Philosophy as a field of study
The genesis of philosophy, 2500 years ago, formed the matrix of all humanities and social sciences. To this day, philosophy is still a key branch of the humanities with a clear interdisciplinary scope aiming at the critical investigation of all the phenomena of human life. We should, however, point out that the academic discipline and field of study we identify nowadays as philosophy should not be confused with the many confusing things that are considered “philosophical” in everyday life or in the media. People who hope, in our days, that they will find a perfect solution in life difficulties by studying philosophy or that they will find the definitive answer to the question of the meaning of life, they are likely to be disappointed, although a disappointment is not a bad thing. Those, however, who want, in our days, to better understand humans and their interaction with the world and are willing to learn how to think systematically, to “read” thoroughly and to think accurately, then for them the study of philosophy opens a world with critical thoughts, exciting perspectives and inexhaustible ideas.
The two main aims of philosophy, which are very often found in Programs of Philosophy around the world, are a theoretical aim and a practical one of an ethical and political nature, or purely applied to current problems of our time. In terms of its theoretical (from the Greek word theory) aim, philosophy explores the scope and limits of human knowledge and critically reflects on the role, function, and limits of the dominant phenomenon within our culture which is science. Philosophy asks, for example, about the basic structures of knowledge, language, culture, or the structures of our world, about the freedom of will, about the relationship between body and spirit or between thought and reality. In terms of its practical (from the ancient Greek term praxis) aim, philosophy reflects on the causes and goals of human action, as well as on the moral and social rules and normative principles. Specific questions concern the moral and political philosophy, the philosophy of law, the philosophy of the state, human rights, democracy or the foundations of economics.
It is indisputable that many philosophical questions, such as those of aesthetics or the philosophy of religion, touch on both aforementioned areas. Finally, an important role is also played in the philosophy of our time by the research and reassessment of the History of Philosophy. Unlike many other scientific fields, the positions of earlier philosophers are rarely simply replaced by those of later thinkers, insofar as they are taken as reference points for the formation of theory and practice in our time. This applies at least to the philosophical juxtaposition with the methods and results of other sciences, such as physics, mathematics, biology, medicine, computer science or even legal science.
For more answers on students questions and queries both on general issues of teaching and research in philosophy as well as on specific issues concerning the Department of Philosophy in the University of Ioannina, you can refer to the members of the Curriculum Committee, who from now on they will also have an advisory role, as well as to the open day in the first week of the academic year, where all the instructors of the Department participate.
The general and specific content of studies in philosophy
Philosophy is sometimes likened to an abstract discussion on the “big questions.” Even if in studies the question is sometimes what one might describe as “the big questions”, the question is not to ascend through eloquence to the Olympus of knowledge, but rather to acquire in small steps the tools to classify and value the “big questions”. This includes, on the one hand, an education in the art of rational argumentation, on the other hand, a guided reading of the main philosophical texts.
The questions posed by philosophy often aim at very general problems. They serve to reflect on possible ways of accessing very different phenomena. In this sense, the canon of philosophical disciplines is open and historically flexible. Philosophy is constantly confronted with this situation. However, in the age of the great idealist systems definitions of philosophy and its subfields were developed that are still valid today. Kant summarised the issues of philosophy in the following questions: “What can I know?” “What should I do?” “What can I hope for?” culminating in the question “What is man?”. However, these questions had already decisively determined the division of philosophy into logic, ethics and metaphysics, a division that goes back to antiquity. But while for ancient philosophy, as well as for alternative traditional divisions, the orientation in specific areas is characteristic, in modern philosophy the methodological aspects take on special importance. Dealing with the classic texts of the history of philosophy and confronting systematic questions (such as epistemology, ethics, or aesthetics) are closely intertwined in philosophy. The fact that a text was written 2500 years ago says little about the timeliness of the results of reading it. Therefore, it is important to acquire the ability during our studies to read and understand philosophical-historical important texts.
It is certain that anyone who immerses himself in the Curriculum of the new Department of Philosophy will immediately notice that the field of philosophy is extremely rich and diverse. At the end of his/her studies in philosophy one will probably recognize the different subjects and fields. It is difficult to know everything from the beginning, the discussions about the individual areas are very specialised to begin with. Obviously, someone will develop a particular interest in one or the other field and specialise. For those seeking specialisation, it is advisable to complete their studies with a master’s degree after completing the first degree.
Furthermore, because of the nature of philosophical studies, a substantial coupling of systematic and historical aspects of philosophy cannot be expected from their inception. Therefore, at the beginning of the studies, elementary knowledge of the interpretation and analysis of texts should be acquired, starting with classical texts from the different periods of the History of Philosophy and its traditional Schools. In a later phase of studies, one should focus on delving into exemplary basic questions of the individual philosophical branches.
At the heart of philosophy studies in all Philosophy Curricula around the world are lectures and seminars. In the lectures, professors and instructors present their own research, give an overview of the History of Philosophy or present in detail today’s current philosophical debates. In the lectures, one is a listener. The forum for students’ own contributions is provided in the seminars, which in each semester pertain to a specific text or topic. The seminars offer space for inspiring discussions, hard-hitting detailed analysis, and sometimes heated debates. The greater part of the study period, however, will probably be devoted to the preparation of the seminars and, consequently, to the thorough reading of the texts, to the construction and reconstruction of the arguments, to their testing and possibly to their criticism. Those who do not enjoy extensive reading and do not like their arguments to be rigorously worded should change their field of study.