Adventures in Ethics and Science

My university had events on campus today for newly admitted students. My department tapped me (and two of our fabulous philosophy students) to man the Philosophy Department table at the College of Humanities and Arts open house.

Hundreds of admitted students — many with their parents — milling around in a room with such enticing major departments as English & Comparative Literature, Art & Design, Music & Dance (yes, the cool ones have ampersands), and we were supposed to sell Philosophy.

We opted for brazenness, and wrote in big letters on the white-board/easel we had brought with us:

PHILOSOPHY: Proudly corrupting youth since Socrates.

While we had a fair number of parents tugging the hands of their offspring to get them past our table as quickly as possible (“Avert your eyes, children! They may assume different shapes!”), we had at least as many admits who seemed unable to look away. And many of them came up to us to talk to us about studying philosophy.

Another item that may have played a role in the bimodal response (i.e., love us or fear us) we elicited: One of this year’s additions to our big board of famous people who have studied philosophy: Jake Gyllenhaal, pictured in a still from Brokeback Mountain. Since, as an administrator pointed out as we were setting up, many parents would feel a little bit better about their kids becoming gay cowboys than philosophers.


  1. #1 coturnix
    March 26, 2006

    Cana philosopher be elected President? Or are philosophers even lower on the totem pole than atheists? Not to mention gays?

  2. #2 razib
    March 26, 2006

    hm. my opinion of philosophy changed a lot while i was an undergraduate…my perception of it changed a lot when i realized how expansive the term ‘philosophy’ can be, both in space and time.

  3. #3 Dabodius
    March 26, 2006

    I’ve sat at that table on the other side of the Mississippi, and my hirsute jaw frightened parents. I talked about training at analysis, criticism, reasoning and argument, and doing well on the LSAT. I regret there seemed nothing, or at least no majors, to be gained by making a case for liberal education and the necessity of philosophy in it.
    If I had put up a picture, why not Steve Martin’s, even if the shade of Witggenstein cured him of philosophical perplexity?

    [Steven Martin was in our display.]

  4. #4 Chad Orzel
    March 26, 2006

    Could be worse. They could decide to become gay cowboy philosophers…

    “I wish I knew how to quit the categorical imperative…”

  5. #5 Bill Hooker
    March 26, 2006

    “You think you’re thinking, but you’re not. Philosophy: learn to think.”

    I might suggest something like that. [anecdote,!=data]I think the study of philosophy improves performance in any intellectual discipline, by providing a way to structure complex inquiries and avoid common confusions. My own reading has been self-directed and so hasn’t done me much good (I have all kinds of good intentions), but the sharpest of my colleagues throughout the years have typically had at least undergrad exposure to philosophy.[/anecdote]

  6. #6 JM
    March 28, 2006

    There was an open house? I would have been there! You could have used me as a shill!

    Clearly, I need to get out more.

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