Philosophy Introductions

There are several ways to begin the study of philosophy. You can take an introductory survey course or a course on a more specific topic. You can focus on historical texts, or on problems that have been addressed by both past and present philosophers.

More specifically:

  • Introductory courses survey a wide range of philosophical problems in metaphysics (problems concerning the nature of identity, causation, the relationship between the mind and the body, etc.) epistemology (problems about the nature of knowledge, justification, evidence, and rationality), ethics, and religion. Courses of this sort include Philosophy 181, 232, most sections of 202, and 297. Some of these courses address the relevant problems by tracing the development of philosophical thought through a series of major philosophers.
  • Other courses without prerequisites include courses that focus on issues in a particular subspecialty of philosophy. The include Philosophy 262, 320, 340, 355, 356, and 359. These courses are designed for students who have no previous background in philosophy and want to take a philosophical approach to a particular area of human concern.
  • Enrolling in a first-year seminar (PHIL 196) is another excellent way to explore a philosophical topic. These seminars are generally structured around a particular question or issue. Unlike the other courses listed above, they are not prerequisites for the major.

In signing up for any of these courses, it is important to keep in mind the main aim they all share: to encourage you to develop habits of critical reflection. What you study matters less than the skills and habits of mind you gain in studying it. These skills and habits will help you to make sense of, and respond effectively to, the many ideas and problems you will encounter outside the philosophy classroom.