Why Study Philosophy

Is studying philosophy a breadless art? Why should one study philosophy at all? We asked some philosophers.

Anja Leser: Useful skills

Philosophers acquire the following qualities, among others, during their studies, in addition to content knowledge:

  • analysis of texts, theoretical buildings,
  • structures and ideas
  • critical examination of ideas
  • logical argumentation
  • pointing out reasons, connections, contradictions and overlooked details
  • making constructive and well-reasoned proposals
  • openness to unresolved questions
  • Writing down complex thoughts into an understandable form.

The practice and elaboration of the listed skills resulting from the study enable students to apply them in other (non-philosophical) subject areas.

Not only professional sectors whose work deals with texts or communication (journalism, publishing, communication or libraries) are suitable for philosophers. Philosophers can also apply their skills in the fields of culture, NGOs, public administration or foundations.
In addition, strong linguistic and argumentation skills are also considered an important competence for salespersons or consultants. In the UK, for example, philosophers are often recruited as analysts by banks.

In addition to all these non-specialist activities, universities and high schools offer further opportunities to apply content-related knowledge, whether as a researcher, lecturer or teacher. Nevertheless, there are also associations that specialise in certain philosophy-related topics and are dependent on content-trained personnel. Ethics committees, for example, also represent a career opportunity for philosophy students. Last but not least, there are also some philosophers in Switzerland who have set up their own businesses and offer, for example, philosophical consultations or similar services.

Despite the relatively scarce "philosophical professions", however, the study does not lose its attractiveness and usefulness. A philosophy degree is often also experienced as a school of thought that is perceived as extremely valuable for life as such. Whether it is a substantive, historical overview of the intellectual development of humankind or the ability to think, speak and write more clearly: Hardly anyone would describe their own study of philosophy as entirely useless.


Philipp Blum: The question is already philosophical

The best answer to the question whether there are (need to be?) good reasons for studying philosophy is an analysis of the question itself: what do we mean by reasons? what is their relation to decisions and actions? what makes reasons good reasons? do we need reasons, are they necessary or just good? are different (kinds of) reasons good in different ways or good in different ways? What do we mean by a "study": an enrolment status, an interest, an occupation, a passing of certain exams, the acquisition of ECTS? And what do we mean by "philosophy"? Can one, so understood, "study" "philosophy" only at universities, so understood, only in philosophical institutes, only as enrolled students, only if all the required work is handed in on time?

The question of the meaning of philosophy and its study leads us directly into the thicket of philosophical questions from which no non-philosophical path leads out again. Therein lies the uniqueness of philosophy: meta-biology (thinking about biology, thinking about thinking about biological phenomena) does not itself belong to biology, meta-mathematics only to a limited extent to mathematics, meta-physics not to physics - but precisely to philosophy! Meta-philosophy, on the other hand, is a part of philosophy, some even say: identical with it in a mysterious way. But that is also a philosophical question.


Valentina Luporini: Fascinating questions

Philosophy has a long tradition that has profoundly shaped our culture. This amazing human ability to subject the world and oneself to critical scrutiny has remained the source and foundation of all other scientific disciplines to this day. In dialogue with the philosophers of the past and present, philosophy deals with topics such as knowledge, action, man, nature, art and many others. Among other things, philosophy deals with questions such as: Is there free will or are we determined by our nature? Do only humans have dignity or do animals also have dignity? How can human rights be justified and what exactly is a person? What is true?
As you can see, the field of philosophical enquiry is multifaceted and offers an inexhaustible wealth.

What can we know? How do we want to live? What should we do? What and who are we really? Those who find such questions fascinating and are not afraid to question what seems self-evident or to push their limits will find the study of philosophy particularly satisfying. The joy of discussing and arguing, the challenge of participating in an intellectual process that does not lead to a final answer but always to the discovery of new and surprising perspectives, the confrontation with the burning questions of our time - from human dignity to terrorism, from personal identity to free will: these are just a few aspects of studying philosophy.

The average duration of study in philosophy is three years for the Bachelor's degree, generally followed by two years for the Master's degree. On the websites of the various departments of philosophy you will find more detailed information about the form and content of the different degree programmes, specific research areas and specialisation options.


Laura Molinaro: Being a whole person

Philosophy is neither a difficult game for brilliant minds nor a complicated puzzle to get lost in.Philosophy for me is the most profoundly human activity.

Life and nature seem profoundly mysterious to us, and research and science never exhaust the answers but sharpen our questions and give rise to new ones. The task of philosophy is to accept the challenge and get to the bottom of these questions, to ask new questions, to seek connections between seemingly far-flung facts.

