How helpful is a degree in philosophy?
Helpful prior knowledge & skills
You can't learn to swim without getting into the water. Many competencies that are helpful in studying philosophy only develop when dealing with philosophical questions. It will be easier for you at the beginning of your studies if you have some of these skills in the beginning.
The concept of a philosophical question
Philosophical questions are primarily of a conceptual-logical nature and differ in this from the questions in sciences, which develop their hypotheses experimentally or through statistical investigations, in short, empirically try to confirm. Typical objects of philosophical considerations are, for example, the hidden prerequisites of theories in the individual sciences, the structure of a comprehensible argumentation or the logical relationship between philosophically interesting terms. Because the empirical verifiability through repeatable experiments in philosophical thinking is of little importance, many laypeople confuse philosophical reasoning with the expression of private opinions. It is an advantage for you if you know these pitfalls and have a vague idea of what distinguishes a philosophical question from the questions of other sciences.
Know the history of thought
You will learn what a philosophical question is by dealing with the considerations of other philosophers. The history of philosophy is extraordinarily rich in various positions that can be historically and systematically classified into epochs and currents. But this ordering system is changeable and itself the subject of numerous scholarly discussions. It has an orienting effect and makes it easier for you to enter the world of philosophy if you have taken note of the existence of philosophical epochs and currents and know some of their most important representatives at least superficially.
Enjoy the text
Philosophical epochs, currents and their representatives are less often presented to you through the oral lecture of one of their physically present representatives, but you will usually encounter them in the form of more philosophical ones Texts. You will therefore spend most of your studies: reading! Philosophical reading differs from reading a novel or an instruction manual in particular in that it requires certain skills that you either already have or should be interested in training.
Be patient and want to understand
Philosophical texts are often difficult to understand and require a great deal of patience and concentration. Reading it and is a challenging activity that requires a high level of thought and perseverance. In order to really understand a text - by Kant or Hegel, for example - you have to work through it repeatedly and using changing interpretations and reading strategies. Even so, you will often have difficulty figuring out what it is all about. At this point you shouldn't despair. Philosophical reading requires perseverance, a firm resolve to understand and reproduce the statements of other thinkers, and the necessary empathy.
Think abstract and differentiated
Comprehensible philosophical considerations usually claim general validity. Illustrative examples are sometimes not used at all, and when they are, only marginally used. The terms of so-called practical philosophy, such as the term “freedom”, are not determined by the description of their everyday manifestations, but formally in the relevant debates. Thus, in a very well-known definition, freedom is viewed as a condition of the self-determination of the will to start new causal series through self-legislation. In order to understand and carry out this type of thinking, you will need and train your ability to abstract. But to abstract does not mean to ignore differences. Many philosophers explain the use of a word by pointing out, at a high level of abstraction, subtle differences between their own use and the use of the same word by other philosophers. You should follow this game of differentiation with enthusiasm and interest.
Every game has rules ...
Getting involved as a teammate with all your passion requires courage. Take heart and take part, because like swimming, philosophizing can only be learned by doing it! Like every game, that of philosophy also has many fixed rules of very different kinds. It is assumed that all written and oral statements are free of errors in their mother tongue. Clarity and precision in expression as well as an economical use of linguistic means come first.
- The fact that a book is in English should never be an argument against reading it.
- If you express your contributions to fellow students or to lecturers, the focus should not be on your feelings, personal opinions or the addressees of your comments, but on good reasons and correct conclusions.
- Openness to the well-founded positions of other participants in the discourse is just as important as the ability to question one's own convictions in the face of good counter-arguments and, if necessary, to revise them.
- You should be critical of new, even unfamiliar points of view, as well as your own points of view, but approach them with joy and curiosity, not with skepticism and mistrust.
Take and hold the initiative
Seminars, lectures and exercises lead to philosophical thinking and either give an overview of a comprehensive topic or deepen specific questions given by the seminar leader. In the university events, however, only a small part of the broad philosophical range of topics becomes visible. Your self-study is therefore all the more important. Here you can read classics in the library, at your desk at home or in private work groups, deepen details, work on a topic of your choice or trace the connections between the contents of individual courses. In order to be able to successfully pursue this self-study, a particularly high degree of personal initiative is required in philosophy more than in other courses of study. You will pay with your time. In return, you receive a knowledge that changes you and your view of the world. And finally you will be rewarded with the joy that this way of thinking gives you and that only comes when you are willing to invest something, because “nothing great happens without passion” (Hegel).
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