It is possible to view the study of philosophy as an antidote to the immediacy and disposability of short-lived trends, as, in some ways, it exists outside of them. However, this is not to suggest that the subject responds to change with any sort of antagonism; instead, it strives to examine change, along with its affects on our ways of living and being.
Philosophy has had an incalculable influence on all kinds of endeavours – literary theory, architecture and art are just a handful of the areas on which its effect has been felt. While it is rich in history and continues to interact with its prior schools of thought, philosophy is never static; rather, it is both reflective and responsive – something which Dr Hans-Georg Muller, course director of NUI Galway’s MA in Philosophy: Ethics, Culture and Global Change (one year full time, two years part time), readily acknowledges.
‘The course composition is, I believe, a response to modern society and its needs,’ he says. ‘Our course deals with central social issues in areas such as ethics, political theory and environmental philosophy. Moreover, we approach these subjects from a truly global perspective by focussing not only on “mainstream” traditional and contemporary Western philosophies, but also on non-Western views from Asia and other parts of the world.’
Such a comprehensive, international focus is a natural reaction to the economic downturn’s legacy of destabilisation. As Dr Muller explains: ‘The huge advantage of such a global approach is that it actually responds to recent shifts in world society. Europe is no longer the centre of the world, neither politically nor economically nor intellectually.’ The way of dealing with this, according to Dr Muller, is to adapt. ‘In an increasingly multi-polar world it will be of crucial importance to be “at home” in a variety of ways of living and thinking. Even more concretely, our focus on non-Western cultures and traditions provides our graduates with decisive advantages on newly emerging, and often highly attractive, job markets in Asia and other parts of the world.’
Naturally, such massive cultural and social change generates a series of theoretical and ethical questions. Among those that students will be asked to consider are: Is real understanding possible between people from different cultures and religions? How can we understand war and political violence in a global world? Are there any moral limitations that should be imposed on scientific progress in areas such as genetics, stem cell research or nanotechnology?
While responses to such issues need not be definitive, they must be carefully and logically considered. Indeed, engagement, reflection and debate are essential features of any philosophical inquiry.
‘A discipline such as philosophy offers a valuable forum for reflection and analysis in our era of technology-based communication,’ says Dr Muller. ‘Philosophy makes ample use of traditional forms of “in-depth” communication, such as the reading and writing of extensive texts (essays and books), but also, and equally important, it engages in intensive talking – that is, debates, lectures and public speeches. It thereby preserves and strengthens important cultural abilities of human expression. At the same time, it provides those who study, and practice, it, with the necessary linguistic and intellectual means to maintain a certain contemplative health within the turbulences of current mass communication.’
Generic postgraduate courses in Philosophy are prolific, and can be found in colleges throughout the country (e.g. St Patrick’s College Maynooth, UCD, NUI Maynooth and UCC). Such broad programmes will normally tackle areas such as phenomenology, aesthetics and classical metaphysics, along with some material that is unique to each course.
There are also numerous, more area-specific alternatives to choose from – a number of which are on offer from UCD, such as its taught MA programmes in Consciousness and Embodiment (one year full time, two years part time); Contemporary European Philosophy; and Mind, Language and Knowledge (all of which ca be taken over one year full time, or two years part time). Applicants are generally expected to hold at least a 2.2 honours primary degree in a related subject.
Doctoral-level options are also widely available (e.g. NUI Galway, NUI Maynooth and UCD); and while studying the subject at this level is a major undertaking, there are numerous grounds for research in such fertile areas as Political Philosophy, Bioethics and Phenomenology.
Of course studying philosophy at such a demanding level is not for everyone; yet this is hardly cause for concern – after all, the career options for philosophy graduates are without borders. Consider, for instance, a few famous graduates the subject has produced: Gerald Levine (CEO of Time Warner), Fyodor Dostoevsky (author of Crime and Punishment) Matt Groening (creator of The Simpsons), and Bill Clinton (former US President). Consider, too, the diversity of their achievements.
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