"The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters" Francisco Goya
Why Study Philosophy?
Since we all live by our ideas anyway, the choice becomes not whether to do philosophy or not do philosophy, but whether to accept a cheap and unchallenging substitute or to try the real thing.*
The study of philosophy not only has its own intrinsic value and can give you much intellectual enjoyment; it also has practical value, It can both help you to lead a productive, harmonious life, and prepare you to pursue specific careers or areas of graduate study.
By enrolling at the University of North Florida, and not a technical or vocational school, you choose to pursue a general education as well as training in a particular field. A solid liberal arts education should be a general preparation for life as well as preparation for a particular profession.
Philosophy has a special practical value for a liberal arts education, because it provides cohesion, orientation, and self-cultivation in an curriculum easily fragmented by diverse requirements. The study of philosophy greatly enhances a number of very important practical capacities that you will need to succeed in any line of work and any kind of relationship.
Doing Philosophy will:
- Help make you an effective writer and speaker
- Cultivate your analytical, critical, integrative, and communication skills;
- Engender a critical attitude that enables you to understand, question, and hopefully improve common ways of conceptualizing problems;
- Develop your understanding of your own culture, assumptions, and values (and those of other individuals and cultures);
- Enlarge your conception of what is possible, valuable, and right (adapted with permission from The Philosophy Program Undergraduate Advising Guide of the Philosophy Department, Florida International University, with thanks to that Department).
Benefits of Studying Philosophy
Both in your philosophy courses and in your philosophical life generally, you will:
- Read and interpret texts on the most important questions people have ever posed
- Write expositions of what other philosophers have said;
- Construct and appraise arguments and explanations;
- Critically examine doctrines and scrutinize things commonly taken for granted (adapted from The Philosophy Major, prepared by the American Philosophical Association, 1993, p. 10);
- Learn to articulate your own deepest questions and convictions;
- Engage in dialogue with teachers and other students;
- Conduct constructive debates with fellow students of philosophy;
- Practice being an attentive listener, a perceptive critic and an impartial judge.
The study of philosophy requires two activities in particular that are valuable for most other areas of study and life. The emphasis in philosophy maybe a bit different, however.
One activity is writing papers. Philosophy paper assignments typically will stress sound argumentation as well as careful interpretation. You will be trained not only to understand difficult texts but also to take a stance of your own, and to give solid and relevant reasons in support of your position. You will frequently be asked to examine your assumptions and to consider alternatives, objections and counter-arguments to your own position.
The second activity is engaging in discussions. Here too you will be challenged to reason soundly; but also to keep the conversation focused on the topic, be open to alternative viewpoints, re-state the views of others accurately, and advance the dialogue. Your imagination, another way of opening yourself to all the possibilities, will be an important asset in these two activities. Both of them will develop you into a more intelligent and articulate human being.
*Robert C. Solomon, The Big Questions: A Short Introduction to Philosophy, fourth edition. New York: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1994, p. V,