The direction in which education starts a man will determine his future in life.

What is Philosophy?

Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.
Ludwig Wittgenstein

Philosophy is a long and considered thinking about what matters, and why. It is a quest for a comprehensive understanding of human existence, and a consideration of those principles which underlie our conceptions of ethics, art, knowledge, science and reality.

Philosophy is quite unlike any other field. It is unique both in its methods and in the nature and breadth of its subject matter. Philosophy pursues questions in every dimension of human life, and its techniques apply to problems in any field of study or endeavor. No brief definition expresses the richness and variety of philosophy. It may be described in many ways. It is a reasoned pursuit of fundamental truths, a quest for understanding, a study of principles of conduct. It seeks to establish standards of evidence, to provide rational methods of resolving conflicts, and to create techniques for evaluating ideas and arguments. Philosophy develops the capacity to see the world from the perspective of other individuals and other cultures; it enhances one's ability to perceive the relationships among the various fields of study; and it deepens one's sense of the meaning and of the varieties of human experience.

As the systematic study of ideas and issues, philosophy may examine concepts and views drawn from science, art, religion, politics, or any other realm. Philosophical appraisal of ideas and issues takes many forms, but philosophical studies often focus on the meaning of an idea and on its basis, coherence, and relations to other ideas. Consider, for instance, democracy. What is it? What justifies it as a system of government? Can a democracy allow the people to vote away their own rights? And how is it related to political liberty? Consider human knowledge. What is its nature and extent? Must we always have evidence in order to know? What can we know about the thoughts and feelings of others, or about the future? What kind of knowledge, if any, is fundamental? Similar kinds of questions arise concerning art, morality, religion, science, and each of the major areas of human activity. Philosophy explores all of them. It views them both microscopically and from the wide perspective of the larger concerns of human existence.

Specific areas of interest in philosophy include logic, ethics, metaphysics, religion, epistemology, language, aesthetics and history.

Why Study Philosophy?

Ironically, this question "Why take Philosophy?" is itself a philosophical question. Once we have asked what we should do (rather than merely how to do what we want), we have taken an irrevocable step, for once this question is asked seriously the old answers are no longer good enough. The word `philosophy' means love of wisdom; it is the search for answers to the hardest questions in life and so yields no easy answers. But as many writers have observed, we have no choice whether to do philosophy or not; our only choice is whether to do it well or poorly. Nevertheless, there are two answers that are often given to the question of why anyone should study philosophy.

Philosophy plays a central role in shaping our lives. A well-known story in the history of science concerns the reluctance of nineteenth century physicians to accept the existence of germs. In 1865, an English physician named Joseph Lister speculated that there was an invisible cause for the high incidence of infections in hospitals. He argued that physicians who worked on a corpse and then, without washing their hands, helped deliver a baby were transmitting some invisible agent responsible for the infections. We now know that germs cause this effect. But at the time, most physicians thought Lister was crazy. They wanted an explanation in terms of things that were obvious and tangible real things. In the same way, we tend to overlook the invisible agents of change that philosophy takes so seriously: concepts.

The energy of the mind is the essence of life.

We often think that to understand our world we must study the facts: environmental influences, government policies, resource allocations, and so on. Yet facts alone have never influenced anyone. We care about facts only if they mean something to us. No one cares whether the White House lawn has an odd or even number of blades of grass. In this sense, concepts are much more powerful than facts: facts are cookies; concepts are the cookie cutters. Since what we know depends on the facts we gather, and since the facts we gather depend on the concepts we have, if we are to act on what we know (or believe we know), our concepts will determine how we act. Hence philosophy can shape our lives, just as the philosophy of Marx changed the politics of the twentieth century.

What defines us is not the answers we have but the questions we ask—for questions can hint at truths that the answers we now grasp cannot encompass. Philosophy is frustrating because it often raises more questions than it can answer, but it is the only discipline that attempts to answer the question of why we should study anything at all. It is the discipline that looks for the invisible things.

Meet the Faculty

Kara Barnette

Kara Barnette

Associate Professor

Michael Popich, Ph.D

Michael Popich, Ph.D