Unlike most disciplines studied in a university, philosophy is usually unknown to the entering college student. Although high school students are intellectually capable of studying philosophy, the curriculum seldom provides them with an opportunity to do so. Furthermore, the impressions students often pick up about philosophy are apt to be distorted; philosophy is sometimes confused with religion, with psychology, studies of mystical experience, etc. Thus, the new student is commonly uninformed or misinformed about the nature of philosophy.
Although very few students come to college determined to study philosophy, there is much of importance that philosophy has to offer. A student who, because the uses of philosophy have never been brought to his or her attention, graduates from college without taking a course in philosophy has been deprived of a valuable part of his or her intellectual heritage. Among the uses of philosophy are these:
Philosophy develops the student's ability to reason clearly, to distinguish between good and bad arguments, to navigate through a complicated maze of questions, to clarify puzzling concepts, and to use intelligence and logic in situations ruled all too often by emotion.
Philosophy helps the student to grapple intelligently with such basic and yet elusive questions as 'What is a person?', 'How can we distinguish between right and wrong?', 'Can we be sure of any of our beliefs?', 'Is there a God?', and 'What is justice?'
Philosophy helps students understand and make reasoned choices of competing theories or points of view in a variety of controversies.
Philosophy expands the student's horizons by enabling him or her to see beyond the world as it presently exists and develop a controlled but imaginative awareness of how things might be.
Philosophy makes available to the student a significant portion of the world's great literature, by introducing him or her to the writings of such masters of philosophical thinking as Plato, Descartes, Mill, Marx, etc., and by making him or her aware of the extent to which scientists, artists, poets, statesmen, educators, and theologians have depended on the work of philosophers in the course of their own development.
Becoming a professional philosopher is a somewhat unlikely choice; nevertheless, some of our majors have that aspiration, and go on to study philosophy at the graduate level. Many others go on to careers in law, medicine, computer science, publishing, etc. Philosophy is a reasonable undergraduate major for pre-professional students; it is suitable for students planning to study medicine, and is perhaps ideal for those who aspire to the law. Most students taking philosophy courses, however, have majors in other departments. We make a particular effort to offer them courses that will illuminate the primary areas of their concern. Such courses as Philosophy of Science, Philosophy of Law, Philosophy of the Social Sciences, Moral Problems in Medicine, and others, are addressed explicitly to questions that are of fundamental importance to other disciplines. In addition, the Department offers those courses in ethics, logic, metaphysics, epistemology, and history of philosophy that traditionally have been considered "pure" philosophy.
The Philosophy Department views as equally important its two primary functions at the undergraduate level: the provision of training in philosophy to those who elect our discipline as a major, and the provision of high-quality experience in philosophy to those who take our courses as electives. Our courses tend to be demanding, and it is a characteristic of our Department that the original work of students is subjected to critical scrutiny. The result is an increased level of competence in expository clarity, logical rigor, articulateness, and analytical skill.
Faculty in the Philosophy Department are in general accessible to their students, committed to the teaching of undergraduates, concerned to elicit from each student the highest standard of performance of which he or she is capable. They make philosophy serious without losing the sense of wonder and excitement that many students experience for the first time in a philosophy classroom.