Why Study Philosophy?

Philosophy involves inquiry about the most basic and compelling questions of life. German philosopher Immanuel Kant once summed up these questions in this way: “What can I know? What should I do? What may I hope?”

In doing philosophy, people learn to clarify questions such as these and to evaluate beliefs held about them. They examine the reasons given for personal lifestyles, for public policies from just about everything from war to welfare, from criminal justice to medicine to business. They wonder how you can tell good art or music from bad. And they explore connections among diverse areas of life and experience, and between academic disciplines.

Undergraduate study in philosophy is not meant to train you specifically for a first job. Instead it serves to sharpen basic skills in critical thinking, problem solving, research, analysis,interpretation and writing.

It also provides critical perspective on and a deep appreciation of ideas and issues,including those central to the Western intellectual heritage that have intrigued humanity throughout the ages. This, especially when coupled with specialized training in other disciplines, prepares students for a great variety of positions of responsibility. Those with the highest potential for advancement generally have more than just specialized training; rather, they bring to their work a breadth of perspective,intellectual flexibility and depth, and well-honed skills in critical thought and communication.

Why Study Philosophy at PLU?

At PLU, students in philosophy courses, especially our majors and minors, receive individual attention and assistance from faculty. Members of the department, while committed to teaching as their first priority, continue to be involved in scholarly activities that wrestle with real-life problems and address fundamental human questions.

Some sample publications by philosophy faculty include:

Nolen Gertz:

  • Philosophy War and Exile (Palgrave, 2014)

Greg Johnson:

  • The Situated Self and Utopian Thinking. Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy (Summer 2002).
  • On the Importance of Reversibility in Deliberative Democracy. Social Philosophy Today (Fall 2004)

Pauline Shanks Kaurin:

  • The Warrior, Military Ethics and Contemporary Warfare: Achilles Goes Asymmetric (Ashgate)

Erin McKenna:

  • The Task of Utopia: A Pragmatist and Feminist Perspective (Rowman & Littlefield)
  • Animal Pragmatism: Rethinking Human-Nonhuman Relations, co-edited with Andrew Light (Indiana University Press)

Paul Menzel:

  • Strong Medicine: The Ethical Rationing of Health Care. (Oxford University Press)
  • How Compatible are Liberty and Equality in Structuring a Health Care System? Journal of Medicine and Philosophy (June 2003).

Careers for Philosophy Majors

Philosophy majors work in a wide range of careers. Some have gone on to become philosophy professors themselves. Others have been successful in seminary; in medical, dental or law school; in graduate programs in social justice or environmental studies; and even as a technical writer for Microsoft!

Philosophy faculty regularly teach courses in the First-Year Experience: Writing Seminars and Inquiry Seminars especially designed for freshmen. These provide a good way for students to become acquainted with the questions, methods, and approaches used in philosophy courses.

Additional Opportunities for Philosophy Majors

International Honors Program

In addition, department faculty teach several courses in the International Honors Program, as well as courses in Legal Studies and Women’s Studies. Also, since 1995 the School of Business has required all of its students to take a course in business ethics.  Greg Johnson is Program and Site Director for the IHON Oxford Program.

Students with particular questions about philosophical issues arising from their studies in other areas are encouraged to come talk with members of the department. Also available is a “Philosophy Club,” made up of interested students – both majors and non-majors – who meet regularly (sometimes with faculty) to discuss current issues, view films of philosophical interest, or just talk about their education.

Course Requirements

While the faculty offer a wide range of expertise, and one can design a major or minor to fit with one’s interests, we would like to highlight the opportunity to design a program with special emphasis in Applied Ethics and Social Philosophy. Courses that support this emphasis include: Ethics and the Good Life; Biomedical Ethics; Health Care Ethics and Policy; Business Ethics; Social and Political Philosophy; Philosophical Issues in the Law; Philosophy, Animals, and the Environment.

The Philosophy Major
A major in philosophy is 32 credits, or eight courses. They include Formal Logic (233), the Advanced Seminar (490), and at least two of the five courses in the history of philosophy: Ancient Philosophy (331), Modern Philosophy (333), Pragmatism and American Philosophy (336), Existentialism and Continental Philosophy (338), or The Analytic Tradition (335).

On approval of the department, four credits in another field of study may be used for the philosophy major if they have a direct relationship to your individual philosophy program. This makes it easier to complete a double major, something of significant value to potential employers and graduate schools.

Honors Major
An Honors Major in philosophy is also available for those who maintain a 3.30 GPA in philosophy courses. In addition to the above courses, you must complete the Honors Research Project (493) with at least a B. This involves an honors thesis and completion of a reading program of primary sources.

Minor in Philosophy
The minor in philosophy consists of four approved courses. If you are considering a minor, you are encouraged to discuss your personal goals with departmental faculty.

Courses in Philosophy
The initial course in philosophy is customarily The Examined Life (121), or Ethics and the Good Life (125), or a 200-level course which provides the opportunity to pursue focused topics in philosophy, still at an introductory level. Offerings include Social and Political Philosophy; Existentialism and the Meaning of Life; Women and Philosophy; Biomedical Ethics; Philosophy, Animals and the Environment; and Creation and Evolution. Upper-division courses provide exposure to central areas in philosophy more intensively. Most require no previous background in philosophy, but they do presuppose general skills in reading and analysis gained from previous college work.