Philosophical circles can get quite defensive about the value that an education in this field has to the wider world. On one side you’ll find the pragmatics: extolling the value of a fundamental grounding in logic to the corporate, and specifically financial, world. On the other side you’ll find the academics: extolling the virtue of an education in itself. I would like to put forward a middle path: philosophy is of value whatever you pursue.
A lot is assumed of students, and one of the scariest assumptions is that you’ll have answers to the following questions:
(i) Why are you studying this subject?
(ii) What are you going to do next?
(iii) What do you want to do with your life after that?
Having answers to these questions is fantastic, and guidance is necessary for students who have answers as well as those who don’t. Being an educator allows one to meet students who can answer none, some, or all of (i)-(iii). Especially for those students who don’t have answers to all of these questions, I’d like to open up the possibility of philosophy at A-Level, Undergraduate, or beyond.
Why is philosophy useful if you can’t answer all of these questions? It has been stated many times that philosophy allows one to think diligently. What advantage does this have? Well, it allows one to use the right method to get to the right goal at the end of whatever you’re doing. Let’s run through a few examples.
Suppose you’re discussing a social phenomenon, be it with friends or in a cabinet meeting, thinking philosophically allows one to quickly and accurately break down the issue into its component parts and understand how they affect each other. So if you’re wondering why recorded instances of a specific crime are rising, you’ll be able to avoid bias and come to the correct conclusion about what the possible causes are and assess their likelihood. If you’re in a cabinet meeting you can then seek out studies to confirm or disprove the possible causes. If you’re chatting with friends, you can be part of a discussion which avoids stereotypes and gives rise to further interesting questions.
How about a creative pursuit? Suppose you’re struggling to write a character who is believable. Philosophy can help you break down the problem. Perhaps this character is a different age or gender to you. Then you can pick the correct method to tackle this: you need more exposure to how this type of person would speak, you need practice trying to replicate that, and in breaking down what you know about a character you can build up an idea of how they’d react to any new situation.
Lastly, let’s talk understanding. There are many times where understanding is crucial. Suppose you’re having a difference of opinion with a friend, colleague, or a family member. If you can break down the situation you can look at it not just from your own perspective, but also from an objective standpoint, and also, crucially, from their perspective. This understanding can help you resolve issues in all walks of life, from day to day interactions to bringing up a child.
I’d like to finish by saying that I don’t disagree with the pragmatists or the academics. There’s very good reason for financial sectors to employ students with a training in philosophy, and philosophy is itself a fascinating field of much intrinsic value. In this short article I hope to have reinforced the argument that an education in philosophy can be useful to anybody, whether they know what path they want to take or not.