On February 28 I was reflecting again about my career path, and I took a rather decisive step towards philosophy. Over the past several years I have been weighing two options for my career: philosophy (in which I would write and teach) and psychology (in which I would be a counselor). I’ve see-sawed back and forth, but that day I realized that the weight had tipped more clearly to the side of philosophy.
I realized again that I really do value my diverse interests, and it would be nice if my career could reflect them. I could see that happening with philosophy, because philosophy professors regularly list their research interests in their faculty profiles, and they are often collections like, “Philosophy of physics and decision theory,” or, “philosophical theology, philosophical psychology, the epistemologies of the early modern philosophers, and the works
of David Hume, St. Augustine, and Jonathan Edwards” or, “Business Ethics and Policy; Kant; Induction and Confirmation; Ethics; Philosophy of Religion,” or, “Media Philosophy, Ethics, Social & Political Philosophy, Informal Logic & Critical Thinking Pedagogy, Aesthetics.” In one way, philosophy is a meta-discipline. It’s a field of study in which you think about the nature of other fields.
Psychology is a diverse field, of course, but it’s still only psychology, and I have found that as with all my other interests, my level of interest in it comes and goes. My key observation during this cycle of reflection was that over the past year I have had a number of opportunities to get back into psychology, such as during Stephen Ministry training, but it hasn’t happened. That makes me think psychology is just one of the crowd rather than a career-making preoccupation.
I like helping people, but there are plenty of ways I could help people as a philosopher. I could do philosophical counseling or be an advisor to some organization, for instance. The world needs people who can think. Bad thinking can hurt people, and an awful lot of it goes on: People don’t listen to each other for understanding; they let their preconceptions, worries, and desires rule their whole thought process; they make bad arguments for good causes that turn people off who might otherwise be convinced; etc.
So now I’m about 95% sure philosophy is my field. Once I decided that, I began thinking about my next steps. I don’t really know that much about the actual discipline of philosophy because I’m more interested in it as a way of thinking than as a subject, so I need to get familiar with it. My plans are rather vague, but I think I should find out what the major schools are, what they specialize in, and who are the major publishers of philosophical books and journals. I’d like to flip through some of the journals and get an idea of what philosophers are talking about these days and who some of the major players are. And for a long time I’ve wanted to interview a few philosophy professors to get an idea of what it’s like to be one and check some of my assumptions.
And I also need to learn the history of philosophy, because it seems ridiculous to even apply for a philosophy program without having some sense of context, which brings me to my next project. The classic work on this topic is Frederick Copleston’s nine-volume History of Philosophy. So my goal is to work through the whole thing in the next year or two. I also have plans involving an outline and flashcards so that I will actually remember the things I read and learn some study skills that I never really got the hang of in school, but I’m not entirely sure about the details there. I was going to derive the outline from Copleston, but I may take it from some more straightforward source, like the Oxford Companion to Philosophy, and just read Copleston to tie everything together and provide some commentary. I think that would save me some work.
There’s a programming project in there too. I’d like to be able to generate the flashcards from the outline (or from a concept map, which is a bit more flexible, though more work to put together) in a comprehensive fashion so that I could essentially start from anywhere in the outline (or any node in the concept map) and, in a step-by-step fashion, reproduce the whole thing from memory. Memorizing that much would be a challenge, but I don’t think the flashcard creating program would be too hard. Then the flashcard data I generated would be fed into the open source program jMemorize, which uses the Leitner method for spacing out the repetitions.
The biggest challenge in this Copleston project, other than not giving up altogether, will of course be trying to juggle both it and the spirituality survey. Hopefully along the way I can learn skills in juggling as well as studying.
I think of myself as a kind of philosopher, too; but, it’s more the kind of person who, like you mention, uses philosophy as a way of think than a person who studies philosophy as a subject (that is, who studies and thinks about the writings of philosophers). I guess that’s why, even though I think of myself as a kind of philosopher, I can feel a bit inadequate when I converse with the other kind of philosopher, when they start spouting references to this person or that. I suppose I could remedy that some by reading Copleston, as well (I think I already have the first volume or two). But, as always, scheduling that in can be a challenge with all my other, competing interests and activities.
After my thesis presentation last Friday, one of my professors (who’s on the older side, incidentally) asked me for the third (if not the fourth) time if I have a “philosophy background.” Once again, I asked him if he meant formally or informally. I had to explain that I’ve taken only 10 hours of philosophy courses, but that I approach most of my thinking philosophically.
P.S. I think you still have problems with your RSS feed: I received e-mail updates with your edits to this story before you posted it.
Hooray! We’ve both taken a step toward figuring out what to do with our academic selves next!
Good luck on the history. I’ll be keeping you accountable…