For Prospective Students

For prospective undergraduate students

The goal of this department is to raise independent thinkers – that is, philosophers.
But what do we mean when we say “philosopher”? And what even is the academic subject of philosophy? If you ask the same question to 10 different philosophers you will get 10 different answers.

To get an idea of what philosophy is, though, perhaps it’s worth asking yourself this: As you live your daily life, are you ever suspicious when adults take apparent truths at face-value or accept what they hear from others as being unconditionally true without questioning things on a deeper level? For example, do you ever think, “What do you mean when you say I should study hard in order to get into a top university so I can get a good job in the future?” Or, “Why do I need to obey the rules some other person arbitrarily decided long ago?” Or maybe you wonder, “What’s the deal with the concepts of the infinitely large and the infinitely small coming out of the fields of mathematics or physics?” Philosophers are researchers who try and take such thoughts to their limits, knowing that if they can grasp such ideas and advance them even a tiny amount, that advance will benefit a large number of people.

However, doing this is easier said than done. In reality, it’s not easy to find answers to problems that have plagued thinkers of the past and present all around the world. In order to equip philosophers to tackle these sorts of issues we focus on providing students with thorough basic training, specifically focusing on developing skills of reading comprehension so students can quickly and accurately read enormous amounts of literature in various fields, irrespective of whether it is in Japanese or a foreign language, in order to carefully and boldly develop their skills of discussion and argumentation. In some cases it can take more than 10 years to acquire the necessary logical abilities to become an accomplished philosopher.

Under the instruction of previous Professors such as Nishida Kitarō and Tanabe Hajime, Kyoto University’s Department of Philosophy has aimed at nurturing capable, independent thinkers not content to simply follow the current trends of thought. It is in this spirit that many philosophers said to belong to the so-called “Kyoto School of Philosophy” have emerged.
We sincerely hope that students with high aspirations and steadfast determination will inherit the torch of the Kyoto School and come join our department ready to lead a philosophy of the new era.

For second-year students

Even for a department in the Faulty of Letters, Philosophy offers its students a huge amount of freedom in choosing their research field. Just as the field of literature can include everything from Japanese to French literature, philosophy too is similar in this respect, encompassing a hugely varied amount of subject matter. And just as with any other vast field, in philosophy too there is often confusion in classifying items when they become very detailed (in philosophical terms, this misclassification is called a “category mistake” and it is quite common throughout history).

The Department of Philosophy has existed since the founding of Kyoto University’s Faculty of Letters. Since then, the department of the History of Western Philosophy was also established.
It is the intention of the Philosophy Department not to limit its linguistic spheres, eras or fields of study, but to widely absorb past traditions of thoughts as well as maintaining a place to develop unique, new philosophy. In fact, under the instruction of professors such as Nishida Kitarō and Tanabe Hajime, the classroom known as “Jun Tetsu” (Pure Philosophy) became the base for the so-called Kyoto School.

So, as the product of a traditional category mistake, a once-in-a-lifetime chance
has opened the door to students who want to think deeply about the fundamental nature of reality, the structure of society or the state, the character of science or religion, or about how to live life. Whenever thinking goes beyond the traditional framework of existing fields of study and has the range and qualities necessary to reconsider the very foundations of that discipline, then it enters into the realm of philosophy.

It should be noted, however, that due to the limits of the linguistic abilities of the teaching staff, the texts that can be studied are essentially limited to several main languages such as Japanese, English, French, German, etc.

To see what kinds of research the department is specifically involved with, please see the department’s website, in particular the “Members” section, and the journals “Tetsugaku Ronsō” (Philosophical Review) and “Prospectus”, which the department publishes.

No matter what research topic you choose, the practical skills necessary for the study of philosophy are those of language – to read texts accurately and quickly – and logic – to develop your own arguments. For that reason, there are various classes available focusing on giving students these core skills. Student-initiated study, such as reading groups, also thrives among graduate students in the department. Undergraduates are also encouraged to participate in these groups in order to help them acquire vital philosophical skills. Finally, it is worth mentioning that around half of undergraduate students in the department go on to graduate school, while the rest go into employment or pursue other paths. As for job prospects, philosophy graduates often go on to do similar work as other graduates of the Faculty of Letters, finding jobs in such fields as the media or public relations, or as national or regional civil servants, system engineers, librarians, etc. Of those students who go on to enrol in the Master’s course, around half will continue on to the PhD programme, while the other half will go into full-time employment, such as in the fields of media, advertising, securities, pharmaceuticals, etc.
The idea that graduates with a Master’s degree face a disadvantage when searching for general employment is now a thing of the past; moreover, if we look at the employment trend of doctoral graduates in the past 15 years, more than one graduate is employed in an academic post every year. Given the nationwide trend of a decrease in the number of philosophy teachers in tertiary education institutes, however, it can be said that philosophy students must continue to fight the good fight for their chosen discipline.

For prospective graduate students

The Department of Philosophy, part of the Faculty of Letters, focuses on nurturing the specialized skills necessary for philosophy. The most important basic skills needed in philosophy are those of reading comprehension and logical thinking. These are acquired by carefully tackling texts in various languages and through the study of logical science. For this reason, those who wish to enrol in graduate studies in this department are encouraged to continue to develop their own language skills and logical powers, rather than just acquiring a superficial knowledge of philosophical “facts”. For this reason, it is necessary for graduate students to take at least some courses in either logic, Greek, or Latin, unless they have already studied one of these subjects in the past.

Many graduate students in the department around two-thirds – come from either other undergraduate majors or from other universities including those in foreign countries. As part of internationalization, most courses offered by the department, including the core graduate seminar, are taught in English. Research topics in the department are also varied, including subjects from modern classical philosophers such as Locke, Hume, Kant, Frege, Russell, Husserl and Heidegger, to philosophy of language, philosophy of mathematics and logic, philosophy of mind, philosophy of biology, the philosophy of neuroscience, time theory, philosophy of statistics, contemporary philosophy, etc.

Specific areas of research can be found by looking under the “Students” section of the website, or under the “Publications” section, where there are links to the journals “Tetsugaku Ronsō” (Philosophical Review) and “Prospectus”, both published by the department.

While it is important to critically assimilate the thinking styles of the great modern philosophers, it is also necessary to acquire knowledge in fields other than what is narrowly defined as philosophy, such as mathematics, logic, science, literature, art, religion, politics, society, etc. Only in this way is it possible to organise your own philosophical knowledge in a coherent way without repeating the work of others. The department also stresses actively paying attention to applied philosophical issues, to studying abroad when possible, to having direct contact with innovative foreign research, and to cultivating practical language skills. In short, the department strives to tackle contemporary philosophical issues based on a deep knowledge of classical philosophical problems, hence the department’s motto: “Classical and avant-garde!”