I’ve got a degree in philosophy, me. It was all a long time ago and it was taken on the basis that it was the most useless and impractical thing I could think of to do for three years at government expense (we had grants in those days, believe it or not).
As it turned out, though, it has proved to be a very valuable tool, especially for recognising spurious arguments at fifty paces, and in my view it deserves to be more widely taught – as it is in France, where it is part of the standard secondary school curriculum.
However, I think it’s a young persons’ game. I was convinced of this recently when I thumbed idly through one of my old university texts – Hegel’s ‘Philosophy of History’, if you’re interested – and realised to my horror that I could not understand a word of the earnest notes I had written in the margins. I couldn’t understand a word of the text either, but that was also the case in 1971.
Back then, I had at least a basic working knowledge of the main ‘ologies’ and ‘isms’ of philosophy. The passage of time has eroded most of the details, but there’s still enough to get by on. As a public service, therefore, I offer the following brief summary of some of the key schools of philosophical thought, as I remember them:
- Epistemology: How should I know?
- Phenomenology: Just think about it.
- Subjective Idealism: It’s all in the mind.
- Cartesian Dualism: No it isn’t.
- Dialectics: Yes; no; maybe.
- Rationalism: Seems reasonable.
- Utilitarianism: What’s the use?
- Nihilism: Nothing to it.
- Hedonism: Please yourself.
- Stoicism: Whatever.
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