Students Chat about Philosophy

We are social creatures and the current lockdown isolation is hard on all of us – whether extrovert or introvert. So we thought you might enjoy meeting some of our wonderful students. Philosophy is currently one of the fastest growing majors in the Arts Faculty. These self-made mini videos will give you a glimpse of why this is so, and why philosophy might be something for you.

Ashleigh Hem

I do art and dream of owning a tiny shipping container art studio one day. I have two cats and three siblings. My drink of choice is a chai latte with almond milk and I really love thunderstorms!

I decided to major in Philosophy because I had always found it super interesting, from the tiny bits of Philosophy I managed to get out of my high school experience. And I wanted to see what else I could learn. I also love a bit of a productive argument, and thought I could channel that into a Philosophy major!

My favourite thing about studying Philosophy is that I find the content really engaging and interesting, and the conversation you get out of tutorials is super cool. You get to talk about things you might never talk about in day-to-day conversation. So I really like the opportunity you get to discuss and critically engage with things within the Philosophy subjects.

I personally think that everyone could benefit from studying Philosophy! Because it teaches you to really review and critically engage with the world. You learn to really understand the things around you and really think about them, and I think that’s a really important skill to have when you’re just living your life!

I think the biggest misconception about studying Philosophy is that it’s just a bunch of people talking about airy-fairy subjects and getting lost in it, which it’s not, because actually being able to really engage with a topic and trying to see from all different viewpoints and trying to understand it like that – that’s a really useful skill to have, and you can take that to other uni subjects, to your work life, to your personal life, and that’s kind of cool!

Vishal Chopra

I like going for walks and spending time outdoors. Over Iso I’ve gotten really interested in gardening and I have started my own veggie patch, which I am really excited about.

What I like about Philosophy is that it asks fundamental questions about the world. Some of the things that I’ve enjoyed thinking about are the ways in which science and language work; how our minds integrate with reality; and what beauty is, and whether it really does lie in the eyes of the beholder.

What I like best about the learning environment at Melbourne is the immense amount of support that I’ve received from my tutors and my lecturers. I’ve had some amazing tutors, who understand what it’s like to be a student, and they work really hard to cultivate an inclusive learning environment.

There are so many great teachers at Melbourne, and I encourage everyone to reach out to them if you ever need some help or just want to have a chat.

I enjoyed Greek Philosophy [PHIL20040], because it talks about complex ideas in a user-friendly way. I loved the dialogical and at times mythical orientation of the works that we covered.

I also really enjoyed thinking about the metaphysics of the self in Buddhist philosophy, and, like Greek philosophy, it has a rich history of ideas, which go back thousands of years and yet continue to have enormous contemporary relevance.

Caed Scott

Likes: Spinoza, Pere Ubu, poetry.
Hobbies: writing, films, Twitter.

I chose to major in Philosophy at the University of Melbourne because I’d heard that the faculty here was among the best in Australia, and the Philosophy courses offered here struck me as being really in-depth and engaged in a way that I hadn’t seen at another university.

I think my favourite part of studying Philosophy at the University of Melbourne is how serious and dedicated the classes are to deep and creative thought and dealing with these thinkers on their own terms. It’s really rigorous and serious, but it’s also suggestive and open. They trust you to take the thinkers and ideas to new places where they can be effective, rather than just setting you a bunch of stock questions.

My major in Philosophy has greatly improved my comprehension and writing skills, and a Philosophy degree produces really detail-oriented, creative people, which I think is a really valuable and key skill. I think a degree in Philosophy produces radical thinkers – that is, people who don’t just say, how will we get what we want?, but why do we want it? – which is a really important skill for creativity.

Philosophy has also really informed my work as a writer, not just in terms of material or ideas but in terms of strategies for a trenchant, interrogative approach to life.

