Why Philosophy?

Because you want to think.

“The master says: If one learns but does not think, one will be bewildered. If, on the other hand, one thinks but does not learn, one will be imperiled.” Confucius, Analects

Because you want to understand human nature, right and wrong, good and bad; the nature of mind and its relation to the body; the structure of reality and the structure of our concepts – and how they might connect; how people intend, and words mean; the fundamental nature of the cosmos and our place in it; how persons live together, what they owe each other, and the meaning of the concepts that pervade our shared discourse: autonomy, authority, individual, freedom, play. And because you want to do all of this in concert with the most influential of minds that have tried to do the same – with Plato and Nāgārjuna, Kumārila and Xunzi, Zhu Xi and Kant.


“A person must first think before they perceive—when one does not think, one does not perceive; only when one thinks does one perceive.” Chāndogya Upaniṣad

With its training in thinking in the broadest sense, drawing on several of the world’s great philosophical traditions, the Philosophy major at Yale-NUS prepares you for intellectual life in any number of adjacent fields (classics, linguistics, political theory, psychology).

Studying philosophy opens doors outside of academia too: It is recognized by employers as excellent preparation for careers in, for instance, management consulting, business, law, journalism, medicine, computing. Its discipline in thinking systematically and independently also paves the way to various forms of entrepreneurship.

It is also excellent preparation for a career in academic philosophy.

The Yale-NUS Difference

“The unexamined life is not worthy of a human being.” Plato, Apology

It is the hallmark of Yale-NUS philosophy to recognize that philosophy happens all over the world, at all times. Moreover, we recognize that everything can be approached philosophically, and any number of pursuits can nourish one’s philosophical acuity. The result is a philosophy major unlike any other.

Outstanding faculty: Philosophy is deeply infused into Yale-NUS’s Common Curriculum. Hence, Yale-NUS has one of the largest collection of philosophers at any liberal arts college in the world. Our professors are devoted teachers who are always ready to talk philosophy with you, whether during office hours, at the dining hall, or during a stroll around campus. At the same time, they regularly release books with major presses, publish articles in leading journals, and win prestigious fellowships. Hence, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to engage closely with your professors’ research.

Cross-cultural exploration: In most English-speaking universities, philosophy courses more or less exclusively emphasize the Anglo-American and European traditions. While all of our faculty are fully conversant in these traditions, our program also includes leading experts in other traditions, including Indian and Chinese traditions. And all of our faculty teach thinkers from these traditions as well. Thus, in Yale-NUS philosophy seminars, you’ll come across ideas that you won’t come across anywhere else.

Accomplished students and graduates: In this environment, our students are doing innovative work unlike those of their peers at other colleges and universities. That makes our students highly sought after in the competitive world of graduate admissions. Even at this early period in Yale-NUS’s history, our graduates have already earned places in some of the leading Ph.D. philosophy programs in the English-speaking world, including the University of Toronto, the University of Michigan, the University of California, Riverside, and the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center. But our students are also setting themselves apart in other ways, in fields ranging from consulting to leadership development.

The Major: The highly distinctive structure of our major has no required courses, but requires instead that your philosophy courses jointly satisfy requirements along two dimensions:

  1. skills – including textual analysis, logical analysis, problem solving, applications
  2. traditions – study materials from at least two distinct philosophical traditions

“If one of noble character learns widely and from this daily examines oneself repeatedly, then one’s wisdom will be enlightened and one’s actions will not fall into error.” –Xunzi, “Exhortation to Learning”

“We ought, therefore, either to pursue philosophy or to say farewell to life and depart hence, since all other things seem to be great nonsense and folly.” –Aristotle, Protrepticus

“The master says: If one learns but does not think, one will be bewildered. If, on the other hand, one thinks but does not learn, one will be imperiled.” – Confucius, Analects

For more on “Why Philosophy?,” link here.