By: Meheer Commuri
Last Updated on: November 28, 2021
Image by: Serena
Many people who love philosophy, myself included, are often mocked because of our passion. "Philosophy," many will say, "is utterly useless today. Why would you spend so much time on it when it is not even relevant?" While this is a rhetorical question, I would like to answer it nonetheless, as a sort of defence of philosophy. Hopefully, in the process, you can learn to love philosophy too.
Before we understand why philosophy is so great, we ought to understand what the subject is. Philosophy is something that everyone knows about (I mean, who has not heard of 'philosophy' before?), but hardly anybody can give you a meaningful definition of it. Try it right now, without opening a dictionary. How do you define philosophy? It is hard. I have come to find that philosophy is more often than not seen as an "I know when I see it" ordeal rather than a formal idea.
Philosophy is, quite simply, the study of questions fundamental to human life and society. In engaging in that study, philosophers and the discipline (by extension) aim to develop principles or universal truths that answer said questions. It is this that makes philosophy so unique. Philosophers try to come up with answers universally applicable across time and space, things that will always be true. That is why these answers are named "principles," they remain fundamentally true across different humans and societies.
In this way, philosophy shares a lot with mathematics. It has so much in common with math that many of the most significant early philosophers (Pythagoras, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Immanuel Kant) were also extraordinary mathematicians. Pythagoras, you know, gave us his famous theorem, and Leibniz helped invent calculus.
In philosophy and mathematics, the end goal is to come up with an answer that holds universally true. Two plus two will always equal four across of time and space. Equally, the constructs of epistemology (the theory of knowledge) do not change under these same conditions. Also, both philosophy and mathematics use reasoning to try to arrive at an answer. In mathematics, this reasoning often takes the form of proofs or logic (think truth tables). In philosophy, people like to use forms of analysis to arrive at their conclusion. Induction and deduction are reasoning tools that are used (albeit differently) in both mathematics and philosophy.
Having a clearer understanding of philosophy as a formal subject, we arrive back at the original question: why should you love philosophy? In a way matched by few other subjects, philosophy forces us to think critically about not only the world around us but also about ourselves. In striving towards universal truth, philosophy pushes us to think very hard about the most fundamental ideas in society, ideas that often go unnoticed and taken for granted. We become forced to examine existence, knowledge, and right versus wrong. Whereas history is bound by time and politics is bound by condition, philosophy cuts across everything. In school, no other subject matches this level of critical examination.
Students of philosophy, especially those who begin their pursuit early, find themselves greatly benefiting from their study. Their minds become sharper. Also, their thinking elevates, and they gain new ways to process and analyze information. If philosophy classes were offered in secondary schools, even as electives, teens would greatly benefit. Philosophy should not be thought of as the study of old, dead people but instead as the pursuit towards new understandings and ways of understanding. The aim is to always think harder about everything and go deeper than what is usually natural for you.
I am not advocating for you to pick philosophy as your major in university. That is undoubtedly unpractical and needs no debate. However, more people should be formally exposed to philosophy. More people should reap its benefits. It is not hard to do so, as philosophy is the most equitable subject there is. It requires no workbooks, calculators, or teachers. All it needs is time. Whether that time is spent reading encyclopedias or summaries, or watching videos on the subject, or even reading primary information like books, you can start to take in philosophy. There is no "right" way to learn about the topic. Just get a list of the primary schools of thought and ideas in philosophy, find one that interests you, and dig in. After you are done, repeat the process. If you attend a liberal arts-styled university either now or in the future, it will not hurt to take a few philosophy courses if you can. Even if you only take one class, you will gain so much from it.
While a philosophy degree is unquestionably unpractical, one common misconception is attached to it that needs dispelling. The idea that philosophy majors are unequivocally "dumb" or "unintelligent" is a flat-out lie. According to university data experts at Educational Testing Service (ETS), philosophy majors, on average, place as the third brightest students. They come under physics and astrology majors (first place) and mathematical science majors (second place). Philosophy majors have an average IQ of 129, tied with material engineering students.
A study of philosophy is worth it, trust me. I have dedicated myself to the subject for the last three years. You will find your brain honed and your perceptions more robust. You will be able to analyze increasingly complex ideas in your head and hold your own with these topics with such clarity. These and the other skills you gain from philosophy lend themselves well to careers in business, management, journalism, education and academia, and politics. Many consultants at top firms and journalists at top outlets have backgrounds in philosophy. Philosophy is the exploration of humans and societies, so jobs related to these things can benefit from philosophy.
I became interested in philosophy from joining the competitive debate team in secondary school. Philosophy plays a large part in the world of competitive debate as debaters are forced to win on factual (evidence) and philosophical levels. This idea has instilled in me the belief that we must see if things make sense both immediately and holistically whenever thinking about any issue.
Just because philosophy is nowadays not mainstream or current does not mean that it is useless. Philosophy can and should add value to the lives of everyone. If nothing else, philosophy helps you think better. It is a scary world out there, but philosophy helps us grasp it just slightly more.