Some colleges and universities have dismantled their philosophy departments. Ours is a practical age, and practicality argues for accounting, logistics and hotel management, not philosophy.
After all, what can you do with philosophy other than philosophize? This is the realist perspective, ignoring the question of what can you do with accounting, logistics and hotel management when 25 million Americans are looking for work.
I shake my head in wonder as I remember that as an 18 year-old college freshman I was required -- required -- to take Oriental and Greek philosophy. Two separate courses. And so night after night I would sit down at the desk in my dorm and steadfastly struggle with The Upanishads, The Bhagavad-Gita, Plato's Republic and Zeno's Paradox. Heavy going for a kid from Fairbanks. Heavier going still for my roommate, a kid from Medina, N.Y. He flunked out without passing a single course.
At 18, I was not thinking about what I was going to do with the philosophy I was pounding into my head. How did I know one day pretty girls would ask me about my karma, and I would actually know what they were talking about? No, at 18, I was very much a conformist: I wanted to please the teachers, pass the tests, and earn grades that wouldn't embarrass my parents. It would be a while before I joined a gigantic crowd of anti-war protesters listening to Allen Ginsberg recite from The Vedas while rolling clouds of marijuana smoke passed through Central Park.
The benefit of studying philosophy -- and this I picked up pretty quickly -- is you learn there are alternative ways of looking at the universe from whatever orthodoxy you have been taught. This is a modern idea, and many people still find it a subversive idea.
Hence, the widespread Republican denunciation of Warren Buffett for his suggestion the rich should pay more taxes. He's dangerous to an orthodoxy that demands absolute obeisance to the no-new-taxes pledge.
In October, I will be visiting my college in New York State. I will be talking to history students about ... writing history. I hope some of them are studying philosophy. Philosophy can't make you rich as Warren Buffett. It can change your assumptions about the world.
-- Michael Carey