After much introspection I have decided to pursue a major in philosophy. Philosophy has become a passion of mine, and while other interests faded away, it has kept me intently interested. Currently, my long-term goal is to go to graduate school and complete a PhD. in philosophy. Afterwards I would like to devote my life to teaching the subject. Lately though, I worry whether a degree in philosophy would be enough in my intellectual development. I have considered possibly doing a double major in cognitive science in addition to my philosophy undergraduate degree, in hopes that it would expose me to another discipline for me to utilize in my philosophical research. My main concern is that when it comes to doing my dissertation I won't have a more empirical background to possibly ground some of my arguments accurately. I was recently talking to my logic professor and he was telling me that philosophy is becoming increasing more inter-disciplinary. I suppose my biggest question is, do I myself need to become...

I never recommend double-majoring. Immerse yourself in philosophy in so far as it continues to fascinate you, take courses in other disciplines that seem potentially gripping to you, and the rest will sort itself out. Don't over-strategize your education.

Dear sirs and madams, I recently met my cousin, who is a very bright biologist. When she learned that I studied political science and philosophy at university, she asked respectfully me why I would study a self-perpetuating field. I know what my reasons are, but I would be interested in reading what some of the professionals have to say: Why study philosophy? Moreover, why study it since there is an impracticality associated with it? Have you ever gotten any flack from loved ones for philosophizing? Thank you for your time, -Justin

I wonder whether there is no question that tires philosophers more than this one -- if it's not "What's your philosophy?" or "If a tree falls in a forest ...". The assumption made in the question, that "there is an impracticality" to philosophy, is false. It's not the common perception of employers or graduate schools, and it's not the case. A recent article in The New York Times spoke to this. The article was unfortunate, in my view, because a reader might think that the main reason students do, or should, study philosophy is instrumental: it sharpens various skills which will be of value throughout one's life, regardless of its particular shape. That might be true for the occasional student but in general skill-sharpening is not a strong enough motivator to keep curious people studying a subject. The real reason is that issues in philosophy are central to our lives as thinking creatures, and the specific form these issues take in the questions, answers, and arguments of the great...

It would seem to me that the best introductory college course in philosophy would be one that determines and explores what one's own philosophy is and its origins in history. It also seems to me that a multiple choice test could be created by someone very well versed in philosophy: if each question is answered truthfully, one's philosophy, its historical origins, and a reading list could be had at the end. Is there such a test? Does anybody approach college philosophy in that manner? If not, why not? The typical chronological approach to teaching philosophy belongs with the dinosaurs, in my opinion.

I think many would disagree with you. Unless you're an amazing genius, most likely "your philosophy" won't be terribly interesting in comparison to the pinnacles that have been reached over the millenia. It's true that everyone has philosophical questions. (Just browse this site!) And a good introduction to philosophy should help students see how many of the questions they've been asking throughout their lives are very philosophical ones and how they connect to the ones that inspired the great figures in the tradition. But while many might also have answers to these questions, these are likely not as sophisticated, interesting, and beautiful as some of the answers developed by the greats. Of course, students should be encouraged to take a critical stance toward those answers, to subject them to intense scrutiny. It's more likely in that way that students will develop a deep and interesting philosophy of their own.

I am stuck on a decision that I hope one of you can help me with. I am graduating in June (2006) and everyone is telling me to go to college. I am currently protesting college - thinking that if I self-teach myself (by reading many books), then I could possibly gain more knowledge than if I am sitting in a classroom with many other students. I am stubborn with this idea. I assume that with a teacher in a classroom full of students, (s)he is teaching the subject, not the people. (I hope that makes sense.) I am not too sure if my thinking is something I should go by, or if I should just grow up and go to college. Any opinion would be great.

Going to college isn't just being in a structured reading program. Ideally, at college, your reading will be guided and given an intelligent shape; it will be enhanced by background information, by probing questions and arguments, by stimulating alternative interpretations (from your teachers and your fellow students); your thoughts about your reading will be refined as you learn to express them to others, both orally and in writing; your ability to engage in critical evaluation will be sharpened by weighing your own thoughts against the proposals' of others (as will your sense of fallibility); and you will be exposed to subjects that you cannot readily teach yourself and no doubt to others whose existence you hadn't even suspected.

What books are most important for a neophyte philosopher to read?

Some of our panelists have written fine introductions to philosophy. For a more classical one, you could seek out Bertrand Russell's The Problems of Philosophy or his History of Western Philosophy . Then let your reading be guided by the books or philosophers whom you find most intriguing.

I am a philosophy undergrad. What should I do to guarantee I get the most I can out of grad school?

Remain fascinated to the point of distraction by the questions, problems,solutions, arguments of philosophy. I don't know how much this is inone's control: you can avoid bad teachers and seek out inspiring ones;you can select to focus on areas that grip you; you can learn to put aproject away for a while if it's causing you grief; etc. But there'sonly so far one can force a fascination. Sadly, there are no guaranteesof the kind you seek. Or rather, not so sadly.