Answers—Why Study Philosophy?

Why study philosophy?

Bethany Mueller '03

I admit that as a naïve first-year student at Gustavus I didn’t take a philosophy class immediately because I didn’t exactly know what philosophy was. I knew the definition as commonly used in the English language, but I wasn’t quite sure what was studied in a philosophy class. I thought it could possibly have something to do with math, and that scared me just enough to quash my initial interest.

Thankfully, I took Intro to Women’s Studies during January of my first year and before I knew it I was theorizing. I found studying philosophy as an undergraduate useful because learning how to read and comprehend theory was an integral foundation of my education. In my philosophy classes I learned to think critically; and I learned a language that allowed me to delve deeper into thoughts and questions. This language helped me to write papers as well as articulate my thoughts during late night conversations in Wahlstrom.

I studied Women’s Studies and Environmental Studies and my philosophy classes became the most tangible bridge between the two disciplines. In classes such as Feminist Philosophy, Philosophies of the Environment, and Philosophies of Developing Nations I watched my interdisciplinary education actualize. Studying philosophy helped me to understand the broader picture; to see how history, political science, and more specific studies were connected.

This broader understanding of my education was critical while studying Justice, Peace and Development in India. While researching and studying rural women farmers I more fully explored the connections between their roles as women and their work with the land because of what I had learned in my first philosophy classes.

After graduating, studying philosophy has extended even more out of the classroom. My first two years out of college I worked at a day-center for the homeless in Tacoma, Washington. One of my coworkers had been a Political Science and Women’s Studies major at St. Olaf. Most nights after dinner we would go on long walks and talk about our day. After a few weeks we realized we were constantly attempting to make sense of our situation by theorizing. These long walks in wet, balmy northwest nights helped to solidify my belief in the indissoluble connection between theory and practice. I was introduced to the concept of theory and practice in my 100 level philosophy classes. That concept guided me through my papers in college as well as decisions about the course of my life. For that, I am very thankful.

Why is philosophy useful to study as an undergraduate?

Erin Dana '01

The familiar response to the question "why study philosophy?" is as follows:

Studying philosophy teaches you how to approach problems, view arguments from multiple perspectives and to think around situations. Studying philosophy refines your ability to communicate clearly with others and articulate your thoughts in a meaningful way.

My top reasons for studying philosophy:
  1. I finally understand those jokes on the Family Guy, Home Star Runner, and the Simpsons that had been eluding me all these years.
  2. I can do Sudoku puzzles in INK!
  3. And then there are the secret powers...
What did I do with a philosophy degree?

I am an Academic Advisor at Pacific Lutheran University. My primary focus is working with underrepresented populations and bridging achievement gaps. The skills I learned and the talents that were polished in my study of philosophy actually play in important role in my professional life.

First of all studying philosophy at Gustavus made graduate school a breeze. My cohort did not have experience wrestling with difficult texts or writing clear arguments and found the work to be much more challenging. Even now, I am involved in more research and article writing in my professional career because of the jump start I had as an undergraduate.

In my position now, my communication and clarifying skills are immensely important. Even though I am the newest person in my office I get most of the challenging work because of my analytic and problem solving skills.

Why study philosophy?

Steve Bloom '87

Aside from the fact that George and Deane are two of the coolest cats you will meet on any college campus, the study of philosophy has made me a better person in many ways.

First and foremost, the ability to respect and GAIN UNDERSTANDING of others views will help you in your everyday life, and work life. I find that I am no smarter than my peers, but I certainly have one tool many don’t have. While most try to defend their position on a topic and get agitated and downright pissed off at times, I find it somewhat amusing at times to hear people out. Even though I might think they are off their rocker, and ultimately disagree with their opinion/action, my desire and willingness to gain understanding gives me respect and a calming approach. Philosophy has taught me to respect one’s views, even if I don’t agree. This is VERY rare in the world outside of the friendly sidewalks of GAC. My ability to negotiate is far superior to my peers for this simple reason. If I seek to gain understanding, I can then leverage what makes that person tick and try and satisfy their needs along with mine. Philosophy teaches you to ask questions, analyze, and contrast viewpoints. This tool is effective when trying to figure out why an executive won’t buy my product, or why my 14 year old daughter won’t clean her damn room (or why my buddy drinks Grain Belt Premium that makes his surroundings smell like my hockey locker at Lund way back when).

In addition, philosophy has taught me to be a much better speaker and writer. In order to convey your thoughts in philosophy, you must speak and write essays. No boring, ugly, easy to grade, multiple choice tests here. Macroeconomic classes have that down pat. No room for those who want to go with the masses. They all shop at Wal-Mart. Me, I like individualism. The store that carries unique shirts, and only one in each size. It is a much better way to go through life, especially when you respect and admire everyone else’s individualism. George and Deane taught me this. They also taught me how not to act based on my beliefs and values. To this day, I follow the paper I wrote for Deane on Machiavelli’s The Prince in my business life. My company is widely recognized as one of the best places to work for because of our values, and the way we treat one another. Those values start with me. It certainly doesn’t follow what Machiavelli promotes/believes, and there lies the rub. You can learn from others as to what not to do/how not to act, based on an understanding of their position vs. yours.

Finally, I have never been to a great party where Macroeconomics was the topic of conversation. The chicks are ugly, the guys are boring, and the wine is cheap.

So... why study philosophy?

John Biewen '83

You should study philosophy because doing so will make you more interesting at parties for the rest of your life. Especially if you can say you were a philosophy MAJOR, people will assume you care little about money and may find you intriguing, even slightly dangerous. What's more, the study of philosophy will in fact make you smarter and more reflective, leading you to make more provocative and thoughtful remarks to your fellow party-goers.

The best part of all is that, despite what people may think, the study of philosophy does not cause poverty or joblessness. A lot of good jobs—and all of the interesting ones—require thinking and reasoning and writing. Philosophy trains you in these skills. As Hegel once said: “Studying philosophy is a regular win-win situation.” Or maybe it was Wittgenstein.