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.


The first quote 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 quote 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, analysing, criticising, and constructing cogent arguments;
  • Describing, analysing, and criticising 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 almost goes without saying that the skills you develop in studying philosophy are of use in most disciplines in the academy. Studying philosophy will strengthen your reading, writing, and reasoning skills.

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