What is philosophy?
Philosophy comes from the Greek and literally means “love of wisdom.” Philosophy is the attempt to think deeply and clearly about the central challenges that arise for us as humans: concerns regarding epistemology (what can we know), metaphysics and ontology (what is the nature of being), axiology (what should we value), as well as political theory and morality (how ought we to act).
Philosophers are typically not satisfied, though, with simply addressing such challenges but are also dedicated to developing the analytical tools for exploring how we might respond to them to lead deeply rewarding lives.
Why study philosophy?
Studying philosophy can lead to both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards, and many philosophers would insist—naturally, by making arguments—that the former are much more important than the latter!
The intrinsic rewards include the self-awareness gained by learning time-honored methods of inquiry when examining these kinds of perennial questions. That is, the intrinsic rewards of learning philosophical methods of inquiry and analysis include the personal satisfaction gained by a deep and robust understanding of one’s place in the world and an ability to continue to responsibly develop one’s thought over time through an examination of self and society throughout one’s life.
Or as put by the American Philosophical Association’s Statement on the Philosophy Major, the intrinsic rewards can be gained throughout a lifetime:
“The study of philosophy serves to develop intellectual abilities important for life as a whole, beyond the knowledge and skills required for any particular profession. Properly pursued, it enhances analytical, critical and interpretive capacities that are applicable to any subject-matter, and in any human context. It cultivates the capacities and appetite for self-expression and reflection, for exchange and debate of ideas, for life-long learning, and for dealing with problems for which there are no easy answers. It also helps to prepare one for the tasks of citizenship. Participation in political and community affairs today is all too often insufficiently informed, manipulable and vulnerable to demagoguery. A good philosophical education enhances the capacity to participate responsibly and intelligently in public life.”
The extrinsic rewards gained by majoring in philosophy are also worth noting. Philosophy majors acquire sophisticated analytical tools in vigorous but civil classroom debates and extensively developed written papers and exams. As a result, philosophy majors typically score in the highest percentiles of students taking the MCAT, GMAT (second only to math majors and better than business majors by a 15% margin), GRE (top score for any major from 2001-2004) and LSAT (second only to math and physics majors). Thus, a philosophy major leads many students to rewarding careers in law, business and medicine.
It may also be no accident that writers Iris Murdoch and Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Susan Sontag, comedian Steve Martin, Jeopardy TV host Alex Trebek, Time Warner CEO Gerald Levin, filmmaker Ethan Coen, Chicago Bulls basketball coach Phil Jackson, Nobel Prize winners Rudolph Eucken (Literature), Albert Sweitzer (Peace), Michael Spense (Economics), and Aung San Suu Kyi (Peace), and Pope John Paul II, were either college philosophy majors or earned advanced degrees in philosophy. (There are many more famous philosophy majors, too.)
Many of our philosophy majors have gone on to pursue graduate degrees in philosophy, law, medicine, etc. Recent majors have attended graduate school at Boston College, Purdue University, Texas State University, University of St. Louis, Heythrop College/University of London, Loyola University of Chicago, Loyola Marymount University, University of Dallas, University of Colorado Boulder, University of Houston, University of Texas at Dallas, DePaul University, Williams College, Stanford University, University of Missouri, University of the Arts Berlin, University of Texas Medical School, New School for Social Research, Texas Tech University and University of Connecticut.
And for good measure, British comedian John Cleese, of Monty Python fame, has recorded several short audio files suggesting, somewhat humorously, why philosophy is an important field of study.
In addition to the general reasons for studying philosophy mentioned above, the members of the philosophy department at St. Edward’s University are committed to providing student-focused instruction of the highest quality. Department faculty members welcome students to engage them—both inside and outside of class—on philosophical topics of import both intellectually and existentially. Students who become majors or minors find that they receive individualized attention, a rigorous examination of both classical and contemporary texts, the development of life-long critical thinking and writing skills, a greater capacity for self-reflection, and a sharpened ability to analyze thoughtfully diverse national, global and historical issues.
How do I study philosophy at St. Edward’s University?
Here’s the 2011-2012 degree plan for a B.A. majoring in philosophy. More information is available on the left of this web page by clicking on “Major/Minor Requirements.”
Who are the traditional philosophy faculty at St. Edward’s University?
Please look on the left of this web page and click on “Philosophy Faculty” for their names, offices, contact information, etc.
What philosophy events are taking place on campus?
Please look on the left of this web page and click on “Events” for information about philosophy speakers, social gatherings, etc. in the fall and spring.
Where can I get more information?
Philosophy on the job market (see “Philosophy: The Ultimate Transferable Skill”)