Help! Philosophy? Not quite. (Warning: LONG)

<p>I've been reading an anthology of philosophical writings, some of which I've found intriguing, others not so much. I especially like those texts which investigate the human condition, for example:</p>

<p>*- why do we feel/think/behave the way we do?
- how do our desires come about?
- will we achieve happiness by satisfying these desires?
- if so, what is the optimal way of doing so?</p>

<ul>
<li><p>how should we function as social creatures? </p>

<ul>
<li>why do we interact with others the way we do? </li>
<li>should people of greater ability be allowed to flourish naturally, or would we be "happier" in an artificial balance where everyone was forced to be equal?</li>
<li>if the former, what kind of ability should be rewarded? physical (as it was in the Neanderthal days) or intellectual?</li>
</ul></li>
<li><p>what role does art play in our human experience?</p>

<ul>
<li>why are we drawn to art if it provides no tangible benefit, as measured in terms of productivity?*</li>
</ul></li>
</ul>

<p>But here's the catch: I don't like discussions like "what is art", though I understand that we need to define what we mean by "art" before we can discuss its applications. The problem is that I have very rigid opinions of what constitutes art: any literature, music, painting or sculpture that an individual finds beautiful. That will be HIS/HER unique definition of art. I don't care about what goes into that category. I want to know what role it plays in that individual's life (and of course, generalize it hopefully). </p>

<p>Simply, I want to understand myself (and mankind in general) and find explanations for all the subconcious, involuntary impulses that we have. If I can understand that, then I can move on to the bigger question, which is: knowing what's behind all these quirks and tics (i.e. what makes us human), how then should we live?</p>

<p>Philosophy? I can't stand the mathy, rigorous parts of philosphy (like epistemology and metaphysics). Psychology? Seems like too many man-made frameworks and categorizations that just don't feel natural.</p>

<p>Someone help please! What is this discipline that I so desperately want to explore? I don't think I'll consider myself truly educated until I do so.</p>

<p>Try sociology: </p>

<p>Sociology is the scientific or systematic study of society, including patterns of social relations, social stratification, social interaction, and culture.</p>

<p>I was a philosophy major in college and I wish I had taken sociology instead.</p>

<p>I'm not sure it would tell you much about the role art plays in human experience, though.</p>

<p>I also think economics explains a great deal about how society works, but I have never taken an economics course.</p>

<p>I think many people would say that these are the questions that most social sciences (and many humanities) try to answer. Political science, economics, psychology, anthropology, art history, literature-they all grapple with these fundemental questions in different ways. (And if I were more of a scientist, I'd probably say that these are some of the basic questions that science researches too!)</p>

<p>I suggest you try some courses that focus on the intersection of these fields with art.</p>

<p>[Warning: Trick question coming ...]</p>

<p>Are you interested in gaining insight about yourself, or insight about other people? </p>

<p>Hint: What's your favorite National Park? Why isn't that EVERYONE'S favorite National Park?</p>

<p>My introductory philosophy professor introduced philosophy as a normative discipline that is concerned with how things should be, not the way things are:</p>

<p>How should we behave vs "why do we feel/think/behave the way we do"
Where should our desires come from or should we follow our desires vs "how do our desires come about"
How should we interact with others vs "why do we interact with others the way we do"</p>

<p>Most of modern philosophy is rigorous: the texts explicitly or implicitly state a few premises and then have an argument that leads to their conclusion. If you want to disagree with a philosophical text, you have to point out a logical flaw in the argument or attack one of the premises (which are often so watertight they they are hard to attack). When studying philosophy, you would spend a lot of time analyzing the logical structure of arguments and then comparing the arguments and conclusions of various philosophers on the same topic.</p>

<p>Thank you all for the replies! I think economics, politics and sociology focus on the so-called "big picture" of how things work in markets, governments and societies respectively. This is one of the areas I definitely want to explore.</p>

<p>However, I have this wierd idea that I should start from the basic building block - the individual. Once I understand how and why a single individual functions, I can then move on to study larger communities of these individuals and their interactions (in the disciplines of economics, politics and sociology). </p>

<p>barium, I am very much interested in philosophy and how things should be. But only after I study HOW and WHY individuals and groups of people function the way they do, then can I begin to understand how they SHOULD BE.</p>

<p>So here's my "plan of attack":</p>

<ol>
<li>How/why individuals function (??? anthropology, psychology ???) <---what i'm trying to figure out</li>
<li>How/why large groups of individuals function (econ, politics, sociology)</li>
<li>How things should be (philosophy)</li>
</ol>

<p>Does it make sense or do I sound nuts? haha</p>

<p>Newhope33, I'd say both, but that doesn't really answer the question. If I had to choose, it would be gaining insight about myself, since my ultimate goal is to decide how I should live (point 3 in my plan). And I can't do that without understanding how/why I function in the first place.</p>

<p>Of course, I'm hoping that by gaining insight about myself, I'll be able to generalize that into something that applies to almost everyone else too. </p>

<p>To use the national parks example, I might rate my national parks based on scenery. Others might rate theirs based on the freshness of the air, or the amount of wildlife present etc. But what's important to me is why we chose whatever criteria we chose to rate the parks, what role our national park experience plays in our overall existence, and why it plays that particular role.</p>

<p>Pray tell, what does that say about me? :)</p>

<p>It does make sense to some extend, but you will have to pick a major at some point :)</p>

<p>Be aware that you won't learn a grand theory about how individuals function in psych or anthro which you could then carry to sociology or philosophy. I also doubt that psychology would help you a lot in econ or poli sci (don't know about sociology).</p>

<p>"Newhope33, I'd say both, but that doesn't really answer the question. If I had to choose, it would be gaining insight about myself ..."</p>

