Monday, April 07, 2008

I am the rain on the plain in Spain

The New York Times reports that philosophy is a growing major at schools across the country.

Nationwide, there are more colleges offering undergraduate philosophy programs today than a decade ago (817, up from 765), according to the College Board. Some schools with established programs like Texas A&M, Notre Dame, the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, now have twice as many philosophy majors as they did in the 1990s.

David E. Schrader, executive director of the American Philosophical Association, a professional organization with 11,000 members, said that in an era in which people change careers frequently, philosophy makes sense. “It’s a major that helps them become quick learners and gives them strong skills in writing, analysis and critical thinking,” he said.

As a philosophy major, I remember feeling so esoteric compared to my college friends—most of whom were music education majors. I had zero friends in the philosophy department, largely my own fault, and yet the dean of the College of Fine Arts recognized my face.

I am honestly encouraged by this story (and thank you NYTimes for having legit research to back up your this-is-a-trend trend story). The pursuit of a sharp mind and the exercise of analyizing one's analysis, considering the role of purpose, the importance of intent, the ethics of even having ethics ... that makes existence more meaningful.

I am indebted to my 10th grade social studies teacher, John Marvin, who had his honors class study philosophy. I wrote a report on George Berkeley, one of the three empiricists along with John Locke and David Hume (incidentally, Berkeley, pronounced like Sir Charles, not the lib school in NorCal, is the only not a character on Lost). I didn't do particularly well (like a B maybe B-), but I loved it. For once the notion of questioning the fundamentals of daily assumptions, like how do I know I exist and that I am acquiring knowledge through experience and what does that acquisition tell me about the nature of the universe, was encouraged. And being allowed to question those things was like permission to question everything.

Probably a huge influence on my becoming a reporter ultimately and a passionate believer in the First Amendment guarantee of Free Speech. It's really very chaos theory. Marvin was the butterfly flapping his wings in China. I am the rain on the plain in Spain.

It's funny though, there's one part of this story that I disagree with. At the end ...

Jenna Schaal-O’Connor, a 20-year-old sophomore who is majoring in cognitive science and linguistics, said philosophy had other perks. She said she found many male philosophy majors interesting and sensitive.

“That whole deep existential torment,” she said. “It’s good for getting girlfriends.”

Yeah, that didn't happen so much. At least not at Arizona.

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