The Study Of Philosophy

Philosophy is a difficult discipline to define. The word “philosophy” comes from the Greek words, “philo” (meaning, the love of) and “sophia” (wisdom), but “the love of wisdom” does not easily capture the field. Indeed, to ask what philosophy is to ask a philosophical question, and philosophers are bound to disagree in their understanding of the field. Generally, however, philosophers are concerned with the nature of existence, meaning, truth, and values, and philosophers work to challenge assumptions in our beliefs about the world, each other and ourselves.

The discipline of philosophy can be broken down into a number of sub-areas including ethics (questions about rightness, wrongness, praiseworthiness, blameworthiness and duty), metaphysics (the nature of existence and reality), epistemology (the study of knowledge), aesthetics (questions about art and beauty) and logic (the study of reasoning). Philosophers also study other academic fields, and so there is philosophy of science (and, indeed, philosophy of biology, philosophy of physics, philosophy of economics…), philosophy of language, philosophy of religion, philosophy of mind and so on. There are also different approaches to philosophical thinking, including analytic philosophy, postmodern philosophy, feminist philosophy and others.

Centrally, however, studying philosophy serves two primary purposes. First, the study of philosophy helps to familiarize us with the history of philosophical and critical thinking, including questions that have plagued mankind for millennia (what determines what is right or wrong?) as well as new questions that continue to arise (what does the discovery of the Higgs boson—the “God particle”—mean for us?). Second, the study of philosophy serves to develop skills of analysis and argumentation that apply more generally. Together, these skills and this background help both students and professional philosophers alike to approach their lives critically, to be able to improve themselves and the world around them. As such, the study of philosophy provides transferable tools that apply to any field one might wish to pursue—and so philosophy is as applicable to a career in business or music as it is to one in law or medicine. And, more than this, training in philosophy helps us to understand ourselves in ways crucial for living full and flourishing lives.

"The story goes that when they were reproaching him for his poverty, supposing that philosophy is useless, he learned from his astronomy that the olive crop would be large. Then, while it was still winter, he obtained a little money and made deposits on all the olive presses both in Miletus and Chios, and since no one bid against him, he rented them cheaply. When the time came, suddenly many requested the presses all at once, and he rented them out on whatever terms he wished, and so he made a great deal of money. In this way he proved that philosophers can easily be wealthy if they wish, but this is not what they are interested in." --Aristotle, Politics 1.11, 1259a9-18




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