Why Is Philosophy Still Important?

This was posted on reddit recently, so I thought I’d copy my response here.

First, just a quick introduction! There’s been a lot of thought recently that philosophy is useless. The main arguments seem to be that

  1. science has replaced any need for philosophy
  2. philosophy is a useless subject to study in college

For the latter argument, I recently recorded my thoughts, and you can hear them here. For the first argument, read on…

In short: science helps us live longer, whereas philosophy helps us live better.

It’s true that there’s a lot of philosophy that is very academic and not so useful, but at its core, philosophy is a striving towards figuring out what is true and worthwhile, and what it means to live a meaningful and worthwhile life. That’s something off-limits for science, because science can tell us how things are empirically, but it can’t prescribe how we should then live.

It so happens that we already believe many things to be true and have many attitudes and dispositions towards things, whether we realize it or not. That’s what you might call a person’s personal philosophy. A person may hate philosophy, but it would be true to say that their “anti-philosophy” is a type of philosophy. In short, we all have a philosophy already. Shouldn’t we then examine it logically and try to improve it, and make sure it gets closer to the truth?

It also happens that our world is saturated with manipulation of people’s philosophies. Advertisements and an envy of other’s belongings has saturated our consumer culture and has turned into a sort of philosophy of its own, and sadly a way of life. There’s also much manipulation of attitudes and thought in politics, which is how politics have turned into a game of image and often times broad, false promises. Money and a lust for fame have also corrupted the sciences to some degree, and have turned it into a bit of a game to get research funding from large corporations, so nothing in the world is off-limits it seems.

Philosophy gives us the tools to recognize these things for what they are, and gives us some defenses against them that the common person might not have. (incidentally, I recommend reading On Bullshit for more of a taste of how our world is saturated in BS)

I believe there’s a few big reasons philosophy is downplayed and ridiculed in our culture today. The main reason is that there’s no real way to make it profitable, unlike the sciences. If we’re living in a consumer culture that assigns some value to things based on money, then naturally we will value less the things which aren’t profitable. When it comes down to it, we really are living in a culture that values more the computer science graduate who goes to join a company such as Zynga to produce banal (borrowing a favorite word from David Foster Wallace) ripoff games. We value this person more than someone who stays in academia to pursue truth and knowledge, and we ridicule them for not coming out into the real world, working a real job, and making a ton of money, which is after all the highest end according to to our current thinking (which is in itself a philosophy).

I have more to say about all this, but I’ll keep this short. :)

(For a bit of perspective, I’m saying this as someone who makes way more money than I need working for big corporations doing web dev work, but is looking to go back and study more philosophy in school eventually.)