Study in philosophy is an essential component of a liberal arts education, as it develops skills essential to all intellectual pursuits. This interdisciplinary program encourages students to ask the “big questions” and helps them become critical and careful thinkers with the ability to analyze and address the hard questions.

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Philosophy is notoriously hard to characterize concisely, but many philosophical questions focus on the most general or fundamental features of the world, of human life, and of the ways we think about them.

Such questions may include the scope and limits of human knowledge; the nature of the mind and its relationship to the physical world; whether or not we have freedom of the will; what it is for something to be beautiful; the nature of morality; what it is for one thing to cause another; whether or not there is a scientific method; how words come to have meanings; whether or not mathematical objects exist; what it is to explain something; the nature of truth; what is to be a person; what sorts of political institutions we ought to adopt; the nature of time and space; what makes something a work of art… all of these are central philosophical topics and there are many more.

In studying philosophy, you will have the opportunity to grapple with these questions yourself, and to think about what others have thought about them—both the philosophers who are working on these questions today, and those who have shaped the history of philosophy.

You will learn to think carefully, critically, and with clarity; to take a methodical approach to answering philosophical questions; to develop reasoned arguments of your own, and to evaluate the arguments of others.

Study in philosophy is thus an essential component of a liberal arts education, as it develops skills essential to all intellectual pursuits.

A major in philosophy is appropriate for the student who

  • likes to consider the “big questions;”
  • enjoys thinking abstractly;
  • appreciates careful and rigorous argumentation; 

and who

  • plans graduate study and teaching in the field;
  • intends to go to law school;
  • seeks preparation for work in government, business, social service, journalism, or any other field in which critical thinking is valued; or
  • wants to approach a liberal arts education through concentrated study of philosophy.

The philosophy major combines easily with other majors. Philosophy courses fulfill requirements for the law and society major, the Classics major, and the cognitive sciences concentration. Indeed, there are significant intellectual connections between philosophy and a wide range of other disciplines, as a perusal of our course descriptions makes clear—art history, physics, cinema studies, politics, neuroscience, and many more besides.

Oberlin has a long history of producing some of the finest academic philosophers in the country. Graduates of our program enter some of the country’s best graduate schools, including MIT, Cornell, Stanford, Yale, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Michigan.

Others have pursued graduate study in such fields as environmental studies, computer science, religious studies, and law.

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