Something Extra: Philosophy is alive and well in this day and age



I grew up in Menominee, and later graduated from Northern Michigan University (NMU) with a Bachelor’s Degree in philosophy. Since I started studying philosophy, people have constantly asked me what I plan to do with my degree. When they do, I tell them I’ll think about it.

I tend to think it’s a little bit cliche to have a recent college graduate with a “useless liberal arts degree” write a column trying to prove that his degree isn’t useless, so I won’t because it actually is pretty useless. It just sits there in its case. I keep telling it to get a job or at least go outside, but I never get an answer from it. At least I don’t need to feed it, so that’s a positive. But what I gained from studying philosophy is actually incredibly useful, even if I’m not working in a job directly related to philosophy. So I guess I am writing about how my philosophy degree isn’t useless. Shoot.

Anyway, when I arrived at NMU, I was initially studying theatre. I wanted to go into full-time ministry, and since NMU is a public institution, there aren’t any Christian ministry programs offered outside of extracurricular clubs. I decided instead to study something I had already done quite a bit of back home in Menominee. I was in three Menominee High School musicals between 2008 and 2010 and several Theatre on the Bay productions since “Grease” in 2008, so I thought studying theatre was a good fit for me.

In my down-time I was reading my Bible and studying my faith, and my dorm was right up the road from St. Michael Catholic Church. A close priest friend of mine who had been an associate pastor in Menominee had recently become the associate pastor there. I visited him quite a bit when he had time, and I became involved with the Campus Ministry after becoming Catholic myself.

I enjoyed my theatre classes, and I got to be good friends with the other theatre students, but I started to get the feeling that I wasn’t going anywhere in the program. I started to become disenchanted with the major as a whole. I still love acting and have a deep respect for the work performers do onstage, but because of the way the department was operating and my lack of successful auditions, I began to think that I’d be better suited to studying something outside the theatrical.

During my second semester at NMU I took a philosophy class and quickly discovered I had a knack for it. Breaking down seemingly complicated ideas to their most basic assertions and coming at them with logic came easily to me, so I switched my major from theatre to philosophy the next year.

Around the same time, I was putting my philosophy to work in conjunction with my faith. As I was studying Catholicism to prepare for my confirmation, I saw that faith and reason went together perfectly. Monumental thinkers as far back as St. Augustine of Hippo in the late 300s and early 400s knew this and practiced it, writing volumes upon volumes of beautiful theology backed by sound logic. St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the most notable thinkers in Christian history (or even world history for that matter), considered philosophy the handmaiden of theology; an understanding of basic philosophy was and is absolutely necessary to even grasp at knowledge of God, however limited such a thing might be for human minds. He borrowed a lot of his philosophical points from Aristotle, synthesizing much of it seamlessly with Christianity.

With Augustine and Aquinas as role models for myself, I brought the same synthesis of theology and philosophy to my classes, and I did pretty well. Looks like those old priests were on to something. I had a tendency to differ in thought from many of my peers and found myself at times in an ideological minority, but all of our discussions were friendly and I ended up growing stronger in my beliefs and friendships with them because of it. What better way to grow in understanding of something than to have to explain it?

After I started studying philosophy, I started to see philosophy everywhere; politics and cultural debates became a game of applied philosophy. History became a study of that applied philosophy in the past, and which ideas worked well and which ones lead to death. I could even take philosophy into my hobbies, finding philosophical questions in books I read and video games I played and examining those questions for fun. No matter what I was doing, I had a small philosophical engine running, keeping my mind sharp. There is a downside to this, though — once that little engine gets going I have a hard time turning it off, so I often times don’t get enough sleep.

Stephen Hawking said in his book “The Grand Design,” which he co-authored with Leonard Mlodinow, that “philosophy is dead.” He was without question an amazing scientist, but he’s wrong about philosophy. After all, the claim that philosophy is dead is not a scientific statement but a philosophical one, and if philosophy really was dead, Hawking wouldn’t have been able to make such a statement and have it mean anything.

There are three indisputable laws of logic, chief among them non-contradiction; two contradicting statements can’t be true at the same time in the same way — something can’t logically be simultaneously alive and dead (sorry, Schrödinger). On the contrary to Hawking, as proven by his own philosophical statement, philosophy is very much alive and I think vital to all aspects of society, and just about any job I can think of. Philosophy teaches one how to think as to avoid being told what to think, and a culture of individuals who can think for themselves is one truly free.