“Students from other faculties, who study philosophy as a minor, often write better theses than full-time philosophy students,” one of my lecturers recently stated during a thesis supervision seminar. Although I’m a full-time philosophy student, I did not consider this an affront, but it did get me to think about being a philosophy student.
The first thought that crossed my mind was that, whatever else I may or may not have learned, I have learned – partially because of my lecturers’ idiosyncrasies – that considering things from different angles is kind of fun. And the second thought that crossed my mind was that no one really knows what exactly philosophy is, even after many years’ worth of discussions in pubs and on campuses. But in a way, that’s exactly what makes it so refreshing – you’re doing something without having a clear idea what it will bring you.
I’m not the only person to wonder what exactly philosophy students learn. “Oh, you’re a philosophy student… So what is it you actually do?” is a question I’m always asked at parties and birthday get-togethers. It often makes me feel uneasy, and often gets me into awkward situations, because obviously I try to provide a serious answer. After all, these are the moments at which I should be able to explain in just a few sentences why I study philosophy and why I’m proud of doing so.
Until now I’ve never really managed to come up with a good answer. Because whenever I meet someone at a pub or at a party with whom I used to attend secondary school, i.e., a person I have not talked to for four years and who has never met a philosophy student before, I will remain some sort of alien in his eyes. So now I tend to provide answers such as, “Philosophy means considering a lot of things from different angles. Care for another beer?”
Business Administration and Economics students probably have an easier time of explaining what it is they do, because these degrees seem a little less abstract. At any rate, I’ve decided I’m no longer going to try and explain what philosophy is. In my opinion, philosophy cannot be summarised in a few sentences – but even when I provide that answer to the questions I’m asked at birthday get-togethers, people look at me funny.
There is only one question I dislike more than the question as to what philosophy actually is, which is: what can you do with a degree in philosophy once you have graduated? Be that as it may, you are free to continue asking both questions. That will give us an opportunity to consider them from all angles together. Because that is what philosophers do, right?