What is Philosophy?

The word “philosophy” is derived from the Greek words for “love of wisdom”. Wisdom is thought to be an understanding of the ultimate principles of things. Philosophy takes no belief for granted, but examines the grounds or foundations for those beliefs which make up people’s fundamental views of the world. Philosophers think about these beliefs as thoroughly and systematically as possible, using methods of conceptual analysis, reasoning, and detailed description. Some of the main branches of philosophy and some typical questions are:

Ethics: Are there objective moral standards? Is morality purely subjective? Are standards relative to culture or time?

Metaphysics: Why does anything exist rather than nothing? What is the ultimate nature of reality?

Epistemology: What can be known with certainty? What is the difference between belief and knowledge? Can we overcome skepticism?

Logic: What is sound reasoning? What is the difference between truth and validity? How can we determine or construct valid arguments? How reliable is scientific reasoning?

What can I do with a degree in philosophy?

Undergraduate philosophy has long been considered a central part of liberal education. It provides basic skills in logical thinking and analysis, familiarity with major moral outlooks and problems, and an overview of human existence and reality. Philosophy, especially formal and informal logic, with their emphasis on argument, is an excellent preparation for law school. For a few, philosophy will be preparation for graduate study and teaching, and many organizations, including businesses, like to hire philosophy students because of their training in critical analysis and argumentation.

For a few, those interested in teaching will need to acquire a Ph.D. in philosophy. It takes four to five years, including two years of course work, and a doctoral dissertation (a major piece of research and writing). Professional philosophers tend to find careers as university and community college teachers. Philosophers in the area of applied ethics, such as biomedical ethics, often find careers as clinical ethics consultants in hospitals and health care centres.

What highschool preparation do I need for philosophy?

For most, philosophical study will begin in first year. Students who are interested in studying philosophy should apply to the humanities and social sciences program area on the St. George campus. This requires at least six senior high school credits (Grade 12 4U/M) including English.

What should I do in first year?

Incoming students are encouraged to select one of the first-year courses, which are especially designed for students with no previous philosophical background. They include both lectures and small group discussions, and emphasis is placed on developing critical reading and writing skills. These courses are:

Introduction to Philosophy – PHL100Y1: An introduction to the central branches of philosophy, such as logic, theory of knowledge, metaphysics, ethics, and political philosophy. Writings from the central figures in the history of Western and non-Western philosophy, as well as contemporary philosophers, may be considered.

Introduction to Philosophical Problems – PHL101Y1: An introduction to some of the central problems of philosophy. Examples of questions that may be considered include: What is sound reasoning? What can we know? What is ultimately real? Is morality rational? Do humans have free will? Is there a God? What is consciousness? Should we fear death? What is justice?

Philosophy programs

Students in the Faculty of Arts and Science do not choose their program of study until the end of first year or after the completion of four credits. If you want to focus your undergraduate studies in the area of philosophy, or are planning to do graduate work, you should enrol in the philosophy specialist program. If you want to concentrate in philosophy, but either less intensively than those in the specialist program, or in conjunction with another topic, you should enrol in the major program. If you want to study philosophy as part of your general education, or to supplement studies in a different area, you should enrol in the minor program.

Bioethics program

The department sponsors a program in bioethics, which offers specialist, major and minor options, for those interested in this growing field. Those planning to take the program should take PHL100Y1 or PHL101Y1 in first year, then the following course in second year: Bioethics, PHL281H, An introduction to the study of moral and legal problems in medical practice, biomedical research and the development of health policy. Topics include: concepts of health and disease, patient rights, informed consent, allocation of scarce resources, euthanasia, abortion, genetic screening and reproductive technologies, human experimentation, mental health and illness.

Other programs of interest to Philosophy students

Students who are interested in the scientific study of cognition and consciousness are encouraged to consider combining a philosophy program with a cognitive science program. For information on cognitive science, see www.cogsci.utoronto.ca.

You may also wish to supplement your philosophy program with a program offered in the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology. More information about programs offered by HPS can be found here: http://www.hps.utoronto.ca/index.htm