Why philosophy?

I have a rather unusual story about what led me to philosophy. Like a bad parking job, I kinda backed into it by mistake. My university had us students satisfy area requirements in the arts and humanities to be eligible for graduation; it was because of this requirement that I took my first philosophy course. Up until that moment, I hadn't really ever thought about philosophy. Sure, I had heard of Descartes but mostly in the context of his importance to mathematics and I had heard of Plato because of his Republic, a critically important text in political theory. I had, however, never studied philosophy or read any of these historically important texts. After my first course in philosophy, I was hooked because engaging with such material allowed me to think about a diverse set of topics that seemed to matter more than the quibbly fleeting things that don't seem to matter at all, which I was learning in other classes in which I was enrolled. The rest is... well, wait a minute... it's probably more complicated than that. 

 

When I was 12, I started work (with my parent's permission, of course) at a local golf course. That job experience led to an opportunity at a country club in the Boston area. Among its members were academic staff at local universities, including Boston College, Babson, Bentley, College of the Holy Cross, Emerson, Harvard, MIT, and Northeastern. Members who worked at these universities were always up for a chat about their current research, teaching, and talented students they were supervising. These conversations piqued my interest in scholarly pursuits, despite that at the time the vision for my life had me working in the golf business.

(For a few seasons before he left for his head coach position at the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars, I was Tom Coughlin's caddy.)

During winter when golf courses in New England are closed, I enrolled in extra-curricular art classes. In my junior year, the Department of Art at Boston University invited local school districts to nominate talented art students for a 12-week figure drawing course. My local school district nominated me, among other members of my cohort. I was admitted and completed the course for college credit. The arts were a large part of my upbringing, and remain so to this day. Still, I had never heard of philosophy, outside the occasional reference to Plato or Descartes in civics or maths class, until my second year of university study at Methodist University

Methodist did not offer a philosophy major, but did offer a minor with 24 possible credit hours. I completed six of the eight philosophy courses available to students, including the History of Philosophy from Thales to Quine (in one 15-week semester!) skipping out on business ethics and criminal justice ethics. Why did I decide to take philosophy courses? What brought me to philosophy was my love of music, in particular the music of The Doors.

I became quite fond of deciphering the lyrics of the songs and poured over the works of Sophocles, Friedrich Nietzsche, Søren Kierkegaard, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Anais Nin, Louis-Ferdinand Celiné, Jack Kerouac, Sir James George Frazer, Aldous Huxley, and William Blake--authors to whom I had never been introduced in primary or secondary school.  

 

Like The Doors lead singer, Jim Morrison, I became consumed by thinking about death, what it is, why it is (or is not?) bad, what immortality is (if it is anything at all), and why so many different religions conceived of death in so many ways but science seemed convinced death is total annihilation. When I was in graduate school, I was advised not to concentrate on these issues. Only recently have I returned to these themes in my scholarly work, e.g., see my "What Is It Like To Be Immortal?" Still, my current work on the nature of truth, the self, and action has been deeply influenced by my very early concerns trying to reconcile living a meaningful life with pessimistic perspective on death as total annihilation. 

In sum my background in the arts influenced my decision to pursue philosophy.