Why Study Philosophy


After having started studying certain topics in philosophy, I looked over my notes and started to question whether this was a good idea at all.  I was studying the philosophy of mind; asking those questions and reading others’ responses to what was the mind, how it related to the body, and whether they are distinct or the same.  When I began on this topic I was quickly overwhelmed with the amount of information on this one topic.  The philosophy of mind could be separated into sub-topics (ex. monists/dualists/pluralists) and those sub-topics could be separated into more subtopics when could then be categorized down even further.  By the time I reached one specific idea about the mind/body problem, it was so far categorized that if I didn’t lose it among a thousand other ideas, it was so unknown as to be practically useless.  Was I really going to look at every idea and try to argue for or against them?  Such a daunting task would certainly seem unpractical, not to mention I would almost certainly never have anything written.

The question of practicality certainly weighed in during my study. After expressing my interest in philosophy to my brother, he replied how he had little use for deep study in his life.  He recounted how while studying music at school a question was asked about the origination of music.  Did music begin with the initial vibrations the performer made or was it not music until the sounds penetrated the ears?  Such questions he found irrelevant to the study of music; an answer to that question would not change our experience of it.  Similarly, science has given us practical answers to many of the problems that philosophy posed.  Neurologists and psychologists have studied the mind/body problem in a practical way that makes real change and real applications on people’s everyday lives.  We’ve come to some understanding of how the brain works and it is through science, not philosophy, from which we will get more understanding.  My interest in this world is to know as many true things as possible and as few false things as possible.  When it comes to this objective, practical knowledge is more fitting.  What is the purpose of musing on a question which has no real effect?

I searched for others’ reasons as to why study philosophy.  The majority of what I found came from university websites encouraging students to major in philosophy.  The main reasons they gave were: because studying philosophy made you smarter (through teaching critical/logical skills), you can apply philosophy to any other field (which asks the question, why not start in that other field and bring up the philosophy questions later - in many cases only to be dismissed as irrelevant), and because philosophy means the study or love of wisdom (which is never defined).  Irony to me that the last reason seems to fall into a basic fallacy of reason.

Still, I have only touched on a very basic, single category of philosophy and I may be missing a broad, practical application of the field.  And, for some strange reason, it still appeals to me.  My original exploration into philosophy was based on good intentions.  However, I was forgetting a very important aspect - and one which I rarely see emphasized - and that is philosophy needs to be combined with other fields of knowing.  When we combine philosophical concepts and questions to other fields (science, literature, mathematics, politics, etc.) then we start to see a more practical application of the field.

What is love?  Neurologists can give you a definition that includes chemical reactions in the brain and throughout the body.  Biologists can give you evolutionary explanations.  Psychologists can recite for you behavioral interactions of how it works, and why it is different, and how to make it work.  Archaeologists can show you how it was done generations ago.  Politicians can
give you restrictions on how it should be practiced now.  Theologists will confound you by dissolving the definition.  But, how should we define love?  Is love for a human being the same as love for an inanimate object?  Can we love a thing as much as we love another person?  Can we love a person as much as we love a thing?  At what point does love begin - with the reactions in the brain, or must there also be the subsequent reactions in the body?  At what point does it start and when does it stop?  Can love stop?  Is there such a thing as true love?  Throw ethics into the mix and the conversation expands exponentially.  However, more importantly, do any of these questions have any real significance in the way we live our lives?  Yes, they do.

Philosophy asks the questions that forces us to define almost anything and everything in our experienced life.  I do not define philosophy as the study or love of wisdom.  I see that definition as a nice apothem and use of propaganda to give philosophers who don’t know any better a reason for their study.  Philosophy is a method which can be used parallel to the concrete study of everything around us.  And now that I have changed the definition of philosophy from something abstract to something concrete, I have reason to study it.  The neurologist can tell us - through observation and experimentation - what happens in the brain, to what we call love, but philosophers are the ones that define what that process is.  Much like science, philosophy is a self-correcting, or at least, a self-critiquing process.  It may not give a definitive answer, but it does give definitive ideas and concepts, some which can be tested and applied.  When used this way, philosophy is not just for the thinker, but for the doer, the practical magician.

What about those questions of seemingly no importance and no relevance?  For example, does it really matter where music starts?  Does it matter whether music is defined with the first vibrations or the performer or the final vibrations of the ear?  No, our experience of music will not change with either concept.  It will not change how the performer works, nor will it change how the listener participates.  In 2008, physicists created a new element: 118 Ununoctium.  This element lasted only 0.89 ms before decaying to element 116 Ununhexium which lasted for 10.0 ms before decaying to element 114 Ununquadium which then lasted for 0.16 seconds before decaying.   Ununoctium was created through bombarding Californium and Calcium.  This scientific experiment has as much significance as the seemingly unimportant philosophical questions.  To risk making a statement that borders on propaganda, these questions of philosophy are there simply for the love of exploration.  We do science not only for the practical uses, but also for the love of exploration, experimentation, and knowledge.  We can do philosophy for the same reasons.

I wish to know as many true things as possible and as few false things as possible.  I also have a heart for exploration.  Through combining science and philosophy, I can pursue both interests.  Since beginning my own autodidact study of philosophy, I have revised my process to make it not only practical, but applicable.  And this, makes philosophy worth studying.


credit: nuchylee