Philosophy is the systematic study of questions any thoughtful human being faces concerning the nature of knowledge, reality, thought, and value.
- What is valuable and what is value?
- What gives thought and language meaning?
- What is truth, and how can we know it?
Philosophy cuts across other academic disciplines by examining their concepts, methods, and presuppositions. The main value of philosophy lies in its contribution to a liberal arts education. It can, however, also provide excellent preparation for a wide variety of professions (notably, law), because of the training it provides in rigorous thinking and incisive and clear writing.
There are several ways to begin the study of philosophy. Perhaps the most natural way is to take an introductory course. These come in several varieties.
- The approach through philosophical problems. One sort of introductory course consists in a survey of traditional and contemporary philosophical problems, ranging over a wide range of areas on philosophy, such as metaphysics, epistemology, ethics and religion. PHIL 181 and 232 are such courses, as are most sections of PHIL 202 and the Honors Introduction, PHIL 297.
- The topical approach. Another natural way to approach philosophy is to connect your interest in the subject to interests you already have — in natural science, the mind and psychology, religion, and the fine arts. For this reason, the Department offers a variety of topical courses. These include first-year seminars, under PHIL 196; courses in the 15x-series; and PHIL 262, 319, 320, 322, 340, and 365. The Department also offers first-year seminars on a variety of topics, under PHIL 196.
- The approach through ethics. The Department offers a variety of introductory courses devoted to topics in moral philosophy. These include PHIL 160, 162, 224, 240, 355, 356, and 359, courses that often overlap with issues in economics, law, and political science. These courses do not have prerequisites.
- The historical approach. Another type of introductory course is the historically oriented introduction, which traces the development of philosophical thought through a series of major figures (such as Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Hume, or Kant). PHIL 234 and some sections of PHIL 181, 202, and 297 are taught in this way.
Students interested in becoming acquainted with philosophy should decide for themselves which sort of introduction suits them best.
The Department offers a number of introductions to reasoning and logic, which can be an important tool in philosophy. See the link for "Techniques and Tools of Philosophy" here: www.lsa.umich.edu/philosophy/undergraduate.
- PHIL 180 is an introduction to logic at an elementary level; it is designed both to improve critical reasoning skills and to provide an introduction to formal logic. It is often taught using computer-assisted instruction
- PHIL 303 (which counts toward the BS and MSA requirements) is the Department's basic introduction to formal or symbolic logic. It is taught by faculty, in a combination lecture/discussion format.
- PHIL 305 (which counts toward QR/1) is an introduction to a wide variety of formal methods, some formal logic among them, that have philosophical applications.
- PHIL 296 (BS, MSA, QR/1), for Honors students, is faster-paced than PHIL 303 and covers a wider variety of topics. It is taught by faculty and does not divide into sections.
- PHIL 414 (BS, QR/1) is an advanced course in formal logic. The course is taught by faculty and does not divide into sections.
One frequent motivation for incorporating philosophy into a program of study whose main focus lies elsewhere is the fact that philosophy deals with the methods and fundamental concepts that figure in most other areas of human intellectual interest. Thus the combination of philosophy with another field can enrich the study of that subject by encouraging reflections on its procedures and comparisons with the procedures of other disciplines. For this reason philosophy can be usefully combined the virtually any other program of study. Such combinations can shed light not only on the procedures of the other field but on those of philosophy itself. Thus students committed to philosophy should seriously consider combining it with the study of some other field as well.
Philosophy may be combined with other areas in various ways. One is to take a full major in philosophy along with a major in another field. Another is to take just those philosophy courses that deal with one's primary interest. For example, a science concentrator might wish to take a sequence of courses leading to advanced work in the philosophy of science (e.g., a general introduction, PHIL 155, 320, or 322, followed by PHIL 381 or 383, followed by one or more 400-level courses in philosophy of science). Or a student interested in the ethics might take a general introduction, PHIL 160, 355, 356, or 359, followed by PHIL 361, 366, or 367, followed by one or more 400-level courses in the area. Or a student interested in the mind and psychology might take PHIL 156 or 340, followed by PHIL 345, followed by selected 400-level courses. There are many other such possibilities.
Yet another is to take a variety of courses in philosophy in separate areas, as a way of getting a broad and general view of the various styles of intellectual endeavor. Such a selection may be linked with an ongoing project, or it might just be a way of broadening your horizons and seeing what there is in the world to think about. As before, even for people not concentrating or minoring in philosophy, the best thing to do in exploring what the Department has to offer is to talk to a department advisor. They will be more than happy to make suggestions about various possible combinations of interests and fields. For additional information about the Department’s programs, see www.lsa.umich.edu/philosophy/undergraduate.