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Why Major in Philosophy?

Major or Minor in Philosophy at Columbia College

Mark Price
Melanie Moxley-Johnson
Tony Alioto

Impractical Pursuit?

Philosophy has a reputation as an impractical pursuit, and those who decide to study philosophy in a serious and methodical way are oftentimes regarded as oddballs by many of their peers. In many ways, this is a relatively new phenomenon at universities. Viewed from a slightly longer perspective, philosophy has historically been regarded as the core discipline of a well-rounded liberal arts education.

What Happened?

What has happened? First, the educated public's regard for philosophy has declined, in part, because of changing conceptions of the role or purpose of higher education. Whereas traditionally the pursuit of a college education was viewed as a way to become a well-rounded and culturally, politically, economically, and scientifically literate person, a college degree is now seen by many as a way to increase earning potential through specialized career training. It is not unusual these days to hear students remark that they see no point whatsoever in liberal arts requirements or even courses outside their major, e.g., "I came to college to study ____ and I do not understand why the college is making me take ____."

Second, reading and writing philosophy is difficult - as difficult as mathematics and physics (other disciplines with declining reputations. Because the typical public school education is a poor preparation for the rigors of higher learning, students tend to struggle in courses with any real content.

Secondary Education

To make matters worse, public schools tend to undermine student's natural curiosity and love of learning by indoctrinating them so that they come to believe that everything that they hold to be true, valuable, or important is only relatively or subjectively so - including their sense of morality, standards of reasonableness, religion, cultural significance, sense of beauty, love, meaning, etc. Students naturally conclude that there is, therefore, no point in seeking out the 'truth' about anything (because, according to this view, there is no 'truth' about anything).

Why study philosophy?

Because the traditional view of higher education is actually correct - philosophy is the core discipline in a well-rounded liberal arts education. Philosophy pursues the important questions:  What is real? What is knowable? Does God exist? What is the purpose of life? What should we believe when it comes to values? How should we think about science and technology? What is justice? These are questions on which an educated person should have a position  - a carefully considered and reasonable position that can stand up to a little scrutiny.

Not Career Preparation

The purpose of higher education is not career preparation - it is to seek the truth, to make meaningful citizenship possible, and to come to a deeper understanding of what is knowable, real, valuable, and possible. Furthermore, philosophy is one of the few antidotes for the malaise of cultural, moral, scientific, and religious relativism that has swept the nation, broken our educational system, and trivialized our lives.--Jordan Lindburg


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