Chair of the Department: Julien Murphy, 47 Exeter St., Portland
Distinquished Professor: Robert Louden. Professors: William Gavin, Julien Murphy; Associate Professors: Jeremiah Conway, Kathleen Wininger, Jason Read; Professors of Emeriti: George Caffentzis, Joseph Grange, Francis Schwanauer
"Philosophy unties knots in our thinking; hence its results must be simple, but philosophizing has to be as complicated as the knots it unties." –Ludwig Wittgenstein, Zettel #452
The place of philosophy at the center of any educational endeavor is as true today as it ever was. The perennial questions that philosophy addresses–"Who am I as a human being?" "How should I act?" "What can I know?" "What are my obligations to others?" "How should society be organized?"–are fundamental issues with which education must wrestle and into which it must provide insight. Philosophy is a reasoned pursuit of fundamental truths. It is a systematic investigation of the key assumptions that underlie our thinking and which ordinarily are taken for granted. Much of what is learned in philosophy can be applied in virtually any endeavor. This is both because philosophy touches upon so many subjects and, especially, because many of its methods and analyses are usable in any field. The study of philosophy is beneficial in terms of achieving the following:
General Problem-Solving Ability The study of philosophy enhances one's problem-solving capacities in a way no other activity does. It helps one to analyze concepts, definitions, arguments, and problems. It contributes to one's capacity to organize ideas and issues, to deal with questions of value, and to extract what is essential from masses of information.
Communication Skills Philosophy provides some of the basic tools of self-expression, namely, skills in presenting ideas through well-constructed, systematic arguments. One learns to build and defend one's own views, to appreciate competing positions.
Writing Skills Writing is an important part of most philosophy courses. Philosophy teaches interpretive writing through its examination of challenging texts, comparative writing through emphasis on fairness to alternative positions, argumentative writing through developing students' abilities to establish their own views, and descriptive writing through detailed portrayal of concrete examples, the anchors to which generalizations must be tied.
The Understanding of Other Disciplines Many important questions about a discipline, such as the nature of its concepts and its relation to other disciplines, do not belong to that discipline, are not usually pursued within a discipline, and are philosophical in nature. Philosophy of science, for instance, is needed to supplement the understanding of the natural and social sciences which one derives from scientific work itself. Philosophy of art, social and political philosophy, and the philosophy of religion are of similar value in understanding the respective fields of art, sociology, politics, and religion.
Philosophers know, of course, that the important question is not what you can do with a field of study but rather what a field of study does with you. Nevertheless, it has been a welcome surprise within recent years to witness how many professions–business, law, and nursing, for example–want and reward many of the capacities that the study of philosophy develops: the ability to solve problems, to communicate, to organize ideas and issues, to assess pros and cons, and to reduce complex data. These capacities represent transferable skills. For this reason, people trained in philosophy are not only prepared to do many kinds of tasks, they can also cope with change, or even move into new careers, more readily than others.
Student participation in the philosophical activities of the philosophy program is strongly encouraged. Students have organized a philosophy majors and minors association, Philosophy Symposium, which provides a forum for students to discuss their philosophical work and facilitates communication between faculty and students. In recent years the Philosophy Symposium has invited guest lecturers on a variety of philosophical topics. This has enabled students to meet a broad range of philosophers including international guests.