Why Study Philosophy?

There are too many ways (perhaps an infinity, in Greek: to apeiron, of ways) to answer this question. So, I thought, let’s ChatGPT to generate a list of “reasons why someone should study philosophy.” This is what the program generated:

Studying philosophy can be a rewarding and intellectually enriching endeavor for a variety of reasons:

  1. Critical Thinking Skills: Philosophy encourages you to think critically, analyze arguments, and evaluate evidence. It sharpens your ability to reason and make sound judgments.
  2. Clarity of Thought and Communication: Philosophy forces you to express complex ideas clearly and coherently, which can enhance your overall communication skills.
  3. Deep Self-Reflection: It helps you explore fundamental questions about existence, morality, and the meaning of life, leading to greater self-awareness and personal growth.
  4. Ethical Framework: Philosophy provides a foundation for developing a personal code of ethics, helping you navigate moral dilemmas and make ethical decisions.
  5. Problem-Solving Abilities: Philosophical thinking equips you with problem-solving skills applicable in various fields, as it encourages you to break down complex issues into manageable parts.
  6. Understanding Different Worldviews: Philosophy exposes you to diverse perspectives, allowing you to better understand and appreciate different cultural and ideological viewpoints.
  7. Historical Insight: You can gain insights into the development of human thought and society by studying the works of great philosophers throughout history.
  8. Intellectual Creativity: Philosophy fosters creativity by encouraging you to think beyond conventional boundaries and question assumptions.
  9. Rigorous Analytical Skills: Philosophical arguments often require precise logic and structured reasoning, which can improve your analytical abilities.
  10. Decision-Making: Philosophy helps you make more informed decisions by considering various aspects of a problem and weighing their consequences.
  11. Cultural Literacy: Familiarity with philosophical ideas is often seen as a mark of cultural literacy, and it can enhance your appreciation of literature, art, and culture.
  12. Interdisciplinary Connections: Philosophy intersects with many other fields, such as science, psychology, and politics, making it a valuable foundation for interdisciplinary studies.
  13. Aid in Other Academic Pursuits: Philosophy can complement other academic disciplines by providing a framework for critical inquiry and a basis for understanding foundational concepts.
  14. Improved Empathy: It can promote empathy and a better understanding of the perspectives of others, which is valuable in personal relationships and professional settings.
  15. Deeper Questions about Life: Philosophy enables you to grapple with questions about the nature of reality, knowledge, and the human condition, which can be deeply satisfying and intellectually stimulating.
  16. Cultivating Open-Mindedness: Philosophy encourages open-mindedness and a willingness to consider alternative viewpoints, which can be valuable in an increasingly diverse and interconnected world.
  17. Personal Fulfillment: Engaging with philosophical ideas can lead to a sense of personal fulfillment and a greater sense of purpose in life.
  18. Preparation for Leadership: Philosophical training can equip you with the skills to lead, make informed decisions, and navigate complex moral and ethical issues in leadership roles.
  19. Societal Impact: Philosophers have contributed to important social and political movements, and the study of philosophy can empower you to engage in meaningful social change.
  20. The Pursuit of Wisdom: Ultimately, philosophy is a pursuit of wisdom, and the quest for wisdom is a valuable and noble endeavor in its own right.

Whether you study philosophy for personal enrichment, academic or professional reasons, it has the potential to significantly enrich your life and enhance your intellectual capacities.

ChatGPT, 23 October 2023

There is a lot to say about this list – and about the ability for an artificial intelligence or matrix to generate the list. For now, consider a human’s take on the same question (and in which the question “what is philosophy” leads inevitably into the evaluative question if philosophy is valuable and “why” one should study it):

At some level, they raise similar points and questions. And, yet, there are differences – some of which are extremely meaningful for how we think about what we are doing and why.

“Why” do anything? Is this a question that ChatGPT must answer? Is it one that we humans have to address?

Following French philosophy Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) the answer for us is, “yes” – we must confront the “why” of our lives and existence. At some point, inevitably, everything will become a question for us and we must be prepared to provide an answer. We are different from created things, for we create ourselves:

If one considers an article of manufacture as, for example, a book or a paper-knife – one sees that it has been made by an artisan who had a conception of it; and he has paid attention, equally, to the conception of a paper-knife and to the pre-existent technique of production which is a part of that conception and is, at bottom, a formula. Thus the paper-knife is at the same time an article producible in a certain manner and one which, on the other hand, serves a definite purpose, for one cannot suppose that a man would produce a paper-knife without knowing what it was for. Let us say, then, of the paperknife that its essence – that is to say the sum of the formulae and the qualities which made its production and its definition possible – precedes its existence. The presence of such-and-such a paper-knife or book is thus determined before my eyes. Here, then, we are viewing the world from a technical standpoint, and we can say that production precedes existence.

Sartre, “Existentialism is a Humanism”

We are, Sartre argues, what we make of ourselves for our ‘existence precedes our essence’:

What do we mean by saying that existence precedes essence? We mean that man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world – and defines himself afterwards. If man as the existentialist sees him is not definable, it is because to begin with he is nothing. He will not be anything until later, and then he will be what he makes of himself. … I am thus responsible for myself and for all men, and I am creating a certain image of man as I would have him to be. In fashioning myself I fashion man.

Sartre, “Existentialism is a Humanism”

Put simply, to study philosophy is to confront this commitment to oneself and to others, and to evaluate the decisions one makes in their commitment – and, for that matter, to decide if commitment is even the right language to communicate what is most meaningful about existence. Are we just our commitments? Are we more or less? To what are we committed and why?

These are just several of the questions that worry everyone – and that the philosopher is trained to negotiate and answer.