Who We Are

Who We Are

Who We Are

The Department of Philosophy at the University of Chicago is distinctive in combining a humanistic orientation with a commitment to philosophical rigor. We value clarity of expression and logical precision, and we believe that philosophical work is enriched when it is animated by a range of conversations in the humanities, social sciences, physical sciences, and arts. We offer exceptionally broad and deep programs in Western philosophy at the undergraduate and graduate levels in a lively, congenial, and intellectually stimulating atmosphere.

At Chicago, the philosophical community brings together in respectful and engaged dialogue groups that often stand apart from one another: first, those who are concerned with the systematic study of issues in contemporary philosophy and those who are concerned with the interpretation of classic historical texts; second, specialists in theoretical philosophy (metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of language, philosophy of science, etc.) and practical philosophy (moral philosophy, political philosophy, etc.); and third, those who take their problems, methods, and overall orientation from the analytic tradition and those who take theirs from the continental tradition. As a result, students here need not choose sides or limit themselves to one approach or tradition. Many of our faculty already bridge one or more of these divisions in their own interests and work, and we aim to nurture a similar intellectual openness in our undergraduate and graduate students.

In addition to taking an ecumenical approach within the discipline of philosophy, philosophy at Chicago is also distinctive in its openness to serious engagement with other disciplines. Indeed, interdisciplinarity is something of a prized hallmark of this university. Many of our faculty are in long-standing research and teaching collaborations with faculty in other departments, such as Cinema and Media Studies, Classics, Germanic Studies, Law, Linguistics, Political Science, and Psychology, as well as intentionally interdisciplinary groups such as the Committee on Social Thought, the Committee on Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science, and the MacLean Center for Medical Ethics. We encourage students to take courses in other fields and, indeed, to have specialists in allied disciplines on their dissertation committees where that would be helpful. Our courses often attract students from other disciplines, and we run numerous workshops, joint programs, and conferences with faculty and students from other departments. Such institutionally fostered cross-fertilization significantly enriches the research and collegial environment for faculty and students alike.

At present the department does not offer courses in non-Western philosophical traditions. However, the University of Chicago is fortunate to have exceptional scholars of Buddhist, Indian, and Islamic thought in its departments of South Asian Languages and Civilizations and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, and in its Divinity School, and we welcome our students’ studies in those areas.

Areas of Intellectual Strength

We are a full-service department in the Western philosophical tradition, committed to teaching a wide range of courses on the major topics of analytic philosophy, history of philosophy, and continental philosophy. However, the department has particular strength in certain areas that merit special mention.

The department’s commitment to the study of the history of philosophy is particularly strongly reflected in three areas: ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, nineteenth-century German philosophy, and the history of analytic philosophy. In ancient philosophy, we are particularly strong in the study of Greek ethics, with special attention to Plato and Aristotle. Faculty and students participate regularly in the very active Chicago-area Consortium in Ancient Philosophy, and we have a cooperative PhD program with the Department of Classics. The study of German Idealism is another outstanding strength of the department, again supported by a cooperative PhD program with the Department of Germanic Studies. The history of analytic philosophy is also a significant strength of the department, with the work of Frege, Russell, Wittgenstein, Ryle, Anscombe, Sellars, and others being especially closely studied and regularly taught.

In value theory, we offer an especially wide range of courses in analytic ethics and political philosophy. The department has particular strength in varieties of Aristotelian virtue ethics, both the ethics of Aristotle himself and forms of contemporary Aristotelianism. In political philosophy, our faculty’s interests range from the analytic tradition of thought about justice to the philosophy of Karl Marx, feminist philosophy, and radical black political thought. Our strength in political philosophy is enhanced by close collaborations with faculty in the Law School and with a vibrant political theory group in the Department of Political Science.

Our strength in Aristotelian approaches to ethics is closely linked to another area in which we excel. In metaphysics, the department has a strong group of faculty working in action theory, especially in the Anscombean tradition, looking back to Aristotle and Aquinas.

The department also has an unusual strength in aesthetics and its history. A number of faculty work on philosophical approaches to literature, music, the visual arts, and film, and study the aesthetic theories of Plato, Kant, and the post-Kantian tradition. These strengths are supported by close relationships to faculty in the Departments of Germanic Studies, Cinema and Media Studies, and Art History.

Beyond these areas of distinctive strength, the department offers a wide array of courses throughout the main areas of philosophy. In continental philosophy, our faculty offer expertise in the German Idealist tradition (especially Hegel), Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, Levinas, Foucault, and Derrida. In the philosophy of mind, we have a particular strength in questions about self-consciousness, content, externalism, and normativity. In epistemology, philosophical responses to skepticism form an area of focus. Several faculty also have special expertise in formal epistemology, with a focus on the role of Bayesian and non-Bayesian reasoning in the acquisition of knowledge. We also have strengths in logic, and in formal methods in the philosophy of language, supported by a close working relationship with the Department of Linguistics, with which we have a co-operative PhD program. In the philosophy of science, we offer courses ranging from the general methodology and metaphysics of science to specific topics in philosophy of physics and biology, as well as the history of science; the department maintains close ties with the Morris Fishbein Center for the History of Science and Medicine and the Committee on Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science.

History of the Department

Founded in 1894, the Department of Philosophy at the University of Chicago is one of the oldest in the United States. John Dewey served as its first chair from 1894 to 1904; under his stewardship, it rapidly became a leading center for the study of philosophy. Led first by Dewey, then James H. Tufts, and subsequently George Herbert Mead, the department was associated in its early decades, above all, with the so-called “Chicago School of Thought,” which sought to furnish a reformulation of the basic commitments of pragmatism on a strict logical basis. Under the influence of President Robert Hutchins in the early 1930s, the study of the history of philosophy acquired an important role—one which it has retained until this day—in the university’s conception of its intellectual mission as well as in its undergraduate curriculum. Beginning in 1936, when Rudolf Carnap emigrated from Austria to the United States to join Charles Morris as a member of the faculty, Chicago became an important center for analytic philosophy—especially for logic and the philosophy of science. Over the years, numerous other distinguished philosophers have served as members of the Chicago faculty, including Elizabeth Anscombe, Hannah Arendt, Donald Davidson, Richard McKeon, Bertrand Russell, and Leo Strauss.