Thursday procrastination

Thu 30 Mar 2006 01:13 PM

I get some of my best work done at coffee shops, and today I am at Professor Java's trying to catch up on a thousand things. I was briefly chatting with another patron, and it came out that I teach philosophy. He fondly recalled philosophy classes from back in undergrad. It introduced him to a different way of thinking, he said, which has helped him some in his work as a copywriter. Another patron overheard this conversation and introduced himself. Although he did not credit philosophy with helping in his work as an executive counsellor, he fondly recalled philosophy courses from his undergrad days.*

The first guy wishes he had majored in philosophy. Perhaps he should have taken more philosophy; he probably would have enjoyed himself and perhaps he would have learned something. Yet there is no reason that he should have gotten a major in philosophy as a credential. He seems to have done well by himself, and he has a job that he enjoys.

If I taught nursing or engineering, then I could in good conscience hope that all of my students with the ability to do so would go on to be nurses or engineers. The simple fact is that society does not need as many professional philosophers as it needs professional nurses or engineers. In terms of numbers, graduate programs already overproduce philosophy PhDs.

Philosophy classes only makes sense if they are good for people who will do some philosophy as undergrads and go on to do something else with their lives. Philosophy is not a practical subject that only prepares people to do philosophy. It can entice people to think about things that they would not think about otherwise. It can introduce them to a different way of thinking. It can be fun. It will perhaps pique someone's interest, so that they read some philosophy later-- but probably not.

A BA in philosophy is only useful as a credential for grad school, law school, or in a place where any BA would do-- but a BA in philosophy is not primarily a credential. The real value of majoring in philosophy is that it means having done some philosophy. That is why I think that teaching philosophy is worthwhile.

* Today was a good day. Other strangers feel the need to tell me about the one especially bad philosophy course that they took back in the day. Others just provide stares of blank incomprehension.


from: Matt

Thu 30 Mar 2006 07:05 PM

Maybe this makes me old-fashioned, but I tend to think that your undergrad major shouldn't always be focused on what sort of career you will end up having.

Also, you might be interested in the essay on philosophical pedagogy I posted today in my blog.