In the last Why Filipinos Should Read post, I discussed why one should read or even consider a degree in anthropology. Anthropology is part of social sciences, and there are equally fascinating disciplines within, and so I thought discussing why one should read more social sciences and philosophy would be a good follow up.
Now when we say ‘reading,’ especially for leisure, we tend to think of novels and fiction first. We like reading these stories because they tickle our curiosity, and some of us enjoy them as a form of escapism from the mundanities of everyday life.
On the other hand, reading nonfiction and social sciences are considered more of an academic pursuit than a leisure activity. Some even call the experience boring and bland. For many, it is simply a matter of preference.
But as a nonfiction reader myself, I want to forward that diversifying your reading list, and picking up readings on social sciences and philosophy along the way, is as important even outside the school. Similar to exploring imaginative tales, it is necessary for us to examine our being, our existence, and our relationships, and confront social realities.
So if you’re considering adding (more) social sciences and philosophy to your to-be-read pile, allow me to share my thoughts as a reader on why you should go ahead and do it!
Not just pa-sosyal or pa-pilosopo
You probably have heard of the jokes about how social science is sosyal (ostentatiously fabulous) and philosophy is pilosopo (sarcastic). While these can be harmless and witty puns, these do not completely give justice to what social sciences and philosophy can contribute to our lives and society.
Social sciences study societies and human relationships. With a wide array of academic interests including anthropology, geography, history, linguistics, political science, psychology, sociology, economics, and demography, they explore and explain what makes our societies work and what bonds us together. These can also be extended to more emerging disciplines such as media studies, communication research, management science, public administration, development, and policy.
Philosophy, on the other hand, is more of the grandparent of all enquiries. The term comes from two Greek words philo (love) and sophia (wisdom). By definition, it means a love for wisdom. It asks the most essential and fundamental queries of humanity such as existence, knowledge, values, and reason.
I hope that somehow gives interested readers a good introduction to what social sciences and philosophy are about. There’s more to them, definitely, but since this is just an overview, I will not be discussing the similarities and differences of each discipline yet and will instead save that for future WFSRs. *winks*
Seeking meaning by connecting
Given their scope of study, social sciences and philosophy can contribute to our better understanding of ourselves. For example, we often hear or utter lines such as “I am having an existential crisis” or “I am lost and I need to find myself.”
But what do we mean by these statements? What does it mean to exist? Where does ‘I’ reside and why do we have to find it? Correct. Reading texts in social sciences and philosophy can give us a range of answers.
Not only that, reading such can help foster meaningful relationships with others. These readings make us realize our positions and roles as members of society. They make us see the intersections among ourselves, society, and history. With this lens, we can ask pressing questions such as why suffering or poverty persists, or why such inequalities exist.
Increasing awareness and engagement
Understanding ourselves first is essential to be socially aware. But it is not the end of the line. We need to take a step further, and engage with others and discuss our thoughts and experiences with them. This is to gain insight from people’s stories, plights, and other social realities so that we can enrich the discourse of life and hopefully get closer to the truth(s).
However, doing so requires more than chitchats. Sometimes, arguments based on research, science, and empirical data can transpire, and different perspectives can and should be brought to the table. It doesn’t mean that just because someone is said to be this or that, or if the internet says so, thus they must be the best or the most true. And this article is not an exception either! We should always strive to verify shared information, and rely on credible sources.
All that can sound like such an arduous process but reading social sciences and philosophy can shape us to be more critical, aware, and engaged in order to make our world a more truthful and just place to live in. And we should add these to our goals, because this helps us see how to progress, and address the issues that pull us down. Justice, equality, and truth are some of the things we collectively need to care about, and we need the tools and skills to contribute more efficiently as an active catalyst for change.
In this turbulent time—pandemic and national and global concerns, we have to be more critical and circumspect of what is happening in our society including our social and political institutions. Public discourse and activism are not criminal acts. It is our duty to engage. And being engaged does not necessarily mean bearing arms and joining the armed struggle in the countryside. There are plenty of other ways to contribute to push for a more inclusive, humane, and just society, such as—well, yes, learning social sciences and philosophy.
Applying theories into action
Being equipped with knowledge in social sciences and philosophy can help us make sound social and political decisions. To apply it to our societies today, our efforts to learn more should raise discourse and improve institutions. For example, the things we learn from reading the sciences of society can extend our horizons and expectations, leading to a more critical selection of leaders and influencers. By reading social sciences and philosophy, we know better than to fall for false and empty promises. We know how to and why we should protect and exercise our rights as members of society. We know what we should expect from, for instance, the government. (And this is also my cue to remind you to take an active part, register, and vote very wisely in the upcoming elections. 🙂)
Continued learning, regardless of where
Reiterating an early point, there is this common view that reading social sciences and philosophy is exclusively an academic pursuit. For me, the pursuit for knowledge should not be esoteric, exclusive, and elitist. We should break free from the metaphoric ivory tower. Our intellectual growth should not be limited nor stopped after we graduate from university, and neither should learning be situated solely within school premises.
So this is a challenge for us to seek for more knowledge even long after graduating. This is also a challenge for our social scientists, philosophers, and university professors to make an effort to communicate their disciplines to ordinary people more effectively. Ideas, concepts, and discussions should go beyond the classroom. Even though you are not enrolled in any program or course, it does not mean you won’t seek more learning. And it sure doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read books anymore. ☁️