Saturday, January 14, 2006

Do we need Philosophy?

Is it necessary? I don't think so.
It cannot even be properly and accurately defined. The term comes to us from the ancient Greek and means "love of wisdom". The thing is, however, that wisdom comes to us gradually and naturally whether we "love" it or not. Some say it is a method of rational critical thinking in a systematic and logical way. I think that people are born with this method already hardwired and in place. They may not be able to define it so succinctly but the method is "in use" whether we are exposed to Philosophy or not. Yes, it is interesting to learn and read about how the great "thinkers" of our past viewed their existence. It's fun to "connect" on fundamental levels with someone who existed thousands of years ago.
It's purely optional, IMHO, and should not be taken so seriously. Countless many have lived full and satisfying lives without being exposed to this academic interpretation for rational thought.
Can it help? It can if one finds joy in arguing and criticizing fundamental beliefs held "on faith" (on trust) by many.
Yes, enjoy the option but don't loose any sleep over it. Keep in mind that Philosophy's goal of discovering the absolutely fundamental reason of everything is a mirage. The closer you get, the more it fades away.


Pete's Blog said...


If you're just considering pure philosophy (eg "if we're alive how do we know?") then I agree.

But I think you'll agree that some works of applied philosophy, like the following fragment, ARE important "...all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,...".

These concepts are so fundamental that they are not simply an ideology. They form a way of looking at the world.

So I think applied philosophy can indeed be important.

roman said...

spying bad things,
Great quote from the Preamble to the Constitution but had you included the preceding few words which state that these rights are "self-evident" you would have made my case for me. Look, my point here is that one can ask any human being, anywhere, regardless of degree of intellect or education whether they agree or disagree with these concepts of human rights and the answer will be uniform in its concurrence. Granted that there are some issues which are coming into prominence due to advancing technology (abortion and cloning) which may require one to seek some "clarification" in historical similarities but even for this there are tried and true non-Philosophical sources of record.
It's an interesting academic pursuit but really not a mandatory requirement for living one's life to its fullest potential.
My condolences to all Philosophy majors. :)

roman said...

Before anyone jumps all over me for quoting the 17'th century Philosopher Benedict de Spinoza in my last post and accuse me of being a hypocrite, let me just "head you off at the pass, hombre". I do "enjoy" the academic pursuit of ideas but my main point is valid and I'm not backing away one inch. It's fun and useful in debates but should not be viewed as compulsory in the course of our lives.

Fahd Mirza said...

very very true Roman.

Some years back, when I jumped over anything which had hint of giving me some semblance of wisdom, I started reading philosophers. Plato, Aristotle, Bertrand Russell, William James and many others.

I admit I never really managed to finish a single writing of them. They all seem to very knowledgeable but strayed person. They didnt know the start and didnt know the end and searching for the means.

They looked to me haranguing over beaten and petty concepts. They appeared to me debating over simple things.

Very futile, I reckon this theoratical philospohy is.

Renegade Eye said...

Thank you for visiting my blog. The discourse isn't always so negative.

I'm adding a link to your blog later today at mine, to remind me and others, to visit here.

There is a difference between ideology (false consciousness) vs. philosophy.


DagoodS said...

Your point is well-taken, roman. Philosophy is a good idea, but don’t get so wedded to it, we lose the forest for the trees. One some levels, it is helpful to view the world with certain labels. That person holds this philosophical view. This person holds that philosophical view. The danger comes in insisting that a person must fit a definition, and by assessing a label on them, have reduced them to less than the total picture.

I abhor the claims of “you are a moral relativist so you must hold to this premise.” Or “you are a Democrat, so you must vote this way.” Or “you are a male, so you will love this movie.” While labels and demographics can give us tendencies, just like philosophies, humans are more than just a label.

roman said...

renegade eye,
Thanks for stopping by. I have also linked to your site.. hope you don't mind.
Why do you view ideology as "false consciousness"?

roman said...

fahd mirza,
Welcome back.
"They didnt know the start and didnt know the end and searching for the means."
All Philosophers "tinker" with the concept of existentialism but not one can even come close to explaining the existence of a rock never mind a human being. In the end, all they offer are opinions.

Jessica said...

Ok, I have to defend my bachelor's degree.

1) The "goal" of philosophy is not singular, is not agreed upon, nor is it "discovering the absolutely fundamental reason everything is a mirage."

