Philosophy addresses the perennial and fundamental concerns of men and women to understand themselves, their experiences, their relations to others, their inherence in nature and their artistic creations. It does this in a spirit of critical inquiry that demands that individual judgment be developed within a consciousness of our historical philosophical traditions. Like other disciplines, philosophy is an evolving enterprise, though it remains committed to raising “final” or “ultimate” questions about the purpose, significance and conditions of human life. It is unique in its sustained and radical commitment to criticize its own historical assumptions about inquiry and truth. Philosophy is distinctive in another important respect. Historically, it has articulated ideas about, for example, God, nature, life, society, and justice that disciplines such as theology, physics, biology, sociology, and political science have presupposed as fundamental.
Philosophy has therefore both constructed and yet critically challenged and reconstructed the framework of other disciplines. Most importantly, perhaps, philosophy perseveres in raising questions about the meaning, justification and bindingness of “normative” obligations, whether religious, conventional, moral, ethical or legal. In this task philosophy assumes the crucial role of offering insight and guidance in the practical conduct of individual life within increasingly complex social, national and global circumstances.
Until the last two or three hundred years, all branches of human knowledge were considered part of philosophy. In the modern period, however, philosophy has come to be considered a distinct discipline. Nevertheless, as the natural and the social sciences become more reflective and critical about their own conceptual foundations, and as the humanities struggle to distinguish their enterprises from those of the sciences, philosophical thinking has come to play an increasingly important interdisciplinary role in the conduct of other fields of knowledge. This demand for closer ties between conceptual and empirical work has forced philosophers, from one side, to acquire expertise in other fields and forced scientists and humanists, from the other, to acquire a knowledge of their philosophical traditions.
The Department’s curriculum is designed to reflect these essential aspects of philosophy. The Department captures both historical traditions and contemporary research in philosophy by offering both an historical sequence and a variety of subfield and specialized-subfield courses. The eight historical courses cover the main periods of Western philosophy from ancient to contemporary times, and the subfield courses consider problems in epistemology, logic, ethics, aesthetics and political theory. Specialized subfield courses address basic issues in the study of law, language, literature, healthcare and the environment. Through such courses, the Department intends to demonstrate the crucial relevance of philosophy to modern times and, more specifically, to the mission of a liberal arts education. The Department encourages and supports interdisciplinary work both within individual courses and while fulfilling major and minor requirements. The requirements for a major are designed to accommodate a double-major declared within the first two years, and the minor requirements allow a student to choose courses that establish strong interdisciplinary ties to a student’s major course of study.