Name: Edwina Picon
Year: Class of 2016
Hometown: Irvington, NY
Phi-lo-so-phy: The Love of Knowledge
People tend to underestimate just how much philosophy plays a part in the world around them. Many criticize philosophy, saying it’s the study of dead old men; however, while several of the authors do happen to be dead, philosophy couldn’t be more alive in the world around us.
Philosophy is prominent in politics and law – don’t we often criticize our politicians and lawyers for being immoral or illogical?
Philosophy is prominent in biology, neuroscience, and medicine – it is because of ethics that we debate over abortion, eugenics, stem cell research, euthanasia, and countless other pertinent scientific issues.
Other students often ask me what I could possibly plan to do with my degree in philosophy. The answer? You can do anything.
Philosophy changes the way you look outwardly at the world and the way you look inwardly at yourself. I think at our age it is especially important to be introspective. Never do I feel as alive as when I leave one of my philosophy classes, my head full of new possibilities, of new thoughts, and of new ways of thinking entirely. Philosophy is universal and nonrestrictive; it has no limits because we are almost always thinking. You can be trapped on a desert island with no one and nothing and you can still practice philosophy (in fact that might be an ideal time to do it!). Philosophy is examining, it is questioning, and it is not taking things for granted or at face value. As Socrates famously said: “All I know is that I know nothing.” Philosophy might not make you rich, but it can make you more fortunate than money ever could by teaching you the meaning and value of happiness.
I applied to Johns Hopkins as a Classics major because of my interests in ancient Greece. However, after taking Introduction to Greek Philosophy taught by Professor Bett, I realized that it was the classical philosophical thinking I was most fascinated in. Even though Socrates, Plato and Aristotle thought over two millennia ago, their ideas are still the corner stones of modern thought and most people don’t even know it.
To be a philosophy major at Hopkins you need to complete at least one class in each of the three focal areas:
+ Ethics, Aesthetics, or Political Philosophy
This ensures that you will get a well-rounded philosophical education while also pursuing a concentration in the area you are most interested in. I am really glad that these requirements are in place because I might never have taken a metaphysics class such as Objectivity or a logic class like Decision, Games, and Social Choice, and these turned out to be two of my favorite courses at Hopkins.
I also took a great class over the summer called Neuroethics. It analyzed the ethical implications that arise with advances in neuroscience, such as whether or not we should use lie detectors in criminal cases or judge the predisposition for crime or insanity using an MRI. And, in turn, whether or not philosophical reasoning can be attributed to chemical processes in the brain, raising questions about free-will and determinism.
What is great about the philosophy department at Hopkins is that it is intimate and supportive. Classes are small, sometimes only 5 or 10 students, and are often taught in seminar format. You have a chance to speak one-on-one with leading philosophers about what they are passionate. Instead of huge, anonymous lectures, many philosophy classes are taught using variations on the Socratic Method: prompting students with questions and allowing them to come to conclusions through critical thinking.
There is research in philosophy as well. It can be pursued as empirical/experimental philosophy (X-phi) or combined with fields such as sociology, psychology, and anthropology. So if you want to keep with the Hopkins research tradition you most certainly can! I am double majoring in psychology so that I can apply philosophical thinking to counseling and research, and to provide ethical grounding for psychological work. I am currently involved in psychology research on linguistic relativity: the idea that having [a] language crucially shapes one’s thoughts and world view.
While I am not pre-med, I have several philosophy major friends who are. The workload is manageable in tandem with pre-med requirements, plus the skills and outlook gained from studying philosophy are both useful in medical school and desirable for medical practice.
Prometheus is the name of both the philosophy club on campus and the undergraduate philosophy journal. The club meets every other week and we discuss topics chosen by popular demand. Sometimes there is a presentation by a philosophy graduate student (and there is always great food!) The journal accepts papers from students at Hopkins or other colleges, and you can get involved by being on the editorial board and evaluating the submissions. Even if you are not a philosophy major, it’s a great way to improve your critical reading and writing skills! There are also several philosophy colloquia throughout the year which allow undergraduates to hear renowned guest speakers and to participate in discussion. Johns Hopkins is even hosting its first ever philosophy conference this spring!
Philosophy isn’t superfluous. Personally it is what makes me feel most alive. Whether or not it’s your passion, philosophy will enrich your thinking and help you make sense of your experience on this planet. You won’t regret it while in school and you will be thankful later in life for having opened and exercised your mind.
To further your exploration of this academic program and ask any question you may have of current students, be sure to visit the Hopkins Forums’ Academics: The Insider Perspective and Philosophy question thread._______________________________________________________________________________