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Philosophy doesn’t suck

In defense of my misunderstood, maligned minor

Photo Credit: Phoebe Lim

Like many a real-life love affair, I never meant to fall for philosophy.

We got off to a rocky start. Wasn’t this the discipline for pretentious neckbeards who would rather stare blankly at a ceiling than write a research essay? I had heard the jokes — philosophy graduates make great bus drivers — and my half-hearted high school philosophy teacher had done little to convince me otherwise.

By the time I began at SFU, I was convinced that philosophy was a dusty and worn-out discipline, a pseudoscience that mainly consisted of mindlessly subjective speculation over questions that science would have a much better chance of answering.

This is the part of the romantic comedy where the two leads hate each other. But you know where it’s going to end up, right?

I’m not sure when exactly philosophy clicked for me. Maybe it was Lewis and his batshit crazy idea that possible worlds are actually real. Or maybe it was Thompson’s scathing defense of abortion, Baudrillard’s proto-Matrix simulacrum, or Wittgenstein’s near-impenetrable theories on language and representation. Whatever my gateway drug was, I suddenly found myself head over heels for the witty, wonderful, and unapologetically weird world of western philosophy.

Of course, not everyone else shared my sudden passion for the canon. Vacant stares are still par for the course when I announce that, no, my minor isn’t in Publishing or English. I never knew how much people hated philosophy until I decided to study it: everyone seems to have a horror story of that one kid in class who won’t stop referencing Deleuze or Kierkegaard.

I never knew how much people hated philosophy until I decided to study it.

To be fair, I understand the hesitation. Philosophy is difficult, and not in the way most of us are accustomed to — it forces you to challenge your most deeply held beliefs, to question each and every way that the world is. It’s led me, a passionate atheist, to seriously consider the idea of God’s existence, and it’s forced me to come up with convincing arguments for ideas I never thought I would have to defend: equality, rationality, empathy.

But here’s the thing: That’s what I love about philosophy. It’s tough as nails and takes no prisoners. I mean, it’s graded on a fucking curve. That’s hardcore.

Studying topics like ethics, epistemology, and metaphysics forces me to constantly reevaluate myself and my opinions, and to make damn well sure I can defend them. It’s the same reason that I love journalism: it encourages me to fight for what I believe is right, and to make sure I really understand and believe what I believe is right.

As I study philosophy, I see more of it everywhere. It’s in every book I’ve read, or at least all the really good ones. It’s behind every political decision and every activist march; in every work of art, from Guernica to Dance Moms. It traces the history of our civilization to the present day, and it offers us a vision of our future.

And whether or not scientists like to admit it — I’m looking at you, Neil DeGrasse Tyson — it forms the backbone of modern science. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that “science” was just another word for “philosophy.”

I doubt that philosophy will ever be as popular as it once was. That’s probably a good thing: honestly, a society of philosophers probably wouldn’t get too much done. But I’m proud to study something that gives me confidence in my beliefs and the tools to defend them, and I challenge anyone to give me a valid argument against that.

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