Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Consolations of Philosophy

The philosophy department at Lehigh University answers the question: Why study philosophy? with a helpful short essay, which includes the following:
“It is not enough to have a good mind. The main thing is to use it well.” - Rene Descartes

Here’s what some of our students have said about why they study philosophy:
“It’s important to learn about genetics, but it is more important to learn to think. Philosophy makes me think!”
“Philosophy courses give you more than just knowledge of the world; they give you a deep understanding of how the world works, even how it should work.”
“Majoring in philosophy makes me a better thinker and a more well-rounded person.”
“My philosophy senior thesis was not only the best part of my Lehigh experience, but it has helped me tremendously throughout law school and my life.”
“Studying philosophy, I learned to analyze closely and critically, to question thoroughly, and to write and think rigorously. My philosophy skills has made me more valuable to prospective employers and graduate schools.”

Top Five Reasons to Study Philosophy:
1. Fascinating subject matter
2. Wide variety of interesting classes taught by outstanding professors
3. Skill development
4. Great preparation for any career or graduate study
5. Personal development
The Lehigh philosophers then go on to elaborate on the five reasons. Here's what they say about the first one - fascinating subject matter:
Philosophy is an activity people undertake when they seek to understand themselves, the world they live in, and the relations to the world and each other. Those who study philosophy are engaged in asking, answering, evaluating, and reasoning about some of life’s most basic, meaningful, and difficult questions, such as:
  • What is it to be a human?
  • What is the human mind?
  • Are we responsible for what we do, or are we just helpless victims of our genes, environment, and upbringing?
  • Is there a God?
  • What is the best sort of life to live?
  • What is happiness? Can we hope to attain it? Is it what matters most in life? Can bad people be truly happy?
  • How should we balance our own desires, needs, and rights against those of others individuals? against those of future generations? animals?
  • What kind of person is it good to be?
  • What sorts of political institutions are best?
  • What do we know and how do we know it?
  • What is truth? Is anything true? How can we tell?
  • What is art? What is beauty? Does art have to be beautiful to be good?
  • Can we justify our judgments about the merits of a film, a book, a painting, a poem?
  • What is it for one thing to cause another thing to happen?
  • Is there a scientific method?
  • How do words come to have meaning?
  • Do mathematical objects exist?
  • What is time? Is time really real?
In studying philosophy, you’ll have a chance to grapple with these questions yourself and to think about what others — some of the greatest philosophers of the past and present, as well as your fellow students — think about them.
There's much more on the benefits of philosophy at the link, including the economic benefits. One of the fascinating facts you'll see there is that some of the most successful professionals in the world were philosophy majors, as were two recent popes.