Students in a philosophy class at City Lit

Why study philosophy?

8 September 2023

Being able to think well is the one great transferable skill that never goes out of fashion. Critical thinking is a skill we all need as we make our way through the densely confusing world of today.

A graphic of human outlines with speech bubbles in place of brains. Each speech bubble contains a different graphic signalling different philosophical thinking.A graphic of human outlines with speech bubbles in place of brains. Each speech bubble contains a different graphic signalling different philosophical thinking.
Philosophy teaches you to look deeper and think critically.

What do you study in a Philosophy course?

Lying at the very heart of philosophy is the business of asking questions. Plenty of subjects in the sciences and humanities do that, but it’s the special quality of those questions that marks the subject out from the others one might study.

To do philosophy is to ask certain kinds of fundamental and general questions, and then be prepared to press on beyond the first answers one usually gets.

Philosophy is a kind of digging: like a person scraping away the topsoil in order to find out what lies beneath. The ‘topsoil’ here is the set of usual assumptions and practices that people take for granted. Digging enables them to get at their presuppositions, the things that lie below the obvious and the taken-for-granted - and then to question those too.

Life’s biggest questions go back to before the ancient Greeks. Does that mean we cannot find answers to them, and so progress is impossible?

What are the themes in Philosophy?

In a philosophy course we explore lots of themes from moral dilemas to the meaning of life. For example, we commonly explore topics of justice, self, and truth by asking questions like; What is justice? What is the best kind of life for a person to lead? What is truth?

Questions like these go back to before the days of Socrates and Plato, and are still being asked now. It’s hard to think of many more important questions. And they are not the kinds of questions that can be settled by a laboratory experiment or a mathematical equation.

Take justice as an example.

What is justice?

What is being asked for here is more than a description of the current legal system or of what most people think it is – although we might well be interested in that too. Here we are asking: what is it, really? Is it whatever the strongest say it is? Does it mean ‘fairness’? Is it the same everywhere and at all times? 

Answering these further questions can lead us on to even more fundamental issues around ideas of human nature (what does that mean? Does it even exist?) social institutions, morality, politics and so on.  

So is Philosophy still relevant today?

Life’s biggest questions go back to before the ancient Greeks. Does that mean we cannot find answers to them, and so progress is impossible? Far from it.

Asking such questions, along with others about knowledge, the mind, language, and more, involves us in a challenging and exciting journey in which we learn to see, among other things, what the wrong kinds of answers look like, for there are certainly better and worse ways of answering. Like getting a blurry picture into sharper and sharper focus, we begin to see what is at stake in the question, and what might look like a promising way to look deeper into the issue. 

We hope to achieve a better understanding of who we are and why we do what we do. Other subjects contribute to that, of course, and there can often be overlap between, for instance, science and philosophy. Yet there is a certain distinction: the question What is science? isn’t, itself, a scientific question. Here again we are thinking about the fundamentals: what lies beneath, as it were.

Why should I study philosophy?

A graphics of 16 arrows arranged into four rows and four columns on a orange background. 15 black arrows point to the right while one glowing white arrows points to the left.A graphics of 16 arrows arranged into four rows and four columns on a orange background. 15 black arrows point to the right while one glowing white arrows points to the left.
Studying philosophy can help you learn how to think differently, creatively, and critically.

There are all sorts of reasons to study philosophy. Some of those reasons aren’t about the subject itself but are a kind of spin-off.

Philosophy is a workout for the mind

Philosophy involves trying to think well, to think about something clearly, completely and in a way that hangs together logically. Doing it can be like a workout for the mind: the mind, like the muscles, needs exercise. Being able to think well is the one great transferable skill that never goes out of fashion, a skill we all need as we make our way through the densely confusing world of today

In the end, though, that is not the reason I would pick as the one that really matters.

Discover the joy of Philosophy for yourself

What matters is the joy of the subject itself: the intensity, and, along with this, the pleasure and playfulness of thinking creatively and carefully about the things that really matter.

Give it a try: it might change your life.


Learn something new at City Lit

We offer philosophy courses suitable for everyone. Join us in exploring the big questions that philosophers and thinkers have been pondering for centuries; from the meaning of life to moral dilemmas.

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