Value of Philosophy – Essays and Lists
This is the Essays & Lists section of the Daily Nous Value of Philosophy Pages (VPP).
Essays Discussing the Pragmatic Benefits of Studying Philosophy
“Be Employable, Study Philosophy” by Shannon Rupp at Salon.
“The Unexpected Way Philosophy Majors Are Changing the World of Business” by Carolyn Gregoire at The Huffington Post.
“Graduating with a philosophy degree? There’s more than Starbucks in your future” by Marnie Eisenstadt at Syracuse.com.
Essays Discussing The Value of Philosophical Inquiry
“Why I Think Research in Non-Applied, Non-Interdisciplinary, Non-Historical Philosophy is Worthwhile” by Bryan Frances.
“There are certain genuine puzzles regarding fundamentally important notions that only philosophers work on… By putting philosophical problems in this ‘highly plausible, apparently jointly inconsistent, and nonscientific’ form there is little room for dismissive responses towards either the problems themselves or the goal of the research effort devoted to solving them…”
“Good-for-Nothings” ( 2010 APA Presidential Address) by Susan Wolf (UNC Chapel Hill).
“I do not wish to deny that [pragmatic] reasons to study, support, and do philosophy are good reasons. These benefits are real and significant, and may well be the most effective ways of convincing the people around us that there is value in what we do. But they are not the whole story, and it seems to me dangerous not to mention and try better to understand the other part of the story… This other part has to do with the ways in which philosophy expands our imaginations and our minds and deepens our perspective on ourselves and our relation to the world. It has to do with whatever it is about philosophy that makes it worthy of our attention and energy in a way that is disproportional to its benefit to us as either useful or fun. The danger is that if we do not mention that philosophy has this other kind of value, we will stop noticing that it is there, and indeed, the more deeply entrenched welfarist conceptions of value become in our language and in our thought, the less likely it is that we will even recognize the possibility that it is there.”
“Love, wisdom and wonder: three reasons to celebrate philosophy” by Matthew Beard (Notre Dame, Australia).
“There are [a] set of questions whose answers cannot be discovered either by formal or empirical inquiry. For instance, the question: ‘why should I be healthy?’ or ‘should I fear losing my life?’ cannot be deduced from the very concepts of life and health, nor discovered through observation of healthy, living beings. These questions demand an entirely different method of analysis. This, Berlin argues, is what defines philosophical questions: ones that ‘cannot be answered either by observation or calculation.’ This describes our questions about life and health. To answer these questions requires a kind of knowledge that neither formal nor empirical inquiry can attain. In this case, we need an understanding of the value of human life.”
Lists and Information
The American Philosophical Association’s “Philosophy: A Brief Guide For Undergraduates“ — Contains descriptions of philosophy, its subfields, and its uses.
Philosophy Students — a Tumblr of people in the news who studied philosophy in college, maintained by Zac Cogley (Northern Michigan).
To many, philosophy* is an obscure and largely outdated discipline that has little relevance in the real world. I’ve taught an introductory philosophy course for many years and many of my students come into the course with the idea that philosophy is little more than opinions wrapped in big words and focuses on topics that have no bearing on practical matters like paying for school or landing a job. So what’s the point? Why do people study philosophy and what, if any, value does it have?
I’ve found the study of philosophy to be life changing. This isn’t a slogan for me. Philosophy has proven to be immensely satisfying and valuable. Here are seven reasons why.
It broadens my world
Like the freed prisoner in Plato’s allegory of the cave, studying philosophy forced me to think differently about the world around me. Prior to studying philosophy, the world was simple, dogmatism came cheap, and frankly, the world was pretty bland. Don’t get me wrong, simplicity is great when things are simple. Few of us seek to make life needlessly more complicated. But complexity can actually be quite wonderful when it opens up new vistas. As I’ve aged, I’ve learned to appreciate fine cooking and all the adornments that go along with it (like a good wine and an enveloping atmosphere). As many an epicurean will tell you, the best cooking is generally not simple cooking. Tasting excellent food that has layers of perfectly balanced flavors that were prepared over hours or days and that come alive with the right wine or a hand-crafted bread is among the most enriching experiences one can have. Philosophy does the same for me with ideas. Getting past the boxed mac-and-cheese simple answers to a feast of nuanced philosophy is, simply, wonderful.
