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Why Study Philosophy?

In this interview Joanna Wilkinson philosophizes why you should take the time to practice your 'love of wisdom' this summer.


MCSS: Why is philosophy important?

JW: It tackles some of the most fundamental questions in life, such as 'What is it to be human?' 'What is the best way to live?' and 'What is truth?' People have been asking such questions for well over two thousand years, so if you do philosophy, you will be joining in with a very long-running debate! The word 'philosophy' means 'love of wisdom' which is not the same as knowledge. Philosophers don't aim to acquire knowledge - they leave that to people like historians, scientists and lawyers. But through the use of reason and argument, philosophers seek to become wiser about issues for which there are no easy answers.

MCSS: Is philosophy relevant in the twenty-first century?

JW: Absolutely! For example, we live in a post-truth world: one in which objective facts have less influence in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief. Fake news quickly goes viral on social media. Philosophy looks at the nature of truth and equips us to become more cautious about regarding something as true, however plausible it might be. Another feature of modern life is the rapid pace of medical and scientific advances that raise new ethical issues. For instance, techniques have been developed to keep human embryos alive beyond 14 days for the purposes of experimentation, but should this be allowed? Taking another example, Stephen Hawking has said 'The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race'. What leads him to make this claim? And if he's right, should we be placing restrictions on what those working in this field are allowed to do?

MCSS: What can be gained from studying philosophy?

JW: It makes you think! It sharpens your ability to analyse issues closely and critically. It encourages you not to take anything for granted, but to ask what grounds or evidence exist to underpin what you think. You can then be confident about whatever you have good grounds for believing, and reject whatever you don't. It's also exciting to discuss philosophical ideas with others, and hear lots of different viewpoints. If you have a particular view on an issue, discussing and debating it with others will either give you more reasons to stick with it, or cause you to change your mind about it (which can take you out of your comfort zone!).



In 2017, Joanna will be teaching two Summer School courses, Philosophy for Beginners (No.164) and Adventures in Philosophy (No.181).

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