Why You Should Consider Philosophy Courses at ISU

 

Spring 2019 registration is well underway, and just in case your academic advisors, professors, peers, and parents haven’t been in your ear enough about which classes to take, I’m going to add my advice as well. Even if it has nothing to do with your major, try to find some time for philosophy.

 

You’ll be a better arguer and understander.

Philosophy is all about arguments, but it is the way we present and discuss those arguments that makes great conversation and stimulates thought. My PHI 101 class actually started with an analysis of what makes a good or bad argument and what fallacies (argument-screw-ups) to look for and avoid.

The most important thing is that the professors work to provide an atmosphere where everyone feels comfortable to speak, give their opinion, and disagree with others. If you think someone is wrong (even the professor), you can respectfully tell them and talk it out. I love discussion-based classes because I always feel like I get more information and context about the material from how my classmates think about it. If you’re in a straight lecture, it can be almost impossible to do this.

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You’ll gain real critical thinking skills.

I feel like we often toss around the term “critical thinking” without, well, thinking critically. You’ll see it on class syllabi, job applications, etc, but what does it really mean? Combined with training in arguments, philosophy teaches you to question everything, which is really the core of critical thinking; not taking the first answer as the final answer and digging deep into why certain things are or are not correct.

Critical thinking skills are super applicable to other classes, because it helps to be a little skeptical. Professors are people and don’t always get it perfect. You can help your professor, your classmates, and yourself by getting a clearer understanding of class content.

Furthermore, philosophy students (being critical thinkers) do better on exams than other majors. They were ranked #4 for the GMAT, which is the test that gets students into graduate school (GMAT Candidate Profile, 2007-2012) and #1 for the LSATS, according to the Law School Admission Council in 2015.

 

You’ll gain new perspective.

We live in a society with an ever-shrinking religious population. Less people practice specific religions or attend church, but a majority millennials do consider themselves “spiritual”. In philosophy, you are studying the words of some men who lived in societies that never would have questioned that God exists. Whether you are or are not a religious person, these conversations have value for you.

As I mentioned earlier, philosophy classes are a judge-free zone, which means everyone’s beliefs are valued. No one is going to try to convince you of something to believe, we are merely exposing ourselves and each other to different views. This is also where diversity plays an important role because if every student entered the class with the same background, there wouldn’t be much excitement.

Discussions about gods and the afterlife can still be interesting for people who are not religious because the texts from 1,000-year-old philosophers can be interpreted and molded for our contemporary society. For example, Socrates, Meno, and Plato were interested in living a good life--the virtuous life--and how that life gets you into heaven. Someone who doesn’t believe in the pearly gates might raise their hand and wonder if we can apply the same idea of virtue to reincarnation. Another might ask if we even need to prepare for an afterlife, or if we should be good people simply to make the world a better place.

For those who believe in a religion, the class discussions may raise questions you didn’t know you had, like, “If God controls the universe and knows the future, do human beings have free will?”

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You’ll begin to shape your own moral code.

We have a million institutions that teach us right from wrong like home, school, church, government, but we might not always get the best advice. We have to take responsibility for the shaping of our own minds, the values we hold, and the experiences we create. Philosophy is a route to find those things. In an introductory course, you will be able to discuss a variety of concepts, like “what laws are acceptable to break?” and “if you could trade your freedom for ensured happiness, would you do it?” You may dive into the topic for only one class period, but the ideas you discuss will stick with you because in part you are learning about yourself. Also, if you find a certain subject interesting, you may do further research on it or take another, more specialized course.

One conversation that stuck with me was about control. A philosopher and slave named Epictetus believed in the practice of stoicism, which basically says that to live a good life, you must not concern yourself with things that are outside of your control. One part of this is to only worry about your own actions since you cannot control other people’s behaviors. If someone doesn’t like you or get along with you, it shouldn’t take away from your personal happiness, as long as you did them no wrong. Now, Epictetus gets a little drastic with it, he says our friend’s death shouldn’t even concern us, since mortality is outside of our control, but the lesson remains.

In this way, philosophy can be therapeutic. Interpreting the beliefs of others will show you your own values, or change them. Either way, your morals can be guided and formed by having conversations about them and thinking them through at every point of the argument you are presented.