Rock Valley College
Philosophy Header


What is philosophy? The “love of wisdom.” But that literal translation might not be that helpful, because we need to know what “wisdom” is, and what sort of love is it?  Is wisdom different than “knowledge”, for example? Is the love for it similar to our love for chocolate or our family? Once we raise just those questions, we have already, whether we wanted to or not, engaged in philosophy. We are demonstrating an interest in seeking wisdom.

In the broadest sense, philosophy is a way of life or an attitude that pursues understanding about the “big” questions: Is there a Meaning to life, if so, what is it? Does God(s) exist, what are souls and do we have them, what is the right thing to do, what kind of person should I be, what is the ultimate nature of reality, how do we know the things we think we know, what sort of governance makes the most sense, are we free, what is consciousness, should Brad and Jennifer get back together, etc.? But it is also an attitude that inclines us to be concerned about the more mundane aspects of human life such as how we should reason? What counts as a good argument and why? What do the words we constantly use actually mean and why should that matter?

This is useful especially when confronted by skepticism regarding the meaning and usefulness of philosophy: the moment one offers reasons for why philosophy is useless, they have refuted themselves. They are fully engaged in logical argument, so if their argument (which uses logic, fundamental to philosophy) succeeds, then it fails. If it is a bad argument, then it also fails, and additionally, it demonstrates the need for rigorous formal training in philosophy.

As a discipline, philosophy encourages deep analysis about issues you have already thought about in less formal settings. It cultivates an interest and even wonder in discovery about ourselves and our place in the universe, and it habituates us to openness and critical reflection about our most cherished beliefs. This is essential in a world that seems to be slipping ever more into tribalism, where we tend to listen only to those with whom we already agree, and dogmatism, where we remain content that we are right, certain, and so have no need to listen to different arguments. As an ideal, perhaps Socrates puts it well: “And what kind of man am I? One of those who would gladly be refuted if anything I say is not true, and would gladly refute another who says what is not true, but would be no less happy to be refuted myself than to refute” (Socrates, in Plato’s Gorgias).