I think there’s this misconception that Philosophy is somehow an elite or elitist activity, or that it’s just concerned with abstractions, formal logic, and other such. That is a part of it, certainly, but Philosophy is also very much concerned with this world, its possibilities, our responsibilities to it, what we should do in it, new ways of being in it.

It’s a very rich discipline that cuts across many topics and many other disciplines, and leaves you with a wide-ranging insight and creativity.

The most exciting experience, and one that I didn’t have at my previous university, is that I’ve met so many people who are very serious about Philosophy and its possibilities, but who are also totally unpretentious about it! I never felt like there were cliques forming, and I met a whole lot of people who I chat to regularly now about our respective classes, reading – it’s a really fantastic community.

I think the course Phenomenology and Existentialism [PHIL20041] was my favourite. It’s twelve weeks of very dedicated study of particular thinkers, and you finish with a deep understanding of all of them. I think that course demonstrates really well how Philosophy is continuous with everyday life, not just as an external reflection upon it, but also as it informs action, how we relate to others, how we conceive of our lives and how we ought to be in them.

I would recommend a Philosophy major to anyone who’s curious, and likes interrogating the principles behind things, and is interested in life itself as a subject of inquiry, as I think everyone should be.

I think anyone who wants to become a more dynamic and creative thinker should do Philosophy.

I would suggest that students doing a Philosophy major should pursue their own interests in Philosophy, which are really just their interests as humans, just as much as the topics that are given in the curriculum.

I think that one of the great things about Philosophy is that basically, any kind of curiosity or skepticism or enthusiasm about the world can be pursued and reflected upon with the set of skills and modes of thinking that Philosophy gives you. It’s a universally applicable method.

Rebecca Houlihan

Likes: learning new instruments and languages, reading comic books and watching documentaries on music history.

I chose to study Philosophy because I always had a little bit of an interest in it, but in first year I was umm-ing and ah-ing quite a bit about what I wanted to major in, and I found in Philosophy you get to study a variety of different disciplines from the lens of Philosophy, and you can engage with it in quite a different way than you can in any other discipline.

It’s about going in and really picking apart any text that you’re looking at and kind of finding out where you personally sit on the text that is presented to you.

I think one of the biggest misconceptions about Philosophy is that you’re just studying old white dead dudes who don’t really have any relevance to today. While I wouldn’t say you can completely avoid Plato, you do get to study a variety of different points of view from a variety of different kinds of people. And that’s probably one of the things that I enjoyed the most about Philosophy, was going in and not just studying all of the, you know, pillars of Western philosophy. For me it was about discovering new ideas. And also being able to engage with them in a way that feels really relevant today. You’re not really engaging with philosophers in their own time or on their own terms; it’s not a historical thing, it’s more going, where do we sit on them today? What is our opinion today? How do they fit into today’s society? – If they do at all – sometimes they feel irrelevant, and you can decide that.

I really enjoy going to Philosophy tutorials, in particular. It’s awesome when you’ve done the readings and the lectures to go in, and to really figure out all of the ideas in a comprehensive way. […]

I did a subject on the Philosophy of Mind [PHIL20033], and one of my friends in that tutorial, really, we had fundamental disagreements about the philosophy behind Artificial Intelligence. I really sit on the side of, yes, Artificial Intelligence may some day count as being cognitive, and having minds, whereas the person sitting next to me really didn’t. And that spurred a lot of our disagreements in class, which were really enjoyable to have, because we had these fundamental principles that were completely different. So the way we saw a lot of the philosophical content we were introduced to was really different. And it was incredibly engaging to be sitting next to someone who I got along with really well, and have that kind of friendly disagreement. Because Philosophy isn’t really about arguing, you know, “being the best”, “winning the argument” – it’s about seeing the argument through. And sometimes seeing the argument through will involve you going, oh, actually, I’m wrong – let’s try it from this different point of view instead.

And that’s something that I really do quite often. And quite often I will help other people to think through their points of view as well, by doing different lines of questioning, and following different lines of questioning with different people.

