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Value of Philosophy


Welcome to the Daily Nous Value of Philosophy Pages (VPP) pages.

The purpose of VPP is to provide a centralized, highly visible, and up-to-date resource for those seeking information about the benefits of studying philosophy and those seeking to disseminate such information. It is intended for a wide range of users, including: students making choices about their studies, departments trying to attract students and majors, faculty and administrators looking for arguments and data with which to defend philosophy’s place in the college curriculum, teachers seeking to learn about the value of philosophy outreach programs, and so on.

VPP is a work in progress.  Please send in additions (via email, Facebook, Twitter)!

VPP is organized into four pages:

(Material may appear on more than one page.)

Suggestions welcome!

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Michael Shepanski
6 years ago

Maybe the most common accusation against philosophy is that it makes no progress: it’s just people talking about the same questions for thousands of years, getting nowhere. We know that’s not true, but somehow it’s the impression that philosophy courses leave on students. Could it be otherwise?

(Thought experiment: imagine if medicine were taught the way philosophy often is: surveying the great struggle of ideas, from antiquity to the present, taxonomizing alternative views on each question and pausing to give due credit to theories that turned out to be dead ends and blind alleys. Students would walk away from medicine courses with the same impression as they have of philosophy.)

Here’s an alternative approach. Observe the questions that people are already curious about, unaware that philosophy has developed some pretty good answers. (E.g. many people wonder about free will vs. determinism, with no idea that compatibilism is an option; or they wonder about some version of “How do I know I’m not a brain in a vat?” with no idea that philosophy made some headway on that in the 1908s.) Then show them the answers, by the shortest line possible, even if it cuts a lot of corners. Take the lead from popularizations of science, which deliver the impressive conclusions with only a sketch of the working. Of course it’s no substitute for doing philosophy properly, just as popularizations of science are no substitute for science — but they /do/ show why it’s worth looking into.

As an example of how this might look, I’ve made a few small steps in my blog (http://stepbackstepforward.com/category/philosophy/).Report

Nathan
6 years ago

With Justin’s permission, I’ve posted these materials and more at http://www.WhyStudyPhilosophy.com
It’s a convenient URL to suggest to students and others so they might better learn more about why they might want to study philosophy.
If anyone would like to help improve these pages, please contact me.
I hope this URL is helpful!Report

Mark Milne
Mark Milne
6 years ago

How do I know I’m not a brain in a vat? That’s just one philosophical question that proves the lack of any real value in a lot of the pursuit in philosophy. It’s a philosopher’s question. It’s not a question that anyone else ever really asks themselves. People do ask “What’s the meaning of my life?” however. What does modern philosophy have to say about that? I think most thinkers nowadays say that it’s ultimately not a meaningful question, or am I wrong?Report

Nathan Nobis
Reply to  Mark Milne
6 years ago

It is interesting, and maybe sometimes fun, to think about what reasons or evidence we have to think that we are *not* brains in vats. We all believe that we are not, but do we really have excellent reasons to think that? Perhaps not?! But perhaps in thinking through these abstract issues we can learn some other things of value, including things that will help us think about issues of more practical importance.
Concerning the meaning of life, here’s an entry on that: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/life-meaning/Report

Michael Shepanski
Reply to  Mark Milne
6 years ago

My observations are different from Mark Milne’s. I do see people outside of philosophy wondering about some version of “How do I know I’m not a brain in a vat?”. Granted, most of them are at the geeky, sci-fi fan end of the culture, but I count them as people. 🙂

Of course there are also many ordinary people who ask “What’s the meaning of my life?”, and yes, there are many philosophers who answer “There isn’t one” or “It’s a meaningless question.” I don’t see anything amiss there; but I do think those philosophers would do well to engage with the curious public, and explain why they have resolved the question in the way they have.Report

PeterJ
PeterJ
5 years ago

Michael – I find your view odd. For a start, it seems to me that medicine has made vast stride and continues to do so.

—“Here’s an alternative approach. Observe the questions that people are already curious about, unaware that philosophy has developed some pretty good answers. (E.g. many people wonder about free will vs. determinism, with no idea that compatibilism is an option or they wonder about some version of “How do I know I’m not a brain in a vat?” with no idea that philosophy made some headway on that in the 1908s.) Then show them the answers, by the shortest line possible, even if it cuts a lot of corners. Take the lead from popularizations of science, which deliver the impressive conclusions with only a sketch of the working. Of course it’s no substitute for doing philosophy properly, just as popularizations of science are no substitute for science — but they /do/ show why it’s worth looking into.”

It seems true that people will usually vote for an extreme view and not consider compatibilism. Most philosophers seem to have no idea that compatibilism would be an option for all such questions, and anyway an option is not an answer.
Philosophy as whole forgets that compatibilism would be an option for such questions. It would be possible to argue, as I have been doing for years, that this is its central problem. Compatabilism would be the solution offered by the perennial philosophy for such questions.

Did someone make progress in the 80’s on the brain/vat problem? I have the impression that most scientists and philosophers believe that they are exactly a brain in a vat.

“Then show them the answers”. But you don’t know the answers. This is the problem. You can lay out the options as you see them, but you cannot show them the answers.

