‘I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think.’ ~ Socrates
I always had certainty. In what was and what was not. How it should be. How it should not be. I was determined and sure of myself. I just knew I was right. That’s how I was…until I came to learn philosophy. And ended up making it my major. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard, ‘What can you do with a philosophy degree?’. Or seen someone conveying a literal or figurative rolling of their eyes at a Bachelor of Arts. Well, it’s not a trade. I’m not going to have a typical job, producing a generic consumer product. It doesn’t lead me into a specific job, so it’s not clear what I’ll obtain. Generic is not what I want from life. Money is not the most important thing to me. The ‘product’ of philosophy is ideas and teaching people to think better. I follow my passions. And they’ve done well for me so far. I once had the plan of working towards being a history teacher; with no doubts. As I’ve learned it’s important to have confidence in yourself, but not excessive confidence. Philosophy has taught me doubt, and doubt is humble. An invaluable lesson. that I will always cherish.
I had a spot to fill in my schedule, at community college in mid 2011, and was given a choice between philosophy or psychology. I knew Socrates was a philosopher in ancient Athens, one of my favorite historical periods, so I figured it would supplement my history degree. But I was completely blown away by the information I was exposed to in that Intro to Philosophy Class. Nothing teaches you such profound lessons like philosophy does. The Meditations of Rene Decartes, the writings of Bertrand Russell on Realism versus George Berkeley’s Idealism, the dynamic between the two main ethical theories, of John Stuart Mill’s Consequentialism and Immanuel Kant’s Deontology discussing how to make the right decision. What is right? Why is right good? How do we determine what is good? These and other examples made me think like I never had before. Suddenly the definitive sureness of nearly everything I had known, was drawn into question. What’s really true? How do we know what’s true? What is true? Such simple, deep and beautiful questions.
I do philosophy because it is evocative, innately meaningful and valuable. It makes you think, begs you to question and, at least with me, awakens an urge to know the answer. As my first handout, I was given on day one, says ‘Philosophy is the rational attempt to formulate, understand and answer fundamental human questions.’ At one time or another, in all of our lives, we ask such questions. It is an intrinsic part of the human condition. I’d consider my life a good one if I could spend it in discussions and helping others analyse such questions and ideas, cultivating our minds. Just enjoying the ability to do so. Studying these ideas has helped me clear my mind of contradictory beliefs, as well as remove those I’ve determined to be wrong. It has bolstered the positions and opinions I still hold. It has lowered my defenses by being open to alternatives and has taught me to empathise. To see an issue from two points of view; knowing full well that I could be wrong in any belief I hold. In other words; it has reined in my arrogance by teaching humility. That is the ideal, and I have far from mastered it in all areas. Yet overall, philosophy has changed who I am for the better and continuing to learn as much of it as I can will only make me an even better person. I am eternally grateful for having such a valuable path to learn and evaluate information as well as the profound effect it has had on me. I highly recommend philosophy to everyone; it can supplement anyone’s life and education immensely.