And also sometimes the person you’re doing that with is your lecturer. Your lecturer is engaging with the content with you, and sometimes they will be seeing one side of the argument through, to try and challenge you to debate with them, and you’re allowed to do that, and that’s really exciting to be able to be encouraged to have an opinion, but not be expected to only argue for that specific opinion.

Brandon Hao

Lover of wisdom and violin.

One big misconception that I think repels people from studying Philosophy is that it’s hyper-rational, and completely disregards the emotions. However, this is not the case at Melbourne. Lecturers and tutors are always reminding us to balance reason and emotion, and that fosters a very accessible, inclusive environment for studying Philosophy.

The best part of studying Philosophy at Melbourne is the tutorial discussions. There’s a real diversity of opinion that you really can’t find in any other department. The tutorials are like fun intellectual discussions with friends, and they’re well-organised, and are hosted by experts in the discipline.

Personally, I really enjoyed studying Ethics in my Philosophy major. It’s really helped me to understand where other people are coming from with their ethical views. It has also forced me to reflect on and critique my own ethical views. For example, because of the second-year subject Ethical Theory [PHIL20008], I changed from being a deontologist to more of a virtue ethicist.

I’d recommend a Philosophy major to someone who’s open-minded and wants to train their thinking. The Philosophy major isn’t there to confirm what you already believe; it’s there to challenge it. It’s difficult, but it trains your ability to understand complex texts and arguments. So, I definitely recommend Philosophy to someone who wants a fun challenge in their degree.

Jasper Lear

I enjoy playing basketball and music. I have been spending most of my time during lockdown gardening and telling myself to read more books.

I think, straight off the bat, my favourite thing about this major has been just the breadth and the array of knowledge that you encounter. You walk away with it having read you know aesthetics, ethics, metaphysics, epistemology, political and social theory, hermeneutics, philosophy of mind, reality – it’s all there and it’s really interesting to engage with contemporary philosophical issues and understand what’s going on out there in the philosophical world.

My favourite part of this major has been just the ability to meet fellow students, have super-engaging conversations, you know, walking out of tutorials with twenty or thirty burning questions that still are yet unanswered, undertaking and tackling those questions with your fellow students, it’s just an awesome experience, and such a great way to study.

I guess I picked a Philosophy major and also stuck with the Philosophy major because it really does inform every other area of life, whether it’s electives, or breadths, or just your everyday life, ethical or political engagements. The ability to sit with a concept, analyse, interrogate that concept, or even just have, you know, critical reasoning skills – it’s very useful, no matter what you’re doing.

You also gain this really interesting historical and theoretical understanding of where these concepts come from, whether they’re ethical concepts, whether they’re values, whether they’re political ideals – you get to understand where these concepts came from, how they’ve developed, and what they mean to a society in these contemporary times.

We should avoid the misunderstanding that Philosophy’s just some inaccessible or nonsensical conversation between abstract thinkers. That’s definitely there and it’s great engaging with you know older pure philosophy, but Philosophy should be and has been presented in this major as a discussion that should be had at a personable and humane level. I think the major’s definitely benefited from that as well.

The most interesting discussions you’ll encounter will be ones that occur at such a humane and foundational level, that everyone’s opinion matters, everyone should have a voice in these discussions, and that’s where you really start doing true philosophical work. And this major definitely promotes that. And I think that’s super-useful in a Philosophy major.

 

Maxine Silbert

When Maxine gets overwhelmed by her philosophy essays, she grounds herself by writing poetry about pomegranates and parsnips.

 I chose to major in Philosophy at the University of Melbourne, because after completing a high school diploma that focused on memorising content, I wanted to complete a degree that taught me analytical skills and to understand myself and my place in the world.

The tutorial environments are very engaging and challenging, all the students are motivated and responsive.

