Department of Philosophy

St. Olaf Philosophy Department with 2019 retreat leader, Miranda Fricker

Department of Philosophy
Philosophy means ‘the love of wisdom’ — from the Greek philein  (to love) and sophia (wisdom). Following the example of Socrates in the 5th century BCE, the practice of philosophy involves exploring the most fundamental, general questions one can ask: What is reality? What can be known? What is valuable? What do we owe to one another?

Philosophy also has a collective, widespread role in virtually all areas of human inquiry. Every discipline — physics, history, political science, the arts, and so on — is founded on a philosophy. The practice of philosophy includes making explicit and evaluating these foundational ideas, as well as constructing models about how these disciplines can or should be interrelated.

At St. Olaf College, philosophy students find:

  • A focus on teaching. Students have the full and primary attention of philosophy professors who are deeply committed to enhancing their grounding in the history of ideas and the development of critical thinking, as well as their skills in identifying and analyzing arguments.
  • A commitment to equity and inclusion. The philosophy faculty recognize that excellence in the liberal arts is possible only when people of diverse backgrounds, experiences, and ideas come together in a spirit of mutual respect and inclusion. The faculty embrace diversity and and are committed to enhancing their ability to establish an open environment wherein we successfully nurture students of diverse backgrounds, all while simultaneously providing an intellectual space within which a broad range of intellectual, philosophical and political points of view are welcomed and critically examined.
  • Engaged, productive faculty. The St. Olaf philosophy faculty is committed to contributing to philosophical thought beyond the St. Olaf community and is internationally known for its scholarly achievement. Faculty members are widely published professors with a broad range of specialties, including the leading experts on historical figures such as Plotinus, Hume, Kant, Kierkegaard, and Wittgenstein, as well as in contemporary areas such as procreative ethics and social epistemology.
  • A vital philosophical tradition. The religious heritage of St. Olaf has insured that philosophy has had a prominent role in the life of the college since its founding. Both students of faith as well as secular students find at St. Olaf College a long tradition of taking the “big questions” seriously. The current life of philosophy at St. Olaf College is the culmination of more than 125 years of exciting work and research. For the past 50 years, the college’s Kierkegaard Library has been a top international meeting point for experts on the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard.

Explore our site to learn more about philosophy at St. Olaf, the philosophical life, and the competitive edge philosophy majors have in graduate school and beyond.

The 2022–2023 leader of the St Olaf-Carleton annual retreat is Ásta. The topic of Ásta’s retreat is Metaphysics of the Social: Gender, Sex, Race.

The 43rd Annual Eunice Belgum Lectures will take place April 26th and 27th, 2023 in 4:00-5:30pm in The Viking Theater. The Belgum Lecturer for this year is Jay Garfield, Smith College and Harvard Divinity School. The topic of the lectures are subjectivity and personhood in Indian philosophy.