It is not always obvious to people what philosophers actually spend their time doing. What exactly distinguishes philosophy from other subjects? One way to explain philosophy is to consider the kinds of questions that philosophers try to answer: What is knowledge? What is freedom? What is consciousness? What is beauty? What is good? What is happiness? Who should rule? What is a number? One important point to note about these questions is that they are not questions that can be answered by the empirical sciences. We cannot observe the answer to these questions. This does not mean that philosophers don’t think that science is important. Far from it. Philosophers benefit immensely from the evidence and theories that have been presented in the sciences. The history of philosophy is replete with scholars that are as well known to scientists and social scientists as they are to philosophers. Think for example of Aristotle, Francis Bacon, Robert Boyle, Margaret Cavendish, Gottfried Leibniz, René Descartes, John Locke, Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill and Karl Marx. This is not surprising given philosophy’s unique interdisciplinary capacity to interact with other disciplines. However, an empirical approach by itself cannot provide an answer to these fundamental questions. We may propose theories that attempt to answer those questions, but the only way to test them is to see whether they can successfully respond to counter-arguments. So philosophy is unavoidably dependent on arguments. The whole history of the subject, dating back to at least Socrates, is built on the idea that a point of view or theory should not be accepted merely because it enjoys widespread support or because it appears to be self-evidently true. This also means that philosophers spend a lot of time (too much time!) thinking about what qualifies as a good argument.
The philosophy undergraduate and graduate programs at Bilkent aim to foster curiosity and respect for alternative ways of thinking, as well as the ability to argue rigorously and critically. In this respect we hope to continue the project of developing what the ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes of Sinope called ‘citizens of the world’. That is, scholars and students that have the ability to both think for themselves and look beyond local loyalties in an increasingly global and fractious world.
Find out more about the chair in Bilkent’s alumni magazine, Dergi Bilkent (pp. 13-14).