Why Study Philosophy?


The arguably infinite list of reasons why a person should study philosophy can never be named in a short article like this. It may be so that only those freely drawn to philosophy should pursue it. If you are new to philosophy, the best entry point I can suggest is the following exercise, which I encourage you to complete at least once before continuing on to rest of the article. Step one: make a hook shape with your index finger, and curl the rest of your fingers into a loose fist. Step two: position your index finger on the outermost section of your chin, and comfortably rest your thumb on the side of your jaw. Step three: move your eyes to the upper left quadrant in your field of vision and frown, and announce in a low and serious tone - “Life”. Step four: hold the position but close your eyes and begin nodding slowly, murmuring solemnly - ”Mmm”. If you dig the feeling you get from doing this, then you should study philosophy.

One reason to study philosophy is that you can start from anywhere. It has no necessary presuppositions. You can say crazy things: the Greek Parmenides denied the reality of change; David Hume attempted to refute the necessity of causality; Leibniz, creator of the calculus, believed that everything in the universe is composed of a single irreducible kind of element that's so tiny that it has no parts. Thanks to a pre-established harmony instituted at the beginning of the universe, these elements never interact, and only seem to because in each individual one we find a reflection of all others. Descartes said there is good reason to believe that minds can live on without bodies; David Chalmers, a still living Australian specialising in cognitive science, Believes your mind extends beyond your cranium out into the world. The list is basically endless, depending on who you take to be a philosopher: the American tripper Terrence McKenna believed that psilocybe mushrooms are doors to other dimensions, and the goal of taking them is to colonise the hidden landscapes of these realms by telepathically planting your own hallucinatory mind-spores in their ground. Terrence theorises that other-dimensional tripper-beings have done precisely this on our planet, leaving their mind spores in our earth in the form of shrooms. Kind of like that TV show Sliders. But these are just a few examples. The basic point is that because philosophers get to investigate things which aren’t always testable, the reference point is not always - is it true? Rather, is it interesting? Significant? Remarkable? Does it enhance your life?

Really you should study philosophy because through it you can speak truth to power. Part of the job of philosophy is to criticize powerful systems of influence like science, politics, and law, with the aim to advance them. Indeed it was philosophers who put names to and developed these disciplines. Even in mathematics, some of the greatest advances have been made by philosophers. Philosophy picks out aspects of these systems and goes "ok, this isn't working, and here's why." The philosopher sounds out systems of thought to test their validity, giving much needed criticism; poking holes in fallacies, driving disciplines forward, often to the chagrin of leaders in the field. Hence, good philosophy is about making trouble.

In a similar vein Socrates' contemporaries forced a painful death upon him for imploring the youth to choose resistance over comfort, independent thought over inherited tradition. It was also up to the Greeks to first invent a word for describing those who were inclined to stay at home, comfortable, distanced from politics and unconcerned with self improvement: that word is idiot. You should study philosophy because it's an excellent way of involving yourself with things that matter.

One reason pertinent to UNE is that you should study philosophy because they need the numbers. Thanks to the introduction of a neoliberal economic model into the operation of the Australian education system, the difference between universities businesses is becoming less and less. The unfortunate reality is that, at UNE, Philosophy is simply not one of the big sellers, and as a result less and less lecturers are being employed. Its members are internationally renowned and highly accomplished, yet the entire on-campus teaching faculty now consists of just three people. The triumph in numbers of those who view education as a tool for getting a highly paid job, over others who value education for its transformative power, is quite sad. You should study philosophy because a university should be more than just a factory for churning out a generation's middle class.

Much of the usual spiel around why people should study philosophy involves lauding the skills of critical thinking, logical rigour, formulating convincing arguments, uncovering tacit presumptions, etc. These in themselves are invaluable, however they relate to the form of philosophy, not its content. It doesn't matter that you probably won't get a paid job as a philosopher, or that you'll, in all likelihood, never actually become one. Regardless of where you go, the skills you acquire will inevitably be put to use in whatever you choose to do. They're almost ubiquitously applicable, and employers do value them. To finish with a quote, Marcel Proust said that “the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” The most important reason is that if it's approached in the right way, philosophy will make you a better person.


- Rory Mayberry

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