Inside Department: Philosophy

Ng Hui Xin '16 Contributing Writer

Most people understand philosophy as the study of the most fundamental questions that can be asked about the world and the place of human beings in it. But in a world in which technical skills are seen as more valuable than the ability to identify and interpret the nuances of conceptual ideas, what can the study of philosophy offer?

“Philosophy has practical applications, but not many people realize that,” said professor Samuel Ruhmkorff during the presentation of the philosophy major last Wednesday in Dewey Hall. Ruhmkorff’s research interests mainly lie in philosophy of science, religion ethics, and epistemology. He also added that in courtrooms, judges cite philosophers’ ideas to make decisions about issues such as the purpose and epistemology of science. professor Susan Levin, chair of the department, is also currently focusing her research on Plato’s philosophy on bioethical issues such as the doctor-patient relationship.

“Smith’s philosophy department is unusually diverse – you rarely see this sort of diverse area of interests in other liberal arts institutions,” said Professor John M. Connolly, who is officially retired but will be teaching a course in Spring 2015 about business ethics using case studies. Courses offered in the spring cover topics that range from morality and politics to language and psychology.

Each year there are about 12 to 15 philosophy majors, and about two to five opt to write a final thesis.  “Some departments at Smith are quite strict in terms of the requirements for applying to create an honors thesis, but our department is quite flexible with that,” said professor Jeffry Ramsey. “If that is what a student wants to do we will definitely encourage them to pursue it.”

Independent study is also an option for students who are interested in pursuing their intellectual interests in depth. Xuan Wen ’16, a Computer Science and Philosophy double major, said that she has completed three special studies projects with professor Jim Henle.

Despite the relatively low number of majors, there are about thirteen people on the department’s faculty. “Students will usually find what they study in their philosophy is connected to courses they are taking in other departments,” said professor Elizabeth Spelman.