“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”—Friedrich Nietzsche
To most people philosophy is seen as something too abstract to have any real application in our lives. I remember back in high school talking to my parents about what major I’d be and they would never even consider it. As far as they were concerned, I needed a degree in something that would get me a job after college and I didn’t have time to waste on something that wasn’t practical.
Today many people no longer regard understanding philosophical concepts as a marketable skill. A 2016 study from Inside Higher Ed reports an 8.7% drop in degrees conferred in humanities—those including English, linguistics, classical studies, and philosophy—while degrees in STEM fields continue to rise.
Knowing your worldview, however, is essential to navigating life. Think of the anxiety that arises when students are faced with choosing a major, deciding who to be, who to hang out with and the age-old question of what makes life worth it? In a world full of diverse opinions, deciding your own answers to these questions is vital to choosing your own course in life.
Moreover, CBS Boston reports that the number of college students with psychiatric disorders is rising at an alarming rate—now 50-60% and climbing. Whether you’re working multiple jobs to pay for school, or you’re simply feeling the pressures of an increasingly competitive job market, students today are bombarded with pressures, and while we can’t change what happens outside of us, we can change our mindset. Taking the time to consider how you view the world can totally change your outlook on life and get you through even the toughest times.
Think of a person’s beliefs as their internal software, taking in external variables, processing information and producing an outcome. Those who have intentionally designed or studied and adopted their code can easily explain and understand the desired and ethical course of action in most situations. Those who have subconsciously accepted their code, however, rely upon the ever-changing attitudes, practices, and beliefs of those around them to understand how to act while still “fitting-in” their group.
Living at the will of society makes you a follower—constantly observing the practices of others and following what they do to know what is right or wrong. A leader, however, is someone who thinks independently; having already predetermined the right course of action, life is simply the process of putting it in action.
The objectivist philosopher Ayn Rand once said “Ethics is not a mystic fantasy—nor a social convention—nor a dispensable, subjective luxury…Ethics is an objective necessity of man’s survival—not by the grace of the supernatural nor of your neighbors nor of your whims, but by the grace of reality and the nature of life.”
Our years in high school and college are formative for students seeking to “find themselves,” aimlessly wandering around without realizing that it takes a conscious decision to know with confidence what to do in any given situation. Those who passively accept their values, often find themselves making irrational or contradictory decisions because their ideas are inconsistent.
In a multicultural country, we are constantly exposed to ideas which may be different from the worldviews that we were raised in. Without actively choosing our beliefs, we end up trying to follow all of them or none of them, resulting in horrible confusion and indecision.
Aside from guiding you in the process of self-discovery, your studies will help you to understand other cultures much better. The history of humanity is studied every day by social scientists who seek to identify and understand the motivations for why people do what they do. If you can understand what a person believes, then you can predict in nearly any circumstance how they will react to an outside influence. Ideas have consequences, and knowing your own beliefs is essential to being able to lead yourself in any given situation.
Without considering the proposed answers to life’s great questions, we can hardly expect to know what we are supposed to do to have a good life. When one’s values and priorities are in the right place, however, life has meaning and everything seems to fall into place because you are doing what you believe is right. If you’re struggling with answering these questions, consider taking a philosophy elective next semester and you might just find what you’re looking for.
Even if you don’t have time to take a class, there are thousands of youtube videos of explaining these concepts. I’d recommend watching ones published by the School of Life channel. They make fun five-minute videos of a British guy explaining the philosophy and who doesn’t love a British accent! Besides, philosophy is perhaps the most interdisciplinary topic, deeply influencing our psychology and in some cases will support or reject science. You’ll find that taking the time to know your beliefs is really worth your while and I hope my pieces can begin to introduce you to new ways of viewing the world.