Philosophy, University of Otago  

About Philosophy


"Wisdom begins in wonder." - Socrates

Philosophy asks questions: about the nature of the world, our place in it, moral standards, methods of reasoning, minds, language, and more.

Philosophy is the systematic attempt to answer questions like these, rigorously and analytically. Some main fields are:

  • Metaphysics - what exists? how is reality structured and organized?
  • Epistemology - what do we know, and how do we know that we know it?
  • Ethics - what is right? what is good? what should we do?
  • Logic - what is valid reasoning?

    Is there really an external world, or could our experience be just 'virtual'? Could we ever know? If so, how? What exactly is a person? Do persons have to be humans? What is the relation between mind and body? Can we know what is in the minds of others, or even if they have minds? What is justice? Is there a single set of correct moral standards? If so, what is it? Or, if there are multiple acceptable moralities, where do they come from, and how do we decide which to adopt? What exactly is science? Is it infallible? How should scientific theories affect our lives? What is truth? Meaning? Is there any meaning to life? If so, what might it be? What is a good life?

    Where am I? How do I know? And what should I do about it?




No philosophical question has one answer agreed on by all, but this does not mean that in philosophy anything goes. There are some very good answers as well as some very bad ones, and many in between. Philosophers justify their views with careful arguments, rather than relying on gut feeling or popular opinions. Philosophers have asked these questions for a very long time, across the world's cultures. The study of philosophy involves not only individual speculative thought but also careful consideration of the many previous attempts.

You may find that philosophy is where some of the unusual questions you have thought about your whole life are being taken seriously, explored and addressed. Studying philosophy gives you a unique opportunity to apply your mind and satisfy your intellectual curiosity about the Big Questions.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of studying philosophy is the satisfaction that comes from understanding, from thinking clearly on fundamental issues. This makes the study of philosophy its own reward.

Philosophy provides knowledge of our intellectual heritage, and of major issues concerning the nature of ourselves and the world. Studying philosophy will help you to develop your powers of constructive, creative and critical reasoning. It will also help you to express yourself more clearly, and give you the ability to address complex and difficult problems. Plus, the skills and knowledge you will gain from studying philosophy will help you to be a better student in other subjects. And your skills and knowledge will be directly relevant to almost every walk of intellectual and practical life.

For further information about the discipline of philosophy and the papers currently available at Otago please click here.