Philosophy: Not Just for Elites

Philosophy: Not Just for Elites


Why should all of us have some access to philosophy?

Philosophy has traditionally been studied by the elites in a society, I suppose for a few reasons. One is that elites will want to be able to think for themselves. They want to be able to make decisions; they want to have leadership positions in society. Also, the elites in society want to enjoy the best of human life. In a democracy, we don’t want to think the best things in human life should belong to the elites alone. They should be spread widely. In my experience, the nurses of the world have as much to offer to philosophy, and as much to gain from it, as the doctors of the world. The plumbers of the world are asking the same kinds of questions and can get the same kinds of benefits from studying philosophy that the presidents of the world are getting.

That’s from an interview with Scott Samuelson (Kirkwood Community College), who will be receiving the $50,000 Hiett Prize in the Humanities this week. He continues:

I think of philosophy as something that’s just built into our humanity. It’s natural for all of us to wonder about questions of life and death and value. Not everyone, of course, is going to devote their lives to philosophical work, but you can’t get out of this life without having some intense moments of wondering who we are and what we should be doing and what we should make of death and what are the purposes of the parts of the universe and is there a God and so on. It’s wonderful that the great philosophers have studied and thought about these questions. When we access them, we’re just tapping into that part of our humanity.

I also feel like philosophy is valuable because it helps to return us to our lives and really understand what is meaningful and valuable. It helps us to cut through the crap and see what’s real. In this sense I see philosophy as a kind of journey. We begin with that kind of wonder about things and we go on an interesting train of speculation, and sometimes doubt, but we return to our lives at the end and ask what is really good about them. Sometimes the beliefs we have in society, the beliefs we get from our politicians and our religions and our advertisers are decent ones and good ones. If so, philosophical scrutiny will help us to see why those beliefs are valuable. But sometimes those beliefs are not so good or aren’t as good as they could be. In that case, philosophical reflection helps us to find what really is meaningful about what we are doing.

The whole interview is in The Dallas Morning News.

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