Philosophy

The Philosophy Major

Philosophy is meaningfully connected to virtually all other disciplines, and can prove a valuable major or double major for a range of professional interests. It is expected of the philosophy major to learn to read and analyze texts with attention to argument, to develop the ability to reason dispassionately and critically, to acquire the ability to articulate ideas and arguments both orally and in writing with clarity, precision and cogency.

Department of Classics, Philosophy, & Religion at UMW
Department of Classics, Philosophy, & Religion at UMW

While some philosophy majors continue in graduate school intending to embark on careers of teaching and research, a philosophy major can be advantageous for business, journalism and publishing, or any profession that demands abilities to think and write clearly. Philosophy is a superb pre-law major, looked upon with favor by many top-notch law schools.

The Discipline of Philosophy

“Philosophy” is our term for a specific academic discipline, and for a particular kind of human inquiry that is the subject of that discipline. The discipline of philosophy is rigorous and difficult, yet both creative and rewarding. The word “philosophy” derives from the ancient Greeks, to whom the Western world owes the discovery and systematization of philosophical thought. Literally, philosophy, whose object is insight into truth, is the love (philein) of wisdom (sophia). Philosophical thought is no one’s invention; it antedates the establishment of academic institutions; it is not confined to the Western tradition that coined the word we use to label it.; nevertheless, that word’s etymology provides a good first indication of the nature of this area of study.

Observe that the lover of wisdom is not necessarily wise: the designation describes an activity, not a possession. The discipline of philosophy does not maintain a treasure trove of truths, like gold coins, to be opened and displayed for the amazement of initiates; rather it engages and extends an intellectual enterprise: the rational inquiry into truth. If you think carefully about this, you might draw some conclusions about philosophical questions, and the nature of the questions reveals the nature of the process. The material for philosophical inquiry is drawn from virtually anything within the scope of human thought and experience; the tool for philosophical inquiry is reason. The questions of philosophy are questions that are meaningfully discussed, open to rational argument and demonstration, but rarely or never decisively provable. Philosophical questions are traditionally classified within several sub disciplines.

The traditional subdivisions of philosophy

The main divisions include the following, which are illustrated with a few representative topics.

Metaphysics
This most general and most “abstract” area of philosophy examines questions of first principles: What is being?  What is existence?  What is the self?  What is causality?  How are appearance and reality distinguished?

Epistemology
The theory of knowledge, its definition, the kinds of knowledge, how it is obtained, how it is  justified.

Ethics
Moral philosophy examines theories of right and wrong, good and bad, as they pertain to the individual and the individual’s place in society.

Aesthetics
The theory of art:  What is art?  What is beauty?  Can art be defined?  What is its function?  What is its effect?

Logic
The science of argument, the rigorous study of the varieties of reasoning and how evidence supports, or fails to support conclusions.

Faculty

Craig Vasey, Professor of Philosophy
Department Chair
Contemporary French Philosophy, Feminism, Race and Gender Issues, Phenomenology and Existentialism

David Ambuel, Professor of Philosophy
Kurt F. Leidecker Co-Chair of Asian Studies
Ancient Greek Philosophy, Indian and Asian philosophy, History of Philosophy, Kant, Philosophy of Logic

Mehdi Aminrazavi, Professor of Philosophy and Religion
Kurt F. Leidecker Co-Chair of Asian Studies
Medieval Philosophy, Islamic Philosophy, Philosophy of Religion

Jason Matzke, Professor of Philosophy
Ethics, Applied Ethics (Environmental and Medical), Philosophy of Law, and Social and Political Philosophy

Nina Mikhalevsky, Professor of Philosophy
Aesthetics, Ethics, Political and Social Theory, History of Philosophy