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Why I Practice Philosophy (and Why You Should Too)

Contrary to popular belief, philosophy encompasses far more than just questions of “who we are” and “why we exist.” The real kicker? We’re all philosophers, whether we know it or not.

When I tell people I’m a philosophy major, they tend to find that fact either fascinating or bewildering. They want to know more about what I do, or they want to know why I do it. The latter reaction, though a little dispiriting, is understandable. After all, the discipline hasn’t been represented very accurately outside of academic settings. Despite perhaps being the oldest, most expansive discipline, it is perceived as one of the narrowest and as bearing little to no relevance to everyday life. And this is because the issues philosophy discusses are often boiled down to phrases that, without context, appear to be of no practical value (read: “who am I?”).
Such a perception could not be farther from the truth. Philosophy is vast, tackling almost every issue you can think of and is most definitely practical. As one of my professors once proclaimed, philosophy is a way of life.
Philosophy literally translates to the love of wisdom. This spirit of inquiry is what defines us as human beings. After all, we all have questions. We all want answers. We argue for the things we believe in, and against those we object to. That is human nature, and that is philosophy.
Since the dawn of our species, we’ve done everything from inventing the motion picture to sending people to the moon. It might seem like that’s something our ancestors wouldn’t have envisioned. Yet, they did, which is precisely why we were able to do these things.
Moreover, being well-versed in critical thinking and logical reasoning — which are foundational to philosophy — allows us to formulate and defend opinions, making us each unique members of the same species. These skills are universal, allowing us to navigate everything from our personal conundrums to our careers. Life is filled with uncertainty, but the one thing we can rely on — as long as we believe we are rational beings — is our capacity to reason. If we rely on reasoning to cope with difficulty, resolve problems, and make decisions, we can minimize the uncertainty involved in these situations.
These skills also allow us to engage with the vast variety of human thought in a reasonable manner. Take a look at this list and you might realize that you, like me, are often guilty of relying on fallacies to further an argument. We might also be accepting fallacious arguments and allowing them to guide our beliefs. Being aware of this is a step in the right direction to combating “fake news” and ensuring productive discourse. In fact, I bet there would be fewer climate change deniers if we were all taught logical reasoning from a young age. Here’s why:
Climate change deniers can be roughly divided into two groups of people. Those who back the movement because they don’t value basing beliefs on scientific evidence, and those who do it just because they want to, also referred to as “cafeteria skeptics.” In order to be a “cafeteria skeptic,” you would have to ignore the empirical reasoning that allows us to conclude that climate change in fact exists. However, practicing philosophy means that you would not ignore such reasoning, and thus wouldn’t subscribe to climate change denial, at least not without sufficient reasons of your own.
On top of these benefits, reading philosophical works acquaints us with new ways of thinking about ourselves and the world around us. I’ve found solace in Søren Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling at my lowest moments, using the story of the knight of infinite resignation to reason why it’s worth it to persevere despite the odds. And these works might even help us debunk astrology.
The philosophies of gender, race and morality have allowed us to bring important issues to light as well as understand and navigate the complexities of sharing the world with each other. Hermeneutical injustice, for instance, is a philosophical concept explaining that when people are marginalized and excluded from conversations that attempt to define the human experience, they face injustice because their struggles cannot be communicated owing to the lack of appropriate terminology. Sexual harassment is one of many terms introduced to combat this kind of injustice and provide victims with a voice.
In addition to being a discipline in its own right, philosophy has birthed and provided a foundation to several others. Natural philosophy became science, political philosophy became politics and economic philosophy became economics. It’s only because people like Aristotle asked questions about the nature of the world and argued their own ideas that people like Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein were able to provide empirical answers and argue theirs.
If you look up those who shaped several modern disciplines — thinkers like Karl Marx, Einstein and Bertrand Russell — you will learn that they were all practitioners of philosophy. They asked novel questions and pursued unprecedented issues, which allowed them to create entirely new systems of thought.
You might now ask, why would someone major in philosophy if it can be practiced in our day-to-day lives?
Well, I do it because I want to sharpen my philosophical skillset, in addition to diving deep into the works of eminent philosophers and engaging with them by means of written and verbal discourse. The goal is to help establish systems that will one day produce life-changing, paradigm-shifting knowledge. This is not to say you need a degree to practice philosophy. By designating it as the domain of academics, we bury its quest for knowledge behind paywalls and jargon, making it inaccessible and thus impractical to the average person.
Part of this inaccessibility owes to the fact that philosophy is rarely taught in school systems or discussed in popular culture. Popular science has allowed us to see how integral science is to our daily lives but the same is rarely done for philosophy. Projects like Philosophy Bro and Philosophy Tube are rare, much needed exceptions.
Ultimately, the more people there are actively engaging with philosophy, the more we can dismantle these misconceptions and make the discipline a public domain.
As you read this, you may disagree with me. But in doing so, you are philosophizing, whether you realize it or not. You don’t need to study philosophy to practice it, though I urge you to do both. I find joy in philosophical inquiry and I hope you can too because you could very well think up the Next Big Thing.
Naeema Mohammed Sageer is Deputy News Editor. Email her at
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