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Department of Philosophy

College of Arts & Sciences

What is Philosophy?

Ask anyone what philosophy is and you're bound to hear as many answers as many times you ask the question. The word "philosophy" originated in Ancient Greece, and the word's literal translation is "the love of wisdom." Philosophers seek to uncover the common and objective understandings of concepts everyone employs in everyday practices, such as "ethics," "truth," "good," "bad," "right" and "wrong," as well as "real" and "fiction."

Philosophy starts with difficult questions we all ask at some time or another: What can I know? What is knowledge, anyway, and what’s the best way of getting it? Is there a God? Why should I be moral?  Are people really free to act?  Is it all relative?  What is truth? 

These are important questions having to do with meaning and justification.  You can’t answer them by making observations or doing experiments.  Imagine dissecting persons to find out if they have free will – what would you be looking for, and how would you know if you found it?  The effort seems as futile as sending off a rocket ship or training your telescopes to look for God.  That’s why lots of people think you can’t answer these questions at all.

Philosophy is the effort to deal with these problems through sustained, hard, and critical thinking.  That’s what makes philosophy such good preparation for careers that call for you to use your mind, without prejudice but with rigor.

Is it hard work?  Sure!  But there’s no joy so great as using your mind to figure out a tough problem. 

“But just thinking hard about a problem won’t ever get you anywhere!”  Have you tried?  Try it – you might just be surprised. 

You don’t need to start from scratch.  Learning to swim or to program computers is hard enough without having to figure it all out on your own.  So why expect that learning to think carefully and critically all by yourself would be any easier?  People have been doing philosophy for a long time, and they’ve learned a lot.  That’s why there’s a discipline of philosophy.  That’s why there are books of philosophy.  That’s why there are courses in philosophy. 

Take a philosophy course.  As the old slogan has it, a mind is a terrible thing to waste.  But we can say it more positively:  

A mind is a wonderful thing to use – if you know how to use it!

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Department of Philosophy | Dept. 3392

Ross Hall, Room 220

1000 E. University Ave

Laramie, WY 82071

Phone: 307-766-3204


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