Advanced Search

Why does our society place more value on the degree than the actual learning?

Why does our society place more value on the degree than the actual learning? With Ivy league and esteemed colleges publishing their courses online, it is plausible to think that one could learn as much or more than a graduate, yet that knowledge would not be valued in the workforce or in the field of knowledge. This can also be seen in high school. Less knowledgeable students who earn the diploma are far greater valued than others who may have superior knowledge but did not complete.

I agree that there is some utility in this way of thinking about formal education, but I also think that this perspective is so shallow that individuals who learn to adopt a richer perspective may learn more and may be able to do more with their learning.

First, I think it can be useful to reflect on the benefits of learning that have nothing to do with social status or employability. Is there intrinsic value in learning and in learning how to learn? Does a high-quality learning make one a better person in addition to increasing social status and employability? Understanding those benefits may improve motivation to work hard and effectively as a learner.

Second, I think it can also be useful to reflect on a more sophisticated manner on the instrumental value of education: those who view a degree program simply as a means to a credential fail to internalize a narrative of self-development and growth (self-consciously directing one's education to increase skills, insight, and wisdom, for example), and as an educator I've found that those of my students who grasp on to such a narrative learn more and learn better. Higher education institutions gesture towards this idea with statements about fostering lifelong learning, but those statements tend to be empty platitudes without corresponding curricular or co-curricular content.

So, one reason why society places more value on credentials than on the learning that underlies them is that too many learners fail to question a shallow and limited viewpoint on the purpose, nature, and benefits of education. Individuals can benefit from rejecting that perspective, and institutions of higher learning have opportunities to help their students do that. Hiring managers may always value credentials highly because they don't have the ability to assess individual learning, but learners and institutions of higher learning can certainly do more to increase the value of those credentials by valuing learning more highly.

I just graduated from college with a philosophy degree. I don't think that I

I just graduated from college with a philosophy degree. I don't think that I want to get a Phd in philosophy (though, you never know...) but I remain excited by many philosophical questions, particularly in philosophy of mathematics and ethics. How can I keep philosophy a part of my life?

let me supplement Eddy's fine response by noting that you will probably have to be very pro-active in making this happen! not only will you get distracted (reasonably) by life, but so will most of the people you're hanging out with, who may not have any initial interest in philosophy anyway! so you'll have to take charge -- for example, start a book club or discussion group at a local coffee shop ... check out 'socrates cafe' on that score ... find organizations that have public events of philosophical import so you can meet more like-minded folks (if you're in NYC you might look up 'socrates in the city') -- make sure your local NPR station carries the program Philosophy Talk (look it up!) and then be sure to listen to it ... organize a lecture yourself -- for example, i recently gave a talk at a bar in New York City that has a tuesday evening literary series ... find such a thing, or start one yourself! .... so don't count on others keeping your philosophy bug alive, you'll probably have to do it on your own initiative ...

good luck!

Does worthwhile Philosophy start with good questions or can it start with the

Does worthwhile Philosophy start with good questions or can it start with the proper mood? I am an International Relations major and have decided on writing my honors thesis on a question of political philosophy, not because I have a burning question, but rather because it was the subject I enjoyed the most and because I want to understand whether or not it is something I'd like pursuing in the future in the form of a postgraduate degree. I often find myself in what I - and some friends- call a "Philosophical mood" -though the friends are not without irony when the employ the term- i.e. in the mood for thinking and discussing dispassionately about what I am passionate about. I think Heidegger privileged moods as a way to knowing. I've decided researching the nature of power and the use of this concept in twentieth-Century political thought because I want to satisfy my mood, not because it seems like a burning question. Can real philosophy come from this? Is it (I know it is unscientific) silly to pursue...

Isn't that simply a false dichotomy? You need the good questions and the right spirit of enquiry. If you've no clear, well-formulated, questions then you'll just produce an ill-directed ramble. If you aren't driven by curiosity actually to explore the good questions, if you lack the desire to follow the argument wherever it leads, then nothing will come of having raised the questions!

