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What is Philosophy?

Philosophy is the art of wondering.

At the core of our experience as human beings are the questions we raise as we seek to understand our lives—as parts of the natural world but also as members of a moral community. For human beings do not simply live: We aspire to lead lives that have meaning.

Like other humanities disciplines, philosophy explores sources of meaning, including our ability to know the cosmos, our relationships with other people, and the values we espouse (to name a few). What is distinctive about philosophy is its effort to pursue these issues through the human capacity to reason: philosophical exploration involves rigorous arguments, which analyze and seek to justify beliefs. Thus, philosophy is a kind of self-examination in which you discover what you think and then reflect on whether your opinions are really worth holding.

Philosophy classes aim to assist students on their paths of self-examination by presenting a range of ideas and methodologies from Western and non-Western cultures. Students encounter philosophy through its history by reading great thinkers from the past. They also engage with current debates among contemporary scholars. And they also acquire the skills of analyzing, evaluating, and constructing coherent and compelling arguments.

Beyond the classroom the OU Department of Philosophy regularly hosts speakers who give students a view of the richness of current philosophical debates. Some recent topics have been "Why Justice Matters," "Skepticism Aside," "DuBois and Douglass on the Sorrow Songs," "Intellectual Perseverance," and "Wandering in Darkness: Narrative and the Problem of Suffering."

Many students use the philosophy major as a gateway to post-graduate studies in fields such as law, medicine, and theology, as well as in philosophy itself. But our majors have also gone on to a variety of non-academic careers where critical thinking and communication skills, and a knowledge of our intellectual heritage, are valued.

So, what's my degree?

A philosophy student graduates with a Bachelor of Arts degree. A student can then choose to pursue a Master of Arts or Doctor of Philosophy degree.

Many philosophy students continue their education by pursuing graduate-level studies.

Do my interests fit?

Philosophy students typically have interests in:

  • Testing and evaluating ideas
  • Wondering about the "big questions" in life
  • Figuring out what assumptions underlie a point of view
  • Exploring general curiousity 
  • Seeking deeper understanding of specific topics

How can OU Philosophy help me?

Ideally, studying philosophy will help you deepen your reflection on your own life—helping you come to a greater awareness of how you see the world and the structure of your own values. As a department we seek to cultivate our students’ intellectual growth by fostering the interpretive, critical, analytic, and communicative skills necessary to personal, intellectual, and civic development, cultural literacy, and lifelong learning. We aspire to be a supportive community, which encourages students to integrate their learning; inside the classroom and in casual interactions in the lounge, we hope to help you draw connections among the diverse theories and traditions you are exposed to in all your courses and other experiences.

But we will also encourage you to sharpen your critical thinking and communication skills; we focus especially on helping students become clear writers. We will help you develop practical, marketable capabilities that can lead to success after college in many ways. Philosophy students’ abilities as critical thinkers and clear writers helps explain why they are among the top scorers on standardized exams for graduate school (like the LSAT, GMAT, and GRE). And they help philosophy graduates find careers in law, business, management, and the high-tech economy generally.

What courses will I take?

The philosophy majors gain a solid core in the history of philosophy (Western and Chinese, reflecting the expertise of our faculty) and symbolic logic, and also fulfill a distribution requirement by taking at least one course in each of three broad areas:

  • Ethics and Values (courses that examine our moral lives and also how we understand art)
  • Knowledge and Reality (courses that examine the ultimate nature of the universe, how we are able to know it, and how religions have approached these issues)
  • Philosophy in Society (courses that use philosophy to think about crucial social questions concerning gender, race, the environment, and business, among other topics)

In addition, majors receive specialized training in writing for philosophy in a writing workshop which assists them with the papers for one of their courses.

The range of courses we offer allows students to pursue their own personal interests in the field; they have the opportunity to develop their own views in the Senior Capstone, taken at the end of the major.

How can I get involved?

The Philosophy Department welcomes undergraduates to join our community by attending talks and social events and just by relaxing and joining in the conversations in our lounge.

In addition, the Society of Undergraduate Philosophers (SOUP) is an organization of undergraduate students interested in philosophy. SOUP meetings involve discussions of philosophical topics, talks by faculty members, viewings of philosophically themed movies, and other philosophy-related activities. Meeting schedules are arranged at the beginning of each school year.

Wait, I can have a minor?

Philosophy minors allow students to get a robust taste for the field of philosophy. They take one course from each of the three broad areas mentioned above and nine additional hours. (A total of nine hours must be upper division).  

How can I study abroad?

OU has numerous study abroad opportunities for students of all majors. Whether you want to take electives, lower-division courses, or major requirements, be sure to check out what education abroad opportunities are available to you through the College of International Studies. 

What kind of career could I pursue?

Consulting firms
Not-for-profit social service agencies
Software development

Knowledge management
Financial industry
Government agencies
Religious institutions
Colleges and universities 

How much will I make?

Visit the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ website to explore the median pay for jobs you can pursue with this degree. 

Contact Us

Department of Philosophy
Phone: (405) 325-6324