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Philosophy not so 'useless'

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Posted: Monday, September 13, 2010 9:00 pm

When I broke the news to my mom that I had decided to become a philosophy major, she, like most everyone else I've told, responded with the age-old question: "Oh really? And just what, exactly, do you plan on doing with that?"

It seems to me that, in the minds of most people, philosophy is pretty much one of the most useless majors out there. Well, I'm here to say once and for all, it's not.

To be fair, when people ask me what I plan on doing with my philosophy major, I don't always have an answer. Typical of a philosophically minded guy, I usually ask them right back what they plan on doing with their business/communications/engineering/whatever degree. And, more often than not, they don't have an answer either. Besides, Socrates was unemployed, and he's been a celebrity for 3000 years. But that notwithstanding, what most people don't realize is that my "useless" major is actually paying off right now.

See, that's the thing about philosophy, it doesn't just prepare you for a career, or even just for graduate school. It prepares you for life. One of the paramount purposes of philosophy is answering the question: "How ought I to live?" So far during my time at Gonzaga, my dedication to philosophy has given me serious help in processing the ups and downs of college life. Thanks to philosophy, I can legitimately examine and reflect on both my success and failures, and move forward with confidence on to life's next challenge. It helps me cope with the stress of an uber-hectic schedule, and realize that, more often than not, it's better to simply not care about things that, in the grand scheme of the universe, don't really make much of a difference (and those of you that know me will probably recognize that I don't usually put that attitude in such eloquent terms).

Contrary to popular belief, a philosophy major does also teach marketable skills. There's a reason Gonzaga's core curriculum requires every student to take four philosophy classes: It teaches you how to think, which is a much more practical skill than one might initially assume. People often talk of trying to "think outside of the box" in tough situations, and no one thinks outside of the box like a philosopher. Philosophy teaches you to peel back the layers of a situation by thinking logically, questioning presuppositions, understanding complexities, and, once you've discovered what's outside the box, how to articulate what you've found so that others may benefit from it. If I could give the incoming freshmen one piece of advice, it would be to take full advantage of all the philosophy classes they're required to take.

Now, please don't think that I'm knocking anyone's major, because I'm certainly not. Far be it for me to tell you how to live your life. It's my firm belief that everyone ought to major in what he or she is best at, and what they love. When deciding a major, you've got to play to your strengths, because that's what's going to get you the best grades (at least, in my humble opinion). Another thing I've come to learn is that philosophy isn't for everyone, and, obviously, there's nothing wrong with that. I certainly won't blame you if you run screaming from Rebmann after reading Kant or Mill for your 301 Ethics course.

Anyway if worse comes to worse, and philosophy really does turn out to be a useless degree, at least I'll have plenty of time to ponder life's biggest questions while waiting to collect my unemployment check.

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