Philosophic study means the habit of always seeing an alternative, of not taking the usual for granted, of making conventionalities fluid again, of imagining foreign states of mind.
William James
It is not enough to have a good mind. The main thing is to use it well.
Descartes

The first quotation already gives us a good idea of what characterizes philosophy as a discipline. It demands that we do not overlook or hold back any questions, but that we always consider the possible alternatives. But this does not yet tell us anything about the designated subject matter of philosophy. Traditionally such definitions are not very helpful to the uninitiated. They say something like this: ‘Philosophy is the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence, especially when considered as an academic discipline.’ - Oxford Dictionary. 

It may be more helpful to describe philosophy as the one discipline that does not look at the world through a discipline, such as adopting a biological or political worldview, but instead it looks at the disciplines we use to understand the world. In this sense philosophy concerns all disciplines. It stands to reason that this takes practice and hence we understand the second quotation by Descartes as encouraging us to study philosophy. Along the way our students acquire a thorough understanding of the various philosophical traditions and a strong set of skills, such as

  • understanding, analyzing, criticizing, and constructing cogent arguments.
  • describing, analyzing, and criticizing complex and abstract problems in philosophy and beyond.
  • reading, writing, and speaking effectively on philosophical issues and beyond.
  • applying philosophical analysis and argumentation to reflect on other fields of study.
  • independently undertaking a substantial piece of research, culminating in a research paper.
  • demonstrating a solid understanding of the basic concepts of formal logic.

It is certainly the case that within professional philosophy there are many detailed and technical debates, the fine points of which will often elude the casual observer. In this sense philosophy is like most other academic disciplines: highly specialized. But philosophy does distinguish itself from most other disciplines in that there is a philosophy of everything. There is philosophy of biology, of language, of mind, of literature, of mathematics, of science, of logic, of religion, of law, of psychology, and ethics in all its guises and social philosophy and political philosophy, to name but a selection. It is exactly because of this remarkable connectedness of philosophy to all other disciplines that it is so well suited to the LAS student. Philosophy allows a student of multiple disciplines to step back from the specialized work within those disciplines and contemplate the place and role of these disciplines in the larger academic and worldly context. It allows the student to look at the disciplines, rather than merely through them.

In addition to this general intellectual use for philosophy, a second reason to study the discipline is that it teaches many practical skills: critical reading and writing, general analytical and reasoning skills, to name a few. Many of these skills are eminently transferable to other academic or professional disciplines (think of law, medical ethics, or politics, but also advertising and consultancy).

If a student is interested in philosophy of mind:
neuroscience, psychology, biology, linguistics.

If a student is interested in philosophy of language:
languages, linguistics, neuroscience, literature, mathematics, anthropology, classics.

If a student is interested in political and or legal philosophy:
politics, law, history, religion, sociology, geography, psychology, economics, classics.

If a student is interested in philosophy of science:
mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, history, sociology.

If a student is interested in aesthetics:
art history, performing arts, literature, anthropology, classics.

If a student is interested in ethics:
possibly all the pre-med courses (life sciences), neuroscience, religion, politics, history, classics.

If a student is interested in the history of philosophy:
history, literature, classics, anthropology, languages, politics.

If a student is interested in epistemology and metaphysics:
physics, mathematics, neuroscience, biology, linguistics, logic.

If a student is interested in philosophy of logic:
logic, mathematics, linguistics, physics, languages, literature.

If a student is interested in philosophical anthropology:
anthropology, sociology, religious studies, classics, literature, history, politics.

NB: This is just a list of suggestions. Any and all combinations of the different interests in philosophy can work and will usually lead to an almost endless list of possible supporting disciplines.

