Philosophy Department

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What is philosophy?

Philosophy was the name given to the pursuit of wisdom by the ancient Greeks: the word derives from philos [love] and sophia [wisdom]. A philosopher is a lover of wisdom.  This sounds very grand, but it does capture the special character of Philosophy.

Philosophy is, broadly put, the endeavor to make sense of the world, of oneself, and of one's relations with others. More than a subject area, Philosophy is an activity - a way of life -  that aims at sound thinking and good living as its goals.  This is because philosophy is defined not by its content, but by its methods.  In particular, Philosophy demands that we use good arguments and evidence for every claim we make and teaches us how to recognize inferior arguments, self-serving thinking, and mere ‘opinions.’

The field of Philosophy is unfamiliar to many undergraduate students, and, yet, the influence of philosophical thought is present throughout much of what we learn throughout our lives.  The questions posed by philosophy are answered, in various ways, by the sciences and social sciences, as well as by other disciplines in the humanities.  But, Philosophy, itself, takes a distinctively wide approach to   those questions and attempts to delve further than other disciplines into the meanings of the questions, themselves.  

What is it to be a human being? What is our human nature most basically? Is there such a thing as "human nature"?  On what basis can we claim to know something? What is the difference between an opinion that something is true and knowledge that it is true? What is "good living"? Can judgments of value be rationally supported or are they relative to individual taste or social convention?  These are some of the questions Philosophy directly addresses.

Long ago, Socrates argued that "the unexamined life is not worth living". Since then, philosophical inquiry has proceeded from the conviction that it is better to examine our beliefs, values, and behaviors than to live with uncritically accepted assumptions, prejudices, and habits. Philosophy inspires us to self-awareness and carefully considered action; its practice enriches our lives as well as our minds.