Objectives of Core Courses

February 9, 1996
Revised May 16, 2011

As an expression of its Jesuit, Catholic identity, Georgetown University requires all undergraduate students to complete two courses in philosophy. In fulfilling what it understands to be the goals of this requirement, the Philosophy Department is committed to providing core courses that

  • offer effective introductions to the discipline of philosophy, including the philosophical study of ethics;
  • enhance students’ ability to enter imaginatively into rival viewpoints and diverse perspectives; and
  • strengthen students’ development as responsible citizens of society.

Philosophy is an ancient discipline with an enormous variety of subject areas and methodologies. The Georgetown University Philosophy Department is deliberately pluralistic, representing many major approaches to philosophy. Introductory courses in philosophy reflect this pluralism, engaging students in the study of a range of philosophical theories and methods. While the specific philosophical topics individual students study will depend on the particular courses they take, all core courses in philosophy seek to engage students in the disciplined and thoughtful examination of perennial philosophical questions concerning fundamental issues such as the possibility of human freedom, the existence and transcendence of God, the nature of knowledge and rationality, the rational justification of moral commitments, and the demands of social justice. In supporting Georgetown’s tradition as a Catholic and Jesuit university, the Philosophy Department also ensures that the Catholic philosophical tradition is well-represented in its core offerings. After having completed their core requirements in philosophy, students will be familiar with diverse philosophical theories and methods and a broad range of philosophical issues, and they will have examined the contributions of important figures in the history of philosophy. They will also be able to:

1. Understand what philosophy is, how it differs from other academic disciplines, and what its primary areas of inquiry are.

2. Understand and construct arguments. Philosophy provides training in the construction of good argumentation (reasoning from premises to a conclusion). Students learn to articulate and defend their own views, to understand and appreciate competing views, and to indicate clearly and forcefully why their views are preferable to alternatives. They hone basic skills of reasoning – the ability to draw valid inferences and to recognize invalid ones, to identify and evaluate their own and others’ background assumptions, and to grasp the implications and practical conclusions that follow from a claim or viewpoint being considered. Fair-minded and careful argumentation can lead to valuable insight into the respective strengths and weaknesses of alternative, even opposing views, and sometimes to the discovery of common ground between them.

3. Describe and analyze complex problems. The study of philosophy develops and sharpens students’ problem-solving skills. Students learn to state problems clearly and precisely, break complex problems into manageable parts, formulate helpful questions, and assess the relevance of data or information to a case at hand. Students develop the ability to analyze how presuppositions, interpretive approaches, and conceptual or theoretical assumptions are shaping the problem-solving process, and to capture and explain the virtues of alternative approaches. Students are also encouraged to pursue open-minded and disciplined inquiry into difficult fundamental questions that admit of no ready answers or clear-cut solutions.

4. Read, write and speak effectively. In studying philosophy, students develop the capacity to interpret, analyze, and understand challenging texts. They learn to formulate clear definitions, to work effectively with concepts, and to organize their ideas logically. Dialogue is central to the advancement of philosophical reasoning and reflection; thus, the ability to communicate effectively with others is crucial. In thinking philosophically, students develop their capacity to express their ideas, insights and questions, and to listen openly to others, seeking to understand perspectives different from their own. They learn to craft examples and draw analogies that can help illuminate general, abstract claims.

5. Engage critically and constructively with moral problems and decisions. Studying ethical problems philosophically provides essential clarity and insight into how they might be resolved. The tools of philosophy help students develop and articulate their own ethical views and the reasons supporting those views. By considering objections to their arguments and by listening to classmates who hold different ethical positions, students learn to identify points of agreement and disagreement and to engage in constructive dialogue about complicated moral issues.

6. Apply philosophical analysis, argumentation, and critical reflection to the study of other disciplines. In studying philosophy, students are exposed to philosophical examinations of other disciplines through philosophy of science, philosophy of law, political philosophy, bioethics and global health, philosophy of history, philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, and other interdisciplinary subfields of philosophy.