What is Philosophy?

Philosophy is primarily a way of thinking rather than a fixed body of knowledge. Specifically, philosophy is the practice of thinking about what, why and how we think. This “thinking about thinking” involves asking questions about what we know and believe, about what we think is true and false, right and wrong, just and unjust, real and unreal, valuable and valueless, the relationship between language and reality, the nature of consciousness, freedom, justice, truth, happiness, goodness and a host of other topics. The purpose of this philosophical questioning is both to clarify our own thinking and to determine whether we have good reasons for thinking as we do. The reasons for our beliefs – and the strength of those reasons – have a direct impact on the reliability of those beliefs. And once they are presented, these reasons make themselves available for challenge and critique by others. Philosophy therefore does not offer comfortable certainties, but an intellectual adventure in which everything is up for questioning and reassessment. At the same time, philosophy provides us with the means for dealing with – rather than overcoming or denying – radical uncertainty. The value of philosophy is that it teaches us to recognise the limits of what we know, without succumbing to despair in the face of what we do not know.

Our Department

The Stellenbosch Department of Philosophy is one of the oldest in South Africa and offers an excellent education from undergraduate to PhD level. Our staff are all highly regarded researchers and teachers with expertise in a wide range of fields, including moral philosophy, philosophy of science, philosophy of mind and cognition, metaphysics, philosophy of language, African philosophy, phenomenology, political philosophy, feminist theory, critical legal theory and critical social theory. We also have a renowned Centre for Applied Ethics, with research units devoted to biomedical ethics, business ethics, environmental ethics, and social and political ethics. For more information on specific programmes or initiatives, click on the appropriate links.