HUMPHI11 and HUMPHI12 lead to all level 2 philosophy courses. It is important to note that the HUMPHI11 is the cornerstone of the philosophy track. Without it, students may find the level 2 courses too difficult. Note also that the HUMREL11 (Religion) does not give access to the HUMPHI21 and the HUMPHI23, but only to the HUMREL24. This then also means that the HUMREL24 does not give automatic access to the HUMPHI33/34/35. Note that the HUMPHI25 and th HUMREL24 are offered in alternating years.
As the levels of our students vary considerably, it may be that a student can do without the HUMPHI11, or without the 21 or the 23 in order to enter the 3X courses. here, permission can be asked from the instructors.

The HUMPHI12 is a course that deals more with non-western philosophy. It gives access to the 21, 25 and 23, but for students without background it is highly recommended that they read selections from the textbook of the HUMPHI11 as preparation. This will never be much, as the PHI12 already contains many of these texts too.

the SCIHIS11 deals with the history and philosophy of science, and although it has a ‘history code’ it really be longs in between history, science and philosophy. It is a good course to take for adding context to philosophy and science.

The ideal philosophy track is HUMPHI11 followed by HUMPHI21, HUMPHI23 and HUMPHI3/4/5/6.
The HUMPHI21 gives an in depth overview of the history of epistemology (theory of knowledge) and metaphysics. The HUMPHI23 deals with the 20th century divide between analytic and continental philosophy, mostly in the context of language, mind, philosophy of science and truth (theoretical philosophy). The HUMREL24 is our ethics course, it is shared with the religion track and represents the practical aspect of the track at the level 2 together with the HUMPHI25 course on philosophical anthropology. 

After the level 2 courses there are four level 3 courses senior seminars: the HUMPHI33, 34, 35 and 36.
It is advisable to take at least two level 3 courses. The seminar changes topic every time it is taught. This allows our students to take it four times (hence the quadruple code) and take full advantage of the limited offerings at UCU. The seminar will always deal with a theme or author in much more depth than the level 2 courses. The seminars have loosely been organized to reflect the system of the complete track: Historical, Theoretical and Practical philosophy. The seminars will often contain one or more of these concentrations within philosophy. So, if there is a seminar on Kant, it is historical, but also theoretical (given the nature of the texts), and if Kant’s ethics is read, then it is also practical in nature. Past topics in the seminar have included: Spinoza, Post modernism and its critics, Wittgenstein, Rorty, recognition (Honneth), Eastern and Western metaphysics, the philosophy of Donald Davidson, Aristotle (2014-2).

Scheduling

The program is flexible, but it is ideal to take the HUMPHI11 or the HUMPHI12 in the first year, the HUMPHI21 in the Fall of the second year and the HUMPHI23 in the Spring (or start then with a level 3). For those students who plan to continue in Philosophy, we recommend that they take the HUMPHI11 and/or the HUMPHI12 as basic, maybe even complemented with the SSCPOL11 Political Theory course.

Naturally we intend to prepare our students so that they can enter an MA program. There are two considerations here. The first one is getting the student in, and the second one is making sure that the student is equipped to perform well in the program. In part these two considerations overlap.

Getting in

MA programs will generally publish their requirements. Many schools will ask for about 60 ECTS in Philosophy or very closely related disciplines. A normal UCU curriculum in philosophy tends to consist of a full track (e.g.: HUMPHI11 (or PHI12), HUMPHI21, HUMPHI33) and some extra courses at level 2 and 3 (e.g.: HUMPHI23, HUMPHI34). In addition it is of course recommended that the student write his/her thesis in Philosophy too (HUMRES32). Together this amounts to 52,5 ECTS. Although always a good idea, it is not necessary to complete the ECTS requirements by taking one more straight philosophy course. Related courses will do very well too. So now the student can choose to take courses like SSCPOL11 (Political Theory), HUMREL23 (Religion in the Public Domain) or SCIHIS11 (History and Philosophy of Science).

