The Department of Philosophy at San José State University offers a variety of courses in both the history of philosophy and problems in philosophy. Through the history of philosophy one encounters thinkers and ideas that shaped civilizations. For instance, in learning about Confucius or the Buddha one gains insight into Eastern philosophy and culture. Reading Greek philosophy provides an understanding of the roots of Western philosophy and culture. In studying philosophers such as Locke, Hobbes and Rousseau, one learns more about contemporary issues, such as how social contract theory shaped social and political institutions in Western democratic states. Other examples from the history of philosophy include Adam Smith, who provided the intellectual rationale for capitalism, and Karl Marx, who redrew the map of modern political thought.
In taking the problems approach to philosophy one engages timeless questions taken up by different thinkers in different periods: How should one live? How do we know what is right or wrong? Do we have free will? Is human nature basically good or selfish? What makes a society just? Is knowledge possible? What is the nature of reality? Is there a God?
Above all, the discipline of philosophy is not so much about acquiring information as it is about honing a method of critical thinking. One learns to raise questions, engage in in-depth analyses, and develop well-thought-out arguments. Philosophy provides rigorous training in formulating one's ideas. It dramatically improves one's writing and presentation skills, and it opens the door to life-long learning.