Research in philosophy concerns questions that are foundational for our understanding of the world and our existence: questions about what is right and wrong, good and bad; questions about knowledge, reality, consciousness, beauty, language, and thought. At Umeå University, there is internationally successful research in, e.g., aesthetics, ethics, history of philosophy, metaphysics, philosophy of AI, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, philosophy of science, and political philosophy.
What is research in philosophy?
The aim of philosophical research is to systematically investigate and seek to answer a range of questions, for example: What makes an action right or wrong? What does a just distribution of resources consist in? What can we know and how do we know the things we know? How can consciousness arise in a brain? Where does the power of words to describe reality come from?
The research sometimes consists in investigating what follows from assumptions that we take as given in everyday life or in science or in other contexts. The methodology of this kind of inquiry resembles that of formal sciences like mathematics, and formal methods, especially logic, plays an important role in philosophy. A difference between philosophy and mathematics is that the starting assumptions in philosophy rarely have the kind of certainty that axioms in mathematics have. Even things we take as given might have to be reconsidered; one way to show this is to show that the assumptions have implausible consequences.
In other cases the research consists in investigating what best explains one or other circumstance. This kind of investigation has a kinship with theoretical parts of the sciences.
Philosophical research, interdisciplinary research, and other collaborations
Philosophy has close connections with other academic disciplines. The connections are partly historical: many disciplines have their roots in philosophy and became disciplines of their own as ways were found to empirically investigate issues one could formerly only make assumptions or reason about.
The connections between philosophy and other disciplines are however not only historical. Contemporary philosophical research is often conducted in close contact with different disciplines. Some examples:
Moral philosophy and political philosophy have for example close connections with sociology, political science, law, and economy.
Philosophical aesthetics have close connections with the arts and art history of various stripes.
Epistemology and philosophy of mind have many connections with psychology, cognitive science, neuroscience, AI, and educational science.
Logic and philosophy of language have close connections with computer science, linguistics, and mathematics.
The many branches of applied ethics (medical ethics, environmental ethics, business ethics, etc.) have obvious connections with various academic disciplines. The same is true of the many branches of philosophy of science (philosophy of biology, philosophy of social science, etc.).
Philosophy has interests that overlap theology, for example about the existence of God and the foundations of morality. A methodological difference is that philosophers tend to not privilege certain texts, like the bible, when they try to answer their questions.
Philosophical research also deals with many issues that are relevant to political decisions, and philosophers often participate in government commissions, in ethical councils, and in public debates.
In addition, philosophy studies general questions about truth, rationality, subjectivity and objectivity, which are foundational for all science as well as for public debate, world views and outlooks on life.
Interdisciplinary collaborations in Umeå
The subject of philosophy at Umeå University has several collaborations with other disciplines. Interdisciplinary research during recent years includes collaborations with computer science, culture and media studies, gender studies, history of ideas, linguistics, political science, psychiatry, religious studies, and radiation sciences.
The researchers in the subject have the ambition to develop further interdisciplinary collaborations.