In philosophy, as in other fields, research is about finding the truth--but in philosophy, even the concept of truth may be a research topic. Philosophical research may take many forms. Scholarly research can unearth, analyze, and critique earlier philosophical texts. But philosophical research may also address concepts, practices, issues, cases, and received positions in order to clarify thinking and elicit meanings; to explicate ethical issues (along with the appropriate means for addressing them) and make manifest values; to identify logical errors and limits of argument; and to propose original counterexamples, solutions, methods, and paradigms. In short, philosophical research culminates in the making of arguments, the taking of positions on issues.
Many students do research that is informed by their study abroad, service learning, internships, and other “real world” experiences. Philosophers regularly draw from other disciplines—the findings of the social and natural sciences, humanistic study, and works of literature and art—to pursue philosophical questions.
Philosophy is not just a body of knowledge; it is an activity. It requires clear thinking and expression, empathic reading and critical vigor, intellectual imagination and moral sensitivity, and reflection and communication. Structured research is a way of deep engagement in the activity of philosophizing. In a real sense, each student of philosophy becomes a philosopher.
All our 300-level courses require such individual research, culminating in a paper. Senior majors may elect to undertake a Senior Thesis, a full-course research project. These students propose their own thesis topics. Researching and writing under the guidance of a sponsor, thesis students meet with the full philosophy faculty and their peers several times, culminating in both a “closed-door” defense and a public presentation. As with many classes, these students critique each other’s work, helping to hone the results. Abstracts of recent student theses are available on this website.
In addition, the faculty select Mahan Fellows, majors who work with a faculty member on joint research, a special student project, or the faculty member’s current research. Our students may also apply for Mellon Fellowships to support significant summer research projects. We faculty urge students to present their research at undergraduate and professional conferences, to seek national recognitions for their papers, and to submit their research for publication in appropriate journals. We have, for example, had two philosophy majors produce winning essays in the Elie Wiesel Prize in Ethics Essay Contest. Reports of all these forms of student research—and current faculty research—are frequently posted in the News section of this website.