A philosophy major is an amazing foundation for any career or masters degree. It gives you the critical skills vital for any job. I plan on pursuing my interest in educational philosophy, whether this will be as an academic a policy maker, or a practitioner. There is a misconception that a philosophy degree is useless. Philosophy allows for everyday application, enhancing my relationships and my approach to life.

The facilities and resources are exceptional. I particularly enjoy the spaces that we learn in and the libraries.

It was really tempting to chose a major where the content was produced by people who looked and spoke like me. UoM provides a safe space to push yourselves out of your comfort zone to expose yourself to voices you wouldn’t necessarily seek in your daily life.

The advice I would give to anyone studying at the University of Melbourne, is that electives are an incredible opportunity to expand your education. You should use your electives to explore more specific fields like Indigenous studies and gender studies that will expand the horizons of your philosophy degree.

 

Dechen Khadro

Likes: my dog, Fleetwood Mac, Star Trek and the camp of John Waters.
Dislikes: salad and Rupert Murdoch.

What I like about studying Philosophy at Melbourne is that I’m part of a really supportive community. The tutorial groups are really fun – even if you’re confused, I think you’ll find everyone else is confused! But the tutors and the lecturers are really good at clarifying concepts, and making it accessible to you.

I chose to study Philosophy because I have an interest in perception and consciousness, and I found that it has really helped me understand my other major, which is Creative Writing, particularly in terms of screen-writing.

I really enjoyed Phenomenology [PHIL20041] and Philosophy of Mind [PHIL20033]. I didn’t know much about either subject before going into it, but they’re really well-structured subjects and the subject matters are really interesting.

After my Bachelor degree I hope to continue studying Philosophy and to pursue filmmaking as well.

A real benefit of studying Philosophy is that you develop really sharp critical analytical skills which you can apply to pretty much anything. It’s also really fun and engaging as well. I’ve definitely discovered a lot of material to incorporate into my creative work.

Henry Youe

I enjoy baking, cooking, and playing guitar. I’m a serial whiteboard user with a strong aversion to driving and pips. 

There really is something for everyone in the Philosophy major, just because the content is so varied and so broad, not only between each subject, but within each subject itself, you’re going to be faced with numerous different ways of looking at the same or similar tasks, and that’s really one of the strengths of Philosophy.

Madeleine Rzesniowiecki

You can find Maddy by her odd socks, painting creatures that aren’t quite human and aren’t quite root vegetable, but they’re something in between.

What I love about Philosophy is that I think it challenges people to cultivate a really creative lens to look at the world. I think that as much as Philosophy is a discipline of learning, it’s also kind of a discipline of unlearning. It brings into question so many aspects of human experience and the objects of this experience, that may otherwise go unnoticed.

Philosophy asks questions about the nature of language, the nature of reality, the nature of human nature, our structures of logic, our morality, our ethics; how knowledge arises, how understanding arises. And I think by investigating these areas within Philosophy and entering into these debates, you realise how much there is to learn, and to gain, from these explorations.

But you also realise how many questions are still unanswered, despite the questions being around for hundreds of years.

And I think what’s really cool about that is that you’re taken out of your everyday narratives and acceptance of what is, into a more universal wonder and marvel at the nature of experience, and the nature of existence. And I think that shift in thinking, alongside the critical analytical skills that you learn during the course, provide this basis upon which you can look at individual, societal, theoretical problems in a completely new way. It allows you to come up with creative ideas, and unique solutions to these problems, to help make changes for the better.

Cool, but what job will philosophy get me?

