Philosophy @ Hanover College

What is philosophy?

Wilfrid Sellars famously encapsulated the discipline of philosophy when he said that "The aim of philosophy, abstractly formulated, is to understand how things in the broadest possible sense of the term hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term." What this suggests is that there is no special subject matter to which philosophy is limited. Nothing is sacred, as this short list of philosophical questions implies:
  • Is there a God? Or is there anything that gives life a pre-established meaning or purpose? How can we know?
  • What are we doing when we make moral judgments (this or that is morally wrong), and does any kind of objectivity attach to them?
  • What's the relation between a scientific description of ourselves and the world and our ordinary experiences of these? Can they be reconciled? Is one superior?
Philosophy is the enterprise of examining answers to these and other questions in a way that is both critical (concerned with the reasons for and against them) and reflective (concerned with how they relate to other important ideas and questions). It is in this critical reflection -- as much as in its all-encompassing subject matter -- that philosophy is distinguished from other disciplines, such as theology or the sciences.

Last Modified: 18 August 2011
Page Author: Jared Bates