It trains my mind
The mind is in many ways like a muscle. It needs to be exercised, stretched, and pushed to the limit to be at its best. Philosophy can be very tough. As Alvin Plantinga has said, “Philosophy is just thinking hard.” Philosophy as a discipline has forced me to think more precisely and carefully. It is teaching me me how to frame problems and where to go to make better sense of those problems. It always pushes me to be a better thinker. For me, there was an unexpected outcome to stretching my mind to my intellectual limits. It makes many of the more mundane, daily challenges I face much easier to handle. Training your body to bench press two hundred pounds makes opening the pickle jar quite a bit easier.
It continually challenges me
This probably goes without saying and is closely related to the point above. Philosophy is challenging not only because it tackles hard problems, but because it unrelenting in its demand for clarity. A friend of mine who was struggling with the question of God’s existence once expressed exasperation with the unsettled nature of the philosophical literature on the question. “If you read a good argument for one position one month, the next month there will be three journal articles with counterarguments that show why the first argument was wrong.” This constant dialogue with no clear end can be very frustrating. But it also forces us to learn how to evaluate what we’re thinking about and synthesize it. This challenge is something I find invigorating. I expect it to last a lifetime.
It makes me careful
One of the greatest lessons I’m learning from studying philosophy is that there are very few easy answers to life’s intractable problems. Philosophy has pushed me to labor over the nuance of a word or phrase. It encourages me to constantly challenge my assumptions and to slow down and be patient while looking for something that might resemble an answer. Finishing a great book in philosophy most of the time means concluding with more questions than I started with. While this can sound frustrating to some, it has brought a great deal of peace to me. I’m learning that when it comes to ideas, the journey is quite a bit more enjoyable than the destination.
It changes my point of view
There’s a popular bumper sticker that reads, “Hire a teenager while he still knows everything.” It’s funny--at least to everyone but teenagers--because with age we come to learn that life is nuanced and requires changing our minds about a great many things. Philosophy provides the means by which I can consider view points I would not otherwise consider and to look in a different way at problems I once thought were solved. Think of where’d you’d be if you still believed all the things you were certain of when you were twelve. Healthy change generally means growth and that’s a good thing.
It tempers dogmatism
I’m learning that dogmatism may partly be rooted in a desire to be secure. While security generally is something to be prized, when it comes to the life of the mind, too much security can actually be a detriment. Because logic is so central to philosophy, it’s natural to think that intellectual problems all have hard-and-fast logical outcomes and the goal is to find those irrefutable conclusions. If this were the case, dogmatism would be hard to avoid. But philosophy, taken holistically, has led me in the opposite direction. The ambiguity of words, the fuzzy nature of our knowledge of the truth of many facts, the influence of the passions and desires, the imprecision of experience, and the obvious limitations of our mind should introduce a great deal of intellectual humility and tentativeness to our worldview. Philosophy as a discipline (and, in my opinion, when done properly) exposes both the power and the limitations of logic. As G.K. Chesterton rightly observed, “The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.”
It puts things in perspective
As I alluded to above, philosophy is teaching me how to understand the relative importance of ideas. It’s all too easy to view every idea as equally important and to want to “go to the mat” for every idea we find disagreeable. But by having to go deep on concepts, I’ve learned that some ideas are worth wrestling with and others are not. There are a lot of very interesting ideas to labor over, argue about, and spend time on. There are a lot of others that aren’t. Philosophy is helping me figure out which are which.
*If you don’t feel you have a good grasp of what philosophy is, try this short introduction.
For Further Reading
|The Abolition of Man|
Lewis, C.S. (1974). New York: HarperCollins
A Lewis classic in which he attempts to identify problems with modern (at the time of writing) education. The book stands the test of time and though Lewis was a Christian theist, his polemic is instructive and interesting regardless of your worldview.
|Free Will and Determinism: A Dialogue|
Williams, C. (1980). Indianapolis, Indiana: Hackett
The Hackett dialogue series are good primers on the topics they cover. This book addresses problems of free will in an accessible and enjoyable way.
|How to Do Things with Words: Second Edition|
Austin, J.L. (1975). Cambridge, Massachusettes: Harvard
A classic in linguistic and the philosophy of language. Should be fairly accessible to the general reader though have a good philosophical dictionary on hand.
|A Primer on Postmodernism|
Grentz, S. (1996). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans
One of the better introductions to postmodernism that I’ve read. Though Grentz is a theist and not a postmodernist strictly speaking, his primer is not agenda-driven or ideological in its perspective. It’s is well written and very accessible.