Philosophy Department




Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)



What is Philosophy?

Literally translated from Greek, philosophy is a "love of wisdom." Practically speaking, philosophy is a discipline of study that includes several subdisciplines such as metaphysics, ethics, logic, and epistemology. The history of philosophy is rich with colorful thinkers from every culture. To study philosophy, and the thinkers in philosophy, will broaden one's intellectual foundation. From another perspective, philosophy can be seen as the art of asking the right questions, and exploring possible answers to those questions.

Why study philosophy?

 There are practical advantages to the study of philosophy. Many of the skills which are honed in philosophical work are transferable to, and are extremely valuable in, other fields of endeavor. The study of philosophy enhances one's problem-solving capacities. It helps one to analyze concepts, definitions, and arguments. It contributes to one's capacity to organize ideas, to deal with questions of value, and to extract what is essential from masses of information. It exposes one to the power of language through its examination of challenging texts and encourages the development of this power in oneself through its constant attention to the formulation of well-reasoned, solidly defended statements of one's own views. It has been a welcome surprise within recent years to witness how many professions, such as business, law, education, and health care, seek applicants whose undergraduate education has emphasized such intellectual development.

How will philosophy help my career?

The most important function of a university education has never been to train people for jobs. Jobs change; careers shift. There is life beyond the paycheck. What is crucial, however, is that an education expand one's intellectual vision and invigorate the life of the mind. In many ways, philosophy is uniquely qualified to accomplish this end. Philosophy is blessed with a long and enormously rich history of thinkers, problems and controversies. The perennial questions addressed in philosophy such as "Who am I as a human being?", "How should I act?", "What can I know?", "How should society be organized?", are fundamental issues about which any education worth its salt must concern itself. The opportunity to "know thyself" may be the singular, greatest advantage which an education can provide.

Which intro class should I take?

There are currently 9 different 100-level introduction to philosophy classes offered. Each class is functionally identical -- all count for the 'E' Core Curriculum credit, and also satisfy the prerequisite for all upper-level philosophy classes. All intro classes are designed to provide the student with a solid introduction to the study of philosophy, and are designed to be interchangeable.

The only difference between them is that each class is fine-tuned to suit the diverse interests of the student body. For example, a history major may be interested in PHI 105E: Philosophy Through its History. A women's studies major may be interested in PHI 110E: Gender & Society. A political science major may be interested in PHI 109E: Law, Politics, and Society. Or, if you would like to explore the value of philosophy, you may be interested in PHI 106E: Why Philosophize?

In short, take whichever one looks interesting to you! For a complete listing of available intro classes, see our course listing.

What are the prerequisites for the classes?

The Introduction to Philosophy classes (100-level) have only the college writing core requirement (ENG 100C, ENG 101C, HON 100C, ESL 100C, etc.) as a prerequisite. This can be taken in the same semester as the Intro to Philosophy class.

The upper level philosophy classes (200-level or above) have only an intro as a prerequisite. That is, once you have taken any of the intro classes, you can then take any upper-level philosophy class.

I am lost in my philosophy class. Where can I get some help?

Study of philosophy requires some careful, close reading. If you would like some general academic help, try the Learning Center at 253 Luther Bonney Hall or 115 Bailey Hall in Gorham, or call them at (207) 780-4228/5360. Your primary resource in a philosophy class is your instructor. Every instructor has office hours -- take advantage of that! Additionally, it is common for students to form study/discussion groups and to meet outside of the classroom. Our links and resources page contains quite a few other web sites chock full of useful philosophy information. Lastly, the Philosophy Department has tutors for students who need them. Contact 780-4258 or e-mail for more information.

Another resource is the Philosophy Symposium. The Philosophy Symposium is a group of students who want to engage in the theory and practice of philosophy. It is open to all USM students. The symposium has weekly meetings. You can email Liam Barnum at for more information or visit the Philosophy Symposium Facebook page at

What are the major or minor requirements?

The requirements for a major or minor are outlined theUSM Undergraduate catalog on MaineStreet, and also may be found on the philosophy web site at

How do I become a philosophy major?

If you are interested in becoming a philosophy major, first you need to meet with the Advising Liaison for the Philosophy Department to discuss the requirements of the major. At that meeting, the Advising Liaison will talk to you about the classes that you've already taken in philosophy, your particular interests in philosophy, and to help you map out the courses you will need to take to complete the major. He will help decide which one of the faculty members you would like to have as an advisor within the department, then finally, a formal "Declaration of Major" form will be filled out and sent to the CAHS Dean's Office.

If I major in philosophy, what can I do after graduation?

USM's Philosophy Department has a distinguished record of students who have won major fellowships to pursue graduate education. A number of its graduates have gone on to law school, divinity school, and other professional careers such as journalism and education.  Talk to your professors they are a great resource for this kind of information.

How do I get my PIN number for registration?

Your advisor will have your PIN number shortly before registration begins each semester. Contact your advisor to make an appointment to go over your schedule. You will receive your PIN number at this meeting.

Who is my advisor in the department?

Your advisor will be assigned by the Advising Liaison.  They will assign you an advisor appropriate to your course of study in Philosophy or by your personnel choice (if you have someone in particular that you would prefer).  There is a list of advisor/advisees available from the Philosophy Department or call your Advising Liaison, Prof. Jeremian Conway, 780-4241 or email him at

How do I check my grades?

If you know your PIN number and your student ID number you can check your grades on MaineStreet.  MaineStreet is set up by the University of Maine System and allows students to check grades, registration info, and other academic records. 

How else, besides the classroom, can I get involved in the philosophy department?

There are many ways to be involved in the department outside the classroom: The student majors' association, the Philosophy Symposium sponsors many events throughout the year as well as giving students an opportunity to be part of departmental meetings and various aspects of program development for the department. The Philosophy listserv is also an online forum for sharing of resources and discussions related to philosophy.

The Philosophy Department itself, at 122 Payson Smith Hall on the Portland Campus, is a welcoming place where students can enjoy a relaxing atmosphere, meet faculty in an informal way, use the department computer to do word processing, check their e-mail, and do online research. We also have a student library which is constantly expanding, as well as collections of senior theses written by graduated majors. In addition, the Department offers work study positions which are designed to provide service-learning opportunities within the area of philosophy.  If you have Federal Funding (FASFA) for work study, please contact the department for any jobs that may be available.

How can I get more information?

The Philosophy Department is located at 122 Payson Smith Hall on the Portland Campus. For further information, call 780-4258, or TTY 780-5746, or send an email to