By Marshall Lymburn | Opinion Editor

“The Death of Socrates” is a painting by Jacques-Louis David. (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

How do I live well? How do I conduct myself in times of stress and conflict? What is truly meaningful in life? These may seem like the cliché grabbers one would expect on a piece about why to study philosophy at Saint Mary’s, but these are real questions with real answers, and there is no discipline better than Philosophy with which they can be answered. But this is a shallow entrance into a subject of even greater breadth and profundity. Philosophy is not only about discovering one’s self. It is a map to greater answers about the world, and anyone in any discipline can benefit from taking a class. Period.

Why not study something “useful” instead, you might ask? Let’s get the idea that Philosophy is useless out of the way right now. No matter what discipline you are in, studying Philosophy can benefit you. Are you a Sociology major interested in questions of human nature? Philosophy will introduce you to the thinkers who first asked such questions. What about Politics or History? One of the greatest questions in Philosophy is how to build an ethical society. What about Business? A course in philosophical ethics can only improve how you conduct yourself whether you go into sales or management. In fact, I cannot think of a single area of study that could not be enhanced by taking a course in Philosophy. Yes, even Dance.

Your education is in the best hands in this department. We are lucky at Saint Mary’s to have an extremely erudite group of philosophy professors. Every one of these professors is adept not just in Philosophy, but in many other subjects—between them lies a comprehensive knowledge of mathematics, linguistics, history, ethics, classical studies, logic, theology, politics, psychology, literature—precisely because philosophy has a finger in every one of these studies, and more. Pick any professor on the roster and you won’t go wrong. Some of the most dedicated and intelligent professors I have ever been in a classroom with teach in this one department. Don’t pass it up.

This goes out especially to first and second year students—those who might still be uncertain about a major. The question of what to study is a difficult one, and it comes from exploring as many ideas as possible as well as yourself. Taking a class in philosophy might help answer those questions, and it is in no way a commitment to a major or minor. You will wrestle with the deepest questions man has faced since the beginning of recorded history. You can only count on being stimulated by new ideas walking out of the classroom buzzing—part of what a liberal arts education is all about.

I started taking philosophy classes as an English major because I found the area of literary theory stimulating and wanted to pursue it further. Further I went indeed. Now six classes later, I feel more engaged with the ideas I came into Philosophy to pursue, and many more.

But it is not just English majors who I find in my classes. I have friends in Environmental Studies, Math, Economics, and History who I’ve taken philosophy courses with, and there are many more major-minors, double-majors, or those just taking the courses for fun across a multitude of disciplines.

The diversity of backgrounds leads to extremely open and discursive conversations within the classroom. Little is sacred in these discussions. Any idea is open to scrutiny or praise, and although discussions and lectures are stimulating, no one is pushing anyone to engage. The grade you walk away with at the end of the semester is rarely affected by whether you debate out loud or sit back and listen.

But that doesn’t mean the classes are a walk in the park. You still have to think, and the most valuable skill you obtain in these classes is the way you learn to think. You may cry, “But there are bigger things in the world than myself! I don’t have the time or luxury for self-investigation.” Wrong. You are the building block of the human race, and you can’t change the world until you know both it and yourself. A person blind to themselves does little good to the world, even when they try. A person blind to themselves trying to do “good” doesn’t even know what “good” is, or why they are trying to do it. If you leave Saint Mary’s without exploring these questions, you have passed up a chance to explore what real liberal arts education is all about.

One should know that Philosophy is far from just an esoteric subject reserved for those interested in abstract ideas. The story of man wrestling with the questions of life is as old as the human race. You have this time in your life, and a group of extremely qualified professors at your disposal, to ask questions you will never again be able to pose. Don’t miss out on this opportunity. You could end up carrying with you something you learn in this department for the rest of your life.

This article has 4 comments

  1. Another useful bit of knowledge and an incentive to take them is that there are many Philosophy classes that fulfill core requirements:
    1. Fall semester ethics covers the upper division TRS requirement and common good,
    2. Bible and philosophy in the spring covers lower division TRS,
    3. The new class: philosophy goes to the movies class during spring covers artistic understanding,
    4. Philosophy of religion covers upper division trs
    5. Intro philosophy is common good
    6. Philosophy of history is social historical and cultural understanding
    7. Philosophy of art covers artistic understanding

    To name a few.

  2. The author appears to implicitly express his love for philosophy in terms of primarily ethics and gripping with humanity or other typically “deep” questions (cue rick and morty, bojack horseman, etc. quotes). This may be good bait for the regular joe but it isn’t all that philosophy can offer. Questions in Metaphysics classes are extremely difficult to grasp and perhaps most “useless” but the exercise in critical analysis really sharpens your tools to defend a point well. There’s also abstract thinking, with concepts beyond our sensory understanding, how we can define them (ontology) and how we can attain that knowledge (epistemology). This may not fall under what people would normally want in terms of a “liberal arts education” but it’s still a worthwhile education . The difference in understanding Descartes in Seminar is vastly different compared to tackling him in Metaphysics.

    Taking philosophy classes is more than just “coming in with questions and leaving with more questions” , it’s about “coming in with questions and leaving with better ones”, the addition of “better questions” is what makes it worthwhile, because it helps you critically analyze anything from any discipline or critically reflect on everydayness.

  3. The Philosophy Department one of the few remaining reasons to go to St. Mary’s at this point in its decline. Glad to see some students still see the value. The topics of inquiry are not “useful” in themselves because they are not “for” some other good. They are good intrinsically. The mental training, however, will serve you in any walk of life. Bravo.

  4. I queefed out a churro in 1986 and died.

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