Philosophy doesn’t get much respect these days. The discipline is frequently equated with self-indulgent, navel-gazing armchair theorizing, and philosophy degrees are often seen as being worth less than the paper they’re printed on.
In our STEM-obsessed world, the progenitor of all science has been reduced to the butt of fast food and unemployment jokes.
Of course, the data doesn’t support the philosophy grad as barista narrative. By most metrics, philosophy majors actually tend to surpass their peers. They dominate standardized test scores like the GMAT and LSAT, and even those who don’t pursue further education end up with solid earnings.
I am not a philosophy student, and the point of this piece isn’t to convince anyone to change majors. Rather, regardless of what field you pursue, I feel there’s real value in learning philosophy no matter how you do it. I began studying the ancient discipline as a hobby, and the benefits of doing so have been considerable for me.
Philosophic reading can expand the mind, going beyond the surface-level explanations. As a result of my hobbyism, I’ve learned that the counterintuitive solution is sometimes the best one. Philosophy makes your thinking more creative and flexible, and this has obvious benefits in both school and life.
Studying philosophy can also teach the invaluable art of analyzing arguments. In public discourse, many appallingly bad arguments gain considerable currency, and this is harmful for all of us. When it comes to nuanced and important issues like abortion or climate change, we can’t allow ourselves to be swayed by mindless platitudes or fallacy-riddled reasoning. Political and social debates in America are in a dreadful state, and philosophical education can help fix that.
To have fruitful political discourse, it’s necessary to break people out of their partisan shells and encourage learning and evaluating all sides of an argument before passing judgement.
Before debating someone you must first examine your own ideas and assess your own reasoning. Why do you value the things you value? Can you justify this position, or are you merely making a knee-jerk reaction to things you don’t yet understand? Honest self-reflection is hard but essential to the well-being of any democracy.
I credit philosophic study with making me more thoughtful and increasing the value of my opinions. Before it, I was all too easily convinced by cheap emotional appeals and half-baked arguments that I would never accept now.
While majoring in philosophy isn’t for everyone, I would encourage people to do themselves a favor and take a class or two if possible. Everyone, regardless of their path of study, can benefit from learning how to improve their thinking. The subject should also be more prevalent in high schools, helping students develop logical rigor and analytical skills prior to entering university.
In an age of polarization and dangerous rhetoric, fostering meaningful discourse and encouraging the evaluation of our own biases are social imperatives. This is the perennial value of philosophy, and why it won’t ever go away.