Philosophy as a major is still alive and well at the University of Rhode Island, despite the perception that it is a dying field. Students at URI have seen that there are more uses for the major and its classes than just reviewing ancient Greece.
“I actually took an intro philosophy course and I fell in love with it because I thought that it supplemented the hard sciences with kind of a more abstract approach,” said Alex Azevedo, a senior at URI who is a double major in biological sciences and philosophy.
Azevedo believes that her degree in philosophy will prepare her for her career in the medical profession, giving her a solid basis of ethics and moral principles.
“It’ll definitely come in handy when I am presented with a patient case that’s not textbook and I’ll have to think of something out of the box,” said Azevedo. “When you treat a patient as a person first, and not just a set of symptoms, you’re kind of using those principles you’ve learned in philosophy to approach a situation.”
Future medical school students are not the only ones who can benefit from philosophy courses, as students who enjoy critical thinking may also benefit from the same classes.
“I thought I was going to be an English major when I started school,” said Marc DiMartino, a senior philosophy major with an English minor, “[but] I figured if I was going to take time and effort, and [be] honing analytical skills, then I might as well analyze real freaking life.”
Through his philosophy classes DiMartino found that his courses could prepare students for everyday life events, particularly in personal interactions.
“Because [it’s important] to know how to not jump to conclusions,” said DiMartino. “And [for] assessing or dealing with friends and stuff, just paying attention to everything and keeping things moving on a good track.”
Azevedo was surprised at the complete lack of philosophy requirements that are in place for pre-medical students. The university does not require courses in the humanities to teach students different methods of thinking before they go on to work in health care professions.
“They don’t really focus that much on the real life aspect of dealing with patients and communicating,” said Azevedo. “Because out of all of my classes [philosophy] has taught me the most about communication and thinking critically and just analyzing a problem from more than just one angle.”
Azevedo recommends that students who plan on continuing into medical careers should take PHL 314, a course about ethics in modern medicine, which she herself took with Dr. Prentiss.
Additionally, DiMartino emphasized philosophy’s relevance to modern politics. He pointed to the news and political debates as demonstrations of poor reasoning, explaining that most people are not educated enough in reasoning to notice.
“You would be able to [recognize] that yourself without somebody telling you if you learned some philosophy,” said DiMartino. “It is a palpable and very real problem that people don’t have these skills, [some of] our leaders lack that basic reasoning.”
Professors of the major also feel passionately that the courses are still important in today’s society, even though society may not understand the importance.
“I can’t speak for how our graduating majors feel about their prospects these days, but I think that one of the numerous virtues of philosophy is that it helps empower students to think creatively… and critically: logically, reflectively, analytically and so on,” said Dr. David Prentiss, a philosophy professor at URI.
Unfortunately, even with philosophy’s many uses it continues to be looked down upon as an outdated major.
“I feel like when I tell people I’m a philosophy major [people] always give that same look, that is kind of like ‘what do you mean, what could you possible do with that?,’” said Azevedo. “And then I always feel like I have to say ‘Oh no, I’m a double major,’ like I have to slip that in to kind-of explain myself. But I disagree with it, I think that when I say I’m a philosophy major that should be just as respected as my first major and I don’t think that I should get that look.”