2) Philosophy is as necessary as art.
"Purely optional" you say. An important part of culture, nonetheless. Whether you are a critic, an artist, a museum patron, or a person walking by a publicly-funded sculpture, art and philosophy have been ingrained in our lives long before Aristotle wrote his Poetics. It is a luxury, perhaps, and one that should be valued.

3) Philosophy is as necessary as mathematics.
"A method of rational thinking ... people are born with," you say. And yet, not all of us would come up with the Pythagorean theorem on our own. Maybe you've stumbled across your own cogito ergo sum, but I've yet to find any who has discovered Godel's incompleteness theorems unaided. Who cares? Anyone who uses a computer should care.

4) Philosophy is as necessary as history.
"Countless many have lived full and satisfying lives without being exposed [to it]," you say. One could lead a relatively peaceful and satisfying life without ever knowing about the Holocaust, Gandhi, or the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama. I'd like to think the world would be a better place if more people also knew about John Rawls, Immanuel Kant, and Confucius.

5) Is it necessary? Yes.
Should it be a mandatory part of a liberal arts curriculum for all students that includes Latin and Shakespeare? Not for everyone, perhaps. But don't you dare take Shakespeare out of school libraries or take philosophy classes out of colleges. Not everyone grows up to be a physicist, but that doesn't render quantum mechanics any less useful. Philosophy contributes to fields as wide as international relations, business ethics, medicine (bioethics), design, computer science, law, et al. Philosophy isn't just getting a kick by debating theology late at night with some friends over beers, it's a crucial part of our lives, whether we know it or not.

United We Lay said...

Of course we need philosophy! It is the search for who we are, why we are, and where we come from. It is exercise for the mind! It is the basis of religion, phychology, science, etc... How could we ever do without philosophy?

roman said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog.
First, let me state that Philosophy as an optional course at institutes of higher learning can be rewarding and mind expanding. It certainly deserves attention as a specialized means of enriching one's outlook on life by the study of various well-thought-out points of view.
You really should have cut/paste that quote. "of" is missing. I hate to be misquoted, you understand.
After countless hours of research and quiet contemplation, my rummaging through the writings of Philosophers spanning 25 centuries have left me frustrated. Why? They, singly and as a group, just don't have the answer to the important question.
The question: "WHY?"
OK, maybe I expected too much.
If the answer was there then it would be vitally important and necessary.
I agree with you that if a person finds art "necessary" then Philosophy may just be as important to that person. For the rest of us it's a pleasurable but optional pastime.
Your characterization of Mathematics and History as on par with Philosophy in the sense of "necessity" is something I find difficult to fathom. Godel and Pythagoras were primarily mathematicians who were endowed with a fine sense of logic. It looks to me that the term Philosophy was attached to them as an identifying label due to the inclusion of their other interests and endeavors.
To a large segment of the world's population, Philosophy is in fact a heated discussion over a "couple of beers". To the rest, especially in academia and political sciences, it does offer some valuable insights.

"Beauty, truth, and rarity.
Grace in all simplicity,
Here enclos'd in cinders lie."

Shakespeare stays.

roman said...

polanco consulting,
Thanks for stopping by my blog.
Your use of the word "need" is what is at issue with Philosophy.
Take a random sample among your family and friends and ask them if they could "get by" without Philosophy. Any bets about the outcome?
"It is the search for who we are, why we are, and where we come from. It is exercise for the mind!"
Yes but after 2,500+ years we are no closer to the answers.
I know, I know, "but Roman, you unsophisticated brute, you want to do away with such a pure and noble pursuit as Philosophy?"
I don't want to do away with it. I'm just saying it is not a necessity of life.

United We Lay said...

They may say they can, but they can't. Here's the thing, every time we have a thought that isn't about a basic human need, it's philosophy. Do I love him? Is this job worth it? Should Bush be impeached? All philosophy. Just because you don't recognize it as such doesn't mean it isn't. It's a necessity because we need to rationalize things psychologically. Philosophy is in our nature. And we are closer to the answers.

Chairman eDog said...

Do we need Philosophy? Yes, asking "Why?" is like breathing; stop either long enough and you'll cease to be human.

San Nakji said...

So how come you are keeping Shakespeare? Irrelevent as Philosophy if you are going down that road...

Paul said...

Roman, my thoughts:

I have to both agree and disagree with you. First the agreement. It is certainly not necessary to know the history of philosophy — the names, dates, terminology, individual ideas, etc. — in order to go about the business of life. These are the kinds of things taught in formal philosophy classes, which it seems reasonable to consider optional.

