What is philosophy?
What is philosophy? An abstract definition of the field is less revealing than a set of questions that philosophers try to answer. Here's one such set:
- Is the human mind just a very complicated machine?
- Can we have free will if the mind is a machine?
- Must we have free will in order for life to be meaningful?
- What makes an act moral or immoral?
- When, if ever, can a government mandate or outlaw certain acts?
- Is it ever permissible to start a war with a pre-emptive strike?
- Is the order seen in the world evidence for the existence of God?
- Does the existence of evil show that a good God cannot exist?
- What is the role of philosophy in answering questions about God?
- What is knowledge - and how exactly does it differ from opinion and from faith?
- What, if anything, can we know with certainty?
- Are warrants for knowledge relative to particular cultures?
We feel the need to confront such questions as we develop a sense of wonder about the world and human destiny. Wonder is provoked by many things, of course, including other university studies: philosophy connects with every discipline.
Will philosophy help you with anything practical?
But will philosophy help you with anything practical? Yes, if only because philosophy provides you with analytical tools of reasoning that prove exceedingly useful in every field. An indication of this is the very impressive record of success philosophy majors have had over the years in tests given by professional schools: the GRE (Graduate Record Exam), the LSAT (Law School Admission Test), the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test), and the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test). For instance, philosophy majors consistently outperform all other disciplines on the verbal portion of the GRE. And philosophy majors are consistently at the very top with regard to performance on the LSAT. Do an internet search on "philosophy major GRE", or "philosophy major LSAT", etc., for the striking statistics.
Philosophy students build skills that are highly desirable to employers. You will learn to think critically and imaginatively, analyze concepts and problems, develop rigorous arguments, interpret difficult texts, debate about a wide variety of issues, and communicate with clarity -- versatile abilities that will serve you well in a wide range of career paths.
Yet the primary value of philosophy lies less in career preparation than in what it does for the mind. It is no small matter to become familiar with great answers to great questions, to take as one's teachers some of the most illuminating thinkers from the dawn of theorizing to the present moment, and to be furnished thereby with precious materials for the construction of your own worldview.