As a die-hard soccer (“football: to those of you on the other side of the pond) fan, I love reading articles about the sport in American, British, Portuguese, and Brazilian publications. There are “must read” features that I go to every week on Football365.com, Soccernet.com, The Guardian, BleacherReport.com, and summaries on the Portuguese League in any of the major Portuguese publications. Reading all of these are enjoyable and it is especially exciting when I find articles with titles like “5 Things We Learned From the Gunners’ Victory” when it follows an Arsenal victory (yes, I am an Arsenal fan). Articles like these contain great insights into both the immediate contest but also soccer itself. Recently, while reading “5 Things We Learned…”, a thought popped in my mind about another personal passion: philosophy. I wondered if I could put together a list of things that I love about philosophy. As a result, I put together my list of “5 Reasons Why I Love Philosophy.”
1. It Makes Explicit what is Implicit in Our Thinking and Doing
Last year, I read Philosophy: The Quest for Truth and Meaning by Dr. Andrew Beards, a British philosopher who teaches at the Maryvale Institute in Birmingham, England. Maryvale Institute is a Catholic distance-learning college for theology and philosophy (as you might expect, Dr. Beards’ philosophical views reflect Catholic philosophical traditions). The book is centered around the philosophy of Bernard Lonergan, the 20th century Jesuit philosopher and theologian. Having heard much about Lonergan, I wanted to know more about his views and I stumbled upon this book. Dr. Beards wrote something that stuck in my mind and correctly points out one of the tasks of philosophy: “What philosophy is often concerned with is to make explicit what has always been implicit in our thinking and acting.” The truth of this statement is the principal reason why I love philosophy. Philosophy teaches us to think about, contemplate, and clearly express the fundamental concepts of life. It explicitly identifies ideas that we have been thinking and living all along.
This brings back memories of my first logic course. When the fundamental laws of logic were presented to me, my first impression was one of incredulity. I thought to myself, “Isn’t the law of non-contradiction, the law of identity, and the law of the excluded middle obvious? Do we really need someone to teach us this?” The laws of logic become obvious to you when it is pointed out to you. You knew these laws but probably could not express it clearly. In other words, what you knew implicitly was made explicit to you. For instance, I knew that both of these statements could not be true at the same time and in the same sense: “There are eggs in the fridge” and “There are no eggs in the fridge.” The law of non-contradiction is easily recognized once it is made explicit. This is such an appealing characteristic of philosophy.
2. Philosophy Begins In Wonder
Aristotle coined the famous phrase that titles this section. This quote expresses a fantastic element of philosophy, namely, that part of its value becomes clear when you begin wondering about what otherwise was always taken for granted. You do not need to be a philosopher to appreciate the beauty of the natural world. When you see a sunset or the expanse of a mountain range, you are overwhelmed with awe at such a sight. However, there are some who do not even wonder what or who caused the objects they are observing or contemplating the nature of these objects. Wonder is like an open door beckoning a special guest: philosophy. The questions arise and this naturally leads to philosophical analysis.
By their very natures, philosophy and wonder have a symbiotic relationship and need each other. Philosophy begins in wonder and wonder bears fruit when it results in philosophical analysis. This relationship demonstrates the fact that everyone who wonders should philosophize. Everyone wonders about something and this naturally leads to digging into the object of that wonder.
I came to philosophy later in life. It was a discipline that I had heard of but did not think was important. When I began my theological studies, I began to see philosophy in a new light. As I wondered about big questions such as “Does God exist?”, “What is human nature?”, and other complex questions, philosophy grabbed my attention and opened up a whole new world to me. Prior to that time, there were ideas about the fundamental issues of life that I held to dogmatically. However, I no longer hold some of those ideas because I began wondering about what otherwise was always taken for granted.
