Philosophy? What’s that? Why would you just sit around and think?
You often times hear the jokes of studying an ancient discipline and how big of a waste it is spending your time contemplating things without an “answer”. Especially when I tell people it’s my college major; some people laugh and assume you’re either a crazy hippy or a complete fool with no future aspirations. Now these opinions are far from the truth and may be the minority, but I still don’t blame them for holding those views. There’s not a lot of emphasis on how exactly philosophy remains important and most people don’t realize that they are impacted by it every day.
Although many people fail to understand the value in philosophy, I have encountered many that embrace it’s purpose and feel its rigor leads not only to personal improvement but successful careers. For somebody seeking the personal growth or virtue imbedded in philosophy it is obvious how you may find it, (simply pick up a book and start reading). For those who aren’t interested in the material and wonder how philosophy is practical I want to express my two cents as somebody who made the choice to study it in college. I’d like to share how I find it invaluable and extremely relevant in a today’s society by first explaining how I got involved.
I myself never understood the value of philosophy until I entered my freshman year of college and was required to take a critical thinking course. This was the first philosophy course I had ever taken and I had no idea what to expect. The course was based upon logic and we spent the class analyzing and diagraming propositions of arguments. I then realized the value in critically evaluating what you hear/read and how to detect flaws in arguments. It made me think twice and allowed me to pick apart how to make sense of what somebody says.
This class sparked my interest in philosophy and I decided to take on another course my next semester, existentialism. Now at the time I didn’t even understand what “existentialism” meant but it sounded interesting. The idea of why we exist, how we exist, and what to make of our purpose on earth had me intrigued. I entered the first day of class and it’s safe to say my mind was blown. We discussed the philosopher Kierkegaard, relating to the story of Abraham in the Bible and it made me think about things like I never had before. My classmates engaged in debate and discussion talking about things I had never even thought about; at first I was terrified! I immediately thought about dropping the class because I had no idea how to speak about these issues of existence and it was like reading and thinking a whole new language.
I decided to give it one more week and tried to keep an open mind before dropping the class. I worked as hard as I could to get through the assigned readings and went through two more classes in complete silence and awe of how smart my classmates appeared when speaking in class. As the class went on I started to get a grip on the topics we were covering and finally decided to engage in class discussion. Before I knew it I was talking more than a lot of my classmates and I started to love debating and discussing such complex issues.
As an intended computer science/business student I never imagined I’d explore philosophy but I decided I would take every elective philosophy class I could fit into my schedule. As I started taking more classes I took another with the same professor I had for existentialism and decided to talk to him about the possibility of majoring in philosophy. He noticed I was enjoying his classes and helped me relieve my skepticism towards studying philosophy.
A year later I studied abroad in Alnwick, England and it turned out that same professor was traveling abroad with my school’s philosophy department, it was a perfect opportunity. I was thrilled and took two more classes of his while abroad and still stay in touch with him today. Currently in my third year of college I am finishing up my philosophy degree and these are the top five practical things it has taught me:
- Critical Thinking: Learning to analyze and interpret things beyond the surface and evaluate how to problem solve within complex situations.
- Reading & Writing Skills: Taking a complicated thought or concept and writing it down in a way that anyone can understand is an important skill within any context. Reading philosophy also teaches you how to read in a more clear and efficient manner.
- Self-Reflection: Taking a step back and evaluating where I am in life, how my actions make an impact, and how I value my life is how I keep my head straight and it teaches perspective.
- Argumentation: Being able to argue my point on an issue is important because it requires me to have informed opinions. Being accountable for my decisions and being able to back them up with valid concern.
- Logical Reasoning: On a basic level differentiating between things that make sense and things that do not is more valuable than you think. Using logic frequently separates things that really matter and allows you to realize why it matters.
These are all skills that are used (or should be used) literally every single day. You cannot escape the realm of critical thinking and fine tuning these skills will help development in any career setting. Taking time to truly evaluate things is something that society as a whole seems to be lacking. When studying philosophy you are forced into the uncertainty of life and are left to formulate your own ideas to make sense of it. I cannot express the value in that enough, and the possibility for growth is never ending. Just like any educational discipline, it is not going to matter if you remember the specific details of Plato’s Republic, just as it wont necessarily matter if you cannot recall the exact steps to a specific mathematic proof. The importance is how you as a person are shaped by these intellectual endeavors.
Still don’t want to take my biased opinion that philosophy is valuable? Good for you, I respect your skepticism (using your critical thinking skills). If you want some factual evidence backing up the study of philosophy and how it leads to successful careers I’ve attached a few links below.
Click here for a Daily Nous article showing philosophy major scores among the top for all graduate exams including the LSAT, GRE, and GMAT.
FiveThirtyEight released this article about philosophy majors having some of the highest earnings with a rising median salary.
A few days before I decided to schedule this post I was surprised to see an article by NPR about this exact topic. Click here to check it out as it explains how and when to think like a philosopher.
— Bryce A. Hoyt
If you like this content and want to check out my previous post regarding the value of podcasts, check that out here.