Writing and photograph by Thulasie Manoharan
“Philosophy” is derived from the Latin words philo, meaning love, and sophy, meaning knowledge, hence the love of knowledge; it is also widely known as critical thinking. You don’t necessarily have to sit in a classroom or major in the subject in college to study philosophy. All you have to do is pick up a book from a nearby bookstore to actually indulge in Philosophy. Take a second and think about this:
“You can’t put your feet in the same river twice.”
Well to be honest, the first time I heard this statement I was awfully confused and was wondering, why not? Then my philosophy teacher, Mr. Munro, told me that firstly, when you put your feet into the river, you change the flow of the current, and secondly, particles from your feet fall into the river, changing its contents entirely, hence making it a different river. This was literally eye-opening and mind-blowing to me. I also believe it was the main thing that paved my passion for this subject. Philosophy is full of similar unsettled questions and mind-boggling revelations. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea because many questions are left unanswered, but truth be told, if it weren’t for those great thinkers we wouldn’t have some of our most basic values today. All that being said, here are three reasons why I think you should study Philosophy.
1. Studying philosophy opens pathways to many career options. You don’t necessarily have to become a philosopher if you study philosophy. It was common in early times to bestow the name “philosophy” on the inquiry into many different subjects, provided that it was guided by canons of rationality. For instance, physics and even the natural sciences were generally called philosophy. This only goes to show that philosophy is a wide subject that touches basically everything. In certain universities, if you plan to study law, having a philosophy background is seen as a major plus. On August 4, 2015, a Huffington Post article featured Dr. Damon Horowitz, who said “… about a decade ago, I quit my technology job to get a philosophy PHD. That was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life”. He also goes on to say that “a degree in philosophy can be useful for professions beyond a career in academia. Degrees like this can help in the business world, where a philosophy background can pave the way for real change”. Also, many leaders in the tech industry attribute their success to the study of philosophy, namely co-founder of LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman, and Flickr founder, Stewart Butterfield. (source)
2. Studying philosophy broadens your mind. Immanuel Kant once said in two small words: sapere aude, or “dare to think,” and that’s exactly what philosophy aids you to do. Philosophy focuses on tackling a problem not using one route of thought, but rather forces you to take on several different and even unconventional methods of thinking to reach a point of understanding. For an example, about a year ago I was given an assignment to justify whether or not abortion was morally acceptable, and I’d picked to argue that it was morally acceptable. With this came the duty of backing my stand with substantial justification and so I used the “Violinist Analogy”. This analogy basically talks about how you’ve been kidnapped and you find yourself plugged into a famous violinist, who suffers from a fatal kidney ailment. You were picked because you’re the only one with the right blood type and now your circulatory system is plugged into his so that you can extract poison from his blood as well as yours for the next nine months. If you unplug now, the violinist will die. The doctors say it’s only for nine months, but what if they said, actually, you’ve got to be plugged into the violinist for the rest of your life? Well, the analogy firstly goes to show that since you were kidnapped, you did not give consent, just as in rape cases women don’t give consent. This suggests that women should be able to choose freely if or not they want abortion. Secondly, using your body to extract poison from the violinists’ blood is an infringement of rights, and when again applied to the real life situation of abortion, a woman should be able to decide for herself what she does to her body because it’s her basic right. The point of this analogy was to show you that philosophy uses different approaches to a situation. It makes you bend the basic way of thinking and form new ones. The roots of a tree never grow in just one direction, but instead branch out in several directions in search of a water source, and that’s the same with thinking in philosophy.
3. Philosophical discussions make great conversation. I’ve never been a fan of small talk and I find that philosophical discussions give me the right amount of opportunity to have a full blown conversation with just anybody. I’m not saying that the next time you’re out with your friends you must break out in a deep argument of critical thinking. But philosophical discussions enable you to learn a lot from one another. An exchange of opinions is always a good way to keep one well informed. To make it more interesting, not only do you get an array of opinions, you also learn a lot about the person you’re with, like their values, moral affiliations, and even how they’d approach a situation.
Philosophy’s great virtue is that it tells us not what to think, but rather, how to think. The skills it hones are the ability to analyze, to question orthodoxies, and to express things clearly. It makes you aware of the things you say and more importantly how you say it. Like Marcus Tullius Cicero said, “Philosophia vero omnium mater artium,” meaning “philosophy is the true mother of arts.” So the next time you’re out with a friend, start a philosophical discussion as simple as, “Do you think you were the same person you were five years ago?”
Here are some great philosophy books for anybody looking to begin:
30-Second Philosophies; Barry Loewer
50 Philosophy Ideas You Really Need to Know; Ben Dupre
The Bedside Book Of Philosophy; Michael Picard
The Consolations of Philosophy; Alain De Botton