The Bachelor of Arts in philosophy is a major offered by the Practical Philosophy and Ethics Department in the College of Arts and Sciences.
The philosophy major is designed to develop your ability to think clearly, carefully and critically about matters large and small, metaphysical and practical, personal and political.
Philosophy is the most ancient of the academic disciplines, dating back almost 3000 years to ancient Greece – even longer if you include Babylonian and Egyptian sources. Philosophy, meaning “the love of wisdom,” is the systematic and critical study of fundamental questions arising both in everyday life and in the practice of other academic disciplines.
Some of these questions concern the nature of reality: Does God exist? Am I just a material body or am I also an immaterial soul? Are humans free and therefore responsible for what they do or are they determined by forces beyond their control?
Other questions concern matters of value: What makes an action right, a person good, a painting beautiful or a nation just? Are standards of value universal or culturally specific?
Some questions concern the nature and limits of our knowledge: What is the difference between knowing something and simply having an opinion or belief about it? Are there limits to what we can know and do some of our questions foolishly violate these limits? Is all knowledge ultimately grounded in sensory experience or can some truths be known through reason alone?
Finally, some questions concern the nature of philosophy and of human reason itself: Is truth universal or is it merely cultural and relative to time and place? Do the same laws of logic apply everywhere or do they differ from one culture to the next? Is philosophy practiced in the same way across the world or are there importantly different conceptions of philosophy and its methods?
Philosophy is a discipline requiring well-developed skills in careful reasoning, clear writing, and persuasive and well-organized public speaking. Thus the study of philosophy helps a person to develop her abilities to:
• Read texts carefully, closely, and accurately
• Analyze positions fairly and critically
• Uncover unstated and unexamined assumptions in arguments – both one’s own and others
• Construct cogent and persuasive arguments for one’s position
• Write in a manner that is simple, natural, clear and persuasive.
These skills are extremely useful in many other disciplines and practices outside of philosophy—careers in law, computer science, business, medicine, law enforcement, the arts, publishing, and many more all value the skills developed by the study of philosophy. The ability to write well, to understand accurately and critically what one has read, to speak clearly and persuasively for one’s position and the ability to “think outside of the box” are in high demand by a wide range of employers and will serve any student well in their life after college.