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Philosophy

Philosophy

Have you ever considered telling a lie in order to serve a greater good? Debated the morality of war or evidence of God's existence? Accused a friend of faulty logic? Have you ever wondered why seemingly sturdy concepts like truth, nature, self, race and gender can get so slippery when you examine them closely? You've been doing philosophy.

Philosophy involves listening and reading carefully, analyzing arguments and developing a critical perspective of your own. Those are valuable skills for anyone, not just for philosophers. Philosophical questions force us to examine our presuppositions about the world and how we ought to live in it. They ask us to consider whether our deepest beliefs make sense and can be explained and justified to others. Students who study philosophy at Hamilton learn to ask and answer such questions in a rigorous, systematic way.

Is there a real difference between right and wrong, or is morality a matter of conventions imposed by different societies and in different eras? Can we distinguish genuine knowledge from mere opinion? Do we have free will, or are our actions just responses to our environment and our genetic makeup? Questions like these aren't idle speculation; they have a deep, direct impact on daily life. If free will is in doubt, for example, why should the courts hold people responsible for their actions? If there is no clear line between right and wrong, does that make stealing and hurting others permissible?

Addressing such issues requires analytical skill, a sensitivity to nuance and the ability logically to evaluate complex and often controversial issues and ideas. Training in philosophy is therefore not only interesting and valuable in itself; it is also especially useful for policy debates in government and business, for ethical dilemmas in private and public life, and for the civic dialogue at the heart of the democratic process.

The curriculum at Hamilton College is designed to serve both those with a deep interest in philosophy and the broad range of students who want to acquire the time-tested skills and perspectives of the discipline:

• The major in philosophy balances courses in epistemology and metaphysics, the history of philosophy, and courses in value theory — ethics, aesthetics and political philosophy.

• Students may minor in philosophy in two ways: by completing a prescribed list of courses with electives, or by completing a personalized program of study tailored to complement their primary concentration.

Introductory courses acquaint students with major issues in the field while helping them develop logical and analytical approaches to writing and thinking. Intermediate courses cover the history of philosophy and examine a spectrum of applications: aesthetics, contemporary moral issues, professional ethics, education, law, science, politics and society. And advanced courses offer rigorous investigation of specialized topics such as the nature of knowledge, conceptions of reality, aesthetic theory and the grounds of morality. Advanced students also typically take courses in the work of major philosophers such as Kant, Nietzsche and Wittgenstein.

At every level, the emphasis is not on narrow specialization, but on the value of philosophy in examining and discussing issues of concern to us all. Philosophy students at Hamilton develop critical skills in speaking, writing and analysis that not only serve them in their careers, but also help them become thoughtful, engaged citizens.

Cupola