We are living in a time when the professional study of philosophy is essential for living. The word philosophy is a combination of two Greek words, philo = loving and sophia = wisdom. Unfortunately, in the twenty-first century, we may still have the stereotype of the philosopher as one spending most of the day contemplating ideas with little relevance to the real world and day to day living. This has never been the case. The philosopher engages in thinking, contemplating, reflecting and reasoning because of the very fact that the stimulating, depressing, confusing, orderly, ecstatic, tragic, boundless, finite, intelligible, mysterious, living world provokes such activity. In a way, the philosopher acts both divinely like Yahweh giving form to chaos and humanly as Adam giving names to things. This is the way the chapter opens, has continued for some three thousand years of organized thought and invites the initiate to add to its writing.
The world as given to us today is no less overwhelming, in spite of our organized technology, than it appeared to the early primitives. In fact, it never appears organized for long to any one – no matter how erudite. And we have heard so frequently that whoever weds a world view of today becomes a widow tomorrow. Whatever level of sophistication human beings arrived at, the world before them was all the more startling, confusing and mysterious. Old solved problems merely opened many more new ones.
At the threshold of the twenty-first century, we are quite aware of humanity’s problems and are in an agitated depression over the apparent lack of solutions. Apparently, neither sex, drugs, rock and roll nor the traditional platitudes have provided much of a remedy. Onto this stage, comes the philosopher. It is paradoxical that at a time when philosophers are most needed, the university is not swamped with students wishing to embark on this endeavor. There was a time when the university was not primarily concerned about preparing the students for a job but rather preparing them how to live.
Those of us who take life’s problems very seriously, who struggle with finding meaning and order amidst apparent meaninglessness and disorder, who are driven to acquire and proclaim truth above all else in spite of personal risk and sacrifice, usually become philosophers. In recent times, we have seen the collapse of several world systems; they might have appeared political, ideological, religious or whatever. But what is clear is that they have changed, if not disappeared. So we hear terms like the post Christian era, or better, the post Death of God era, the post Communist era, etc.. Nature abhors a vacuum ; and we imagine that other systems have slipped into place, perhaps not as monumental. Or there may be a new system that we are thus entwined but too close to see. Or we may be in the midst of another collapsing system and the birth of others. Only time will tell. But in the meantime, we have serious work to do. “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Humpty Dumpty took a great fall. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men could not put Humpty Dumpty back together again.” But in our study of philosophy we will do it or, at least, we will make a valiant effort.
The New York Times, Sunday April 6, 2008
“In a New Generation of College Students, Many Opt for the Life Examined,” by Winnie Hu
New Brunswick, N.J.- When a fellow student at Rutgers University urged Didi Onejeme to try Philosophy 101 two years ago, Ms. Onejeme, who was a pre-med sophomore, dismissed it a “frou-frou.”
“People sitting under trees and talking about stupid stuff – I mean who cares?” Ms. Onejeme recalled thinking at the time.
But Ms. Onejeme, now a senior applying to law school, ended up changing her major to philosophy, which she thinks has armed her with the skills to be successful. “My mother was like, what are you going to do with that?” said Ms.Onejeme, 22. “She wanted me to be a pharmacy major, but I persuaded her with my argumentative skills.”
Once scoffed at as a luxury major, philosophy is being embraced at Rutgers and other universities by a new generation of college students who are drawing modern-day lessons from the age-old discipline as they try to make sense of their world, from the morality of the war in Iraq to the latest political scandal. The economic downturn has done little, if anything, to dampen this enthusiasm among students, who say that what they learn in class can translate into practical skills and careers. On many campuses, debate over modern issues like war and technology is emphasized over the study of classic ancient texts.
[One university has 100 philosophy majors graduating, up from 50 in 2002; another 322 philosophy majors, up 51 percent over 2002.] “If I were to start again as an undergraduate, I would major in philosophy,” said Matthew Goldstein, the CUNY chancellor who majored in mathematics and statistics. “I think that subject is really at the core of just about everything we do. If you study humanities or political systems or sciences in general, philosophy is really the mother ship from which all these disciplines grow.”
Nationwide, there are more colleges offering undergraduate philosophy programs today than a decade ago (817 up from 765) according to the College Board. [ Certain schools have doubled the number.] David E. Schrader, executive director of the American Philosophical Association, a professional organization with 11,000 members, said that in an era in which people change careers frequently, philosophy makes sense. “It’s a major that helps them become quick learners and gives them skills in writing, analysis and critical thinking,” he said. ….
Some…see it as a pre-law track because it emphasizes the verbal and logic skills prized by law schools…
majors score high on the LSAT.
Other students said that studying philosophy, with its emphasis on the big questions and alternative points of view, provided good training for looking at larger societal questions, like globalization and technology.
New York, Nov 18 2010 12:10PM
The United Nations marked <“http://www.unesco.org/new/en/social-and-human-sciences/themes/human-rights/philosophy/philosophy-day-at-unesco/philosophy-day-2010/”>World Philosophy Day today with a call for greater efforts to guard against the politics of polarization and the rejection of stereotypes, ignorance and hatred.
“Let us instead fortify our societies through reason and dialogue – the lifeblood of philosophical debate,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a video message for an event marking the Day at the Paris headquarters of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). “And let us recognize the critical role that the age-old tradition of philosophy can play in our modern, interconnected world.”
World Philosophy Day is celebrated every third Thursday of November since 2002, with the aim of making philosophical reflection accessible to all – professors and students, scholars and the general public – thereby enlarging the opportunities and spaces for the stimulation of critical thinking and debate.
“Philosophy deals routinely in universals – in broadly shared questions about human existence, beliefs and behaviour. That gives it uncommon power to help build bridges between people, and to open channels of communication among cultures,” Mr. Ban said.
“So let us use this essential expression of the human mind to change the minds of men and women – for that is where, as UNESCO’s own Charter so memorably states, true peace begins.”
Celebrations to mark the Day were organized by academics in more than 80 countries, in all regions of the world. A special event was held at UNESCO Headquarters, interweaving philosophy, cultural diversity and the rapprochement of cultures – with the latter tying in to the 2010 celebration of the International Year for the Rapprochement of Cultures.
Since its creation, UNESCO has used philosophy to implement the ideals that inspired its Constitution; these ideals stem from philosophical tradition.
UNESCO’s Director-General, Irina Bokova, inaugurated the Paris event, which included an international forum on the topic “Philosophy, Cultural Diversity and Rapprochement of Cultures,” with the participation of internationally-renowned philosophers and eminent figures, in addition to a series of symposia and round-table discussions.
“Philosophy actually teaches diversity lessons through its numerous schools of thought in all eras and on all continents,” Ms. Bokova said in her <“http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0018/001899/189970e.pdf”>message for the Day. “In view of the intricacies of current issues, we should tap into that wealth in order to build our capacity to analyse reality.”
She also called for intensified efforts to provide everyone with quality education and an enabling environment in which every man and woman can express his or her ideas and enrich public debate in furtherance of justice and peace.