Greg Kristof '15

greg kristof

My first exposure to philosophy came senior year of high school, when as part of an independent study with my English teacher I explored the classical arguments for and against God’s existence. My ambitions were grand: I wanted to figure out whether God exists. I delved into St. Anselm, Aquinas, Hume, and Kant. I read modern philosophers who provided sophisticated twists to the traditional “first-cause” argument for God’s existence as well as those who sought to refute God’s existence by sharpening the ancient problem of evil. At the end of the year, however, I was no closer to a definitive answer to my original question than I was when I had begun. I found certain of the arguments in favor of God’s existence somewhat plausible and I also found certain of the arguments against God’s existence rather plausible, too. I found that just about every argument, no matter how initially tempting, admits of some kind of reply. Part of me was frustrated by all this. I came to philosophy because I wanted answers, and philosophy couldn’t deliver.  

Five years and one undergraduate degree later, I think that philosophy has had the impact it has had on the way I view the world precisely because it affords, at most, plausible answers rather than definite answers. Because philosophy does not provide certainty, philosophy has taught me to thrive in ambiguity. Moreover, most debates that are worth having are plagued by some significant level of ambiguity. These debates—whether moral debates over abortion laws or economic debates over minimum wage laws or what have you—are precisely ones in which the total body of evidence is messy and fails to speak with a single voice. These are debates over which reasonable people disagree and, in such cases, one must recognize the reasonableness of each opposing side without being paralyzed by it. F. Scott Fitzgerald said that the mark of a mature intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing thoughts in one’s head and still retain the ability to function. My mind has matured immeasurably through the study of philosophy.