The Major

The aim of the Philosophy Department is to engage students in disciplined and imaginative thinking about philosophical issues. Philosophical questions fall primarily into four groups: questions about the nature of reality (metaphysics), about reasoning and inference (logic), about knowledge (epistemology), and about values and society, including moral values (ethics) and aesthetic values. These questions, which arise naturally in the course of a liberal education, are not only fascinating in their own right, they also touch on issues central to understanding and improving human life in our own society and in the world. Because they involve complex and controversial issues, there are no easy answers. Yet it matters greatly which answers are accepted, and it is therefore important to engage in discussion with others who face these questions and to seek to learn from the philosophers of the past and present.


A major in philosophy may be attained by completing the requirements for either a regular major or a contract major. Most philosophy courses simultaneously count toward the major and toward one or more general education requirements. Because the philosophy major can be tailored to the needs and goals of individual students, all philosophy majors are encouraged to work closely with an advisor in the philosophy department.

A regular major requires at least nine courses in philosophy, including Philosophy 235: Ancient Western Philosophy, Philosophy 236:History of Modern Philosophy, Philosophy 240: Formal Logic, and three level III seminar courses. Level III seminar courses may not be taken S/U. These specifications seek to first assure a major’s grasp of the history and methods of philosophy and then to provide practice in advanced philosophical inquiry.

A contract major involves a contract drawn up between the student and the Department of Philosophy. The contract combines seven courses in philosophy, including Philosophy 235 and 236, two level III seminar courses, and either Philosophy 240 or a non-credit-bearing logic project, with three level II or III courses in another department chosen to complement the work in philosophy. The two level III seminar courses in Philosophy may not be taken S/U. Click here for the contract major form.

Off Campus Studies

Some philosophy is taught off campus on St. Olaf College\s international courses such as Global, and some minor off campus trips have been undertaken in Aesthetics -trips to museums or galleries; Environmental Ethics -visiting farms, slaughter houses, and in philosophical theology.  Below Professor Gordon Marino is pictured giving a lecture on Kierkegaard\s view of death using a text in which Kierkegaard offers some meditative reflections by a graveyard

Gordon Marino teaching Kirkegaard and death
Gordon Marino teaching about Kirkegaard’s view on death