Circumstance or Character?

Often times the study of philosophy is at question.

Why do we need it?

What value does it serve in the educational system?

Is it not just a form of wishful thinking?

Where are the facts? Answers? Conclusions??

Before attending a liberal arts school my freshman year of college, I had not taken one course in philosophy, nor was I aware that it was considered a science. When asked about the importance or value in this “soft science”I  had not been able to provide valuable explanations, yet there was something so profound in each and every lesson my freshman year. I found that even though the topics and discussions did not always relate to objects or matters tangible in my life, I was able to find relations in my academics, and this merge presented me with a more holistic point of view. The big picture suddenly appeared and other areas of studies became more relatable.

The value of philosophy is indirect, I like to think of it as the food for the mind. It is with the “goods” of the mind that the value of philosophy is found. Philosophy is just as important as the other science because as soon as definite knowledge concerning any subject becomes possible, the subject is no longer philosophy but a separate science. The business of philosophy is to continue the consideration of questions with the hope of discovering an answer. Philosophy is able to suggest possibilities which enlarge our thoughts, and free us from custom by increasing our knowledge of what there might be. Contemplation is a huge part of philosophy, it enlarges the objects of thought and makes us “citizen of the universe” and enriches our intellectual imagination!

Lewis Carroll in Feeding the Mind mentions the importance of feeding the mind with philosophy and contemplation. She emphasizes the importance of mentally processing the material you just read, similar to the way in which you allow your food to digest.

The following reasons are from Maarten Maartensz: Why Philosophy is Important

  1. All human beings orient their lives around ideas about what reality is like, that they believe explain their experiences, and ideas about what reality and human beings should be like, that they use to guide their behavior. The first of these kinds of ideas is a metaphysical theory, the second an ethical or moral theory.
  2. Human beings seem to need metaphysical and moral ideas because they are not born with instincts that determine for them what they should think and want, and are born with the capacities to make up their own minds and to question any belief they have or meet.
  3. It is evident that most of the ideas in history that people have used to explain human experiences have been false or unfounded in many respects, and it is also evident that most of the ideas in history or direct human behavior have been harmful to other human beings or to themselves.
  4. On the other hand, it is also evident that whatever adequate understanding people have of themselves, of others, and of their environments and possibilities, is based on the asking and answering of the type of general questions that are philosophical and scientific, and that there seems to be no way of being human without trying to ask and answer such questions.
  5. All ideas about philosophy or science, including those that ridicule or condemn philosophy or science, are themselves philosophical ideas, and such as declare all philosophy useless, trifling, or impossible are little better than a refusal to do any serious philosophical or scientific reasoning.
  6. The ideas people live and die for, go to war for and kill each other for, or let themselves be inspired to the making of great art or science, are all philosophical ideas.



On my favorite examples of seeing the “bigger” picture stems from the story Myth of Gyges

Myth of Gyges is a Greek story from Plato’s Republic that describes an older man with a magical ring giving him the power to be invisible. The story essentially conveys the message that people’s actions will be determined based on the circumstance they are in rather then character. The stories memo draws parallels between Philip Zimbardo’s theory in psychology after the result of the Stanford Prison Experiment.  In Myth of Gyges it says “And this we may truly affirm to be a great proof that a man is just, not willing or because he thinks that justice is any good to him individually, but of necessity, for whatever any one thinks that he can safely be unjust, there he is unjust”. What this quotation is essentially saying is that people do good not for the good of all, but because it is more beneficial to them in some way or another. This reminds me of the modern concept of Karma. Don’t do bad stuff to others so bad stuff won’t happen to you; rather then not doing bad things because you know it’s just not to. You are not choosing to do the “right” thing out of fear of the “wrong” act coming back to you. This would totally change the meaning of your “just” act, making it a reaction and not an action. The part of the quotation stating, “for wherever anyone thinks that he can safely be unjust, there he is unjust” demonstrates this idea of karma and getting away with things.

I conclude, is the circumstance the best prediction of the individual or is it the character?




One Comment Add yours

  1. PUBTANGO says:

    I remember learning about philosophy, religion, sociology, etc. as majors and why they are important from one of my professors years back. One reason why was because the public education system was created by our Founding Fathers to educate and prepare voters to elect the leader of their nation. School was necessarily meant for preparing you for a job, but rather to help you become a more educated voter. Or, if you were wealthy in the 1700 to mid-1900’s, it was so that you were considered “educated” and not stupid. Majors like philosophy, religion, and theology had existed back then for the purpose of educating people. Not to say that it is no educational value, I believe you can apply any major to your life whether art, history, philosophy, and more. However, there has been a rise in majors like Business, Engineering, and Computer Science which have now been coined as “technical majors” that help individuals get certain jobs. I think it is quite fascinating how education has been shifting.

    Do you believe school is necessary overall to succeed in this world?


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