Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Is Philosophy Useful?

What can you do with a philosophy major?  William James quipped that philosophy "bakes no bread."  That is, it is not a discipline one studies in order to learn how to practice a particular craft or trade.  Philosophy tries to think about and understand everything, which makes it a discipline that does the opposite of specialization.
What does it mean to be human?
This leads some people to assume that philosophy is useless.  But that is only partly--and largely irrelevantly--true.   As Rémi Brague has said, the study of the history of philosophy is freedom.  As he puts it, "Dodging history makes us fall prey to doxa."  To put it in other terms, if we don't study the history of philosophy, we forget who we are, and believe what we believe without reasons.  To be human is to ask who we are; and asking who we are is philosophical.

Let me put this in simpler terms: if you don't ask philosophical questions - and seek their answers - someone else will do it for you.  Here's the thing: asking those questions and seeking those answers might be the thing that makes us most human, and most free.

So the answer to my initial question is another question: without philosophy, how will you remain free?

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