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Indiana University Bloomington

Undergraduate Program

What Is Philosophy?

Philosophy, from the Greek for "love of wisdom," is a special passion to understand. It involves a mode of inquiry that emphasizes questioning fundamental assumptions, arguing logically, and, more generally, thinking things through as completely as possible. Frequently concerning itself with thorny issues of rational justification, philosophy inquires variously into the nature of knowledge, good reasoning, and human values, both moral and aesthetic. On its more metaphysical side, philosophy often inquires about what sorts of things might most reasonably be said to exist.

Philosophy aims at systematic answers to fundamental questions all of us have thought about at one time or another, e.g.:

  • What should we do? How should we live (ethics, social and political philosophy)?
  • What kind of world do we live in (metaphysics)?
  • How do we know these and other things (epistemology, logic)?
  • What answers have great thinkers of the past given to such questions (history of philosophy)?

Questions such as these result in a critical examination of our convictions, beliefs, and prejudices. Philosophy raises problems concerning the most familiar things in our lives, for example, authority, obligation, thinking, perception, physical objects, and religion. Where it fails to provide definitive solutions to these problems, it at least suggests unsuspected possibilities that enlarge our conception of the world and enrich our intellectual imagination.

But the study of philosophy also has direct practical value, for acquaintance with philosophical problems, and the acquisition of skills required to deal with them, are useful in virtually all pursuits. These skills include the ability to ask intelligent questions, to define issues precisely, to construct and criticize arguments, to expose hidden assumptions, to develop open-mindedness toward ideas other than one's own, and to write and speak with precision, coherence, and clarity.