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The Value of Philosophy

Opening your mind and challenging yourself

By: Barry Switay

When it comes to education, philosophy is among the most important subjects for developing personal values and critical thinking. It helps students learn to ask important questions, and encourages independent answers. This questioning oneself and the surrounding world is what learning is all about.

These classes may go overlooked because it’s easy to wonder how they’ll help us get a job. But let’s keep in mind that we aren’t here to get a job; we’re here to get an education.

Philosophy literally means “love of wisdom.” The prefix ‘philo-’ translates ‘love’ and ‘-sophy’ roughly means ‘wisdom’ (in Greek, as you probably figured). But what is this ‘wisdom?’

It was not until I took an ethics class (Philosophy 2030) that I seriously considered topics like capital punishment, animal rights and euthanasia. I didn’t think they had any direct impact on my life. As I read for class, their importance became clearer.

I believe this ‘wisdom’ is the ability to weigh perspectives and see life through the eyes of others, so we can view the world more accurately.

After several botched executions, there is widespread concern about the “humaneness” of lethal injection. When I order a turkey club I sometimes wonder what the conditions of that slaughterhouse may have been like.

These examples may seem abstract. Let’s get concrete. The truth is, until we debate and examine points of view that differ from ours, and consider topics we deem unimportant, we cannot help but be close-minded.

Our beliefs and values are put to the test by reading and discussing ideas we may not agree with. In discussion, we are challenged to give good reasons why we believe what we do. Upon close examination, it may turn out that our political views really came from our parents, or that our view of God is simply a product of the way we were raised.

Naturally, when we express our views we’ll have to defend them, but in the process of defending ourselves, we define ourselves. When we can rationally debate issues without emotionally “attacking” others, we can be fairly confident that we’re thinking critically and independently.

Philosophy offers us methods of evaluating arguments so that we can do just this. It gives us the chance to live life based on well thought out principles, instead of ones we absorb from others.

This is the real value of philosophy to our lives.

Developing principles, a desire to gain knowledge, and the capacity to evaluate all perspectives before we jump to conclusions is true education. It’s how we are “drawn out” of ignorance regarding others, the world, and ultimately ourselves.

So, when you sign up for classes, consider taking philosophy. While its “value” may not translate directly into dollar signs, it will certainly be apparent in your life.

“Marathon lecture” courses, with their emphasis on memorization, generally fail at challenging students to think.

I promise, philosophy won’t deprive you of this freedom of thought.

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