Welcome to the Department of Philosophy!
Whether you are considering an undergraduate concentration in philosophy or exploring a personal interest in the subject, we hope you will find the department a welcoming and stimulating place.
What is Philosophy?
Philosophy studies many of humanity’s fundamental questions. Some of these questions arise when we reflect on the most basic and most widely shared elements of human experience:
- what kind of life should we live?
- what kind of society should we want?
- what makes one system of belief better than another? Its being more rational?
- what are the limits of human knowledge?
Whether in the street, court, classroom, or lab, we often assume implicit answers to these questions. Some of those answers, and even the questions themselves, are the product of a centuries-old philosophical tradition that has shaped and reshaped our society and culture. Philosophy seeks to reflect on these questions and answers in a systematic, explicit, and rigorous way—by studying the tradition, relying on careful argumentation, and drawing from outside fields as diverse as economics, literature, religion, law, mathematics, the physical sciences, and psychology. Those fields raise philosophical questions of their own:
- does neuroscience show us that we lack free will?
- how should we interpret quantum mechanics?
- what is the source of political rights? what are the limits and obligations of the state?
- when and why is punishment justified? how should a constitution be interpreted?
- what is beauty? are there “objective” standards for works of art?
Philosophical questions are everywhere. If you find yourself drawn to them, studying philosophy in college is likely the best opportunity in your life to address them. In fact, many concentrators find their way into philosophy from other disciplines, where they encounter interdisciplinary or foundational questions that can only be addressed through philosophical reflection. And given the small size of the department, concentrators have to the rare opportunity to closely engage with dedicated faculty at the top of their fields.