Philosophy poses such fundamental questions as: What can we know? How should we live? and How do the results of human inquiry, obtained so far, hang together? It is an excellent preparation for professional studies such as law and medicine; it provides perspective on other disciplines such as psychology, mathematics, literature, and political science; and it centers on a set of questions that thinking people cannot avoid. The communication and critical thinking skills that it fosters can be put to good use in a wide variety of careers.

A number of our courses are designed to provide broad introductions to the subject:

Both 150.111 Philosophic Classics and 150.112 Philosophic Problems cover a wide range of topics, the former through the study of some of the major texts of Western thought, the latter by more systematic examination of representative issues. Either one will show a student a variety of approaches to philosophical problems.

The courses 150.201 and 150.205 offer historically oriented introductions to the subject, giving the student a basic grasp of the development of philosophy in two of its major periods.

Other courses, such as 150.118 Introduction to Deductive and Inductive Logic, 150.223 Aesthetics, and 150.220 Moral Philosophy, are designed for students with an interest in the particular areas they cover. All of these courses are readily available without prior study of philosophy.

The 400-level courses are open to graduate students as well as to undergraduates. Some require no previous course in philosophy. Others presuppose some familiarity with philosophy, such as would be provided by one of the introductory courses. Still others require more specific preparation. A student with questions about whether he/she has the background for a particular 400-level course should consult either the instructor or the director of undergraduate studies.

A student who wants to study an area of philosophy not provided in the regular curriculum or undertake a special project of writing and research should consult with a faculty member about taking 150.510-511 Directed Study. An undergraduate who has the proper background may enroll in a graduate seminar if the instructor approves.

Learning Goals

A student who graduates with a BA in philosophy will be able to demonstrate:

  • A broad understanding of the work of major figures in the history of philosophy, both ancient (especially Plato and Aristotle) and modern (especially the period of Descartes through Kant)
  • Familiarity with the most important topics in a range of areas that are typically regarded as lying at the center of contemporary philosophical thought, including metaphysics, theory of knowledge, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of language
  • Familiarity with the most important topics in ethics and political philosophy
  • Familiarity with formal reasoning, including that used in logic, in the sciences and in mathematics
  • The capacity to think analytically and creatively about philosophical texts and issues
  • The capacity to express philosophical ideas and support them effectively in argument, both in writing and orally.