Philosophy & Critical Thinking

In high school, educators often made it seem like understanding algebra was integral. People often tweet and make memes about how many years go by without them ever needing to use algebra. Personally, I wish I’d spent more time studying philosophy and developing critical thinking skills instead of solving for x.

I studied philosophy in university without knowing what I was getting myself into. 

Initially, I signed up because I needed the credits. 

In the end, philosophy transformed my mindset. 

Philosophy means "love of wisdom" in Greek. With wisdom comes a change in preconceived notions and beliefs. My mindset and opinions were consistently challenged. It was a stressful yet enlightening experience. I needed that course to become the critical thinker that I am today because critical thinking is an indispensable life skill. 

Critical thinking has two major components

  • An ability to reason well. 

  • An ability to construct and deconstruct beliefs and judgements.

This course was a combination of philosophical reasoning and advanced writing. My classmates and I wrote ourselves into deep holes that we couldn’t climb out of. Whenever we thought we had the correct answer, we started questioning things all over again. Here are the most important things I learned: 

It is okay to change your mind when presented with new, credible information.

The need to be right all the time has been thrown out the window because it is quite problematic. I learned to listen to other’s points of views and to talk less. This way, I learned a great deal. People have so much to say and lots of life experience. How can you miss out on an opportunity to learn about something because you think you’re the smartest in the room?

It is okay to disagree. 

When we disagreed with each other in class, we were encouraged to explain why and to respectfully provide counter views. Disagreement does not have to equal disrespect. It is simply a time to clarify your points and learn something new. One of the topics I wrote about was "truth". I wrote a 5-page essay about the disagreements people have had on this topic overtime and how each argument has equally relevant factors. Instead of fighting to be right about truth, it was important for me to see all sides of the spectrum to draw my final conclusions. 

Most importantly, question everything

I stopped blindly accepting what I was conditioned to believe. I started questioning and judging my own belief systems. If more people learned how to deconstruct entire belief systems and worldviews, a great deal of clarity would be found. People who study philosophy learn how to spot bad reasoning. They write more clearly and they go on to score highly on tests like the GRE and LSAT than in other disciplines. 

An effective education system is one that produces thinkers, creators, and great minds. That is the measure of a successful student, not their ability to regurgitate random dates and facts.

"Philosophy plays a direct role in education because it teaches critical-thinking should be taught at all levels of school. It leads students through thinking processes necessary to justify specific positions on important issues. That is what philosophy is at its core." -Brian Collins, a Ballard Seashore Dissertation Year Fellow

Even law schools encourage applicants to study philosophy in preparation for the complexities of law education. This is also true for social and physical science students who rely on sound reasoning to make decisions in their fields. 

Thankfully, education is a lifelong pursuit. There are resources available for those who are hungry for more. If you aren’t in a position to enroll in a formal philosophy course, the books are available. There are many reviewers and resources available that recommend some incredible philosophical books by great thinkers. Depending on what topic you want to analyze, there is a mountain of books to choose from. To be honest, it will be overwhelming, but it will transform your mindset.

Here is a tentative list from Gregory Sandler Ph.D, a philosophy professor with knowledge on 'beginner's' books: 

  1. Plato, The Last Days of Socrates

  2. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics

  3. Epictetus, Discourses, Fragments, Handbook

  4. Friedrich Nitzsche, The Geneology of Morals

  5. Rene Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy 

There is no 'correct' way of approaching your philosophical journey. It does not really matter which philosopher you start reading. What matters is that you truly engage with the process of philosophical reasoning and critical thinking. If you are an educator, consider including philosophy in your curriculum and giving your students these valuable life skills.