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Why do philosophy (despite employability)

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March 8, 2014 by Zara

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I have many a time tried to explain to questioning friends, the worthiness, and even joys, of philosophy. Sadly, ours is a time that values speed and breadth over depth and truth, the fast and fleeting over the languid and thorough, extrinsics and achievement over intrinsics and ethics, cheap and sensational over real and authentic, quick-fix easy answers over confronting questions and effortful deliberation. An ADHD, McDonald culture.

I try to explain why I’d want to spend hours on end holed-up, pouring through a litany of words, questions, ideas, investigations, considerations, contradictions, instead of join them at the beach. And why I might prefer to sit, often (and again, sadly) the odd, solitary “young” female, in a room full of comparatively advanced-aged, dry-witted, distinguished-sounding, nearly intellectually obscure men, instead of lounge at home with the idiot-box (aka. television) on, or chit chat lipstick and nail polish with girlfriends. And why I simply have no desire and will never be primarily motivated to “join the workforce”, “climb corporate ladders”, “be rich”, “be successful”, “be influential”, “leave a legacy”, “get married” or any such empty or means-related pursuits. (Because the question is always ‘why’, and ‘to what ends’?). And I see glazed incomprehension, polite entertaining nods or the already distracted shift of attention to the next passing shiny object.

So thank you, Rebecca Goldstein, for managing to explain in a neat, concise paragraph why we should study philosophy, despite concerns about employability (which itself tells you something about our culture’s values & priorities)… though I think, if you aren’t already inclined so, this is unlikely to grab or convince you otherwise anyway:

To challenge your own point of view. Also, you need to be a citizen in this world. You need to know your responsibilities. You’re going to have many moral choices every day of your life. And it enriches your inner life. You have lots of frameworks to apply to problems, and so many ways to interpret things. It makes life so much more interesting. It’s us at our most human. And it helps us increase our humanity. No matter what you do, that’s an asset. *

Apparently, this global-mindedness and humanistic perspective may even make you a more desirable job candidate.

Let me tell you, sure, it may. But by that time, you might be utterly unemployable. And more-so, utterly lacking any desire to be employed.

Because the point of things suddenly — paradoxically subtly yet radically — shifts from being about economic subsistence and even economic prosperity, or about social participation or the ridiculous “dignity of having a job”, to being able to apply oneself to something truly meaningful and worthwhile. Or fun and engaging. Or just plain beautiful and pleasurable. Smelling the roses, we call it.

In a world so cluttered and confused with conflicting and misled ideas about how we ought to best live our lives, I see philosophy as the offer of a rope out of a dark, chaotic-yet-stagnated abyss.

But you have to first reach up and climb it.

* From this article, “Why Philosophy Majors Rule“.


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