Of all academic disciplines, philosophy has the longest history. It has been around for more than 2,500 years. It is unique insofar as it deals with the most fundamental questions of humanity and with man’s place in the world. Philosophy addresses every individual and can arouse a very deep passion, even if only a few develop the kind of interest required to penetrate deep into the heart of the matter. All areas of knowledge and all human concerns touch upon philosophy: Every sphere of life comes with its own set of fundamental questions. This is why there are disciplines such as social philosophy, the philosophy of biology or the philosophy of technology. Physicians or entrepreneurs deal with practical ethical questions on a daily basis. It is a well-known fact that computer science is founded in logic. The list goes on an on. At the University of Konstanz, we emphasise the many connections that philosophy has with the other sciences.
All special branches of philosophy meet in the core areas of general philosophy, which include ontology and metaphysics, epistemology, the philosophy of language and the mind, theory of action, ethics and moral philosophy. Despite its systematic approach, teaching and research at the University of Konstanz’s Department of Philosophy also revolves around historical connections to the perennially relevant questions asked and to the solutions proposed by classic philosophers. Philosophy is not just an area of knowledge, even if you do need to know a lot to master it. It also teaches very few highly specific skills or techniques. Philosophy's most important contribution is to school one’s ability to think for oneself. Due to its very nature, philosophy is better suited to teaching this skill than any other discipline, conveying a key qualification that is needed in society now more than ever. This also includes the ability to structure and formulate clear questions and problems, to define critical rules for answering and solving them and to hone one’s judgement regarding potential answers, i.e. by penetrating into the heart of an issue and distinguishing between what is and what seems, and by developing answers further and finding one’s own approaches to solving a problem.
This ability to think is also reflected by a corresponding capacity for understanding and dealing with prescribed texts analytically and critically, hermeneutically and constructively and by the ability to translate the clarity and discipline of thought into clear, concise, structured and precise texts and presentations of all kinds. This general skill is accompanied by a special normative and ethical competency. Every discipline faces questions of a normative and ethical nature, even if these are rarely at the centre of attention. In philosophy, however, these questions are addressed systematically and comprehensively. Due to the very nature of philosophical questions and as a consequence of dealing with them on a daily basis, students do not only receive extensive training in critical thinking as described above, but are also encouraged to develop and mature as individuals.
All of this is enough to explain philosophy’s high albeit indirect social and scientific significance. It also the reason for the special place and honour accorded to philosophy as well as for the particular challenges associated with its study.