<p>RS - Good response. If you get a grip on why your philosophies are different from others', then you're well on your way to understanding why their philosophies are different from yours. Most of it, for good or bad, comes from one's life experiences -- philosophies I mean. I grew up in an isolated farming community where anyone (and anything) unfamiliar was viewed suspiciously. Then my early adult years were spent in multiple urban areas where nonfamiliarity was the norm. I adjusted my philosophies accordingly, and now it's painful to return to my old community because I'm so uncomfortable with the narrow purviews. Bottom line? The search begins with self.</p>

<p>It sounds like you might want to try a survey of courses in multiple disciplines to lay a basic "big picture" foundation. I do recommend both Cultural Anthropology and Physical Anthropology as part of that beginning set of studies. It is a good way to get a grip on the more fundamental building blocks of human behavior.</p>

<p>I suggest you pick your major after a survey of classes in the different disciplines. If you plan well, you will complete your general education (first two years) doing this. </p>

<p>A few other thoughts - </p>

<p>1) While college is a time to explore the self - this interest of yours might be a lifelong quest. Don't fight it, embrace it. The more you learn, the more you will likely want to learn more. You can certainly get quite an indepth look through a 4 year college degree, but more likely, you'll just find yourself jumping down more and more rabbit holes to see what there is to see :)</p>

<p>2) Be a little bit careful to separate out this big question of yours from the realities of college... it gets expensive to attend more than 4 years, so stay on track for your degree if finances are an issue. The cost of an extra year of college is more than just that year's tuition - it is also the money lost from being out of the marketplace an extra year.</p>

<p>3) You don't need to make your intellectual quest your actual major OR career - you may end up wanting to pick a major that will support a more concrete career path. </p>

<p>Annika</p>

<p>An individual does not live in isolation, so personally I think it is most informative to study the individual in context, start with the big picture and work your way down.</p>

<p>For example, the book Bowling Alone gives quite a bit of insight as to how Americans spend their time now compared to a generation ago, and it's all based on research on real people, not theories or philosophical arguments.</p>

<p>For me personally, I did find it provided food for thought about how an individual functions</p>

<p>I can recommend Working by Studs Terkel, which is based on interviews with several hundred persons well-established in their careers. It's an older book, but the issues are timeless.</p>

<p>shrugging--you might find one of the great books programs engaging. St. John's is the best known, but Notre Dame's program of Liberal Studies is good too. History of Ideas is also good--not sure it is an undergraduate major, but I think Kenyon has a program. </p>

<p>I'd add comparative religion and literature to the list of possible subjects of interest if you are looking for a specific major.</p>

<p>But really--do a google on Great Books programs and see what you get.</p>

<p>Mombot took the words out of my mouth. I live in Maryland where St. Johns is located. Their curriculum covers the Great Books and discussions revolve around issues that you brought up. Check them out.</p>

<p>Great Books will include readings from Homer, Darwin, Augustine, the Bible, Plato, etc.</p>

<p>Depending on your turn of mind, you may find these readings enlightening or the musings of Dead White Males.</p>

<p>On entering college, I would have thought going to St. John's would've been just the ticket, but actually, for me, the social sciences provide a far more accessible path for understanding the human condition.</p>

<p>Those dead white guys knew a thing or two though....and not sure everybody in the Bible was white or male, or even dead if you take the Resurrection literally and believe in God.</p>

<p>
[quote]
I do recommend both Cultural Anthropology and Physical Anthropology as part of that beginning set of studies. It is a good way to get a grip on the more fundamental building blocks of human behavior.

[/quote]
</p>

<p>This was my thought as well. You might enjoy looking at some university course catalogs under these disciplines and see if some of the courses match the type of questions that you are asking. You can find some of them online, or at your local library. Cultural and Social Anthropology, Sociology, Psychology- might take on such questions, but they approach them differently. Philosophy is mostly the study of ideas, so there is some overlap there, as well, but with what you've said about the logical and mathematical parts of philosophy, I agree that this probably isn't the field for you.
Some colleges have a major called "Humanities" where the students can take a very broad survey of all the fields within. Check out a variety of college catalogs and see where you fit.</p>

<p>You might look into cognitive science, it might allow you to specialize in your specific area of interest without being too bogged down by other prereqs.</p>

<p>FYI everybody, I found a book that satisfied most of my curiosities in this thread. It's called "How Pleasure Works" by Paul Bloom, a psychology professor at Yale. He does take an evolutionary psych approach, which some might argue is neither rigorous nor accurate, but then again economics, while rigorous, isn't remarkably accurate either. An interesting read.</p>

<p>Multiple disciplines address your interests and questions. I don't think you will find any single discipline that addresses all of them or that addresses them completely. A liberal education will help you discover the connections between different disciplines, but ultimately it is you who makes these connections between seemingly separate fields. </p>

<p>As some of the other posters recommended, you might find a "great books" approach to be a fruitful starting point. This does not necessarily require an entire curriculum based on this approach, as at St. John's; many colleges offer a core or sequence of courses based on these works.</p>

<p>Various aspects of your interests fall under the philosophy subfield of ethics and social/political philosophy. You need not major in philosophy to take coursework in the particular areas that interest you, but I think eventually you may come around to questions that other subfields address more fully. Religious studies also address many of these same questions. Still other of your questions/interests are best addressed by psychology or politics. Again, you don't need to major in these disciplines to take courses in the particular areas that interest you, e.g. personality theory, "positive" psychology, philosophical psychology, political philosophy, intellectual history, etc.</p>

<p>You could also go somewhere like U of Chicago which will have you read a lot of philosophy and great books without buying completely into the Great Books education. (I think zapfino beat me to it.) </p>

<p>I also wondered if you might like anthropology as a way of understanding what makes a tick.</p>