Thursday, July 14, 2011

What is Philosophy? Does it have use?

If you look up the term in a dictionary it will define as: the study of wisdom.
How can one study wisdom? Common sense tells us that wisdom is achieved intuitively over long periods of experience. So how could one learn in a book or class setting what life itself as a whole can only teach?
Wisdom in the dictionary is defined in short as knowing right from wrong. Again this skill (wisdom) seems to be gained solely from experience and life in general, not a classroom over a few years (like one can  learn other skills; engineering medicine etc).

Therefore most people laugh (thinking its a joke) or question the mental health of the person when they announce that their college major is philosophy. Some even think of philosophy students as completely pretentious.

Ive been thinking this over for a while and i think we can reach wisdom in the class setting. One other aspect of philosophy which permeates it yet is not mentioned in the very name (philos) is critical thinking and critical perspective.
This I believe is where the value of philosophy is at its most evident. Critical thinking- the ability to suspend ones own beliefs and the beliefs of others, into a realm of speculative thought which opens up new ways of thinking about the same old issues. This is the hallmark of innovation and paradigm shifts (think of Thomas Kuhn's book).
It is while we critically analyze something that we can "step out of the box" and almost objectively comprehend our own positions and those of others.

This is not only a value to intellectuals, this is of value to everyone. This is the real skill of philosophy, critical perspective. Most of us in the US are made to skip to critical thinking questions for homework in public school. The reason being that its too hard because there is no one clear cut answer. That's because it requires us to THINK. And as humans we are THINKING ANIMALS (thats our skill, in the same way as the birds skill is flight). Yet most students will complain if they are doing a task which requires anything over rudimentary cognitive skill.... but i digress.

Therefore the way in which students of philosophy study wisdom is through critical perspective- the suspending of beliefs into a neutral zone of somewhat-objectivity (i donut say complete objectivity because of Kant's theories). And philosophy is useful for everyone; being a student of psychology has shown me that the difference between depression and happiness is a change in perceptive- and if we are able to change our perspective at will- this skill (this wisdom) can benefit many people who feel stuck in maladaptive perspectives and world views.

If you are wondering why i say critical thinking is knowing right from wrong, it is because knowing that one can be wrong about their own position is probably the most sane thing a person can assume. Because given enough time, all theories can prove to be either false or incomplete.