Why Philosophy is
2. Reasons why philosophy is
religion and philosophy
5. The study
should a human being be interested in philosophy? Isn't philosophy fit for
fools only, or isn't it a merely academic trifling and hairsplitting in
search of unobtainable knowledge?
isn't philosophy mostly a set of false illusions from the past - sophistries
designed to comfort one's desires by wishful thinking and presumption - that
these days have been replaced by science and mathematics?
be fairly brief about why philosophy ought to be studied in some sense and
why the opinion that it is useless trifling, hair-splitting or in search of
unobtainable knowledge is inappropriate. TOP
2. Reasons why
philosophy is important:
- All human beings orient their lives around
ideas about what reality is like, that they believe explain their
experiences, and ideas about what reality and human beings should be
like, that they use to guide their behaviour. The first of these kinds
of ideas is a metaphysical theory, the second an ethical or moral
- Human beings seem to need metaphysical and
moral ideas because they are not born with instincts that determine for
them what they should think and want, and are born with the capacities
to make up their own minds and to question any belief they have or meet.
- It is evident that most of the ideas in history
that people have used to explain human experiences have been false or
unfounded in many respects, and it is also evident that most of the
ideas in history or direct human behaviour have been harmful to other
human beings or to themselves.
- On the other hand, it is also evident that
whatever adequate understanding people have of themselves, of others,
and of their environments and possibilities, is based on the asking and
answering of the type of general questions that are philosophical and
scientific, and that there seems to be no way of being human without
trying to ask and answer such questions.
- All ideas about philosophy or science,
including those that ridicule or condemn philosophy or science, are
themselves philosophical ideas, and such as declare all philosophy
useless, trifling, or impossible are little better than a refusal to do
any serious philosophical or scientific reasoning.
- The ideas people live and die for, go to war
for and kill each other for, or let themselves be inspired to the making
of great art or science, are all philosophical ideas.
lives people lead and the choices they make are the result of the
philosophies they hold, whether they are conscious of this fact or not.
of the history of the 20th century - "The Century of Total War", in
Raymond Aron's apt phrase, which is the title of one of his books - is the
more or less direct product of a small number of philosophical ideas and the
philosophers who made them up: Marxism ruled the lives of more than a 1000
million people; Fascism destroyed the lives of millions of people and caused
a World War; both Marxism and Fascism were opposed by men in the name of
Liberalism, Democracy, Catholicism, Protestantism, or Science, each of which
are themselves either specific philosophies or derived from more
comprehensive philosophical systems.
men like Marx and Nietzsche in their own lives may be regarded as
unsuccessful, their ideas and values, or rather what was made of these by
their self-proclaimed followers, have in the 20th century created and
destroyed civilizations and the lives of millions of human beings. TOP
specifically, philosophy is concerned with such problems as raised by:
logic: what are the foundations and principles of sound
science: what are the foundations of our scientific and
language: what does language have to do with human thought
meaning: what is meaning and how do we succeed in representing one
thing by another
ethics: what are the foundations of the judgments that acts or
the men who commit them are good or bad, and in what sense are such judgments
true or different from mere matters of taste
aesthetics: what makes beautiful things appear beautiful or ugly, and
what is the use of having an aesthetical capacity
self: whether there is a self, and if so, what it is and what
is its foundation, or, if not, what is the reason for this popular delusion
free will: whether human beings are in any sense free to act as they
please and responsible for the consequences, or only determined to falsely
believe they are free to believe as they please
death: whether death indeed is final, what is the point of
fearing something one will never experience, and whether there is anything
else than self-contradiction in the belief in a life or a judgment after
happiness: what is happiness; how does one find it; and why should
one look for it, especially if everyone seems naturally to know what feels
good and what does not feel good
the good life: what a human individual should and should not
do, believe and desire to lead a good life
the good society: what relations between human individuals
contribute to the good life
many of the questions properly raised within philosophy so-called in earlier
days are now raised and answered by special sciences is true - and changes
nothing about the fact that human beings are such as to lead themselves by
general ideas and values, and that one of the tasks that remains
philosophical, however many of earlier philosophical questions have now
turned into problems of some specific science, is to try to integrate whatever
specialized knowledge different sciences produce into one comprehensive view
of reality and humanity. TOP
4. Ideology, religion and philosophy:
or more precisely, philosophy's everyday appearance, which is a political or
religious ideology, guides and misguides the
lives of human beings, and every human being meets daily with many
philosophical ideas, and makes or avoids many of his daily choices by
appealing to and relying on philosophical considerations.
