The word “philosophy” comes to us from ancient Greek and means “love of wisdom”. Someone who pursues philosophy, then, was supposed to be someone who was seeking the attainment of wisdom. What is wisdom, though, and what is it to love wisdom?
Normally, as a philosophy tutor, I answer questions pertaining to particular philosophical texts or problems. I don’t often reflect with students about the questions above or ask them whether they think an education in philosophy has brought them closer to gaining wisdom. I would like to take the time to do some of that in this post.
There is a certain, common image of the person full of wisdom that I’ll call the image of the guru. I certainly once had it. According to the image, the wise person is one who has reached a state of profound insight into life, the nature of reality, existence. This state is reached throughdeep reflection for extended periods of time. The wise person is one who has reached a state of equanimity and peace with her surroundings. Most of all (here’s where the “guru” part really kicks in), the wise person has the answers. If only you knew one, you could resolve all of life’s quandaries.
As a philosophy tutor and candidate at Harvard, I can say that philosophy has many roles and does many things. One role is that it is the most fully general subject area, encompassing many kinds of thinking and cultures. The depth and breadth of philosophy as an undergraduate major or gradudate discipline will take you far.
One of the United States’ great 20th Century philosophers, Wilfrid Sellars, said: “The aim of philosophy, abstractly formulated, is to understand how things in the broadest possible sense of the term hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term”. This means that the relationship between electromagnetic fields, the dynamics of tectonic plates, sexual selection, efficiency in farming methods, the history of feudalism, and a human tendency to seek each others’ praises, if any there be, falls within the purview of philosophy.
After being ignored or swept under the rug by scientists and philosophers alike for decades, consciousness has come into central focus over the last 20 years. Biologists, neuroscientists, psychologists, and philosophers have all weighed in with books and book reviews proffering or denying new theories attempting to explain consciousness.
In my last post I focused on the absolute importance of the writing sample for a Ph.D. application in philosophy and other humanities, as well as the need to begin developing strategies and skills for writing your best possible one early on. Today I would like to focus on the other crucial element in your graduate school application: the faculty recommendations.
Normally you will need letters from three of your professors. If you are applying to a philosophy program they should generally all be philosophy professors. The same should usually apply to many other kinds of humanities graduate programs, though there may be some exceptions (e.g., in some situations a letter from a professor in a closely related field that you plan to continue relating your work to may attest to your abilities in that field).
Tags: graduate admissions
People often ask me what I did to get into my graduate program and assume that I must have scored very well on the GRE and probably worked with a GRE tutor. What they don’t know, and what every potential Ph.D. applicant in the humanities should know, is that top GRE scores are not usually the most important component of a successful application.
Tags: graduate admissions