“Take the lead from popularizations of science, which deliver the impressive conclusions with only a sketch of the working.” Do you mean pretend that we know far more than we do about philosophy, in the style of most scientific popularizers? I’m sure you don’t mean this. It seems to have become the favoruite method for de-popularizers of religion.

“Impressive conclusions”.? It would be the dearth of Impressive conclusions that attracts the professional criticism that has been much-discussed at DN recently and that leads to philosophobia. .

“Of course it’s no substitute for doing philosophy properly,..” I didn’t imagine for a moment that you were advocating bad practice. Yet ‘doing it properly’ would surely have to mean reaching some impressive conclusions, and you can’t beat the philosophy of the Upanishads when it comes to impressive conclusions, one of which would be that compatibilism is not just an option for metaphysical problems but their correct solution.

Not arguing really, just presenting a different perspective on things.

Marketing is not promotion. More important would be the design of the product or service. If marketing does not begin here then a lot of money and effort may later be wasted on promotion. Perhaps one question would be: How can philosophy be improved so that it would hardly be necessary to promote it? A good title for an essay competition maybe.Report

PeterJ
PeterJ
Reply to  PeterJ
5 years ago

My apologies. The previous at post is a formatting mess. It looked okay at the time.Report

Ib Jørgensen
Ib Jørgensen
5 years ago

Robert Musil said: “We do not have too much intellect and too little soul, but too little precision in matters of the soul” to which I would add “…and too little soul in matters of precision.” This is what I see as the task confronting our species, finding the right mix between the intertwined sentiments of rationality and spirituality. It goes without saying that this is where philosophy can and must contribute.Report

Robert W Tucker
Robert W Tucker
5 years ago

No one who has studied philosophy carefully can doubt that some problems are permanently solved and that some of these solutions carry direct implications for the work of scientists and others.

Among the philosophers who would agree with this assertion, many are unwilling to assume responsibility for the fact that the contributions of philosophy are underappreciated on the larger stage of intellectual progress.

In considering the many philosophers I have known, either personally or through a careful longitudinal study of their work, only a few can be said to be influential on that larger stage. In this regard, Michael Scriven is one of the most underappreciated contributors. Michael spent his career employing the intellectual knowledge and tools of philosophy to help scientists and policy leaders of all stripes solve difficult problems. He was successful because he offered the best solution in the room and because he did so without a hint of the pedantic rhetoric common in some philosophical circles.Report

nathan nobis
nathan nobis
4 years ago

A new page of interest and value!
Philosophy is a Great Major . com
@
https://philosophyisagreatmajor.com/Report

Mikey Charles Hall
Mikey Charles Hall
4 years ago

I can appreciate that studying the classics and literature offers more to the individual than familiarity of the prominant metaphors and text. You gain fantastic critical and analytical skills along the way and these are invaluable in many areas outside English in the academic setting – plus they are skills that never seem to go away.I think studying Philosophy does a similar thing – although it seems to me to be a much stronger version; Philosophy permeates every facet of experience. As it should, i’m guessing, because you are subtly and gradually strengthening the way you perceive the world. You think differently – rather your thinking develops and it’s a very positive thing because that strengthened perception offers new levels of engagement and interest to flourish, and you begin to see things you never noticed in the world before.. It’s during the idle moments that i notice the difference most and can almost feel it working while i’m waiting for a green light or waiting for the phone to stop ringing – or trying to decide what will actually be the result of not looking under that stone.

I returned to university at 35 to do a degree majoring in Philosophy after enjoying some electives in my first undergraduate degree. Not a single person i knew understood why i would take on more study at that stage of the game – on top of work.commitments and the like. Something just happens to you if you are the type and the best way i can think of expressing it is that is nurtures and nourishes your sense of curiosity. It’s not dissimilar to when you discover amazing music where you never thought to look or you see the richness of Kubrick emerge for the first time; the hidden structures and their meaning surfaces.

The feeling doesn’t go away either, i’m so glad i challenged myself and pursued it.

Thank you & Enjoy – sincerely Michael (Perth, Western Australia)Report

Hasti Mirshah
Hasti Mirshah
4 years ago

I have a Bachelors in Philosophy and Literature. On the subject of the value of philosophy, nothing seems to me to be more valuable on the humanities side of academic disciplines (and strongly competing with any important scientific discipline). What is the purpose of scientific progress or any other thing if the humans involved in that and the humans receiving the benefit of that are leading thoughtless lives? Even if the majority of people are happy (which I advocate they are not) it still would not make sense because that happiness would undoubtedly come at the cost of something. It is the philosophers role, then, to figure out what those costs are and how those costs can be eliminated or better yet, prevented. Philosophy has the distinct pleasure of being able to include information from all disciplines and all thought in order to come up with analyses of everything in a way that directly applies to human beings. It is not chemistry in a lab, it is the work of minute to minute life, thought, and emotion. In analyzing whether our lives have meaning and beginning those discussions, philosophy thereby imparts meaning. By providing room for discussion of novel concepts and for the inclusion of different points of view from every possible academic discipline and just plain thought, philosophy gives humans a chance to connect and meaningfully analyze their lives. If it weren’t for the reflective philosophers, our societies would disintegrate fast.Report

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