browse our courses, or schedule an appointment with a philosophy professor to discuss which courses might be right for you.