Philosophy: Far more than a witty remark

Studying philosophy equips you with an adaptable mind and vital life skills, writes Russ Thorne

“Philosophy,” wrote Oscar Wilde in The Picture of Dorian Gray, “teaches us to bear with equanimity the misfortunes of others.” Those people who think there’s a little more to it than that will be encouraged to learn there are plenty of undergraduate courses available at universities throughout the UK to help them investigate.

Universities generally offer a single honours degree course in philosophy as well as a number of dual honours degrees. Dual honours subjects complementing the core philosophy option can range from the scientific to literature, language and other humanities.

Individual course modules might cover standard subjects such as ethics or the history of philosophy, but students could equally investigate the philosophy of film, or even sex.

These are all are options at Sheffield University. Professor Stephen Laurence, head of department admissions, says: “Philosophy is vital to today’s world. Philosophical problems arise in all areas of enquiry and new philosophical problems arise in response to changing global conditions. Studying philosophy allows students to explore some of the deepest questions we face as humans in a rigorous and systematic way.”

Students approach these questions – about the basis of morality, the conditions for legitimate government and the value of art, for example – through the works of Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Nietzsche, and many other thinkers up to the present day, explains Dr Naomi Goulder, senior lecturer and convenor for philosophy, at the New College of the Humanities (NCH). “The importance of this activity should be recognised by anyone who values free thought over prejudice.”

In practical terms this intellectual interrogation of ideas might take place in lectures, seminars and through group work and essay-based discussion. NCH also offers workshops covering topics from the nature of beauty to the origins of the universe, adds Goulder.

Contact time with academic staff demands preparation and students should expect to put the work in beforehand to get the most from the process, says Professor Tom Stoneham, head of the department of philosophy at the University of York. “As we say to students: there is no point asking a question you could have answered for yourself by reading a book. Do the reading first and ask the questions in class that you need an expert to answer.”

Students can expect assessment by exams, but also longer pieces of writing. Some courses, such as those at the University of Warwick, give students a degree of choice over how they are examined. “We understand that some students prefer exams and some prefer longer pieces over a period of time,” says Dr Angela Hobbs, associate professor in philosophy.

This level of variety in tuition and assessment benefits students once they move beyond their undergraduate programmes, according to Stoneham. “Our teaching methods require students to speak in public, to engage in constructive debate with peers and defend their opinions when challenged by experts. A student who thrives in the face of these challenges will be able to do well in a huge number of different careers.”

“It’s very good all round mental training,” adds Hobbs. “Employers appreciate that they’re going to get people who can think and write clearly.”

Depending on the exact course they choose, graduates might go on to find work in fields as diverse as teaching, technology, law, finance or even the intelligence services. They might also pursue further academic study.

Whatever path students choose, academics are keen to stress the personal and social benefits that go hand in hand with the subject. “Given how fast the world is changing, it’s extremely important that we have adaptable citizens and leaders with the sorts of transferable skills that good philosophy degrees impart,” says Professor Laurence.

Dr Hobbs is more emphatic. “I strongly want to make the case for philosophy in terms of adding to the worth of both an individual human life and of national life. The benefits are very profound, we’re asking questions about what it is to live a good human life and how we can best live together; things that are helpful for people to reflect on.”

Philosophy is far more than a Wildean witticism. According to Hobbs it’s personally and professionally fulfilling. “There’s a perception our students will simply float off to Glastonbury, and it’s true, many of them do go. But they’ll come back, wash up and go off and do very high powered jobs.”

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Babysitter Katie and Paul have terse words in the park
tvReview: The strength of the writing keeps viewers glued to their seats even when they are confronted with the hard-hitting scenes
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Sport
England’s opening goalscorer Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain battles with Scotland’s Charlie Mulgrew
FootballEngland must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Life and Style
Make-up artists prepare contestants for last year’s Miss World, held in Budapest
fashion
Sport
Wigan Athletic’s back-of-the shirt sponsor Premier Range has pulled out due to Malky Mackay’s arrival
Football
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Structural Engineer

£22500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A keen Graduate Structural Engineer with...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Data & Delivery Guru

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate Data & Delivery Guru is required to...

Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Graduate Web Content Assistant

£18000 - £20000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Randstad Education Chester: Cover Supervisor

£45 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunities for Cover Sup...

Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

You know that headache you’ve got?

Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

Paul Scholes column

England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

Frank Warren column

Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines