From the time of Socrates, philosophy has played a fundamental role in the formation, interpretation, and criticism of human thought about nature and values. Philosophy began in the marketplace of Athens and has been at the core of the academic curriculum since universities emerged in the Middle Ages. It examines our most fundamental concepts and principles of reality and rationality through close analysis and reasoned argument. It clarifies, criticizes, and influences thought in the formal sciences, the natural sciences, and the humanities and arts; it formulates and criticizes social, legal, and political theory; and it tackles fundamental questions about our place in nature and our capacity for knowledge. Many of the disciplines of the modern university, including economics and political science, psychology, formal linguistics, and logic and computation theory, were initiated by philosophers and continue to be examined and developed by philosophers. Further, unlike any formal or natural science, philosophy examines and interprets its own history, both as an object of study in its own right and as a source for continuing development.
Undergraduates who study philosophy at Penn are exposed to these wide ranging aspects of philosophy. Along the way, they also develop a number of generally applicable intellectual skills and habits. Studying philosophy involves close reading of texts, the extraction from them of positions and arguments, and the construction and criticism of lines of reasoning. The development of these skills helps equip one for any profession in which creative thought and critical discrimination are needed. Penn's philosophy majors have gone on to advanced study and careers in many areas, including law, medicine, business, journalism, computer science, the natural sciences, and government, as well as philosophy itself.