Philosophy means "love of wisdom" in Greek, and this discipline indeed dates back to the classical philosophers of ancient Greece like Plato and Aristotle. These great thinkers created frameworks of reasoning and logic that we still use today to understand the most important questions of existence: What is human nature? How do we live a moral life? What is the meaning of happiness? and more.
Of course, philosophy didn't stop evolving in the 4th century B.C. Thinkers throughout the ages have built upon this tradition - and, at times, radically questioned it. From Enlightenment giants like Immanuel Kant, to German idealists such as Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, to influential postmodernists like Jacques Derrida, philosophers have continued to push the field in new directions that have inspired political and artistic movements around the world.
Even if your goal isn't to become a world-renowned philosopher yourself, the skills you can develop through the study of philosophy can be invaluable. Knowing how some of the greatest thinkers in history understood the world can provide a powerful lens for analysis that can be applied to questions in your personal life, in your understanding of the world, and in a wide range of careers.
Even if you don't know any professional philosophers, you might be surprised to learn how relevant an education in philosophy is. Despite the seemingly abstract nature of this field, the skills of logic, close reading, and concise writing that are at the core of philosophy have very concrete applications in virtually any field that requires critical thinking and communications skills.
Many lawyers major in philosophy before going to law school. The skills of argumentation and debate that characterized the very earliest philosophers are still extremely relevant in the courtroom, as evidenced by the enduring relevance of the Socratic method in many law schools.
The expertise of philosophers in understanding the root of human desires and how they are communicated also lends itself to commercial applications. For example, marketing researchers might draw on courses in philosophy to better understand the underlying drivers of consumer demand. Similarly, strategists at digital or advertising agencies might draw on the wisdom of the ages to come up with messaging that resonates.
Of course, if you are deeply passionate about your perspectives on the discourse of philosophy itself, you may wish to go into academia and become a professor in this field. For all the reasons above, philosophy remains a popular subject with students - and a satisfying topic to teach.
Absolutely! Coursera's online learning platform gives you the experience of learning at a top-ranked university from anywhere in the world, on a flexible schedule, and, often, at a lower cost. Importantly for philosophy students, learners on Coursera also get access to video lectures and live office hours with faculty, giving them the opportunity to learn through the same types of engaging discussions that have always been at the heart of this field.
Coursera gives you access to courses in popular topics in philosophy ranging from ancient Greek and Roman philosophy and mythology to the role of social norms and ethics in creating change in society to the shifting definitions of facts and subjectivity in the postmodern era. And the ability to learn from prestigious institutions like the University of Pennsylvania, Wesleyan University, and the University of Edinburgh ensures that learners on Coursera can take advantage of the benefits of online education without sacrificing the quality of their education.
Anyone who excels at critical reasoning and logical thinking and has a passion for understanding humans' relationship to the world and each other can benefit from studying philosophy. Dating back many centuries to the days of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, philosophy attempts to answer questions about human existence, knowledge, and values by encouraging critical discussions and making rational arguments to support moral and ethical positions, so it's helpful to have these two skills. It's also helpful to have experience researching information before studying philosophy.
A background in philosophy helps you strengthen your ability to solve problems using rational thinking, a talent that is highly valued by business consulting firms, financial firms, insurance companies, and many other types of businesses. In the legal field, studying philosophy can help you master the ability to analyze information and create strong, rational arguments. Universities hire professors with philosophy backgrounds to teach a range of classes, including those related to ethics, religion, and social issues. Technology firms, hospitals, police departments, and research institutes all need people who can analyze, interpret, and evaluate data to solve problems and create solutions and new technology. Almost any profession could be enhanced to some extent by improving the reasoning skills taught in the study of philosophy.
If you want to strengthen your existing critical thinking skills or explore new ways to think about the world around you, then studying philosophy could be the right option for you. In addition to logic and reason, many professions rely on high ethical standards. The study of philosophy often involves exploring questions of ethics and morality in addition to knowledge, and that could help you understand and improve your own ethical standards.
Potential study topics related to philosophy include logic and critical thinking, Greek and Roman mythology, understanding arguments, meditation, and LGBTQ pride. If you're interested in politics and gaining a better understanding of the reasoning behind different viewpoints, you could focus your studies on the moral foundations behind differing political views. In a similar vein, you could focus on learning more about ongoing issues related to social change and social inequality in the U.S. If you also enjoy learning history, you could focus on learning about specific historical philosophers like Plato and Aristotle and their schools of thought.