The University of St. Thomas

About

Why Study Philosophy? 

What is philosophy?  An abstract definition of the field is less revealing than a set of questions that philosophers try to answer. Here's one such set:

  • Is the human mind just a very complicated machine?

  • Can we have free will if the mind is a machine?

  • Must we have free will in order for life to be meaningful?

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  • What makes an act moral or immoral?

  • When, if ever, can a government mandate or outlaw certain acts?

  • Is it ever permissible to start a war with a pre-emptive strike?

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  • Is the order seen in the world evidence for the existence of God?

  • Does the existence of evil show that a good God cannot exist?

  • What is the role of philosophy in answering questions about God?

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  • What is knowledge - and how exactly does it differ from opinion and from faith?

  • What, if anything, can we know with certainty?

  • Are warrants for knowledge relative to particular cultures?   

We feel the need to confront such questions as we develop a sense of wonder about the world and human destiny. Wonder is provoked by many things, of course, including other university studies: philosophy connects with every discipline.

 

What Can You Do With a Philosophy Major?

But will philosophy help you with anything practical? Yes, if only because philosophy provides you with analytical tools of reasoning that prove exceedingly useful in every field. An indication of this is the very impressive record of success philosophy majors have had over the years in tests given by professional schools: the LSAT (Law School Admission Test), the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test), the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) and the GRE (Graduate Record Exam). For instance, philosophy majors consistently outperform all other disciplines on the verbal portion of the GRE. And outside the natural sciences, only philosophy and economics majors perform significantly above the national average on the quantitative portion of the GRE. Do an internet search on "philosophy major GRE" or "philosophy major LSAT" for the striking statistics.

Philosophy students build skills that are highly desirable to employers. You will learn to think critically and imaginatively, analyze concepts and problems, develop rigorous arguments, interpret difficult texts, debate about a wide variety of issues, and communicate with clarity -- versatile abilities that will serve you well in a wide range of career paths. Philosophy majors go on to pursue careers in academia, business, communications, finance, law, medicine, nonprofit organizations, public service, the Church and the arts.

Yet the primary value of philosophy lies less in career preparation than in what it does for the mind. It is no small matter to become familiar with great answers to great questions, to take as one's teachers some of the most illuminating thinkers from the dawn of theorizing to the present moment, and to be furnished thereby with precious materials for the construction of your own worldview.

"Going to class is training for my analytic thinking skills. Logical reasoning skills are an invaluable asset no matter what career field you eventually work in." -  Kathryn Pogin, philosophy major and tutor

 

Areas of Study

With its 24 tenured and tenure-track faculty members, the Philosophy Department at the University of St. Thomas is the largest philosophy department in Minnesota. This is a reflection of the Catholic intellectual tradition's long-standing recognition that philosophy is central to the life of the mind.

For well over 50 years the department has promoted advanced study of Aristotle and Aquinas, thinkers foundational to the Catholic intellectual tradition. Our faculty also has outstanding strength in philosophy of religion and in historical metaphysics.

But the department is committed to broad integration of our understanding of reality, and the program engages a variety of philosophical traditions and areas. You can study Tibetan epistemology with a professor who reads and speaks Tibetan; you can study philosophy of science with a professor who has a Ph.D. in the history of science (in addition to a Ph.D. in philosophy); you can study philosophical questions posed by children's literature with a professor who publishes in that area; you can study philosophical linguistics with a professor who -- along with holding a Ph.D. in philosophy -- has a master's degree in linguistics; you can study Chinese or Indian philosophy with professors who specialize in those areas.

"What attracted me to the philosophy program at St. Thomas was the size of the department and the broad range of specialities among the faculty members. I have found that there are always professors available who are knowledgeable about my areas of study." - Steve Winkelman, philosophy major and tutor