Mission and Goals

Philosophy Department Goals

Adopted March 2024

An education in Philosophy at St. Lawrence University is an education in practical wisdom.  Put broadly, practical wisdom is the ability to decide how to act in the world in the ways best supported by reasons.  To help you make progress towards this goal, we begin with the foundations of philosophical inquiry - knowledge of diverse perspectives and the ability to evaluate reasons for believing things:

  1. Students will understand that every culture and sub-culture has philosophical legacies contested within the culture; that these legacies change over time; and that they change with encounters with other perspectives.
  2. Students will understand how to answer major philosophical questions from different philosophical perspectives, historical periods, or traditions.
  3. Students will be able to enter into and work within a system of thought (philosophical empathy). This includes, for example, the ability to track and stay with the definitions of key concepts, lines of argument, and methods of argumentation within a system of thought before engaging in critique of that system of thought.
  4. Students will be able to recognize, evaluate, and generate arguments in support of philosophical positions using the tools and concepts of philosophical analysis.

Based on this foundation, an education in philosophy will help you make progress towards the dispositions of practical wisdom.  That is, it is not enough to be able to understand ideas and arguments, practical wisdom requires that we actually employ those abilities to make good decisions about the lives we live and the choices we make. 

  1. Moral and Intellectual Agency – Students will understand their own choices as being informed by ideas, and as informing and changing the world around them. They will develop a habit of reflecting on the ideas that motivate their choices and evaluating whether these ideas reflect their own conception of a well-lived life.
  2. Intellectual Humility and Courage – Students will improve their awareness of their own philosophical presuppositions (such as their metaphysical views, epistemological views, and values) and develop an ongoing inclination to reflect on these beliefs and values, recognizing that they might be wrong.
  3. Philosophical Empathy – Students will develop a habit of philosophical empathy and charity, understanding the perspectives of others in their full complexity.
  4. Critical Spirit – Students will develop a habit of critical evaluation of ideas: checking for logical coherence among ideas, asking what a given idea presupposes, looking for evidential support of key ideas, and considering how a given set of ideas might conflict with other ideas or evidence.
  5. Curiosity – Students will develop philosophical curiosity and a habit of generating good philosophical questions to pursue.
  6. Philosophical Creativity – Students will develop a habit of synthesizing the best of the ideas they encounter, with careful attention to how ideas are related to other ideas, and with an awareness of the implications of ideas (implications of individual ideas, and implications of sets of ideas jointly).
  7. Intellectual Justice - Students will be able to reflect upon how structures of power influence the acceptance of ideas and will improve their ability to distinguish between the power of reasons and the kinds of power that manipulate or coerce our worldviews.
  8. Authenticity – Students will be better able to live in light of their values, adopting an ethical orientation as a way of being in the world.