For many people, philosophy is something both ‘ancient’ and ‘other’. It is “ancient” because the ideas presented by a number of ancient thinkers like Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle are sometimes believed to be outdated and irrelevant by a few thousand years.
It is “other” because the ideas presented are often complex. The arguments appear sophisticated and the conclusions sometimes verge on the weird. Be these as they may, and although philosophy is one of the oldest disciplines, many argue that philosophy is both hugely important and significant today. As Tom Butler-Bowdon says in his book 50 Philosophy Classics, “Whether it is Aristotle or Epicurus providing recipes for a fulfilled and happy life or Plato outlining the ideal society, the ideas of these ancient thinkers remain powerful, if only because in over 2000 years humans have not changed much” (1). In other words, philosophy still lives on because the big questions never really go away.
Perhaps a first point showing philosophy is important concerns its area of emphasis. The Oxford English Dictionary defines philosophy as “the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence, especially when considered as an academic discipline.” This states that philosophy is an exercise in intellectual thought seeking to get to the truth about the world and reality human beings experience. Engaging in this effort should be considered important. It is, after all, better to learn about and inquiry into the nature of reality than not to do this and remain ignorant. Philosophy, faithful to critical thinking, exposes people to the ideas presented by some of the brightest minds to have existed in history who have thought about reality’s most fundamental questions.
Philosophy is also important because it is required on moral grounds. Many ideas and worldviews presented by historical thinkers have been immoral. Many of these ideas and ideologies (apartheid, fascism, and Nazism, for example) have had a broad and harmful impact on humanity that continues to linger decades and centuries after their occurrence. One can not help but engage in philosophical thought when he thinks about issues of ethics and morality because these are inherently philosophical subjects. A deep engagement with moral thought can bring light to bad and immoral ideas, and suggest better alternatives.
Further, is worth noting that everyone has a philosophy. Every person has a worldview and way of viewing and interpreting reality. Philosophy is therefore not only limited to the professional philosophers who are scholars but is also accessible to laymen (or the “uninitiated” as Plato once said). Ayn Rand appropriately articulated this when she stated that,
“A philosophic system is an integrated view of existence. As a human being, you have no choice about the fact that you need a philosophy. Your only choice is whether you define your philosophy by a conscious, rational, disciplined process of thought and scrupulously logical deliberation — or let your subconscious accumulate a junk heap of unwarranted conclusions, false generalizations, undefined contradictions, undigested slogans, unidentified wishes, doubts and fears, thrown together by chance, but integrated by your subconscious into a kind of mongrel philosophy and fused into a single, solid weight: self-doubt, like a ball and chain in the place where your mind’s wings should have grown” (2).
People continually pick up and adopt the philosophies, beliefs, and views of others and embrace them. But many of the beliefs that we inherit turn out to be unwarranted, outright false, and/or contradictory. Again, philosophy is of help here since its emphasis on engaging in critical and logical thinking can assist one to identify unwarranted beliefs and bad logic held by others.
A holistic view of reality is important and this is one of philosophy’s major goals. Philosophy engages various topics that seek to attain a holistic view in the form of distinguishable disciplines asking different questions. In moral philosophy, for example, one wants to know what makes an action right or wrong. In metaphysics, one wishes to determine, among many other things, whether or not his senses accurately describe reality. In historical philosophy, one desires to know on what grounds can we know anything from history and with what degrees of certainty. In epistemology one might wonder how we can known anything for certain. Moreover, in the philosophy of religion one wants to weigh arguments and evidence to learn whether or not the supernatural and God exists.
Philosophy satisfies humanity’s inquisitive nature. Human beings have a desire for knowledge and learning about the world in which they exist. Unfortunately, many do not put this wonderful ability into action or they often leave it vastly underutilized.
Hopefully, it is clearer now why one should consider philosophy important. Philosophy aids one in critical and logical thinking, assists in having one avoid bad ideas, feeds into a desirable holistic view of reality, produces moral theories that positively support human existence, and satisfies the unique human urge to be inquisitive regarding the world humanity lives in.
1. Butler-Bowdon, T. 2013. 50 Philosophy Classics: Thinking, Being, Acting, Seeing – Profound Insights and Powerful Thinking from Fifty Key Books. p. 4.
2. Rand, R, 1984. Philosophy: Who Needs It?