October 26, 2012, by Stephen Mumford
Why study Philosophy?
It was love of the subject that led me to study philosophy. I doubt I could have done well at university without that. Although I didn’t understand exactly what philosophy was, I had a sense that it was interesting and important. The world seemed full of fundamental mysteries and it was only in philosophy that there was hope of solving them.
I graduated from Huddersfield Polytechnic in 1989, looking still fresh-faced and like a prototype for a certain J. K. Rowling character. My ambition to become a professional philosopher seemed far-fetched so I kept it secret for a long time. I am very pleased it became a reality.
My philosophical training has helped me in so many other areas of my professional life. As well as being Dean of the Arts Faculty now, I also serve on a number of other university committees and working groups. Others look to me to identify problems, work through them logically, and come up with solutions. I use the analytic, rational skills of philosophy in so much else, not just my research and teaching. Good thinkers are needed in all professions and the skills are useful in every task. This is why employers realise philosophy students are among the most skilled and independent thinkers.
I wasn’t too career-minded when I first came to Nottingham but I soon got a good sense of our graduates doing well. One very able student was snapped up by a major firm of consultants and started on a higher salary than mine! I gather he is now a barrister. I was very pleased to see recently that in a Daily Telegraph survey philosophy graduates came out with the eighth best employment rates, higher than in mathematics, physics and engineering.
I think the idea of Study What You Love sends the right signal. Passion for a subject area is the best way in which to excel. In so doing, you will acquire all sorts of skills that can take you forward even in a career you didn’t anticipate.
I read your “Metaphysics” in the Short Introduction series and enjoyed it immensely. You and Bertrand Russell (his “History of Western Philosophy” and especially his “Problems of Philosophy”) have helped me understand Metaphysics more than any of the other reading I’ve done which is a considerable amount. (I love studying Philosophy but not because I find it easy.)
Your Short Introduction is extremely well written, witty, and has just the right sort of breezy tone for a book on Metaphysics.
I now want to be a Metaphycisist which is odd…..I read “Fascism a Very Short Introduction” and had no desire to be a fascist when I was done.
Thanks for a book that changed my life for the better.
Thanks Jon. That’s so nice of you to say.
I wasn’t actually trying to be nice even though my comments read that way.
I don’t mind being nice but the reason I wrote the comments was because your book helped me understand stuff that has great meaning for me and is, generally, quite difficult for me to get a handle on.
I wasted my youth getting a degree in Biology (it wasn’t a total waste as Biology is pretty cool stuff) and now I’m trying to make up for it by studying what is really important. Philosophy and History (which I consider to be Philosophy) are where wisdom is to be found.
It seems to me that people, even educated people, have taken their ‘eyes off the ball’ these days. When I tell people that I think one’s life should, to a great extent, be about seeking Truth and Beauty it’s amazing how many people I meet tell me I’m on the right track but say it in a way that indicates that they aren’t (Perhaps you know what I mean?).
Anyhow….For the last 15 years I’ve done what you’re suggesting. I work part time and study what I love in my spare time.
To Jon Jacobs: What a lovely post. I think so too. Truth & Beauty rule. Which is to say eros and Being.
Thanks! Eros and Being are important, true, and beautiful ideas. At the risk of sounding stupid….I don’t quite understand how they are the same as Truth and Beauty. I understand how they overlap of course.
My understanding of this sort of thing isn’t unlimited although I have my moments.
Half my undergraduate degree was in Philosophy and my MPhil was in Political Philosophy. In intrinsic terms, it was brilliant, and I found it much easier to put in the extra hours to study for something that genuinely interested me than for something that had only instrumental value in terms of getting a good degree.
In brute instrumentalist career terms, I’ve never regretted studying philosophy for a moment. I agree about the value of the transferable skills of rigorous, critical, analytic thinking that are sharpened by participation in philosophy. But I’d also make a case for communication skills too. Anyone who gets a good philosophy degree has succeeded in being able to communicate complex ideas clearly, and that’s an invaluable skill. I’d also argue that philosophers are particularly good in discussion and debate, not only because of the analytical skills they have and their ability to map the terrain of any given debate, but also because of their ability to depersonalise discussions. I sometimes think I can tell if someone has a background in philosophy in these kinds of discussions because of the language and strategies they use.
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