Copyright 2011, The American Philosophical Association. Last revised: June 13, 2011 Philosophy: A Brief Guide for Undergraduates
1. The Field of Philosophy Introduction Traditional Subfields of Philosophy Special Fields of Philosophy 2. The Uses of Philosophy General Uses of Philosophy The Uses of Philosophy in Educational Pursuits The Uses of Philosophy in Non-Academic Careers 3. The Philosophy Curriculum 4. Conclusion The unexamined life is not worth living. —Socrates Happiness is something final and complete in itself, as being the aim and end of all practical activities whatever … Happiness then we define as the active exercise of the mind in conformity with perfect goodness or virtue. —Aristotle Now laws are said to be just both from the end (when, namely, they are ordained to the common good), from their author (… when the law does not exceed the power of the lawgiver), and from their form (when, namely, burdens are laid on the subjects according to an equality of proportion). —Saint Thomas Aquinas There is a great difference between mind and body, inasmuch as body is by nature always divisible, and the mind is entirely indivisible. —René Descartes Love is pleasure accompanied by the idea of an external cause, and hatred pain accompanied by the idea of an external cause. —Spinoza The effect is totally different from the cause, and consequently can never be discovered in it. —David Hume The very notion of what is called Matter or corporeal substance involves a contradiction. —George Berkeley The understanding does not derive its laws (a priori) from, but prescribes them to, nature. —Immanuel Kant
The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. —John Stuart Mill There can be no difference anywhere that does not make a difference somewhere. —William James Whereof one cannot speak thereof one must be silent. —Ludwig Wittgenstein Fact is richer than diction. —J. L. Austin Existence precedes essence. —Jean-Paul Sartre THE FIELD OF PHILOSOPHY Introduction Philosophy is quite unlike any other field. It is unique both in its methods and in the nature and breadth of its subject matter. Philosophy pursues questions in every dimension of human life, and its techniques apply to problems in any field of study or endeavor. No brief definition expresses the richness and variety of philosophy. It may be described in many ways. It is a reasoned pursuit of fundamental truths, a quest for understanding, a study of principles of conduct. It seeks to establish standards of evidence, to provide rational methods of resolving conflicts, and to create techniques for evaluating ideas and arguments. Philosophy develops the capacity to see the world from the perspective of other individuals and other cultures; it enhances one's ability to perceive the relationships among the various fields of study; and it deepens one's sense of the meaning and variety of human experience. This short description of philosophy could be greatly expanded, but let us instead illustrate some of the points. As the systematic study of ideas and issues, philosophy may examine concepts and views drawn from science, art, religion, politics, or any other realm. Philosophical appraisal of ideas and issues takes many forms, but philosophical studies often focus on the meaning of an idea and on its basis, coherence, and relations to other ideas. Consider, for instance, democracy. What is it? What justifies it as a system of government? Can a democracy allow the people to vote away their own rights? And how is it related to political liberty? Consider human knowledge. What is its nature and extent? Must we always have evidence in order to know? What can we know about the thoughts and feelings of others, or about the future? What kind of knowledge, if any, is fundamental? Similar kinds of questions arise concerning art, morality,...