Revised: April 2014
Philosophy has been a pivotal part of Jesuit education since the founding of the first Jesuit universities. Philosophy’s powers of abstract thought have always served as models for mental discipline; philosophy’s use of critical questions and reasoned argumentation have always provided standards for a person’s normative relation to his or her culture; and philosophy’s reasoning on human nature and human values has always served as a bridge between religious belief and the intellectual climate of the day.
Jesuit education today continues to look to philosophy for the promotion of these skills and values. The central role given to philosophy continues to contribute to the distinctiveness of Jesuit education as a pursuit of “what matters.” Philosophy is (as is Jesuit education generally) both cultural and counter-cultural. It has an established place in Western culture, but its main contribution has often been to raise difficult questions about that culture’s mainstream values and cherished truths. The philosophical habit of measuring cultures against standards of justification, consistency, and principle can put one at odds with a culture, but can equally inform the uniquely normative power of vision that is the essence of effective leadership.
Today Jesuit education puts greater emphasis than ever on the teaching of social justice in pursuit of the interests of those who are least advantaged in society. Philosophy continues to have central importance in this shift of emphasis.
Commitment to social justice cannot stand if it is not founded on a clear understanding of the question of justice, the meaning of justice, the case for justice, the competing theories of justice, and the role of justice in systems of social cooperation. From its original inception, philosophy has been dedicated to these issues, and has connected them to larger questions regarding the nature of knowledge and reason, of truth and reality, of human nature, human dignity, and human destiny. Philosophical instruction and research at Seattle University seeks to retain and promote what is best in its Western, Catholic, and Jesuit heritage while speaking to contemporary problems and new cultural horizons in innovative ways. This aim is no compromise, but is born of the conviction that one learns best from the philosophical tradition how to advance it or overcome it. To forget what philosophy has been would be to deprive ourselves and our students of the liberating potential that it can bring if realized anew in the context of contemporary dilemmas and struggles. Thus one finds in the Philosophy Department research and teaching that centers on issues of gender and society, that considers whether the values of “humanism” need to be broadened to include animals and environments, that studies and critiques contemporary movements in art and literature, that examines ethical issues in international development and contemporary urban affairs, and that reviews the roles of law, government, and science in society.
Philosophy’s involvement in the Core program at Seattle University contributes to an ideal of liberal education that is:
- Socratic, in its inculcation of broadly focused but rigorously structured forms of inquiry and argumentation, with specific emphasis on logical and dialectical reasoning;
- Humanistic, in that human nature, human existence, and human values form central topics for its curriculum;
- Scholarly, in the importance that it gives to the reading of primary sources from the past and the present, and the time it dedicates to the development of writing skills;
- Committed to social justice, in its inclusion of ethical inquiry in theoretical, practical, and professional forms;
- Dedicated to the bridging of faith and reason, in its inclusion of ultimate questions, Medieval traditions, and topics pertaining to natural theology.
The University’s two-course Core sequence plays a central role in the liberal arts vision of Seattle University. The UCOR 2500 course introduces students to what is, for many of them, a new discipline, and it explores a series of issues in philosophical anthropology, questions with their own ultimacy and their own value to human life, but also with the value of being a preparation for the study of ethics. The ethics course, when taught against the background of philosophy of the person, makes possible the use of humanistic values as a measure in both the comparison of moral theories and the assessment of concrete dilemmas.
The Philosophy major and minor allow students to deepen their engagement the educational mission that has been here described. While some students go on to become educators themselves, many more are seeking ways to bring a richer philosophical orientation and habit of mind to another line of professional preparation. Our courses in professional ethics and our interdisciplinary courses aim to assist in bringing philosophical ideas to bear on social and professional problems.