We are all familiar with this annoying friend (or politician!) who will ask: who wants to hire someone with a philosophy degree? Well, here are the facts. Empirical data from the US show that philosophy graduates have the skills for the jobs of the twenty-first century. Philosophy graduates ranked highest among all students in postgraduate tests for analytic and writing skills, and quantitative reasoning. And their mid-career earnings outpaced not just other humanities subjects, but also many ‘job-ready’ subjects like business economics, marketing, and political science. One explanation for this may be self-selection of an outstanding student cohort. But another explanation is that studying philosophy trains you to think with clarity and rigour analysing complex topics, to sympathetically understand and imagine your way into diverse points of view, and to look for new, creative answers to problems with no easy solutions. (For recent discussions of the job prospects of philosophy majors, see America Magazine and Huffington Post.) Let’s hear what two of our recent graduates have to say about their experiences:

Cheryl Koh

I completed a Bachelor of Arts Honours majoring in Philosophy and Political Science at the University of Melbourne in 2015. I completed my Honours year in Philosophy. In the five years since graduation I’ve worked for two management consulting firms, where I mostly worked with government executives on strategy and policy projects.

The benefit of studying Philosophy is that you’re trained to synthesise large quantities of information, which is vital to working across interdisciplinary lines on societal issues. The other great benefit is that you’re trained to organise your thoughts in a structured manner. In fact, I was asked to explain the arguments in my Philosophy thesis when I was interviewing at the last consulting firm. The managing director had also studied Philosophy and wanted to see if I could convey complex information in a structured form.

I’m currently completing a Social and Behavioural Masters at the University of Oxford and I plan to go to Law School next year.

I’ve found that I can easily work across disciplinary boundaries, and adopt new systems of thinking, because in Philosophy I was essentially taught to read and write well, no matter what the content was, and to systematically process information using frameworks, and frameworks are the foundation to almost every discipline. I’m not sure I would have had the confidence to pursue research and work across different disciplines if I had not been initially trained in analytical philosophy.

Jan Mihal

I recently completed a PhD in Law. Before that I completed Honours in Philosophy and I studied both Philosophy and Law as an undergraduate at the University of Melbourne.

In many ways, Philosophy is almost the perfect precursor that you could take before studying Law. Both Philosophy and Law are deeply concerned, in fact primarily concerned, with arguments and reasons – how arguments hang together; how reasons hang together; and how to spot weak argumentation and weak reasoning. This is a central skill in Law, whether it’s looking at the reasons given in a judgement, analysing them to see weaknesses in a judgement, or strengths, to see how you might be able to use the judgement, to apply it to a new fact situation; or whether it is analysing policy, and determining whether it’s the right course of action for the given problem in an administrative or governmental capacity. Argumentation is central for legal study and for legal practice. And obviously, learning about argumentation is the core thing that you learn about in Philosophy, no matter what area of Philosophy you study.

More specifically, studying ethics, obviously, which is concerned with human behaviour; it’s concerned with why we do things we do and why we should do certain things rather than others – this is obviously guiding human behaviour according to rules and according to notions and concepts of value – is central to law. It is actually in fact the core thing that law does.

Philosophy of language, as well as understanding how words have meaning, why they have the meaning that they do, why they have the reference that they do, and why that reference can change in certain contexts – this is, again, central to law, to understanding if the king says something, if an act or statute says something, if a legal decision says something – why do those words mean what they do? How could that meaning change depending on context, depending on what values or purposes the legislative framers or the constitutional founders had in mind?

And epistemology, as well – which is the study of knowledge, and how we know what we know – is again, core to law, which is often concerned with issues of fact, especially in criminal law; issues of evidence, of what counts as true, what counts as knowledge, and how can we know what happened here or there, what kind of evidence is admissible, what kind of evidence isn’t, and why. So studying epistemology also gives someone a grasp of some of these techniques in reasoning and understanding which come up again and again in legal study.

So in brief conclusion, both studying Philosophy generally and specific areas of Philosophy, and I haven’t covered them all here – all of them across the board are helpful to studying Law and prepare one well for further study in Law, and indeed, practice as a lawyer as well.

 

Thanks to all the students who participated in the production of this blogpost. Discussing philosophy with our thoughtful and talented students is the highlight of our jobs! 

– The Philosophy staff at Melbourne

Feature image: L to R: Vishal Chopra, Ashleigh Hem, Henry Youe, Madeleine Rzesniowiecki