Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Question: What is the Purpose of Studying Philosophy?

Some time in October I had passed a note around a philosophy class I was taking at the time. On it, I asked "What is the purpose of studying philosophy?" I knew that a lot of the students in the class weren't majoring in philosophy. Some had in fact not taken philosophy before. So one day before class I was feeling kind of boyish and began passing around notes. Some of the students who received the notes looked up and raised their eyebrows at me. Laughing to themselves, they started to write back. After considerable debate amongst themselves, a handful of students who were in fact majoring or minoring in philosophy decided not to answer the question, saying I was too much of a trouble-maker.

But for the handful of notes which were passed back, their responses were as follows,

"Studying philosophy teaches you how to think: how to challenge assumptions, how to assess meaning, how to interpret situations. Philosophy teaches you how to live a purposeful life by teaching you how to ask 'why?' and how to find reasons."

another, in bright pink colored pen, read


a hurried pen wrote the following,

"To find the ['purpose' is scribbled out] meaning of life and how we should live it."

and finally,

"To be able to mock everything"


JCD said...

Amusingly, I think all of those are various ways of expressing the same thing.

Ortho said...

Of course you saw this: "In a New Generation of College Students, Many Opt for the Life Examined".

Acumensch said...

Cool article. Actually my philosophy department doesn't incorporate modern issues in politics as much, although one of my professors, Paul Loeb (big name Nietzsche scholar), likes to use Iraq and television sets in his analogies now and then. William Beardsley in the department is also a really good historian of Western philosophy.

But maybe this practical encouragement from pragmatists and the like is just the sort of thing departments shouldn't give in to.

What's more important the history & future of philosophy or the philosophy of modern politics? I'd rather have the former, since our politics department does a fair amount of the latter already.