Why Study Philosophy?

Painting: "Diogenes in His Tub"
“Diogenes Sitting in His Tub” (1860) by Jean-Léon Gérôme

“Ways of Knowing” Week 1, Lecture 1

Learning Objectives

  1. Explain why Philosophy should be studied.
  2. Define “philosophy.”

Two asides.

First, some business about exams and learning

Before we proceed any further, please take a moment and review these learning objectives above.

If you are wondering—as any reasonable student would wonder—”what is going to be on our midterm?” then please review the learning objectives that I post at the beginning of each lecture.

You can expect that the questions on the midterm and the final exams will be drawn from these learning objectives. In other words, if you make effective notes based on doing what the learning objectives state, then you will likely do very well on my examinations.

Second, some poetry for your thinking

Please read Rainer Maria Rilke’s Archaic Torso of Apollo by following this link.

This poem is referenced in Dr. Allen’s Talking with Strangers, which is your first reading assignment.

Learning Objective 1
Explain why Philosophy should be studied

From John Chaffee. The Philosopher’s Way: Thinking Critically About Profound Ideas, fifth edition. (Boston: Pearson, 2016), 2–3.

“Studying philosophy in a serious and reflective way will change you as a person. Learning to think philosophically will inspire you to be more thoughtful, more open-minded, more attuned to the complexities and subtleties of life, more willing to think critically about yourself and all of life’s important issues, and less willing to accept superficial interpretations and simplistic answers. It is very tempting for people not to think, to remain submerged in reality rather than aware of it, to be carried along by the current of events rather than creating their destiny through thoughtful, independent choices. Philosophy is a training guide for your mind, showing you how to think in clear, analytic, and powerful ways.
Studying philosophy will help you develop the understanding and insight you will need to make intelligent choices and fulfill your potential as an individual. To use a metaphor, you are an artist, creating your life portrait, and your paints and brushstrokes are the choices you make each day.
[….]
Creating an enlightened self-portrait is your preeminent responsibility in life, and though it is challenging work, it is well worth the effort. Your portrait is your contribution to the world, your legacy to present and future generations.
[….]
This is the special power of philosophy: to provide the conceptual tools required to craft a life inspiring in its challenges and rich in fulfillment.
[….]
Philosophy provides us with the intellectual tools to reflect with clarity and discipline, to critically evaluate the choices we have made, and to use this knowledge to make more enlightened choices in the future.”

Now, you might, reasonably, counter Chaffee and I and argue, “well, of course, you both think I should study Philosophy: you’re both philosophers and need students to justify your salaries.”

Yes, and there are also folks out there who would gain very little direct benefit from your studies of Philosophy. For example:

Click here for Learning Objective 2:
Define Philosophy and discuss its ultimate aim.