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School of Humanities and Social Science

Course XXIV -- Linguistics and Philosophy

Despite the technological bent of MIT’s student body, the Institute’s philosophy department is well respected. Ranked tenth in the country, Course XXIV is divided into two majors that award different SB degrees: one is in Linguistics, and the other in Philosophy.

Philosophy majors take courses in traditional subjects like logic, ethics, and metaphysics, while linguistics majors focus on cognitive processes and language structures, two of MIT's strengths.

MIT graduated four Course XXIV majors in 1998, and there are currently seven students enrolled in the major. No second major is particularly common. Of the four philosophy majors who graduated last year, two went on to graduate school and two entered the work force. Of the seven undergraduates, one is female. There are fifteen tenured professors, four of whom are female. The philosophy department has 28 graduate students.

In the broadest sense, philosophy is divided into two areas of study. One is classical issues, like ethics, metaphysics (study of the nature of reality and existence) and epistemology (the study of knowledge). The other is more concerned with recent ideas: the philosophies of science and history, as well as mind studies.

Faculty members are quick to stress the relevance of philosophy to science and other aspects of modern life. “Areas of science can raise questions that the ordinary practices of the discipline cannot answer,” said Prof. Ned Hall.

Dr. Hall studies philosophy of science, which includes some of the conundrums that arise in the quantum theory. They were also quick to stress the rigor of their discipline. “You can’t get away with bullshit in philosophy,” said graduate student Joshua F. Flaherty G.

Flaherty stressed that people come to philosophy from different directions. Anthropologists, writers, and mathematicians find that “philosophy is not that different from the fundamental parts of their field,” he said. Philosophy also has alot of overlap with law.

Linguistics is more concerned with the structure of human languages and how the human mind gives rise to that structure. The most celebrated pioneer of modern linguistics is Institute Professor Noam A. Chomsky, who in 1955 introduced the idea that the human brain uses certain built in rules to actively acquire language. The linguistics department has 39 graduate students.

Although there were no UROP participants this semester, UROPs in the past have been funded by the Institute and by research interests.

Employment prospects, however, have always been rather bleak. “I like philosophy,” said Mark Knobel ’00, “but I wouldn’t tell anyone to major in it... it’s just too hard to get a job.”

--Steven Hoberman