Why I Read: Philosophy

(This is the last single genre post of the “Why I Read” series.  I haven’t hit every genre in existence, but this is only because I haven’t dedicated enough time to other areas to really speak on.  I may return to this series in the future if I develop a healthier interest in other areas of reading.)

I took my first philosophy course my second semester at VFCC.  I was not only a freshman, but the stereotypical freshman who asked tons of questions and expressed his poorly formed opinions to the chagrin of the upperclassmen sitting around me. I had done more than a little prerequisite reading in philosophy, so the class only lent to my curiosity when it came to such discourse, thus provoking new thoughts that clearly required expression.

I think most people take philosophy in college for two reasons:

  1. They need to fill an elective.
  2. They want to look smart.

Obviously, these aren’t good ideas; there’s better classes with which to fill electives (Bowling and Walking for the win!), and a good philosophy professor will make you realize just how little you really know, rather than make you look smart.  As Socrates said, “The first step to knowing everything is admitting you know nothing.”

All the same, there’s some good reasons to read up on philosophy:

  1. Learn about how others think.  Like religious studies, philosophy looks very much at how people view the world and react thereto. Whether you look at the empiricist philosophers who think truth is derived from the senses, the rationalists, who derive truth from reason, or pragmatists, who derive truth from the end result, you begin to see that there’s a lot of ways to look at life much different from your own.
  2. You learn about yourself and where your thought derives from.  Christians, for example, when reading Plato or Aristotle, will find many parallels between their theology and what these two men taught.  Two great theologians, St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, derived much of their proofs for God’s existence and understanding of His character from Platonic and Aristotelian ideas.
  3. Help to revive a dying tradition. Many people today blow philosophy off as either too confusing or out of touch with reality (Stephen Hawking once said that philosophy was dead because it paid no attention to scientific discovery). While the ivory towers of academia have done their job to isolate philosophic discourse from the rest of the world, there’s also disinterest on the world’s end, and that’s where we can change what’s being said or written about philosophy. Worldview is what influences philosophers to say, “This is true,” because it acts as their proof.  If we take interest in philosophy, philosophers will notice, and no longer will it seem so out of reach.

Here’s some good starting points for reading philosophy

  1. The Universe Next Door by James W. Sire.  It’s from a Christian perspective, but it details philosophical worldviews pretty objectively, albeit with a slant toward Christian theism as the ideal worldview.  This was my first exposure to philosophy, and put me ahead of the game for theological study.

  2. Existentialism: From Dostoevsky to Sartre by Walter Kaufmann. Excellent translator with a pretty clear explanation of things within existentialist philosophy.
  3. The Great Conversation by Norman Malchert.  This was my philosophy textbook in college, but Malchert does a good job breaking things down pretty easily.
  4. The philosophers themselves. Modern translations serve to better make them understandable, but some introductions by the authors can affect your ability to determine for yourself what you actually think they’re saying and whether or not you agree.

If you’re still not convinced that philosophy is for you, check out Philosophy Bro. He makes different philosophical discussions and ideas easier to understand.  Some adult language.

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