Philosophic Skills and Goals

An articulation of philosophic skills

The philosophy department’s practical orientation leads us pay special attention to a distinct set of skills. We believe that well trained philosophy students should be capable of exemplifying the following set skills in their life. As we see it, there are three three broad categories of philosophic skills:

Critical/Creative skills:

  • critical reading and listening skills: hearing and understanding the arguments and positions of others.
  • argument analysis and evaluation, both of others’ arguments and one’s own.
  • effective problem-solving: clear problem-presentation, creative side-stepping of usual problems and blocks, imagination.
  • unsettling the problems: critical awareness of their contexts & embeddedness, and the confidence/imagination to look beyond.

Ethical/Collaborative skills:

  • making reflective choices, taking responsibility, acting with integrity and care.
  • awareness of and appreciation for traditional reflection on ethical questions.
  • sensitivity to others and to the conditions for dialogue and connection: reciprocity and imaginative sympathy.
  • a feeling for the conditions and possibilities of community life and collaborative action.
  • a feeling for the possibilities of human life within the more-than-human world.

Historical/Interpretive skills:

  • the ability to suspend current views so as to enter sympathetically into other modes of thinking and dwelling.
  • knowledge of what some of those modes are: awareness of traditional reflections on philosophical questions.
  • “vivid inhabitation” of other modes of thinking and dwelling; the ability to give a sympathetic account from within.
  • the ability to offer constructive criticism, both from and of other perspectives.
  • the ability to return to our own time and place with new resources for dealing with issues today.

Three Goals of the Philosophy Major

Our majors will:

Dare to wonder

Know their map


Build communities out of problems.

  1. Successful majors will dare to wonder. They will have the capacity to dwell within other modes of thinking with enough curiosity to investigate, enough humility to consider, and enough confidence to question. So, they need:
    1. an ability to critically engage with their own and others’ beliefs and knowledge; and
    2. an attunement to how language frames worlds, realities, perceptions, and selves.
  2. Successful majors will know their map. They will be able to orient themselves in the history of philosophy and to find their place in the ongoing discourse about philosophical issues. So, they need:
    1. a fluency in philosophical knowledge; and
    2. the ability to expand one’s philosophical understanding through interacting with other thinkers.
  3. Successful majors will build communities out of shared problems. So, they need:
    1. a fluency in argumentation as sustainable discourse;
    2. a fluency in problem solving; and
    3. the ability and disposition to make reflective choices, to take responsibility, and to act with integrity and care toward all of our constitutive communities.

These goals frame the content of a new introductory level course (currently listed as PHL 170: Introduction to Philosophical Thinking), which will be devoted to introducing these skills to both majors and non-majors alike. In addition, they will situate the learning objectives of classes within the major.