First-Year Focus

What is Philosophy?

The study of philosophy involves the critical discussion of the most fundamental questions asked by human beings. For example: What is the nature of space and time, or of causation? What constitutes a person’s identity over time? What is good and why? What are justice and freedom? What is knowledge, and is it possible for us to have it? What is truth and how do we establish it? Philosophers approach these questions insofar as they are not settled by what science and everyday life take for granted. They approach them by an open-minded, critical and rigorous examination of the reasons for alternative answers, and often make cognitive discoveries by finding new ones. The study of philosophy also aims to instill a certain set of skills. These skills are useful not only in answering distinctly philosophical questions like those above, but also in addressing any question that calls for clarity in one’s thinking and rigor in one’s reasoning.

AP/IB Exam Credit

There are no AP/IB credits for philosophy. If you wish to find out more about AP/IB, please consult this page. Please feel invited to contact the Director of Undergraduate Studies, Axel Mueller, with any questions. His email is muell@northwestern.edu.

Courses for First-year Students and Sophomores

All courses numbered in the 100s and the 200s (except PHIL 250) are accessible without any previous exposure to philosophy. In particular, the 200-level courses are introductory courses for beginners.

If you consider a major, you may prefer to take one of our core requirements, specifically:

  • PHIL 150: Elementary Logic
  • PHIL 210-1 Ancient Philosophy
  • PHIL 210-3: Modern philosophy (i.e. 17th and 18th century classics)
  • PHIL 260: Introduction to Moral Philosophy
  • PHIL 261: Introduction to Political Philosophy

However, all other 200-level classes will also count as electives, so please check out what most interests you first.

Further helpful links on general advising questions for First-year students