Of studying Philosophy
Setting: A sophomore philosophy major is reading The Apology by Plato in his dorm. One of his peers enters, a science major, full of factual and practical “knowledge”. The science major inquires about what the student of philosophy is reading and, upon finding out, scoffs at the student’s “useless major”.
Philosopher: How is it useless?
Scientist: What kind of job can you get with a philosophy degree? No one’s going to pay you to think about life. You want to know where that degree will get you? 95% of the time it’ll get you nowhere in the real world and the other 5% of the time, also nowhere.
P: Might I ask what world I am living in now? The fake world?
S: No, I guess you’re not in the fake world, but the point is that philosophy is useless in today’s society.
P: I beg to differ. Philosophy, in some aspects, is the most important and beneficial course of study you can take up.
S: How so?
P: It is the education and fine-tuning of one’s soul. It is preparing us, fortifying us, for death. We are going to die someday and we must be ready.
S: What?! I’m not trying to spend my life getting ready to die.
P: Okay, let’s back up a bit first. You’re a science major, is it correct to assume that you concern yourself only with what is factual and true?
S: Yeah, why would I worry about what’s not true. That’s a waste.
P: Now, is it true that the field of science has undergone much change in the past ten, twenty, fifty, even one hundred years?
S: Yup, I’d say so.
P: Is truth always the same, always true no matter what?
S: You better believe it.
P: All right, now correct me if I’m wrong, but you just said you’re a science major and concern yourself with truth. Truth is always the same and always true, however, science has undergone much change over the years. These changes occurred essentially because what was once thought to be right and factual turned out not to be so, therefore, the change in theory or empirical data or whatever changed. Atoms were once said to be the smallest particle and indivisible, but we now know that not to be true because we have protons, electron, and even quarks. So, is science not always right?
S: I guess you’re right.
P: So science is not always true, meaning that in another ten years what you say is true now can turn out to be false. Therefore, you cannot say, for instance, that all things are made out of cells, you cannot market it as absolute fact because it is possible that it may turn out otherwise, correct?
S: Yes, that’s correct. I’ve never thought of that. But still, philosophy has nothing to do with anything in the working world.
P: Well let’s examine what is required for the working world. Now, it is not required that you have a degree of work experience in order to work, right? People have worked without those, correct?
S: Yes, that’s true.
P: So what is the bare minimum for the working world?
S: I guess I would say you need to know what you’re doing so you can do your job.
P: Let’s entertain this thought. Is it true that some of the greatest discoveries have been stumbled upon when someone had no idea what they were doing exactly? Like accidental findings.
S: Sure, I guess.
P: So we don’t even need to know what we are doing to prosper in the working world. Would you agree that above all else, the bare minimum we need to survive in the working world is the ability to think? To make a decision about something and choose to act or not?
S: That sounds about right.
P: Well my scientific friend, philosophy does just that. It develops one’s ability to think efficiently and to make sound judgments; to think critically. Critical thinking skills are involved in every seemingly meaningless decision you make, it all boils down to “What is the best thing to do in each individual situation.”
S:I think I understand.
P: The ability to make sound judgments beats having masterful accounting skills or superb knowledge of muscle anatomy. Those who excel in the former can masterfully create fraudulent accounts and those who excel in the latter can knowingly recommend detrimental rehabilitation. Both are experts in their craft, but may possess bad judgment.
S: So I can be the best marksman, but without good judgment I could decide to shoot the president?
S: I see how philosophy can help in the working world, but what benefit does it bring to someone who doesn’t work, who doesn’t do anything? Why would they need philosophy?
P: Well let’s see. If this person did nothing for anyone, lived alone, and only looked out for him or her own well-being and happiness, who would you say is the most important person to them?
S: I’d say that they are the most important person to themselves.
P: Well there’s our answer! Philosophy teaches us about that most important person—ourselves—and allows us to adequately explore who we are, not what we do or what groups we belong to or how others perceive us, but who we truly are. It allows us to contemplate about our ultimate role, why we are who we are, what we are supposed to do.
S: They seem like very important questions.
P: They are, the most important perhaps. Now, back to where we began; preparation for death.
S: Yeah, I still don’t get that.
P: (I give credit to Dr. Valgenti for this analogy) When it comes time for you to compete in the afterlife Olympics, you can’t bring your money with you, or your friends, or physical body. All you have is your mind—not your brain but your mind—and your soul. As I said before, philosophy is the education and fine-tuning of one’s soul. We are too dependent upon our physical bodies for many things, but once the afterlife gun goes off, the soul is all that is left. Without philosophy, without the refining of the soul through philosophical exercise, how fit will you be for those eternal races?