There was a recent conversation posted on Cake by @StephenL regarding the interest level that people have in Philosophy. Philosophy has nearly 400 followers on Cake and yet there haven’t been many conversations about it. It seems as though there is a sincere interest in Philosophy, but not enough knowledge about it to start meaningful conversations. What I want to do in this post is provide an introduction to Philosophy before I post any more Philosophy content. I figured it would help lay the groundwork and build on Stephen's post.
First, a quick bit on my Philosophy background. I graduated from UC Berkeley in the Fall of 2014 with a B.A. in Philosophy, so I feel I am qualified to write about the subject. What got me interested in Philosophy to begin with was a professor I had at Foothill College named Brian Tapia. I loved my first Philosophy class with Prof. Tapia and took two more with him before graduating from Foothill with an A.A. in Music in the Spring of 2012.
When I got to UC Berkeley in the Fall of 2012, I thought I would major in Music. Unfortunately, or in hindsight fortunately, I wasn’t able to major in Music at UC Berkeley since I didn’t test well enough on my placement exams. My music professors at Foothill were awesome, so it wasn’t their fault. It’s just that UC Berkeley is at another level because well, it’s UC Berkeley.
With music off the table, I was down to two choices for a major: Philosophy or Religious Studies. Philosophy because I loved my Philosophy classes at Foothill and Religious Studies because it sounded interesting and had a philosophical bent to it. To test both majors, I took Philosophy 25A (Ancient Philosophy Survey) and Religious Studies 90A (Introduction to Religious Studies). In the end, Philosophy won out and I declared my major at the end of the semester.
The way the Philosophy Major at UC Berkeley is set up is you have to take three lower division classes and nine upper division courses. The lower division courses are set in stone for you: Philosophy 25A (Ancient Philosophy Survey), Philosophy 25B (Modern Philosophy Survey), and Philosophy 12A (Logic). Everyone has to also take a class called Philosophy 100 (Methods), which is a class in which you have to write a paper every single week for the entire semester. Ideally, it’s the first upper division Philosophy class you take.
As for the remaining eight courses, they are broken down into the following categories: Ethics (1), History (2), Epistemology/Metaphysics (2), and Electives (3).
For history, you have to take a class on one ancient author and one modern author. For ancient, it’s either Plato or Aristotle (I did Plato). As for modern, there’s a lot more options. I ended up doing two modern author classes: Baruch Spinoza and Friedrich Nietzsche. For Ethics, I ended up doing the Contemporary Modern Ethics class (Philosophy 108), which is rarely taught, so that was fun. As for Epistemology and Metaphysics, I took Philosophy of Mind from John Searle and Philosophy of Perception with Alva Noë. I also did Aesthetics with Noë as well. Come to think of it, I also did the class called Metaphysics with Geoffrey Lee, who was like in his early 30s when he was teaching our class. Dude is wicked brilliant.
In case you don’t know what Epistemology, Metaphysics, and Logic are, let me quickly explain. Epistemology is the study of knowledge. How do we know things? What is knowledge? Metaphysics doesn’t have a clear cut definition like Epistemology, but if I were to define it, I would say it’s the study of reality. What is consciousness? What is perception? What is time? Metaphysics attempts to answer questions along those lines. In regard to Logic, that’s all about truth and falsity. It’s actually quite mathematical. You’re basically proving whether or not a statement is mathematically true, false, or neither based upon certain rules and formulas that you follow. It was a real headache for me and was the one class I was dreading when I committed to the major.
Now, as for what Philosophy is as a whole, I would say Philosophy is the study of thoughts and ideas. Thoughts and ideas can be very diverse, hence the different branches of Philosophy. It’s not simply debating. It’s about defending and challenging claims based on what a particular philosopher or philosophy is arguing.
For example, you can’t just say “I think Plato’s theory of the forms represents Plato’s longing for intimacy with his mother” or something off the wall like that without backing up your claims. You can’t just say “Hey, I can think what I want! That’s Philosophy!” Rather, you must work within the frame of what the Philosopher is arguing and make a well-reasoned interpretation of whatever Philosophy they are putting forward. Of course, if you are a Philosopher yourself, there’s more freedom to put your ideas out there, but you won’t be taken seriously unless you can back up your claims with rationale, logical claims.
What makes Philosophy cool is that it can touch on virtually every subject/issue that is out there. When you get a PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) in a subject, you are studying the Philosophy of that subject. A PhD in Biochemistry is studying the Philosophy of Biochemistry, a PhD in Music is studying the Philosophy of Music, and so forth. So, any topic of conversation on Cake for example could be paired with Philosophy provided the conversation is addressing the Philosophy of that subject. A crude way to put it is the Philosophy of a subject asks why. Why study Biochemistry? Why study Music? That’s a very crude way to describe it, but it gets the point across.
What I hope to do on Cake is provide some interesting Philosophical content that will be provide interesting conversations and I look forward to others sharing their Philosophical ideas as well. If anyone has any follow up questions, comment below! I’m also providing a link to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy below. It’s one of the best Philosophy databases in the world.