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Friday, July 14, 2023

The Value of Studying Philosophy


Alice C. Linsley

I enjoyed reading Shannon Rupp's article Be employable, study philosophy. He believes that "The discipline teaches you how to think clearly, a gift that can be applied to just about any line of work."

This is an excerpt from that essay:

The philosophy of science was also surprisingly useful. That's where I learned about journalism's misunderstood concept of "objectivity." Journalists borrowed the notion from science in the 19th century, but by the late 20th century many people confused it with being fair or denying personal bias. As newspapers began introducing advertorial copy and advertiser-driven sections, they retrained their staff to talk about "balance" instead of objectivity. As if printing opposing opinions somehow makes up for running half-truths.

What objectivity really means is to test for accuracy -- regardless of what you suspect (or hope) might be true. In science they test knowledge by trying to poke holes in each other's research. News reporters were taught a variation summed up by the cliché, "If someone tells you it's raining, look out the window."


I agree that "disciplines that train us to think more clearly in any field never lose their value." I have seen the benefits reaped by former students who learned to think clearly and to articulate their thoughts in a thoughtful way. They are successful in their lines of work. Some work in the Thoroughbred horse industry. Some are secondary school teachers, marketers, recruiters, business owners, investment advisors, and journalists.

It may be true that students who study philosophy do better in science and math. Or perhaps it is the other way around? Students who excel in science and math are more likely to be attracted to the study of Philosophy.

I have taught Philosophy to high school students and to university students. Most took my courses as an elective which means that they came into the classroom voluntarily. Most came with a desire to learn. Many were surprised by how much they gained from the courses.

My classes exposed students to the major thought trajectories of history from 3000 B.C. to the 20th century. For some students an effect of this overview was intellectual humility. All their great ideas had already been played with by greater minds.

Another effect was a broadening of their worlds. Beyond their circles of family and friends, beyond their gaming and devices, there is an expansive world full of fascinating people and provocative ideas.

I am reminded of something that Albert Einstein wrote in 1944. "So many people today—and even professional scientists—seem to me like somebody who has seen thousands of trees but has never seen a forest. A knowledge of the historic and philosophical background gives that kind of independence from prejudices of his generation from which most scientists are suffering."

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