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COLUMN: We need philosophers and the liberal arts. too


By Hussain Ather



People generally see philosophy as impractical, unnecessary or entirely subjective. They say philosophers ponder the meaning of life and other abstract questions but contribute nothing to 
society.

When Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, incorrectly said, “We need more welders and less philosophers,” because welders supposedly make more money than philosophers do, the nation’s understanding of philosophy was clear: philosophy is useless.

Regardless of the fact philosophers make more than welders on almost all accounts, according to politifact.com, Rubio’s ignorant statements show why we need a re-focusing of the liberal arts.

It’s difficult to find a field in which philosophy isn’t useful at all.

According to philosophy professors Rodney Bertolet and William Rowe at Purdue University, philosophy teaches careful analysis, articulateness, analytical skills, deductive reasoning and other skills. These are essential for careers in law, business and many other fields.

In addition, philosophy gives answers to questions we don’t often think about. When science intersects with other areas, we find tricky questions about what we should or shouldn’t do. Is genetic engineering immoral? How do we protect access to research data? Science might explain nature, but only philosophy provides answers to what we should do.

Medicine needs philosophy as well. As University of Oxford philosophy professor Julian Savulescu said, “The trouble with medical ethics is that there is not enough original, good philosophy. Not that you need a philosophy degree to do good philosophy ... Yet, philosophical thinking is the most important activity in medicine and in life.”

We should understand philosophy is more than just aimlessly pondering the meaning of life.

It’s a way of thinking, and it teaches us what’s right and what’s wrong.

But our misunderstandings of philosophy are part of a deeper problem: the primary purpose of college is not to prepare for future careers. We need the liberal arts to show us that.

During the past few decades, college has become commercialized into a business to train students into future employees.

College is not a business.

As philosophy professor Martha Nussbaum wrote in her book “Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities,” we treat education as though its primary goal were to teach students to be economically productive rather than to think critically and become knowledgeable and empathetic citizens.

Spending college in preparation for future careers makes us only see practical benefits.

When we only see benefits, students become consumers. Volunteers become employers. And everyone becomes confused.

We value information more than wisdom, marketability more than authenticity and dogmatism more than free thought.

We lose our ability to develop questions, cultivate empathy and deal with the complicated problems.

As students, we need to understand the value of learning for learning itself. We will find personal development and creative thought to prepare for the future, and only a philosophical inquiry with a liberal arts education will help us understand the humanistic values we need.

Philosophers might debate esoteric, abstract topics, but each of us can still benefit from studying philosophy. We can’t ignore the important role philosophy plays in our lives. And we need the liberal arts to show us why.

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