Learning Objectives for Our Students
Research Initiative and Creative Autonomy.We aim to educate students to become self-motivated investigators who undertake their own projects, investigations, and research initiatives. There is no technological, social, political, scientific, or ethical transformation without the will to innovate.
The curriculum delivered by the Philosophy Department is built around SIX basic pivots:
1. The acquisition and nurturing of basic philosophic skills. One of the main goals of the philosophy curriculum is to seed and enable the honing of skills that are distinct to philosophy, but which are foundational to all forms of knowledge.
- To be able to write an essay that clearly articulates a thesis, with supporting arguments, which anticipates foreseeable objections, and that tries to respond to them in insightful ways.
- To be able to engage, lead, and participate in respectful, reflexive, and critical dialogues.
- To learn to discern the merits and weaknesses of different philosophical positions.
- To learn to discern and appreciate the different genres of philosophical writing and how they have enabled various philosophical insights.
2. The History of Philosophy. One cannot properly philosophize without being educated about the history of philosophy. Philosophy is an activity, but it is also a canon—with a history, with figures, movements, traditions, and schools that attest to the historical evolution of thought, thinking, and the self-understanding of human beings. The history of philosophy is surely one of the most illustrative and insightful self-portraits of humanity’s own process of evolution and, some may say, maturation. Through the delivery of synchronically and diachronically constructed historical material, the program is able to practically deliver in each course we offer, the sense of historical development that is integral in all education.
- Great Systems of Philosophy. Students will demonstrate knowledge of the great systems, currents, movements, and traditions of philosophy by being able to define and describe these systems, currents, movements and traditions either orally or in written form. Some of these systems, currents, movements, and traditions may include: empiricism, idealism, nominalism, skepticism, materialism, phenomenology, existentialism, Platonism, Aristotelianism, Thomism, Kantianism, and so on. Knowledge of these systems must also reflect knowledge of their respective historical periods: ancient, medieval, renaissance, early modern, 19 thcentury, contemporary, etc. Our majors are required to take two foundational courses in Ancient and Modern Philosophy (200, 206), which culminate in comprehensive examinations. These courses lead on to an upper division historical sequence (300, 304, 306, 308, 309, 312, 347).
- Specific Figures in Philosophy. Students will document through written and/or oral analysis and synthesis comfortable and competent specialization in the work of at least one key figure in Western, or non-Western philosophy (e.g. Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Descartes, Kant, Hegel, Marx, etc). A seminar on a work or figure is required of our majors (401 or 402).
3. Philosophy in Relation to Other Disciplines. Students should be knowledgeable of the interdependence among philosophy and other disciplines such as aesthetics, the arts, literature, music, life sciences, technology studies, environment science, war and peace studies, psychoanalysis, jurisprudence, linguistics, gender studies, computer science, mathematics, and physics.
- These courses are marked in our offerings as Category III.
4. Cross-cultural and Historical Sensibility. We aim to educate students to be respectful of cultural and historical differences, and who are also sensitive to the fecundity of other cultural and historical philosophical points of views. To learn philosophy is either a voyage across cultures and times, or it is learning to enter into a long dialogue of humanity with itself in many voices, languages, styles and genres.
- Non-Western Philosophy, in which students are provided opportunities to study non-Western systems of thought: Buddhism, Hinduism, Shintoism, Islam, and specific traditions from Japan, China, Africa, and Latin America (e.g., 111, 340, 344, 472, 473).
5. Logic. Thinking takes place in different logical forms: deduction, induction, inferences, and abduction. Proper argumentation is made up of sound arguments that follow proper laws of deduction or induction. We aim to train students to recognize sound and valid arguments, and to apply the rules of logical argumentation to everyday speech and writing.
- Formal Training in Critical Analytical Techniques. Our majors must pass examinations in formal or informal logic (e.g. 220, 108).
6. Basic problem areas of philosophy. Students must be conversant in some of the foundational questions of philosophy: i.e., What is Knowledge? What is the Truth? What is the Good? What is Justice? What is the Beautiful? What is Punishment? What is Objectivity?
These courses are marked in our offerings as Category II and will enable students to address the following sorts of questions:
- Ethical Reasoning. What should we do when faced with a moral dilemma or quandry quandary? What is the good thing to do? What gives an act moral worth? Are there any norms or rules that all human beings can appeal to when adjudicating the merits of one path of action over another? Do we have duties towards animals, nature, the earth? Do humans have intrinsic worth and, if so, why? Are moral norms inscribed in the human soul, as the trajectory of the stars are traced in the sky?
- Political Justice. What makes a society just? Is political power arbitrary and lawless, or does it follow from norms that guide it? Is the political organization of humans something natural or a sign of an insufficiency in humans for which political institutions are a prosthetic? What is legitimacy? What is authority? Is political power a force to accomplish only instrumental ends? What is the relationship between economic justice and political justice? Can we constrain violence through law? Is there a relationship between law and morality?
- Gender Justice. Sexual difference is fundamental to the human experience, but this biological difference has assumed a plethora of socio-cultural-religious-political and philosophical forms. The step from biology to cultural difference comes under the name of gender. Some of the most important philosophical developments of the last one hundred years have had to do with what determines gender, how gender shapes how we relate to each other, and how gender plays out in the social life of both men and women. Does sex/gender matter to a person’s ability to grasp certain ideas? Are ideas gendered? Is justice gendered? Is epistemology gendered? How can we develop notions of political equality that both overcome and remedy gender inequality?
- Metaphysics. What is real? What is reality? What does it mean to be? We aim to train students to recognize that every scientific picture of the world presupposes “ontological” and “metaphysical” claims that may or may not be warranted and or sustainable.
- Epistemology.What can we know? Can we know anything for sure? Are there limits to our knowledge and, if so, how would we know? If we need a criterion to distinguish between what is true and false, how can we justify that criterion? Can we refute skepticism or relativism? Do we need to?
- Philosophy of Mind/Language. What is a mind? What is consciousness? Can non-human animals think? What is the relationship between the emotions and cognition? Can there be cognition without a language? What is a language? Can there be artificial intelligence? How do we recognize a mind in the absence of a common language? Do all languages have a deep grammar that would allow us to translate all languages? These questions overlap with many other disciplines. In fact, many disciplines have been spawned from the different ways in which philosophers have addressed and articulated these questions.
- Aesthetics. What is a work of art? In what way is the aesthetic a question of the senses, the sublime, feelings, texts, textualities, expression, perception, writing, discourse, figuration, perspective, or cultural understanding? Is beauty in the eye of the beholder, or is it objective? Can art be philosophical? What cultural cognitive, moral, political, and social roles does art perform? Does art embody the self-understanding of a society at a given time? What is the relationship between art and human experience. We aim to educate students to develop aesthetic maturity by recognizing a variety of works of art that correspond to different historical periods and that embody different artistic practices and the availability of material, techniques, and institutions.