But I'd just add that there is nothing at all special about philosophy here. It's the same whether cosmology or molecular biology, history or the study of ancient Athens are your thing. Enquiry needs to be guided by good questions and driven on by the right spirit of 'wonder'.

Or at least that's the ideal! Of course, there's lots of routine hack work in science and history, mechanically grinding away in a low grade way. And equally --- though don't spread the word too enthusiastically! -- there's lots of routine hack work in philosophy (regrettable, maybe, but people do need publications for tenure, and have to satisfy "research assessment exercises" and the like).

I recently graduated with my Specialized Honours BA in philosophy and I would

I recently graduated with my Specialized Honours BA in philosophy and I would like to pursue graduate studies. But until then, what extra-curricular activities relating to philosophy can I do to render my application more competitive and to demonstrate my passion for philosophy?

When it comes to moving from the BA to beginning graduate studies, the only thing (in my experience) that grad schools really care about is just how smart you are at philosophy. So they will take note of how well you did in the BA, of what your referees write about you, and (probably most importantly) they'll make their own independent assessment of the quality of the samples of written work that they ask for. Extra-curricular activities and declarations of passion count for little!

For much of my life, I have defined myself through my intellectual pursuits. I

For much of my life, I have defined myself through my intellectual pursuits. I loved learning, reading, and poetry. Thinking held a genuine excitement for me, and I craved academic and literary challenges. Within the past few months, for no reason that I can discern, all of that changed. I am not an unhappy person aside from the fact that I have lost this part of my identity (so I don’t think that I am clinically depressed), but I have become lazy. I still read a little, but I no longer enjoy it. When I try to do the things I loved, they now seem boring or, at least, like work. And I like the person I was then much better than the person I am now. She was more thoughtful, had higher standards for herself, and was searching for her purpose in life. And it also feels kind of like, if I am not an intellectual, then what good am I? My sense of morality, my worldview, and my desire to achieve all came from my intellectual concept of the world. How do I bring back this “spark”? Is there a way to fall back in...

Perhaps you can bring back that loving feeling by choosinng a middle path. In your question, it seems that you are representing two persons:

An intellectual who loves reading, is excited by inquiry into the purpose of life, someone with a passion for literary and academic challenges, a commitment to moral reflection and entertaining worldviews, and who has high standards


A person who is lazy or at least not passionate about learning, a person who does not enjoy reading and finds the pursuits of the above person boring / uninteresting.

Might there be a middle position, e.g. someone who is excited about inquiry and literary challenges, but someone who also makes time for non-intellectual pursuits? Philosophers from Aristotle to Spinoza and beyond have recommended moderation, a middle ground between excess and deficiency. To use an old analogy from the medievals, if you try always to be on top of your intellectual pursuits you might be in the position of having a bow and arrow that you always have strung and taught. Eventually the bow will lose its resilience.

Another resource to consider is Richard Sorabji's delighteful book: Emotion and Peace of Mind; From Stoic Agitation to Christian Temptation. He addresses the care of the soul tradition and it contains wonderful advice on the rythms of life! There are delightful passages that will (I wager) bring back that loving feeling.

I am about to be a senior at an Ivy League university, and I am starting to

I am about to be a senior at an Ivy League university, and I am starting to panic about my next step. I believe that I am intelligent, a capable worker and will succeed in anything I do. The only problem is... What should I do? How would different philosophers advise me to approach my next step in life?

In the abstract, this is a very difficult question to address, but I shall offer a few general points you might consider.

In his defense before the jurors in Athens, Socrates admonished his people to care for their souls instead of only pursuing material wealth and power. There is a rich tradition of caring for the soul in Ancient and Medieval philosophy that offers very practical advise on passion, work, ambition, vanity, humility and so on. A terrific book that would give you an overview of this tradition is Emotion and Peace of Mind; From Stoic Agitation to Christian Temptation by Richard Sorabji (Oxford University Press).