In the history of Western philosophy, different approaches and themes have developed, which can be divided into two macro-groups.The first has a more historical tendency, collecting sources, reordering themes, re-proposing these visions with a new look and tending to ask questions relevant to the human sphere.The second, on the other hand, has a more creative approach, trying to determine whether the new questions that have arisen are solvable, where different theories meet and clash and why, and generally asking questions about issues more related to science. Of course, this division is not clear-cut, and the two groups often ask the same questions.What is the universe? What are material objects and human beings?What can science teach us? What did our fellow philosophers say years, centuries or even millennia ago?What is a social group? What can we say with certainty? How do our minds and perceptions of the world work?How does language work? What is gender? What is art? How do we live? What does it mean to exist?

These radical questions are raised, enriched, clarified and explored again and again by philosophers all over the world across approaches, times, geographical locations and the course of history. To do philosophy, in my experience and that of many other philosophers, is to have the opportunity to pursue these questions. This network of people, questions, answers and theories spans time and space and forms a great tapestry to which one can contribute. And I think that because these questions are the purest demonstration of our humanity, to engage in philosophy is, in a way, to be truly human.

The academic study of philosophy is not only about learning the thoughts of past philosophers, but also about developing sound methods to ask and answer these questions. A good philosopher is not only creative, but also very disciplined and clear. So those who take this path acquire the appropriate tools to ask and answer questions, as well as many fascinating facts and theories, over the course of the five years of study (three Bachelor's, two Master's).

Professionally, teaching is generally the main field of application for graduates of this field of study. However, the methods acquired over the years are also useful for other jobs, even in companies. This is because creativity and rigour, combined with the ability to synthesise many different pieces of information, lead to problem-solving skills that can be used in various work environments.


Nathalie Kiepe: Why not?

Studying philosophy was a way for me to be curious in a completely legitimate way. Studying philosophy gives you the satisfaction of being able to ask lots of questions, to wonder - to wonder about, roughly speaking, everything. Since the spectrum of philosophy is very broad, there is something for everyone! Do you like being a Sunday astrophysicist? Then get to know the philosophy of physics. Do you have a passion for logical reasoning and react allergically when your relatives attempt an implication but have the misfortune to make a true implicative statement followed by a false implicative statement while asserting the truth of it all? Welcome to the fascinating world of logic. Or perhaps the title of the collection "Que sais-je?" sends you straight into a crisis of knowledge and certainty? Then perhaps epistemology is worth a diversion.

I could go on for a few more paragraphs with such examples, but you will have understood: I think that anyone who is curious, likes to discuss ideas, reads great works and enjoys debating can be happy in a philosophy degree. Of course, the lectures are introductory at the beginning and the choice may not be very wide, but after the propaedeutic the choice usually becomes wider and wider.


Lionel Thalmann: Be free, grow, BUT...

No other degree programme will offer you the same opportunity to pursue the whole spectrum of your interests and to develop yourself on both a personal and a professional level. This has already been clearly expressed in the contributions from colleagues.

However, an honest answer also includes the flip side: if you want to be recognised, if you want to belong to a generally respected and highly esteemed professional group in society, then as a philosopher you basically have only one option: you have to achieve something extraordinary. You have to stand out from the thousands of applicants who fight their way up the hard path to a professorship in order to be allowed to write the four letters "Prof" in front of your name. You have to develop an extraordinary, new idea and make it palatable to the general public outside the protected realm of your alma mater. You will not be scouted, nor will you find a management position in the private sector that requires a degree in philosophy. You have to pave your own way.

If you, as an average student with a "sufficient" degree, want to get into a respected profession, then study medicine, become an engineer, a pilot or a banker. As an average philosopher, as someone who knows the difference between the Platonic heaven of ideas and the Kantian "thing in itself" and knows how to present it in a thesis, you are (still) worth nothing to society. As an average doctor or engineer, on the other hand, you are generally recognised and respected for your work even without exceptional performance.

This is a fact, the weight of which many students of the humanities are not yet really aware of during their studies; but the artificial distance, the huge privilege, which the study of philosophy allows us to occupy vis-à-vis such "social problems" is unfortunately not preserved forever.

This is my advice to all who are thinking of studying philosophy: Dare to do it and be amazed how it makes you grow; but do not forget yourself as part of the society you declare to be the problem. Try yourself in other fields that have nothing to do with philosophy; don't just talk to people from your bubble and work alongside your studies in order to become financially independent as quickly as possible.


NN: My reason is better

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