Our faculty and staff are committed to the promotion of academic philosophy, as well as the skills and values underlying it. We do so through our teaching, research, and service.
Through our course offerings, we aim to teach historical perspectives on philosophical topics of abiding interest so as to cultivate skills to flourish in contemporary environments. Most of the historical figures we teach are part of a tradition that began in ancient Greece, reaching its pinnacle with Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. The subsequent philosophers who share this lineage are quite diverse, and we recognize and appreciate other philosophical traditions as well. Our department offers courses devoted to the following historical periods, specifically: Ancient Greek, Medieval, Early Modern, 19th Century, 20th Century Continental, and Analytic Philosophy. These periods initiated world-changing transformations that include, as just a sampling, the emergence of democratic theory, the scientific method, secular ethical theory, Enlightenment ideals, and the logical basis for computing.
The problems with which philosophers from these eras grappled are still alive today, and new ones continue to emerge. Some of these problems include: What is the basis of morality, and why be moral? What are the best means to acquire knowledge, how much can we know, and what is knowledge in the first place? Which things really exist, and what is the objective nature of reality? What are the rights of citizens and the duties of government? How are thought, consciousness, and language possible, and what are their functions and forms? What is it to be a person? Does God exist, and, if so, what difference does that make for us? These topics might sound abstract and remote in those formulations, but consider these more specific and pressing versions: Is it morally acceptable to eat meat? How should we change our learning habits so that we gain more knowledge from our news feeds and social networks? What is required for true artificial intelligence, and should we allow it in consumer devices (like self-driving cars)? To what extent are race and gender objectively real, as opposed to socially constructed? When are we justified in breaking the law to oppose racial discrimination? How are belief systems and language weaponized to derogate others? Should great apes be granted some of the legal protections of people? Should those in positions of power let their religious beliefs dictate their public behavior? One of our core missions is to inspire students to care about such problems, understand historical positions on them, and then have them cultivate their own stances.
Academic philosophy is a rigorous discipline with high evaluative standards; it is not mere speculation or the expression of intuitions. We tend to see philosophy as prompted by reflection and guided by reason. We teach good reasoning through our critical reasoning and logic classes, and we incorporate these skills into the rest of our curriculum. Other specific skills that we prize and teach include: the careful reading of texts, clarity and expressive power in one’s own writing, conceptual analysis, comprehensive theorizing that incorporates diverse data, the utilization of creative thought experiments to formulate counter-examples, and objective thought that attempts to transcend social-cultural contingencies. We encourage epistemic humility – that is, humility about how much one knows – as a working norm. Alongside this, we are committed to showing students the value of active engagement with diverse peoples and ideas, so as to improve judgment and decision making, further democratic deliberation, and to gain empathetic concern for others.
Philosophy is a living discipline, and our faculty are committed to producing original research and promoting the value of philosophy to our students and the broader community (e.g., “the public square”). We see the study of philosophy as contributing to our students’ life prospects, career training, and citizenship. The examined life is better than the unexamined life; critical thinkers and creative problem-solvers make for good workers; and a well-functioning democracy requires rational, informed, and ethical deliberation.