Philosophy is the oldest academic discipline. The very first lecture classes, research institutes and research libraries had their home in Plato’s Academy and Aristotle’s Lyceum.
The new universities in the Middle Ages taught and researched in philosophy. Philosophy has never been absent in modern universities, and philosophers engage with the other humanities, the sciences, the creative arts and the professions regularly in their work. But what exactly does it involve?
The discipline of philosophy has links across the academy. For instance, political science, sociology, psychology, physics, artificial intelligence, logic and computer science all have their origins in philosophy, and philosophy explores their conceptual foundations and interconnections, and the underpinnings of such further fields as history and mathematics. (For this reason, philosophy makes an excellent complementary minor or major to your other studies.) However, philosophy also explores directly subjective questions about ourselves, our relationship to the world, the desire for meaning and the sense of right and wrong, and this can involve an assessment of the limitations as much as the strengths of particular fields of inquiry.
One goal of philosophy, indeed, is to try to put together a synoptic picture integrating our subjective condition, the results of the sciences, and our basic beliefs about the world.
In the process of putting this picture together, philosophers consider many fundamental questions about ourselves and the universe. For instance, philosophers ask (among many other questions):
While philosophers get to consider a fascinating range of topics, it’s certainly not an ‘anything goes’ field: philosophical claims are often both surprising and closely reasoned.
In fact, philosophy has a special interest in logic, argument and reasoning, in identifying and assessing the reasons for our beliefs, in exploring the nature of inference itself and where it can and cannot take us, and in sorting through the problems and paradoxes that reasoning gives rise to.
Studying philosophy is an excellent way to equip oneself with the skills of critical thinking and close analysis, skills that will be useful in any other major that you might study, and that are highly valued by employers.
Authorised by the Acting Head of School, Humanities
27 April, 2012