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Philosophy — from the Greek words for philo (to love) and sophia (wisdom), combining to ‘love of wisdom’ — is the study of fundamental questions about existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language.

Massey University Philosophy offers diverse ancient and contemporary traditions in philosophy emanating from different parts of the world. Among the department’s specialities are philosophical views and approaches from North America, Europe, Asia, and the Pacific. Our faculty make contributions to the study of Buddhist and ancient Greek philosophy, and contribute to key debates in areas such as indigenous conceptions of justice, sex and sexuality, religion, and reasoning. Alongside world-leading scholarship in logic and perception, the department offers unique opportunities to study how philosophical traditions — whether ancient or emerging, local or remote — can engage with contemporary issues of great concern in the world. Faculty are currently doing work to address issues of healthcare ethics, environmental justice, populations, and consumption.

What is Philosophy?

It can be a bit difficult to explain what does, and doesn’t, qualify as philosophy, and the edges are very fuzzy anyway. Typically, philosophical questions don’t have empirical answers. For example:

— How many New Zealanders identify as religious?
— How many of us think their fellow kiwis are good people?

These are not philosophical questions. We can go out there, ask people if they consider themselves religious and whether they regard others as good, record the responses we get, and then calculate percentages. That’s what makes those questions empirical.

By contrast, ask yourself:

— Is there a God?
— What makes someone a good person?

These questions are rather different. Let’s stick with the former: not only must we first establish what the word ‘God’ actually means and whether that meaning is coherent; but we also cannot go out into the world and check whether such an entity can be found. We would literally have to examine the entire universe, which is a bit of a challenge. And what if God is the kind of entity that we can’t actually detect with our scientific instruments — because isn’t it (or S/He) supposed to be supernatural after all?

Questions, and then more questions

But there are so many other things that interest us as philosophers:

— What does it mean to know something?
— What is a good human life?
— What does it mean to say that two things are the same?
— What is justice?
— Does our existence have a goal or purpose?
— What is freedom, and why does it matter?
— Is death bad, and for whom?
— Is there a link between beauty and morality?
— Is there such a thing as natural rights?
— What is poverty?
— What’s the relationship between the good/bad and the right/wrong?
— Exactly what are the normative demands of kaitiakitanga?
— What things have consciousness?
— What is time?
— What is art? What is music, and how is it similar to/different from other art forms?
— What kind of entity are numbers? Would they exist even if we did not?

These are just some of the issues we ponder over.

Come one, come all

We’d love for you to join us in our contemplations — the more, the merrier.

Best wishes,
Massey University Philosophy