College of Liberal Arts & Sciences
Philosophy and Religion

Philosophy and the Liberal Arts

The faculty of Butler's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (LAS) has adopted a statement of Core Values that describes the key abilities, values and types of knowledge that we seek to develop in graduates of our college. The goals expressed in that statement are far reaching, but a philosophical education at Butler contributes to the achievement of many of them.

As the Core Values statement suggests, "a liberal arts education begins with the skills of language and thought." In philosophy, these skills are developed through the study and application of logic. Logic is the study of argument and inference - of properly drawing conclusions from premises. Logic is the tool by which we transform our experience into knowledge. Logic provides us a reasonable basis for our judgments and actions. Logic is pursued as a formal sub-discipline of philosophy in a course that is required of all majors, but in truth, however, logic is taught in every philosophy course, since all philosophy courses teach students (in the words of the LAS values statement) " to set out a case or hypothesis or argument" and "to evaluate the rigor of others' arguments." More generally, because of their attention to close reading, analytical writing and reasoned discussion, all philosophy courses cultivate the communications skills that characterize the liberally educated persons.

According to the Core Values statement, "Liberal arts education is pluralistic. It is composed of many voices, each appropriate to time and place, some discordant, none absolute." Philosophical study truly embodies this feature of liberal education. Students study the history of philosophy in order to hear how trenchant thinkers of different generations can engage questions of truth and value from such a bewildering variety of perspectives. When students study contemporary philosophical debates, instructors push them to engage thoughtfully, openly and critically with philosophers with very different views.

The Core Values statement tells us that the skills characteristic of a liberally educated person should be pursued not just for their own sake, but "also as a preparation for the pursuit of knowledge and the other purposes of human life." In philosophy courses, students use their skills of thought and language to pursue the most perennially challenging questions of which human beings have conceived- questions about the nature and possibility of knowledge, the origins and character of the natural and social world, the nature of mind and its relation to the world it perceives, and the existence and nature of the divine. And as important as these questions are, philosophy recognizes that ultimately it cannot limit itself to questions about what we and the world we inhabit are like. Ultimately philosophy should help us answer questions about value. What makes acts right? What makes people and things beautiful? How should we structure our lives, our communities and our governments? What gives our life meaning? And while the pursuit of these questions is of value in itself, we believe that disciplined philosophical reflection on these topics is most important because it can, in the words of the Core Values statement, "teach us to think for ourselves, to act wisely and well in the world, [and] to undertake occupations useful to ourselves and others."