Performing well

Although the requirements for entry vary between schools, in the past the above selection of courses in philosophy has allowed our students to be very successful, especially in taught programs. We have recommended the taught, one year MA programs rather than the research masters, because the liberal arts curriculum at UCU limits the number of taught courses in philosophy in comparison to straight philosophy programs in, for example, the UK and the Netherlands. But our students also do very well in two year research masters with one taught year. In the past students have entered King’s College London, LSE, Durham, Warwick, UvA, Leiden, Utrecht, New School, Sussex, Edinburgh, Nijmegen, Erasmus, Chicago, Gottingen, SOAS, Hertfordshire, St. Andrews, Oxford etc.
Having said this, a liberal arts curriculum provides an ideal basis for further study in philosophy. This is not, of course, merely the result of the philosophy courses, but rather of the varied disciplines that students can study
at UCU. Philosophy is just the kind of discipline that ‘feeds’ on other subjects. There is, some say, a philosophy of everything. In this sense the disciplines that are useful to a philosophy student are endless. But, there are some fields that suit the discipline particularly well. You can find a short overview earlier on this page.

UCSCHIHIS11: History and Philosophy of Science:
A chronological overview of the history and philosophy of science from the ancient world to the 21st century.

UCHUMPHI11: Introduction to Philosophy
A general introduction to Western philosophy, from Plato and Aristotle to Nietzsche and Frege. All major themes (epistemology, metaphysics, ethics) and sub-themes are discussed.

UCHUMPHI12: World Philosophies
An introduction to philosophy with an emphasis on the comparison between Western and non-Western thought.

UCHUMPHI21: Metaphysics and Epistemology: Plato to Peirce
A historical, systematic survey of two main branches of philosophy: metaphysics and epistemology.

UCHUMPHI23: 20th Century Theoretical Philosophy
Reading texts across the divide of analytic and continental philosophy in the 20th century.

UCHUMPHI25: Philosophical Views on Humans and Gods (alternates with UCHUMREL24)
Philosophical anthropology. Is there a uniquely human nature? An East/West comparative perspective.

UCHUMREL24: Ethics and Religion (alternates with UCHUMPHI25)
Ethical theory and religious views on ethics and moral problems. 

UCHUMPHI33: Senior Seminar in Philosophy I
In depth investigations of thinkers, themes and issues in philosophy. Topics change every semester.

UCHUMPHI34: Senior Seminar in Philosophy II
Idem.

UCHUMPHI35: Senior Seminar in Philosophy III
Idem.

UCHUMPHI36: Senior Seminar in Philosophy IV
Idem.

Level Fall Spring Summer
1 HUMPHI11: Introduction to Philosophy HUMPHI11: Introduction to Philosophy  
HUMPHI12: World Philosophies SCIHIS11: History and Philosophy of ScienceX  
2* HUMPHI21: Metaphysics and Epistemology: Plato to Peirce HUMPHI23: 20th Century Theoretical Philosophy  
  HUMPHI25: Philosophical Views on Humans and Godsa  
  HUMREL24: Ethics and Religiona  
3 HUMPHI33: Senior Seminar in Philosophy Ia HUMPHI34: Senior Seminar in Philosophy IIa  
HUMPHI35: Senior Seminar in Philosophy IIIa HUMPHI36: Senior Seminar in Philosophy IVa  

x cross-listed
a alternates
* it is adivised to follow Humanities Lab course, or one of the other indicated methods courses

Dr. Floris van der Burg
Fellow Philosophy
Contemporary philosophy of mind and language
Metaphysics
Philosophy of science
Analytic/continental cross-over
Davidson
Rorty
Spinoza.

Prof. dr. Jan van Ophuijsen
Aristotle
Ancient philosophy
History of philosophy
Epistemology and metaphysics

Dr. Francesco Maiolo
Fellow in politics
Social and political philosophy
History of political thought
The classics of British philosophy
Hegelianism
Structuralism
Psychoanalysis
Phenomenology
Hermeneutics.

Dr. Chiara Robbiano
Tutor
Ancient Greek philosophy (Parmenides)
Comparative philosophy (especially ancient Greece and India)

Contact person

Dr. Floris van der Burg is the Philosophy fellow at UCU and has his office in Voltaire–Ff.