Philosophy Department

Philosophy means ‘the love of wisdom’ — from the Greek philein  (to love) sophia (wisdom). Following the example of Socrates in the 4th 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?

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 commitment to teaching. Students have the full and primary attention of professors 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.
  • Engaged, productive faculty. The St. Olaf philosophy faculty is committed to contributing to philosophical thought beyond the St. Olaf community and is nationally known for its scholarly achievement. Philosophy faculty members are widely published professors with a broad range of specialties, including the leading experts on the work of Kierkegaard, Kant, Hume, and Wittgenstein.
  • 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.