discussion in a philosophy class


First philosophy

Most students come to the University confident that there are truths to be uncovered in mathematics and by broadly empirical disciplines, including history and the sciences. But many students also come to university skeptical that there are any truths about the world to be discovered by reason which go beyond the scope of these disciplines. This leaves questions about the existence and nature of God, ethics, the nature and destiny of human persons, the scope of knowledge, and the existence of freedom of the will—among many others—in the realm of “opinion,” and hence outside the scope of serious intellectual inquiry.

Catholicism has always had a more optimistic view of human reason, and hence has always endorsed the value of philosophy, which is the discipline which attempts to bring reason to bear on questions, like the ones just listed, which go beyond the resources of empirical disciplines. No Catholic education can be complete without the study of philosophy.

Second philosophy

The core curriculum gives students the choice of pursuing a second course in philosophy or taking a “Catholicism and the disciplines” course. The following gives the rationale for pursuing a second philosophy course.

Because almost no students have had any exposure to philosophy prior to coming to the University, a first course in philosophy will typically cover many different philosophical topics rather than focusing on one or two. A second course in philosophy gives students a chance to explore philosophical issues which may have been raised in their first philosophy course in more depth. These issues may be connected to the student’s chosen course of study or the student’s interests. So, for example, a student majoring in physics might take a second course in the Philosophy of Science; a student particularly interested in religious or ethical questions might take a second course in the Philosophy of Religion or one focusing on a cluster of applied ethical questions.

Learning Goals

As the foregoing suggests, the central learning goal for philosophy courses in the core is:

  • the ability to use reason to uncover truths that are beyond the scope of empirical disciplines and mathematics.

This is understood as involving the following obligatory learning goals:

  • the ability to examine the preconceptions built into ordinary thought and scientific thought and to uncover the significant philosophical questions behind these preconceptions;
  • the ability (via reason) to argue for (and against) central ideas of Christianity and to respond to intellectual challenges to Christianity;
  • confidence in the possibility that positions can be rationally adjudicated;
  • acquaintance with basic concepts in logic in order to identify, construct, and assess arguments;
  • recognizing the value of exploring philosophy as an end in itself and/or the usefulness of asking philosophical questions and making philosophical distinctions in a wide array of scholarly and other contexts.

All first courses in philosophy will include study of central thinkers in the history of philosophy. Almost all will include central Christian and Catholic thinkers as well as ancient philosophers who had a profound influence on Christianity. In addition, all or almost all first courses in philosophy will include substantial engagement with ethical questions and the objectivity of moral facts.

A second course in philosophy will also be directed to the learning goals just outlined for a first course in philosophy and will in addition have the following learning goal:

  • in-depth exploration of a cluster of philosophical questions which are either of relevance to the student’s chosen course of study or of particular interest to the student.


It should be evident from the syllabus of a course satisfying the philosophy component of the core that it is designed to meet the learning goals just stated. This should not just be a matter of including readings drawn from the history of philosophy, but also a matter of including assignments which challenge students to think for themselves and form their own views—informed both by logic and by the arguments of past philosophers—on philosophical questions of enduring significance.