Philosophy: Taking Out the Trash

If we are to take GRE scores as indicative, philosophy attracts some of the best and brightest graduate students. They top the scores in verbal ability and analytical writing. They aren't even especially low in mathematical scoring. Why so?

It's probably not the big bucks. As one of the standard jokes goes "What's the difference between a philosophy grad and a large pepperoni pizza?"

"The pizza can feed a family of four."

There is, I suppose, the hope that philosophy will let you understand the world and your fellow humans. Unfortunately, it's really not very good at either.

I recently took a class in ancient philosophy, and it drove me nuts. Why so?

In science, when an idea is overcome by facts, we throw it out. Philosophy doesn't seem to operate that way. Thales thought everything was made of water. Not a bad guess, given the info available at the time, but wrong, wrong, wrong. Consign the idea to the dustbin of history - of merely historical interest, and for cripes sakes don't make students memorize it. Democritus thought everything was built of atoms and the void. Bingo - this idea has borne sweet fruit, albeit a couple of millenia down the pike. Plato's idea of recollection - a theory that are ability to understand came from remembered ideas from past lives - had a touch of genius in it, but it was quite wrong. The remembered abilities are remembered by our genes, not from past lives but from natural selection.

In my philosophy course, though such gems, half gems, and tons of useless dreck got more or less the same billing.


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