Philosophy, says Aristotle, begins in wonder.
While literally meaning "the love of wisdom," Philosophy is the most ancient of academic disciplines and a vibrant modern pursuit, capable of being applied to almost every conceivable area of thought and action. Fundamentally, Philosophy is about understanding and analyzing arguments, determining whether a particular claim has relevant evidence provided for it, whether the evidence is logically related to the claim, and thus whether the claim is true, false, indeterminate, or as yet unsubstantiated. Philosophy also continuously exposes and evaluates the often hidden assumptions on which claims are based. Claims and arguments exist and need to be evaluated in all areas of study, Philosophy therefore is a kind of "meta-discipline." The analytical skills one develops in studying it may be directed toward any phenomenon. While many disciplines claim to teach critical thinking and problem-solving skills, Philosophy is the one area which actually, literally specializes in such skills.
Although a metadiscipline, Philosophy is sometimes usefully divided into four main areas, which describe the kinds of general questions that philosophers focus on:
1. Metaphysics: what is the nature of reality and how does reality work? Related to this basic concern are questions about the existence and nature of God, the role of science in getting at truth, the structure of time and space, whether consciousness can be explained by materialist physics, the relationship between ideas and the world, and whether there is ultimate meaning and direction to existence.
2. Epistemology: what is the nature of knowledge? How can we get knowledge and how certain can we be of what logic, our senses, history, or intuition tells us? Related to these basic concerns are questions about the difference between just believing something and knowing something, the trustworthiness of perception, the accuracy of memory and testimony, what counts as good evidence, whether we need certainty to live well, whether truth or practicality is more important, whether science can prove statements, whether our brains are smart enough to understand how our brains work, and what justifies us in believing one thing over another.
3. Ethics and Values: what is the very nature of good and evil, right and wrong, and how do we determine what we ought to do? Related to these basic concerns are questions of justice and morality, whether we have moral obligations, whether the individual or the community or the family is more important, whether an action we take is right because of good consequences or good intentions, whether morality should inform law, and a host of specific applied ethics questions on medicine, technology, public policy, international relations, the environment, business, sexuality, scientific research, war, and religion.
4. Logic: what kind of evidence is needed to prove something? Related to this basic concern are a host of issues on how ideas need to be logically related to each other in order to lead consistently to a certain conclusion, on whether we are persuaded to believe certain things because of good evidence and reason or because of emotional appeals, on what kinds of logical connections are needed to demonstrate truth, and how can we think clearly and effectively?
With these areas of Philosophy being only the most general ones, philosophers branch out into applying their critical thinking, analytical, problem-solving,and logical skills to a multitude of questions involving all kinds of issues. At Millsaps you will learn not only the basics of Philosophy but also have the opportunity to apply the logical and critical skills you develop to conceptual and moral issues in art, science, the law, psychology, medicine, religion, language, violence, war, happiness, love, technology, engineering, sexuality, business, culture, literature, race, and the environment.
"Wise I may not call them; for that is a great name which belongs to God alone - lovers of wisdom or philosophers is their modest and befitting title."
Plato, Phaedrus, trans. B. Jowett