The Greek word philosophia (’philosophy’) is a compound term which derives from the roots philein (’to love’) and sophia (’wisdom’) and is commonly translated ’love of wisdom.’ For Socrates, and those who followed his example, the love of wisdom took the form of a disciplined reflection about human life and conduct. Convinced that intellectual and moral integrity go hand in hand, Socrates raised fundamental questions about the nature of justice, virtue, and the good life. Proceeding by careful analysis and rigorous dialectic, he sought a knowledge of reality on which to establish a firm foundation for making sound moral judgments. Though philosophical practice has taken many different forms over the centuries, the conception of philosophy as a process of critical inquiry aimed at a deeper understanding of self and world remains the dominant one.
In keeping with the ideal of a liberal arts education, the study of philosophy promotes the development of analytical, critical, and interpretive abilities that are important for life in general. Properly pursued, philosophical study cultivates the appetite and capacity for self-examination and reflection, for the open exchange and debate of ideas, for responsible and intelligent participation in community affairs, and for lifelong learning.
The program in philosophy is designed to provide students with a coherent intellectual structure of study, while acquainting them with the broad diversity of ideas and approaches within the Western philosophical tradition and beyond. The curriculum covers significant periods and prominent figures in the history of intellectual thought, as well as the central subfields of philosophy and their distinctive problem sets. Though the department recognizes that philosophy is a valuable preparation for careers in many fields, its approach to teaching reflects a basic commitment to the idea that philosophy is best thought of as a practice and way of life.