Tim is a recent graduate from the University of Georgia. He has a background in international relations and philosophy. He is curious about the social and economic implications of accelerating technological innovation.
Odd that so many should go twelve years of schooling without any formal exposure to what philosophy is and what it has to offer. Moreover, too many students graduate college without bothering to take a course in the subject matter. Philosophy is not a climb to that lofty ivory tower. It is not having your head in the clouds, or losing yourself to the minutiae of arcane, esoteric, but essentially meaningless topics. It is learning to think critically by organizing ideas and working through them methodically and systematically.
The beauty of the philosophical endeavor is the range and scope of its application. Yes, a course in philosophy will demand participants to read and think about rather heady, abstract topics: What is the nature of reality? What is the good? How should people organize themselves? The benefits to asking such questions, however, are not fully captured the conclusions themselves, but rather the process through which any conclusion at all emerges. That is, philosophical training serves to orient one towards premises of an argument, not its conclusion. If one is fortunate, it is certainly possible to stumble upon the correct conclusion to any given problem or question. However the only way to reason to accurate conclusion is to examine the validity of each of the premises one has taken onboard and assure their logical coherence. More often than not, this is no simple or easy process. Yet one might be challenged to think of a single interesting area of human expertise where such a skill would not be valuable.
When interviewed, Elon Musk, a personal hero of mine, frequently makes a vital distinction when giving (business) advice. He notes the difference between thinking by analogy and thinking by first principles. The former describes the way most people think about most things in the course of daily life. A small business owner reasons that because his competitor has not yet hired for the holiday season, and because his competitor is doing well, that perhaps he ought not bring anyone on either. In contrast, thinking by first principles would require examining ones expenses and incomes, looking at the risks involved in hiring someone new, and so on. To reason from first principles is akin to thinking philosophically about a problem. It is certainly more tedious and difficult, and the conclusion one arrives to may or may not be the intuitive one provided solely by reasoning through analogy. Nevertheless, the philosophical approach to thinking through business problems has assisted Mr. Musk in the decisions he has made and the success he has had.
Philosophy is a tool with broad applications. It enables clarity of thought for whatever task one is undertaking. In this sense, all majors tend to benefit from a dose of philosophy. Assuming that one has (even a mildly) competent professor and sufficient interest in the subject matter as to invest oneself into the course material, the intro to philosophy class will be the best course you’ll take in college.