Why Philosophy?

Is Philosophy for Me?

‘Philosophy’ comes from the Greek word ‘φιλοσοφία’, which means love of wisdom.  However, if you wish to better understand what philosophy is, knowing the meaning of the word ‘philosophy’ will not get you very far.

Philosophy has a long tradition and has meant many things to many people.  What philosophy is today differs from what it was 2,500 years ago, when it first emerged as an academic discipline.  For some, philosophy is about pursuing the big questions.  Have you ever asked “Does God exist?”, “Do we have free will?”, “What is the nature of the mind?”, “How do we know we are not living in a simulation?”, or “Can machines ever become conscious?”  If questions like these keep you up at night, then philosophy might be for you.

Others might be more attracted to theoretical issues within social and political philosophy; issues that address justice, human rights, fairness, and the role of governments.  Or perhaps you are more driven by some of the theoretical questions that still persist within the sciences?  For example, “What is quantum mechanics and how is it connected with everyday reality?”, “How do words get their meaning?”, or “Can neurons alone explain the mind?” 

More generally, you might ask “What is science and how does it prove its claims?”  Or if you are interested in ethics, you might ask “Are there universal morals or is morality a relativistic endeavor?”, “What are the standards for right and wrong action?”, and “What is the good life?” 

Perhaps the foundations of mathematics and logic have piqued your interest?  Many philosophers and logicians have contributed to the foundations of computer science.  In fact, we currently offer a CS + Philosophy major, one of the first in the country. 

Maybe all of the above questions interest you, but your interest lies in specific philosophical traditions preceding our contemporary one.  The history of philosophy is a rich collection of human intellectual endeavors to which any thinker can relish in the development of human thought. Philosophers from the ancients, to the medievals, to the moderns have wrestled with many of the above questions. They have also wrestled with questions unique to their time and place. Studying the history of philosophy will not only provide insight into some of the more pressing problems of our day, it will also help us to view our place and time in perspective by enriching our appreciation of those who have seen things differently than us. 

Finally, philosophy isn’t only the study of questions that emerge out of various disciplines, it is also a method of inquiry and argument.  Philosophy uses the tools of logic and reason to analyze the ways in which humans experience and understand the world.  It teaches critical thinking, close reading, clear writing, and logical analysis; it uses these to understand the language we use to describe the world, and our place in it.

Are you interested?  We offer a variety of courses in ethics, epistemology, metaphysics, the history of philosophy, philosophy of religion, philosophy of science, philosophy of mind, political philosophy, logic, and more.

What can I do with a degree in Philosophy?

Many students express an interest in philosophy, but are unsure what to do with a philosophy degree.  Asking philosophical questions can lead to a rich and meaningful life. But practically speaking, what does a degree in philosophy offer?  An education in philosophy is not only about asking deep speculative questions.  It is also about learning how to think critically, write clearly, comprehend challenging texts, and analyze complex arguments.  These valuable skills can be projected upon nearly any professional activity. 

Our program will serve you well if you decide to pursue a graduate education in philosophy, law, medical, or business school.  In fact, many are surprised to learn that philosophy majors consistently score at or near the top on standardized tests, rank highly in median mid-career salaries, and enjoy a well-earned reputation for rigorous thinking.  But don't take it from us:

"A recent comprehensive study of college students' scores on major tests used for admissions to graduate and professional schools shows that students majoring in Philosophy received scores substantially higher than the average on each of the tests studied. Philosophy majors' scores on the verbal portion of the GRE were higher than in any other major, even English ; and although several science majors showed higher averages in the quantitative portion of the test, philosophy majors scored substantially higher than all other humanities majors and were alone among humanities majors in scoring above the overall average. Philosophy majors received higher scores on the LSAT than students in all other humanities areas, higher scores than all social and natural science majors except economics and mathematics, and higher scores than all applied majors. Moreover, the differences are in most cases substantial: for example, philosophy majors scored 10% better than political science majors on the LSAT. On the GMAT, philosophy majors outperformed business majors by a margin of 15%, and outperformed every other undergraduate major except mathematics." ["Philosophy Students Score High on LSAT, GMAT", Andereas Teuber]

(Click on the link for Career Paths for more information regarding the professional benefits of an education in philosophy.)

While you’re here, you’ll connect with student groups like Phi Sigma Tau (Philosophy Club) and can network with graduate students, professors, alumni, and other professionals through organizations like  The Illinois Philosophical Association and conferences like The University of Illinois Annual Graduate Student Philosophy Conference.

Our department will offer you hands-on experience during your time on campus. You can:

  • Be a part of various philosophy workshops
  • Attend talks by leading figures in philosophy
  • Conduct independent research with a professor

If you’re interested in making a difference through critical thinking and logical analysis, consider applying to the Department of Philosophy at the University of Illinois.

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