Philosophy

Website with Track Requirements: Department of Philosophy

Advising and Assistance: Prof. Sean Kelly and Emily Ware

The Intellectual Basis: The philosophy track seeks to initiate students into the tradition of philosophical discussion of questions about the mind and to provide them with the skills they need to wrestle with seemingly intractable questions in a disciplined and systematic way. It teaches students how to distinguish closely related notions from each other, how to articulate views clearly, and how to formulate arguments precisely.

Philosophers have long been interested in questions about our relation to and knowledge of the world, including questions about our nature as rational yet biological beings. Questions that have been of central interest include:

  • What is a mind? What is the connection between the mind and the brain? Are our thoughts and experiences just processes taking place in our brains? Or are they different from such processes, but caused, or constituted, or sustained by them?
  • What role do mental states play in the causation, and explanation, of our behavior? If we say that someone opened the window because she wanted fresh air, is this a causal explanation? If so, how does it relate to (presumed) biological or physical explanations of the same behavior?
  • Could computers ever have mental states like we do? Could they have beliefs? Pains? Could they be self-aware? If a robot's external behavior were just like Aristotle's, would that mean it had the same mental states Aristotle had? If not, then how would it have to be like Aristotle to have the same mental states he had?
  • What is consciousness? Is it unique to humans, or do other animals have some form of consciousness?
  • How do mental states represent the world? How can some physical configuration conspire to be about who won the 1918 World Series?
  • To what extent do questions like these need to be answered by purely conceptual methods, and to what extent are they answerable by scientific methods?

Philosophy need not try to answer such questions a priori, nor claim to pre-empt scientific work on them. First and foremost, philosophers seek to clarify the issues (what exactly is representation, anyway?), to deepen our understanding of the available options, and so to enlarge our appreciation of how other, empirical, disciplines might contribute to the ancient struggle with these questions.