Apart from looking to the care-for-the-soul tradition (something I sought to address in a Last Lecture in 2010 at St. Olaf College you can find it on the College website), you might take seriously the difference between a vocation and a job. The concept of "vocation" (a calling) has its base in religious belief (called by God to do X) but it can be approached from a secular point of view in terms of trying to find that work that most matches your deep desires with the external needs and values of the world. I think it would be good (or good to consider) finding a vocation rather than merely a job (work that is undertaken, not because you find it intrinsically valuable but because of money).

Other matters to consider: You are an Ivy League student and have thus been the benificiary of an excellent education. Does that give rise to any desire for (public) service, to do good in response to the good(s) you have been given? Do you have any ethical or religious convictions that might impact your pursuit of a profession? For example, an ethical or religioius commitment to fairness or a passion against injustice might lead one in any number of specific directions (diplomacy, peace corps), just as a commitment to a clean environment might lead one into environmental law or politics.

Overall, I suggest the question "What should I do?" is dependent upon a prior question "Who am I?" To go back to Socrates, he admonished us to care for the soul, but he also put out there some vital advise: Know Thyself. I think if you take on that task, the rest will follow. Oh, and don't forget to read Sorabji's book! It is a little eccentric in places, but it is full of great material!

I am curious about the formation of the moral conscience and at what age a child

I am curious about the formation of the moral conscience and at what age a child should be held responsible for knowing the difference between right and wrong. And would the same criteria apply for acts of commission and acts of omission assuming that there are no "defenses", so to speak, like voluntary intoxication or organic brain damage. Thanks.

Great question. Probably one of the other panelists will do a better job than me on this one, but here goes: I suggest that the key to determining the age of responsibility comes down to measuring the development of cognitive power and control. You ask about "what age a child should be held responsible for knowing the difference between right and wrong," which suggests that there might be a time when a child might NOT know such moral differences but that at some point the child SHOULD have such knowledge. For this reason, the key is knowing when a child has sufficient cognitive power to know the moral consequences of her/his acts and omissions. If, for example, the child simply lacks the power to put himself in the position of others (and thus fails, for example, to be able to grasp that hitting his sister hurts her), then the child is not a moral agent. Moreover, if the child lacks sufficient bodily and mental powers to control her body and thought, moral agency would also not be achieved. In these respects, recognizing the presence of moral responsibility would, in principle, be akin to recognizing when an adult with organic brain damage or voluntary intoxication is responsible, though in the later case the fact that the intoxication is voluntary would be sufficient to assign blame for the person becoming in a state when he is no longer able to have sufficient knowledge and control to know and do right rather than wrong.

In terms of assessing a child's powers, we are up against what in philosophy is called the problem of other minds. We cannot directly know the child's mental states and so we must form some overall best understanding of them, supported by a variety of sources (behavior, etc). Some philosophers seem to put the presence of cognitive power that would form a basis for responsible agency way too late (Davidson held that pre-linguistic children lack beliefs) whereas others are perhaps too early in their estimation of cognitive power (Melanie Klien thought that very young, pre-linguistic infants have substantial moral knowledge). Perhaps we need three categories: clear cases of when there is no agency, clear cases when there is, and then a third category when we might treat a child as though she or he is morally accountable but we are doing so in order to help the child develop morally rather than this being a case of when we know the child has already achieved full moral accountability.

If some other panelist can do better, please do so!

Why in the western hemisphere are most text books only engaged with western

Why in the western hemisphere are most text books only engaged with western thought, and very few with a mixture of both western and eastern? I am taking a class now that only focus is to prescribe to the western view, this is all the course reading consist of. For me this causes a great gulf, because of the dominance of European thought. Not even Confucious is mentioned on any of the reading, this really is paradoxical.....