millions of people have been murdered in this century and other millions of
people have been sent to concentration camps for what were, in the end, crude
philosophical ideas (of the Marxist or Fascist variety, often).
supposedly 'practical' men, whether they did the killing in the name of a
philosophy or were the victims of men acting out a philosophy or stood at the
side gawking while declaring all philosophy useless or nonsense, were as
philosophical - in the sense of being moved by general arguments about what
the world is and should be and how human beings should behave - as any man,
except that these supposedly 'practical' men were less conscious of that
case, it is an illusion to believe that philosophy only pertains to the goods
of the mind or only is of importance to a few intellectually gifted and
- whatever happens in society and whatever human
beings consciously do and do not do to others and for themselves is
based on general ideas and values that are very properly speaking
philosophical, and this has been so since human beings started to think.
part of the reason is that all men need to answer the questions what there
really is, what they should and should not do, and why they believe they know
things. These questions cannot be answered by any special science, and must
be somehow answered by all human beings.
it is important to recognize that the philosophies that influenced much of
the history of the 20th Century, Socialism and Fascism, were - at least in
practice - dangerous delusions, and that indeed the same holds for religions,
that tend to be beliefs that are held in irrational and fanatical ways, and
tend to be very dangerous for those of a different belief. (This last fact
should give people pause who believe in an all powerful and benevolent deity.
It seems to me that the most a believer in God is entitled to claim, within
reason, if this is possible, is that he believes in something that is totally
beyond human understanding.)
study of philosophy:
general terms, philosophy aims at a way of life, namely one based on reason
based on natural and moral knowledge.
value of philosophy is the scope and clarity of mind it provides, especially
as regards the fundamental general questions every human being somehow must
answer, if only by tacit and blind consent to previous answers. (Likewise,
the value of any specific science is the scope and clarity of mind it
provides as regards the special questions the science aims to answer.)
the foundation of all things human is the individual human mind, human beings
live, develop and die in cultures and civilizations: 'the human mind' is the
coordinated product of the ideas human minds have produced in the past, and
many of the questions no human individual can reasonably hope to solve
himself can be solved by the efforts of many individuals through the course
case for philosophical contemplation is simply that it aims at answering the
questions that lie at the foundation of all societies and all human
communication and interaction, and that all human beings must answer in some
fashion, if only by unthinkingly following someone else's philosophy of life.
men and women must philosophize, simply because they are human beings, who
need to make up their own minds on all manner of questions of belief, desire
and action simpler animals have instincts for, should one study philosophy
academically and seriously?
would not recommend its academic study to anyone (other than as an adjunct to
a serious scientific study) for by and large academic philosophy is related
to philosophy as is literary criticism to literature: as the oldest
professionals are to real love.
philosophers have rarely been of the type of a modern academic, and doing
real philosophy is difficult and normally unrewarding: philosophers are apt
to find fault in many human endeavors, and to get into trouble with others
for that reason.
many of the persons known to later times as great philosophers, were, in
their own time, persecuted, discriminated, killed, or removed from society. This
applies i.a. to Heraclite, Buddha, Socrates, Aristotle, Epicure, Lucretius,
Abelard, Bacon, Ockham, Galileo, Descartes, Spinoza, Hume, Rousseau, Marx,
Nietzsche, Peirce and Russell, to name some.
great philosophers have been the creators of the ideas and values many people
oriented their lives around, but during their own lives they were generally
silent or in trouble, for they dared to say what their contemporaries did not
want to hear, to discuss what they did not want to face, and to study and
write what very few took interest in or understood. TOP
to: Natural Philosophy and Natural Realism
This is a somewhat rewritten version of
my remarks to Russell's chapter 15 of his Problems of Philosophy.