Philosophy, we believe, is integral to a person’s education, and certainly integral to the mission of a liberal arts college like Ohio Wesleyan University. Here we present our department’s mission and our vision of philosophy’s place as an integral part of a person’s education.

Major Content Areas

While we offer a wide array of courses, we emphasize two areas of content in particular. One is the history of philosophy. In our view, a good education in philosophy requires training in its history. Perhaps more than any other form of literature and inquiry, the history of our discipline is rich with important work, which often influenced the thinking of cultures and people well beyond philosophy itself. One of our principal missions is to introduce our students to these historically important works. To this end, we offer many courses dedicated to the history of philosophy, including not only ancient and modern philosophy, but also more recent developments in nineteenth and twentieth century philosophy. Most of these courses cover many philosophers from a given era, but some of them are dedicated to a more concentrated study of one philosopher, such as Plato or Nietzsche. And even when our courses are not dedicated to particular historical periods, they usually include important historical figures. In our view, to understand the present of philosophy, one must understand its past.

But we also believe that philosophy is a practical discipline, and practical philosophy is our other area of focus. By ‘practical philosophy’, we mean philosophy especially dedicated to questions about how to live and act, and how to understand and evaluate our own lives. These are questions about how to live well and to live rightly with each other and in our world. Many of our courses are dedicated to aspects of these questions, including social and political philosophy, feminist philosophy, and courses dedicated to various aspects of ethics. Indeed, many of our courses in the history of philosophy also take up these types of questions.

Our mission is to ensure that our majors leave OWU with a broad understanding of the history of philosophy and a deep appreciation for it as a practical discipline. Our hope is that philosophy helps our students to live better, freer, and more reflective lives.

Skills Development

Philosophy is not only about the content it provides. The study of philosophy also requires the development of valuable skills. Perhaps the skill most famously associated with philosophy is critical thinking. We mean this in the sense of logical analysis: the ability to analyze, evaluate, and construct arguments in defense of particular views. But we also mean it in the sense of scrutinizing our own views and ways of thinking, and also those views and ways of thinking that are common or dominant. Critical thinking is not only the cornerstone of philosophy, but is crucial for all intellectual and personal development. Every course we offer focuses on the development of critical thinking.

Another essential skill in philosophy is writing. In just about every course we offer, there is considerable attention paid to writing, with the aim of producing better, clearer, more precise and persuasive writers. (Recent graduates have won university writing prizes and have been published in peer-reviewed journals.) Majors are required to complete a Senior Research Seminar, in which a single paper is revised and developed through the course of a semester, yielding the very highest quality of the student’s writing, often suitable for submission with graduate school applications or for publication in undergraduate journals.

Good philosophers are good readers. Perhaps no other discipline attends so closely to the meaning of words. Hence, close and careful reading is a fundamental skill we develop. Our courses guide students in developing careful, precise, and meaningful interpretations of difficult philosophical texts. We also help students to appreciate the ways that interpretation functions in all spheres of life and to distinguish better from worse interpretations. Once students gain skills in reading and interpreting philosophical texts, such skills extend to other areas, and students become more adept and thoughtful interpreters in other text-based disciplines.

Finally, philosophy is about conversation. In our courses, students develop an array of abilities associated with conversation and oral communication. These include the ability to listen carefully to the ideas of others, to raise precise and interesting questions, and to articulate and defend complex ideas.

As you can see, these skills are crucial for many aspects of intellectual and professional life. Our development of these skills helps to explain why philosophy majors do so well in their post-graduate endeavors, both academic and professional. A crucial part of our mission is helping each student develop these skills to the full extent of her or his ability.