Wednesday, June 18, 2008

More and more philosphy majors

Never thot I would read this. According to the NYTimes, philosophy is an ever-more popular major among undergrads. Huh. Wow. Weird. Interesting.

This trend, of course, immediately raises questions. Is it true? Are we justified in believing this? What is the meaning of this? Can we judge it to be a positive for society?

Or is this an example of mass delusion, thousands of people spontaneously believing something - that majoring in philosophy is a worthwhile endeavor - the assumptions of which have never been conclusively proven? Is the unexamined life really not worth living? Is it possible that people who live their lives unexamined do live fulfilled, meaningful lives?

More importantly, is it possible to get a job as a philosophy major? Yes, but it is highly advised that you go to law school.

I was a philosophy major. My parents were supportive and encouraged me. My mother, however, did ask me if I was going to start a philosophy store. No, I couldn't assign a value to Hegel, and Schopenhauer proved impervious to packaging.

There is one great problem with majoring in philosophy, and that is that there is the ever-present danger that you will take it too seriously. Philosophy teaches you how to ask questions, but not necessarily how to find answers. Once you get started, it is sometimes difficult, if not impossible, to know when to stop. This can be a serious problem. Monty Python captured it perfectly.

There are, however, several solutions. Monty Python also provided one such solution. The lyrics of this song were actually posted on the wall in the office of the chairman of the philosophy department at Swarthmore.

And then, of course, there is this scene from A Fish Called Wanda, which has one of my all-time favorite lines about philosophy.

Sometimes I think Jamie Lee Curtis is the one who should have won an Oscar for this movie (Kevin Kline won Best Supporting Actor).

My feelings about philosophy come down to this. Studying philosophy is like driving a Ferrari. 99% of the time, it's either only marginally better than whatever is normal, a complete waste, or actually counterproductive. But that 1% of the time when you can use it for the purpose for which it was intended, there is nothing like it in the world.

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