It’s the first weekend after Labour Day, and that typically needs one thing: high school and university students are busy dropping classes. It happens all the time. Maybe a certain course doesn’t fit well in your timetable or you don’t have any friends in it or you hate the professor or the content just sounds too hard, whatever the reason students start dropping classes like flies. Allow me to use this time to recommend what course you should take instead. Take philosophy.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you should be majoring in philosophy. Oh, by the Goddess, no. Stay well away. However, taking individual philosophy classes may be the best academic decision you ever make… aside from not majoring in philosophy.
Perhaps here I should list my credentials. I majored in philosophy and got my MA. Not only that, I had a specialized honours degree, which basically meant all my elective classes were philosophy classes. Not only that, I specialized in ancient philosophy. I think this means I have the least employable degree ever. It certainly worked out that way in practice. I have effectively majored in welfare.
I spent five years at university getting my degree, and so far it has repaid me exactly zero dollars. Not the return on investment that I was hoping for. If for some reason that hasn’t scared you away and you are still thinking about majoring in philosophy, you are either a very smart or a very dumb person. Think hard about which you are.
I can think of very few reasons why anyone should major in philosophy. If you plan on going to law school and need an undergraduate degree to get in, philosophy is a fantastic choice. Indeed, I may even say it is your best choice, as philosophy will teach you all the writing and analytic skills you will ever need. A philosophy degree is known as one of the hardest agrees to get, so that can be a feather in your cap for acceptance purposes at various institutions. Most people recognize a philosophy degree as a real achievement.
Of course, by ‘most people’ I mean academia, scholars and such. I do not mean potential employers. Oh, by the Goddess, no. I’d wager 90% of them don’t even know what philosophy is. You have to explain how your degree is relevant in every single job interview you ever do. This is slightly ironic, as every employer dreams about getting a candidate with the skills a philosophy major has, but I’ll come to that shortly. The main take away is fairly clear: ‘philosopher’ and ’employed’ do not go together very often.
Now, if you are like me and just love philosophy and cannot imagine doing any other degree, I would recommend doing a double major, or do philosophy as your minor. Take an employable degree like engineering and then add philosophy as your minor. Boom, instant employability. Actually, I think a philosophy-engineering hybrid may be the greatest possible degree. Engineers have incredible practical skills, and philosophers match them in the abstract sense. Combining the two together would be an almost unholy duo. I imagine the course load would also really suck, which likely explains why virtually no one has ever done this.
Hopefully no one out there is now considering taking up philosophy as their field of choice. If so, I have done my job well. That said, don’t confuse philosophy as a degree with philosophy as a discipline. The two were very different. A philosophy degree is a piece of paper that says you effectively wasted three to four years of your life. The discipline of philosophy, by contrast, makes you perhaps the greatest person you can be, at least intellectually.
Allow me to explain. All the subjects typically teach you a set of knowledge. If you study history, for instance, you learn about a certain time period. You might learn incredibly fascinating information in incredible detail and find ways to use the lessons from the past to help shape the policies and ideas of the present, but you are still primarily learning stuff. You are learning things. You are learning what, not learning how.
This is true for virtually all liberal arts degrees. With English you are learning about great literature. With geography you are learning about the natural and/or political world. With Classics you are learning about the ancient world. There is nothing wrong with this per se. We all know that knowledge is power, but we should always keep in mind that knowledge without application is useless. Simply going through university collecting knowledge is not the best way to do it.
Unlike the other disciplines, philosophy teaches you how to think, not just what to think. Of course, philosophy also has knowledge that you must learn, mostly in terms of the history of the subject, but the main emphasis is learning how to think like a philosopher. Rather than learning about philosophy, you are learning how to do philosophy.
Philosophy engages in some of the most difficult and most fundamental questions of human existence. Many of these questions have no answers, but trying to solve these questions still provides benefit. One learns how to think clearly and quickly. The more you engage in philosophical material and discussions, the better your brain works. I mean this quite literally: your head will feel so much clearer when working with non-philosophical material after you spend a few hours working with philosophical material.
My absolute main suggestion, and this applies to anyone in any fields, from the liberal arts to the sciences to whatever other fields there are: take a critical reasoning course. It may also be called critical thinking or rational thinking, but the name doesn’t really matter. The content matters. Regardless of your major, this one course may be the most important course you take in your post secondary education.
In brief, nobody knows how to argue well. I really mean nobody. People say the craziest things and fall for the most simple logical fallacies all the time. I’d wager 80% of anything a politician says is complete bunk and can be torn apart easily. We did this frequently during my one class at university. Their speeches are often filled with clever phrasing and influential talking points, but the actual logical make up falls far short of coherence. Most arguments are simply unsound.
If you need any proof, just look at the Internet. Go to virtually any site anywhere and you will find people arguing over things. Most of these arguments make me cry. The people involved are thinking like mud. Reading prolonged exchanges of back-and-forth often get me laughing at the ridiculousness of all involved. I rarely participate in such debates or arguments because everyone else is so far beneath me.
I hope it doesn’t come across as being arrogant. Among philosophers, I’m not a great debater or arguer. Among the general public, I’m in the highest percentile. In fact, because I rarely yell or USE ALL CAPS, most people in online debates rarely listen to what I say. Their thinking is so bad that they cannot see clear thinking when it’s right in front of them.
If you take a critical reasoning course and fully commit to it, every other course will seem so easy in comparison. Your writing will flow more naturally and more clearly. You’ll begin to notice the empty blabber and fluff that characterizes so much speech and writing these days. You will become a better person intellectually. I cannot recommend it enough. So when you are dropping classes this week for whatever reason that happens to be, pick up a critical reasoning course. Just do it, because it will likely be the best investment you ever make in yourself.