Penn State Penn State: College of the Liberal Arts

Prospective Students

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Prospective Students

Prospective Students

What is Philosophy?

Philosophy is at the core of the liberal arts tradition and provides the foundation for the modern university, yet it remains highly relevant to life in technologically complex, demographically diverse, global, and informationdriven societies such as our own. The Philosophy major provides in-depth study of fundamental issues that confront everybody in their private, social, professional, and civic lives. These are some exemplary questions:

  • What does being a good person really involve, and is it possible? (ethics)
  • How does law advance or hinder the communal good? (philosophy of law)
  • How does good art differ from mindless entertainment? (aesthetics) 
  • What underlies the buzzing world of perception? (metaphysics)
  • Does consciousness belong to animals, to AI, to babies? (philosophy of mind) 
  • What is distinctive about religious experience or insight? (philosophy of religion) 
  • How do I know when I really know something? (epistemology) 
  • How does science inform public policy? (epistemology, philosophy of science) 
  • What makes for good argument? (logic, critical thinking) 

These studies enhance imaginative, interpretive, analytical, critical, and communicative capacities. Majors acquire intellectual abilities crucial for self-fulfillment, responsible participation in public life, and success in a wide range of careers—including law, business, education, journalism, medicine, and public service.

Potential Careers

Students in the Philosophy major may choose to pursue one of several areas of concentration, including the history of philosophy, humanities and arts, natural sciences and mathematics, social sciences, professional studies, or justice, law and values. Each option is designed to prepare students to reach career or educational goals in its associated field. Philosophy students learn the kinds of critical, interpretive, analytical, and argumentative skills highly prized by employers in a wide variety of fields, including:

  • Publishing
  • Non-profit work
  • Consulting
  • Information technology
  • Law
  • Business
  • Teaching and higher education
  • Journalism
  • Medicine
  • Public and government service

Opportunities for Graduate Studies

Philosophy students score consistently higher than other majors on LSAT, MCAT, and GMAT exams. The study of philosophy provides students with an outstanding preparation for law school, medical school, and other advanced professional degrees. For those students interested in pursuing graduate work in philosophy or related academic fields, our department has a strong record of placing its graduates into funded doctoral and MA programs.

Program Learning Objectives 

A. Learn about major philosophical figures, issues, traditions, methods, and trends. 

1. Explain key texts across the history of philosophy.

2. Analyze concepts associated with philosophy’s major thematic areas, for example reality, truth, goodness, beauty, selfhood, and justice.

3. Trace the historical development of some central philosophical ideas.

B. Understand the relevance of the philosophical ideas and approaches for contemporary life, including in theoretical, scientific, existential, religious, cultural, ethical, social, and political contexts. 

1. Apply philosophical ideas and methods to the study of contemporary issues.

2. Connect philosophical insights to issues related to one’s own life.

3. Appreciate the position of philosophy vis-à-vis other disciplines and forms of creative expression.

C. Develop critical writing, reading, and speaking skills with an eye towards understanding, constructing, and assessing abstract, complex, or controversial philosophical arguments. 

1Analyze philosophical texts through close readings.

2. Evaluate arguments in philosophical sources.

3. Produce written arguments that advance a compelling and explicit position through analysis of textual evidence, cogent reasoning, and appreciation of purpose and context.

D. Acquire an inquisitive disposition toward philosophical questions and a willingness to justify and modify one’s views about those questions through respectful conversation. 
1. Investigate material relevant to abstract questions about central philosophical issues.

2. Convey ideas about abstract issues in conversation with others in both oral and written forms.

3. Listen attentively and respectfully to others’ views and incorporate them into one’s own perspective.