Actually, there is no
single answer; it depends on many things.
From time to time, students ask the
question, "Why study Philosophy?" The answer, of course, is because
Philosophy is very interesting. (I would say that it is far more interesting
than anything else one could study, but that would just cause other academics to
get all excited, and there are few things more unseemly than an excited, envious
There is, however, another question that one might reasonably
intend to ask by the question, "Why study Philosophy?" That question is
probably, "What reasons are there, beyond the fact that Philosophy is very
interesting, for studying Philosophy?" One reason is that if you study
Philosophy, then you increase your chances of getting a job like mine. I have a
pleasant work environment, get to discuss interesting things with very
intelligent people, and get paid to be a philosopher.
"But," you ask, rather impatiently, "beyond that and beyond the fact that
it is very interesting--perhaps even more interesting than anything else, what
reasons might there be for studying Philosophy?" In an effort to help you
understand what some of those reasons might be--and it is worth noting that
there are a great many, here are some links to web sites that address this very question:
Consider the following, from John
Cleese: What is Philosophy good for?
As for the question, "What bread
does Philosophy make?," the first thing to note is that bakers
bake bread. Some philosophers bake bread--I've even baked
bread and have enjoyed both the process and the product--but it's not the job of Philosophy to bake bread. Of
course, the real question, is what, of practical value, does
Philosophy produce? Good question.
It's a good question, for me at least, in part
because it has a great answer.
The answer is "plenty." All of
natural science, I would argue, started with Philosophy.
Anthropology, Political Science, Economics, Psychology, and
Linguistics all owe much of their existence and shape to Philosophy. (It's
difficult to say what similar "bread" is being baked by
Philosophy today, but I suspect that it has always been
difficult to say what of this sort Philosophy is baking.)
Logicians, philosophers who
specialize in logic, have made contributions to Mathematics and
the related area of Computer Science. (And, of course, you
wouldn't be reading this as you are now, were it not for those
contributions.) Philosophers of Mind play a crucial role in the
ongoing development of Cognitive Science.
I am just getting started. Think of
the lawyers and politicians who have majored in Philosophy. The
American Constitution owes a great deal to the Philosophy of
produces people who can think clearly and systematically, read
and process difficult prose, evaluate reasons given for
conclusions, and state clearly their own reasons for their
conclusions. Even the most "practical" areas have a crucial need
for such people.
really just small potatoes compared to what Philosophy produces.
As for me--personally, I am sticking with
my first answer. It has at least the advantage of explaining why,
exactly, I study Philosophy.
From Appleton Post-Crescent
Zach Fannin column: Studying philosophy opens whole new world
So, why study philosophy? Many of my peers are bewildered by what
I've chosen to study, seeing it as something archaic and utterly
useless in the real world. They believe the subject is intriguing,
but will get me nowhere fast.
I'd like to argue that it's instead the most valuable subject to
study at the undergraduate level.
I take philosophy classes because they actually make me think.
Crazy, I know, but bear with me.
Many of my peers have taken philosophy classes, assuming they'll be
an easy A. Not the case, as they quickly learn there's more to it
than expressing your opinion.
Philosophy encourages students to justify their arguments, to defend
their positions in light of their own beliefs. It requires the
ability to think independently and not let a teacher immediately
define the right answers for you.
Studying philosophy, especially at the undergraduate level, equips
students with the intellectual tools necessary for life in general.
A student will walk away with a greater capacity to analyze,
criticize and evaluate, which is essential in any field of study:
politics, law, medicine, journalism, teaching, the list goes on.
Philosophical reflection is also just a nice way to take a break and
escape the real world. Philosophy does not look at things in an "us
vs. them" framework; rather, it removes all biases, and looks at the
world in its entirety.
Philosophers set no particular goals. Rather, they take value in the
questions themselves, to shed light on the very limits of human
The value of studying philosophy today lies in its breadth and
depth. British philosopher Bertrand Russell said that "in all
affairs, it's a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark
on the things you have long taken for granted."
The essence of philosophy is to ask questions, to look beyond the
surface and find the substance behind our own convictions, to make
them more than empty beliefs.
A person can philosophize on any worthy issue, and in so doing, he
or she will quickly find that there is much more to the issue than
Philosophy is the one subject in which students are taught how to
learn — how to take a more critical look at things to attain greater
awareness of the world around us.
To philosophize is to free oneself from conventional prejudices.
Many people float about without any real motivation to understand
anything, and accept current trends at face value. It seems that
when most people hear the word "philosophy," they imagine sitting
around a fire at 2 in the morning, talking about God, free will, all
the typical "big questions" we've pondered forever, but are deemed
This is true in part, but there's more to it than aimless
When we philosophize, we try to come to grips with questions we have
yet to answer, considering whether they're even worth asking.
That's why I believe the first question to ask oneself is what we
can truly know — what are the limits of our understanding? With
that, a person may set boundaries for oneself in pursuit of general
knowledge and head in a direction that won't inevitably return to
the starting line.
By taking a biased point of view, we effectively impair ourselves to
the rest of the world, expecting nothing besides what we already
believe. But by philosophizing, we expose ourselves to unexpected
possibilities and free ourselves from the narrow view of
We adopt a larger view of the world and its inhabitants, by
realizing that there is much, much more than what meets the eye.
In short, what's gained from studying philosophy is not so much the
material as the method: developing an ability to discuss and to
understand things to a greater degree and in a greater context.
With this, we may realize our minuscule role in the universe and
begin to approach things more rationally. With philosophy, we can
remove our dogmatic assertions and adopt a bigger but less certain
perspective of things. Not to mention, it's absolutely fascinating.
Zach Fannin is a Hortonville resident and a Post-Crescent
Community Columnist. He can be reached at pcletters@postcrescent.