On 28 April 1611, a Spanish Dominican and sinologist, Fr. Miguel de Benavides, established the Colegio de Nuestra Senora del Santissimo Rosario, which was later to be renamed the University of Santo Tomas.
Two programs were offered in its year of foundation, Theology and Philosophy, patterned after the European system of tertiary education, and aimed at fulfilling the Church's mission of evangelization. Over time the University earned for itself the prestigious titles and came to be called - A La Real y Pontificia Universidad de Santo Tomas de Aquino, Universidad Catolica de Filipinas. The title Royal was given by King Carlos III of Spain on 1785; Pontifical by Pope Leo XIII on 1902 in his constitution, Quae Mari Sinico, and The Catholic University of the Philippines by Pope Pius XII on 1947. Through the centuries after its founding, the university has established itself as a beacon of Catholic faith and vanguard of Aristotelian-Thomistic Philosophy in the country.
Philosophy has been taught at the University since its very foundation in 1611. To address to growing enrolments in civil education, the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters was established in 1896, then the College of Liberal Arts in 1926. In 1927, the complete separation of Ecclesiastical degrees in Philosophy took effect, the Ecclesiastical Faculty of Philosophy was established. In 1964, the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters and the College of Liberal Arts were merged to form the Faculty of Arts and Letters. The civil A.B. Major in Philosophy program has been administered by the Faculty of Arts and Letters since then. The General Education courses (Logic, Philosophy of Man, and Ethics), however, were administered by the individual colleges.
The University has, from its inception, been awarding M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in Philosophy. The UST Graduate School was established in 1938 which integrated all civil graduate degrees offered in the University, including Philosophy.
The establishment of the Faculty of Arts and Letters in the 60's brought a new-wave of young scholars to the University which allowed the Philosophy program to open its doors to philosophical trends beyond Aristotelian-Thomistic Philosophy. Thomism in the university has kept up with the times, which is the reason for its enduring presence. Despite this strength in Thomism, however, no philosophy of the West, either continental or analytic, and no philosophy of the East, from the ancients to the postmoderns, have not been heard within the university portals in its dialogical effort across civilizations. Fresh ideas are welcome in this Pontifical University, even as we continue to contemplate on the Catholic tradition. In effect, the community of Philosophy faculty and students in UST has grown to welcome varying, sometimes opposing, philosophical trends; the inclusive and dialogical characters of philosophical culture in UST were conditioned by the University's rich history.
Following the split within the defunct Department of Humanities, which created the Department of Philosophy and the Department of Literature, on May 2010, the Rector of the University, Rev. Fr. Rolando dela Rosa, O.P., appointed the founding-Chair of the UST Department of Philosophy, Prof. Dr. Alfredo P. Co, who was instrumental in the establishment and proper guidance of the Department of Philosophy. With the establishment of a university-wide Department of Philosophy, for the very fist time, the different Philosophy faculty members of the civil academic units of the University were convened and adopted under one administrative body, the standardization of the various General Education Philosophy courses commenced, and the A.B. Major in Philosophy degree was revised.
The first ever international event hosted by the Department of Philosophy was the very successful Thomism and Asian Cultures: Celebrating 400 Years of Dialogue Across Civilizations, an International Conference in commemoration of the 400 Year of Philosophy in UST and in the Philippines, held in May 2011, in conjunction with the University's Quadricentennial Celebrations.
Today, the UST Department of Philosophy is one of only two Departments awarded by the Philippine Commission on Higher Education the status Center of Excellence in Philosophy in the Philippines.