Now the disagreement. Part of "philosophy" is the tools of reasoning, such as logic. You admit that we have some of this hard-wired into our systems. If that is a good and useful thing, then it would seem that it is a good thing to develop and use rightly. Otherwise, it would be like being endowed with instincts for eating, but saying there is no benefit in learning about food preparation techniques and nutrition.

You certainly like to think, and I'm sure you would appreciate it if everyone around you thought more deeply and consistently. Therefore, I would expect that you would desire that everyone ideally have some exposure to a few practical tools of reason. Do you not value language? Do you not think that reading and writing instruction should be part of our school curriculum?

Christianity has certainly been historically friendly to philosophy. At one time theology was considered to be the queen of the sciences and philosophy her handmaiden. And many modern seminaries include mandatory philosophy classes for the sake improving their apologetics and their ability to "rightly divide the word of God." I only wish they took it more seriously.

And while there may be disagreements over the deep questions of life, most philosophers agree on certain basic principles of argumentation. I know of few philosophers who will deny something like the law of non-contradiction, but I do know millions of common folk who shape their worldviews without taking logical contradictions into consideration. It is no more fun to attempt a meaningful dialog with someone who cannot follow a basic line of reasoning than it is to shop at a vendor who cannot handle simple math.

roman said...

Thank you for stopping by my blog.
As evidenced here with the post and comments, Philosophy means different things to different people. IMHO, because its definition is not concrete it lends itself to be whatever anyone wants it to be. I am not able to refute any of the votes in favor.

roman said...

Thanks for your thoughts on this Philosophy thing and whether we can get by without it or not.
Yes, I agree that by reading about the various philosophical writings one can broaden the "way" one thinks. It definitely does lend itself to becoming a "tool" in constructing abstract concepts that may not be "reachable" by most of us on our own. In this way, it does enrich the quality of our lives.
Keep in mind, however, that until Guttenburg invented moveable type, a tiny fraction of the "civilized" world had the need for this new construct in thinking in this manner. We, as a species, survived well up to that point. Here is the kicker though, since the availability of printed matter to the masses, have we seen an improvement in human behavior? It defies logic, I know, but there it is. Even the "holy" books have not been able to improve harmony amongst human beings. This is my point. There is something deeper and more ancient in the human psyche that is at play here. Philosophical concepts help to enrich our lives, yes, but does this enrichment carry over and improve mankind? I don't see any evidence of it....yet.

roman said...

san nakji,
Thank you for visiting my blog.
To me, Shakespeare is unique and unmatched in his ability to comprehend and explain human nature. I've never really thought of him as a Philosopher until it was introduced here by jessica in her comments.

Paul said...

Roman, you seem to be making your point based on a definition of philosophy as a thing that begins only at the highest level of abstract thought. It is as though you are saying we don't really need to learn math because who cares about Fermat's Last Theorem or the Goldbach Conjecture.

I think our difference lies in the definition that I, at least, would extend to include principles of careful reasoning on everyday matters. Whether basic reasoning skills are taught in school under the label "philosophy," or whether they are merely imparted at various points along the way by parents, books, and teachers, you still have learned some of these (and you are trying very hard to use them here on your blog). Unfortunately, by excluding such things as logic as a focused academic discipline, each person receives this in varying measure and in such an informal degree that he is unable to put his finger on why he "feels" that a certain conclusion is sensible or distasteful.

I disagree with you on "philosophy" as a basic tool for reasoning, as compared with basic math and language skills, but I am much more sympathetic to you when we consider philosophy as it is applied by people of various persuasions to the toughest metaphysical problems. I also agree that pure reason has not yielded any sure conclusions, and that deep problems in the human psyche have inhibited the pursuit (or any unanimous agreement on what may be reasonable to conclude). This is why it seems to me that if there were a God who intended us to know much about Himself, He would have to intervene to tell us Himself. It is also why deism and the various Eastern flavored religions, where we are left to figure it out for ourselves, are highly problematic.

As far as whether we "need" to do philosophy (as opposed to studying it), I like Chairman Edog's answer. You can't stop people from thinking about meaning, morality, and metaphysics. It is in our very blood. And the fact that it is says something about us as humans that we should consider when we do our "philosophy."

politiques USA said...

I tried to give a shot to your way of thinking and I'm very VERY disappointed by your writing.

Do we need philosophy?



You are agitating me. Philosophy is needed, because wisdom only exists if you are able to go into details, then you'll be able to reach wisdom.

On the other side, you may consider that you don't need philosophy, only because you think you are God. Slight difference. Then the weakest weapons will blow up your little cloud on which you are right now because they'll be able to make a difference between weapons and intelligence.

