Chair’s Welcome

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 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?

An important point to note about these questions is that they are not questions that can be answered by the empirical sciences. Put simply, we cannot observe the answer to these questions. This does not mean that philosophers think that science is unimportant. Far from it. Philosophers benefit immensely from the evidence and theories presented in the sciences. The history of philosophy is replete with scholars who are as well known to scientists and social scientists as they are to philosophers. Think for example of Aristotle, Francis Bacon, Émilie du Châtelet, 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 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 them, but the only way to test them is to see whether they can successfully handle counter-arguments. So philosophy is unavoidably dependent on arguments. The entire 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 (some would say, 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 think for themselves and look beyond local loyalties in an increasingly interconnected and fractious world.

Higher-order thinking skills are essential in an era when specialized knowledge quickly becomes outdated and many jobs are being replaced by artificial intelligence. In this rapidly changing environment, the ability to think and problem-solve at a general level has become indispensable for all successful careers. This is exactly what a philosophy degree promises to provide.

Prof. Simon Wigley

Chair, Department of Philosophy