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Daniel H. Cohen
Major in Philosophy
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Ask ten philosophers what philosophy is, and you’re likely to get ten different answers. But probably none of them would believe that this is a bad thing, for to ask what philosophy is, is to ask a philosophical question. Philosophers have many insightful and sometimes witty things to say about philosophical activities.
Cicero: The gods can never have bestowed a greater gift than philosophy.
Socrates: The unexamined life is not worth living for a human being.
Iris M. Young: To do philosophy is to explore one’s own temperament, and yet at the same time to attempt to discover the truth.
Susan K. Langer: The continual pursuit of meanings—wider, clearer, more negotiable, more articulate meanings—is philosophy.
Epicurus: Let no one delay the study of philosophy while young nor weary of it when old. For no one is either too young or too old for the health of the soul.
Hannah Arendt: All the metaphysical questions that philosophy took as its special topics arise out of ordinary common-sense experiences; "reason's need"—the quest for meaning that prompts men to ask them—is in no way different from men's need to tell the story of some happening they witnessed, or to write poems about it.
Alfred North Whitehead: Philosophy begins in wonder. And, at the end, when philosophic thought has done its best, the wonder remains.
Emmanuel Levinas: Philosophy is inseparable from skepticism, which follows it like a shadow that it chases away by refuting it, only to find it once again under its feet.
Karl Marx: As the world becomes philosophical, philosophy becomes worldly.
Bertrand Russell: Philosophy, though unable to tell us with certainty what is the true answer to the doubts it raises, is able to suggest many possibilities which enlarge our thoughts and free them from the tyranny of custom. Thus, while diminishing our feeling of certainty as to what things are, it greatly increases our knowledge as to what they may be; it removes the somewhat arrogant dogmatism of those who have never traveled into the region of liberating doubt, and it keeps alive our sense of wonder by showing familiar things in an unfamiliar aspect.
What is philosophy about? +
Philosophers raise such questions as: What beliefs about the world, about human nature, about values, and about God are we justified in holding? What distinguishes knowledge from opinion, and can there be knowledge of the beautiful and the good? What is the nature of language, and could someone have her own private language? What do we owe to other persons, to nonhuman animals, and to the environment? What does having a mind consist of, and how should we understand the relation of mental experiences to brain processes?
What can you expect from a philosophy class? +
Philosophy classes are typically small and highly interactive. You will be asked to reconstruct the viewpoints of others, critique them, and argue for your own ideas. Philosophy courses aim to cultivate greater clarity of thought and reasoning abilities in students. Your philosophy classes will help you to read more thoughtfully by helping you to pay attention to the logical structure of arguments and to raise critical questions about others’ views. Philosophy classes also aim to open students’ intellectual imaginations by calling into question everyday assumptions, by offering alternative ways of thinking about the world, and by inviting students to become creative philosophers themselves. In addition, philosophy classes emphasize clear, precise, and logically well-ordered written and oral communication.
What are the students who major in philosophy like? +
Our philosophy majors are a very diverse bunch, so you are likely to find some kindred spirits. Over 50% double major in fields such as government, education, art, English, biology, history, and classics. Many majors enjoy coming to the Reuman Reading group, which meets over dinner once a week to discuss a philosophical text. Students who major study the history of philosophy as well as the major areas of philosophy—logic, epistemology and metaphysics, values areas (such as ethics, aesthetics and political philosophy), and both western and nonwestern philosophies.
What can you do with a philosophy major? +
Philosophy majors put their reasoning, writing, and communication skills to use in a broad spectrum of careers after college. Some go to law school, business school, or medical school. Some enter careers in communication (newspapers, radio, television). Others go to graduate school in philosophy and on to careers teaching philosophy. Still others, with or without additional graduate study, enter education, business, government service, or service in nonprofit organizations.
So does one study philosophy in order to prepare for a job? For a career? Yes. But one studies philosophy for much more than that. The study of philosophy affects not only one’s way of thinking, but also one’s development as a person. Philosophy is ideal preparation for lifelong learning and an enriched intellectual, political, and social existence. Most of our majors tell us, though, that they elect it because it is truly interesting and highly gratifying.