I was talking with some of my fellow college students the other day and when I started talking about my major they did what everyone always does. “Oh my god do you read Aristotle?” and “I bet all you guys talk about is the trolley problem.” While both are true, I do in fact read Aristotle and I do talk about the trolley problem, but no one really understands why anyone would get a degree in philosophy. The looks that I get around the holidays when I say to my distant relatives “I’m getting a degree in philosophy”, the unsurprisingly naïve question of “oh well… what are you going to do with that?” or “so you’re getting a Mrs. degree?” Contrary to popular belief, philosophy has many real-world applications. So let me just tell you why I’m getting a degree in philosophy and why you, at the very least, should take a philosophy class in your lifetime.
First of all, one of the main reasons why I love philosophy is because it’s like solving a puzzle. Philosophy spends a lot of time arguing ideas back and forth to come up with the “right” answer. It’s a lot of people stating what they think and why they think what they think. From here people review it, disagree with it, apply it to other areas, etc. but ultimately the idea is never stagnant. It’s never a person saying, “my way or the highway”, it’s a bunch of people coming at the same topic from different perspectives and analyzing a concept. It’s really cool to see where theories start and where they lead to. *Fun philosophy fact: every science or form of study that you can think of (biology, psychology, theology, etc.) all started as a question in philosophy, but once they developed their own methodology, they become their own dignified area of study.
Next, because of what philosophy is, it requires a LOT of critical thinking. Reading arguments over and over and pulling them apart to find where they go wrong requires a lot of analysis and thinking. This critical thinking skill comes in useful in other areas of my own studies. Not only am I getting my degree in philosophy, but I am also getting a degree in English. Looking for things in these arguments and thinking about them from every angle helps when I’m doing my English homework. I think that it helps me pick up on themes and symbolism easier. Fun philosophy fact: philosophy majors have statistically shown to do better on standardized tests such as the LSAT and the GRE.
Lastly (for this article, not the last reason why I love philosophy) I feel like it makes me a better person. Specifically, areas like social-political philosophy and ethics are the branches that talk about how people relate to one another and how we should treat people. I’m currently taking a class called “Philosophy of Race” which talks about and analyzes the different ways that race and ethnicity affect people’s lives and standing within the United States. We talk about the origins of racism and how it has developed into the forms that we know it today. We talk about the physical, emotional, financial, psychological and generational harm that racism and colorism cause. This class and other classes that I have taken in the philosophy department have really opened my eyes to the difference in perspective that everyone has. Another way that it makes me feel as if I am becoming a better person because of philosophy is because it has taught me how to disagree with people civilly. When people disagree on morals and on controversial topics, it can become really difficult to speak to the other side. It can be even harder to get your point across. Philosophy has helped me make sure that “my message doesn’t get lost in my mess.” In other words, I feel as if philosophy has given me the tools to talk to people who disagree with me in a productive way. I no longer shut down when I hear a differing opinion. I used to think that there was no hope in talking with people with differing opinions, but that’s not a very productive way to live your life. After taking philosophy classes I’m able to see where people develop their opinions a lot easier. When talking about topics like reproductive rights, don’t get me wrong, I get heated when people disagree with me, my bodily autonomy and my access to healthcare, but I can at least try to change someone’s mind with valid arguments rather than telling them they’re wrong. I think philosophy has made me think harder about how I relate to people and how I treat people which I think is helping me become a better person.
Ultimately, philosophy is a lot of fun, or at least I think that it is, and that’s all that matters. I think it is a lot of fun and I think it is useful for everyday life. It applies to so many things that people are surprised when I tell them I’m taking “sexual and reproductive ethics”, “arguments of life and death” or “philosophy of psychedelics” because it really can be applied to anything. I really shock people when I tell them that my senior thesis is on the systematic dehumanization of inmates, undocumented immigrants and ex-convicts.
Not that anyone asked, but if you care to dabble in some philosophical reading I highly suggest:
- The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir
- What is Philosophy for by Mary Midgley
- Gender Trouble by Judith Butler
- The Cultural Politics of Emotion by Sara Ahmed
- The Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant (but don’t read anything else because he ends up destroying his credibility with his other work if he were alive today)
- The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx (Controversial I know, but if you were to read it you would see why it shouldn’t be)