Ethical Realism

December 31, 2010

Should I Take A Philosophy Class? (And Should I Major in Philosophy?)

Filed under: outreach,philosophy — JW Gray @ 7:38 am
Tags: , , ,

When deciding if you should take a philosophy class (or major in philosophy), you might want to ask yourself what kind of an answer you want:

  • Do you want an easy class? If so, it’s probably not a good idea.
  • Do you want something enjoyable? If so, it depends on what you find enjoyable.
  • Do you want to find out about subjects that were marginalized or ignored in your high school education? If so, you should take it.
  • Should other people learn to improve their thinking and become better people? If so, then you should too—and you should take the class.
  • Do you want to take an important class? If so, then yes.

The second two answers are the ones I will attempt to provide here.

Others should try to be better people, but so should you.

Do you want people to be gullible, close-minded, fanatical, criminal, irrational, or dim witted—or would you rather they learn to be reasonable, open minded, moral, rational, and thoughtful? Philosophy helps change people for the better. You might think philosophy is hard or depressing, but that’s a poor excuse to sacrifice the most important part of your education. You think other people should try to be moral and rational—and it’s a lot harder to be moral and rational without studying what the “experts” have to say. There are people who have spent their lives thinking about morality and rationality—and studying what other people have to say about these topics who did the same. It’s a lot easier to learn to be moral and rational through the years of experience of others than to try to build it all from the ground up on your own.

Terrorists and criminals tend not to be very rational or moral. We don’t want people to be dirty cops, corrupt politicians, or immoral CEOs. If teaching people to be rational and moral will help them avoid being horrible people, then everyone should be taking philosophy classes—including you.

That’s certainly not to say that philosophy has to be depressing. You can learn to be a better person and enjoy attaining higher levels of consciousness. You can learn to make yourself and the world better. Philosophy can help.

Philosophy is important

Philosophy is important for many reasons including the following:

  1. It offers a degree of knowledge involving life’s biggest questions: Reasoning, logic, morality, and reality itself. Knowledge seems to be worth pursuing for its own sake. It can be enjoyable just to attain some knowledge—especially about life’s biggest questions.
  2. It can transform you into a better human being. You will learn to think for yourself, refute poor reasoning, use better reasoning, consider various worldviews, and learn how to make the world a better place.
  3. You will learn to be “open minded” without being gullible, and “skeptical” without being “close-minded.”
  4. By learning to be reasonable, you will avoid being fanatical or reckless. You will be less likely to become a criminal or horrible person.
  5. By learning about morality (ethics), you will learn something about what it means to live a meaningful life and make the world a better place. This can be used. If we want the world to become a better place, we need people to think about what goals are worth having and how to accomplish them. Philosophy is the best way to do that.
  6. Philosophy has lead to real world achievements, such as logic, the best higher education imaginable, computers, and natural science.
  7. Philosophy can offer you the best sort of “enlightenment” that I know about. Philosophy can help you see the world in new ways that can transform you into a better person and transcend the limited worldview you have attained from your culture. You can learn to better “seize the day.” You can better see how life is marginalized through consumerism, how your time is wasted with trivial distractions, how people’s behavior is often thoughtless or irrational (often due to a faulty worldview), and so on.
  8. Philosophy can teach you the history that is often taken out of history books—the history of worldviews and thought itself. You can’t know how we have “progressed” and attained the wonders of science and technology without knowing the history of philosophy.
  9. You will learn of many of the greatest achievements and conversations that existed throughout history—the books and thoughts written by people who devoted their lives to learning about the world and how to live a good life.
  10. You will learn how to think more creatively, not less. Learning about the answers people have thought of to life’s greatest questions opens possibilities that you would have a very difficult time to realize on your own. Philosophers often contribute to the world by thinking in entirely new ways and offering entirely new answers—and you can learn to do so as well through example. You might think you are creative now, but odds are that many of your ideas are the same as someone else’s. Would you rather know what ideas are already thought of so you can make sure your own ideas are unique or do you want to end up coming to the same ideas that many others come up with?


What you get out of philosophy is partially up to your teacher, but it’s mostly up to you. If you want to get by doing the minimal work with as little effort as possible, then you might not get much out of philosophy at all. To get something out of philosophy, you should spend some time arguing and thinking about your life and what it means to be rational or moral. In fact, you don’t need to take a single philosophy class to learn about philosophy. You could try to learn it on your own.

Whatever you want to do in life philosophy can help. Being rational, thinking clearly, and being moral is important for all human beings just for being human beings. Everyone should not only take a philosophy class of their own free will, but people should be required to learn philosophy in high school. It could probably be taught as part of our English classes. Learning to read and write is an important part of learning to think. You can’t read or write anything important if you can’t read or write philosophy. (In fact, I think philosophy should have a greater influence over all of our education in general. Education should be less about obedience, following directions, and memorization; and more about understanding the world using good reasoning.)

Should you major in philosophy? If you want an education to get a job like everyone else, then it might not be the best choice. However, if you want to make yourself or the world better, then you should consider it.



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