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Undergraduate Program

Overview

Philosophical reflection on fundamental questions about reality, knowledge, and value is an essential element of human culture and of a liberal education. The Department of Philosophy is committed to advancing and transmitting an understanding of these questions and of the history of the heroic struggles to answer them. The Department is also committed to developing the analytical and critical resources required to engage these questions. At the undergraduate level these commitments find expression in a broad spectrum of courses taught by a distinguished, internationally recognized faculty. (Many of these courses satisfy various UNC College of Arts and Sciences distribution requirements.)

Identified as one of the "strongest programs" at UNC by The Fiske Guide to Colleges

Philosophy courses contribute to a wide variety of interdisciplinary programs and curricula in the College of Arts and Sciences. For those students who would like to pursue philosophy more deeply, the Department offers a substantial major in philosophy that serves as an excellent foundation for more specialized training in philosophy or other graduate and professional disciplines, such as law, medicine, business and management. Philosophy may also be usefully taken as a minor or, as is frequently done, as part of a double major.

The Program's Goals

Because the fundamental aim of instruction in philosophy at the introductory level is to encourage reflective and critical habits of mind, the specific content of introductory courses is less important than the ways in which these courses invite students to participate in an enterprise that aims to develop enhanced skill in writing, analysis, and critical argument. Hence, the Department offers a relatively wide range of points of entry into the field, including general surveys of some main problems, historical introductions to major philosophical figures, and a variety of topical courses that focus on specific problems (such as the moral problems of modern medicine). 

The Department also has content-related goals for its majors. Students majoring in philosophy are expected to acquire some knowledge of the significant historical figures in philosophy, such as Plato and Aristotle to Descartes, Hume, and Kant. A course in logic is recommended, since it provides the tools by which complex arguments may be made more accessible to critical understanding and evaluation. Beyond these specific requirements, the Department expects majors to choose from among a wide range of topical and historical courses in which they can not only acquire a broad understanding of the philosophical enterprise, but also focus more deeply on a few of its problems. These courses provide students with a basic understanding of aspects of the current state of the discipline, a grasp of representative philosophical issues and ways of dealing with them, a capacity to apply philosophical methods to intellectual problems, and a sense of how philosophy bears on other disciplines and on human life more generally.

Study of philosophy emphasizes effective and critical reading, writing, and speaking. It cultivates students’ abilities to recognize problems and grasp arguments; to read texts critically; to engage in discussion; and to write papers involving interpretation, argument, and library research. These skills can be developed in courses organized historically, by problems, or by field. They are developed through contact with original sources; opportunities for discussion as well as lectures; and extensive experience in writing. Most philosophy courses require a substantial number of papers as well as examinations. Equally important for adequate instruction is the opportunity for open discussion with peers as well as faculty instructors. Philosophy is, by its nature, a dialogical enterprise, which can be learned only through active participation in the practice. The formal methods used to examine various types of reasoning are part and parcel of it.

After completing the philosophy major, students should have developed skills in formulating questions, reading texts, constructing and evaluating arguments, and discussing ideas. They should have a reasonably extensive knowledge of at least some important philosophical figures, fields, and problems; and they should have engaged in some self-conscious reflection on inquiry itself, its methods, and its role in human life and in society.

The Major

A major in philosophy requires nine philosophy courses, one course in each of three (3) of these four areas:  (a) History of Philosophy, (b) Metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, (c) Philosophy of Science and Logic, and (d) Value Theory.  No more than three (3) of the nine may be courses numbered 199 and below. The specific courses that fall in to these different areas are listed HERE.

The Minor

A minor in philosophy requires five courses - at least one course in each of three (3) of these four areas:  (a) History of Philosophy, (b) Metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, (c) Philosophy of Science and Logic, and (d) Value Theory.  No more than three (3) may be from courses numbered 199 and below. The specific courses that fall in to these different areas are listed HERE.

 The Honors Thesis

Students with a cumulative GPA of 3.2 or higher may be eligible to write an Honors Thesis.  More information about the Honors Thesis can be found HERE.

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