Philosophy

School of Athens
Detail from "The School of Athens" by Raphael

Does it make sense to discuss religion and morality in scientific terms? Why do people adopt the lifestyles they do? Are human beings truly free or merely products of their genes and environment? You will likely encounter such philosophical ponderings in the array of courses offered by the Philosophy Department at Whitman College. The core of the philosophy curriculum concentrates on such great philosophers as Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Descartes, Hume, Kant, and Hegel. As a liberal arts college, we have an origin in Plato’s Academy; thus philosophy is one of our “basic disciplines” through which students develop capacities to analyze, interpret, criticize, communicate, and engage their intellectual heritage.

In the study of philosophy at Whitman, you will learn to detect assumptions behind people’s beliefs, arrange thoughts in logical order, and write and speak clearly, concisely, and unpretentiously. Your typical course of study might include classes in ethics, history of philosophy, aesthetics and logic – courses which provide the opportunity for the development of a critical and unified understanding of experience and nature. This is accomplished from both historical and contemporary perspectives, with the ethical, social and political, aesthetic, religious, metaphysical, epistemological, and scientific dimensions of existence.

First-year students often begin to study philosophy in Problems in Philosophy, where you will examine the limits of what you can know before exploring such questions as, Is freedom simply an illusion? Are all our actions determined whether we realize it or not? If such questions genuinely provoke you, you can see how the 2500 year philosophical tradition in the West began to examine them in Ancient Philosophy, where the question of freedom turns on examining what constitutes a good life.

As your fundamental knowledge of philosophical treatises evolves, you may enroll in more specialized seminars such as Philosophy of Mind, which explores the nature and function of consciousness and its relation to body and world. The course studies the conflicting philosophical perspectives and practical implications of mind/body dualism, scientific materialism, behaviorism, and artificial intelligence.

As a philosophy major you’ll hone skills such as the organization, codification and decodification of complex information, useful in a range of careers.

One of our department’s most important resources is the Penrose Memorial Library. Penrose is one of only a few college libraries in the nation that are open 24 hours a day during the academic year. Penrose houses 2,100 periodicals and more than 400,000 catalogued volumes, and the ORBIS Cascade Alliance System will give you prompt access to more than twenty-six million volumes in college and university libraries in the region.

Studying philosophy is excellent preparation for law school. A recent Whitman graduate decided to do both. He earned a Ph.D. in philosophy from Vanderbilt and a J.D. from Yale Law. He is currently an assistant professor at Emory. Similarly, a philosophy major is fine preparation for a career in medicine – another alumnus earned both a philosophy doctorate and an M.D. He became an emergency room physician with a specialty in medical ethics. Of course, there is always the philosophy major who teaches undergraduates. One of our own now teaches at St. John’s College, where faculty not only spend their time in conversation with the great philosophers but also teach broadly in the laboratory sciences, mathematics, music, and foreign languages.