Philosophy at UC Merced

Philosophy studies issues of basic human importance, such as: what sorts of things exist in the universe, the nature of the mind and thinking, what we can know, what is valuable, how we should treat others, what constitutes the best form of government, and what makes for a good and flourishing life. Philosophers consider theoretical, conceptual, and foundational questions of this sort both on their own and in relation to other disciplinary areas. They study, for instance, mind and consciousness, moral conduct and agency, the organization of social structures, decision making, ethical questions concerning the environment, biotechnology, and business, and questions in the foundations of mathematics, physics, biology, and the cognitive sciences.

UC Merced opened to undergraduates in Fall 2005 (for more on campus history, see here). At the time, there was one philosophy faculty member, Jeff Yoshimi. In that opening first semester, when space was tight, Introduction to Philosophy was taught in an open area of the library. People visiting the library would occasionally stop and listen to the lectures. Halfway through the semester temporary walls were rolled in to create the feeling of an enclosed classroom space.

Since that first semester, UC Merced’s philosophy program has grown to include five full-time and one part-time faculty, with affiliated faculty throughout the campus. A philosophy minor was launched in 2007 and the major was launched in Spring 2018.

From its inception, UC Merced emphasized interdisciplinary and applied research programs, and philosophy has developed accordingly, with initial emphases in philosophy of cognitive science and philosophy of social and political science. Many of the philosophers at UC Merced draw on mathematical or computational models in their research, as well as on behavioral and experimental data. Most are engaged in teaching and research in multiple disciplines. For example, philosophy faculty have taught courses listed or cross-listed in Cognitive Science (e.g. philosophy of cognitive science, neural networks), Economics (e.g. game theory), Mathematics (e.g. mathematical logic), and Literature (e.g. philosophy and literary theory). One of the explicit Program Learning Outcomes for philosophy minors is to either apply philosophical knowledge to a subject in another discipline or apply knowledge from another discipline to a subject in philosophy.

Consistent with this interdisciplinary approach, philosophy at UC Merced is a part of Cognitive and Information Sciences, and three members of the faculty are in UC Merced's world-class graduate program in cognitive science. The philosophy faculty have also worked closely with faculty in economics and political science, and plans are underway for expanded offerings in applied ethics, in coordination with UC Merced’s programs in management, environmental engineering, environmental science, and the biological sciences. Undergraduate or graduate students working with our philosophy faculty have the flexibility to study a wide variety of interdisciplinary topics, either as part of our regular course offerings or as part of independent undergraduate or graduate studies.

Beyond this emphasis on interdisciplinary and applied philosophy, UC Merced also supports and maintains traditional approaches to philosophy. Core areas of contemporary philosophy—including ethics, metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, and philosophy of religion—are offered on a regular basis, as are historical courses in ancient and modern philosophy. The philosophy faculty at UC Merced each have specializations in traditional areas of philosophy that inform their research.