According to the presocratic philosopher, Thales, widely regarded as the first philosopher, “The most difficult thing in the world is to know thyself.” That recognition and that challenge has inspired philosophers throughout the history of philosophy to pursue that most difficult of challenges, self-knowledge. Socrates, in the 5th century BC, took that challenge as his central philosophic mission. It is no exaggeration to say that the history of philosophy has been informed by that challenge.
Not surprisingly, widely different, sometimes even incompatible, responses have been offered to that challenge by the greatest philosophers. To understand both the profound plausibility and the great difficulty of some of those responses is the beginning of our own quest for self-knowledge. That is why the Philosophy Department at Trinity strongly emphasizes the history of philosophy as the beginning – but only the beginning – of a philosophic education.
To understand the thought and arguments of these, the greatest thinkers of our history, one must learn to think. Socrates once said, “I am a lover of divisions and collections,” and that is a good brief summary of what it means to be able to think critically and imaginatively: to analyze (“divide”) arguments for their soundness and validity, and to synthesize (“collect”) them into a more comprehensive understanding of the issues at hand.
That ability is something Trinity’s philosophy majors all master in time. Upon graduation, they take with them more than a diploma. They take with them a skill critical to the success of most endeavors.
Many philosophy alumni have gone on to graduate school and from there to distinguished academic careers. Others have become journalists, artists, corporate executives; or lawyers. In fact, a former philosophy major recently wrote that she was hired by a very well-regarded local law firm because she was a philosophy major at Trinity: “….the deciding factor in my employment was that I had majored in philosophy while at Trinity.”