Philosophy should be required in schools

Luke Cavallo, Special Contributor

Aristotle, the revolutionary Greek thinker, defines the study of philosophy as, “the science of truth.” In a modern social and political climate in which undisputed truth is so elusive, such a science would seem to be just as important, if not more important, than the studies of linguistics, history, mathematics and hard sciences that are required for students to graduate from high school.

To simply introduce every student to the study of philosophy would surely add a layer of depth and meaning to our society that would manifest itself in the form of a more thoughtful, motivated and intentional population.

Academic skills including algebra, writing, reading and experimentation are seen as the tools education supplies us with, preparing students for their future in the workforce and in society. But what strings these skills together, and what provides meaning and direction for the use of these skills? Philosophy, the study of reality itself. Therefore, philosophy should be a required course for high school students nationwide.

High school has always been a period of stress and angst for many, especially so today in the COVID-19 era. Mental Health America reported in 2023 that 42.5 million Americans claim to suffer from an anxiety disorder, 4.5 million of whom are children. Among college students, half reported that they would classify their mental health as “below average or poor.”

Many people who suffer from anxiety or depression attribute their mental health issues, at least in part, to a lack of purpose in life. Increasing rates of mental disorders correlate directly to decreasing rates of sense of purpose. It can be speculated that this apparent decrease in purpose can be traced back to the rise of spectacle and distraction in the modern world, from social media apps that are designed to addict to the rise of recreational and prescription drug use, especially amongst the young. Such elements of the superficial world, the “Dunya,” as it is called and eloquently described within Islamic tradition, detract from our ability as humans to determine how to live our lives, or even what we intend to gain from our lives.

Philosophy is the clear antidote to the National endemic of apathy and anxiety. We as a species are blessed to have record of the philosophical thought of the brightest among us since ancient times, from Plato to Nietzsche. One can examine fundamental questions in life, ranging from politics to interpersonal relationships  to religion, alongside luminaries such as Machiavelli, Locke and Kierkegaard. These deep thinkers have gone before us, and although it is unlikely that studying the works of philosophers will directly answer the questions that plague our society such as, why am I here? And, does any of this matter? Philosophy at the very least attempts to answer these existential questions and stimulates thought on the topics. As American writer Dale Carnegie said, there are some things that you cannot teach a man. “You can only help him find it within himself.”

If every high school student is required to take at the least an introductory course in philosophy, they will be exposed to fundamental ideas increasingly rare in this day and age. They will invariably be prompted to search for answers to life’s questions within themselves to some extent. How many of those suffering from poor mental health would benefit from the occasional reflection on the more important things in life? To what extent would a college student embattled by the rigors of their social and academic life benefit from even a basic understanding of the philosophy of stoicism? As an adult undergoing a religious existential crisis would it not be helpful to draw upon the writing of Soren Kierkegaard or Saint Thomas Aquinas? For the millions of Americans who experience depression that stems from a lack of clear purpose, how much could be laid clear by the works of Friedrich Nietzsche or Fyodor Dostoevsky?

While our nation’s schools do a fine job of relaying information and explaining procedures, they often neglect to educate the most important aspect of a human: their humanity. To simply introduce every student to the study of philosophy would surely add a layer of depth and meaning to our society that would manifest itself in the form of a more thoughtful, motivated and intentional population.