Why Study Philosophy?

by Max Andrews

I’m a graduate assistant and I assist a professor in teaching, lecturing, and course management.  I gave two lectures last week on logic.  Granted, it’s not the most exciting lecture either (that’s because they haven’t heard me teach on the multiverse yet!).  A student came up to me after classed and asked for help.  I got excited because out of a class of 250 only a few have asked for one on one help.  This student wanted to know why all of this stuff was needed?  Essentially, what good is philosophy and why should anyone study it?  I meet with this student on Monday to help with this question.  Here’s a few reasons off the top of my head.

  1. The question itself if a philosophical inquiry, so…
  2. To know what truth is.
  3. To know what knowledge is.
  4. To know what science and math is and how other disciplines relate.
  5. To know the nature of reality.
  6. To know the flow and structure of thought.
  7. To know who you are and what it means to be a person.
  8. To know ethics, what it means to do right or wrong.
  9. To know the aesthetics.
  10. To know whether or not God exists.
These are just ten broad and general reasons why one ought to study philosophy.  I’m more inclined to give more specific answers, which are finely tuned to the situation.  I believe that in order for one to answer the question, “Why study philosophy?” one has to deal with it on a case by case basis.  “How does this relate to me?” There are certain existential and teleological questions that must be answered.  This question cannot be blanketed with a bullet point response.  I believe the best answer you can get will be from a period of time when you reflect on introspection and ask questions… Primarily the ultimate WHY? question… For the Christian, I’d encourage you to ask God the deepest and most important question you can think of.  You may not realize it, but then you’ll be philosophizing.

10 Comments to “Why Study Philosophy?”

  1. For me, no philosophizing or trying to find the meaning of all of this would be a disaster. Living this life without exploring it is worthless (I think Socrates said this). I consider the people who don’t stop and think about their existence superficial beings. We have to go deep, question, explore, and reflect in order to have a more meaningful life. Now, if people don’t care about their meaning in life, then they can go ahead and go with the flow.

  2. There’s a reason the highest degree achievement in any field of study is called a PhD. The marrow of the matter is, it’s all philosophy.

  3. It seems the student asking this is looking for pragmatic reasons to study philosophy, and it’s hard not to try to give pragmatic answers. To be sure, philosophy has many uses, but we should not lose sight of the fact that knowledge is a good, in and of itself, and many times may not serve an immediate need. It is like music, love, truth, or any other virtue that is good as an end, and not merely good in proportion to its means toward another end. As the Maverick Philosopher would say, the inability to distinguish the goodness of something from its usefulness is the mark of the cultural philistine.

  4. The idea of “repentance” (gr. metanoéō) begins with a process of “thinking about our thinking.” What is philosophy, if not this?

  5. While I personally appreciate and study philosophy, I think one can live a good life without being overly analytical about such questions. For example, I think of the ancient Spartans, who possessed a very clear philosophy of life based on values such as loyalty, honor, pride, & self-sacrifice. They viewed their Athenian counterparts with some disdain because of their love of purely intellectual inquiry. Perhaps rightly so, when one considers that philosophy has traditionally been tied to martial excellence. A person who develops their intellectual faculty while neglecting their spirited nature is not a full person, even from Plato’s perspective (think of the characteristics of the guardian class in Plato’s Republic).

    • Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever come across anyone who thinks of martial arts in the philosophical sense. They weren’t really philosophers. That’s not to say that people don’t think of that first. However, I agree with you. Socrates did well to say that the life not examined is a life not worth living.

  6. I apologize for my lack of clarity. Of course, martial does not refer exclusively (or even primarily) to “martial arts.” It has to do primarily with the life of a warrior. If one studies history and philosophy, one quickly comes to realize that martial cultures had very clear codes of honor. These codes were often connected vaguely to a worldview with concepts of Fate, the gods, etc. However, the intellectual aspect (the description of the nature of the universe & the divine) described the necessary context for a life of honor. (An Epicurean worldview is not compatible with such a life.) Nevertheless, the warrior ethos mattered far more than the metaphysical aspect, and the code of honor arose not from mere reflection, but from something more primal. Thinking about these matters does not make one a deep person. Living a life which reflects one’s deepest values makes one a good person. Socrates was not just a philosopher, but a man who fought for his polis and refused to compromise his values when the 30 Tyrants took over Athens in the aftermath of the Peloponnesian War.

    Everyone is a philosopher-how we live our lives reflects what we value. What we say is far less important than who we are.

  7. One question:
    Would it be best to study Philosophy and history before going into aplolgetics so I have a holistic understanding than just through the lens of theism

    • It wouldn’t be necessary to get into philosophy and history prior to apologetics but it will be inevitable that you do so. Apologetics contains historical, philosophical, and scientific arguments. You’ll be in stride with philosophy an history as you go through apologetics.

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