Know yourself first, which is not the case.

Brrrr how disgusting it is.

roman said...

politiques usa,
Thank you for stopping by my blog.
I am glad that you are not just reading blogs that you find are in tune with your fundamental views. It is good to get an opposing point of view once in a while in order to guage the strength of your oppinions. This is the only way we can measure whether our views are out of the mainstream or not. Yes, you're right, my views run fairly much along the lines of neoconservatives and I am proud of this fact.
"You are agitating me." Thank you for this statement. It tells me I am having some effect on my readers... even though it's of a negative nature to some.
My goal is to provoke you to dare to consider the "other" side even though in the final analysis it may not change your mind.
Philosophy is really a very broad term which encompasses many concepts. The two that are most important in my mind are:
1. The thoughts and ideas of the world's great Philosophers from Plato to Nietzsche. Need? I think we can live our lives fully and productively without ever cracking open a Philosophy book.
2. From the time we are born, we already have the tools for rational thought. Can these tools be "honed" by learning the lessons of logical discourse from Philosophical concepts? Yes, it helps. Is it required to live a full and productive life for the average person in today's world?
You already know my answer.

Paul said...

Politiques seems to think the fact that you believe you are right in your views equates to you believing that you are God. Does this mean that he is more humble in his beliefs? No. He is very adamant about his own opinions, even to the point of being nasty toward you. He believes that he is reaching at "wisdom." But wisdom depends on objective truth and objectively right ways of applying that truth. So, is he an objectivist? I would predict not. Therefore, his wisdom and truths are merely a matter of his own preferences and presuppositions. To call this truth and wisdom seems to be the very definition of assuming the role of God.

Oricon Ailin said...

I agree with you, roman. In all my studies in college, Philosophy is one thing I don't think I actually needed in order to survive day to day. I don't mind having intellectual debates over topics of various things. However, if I really looked back on my adult years so far, I don't really think I've thought that much about what I had learned in Philosophy.

Paul said...

On a related note, here is an interesting quote I just found that sums up why so much of philosophy is a fool's errand, at least as it attempts to make a systematic understanding of things.

"Insofar as I had any project in mind, it was to reconcile Trotsky and the orchids. I only wanted to find some intellectual or aesthetic framework that would let me – in a thrilling phrase I came across in Yeats – 'hold reality and justice in a single vision.' ... As I tried to figure out what had gone wrong, I gradually decided that the whole idea of holding reality and justice in a single vision had been a mistake; that a pursuit of such a vision had been precisely what led Plato astray. More specifically, I decided that only religion -- only a non-argumentative faith in a surrogate parent who, unlike any real parent, embodied love, power, and justice in equal measure -- could do the trick Plato wanted done. Since I couldn't imagine becoming religious, and indeed had gotten more and more raucously secularist, I decided that the hope of achieving a single vision by becoming a philosopher had been a self-deceptive atheist's way out."

Richard Rorty, "Wild Orchids and Trotsky" (1993).

Jeff said...

Roman, worthy topic of discussion.

It should be pointed out that you are using philosophy (at least logic) when you live in the world. The law of causality (stay away from the tiger or die) is learned from the time you are an infant (cry and get fed).
What about simple logical coherence? "My Mom is my daughter." can be known to be false without investigation. We use philosophy in our every day lives and must do so to survive. I think it's just that we don't consciously realize it...that or we use the narrower definition of philosophy in which case you are right...but again, only if we agreee on the definition of 'need'.

Not understanding or being trained in philosophy will make the populace more easily swayed and manipulated by the clever.
Remember my series of blog posts on logical fallacies? Remember how we so often see them embodied in the media and the political arena?

roman said...

Your posts on logical fallacies were in fact very interesting and useful. I did make hardcopies of these posts and recommend them highly. Posts are dated 9/26/05 and 12/27/05 and can be found archived here:

roman said...

Thanks for the Richard Rorty introspection on the futility of achieving a state of philosophic nirvana. It certainly shortens the path to understanding when someone relates the directions and experiences of the same path already taken. BTW, I agree with Rorty's claim that philosophy is just another form of literature.

Fahd Mirza said...

I am missing your posts, my friend.

roman said...

Fahd Mirza,
Thank you for your kind words.
I will post again soon.

Nabeel said...

in the old and golden days .. there were only two things .. science and philosophy .. both are responsible for where we are today !

roman said...

Thanks for visiting my site. I have dropped by your blog and found it very interesting. You are welcome to come and visit anytime.