It is official – I have become a student of philosophy! As of October this year, I am taking an introductory course in philosophy offered by the Open University. It is an absolutely new and exciting adventure for me and I cannot wait to get started, although, I must admit it is also a little frightening, especially thinking how I will combine the studies with my work. Be it as it may, I see this as a crucial step in my personal development and therefore – worth the effort. Besides, I am sure it will give me an extra inspiration for future articles on the humanfactor blog 😊
In the meantime, I think it is worthwhile spending some time to ponder the following question – why philosophy? Not just – why study it – but in general, why spend time and energy on doing anything with it? As you can imagine, philosophy being one of my great passions, I immediately have several answers in mind. But, here I would like to look at some of the most important arguments (in my view) in favour of pursuing philosophy.
- Because of how we humans are, due to our awareness of our own finiteness, our ability to consciously think about ourselves in most abstract ways, we all have to find our ways of dealing with a fundamental fear – fear of death. Even though on a more rational level many of us would claim that they understand that death is inevitable and so it doesn’t make sense to fear it, this understanding alone does not help with the fear itself. We need something, an idea, a belief, a “project”, anything that is in itself large enough to help us deal with the fear of our own inevitable end (and all the smaller “deaths” we are bound to experience during our lives) by giving us a sense of meaningfulness. Here lie the roots of our need for meaning, for purpose. I will explore this topic in a separate dedicated article, but for the current purposes I just would like to say that philosophy can serve as that “something”. Of course, it is one of many options (religious faith, for instance, being another) and I don’t want to claim it is a universal panacea. I do not think such a thing exists. However, philosophy is deep and broad enough to offer ways of obtaining a sense of meaningfulness and, in addition, to do it on my own terms.
- Linked to the previous point is the argument that philosophy, as a field of study, places critical thinking at the centre. By this I mean that, although there are various subdivisions in philosophy, the core expectation towards anyone who wishes to practice any of those is that the person will learn to think independently, forming their opinions for themselves, so to speak. In my view, this is an invaluable skill, regardless of your occupation in life. In philosophy, questions and questioning are welcome, which can become a handy habit before you accept something as true. Indeed, it can help you become a more self-contained thinker who by definition is capable to see the truth behind whatever persuasive information someone tries to feed you. Or, if not to see the truth immediately, then at least not to fall for attractively “dressed” manipulations.
- By expecting independent, critical thinking and encouraging a habit of asking questions before accepting (or denying) information, philosophy provides a framework within which you can develop yourself, again – on your own terms. For me, it means I have an opportunity to not only deepen but also significantly broaden my own thinking. Enlarge my perspective and learn to look at things from different points of view than those I am used to. Perhaps (hopefully!) even to learn to see underlying connections, comprehend crucial meanings and make associations between seemingly unrelated phenomena (like, for instance, value of an individual in modern democracy and early Christian values).
- As a final argument on this by far non-exhaustive list I would like to mention that pursuing philosophy has the risk of making us more versatile and interesting personalities 😊
Another big passion of mine is history and I think it is fair to say that the arguments outlined in points 2 to 4 could be to a certain extent attributed also to this area. Nevertheless, I don’t think history as a field of study can offer that “something” described under point 1 here. Sometimes, however, the boundaries between separate fields get blurred and maybe that is where all the creative and innovative thinking happens – not within the neatly organised “lanes” but at a busy intersection.
At this point, I have to stress that it is not my goal to persuade you to study or in any other way invest your time and energy in philosophy. Nobody persuaded me (some actually tried to dissuade me). I arrived at this new point of my life’s journey on my own and I wanted to lay down my current thoughts about it and to share them with you. Who knows, perhaps you are also approaching your own “crossroads” and some of the words written here might resonate or inspire an idea in your mind. If not, that’s alright too. Each one of us is on our own life’s journey and whatever the outcome I think it is important to enjoy the process and learn from it, during it, develop ourselves. Let’s see what I think about philosophy in one year’s time when my introductory course will have finished. But in the meantime I have all the intention of enjoying and learning and developing.
On a final note, I would like to wholeheartedly recommend you read the following book if you ever feel curious about what philosophy is all about but do not want to dive too deep just yet – A Brief History of Thought (a philosophical guide to living). It is written in an entertaining, understandable and at the same time illuminating way by a French philosophy professor Luc Ferry. This is no advertisement, I am reading this book myself, will soon finish it and I can tell you – I have notes written on almost every page 😊 so, definitely a personal recommendation from me.