Good question. This is indeed unfortunate. I believe most (if not all) philosophers in the English-speaking world today will have at least one other language, though I wager that for the majority of us that other language is not Asian (in my case my other languages are Greek and French). This need not impair a philosopher taking on Asian themes (I have taught philosophy of religion in English in Hong Kong), but some of us are reluctant to claim (to use your example) expertise or a deep grounding in Confucianism without being able to read Chinese. The two philosophers on my campus who specialize in Indian thought both know Sanskrit. As for the rest of us, not knowing the languages may not be a good excuse (maybe I should learn Chinese). And as more and more Asian (and African and Arabic) texts are being translated with commentaries, philosophy in the classroom is likely to be more global in the future. We are already seeing a concerted effort at more global coverage in all the new encyclopedias of philosophy (Routledge, Thomson / Macmillan, etc). But it also must be said that western and eastern philosophy is so complex and substantial that it is difficult in one or even in three entry level classes to cover the main figures. In some schools, philosophy departments will just have one course in Asian philosophy, but a number of schools regard that as too confining and will (typically) offer a course in Chinese philosophy and one in Indian philosophy. And then what about Islamic philosophy? My point is that just western philosophy is already a pretty titanic undertaking and for those of us in the west it is a good start. Shouldn't we set out to understand ourselves and our history and traditions first and then study others (perhaps this way we can be more self-conscious of when we encounter important challenges to what we regard as standard)? So, I entirely sympathize with your frustration and can report that the state of play in philosophy is shifting. But there are reasons for thinking it is not bad to begin with the west in the west, and then move out to Asia, Africa, philosophy in the Arab world, philosophy in South America.

I'm a first year student of philosophy at UCLA, and I am interested primarily in

I'm a first year student of philosophy at UCLA, and I am interested primarily in philosophy of religion. I've just taken an introductory logic course which covered symbolization, sentential logic, and quantification. There are numerous other logic courses offered through the department, including metalogic, modal logic, etc, and I was wondering if AskPhilosophers could recommend a logic course to take? More specifically, I want to take a logic course that is related or will aid me in my studies in philosophy of religion. Maybe modal logic, since it deals with necessity and possibility? Thanks.

Contra Smith, I congratulate you on having an interest in philosophy of religion, one of the most exciting areas of philosophical inquiry. Actually, many who have been drawn to philosophy have often begun with a fascination with philosophical reflection on religion (Colin McGinn's autobiography notes his first being drawn to philosophy of religion by his encounter with the ontological argument). It is impossible to take seriously the history of philosophy without undertaking philosophy of religion or undertaking deep study of philosophical work on ideas that are religiously significant. For a history of philosophy of religion in the modern era, you might check out my book Evidence and Faith; Philosophy and religion since the seventeenth century. It provides a good sourse book for future study of this rich area of inquiry.

As for logic, yes, I think modal argument is great.

Are there page to page commentaries on difficult philosophical works that

Are there page to page commentaries on difficult philosophical works that explain more simply what's being said so that the average person at least has a fighting chance of knowing what the work says. Where does a person obtain those sorts of commentaries?

Indeed, there are all kinds of commentaries written on the works of the Great Dead Philosophers, at various levels of sophistication.

But it isn't clear to me why "the average person" would particularly want to read the works of the Great Dead Philosophers -- unless gripped by the idea that those works are somehow full of timeless pearls of wisdom. But that's not a happy idea. Those old works are, of course, very much creatures of their times, responding to intellectual concerns of their times (concerns which might overlap with ours, but which are also very different in subtle and complex ways), and typically bringing to bear all kinds of hidden assumptions of their times. That's why the Great Dead Philosophers can often be so baffling: they can seem to talking about issues that we half-recognize, but often in ways that initially make little sense. And that's why we need the commentaries, to help us see where our predecessors were coming from. (Think for example just how much philosophy over the centuries since the Greeks has been reacting to the science of the day, taking "science" broadly: change the science radically and the problems it gives rise to change radically too.)

The "average person" (meaning, I take it, someone with no knowledge of the area) wouldn't start trying to understand physics by reading the Great Dead Physicists; they'd start with modern textbooks. And likewise the average person wanting to think through some philosophical issues should start with modern textbooks: there are plenty of excellent ones at different levels, which do indeed give their readers more than a "fighting chance".

Of course, working through a selection of such books might inspire you to go on to delve into some aspects of the history of the subject (though many philosophers no more particularly care about the longer-term history than do their physicist colleagues). But that's a different matter. By then you've stopped being an "average person", starting out!