Story by Carly Granato
Photo by Luke Nankivell
Nationally, more philosophy programs are offered at an undergraduate level than a decade ago, according to the College Board. Drake University has also made a similar change. The Philosophy and Religion Department currently has six staff members, more than when Associate Professor of Philosophy Tim Knepper began teaching 10 years ago.
“(When I started teaching) there wasn’t a lot of cross over. Now we’re doing a lot more non-western philosophy and religion than we ever did,” Knepper said. “The department is the largest it has been.”
Though classes have generally filled, college students’ attitude toward taking philosophy and religion courses have changed over the years.
“Should all students have to take a philosophy and religion class? Yeah, but will they? Not necessarily,” Knepper said.
Students have little to no experience in philosophy when they enter college, causing confusion when it comes to exactly what philosophy is about.
“Philosophy is trying to figure out how everything hangs together and fits together. The social and natural world and ways to explore it,” Martin Roth, associate professor of philosophy said. “Philosophy is trying to step back and put it back together like the pieces of a puzzle. Does it all fit? It’s trying to explain and make clear how those pieces work together.”
This lack of understanding may contribute to students choosing more straightforward courses to fulfill their critical thinking Area of Inquiry. Nationwide interest in philosophy continues to decrease among college students, according to The American Freshman Survey.
In 2004 less than 40 percent of current college freshmen reported “developing a meaningful philosophy of life” as a personal goal for their collegiate career, according to The American Freshman Survey annually conducted by University of California, Los Angeles. This is a record low as it has been steadily declining since The American Freshman Survey began in 1967, when it was reported at 85.8 percent.
Senior philosophy, neuroscience and writing triple major Jeff Hoyt feels that all students should be required to take philosophy and religion classes, regardless of their major, because of the questions it raises for students.
“In philosophy classes they make you question the things you walk around believing and think about things you hadn’t really thought about before,” Hoyt said.
Philosophy and religion classes take a different approach than the majority of information-based courses, instead encouraging critical thinking and problem solving, Associate Professor of Philosophy Martin Roth said.
“That’s what makes philosophy so hard,” Roth said. “When you start to look at a specific philosophy issue or when you try to take one thing apart everything begins to unravel, dealing with that is kind of daunting.”
The challenge it raises should not discourage students though.
“(Philosophy) is something I use everyday for sure, the points I find to be instantly translatable are the critical reading and writing,” Hoyt said. “Then once you have those it seems like you can understand these other perspectives and appreciate that there are those other perspectives around here.”
The skills you learn in philosophy courses can successfully be applied to other areas of study — philosophy majors perform above average on many graduate school admissions exams. According to recent test results in 2010 philosophy majors had the fourth highest mean score on the Graduate Management Admissions Test for business school, according to the Graduate Management Admissions Council. The Educational Testing Service said that in 2012 philosophy majors ranked first in the verbal and writing portions of the Graduate Record Exam.
“Take (courses) that are going to encourage you to get some critical perspective on your traditions,” Knepper said. “Something that is going to broaden (students) culturally, broaden them in terms of how they think about the real, the true and the good.”