3. All Those Philosophers Drive Me Crazy!
Think back to Philosophy 101. One of the first topics in class was ancient Greek philosophy. Most likely, you started with Plato and the Socratic dialogues. Very interesting reading! But all those questions from Socrates can give you a headache. Socrates really knew how to get under the skin. Just ask Thrasymachus and Euthyphro. If Socrates’ questions were not difficult enough, they spawned even more challenging puzzles about the Theory of the Forms and the preexistence of the soul. You read the Allegory of the Cave in The Republic and you think to yourself, “Okay, this makes sense. I think I get it.” Not so fast! Here comes Aristotle and his realist view of the Forms. Fast forward to the second week of class and now you are learning about the nominalism of Abelard and William of Ockham. They disagree with Plato and Aristotle. A few classes later have you deep into the complexities of Kant who disagrees with Plato, Aristotle, Abelard, and William of Ockham. These philosophers can drive you crazy! All you want is a clear-cut answer to the problem of universals (and to think: before you took the course, you didn’t even know what a universal was).
Joking aside, I actually love this about philosophy. Let’s face it, we prefer to have answers to hard questions supplied to us without any effort on our part. I get my answer and now I can move on. But we come to learn that life is not simple and philosophy helps both unpack the complexity and provide a way through it. Just reading about the problem of universals and seeing the different philosophical views about it throughout history has given me a greater appreciation for what it means to exist. All these philosophers have sharpened my ability to think by ensuring that I do not get too comfortable with simple answers. Can I still believe in something with conviction? Yes, I can. However, all those philosophers remind me of one thing: even my views that I hold with great confidence can and should be re-evaluated when necessary. Yes, they drive me crazy but that’s a good thing.
4. Philosophy Informs Practice
Contrary to popular belief, philosophy is very practical. Philosophy has significant implications for the conduct of life. All of the branches of philosophy (metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and logic) contribute in their own unique way to how we conduct our lives. How we view the nature of reality (metaphysics) will have a direct effect on the decisions we make about how to live. For example, the theist conducts her life from a worldview which is centered on the existence of a divine being. To the theist, God is ultimate reality and His nature and commands ought to be a fundamental consideration in how she makes decisions. How we come to know (epistemology) has a direct bearing upon our lives. Civil and criminal law rely heavily upon what someone knows and how this affected their actions. How we reason (logic) is essential to interacting with our own and other’s ideas. Reasoning properly is an example of logic in action. It has a direct effect upon our ability to think critically about ideas and situations in life. In addition, logic teaches us about fallacies (improperly ordered thinking) that negatively affect our ability to arrange ideas and determine whether they’re true or false. How we determine right and wrong (ethics) is probably the one field of philosophy which is most associated with practicality. Morality is a daily concern in life. Concerns about right and wrong and good and bad continually occupy our lives. Philosophy is not merely academic as some believe. It is highly pragmatic when applied properly.
5. The Versatility of Philosophy
The skills acquired in studying philosophy are versatile and can serve as a strong foundation in other disciplines. This is a much overlooked feature of philosophy. The reasoning and analytical abilities acquired from analyzing complex ideas and arguments are essential in a number of other of fields. Studying philosophy involves reading about complex ideas and arguments which exercises analytical and reasoning skills. Reading complex writing, a common feature of philosophy, can aid in producing strong verbal and writing skills and provides the student of philosophy with the tools necessary to communicate ideas effectively and clearly. In addition, the study of philosophy can develop problem-solving and argumentative skills. The transferable nature of these skills provides an incredible intellectual versatility to the student of philosophy. You can find philosophy graduates working in the following fields: law, government, journalism, sales, charitable organizations, education, science, and other fields.
Philosophy is not an intellectual magic wand. It can be misused and lead to greater confusion and misunderstanding like any discipline. But when done carefully and when the philosopher, with a fair degree of humility and tentativeness, seeks truth, it can be a powerful part of human intellectual progress. It doesn’t always lead to the right conclusions and philosophers need to be aware of the penchant for self-deception and cognitive biases in order to avoid intellectual pitfalls. And you know what? That’s an important philosophical point.