Frequently Asked Questions about the Philosophy Department

What is Philosophy and Why is it Valuable?

Our Department is committed to an understanding of philosophy as a reflective, critical, and practical exercise. Philosophy is often characterized as purely theoretical, purely speculative – having no practical relevance. We contend that this view is a serious mischaracterization of philosophical study. Instead, we understand philosophical study as a kind of activity, a kind of doing. Moreover, we believe this activity is practical in the most important sense:  as an activity that facilitates the development and growth of crucial intellectual skills. These skills include the ability to comprehend difficult readings, the ability to follow and assess the soundness of arguments, and the ability to formulate and to present clearly both creative criticisms as well as creative solutions to philosophical puzzles – puzzles that often require students to wrestle with ambiguity and think from different perspectives and points of view.

Through the study and practice of philosophy, students develop their analytical and critical reading and reasoning skills, their research skills, and their writing and oral communication skills. These skills are always already practical. In any field of inquiry or profession, you will have to problem solve, think critically, assess arguments or strategies, communicate clearly, spot unspoken assumptions, evaluate ideas or positions, etc. Since we encourage the development and growth of the skills that are essential to doing any of these things well, philosophical study is inherently practical.

Philosophical study at Millikin emphasizes how to think well, not what to think. Our students are provided with the opportunity to learn how to think well by examining topics and issues central to the human condition. For example, does God (or gods) exist? Is there good reason to believe in the existence of God (gods)? If God (gods) exists, how is that fact consistent with the existence of evil in the world? Do human beings possess free will? Is human behavior and action causally determined? What implications, if any, are there for moral responsibility if human behavior is causally determined? What justification is there for the state? How should finite and scare resources be distributed within society? What does it mean to judge a work of art beautiful? What does it mean to judge a course of action morally right (or morally wrong)? These questions and others like them are not only central to the human condition, they are also among the most important and interesting questions to consider. If you find these questions interesting and want to develop your critical thinking skills through consideration of them, you should consider taking a philosophy class…or more than one!

The philosophy program at Millikin is vibrant and strong, while not being too large. At any given time, we typically have around 25-30 students pursuing a major or minor in philosophy. Our size permits our faculty to work extensively with our students and provides many opportunities for individualized growth and mentoring. In addition, because we only require 30 credits to complete the major, many of our students are able to double major or pursue minors in other fields of study. Indeed, we encourage our students to pursue a broad liberal arts education.

We have designed our curriculum to provide students with various options – or “tracks” – by which to complete the major. The traditional philosophy track ensures students are exposed to the core areas of philosophy: metaphysics and epistemology, logic, ethics, and the history of philosophy. This track prepares those students intending to pursue graduate study in philosophy. The pre-law track emphasizes courses that are helpful in preparing students for law school and the practice of law. Finally, the ethics track emphasizes normative reasoning in the context of ethical theory, applied ethics (e.g., bioethics, environmental ethics, etc.) and political philosophy. We have worked to fit our curriculum to the needs and interests of our students.

What do I do with a philosophy major?

These are, by far, the most frequently asked questions students have about majoring in philosophy. The answer: Start with the fact that philosophy has always been at the heart of a college education. Follow up with the fact that philosophy courses feature some of the most exciting, interesting, and accessible professors and students at Millikin. Then consider the kinds of fascinating questions with which philosophy grapples.
  • Who am I? How can I know? What should I do?
  • Does God exist? If God exists, how is that fact consistent with the existence of evil in the world?
  • Do human beings possess free will? Or is human behavior and action causally determined?
  • What is the relation between mental states (mind, consciousness) and brain states (body)?
  • What justification is there for the state? How should finite and scare resources be distributed within society?
  • Are there universal moral principles? Or are all moral principles relative either to cultures or individuals?
  • What does it mean to judge a work of art beautiful? Is beauty really in the eye of the beholder?
  • What is happiness? Can we hope to attain it? Can bad people be happy??
  • Since I sometimes see and hear things incorrectly, how do I know that my perceptions are ever correct? Might they always be wrong??
  • How do we balance our desires, needs, and rights against those of other individuals? against those of future generations? children? animals??
  • Do people the world over think the same way about basic issues, or are there fundamental differences between cultures regarding these things? And if there are, must we respect those differences? (Think of cannibalism)

There are numerous resources on the web that speak to questions like “Why study philosophy?” and “What can I do with a philosophy major?” Simply go to a search engine (e.g., Google) and enter a query like “Why philosophy” or “What to do with philosophy major.” We have collected representative answers in the following document “Why Philosophy?”

What have previous majors gone on to do?

Visit our Professional Success page to learn more.

What are philosophy courses like?

Students in philosophy courses learn to think critically. Both members of the Philosophy Department have been recognized as outstanding teachers. Students respond to their Philosophy education for three key reasons: (1) Philosophy faculty are passionate about the subject matter that they teach, and that passion is contagious; (2) Philosophy faculty are rigorous in their expectations, and establish high expectations for their students, encouraging the students to have high expectations for themselves; and (3) Philosophy faculty employ an intense, discussion-driven format in which students are engaged, challenged on many of their core beliefs and assumptions, and encouraged to take charge of their own education and their own thinking.

The key experiences in the Philosophy curriculum, along with encounters with challenging texts, include intensive engagement with Philosophy professors, engagement with fellow students, reflection and digestion of ideas, and presentation of the students’ own ideas in written form. The overall learning experience in the Philosophy major, then, is one of intellectual engagement (with a great deal of one-on-one engagement outside of class as well), in which students are challenged to think critically about core beliefs and assumptions, and are expected to be able to present critical and creative ideas regarding those core beliefs and assumptions in oral and, especially, written form.

Is it possible to major in philosophy and another discipline?

Yes. The philosophy major requires 30 credits. This leaves ample room for students to explore other subjects and disciplines. The inherent practical value of philosophical activity makes philosophy not only an excellent choice as a major, but also an excellent complimentary (second) major. In fact, many of our students are double-majors with English, history, psychology, computer science, theater, political science, etc. Our double majors have discovered that doing philosophy is not only intrinsically rewarding; it also helps them do their work in their other majors better.

How else, besides the classroom, can I get involved in the philosophy department?

Info coming soon!

Who is my advisor in the Department?

Once you declare a major in philosophy, you will be assigned a faculty advisor from within the Department. The Department tries to accommodate student preferences, if possible.

How do I become a philosophy major?

You need to pick up and complete a “Declaration of Major/Change of Major” form. You may pick one up from the office of the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, located in Shilling Hall, room 209.

What are the requirements for the philosophy major or philosophy minor?

Refer to our Areas of Study for overview of the requirements for the major and the minor.