Philosophy: An Introduction

Philosophy is a new subject to all students entering university, and the courses offered in it will, of course, take account of this fact.  It should not be regarded as particularly exotic or difficult; in fact, it has always been an important part of the higher education curriculum in Europe and everybody who has asked him- or herself the “big questions” is philosophizing. But, most importantly, philosophy is about thinking.

What is Philosophy: The Task of Thinking 

The word philosophy means love of wisdom, i.e. it challenges us to examine ideas, beliefs etc. and to see whether they are truthful or not, whether they present us with a picture of the world as it really is. Philosophy is different from all other subjects you will learn because it teaches you how to think, in fact how to think in a thoughtful way. And all of us think! Thus, philosophy is not, as is generally perceived, something which is purely abstract; rather it is reflection upon the lived experience, the world in which we live, our surroundings, our society, ourselves and the people we come into contact with. And it seems that reflection, or a critical distance from direct experience is what makes us human and distinguishes us from every other living creature on the planet; we reflect upon our experience; we learn lessons; we make plans; we organise our lives in terms of projects, hopes, aspirations, beliefs. We all have her own ideas about the world in which we live; some of which we have received from our families, friends, the community in which we live; some have come from a reading, many have come from watching television and the Internet.
We currently live in a society which has begun to question everything, especially the views which we have inherited from the past. Philosophy requires us to always reflect upon what we hold to be the case and to ask ourselves are there good reasons for this or again when something is presented to me in the media, I should ask myself why am I agreeing with this (or not agreeing). You will learn to separate what you can continue to believe in with confidence from what you should consider as doubtful, or what you should reject. In return the discipline of clear thinking allows us to defend what we do believe in to others; it enables us to challenge others when their own thinking maybe unclear or clouded by prejudice. Finally, philosophy helps us to put our lives into perspective by letting us see afresh how we look at the world, questioning assumptions, and allowing us to defend in a critical way what we to think and believe. In asking us to critically examine our own ideas and to weed out of our own prejudices and inconsistencies, philosophy should give us respect for the ideas of others, and to appreciate the different ways in which other people look at the world. Love of wisdom thus means to tolerant, open, critical, appreciative of the truth wherever it may be found. 

Why Study Philosophy in Maynooth University

The Department of Philosophy is the oldest Department in the University, dating back to June 1795 with the appointment of its first professor. The first two professors, Darre and Anglade, were former professors at the Sorbonne and were refugees from the French Revolution. They brought with them to Maynooth the pre-revolutionary philosophical traditions of the University of Paris, namely classical and scholastic philosophy together with an engagement with contemporary European thought. These are traditions which we cherish to the present day and are reflected in our teaching and in the research carried out in the Department. 

The Department of Philosophy in Maynooth University offers a unique philosophical perspective in that we are one of the few departments today where the rich and influential tradition of Medieval Western philosophy and Renaissance philosophy as well as post-Kantian philosophy of religion and twentieth-century phenomenology is taught and studied. This is reflected today in the academic interests of staff members, both of the recent past and present. In the currently taught curriculum all philosophical traditions and their history are present,  including: Ancient Greek, Medieval-Scholastic, Renaissance, Modern, Analytic and Contemporary Continental Phenomenological approaches. With research expertise covering the 2,500 year old life span of philosophy as a subject, the six full time staff members at Maynooth University Department of Philosophy are thus in a position to provide research supervision in these areas and can ensure a training in the continuous history of the philosophical tradition in the West. 

Also, as an academic subject philosophy is changing rapidly and is no longer confined within the Arts and Humanities department, as can be seen in the evolution of new Maynooth University undergraduate programmes, such as the new B.A. in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) degree (degree programme designed particularly for those who wish to study social, moral, political and economic issues in society today, with the benefit of learning the philosophical theories underpinning those ideas and issues from Plato to the present) and the BSc in Computational Thinking – which links Computer Science, Mathematics and Philosophy. This course was in fact borne out of an approach by software giants Intel, who actively called for the addition of philosophy modules to computer science courses so that students might improve their communication, critical, and analytical skills.

Philosophy and You Career:

Philosophy is not a qualification to do a particular job; rather it is a valuable component of general education. The expertise gained in Philosophy is of great value in many different careers. Philosophy is a good preparation for an academic career, for journalism, law, radio and television and the media in general, for politics and increasingly philosophy graduates are being hired by large corporations. Philosophy graduates are valued for their quick intelligence, their ability to reason clearly and independently and their ability to take an overview on the problem or situation confronting them.