What is Philosophy? 1
The problem-solving, analytical, judgmental, and synthesizing capacities that philosophy develops are unrestricted in their scope and unlimited in their usefulness. This makes philosophy especially good preparation for positions of leadership, responsibility, or management. A major or minor in philosophy can easily be integrated with requirements for nearly any entry-level job. But, philosophical training, particularly in its development of many transferable skills, is especially significant for its long-term benefits in career advancement.
As the systematic study of ideas and issues, philosophy may examine concepts and views drawn from science, art, religion, politics, or any other realm. Philosophical studies can take many forms but often focus on the meaning of an idea and on its basis, coherence, and relations to other ideas. Philosophy examines questions concerning art, morality, religion, science, and each of the major areas of human activity. It examines them both microscopically and from the wide perspective of the larger concerns of human existence.
TRADITIONAL BRANCHES OF PHILOSOPHY
The discipline of philosophy is subdivided into a number of branches. The traditional branches of philosophy are commonly taken to be logic, ethics, metaphysics, epistemology, and the history of philosophy. There are also many new branches of philosophy that have grown out of the traditional branches. These new branches include philosophy of mind, philosophy of religion, philosophy of science, political philosophy, social philosophy, philosophy of feminism, philosophy of law, medical ethics, environmental ethics, business ethics, philosophy of art (aesthetics), philosophy of language, philosophy of mathematics, philosophy of education, and philosophy of history, among many others. There are also branches of philosophy that examine non-western philosophical traditions, such as Africana philosophy and Eastern philosophy.
Some of these branches of philosophy are very briefly described below:
Logic is concerned with providing sound methods for distinguishing good from bad reasoning. Logic also helps us identify the assumptions and pre-suppositions that underlie arguments, and it teaches us that we must always support our claims with good reasoning.
Ethics is concerned with the meaning of our moral concepts and with formulating principles to guide moral decisions, whether in private or public life.
Metaphysics is concerned with the ultimate nature of reality, of being, and of existence. It also examines the basic criteria for determining that something is real.
Epistemology is concerned with the nature and scope of knowledge. It asks what it means to know and what is the nature of truth. It is also concerned with the justification of beliefs and with the nature of evidence.
Philosophy of Science explores the nature of scientific knowledge and of the scientific method. It does this by examining the logic of scientific evidence and the nature of scientific laws, theories, and explanations.
Philosophy of Art (Aesthetics) is concerned with the nature of art and of beauty, and asks such questions as what makes something a work of art, how are artistic creations to be evaluated, and how the arts are related to one another and to other important elements of human life.
Social and Political Philosophy are concerned with the nature of legitimate authority, the nature of society, and the relation between the individual, the community, and the state.
Philosophy courses differ greatly from one another, however some generalizations are possible. Typically, philosophy professors encourage students to be critical, to develop their own ideas, and to appreciate both the differences between things that appear alike and the similarities between things that seem completely different. Commonly, philosophy professors emphasize not only what is said in a text but why it is said. They also ask whether or not the reasons given for believing something are good, and what the students themselves think about the matter. One might also be encouraged to formulate one's own views on a problem. Characteristically, then, there is much room for creativity and for choice of approach. Philosophy is unique in the way it nurtures creativity and freedom within broad but definite standards of clarity, reasoning, and evaluation.
Wisdom, leadership, and the capacity to resolve human conflicts cannot be guaranteed by any course of study. However, philosophy has traditionally pursued these ideals systematically, and philosophy's methods, its literature, and its ideas are of constant use in the quest to realize these ideals. Sound reasoning, critical thinking, well constructed prose, maturity of judgment, a strong sense of relevance, and an enlightened consciousness are never obsolete, nor are they subject to the fluctuating demands of the market-place. The study of philosophy is the most direct route, and in many cases the only route, to the full development of these qualities.
1 This text is adapted, with a few changes, from Philosophy: A Brief Guide for Undergraduates, a publication of The American Philosophical Association, and from The Philosophy Major, a statement prepared under the auspices of the Board of Officers of the American Philosophical Association. These texts are available from the APA online at the following address: www.apaonline.org