Why Is Philosophy Important

Hey Everybody, Marcus here,

I received a donation with a topic request. Though I do not usually do such videos, it felt a little distasteful to not honor the request considering money was sent to me in good faith. The question I was tasked to answer is as follows: “Marcus, why do you believe philosophy is important for men?” This seems like a simple enough question but when I got to thinking about it, I discovered that the answer I want to give is a lot more involved than the question suggests.

In one sense, the question seems very silly to me. In another sense, the question is incredibly serious. To even ask the question: “Marcus, why do you believe philosophy is important to men?” pre-supposes a number of things. The first thing is that I, Marcus, believe philosophy is important to men. Indeed, I can confirm that I do believe philosophy is important to men. This is not a particularly interesting or illuminating insight. What is interesting, however, is that the question also pre-supposes contingency that is coherent. The spirit of the question correctly and implicitly identifies that there are people who believe philosophy is important and that there exist people who believe philosophy is not important.

What I am suggesting is that the proposition: “Philosophy is not important” is internally incoherent. Let us see how this works. To answer the question: “Marcus, why do you believe philosophy is important to men?” I confirm that the proposition “Marcus believes philosophy is important” it true.

Now, I need to show justification in my belief. To do so, I must demonstrate that the proposition: “Philosophy is important” is a true statement. So how would I go about this? Well, I would first reach for the disjunctive question and ask “Is philosophy important or is philosophy not important.” In this disjunction I am implicitly asserting that philosophy ontologically obtains and I believe this is granted to me in the original question I was asked so I will not be demonstrating the ontological status of philosophy. To determine which side of the disjunction is the case in the question: “Is philosophy important or is philosophy not important” we now need to ask the ti esti question; namely, the “what is it” question. More specifically we need to ask “What is philosophy” for only when we know what philosopy is can we find out whether or not the attribute of importance is something philosophy has a share in.

Okay. This seems like a difficult task so we better get started. Let me ask you this. What would I be engaging in if I attempt to answer the question “What is philosophy?” Is it not the case that I would be engaging in philosophical inquiry itself? Surely it is! But if I am using philosophical inquiry to give an account of philosophy then I am begging the question. You see, I must already believe philosophical inquiry is a valid method of inquiry to answer the question “What is philosophy” which I only ask to determine “whether or not philosophy is important or philosophy is not important.” So clearly, I must already assign substantial weight to philosophical inquiry if I am to trust the outcome of that inquiry.

Now, since I must pre-suppose substantial weight to the validity of philosophical inquiry and I have chosen philosophical inquiry, I must believe philosophy is important, must I not? Surely, I must, otherwise I would have selected a different mode of inquiry. So, by selecting philosophical inquiry as my tool in determining whether or not philosophy is important or not can only coherently yield the answer that the statement “Philosophy is not important” contradicts my presuppositions and must therefore be false. This is an example of begging the question; namely, assuming the conclusion as part of your premises.

Since I am found out to be begging the question in my argument then my argument falls apart and we are back to beginning. But why did this happen? The reason this happened was because importance is a value judgement and does not obtain outside of the human condition. To ask whether or not philosophy is important is not to ask about philosophy itself but to ask about our individual relationship to philosophy.

But I still stand behind my assertion that the proposition “Philosophy is important” is true objectively in some sense. You see, another deeply concealed assumption in the original question is that to engage in philosophy is a choice. It is commonly believed that philosophy is something you can abstain from doing. Philosophers philosophize and normal people do not. This I believe is completely false.

Aristotle gave a simple account of what a human being is. He said that human beings are rational animals. If we accept this account as true then we seem to be deprived of the choice not to engage in philosophy as a consequence of our rationality. If you think about it, this is immediately evident. People argue about whether or not this thing exists or that thing exists such as aliens, God, the multiverse, morality, good, evil, justice and so on. These are ontological questions and ontology is one of the main areas of interest in philosophy. Though people may not spend too much time in the abstractions of ontology, they do spend a good deal of time on the applied aspect of ontology. Specifically, ethics. Ethics is another of the main branches of philosophy. Again, though people may not spend as much time in meta-ethical questions like “What is the Good”, they do engage in some meta-ethical questions such as whether or not there is objective good, or objective morality. Then, most of their time is spent in applied ethics. People argue whether or not abortion is murder, whether or not this law is just or that law is unjust. They bicker over animal right, civil right, human right and what not. These are all subjects that squarely fall under the applied ethics rubric of philosophy.

Then, we have politics. Politics is the third core area of philosophy. I do not think I need to name example of people arguing over politics as this is universal.

You see, philosophy, as it was practiced by the Greeks had a certain progression to it. First, we had the question of governance. How are we to organize our societies. But before we can answer how our societies are to be organized, we had to resolve the question of conduct. What is just behavior between people and what is a just society? But before we can answer what is just behavior between people and what is a just society, we needed to answer the question of being; what is a human being, what is justice. Do these things exist? If so, how do we know they exist? What justifies us in believing these beliefs are true and so on.

I do not think that anyone can competently argue that governance, or in other words, politics is unimportant. No one would argue that ethics is not important. And no one would argue that understanding reality; what exists and what does not exist, is unimportant. No. I believe that pretty much everyone believes these things are important. And why are these things important? Because these things concern us and affect us. But why are things that concern and affect us important? Because we as human being are important. And why are human beings important? Well; if you believe in God then the answer is that human beings have moral worth. If you do not, well, I suppose nothing is important and nihilism is the way to go. But I think even atheists assign moral worth to human beings even though they have no way of justifying it.

So, in this way we do not have a choice but to engage in philosophy and because philosophy is concerned with that which is important to us, so too is philosophy important.

Now, someone may try to throw a wrench into this account and say that he himself does not think about politics, ethics, or ontology. Well. This is a flat out false statement. The question is not whether or not a human being has a choice to think about politics, ethics, and ontology, but whether or not he does so well or he does so badly.

Even the stupidest person alive lives according to certain metaphysical commitments whether or not he is aware of them or not. The very belief that the external world exists is a belief everyone holds even if most people never have this thought enter their consciousness.

No. Philosophy is not a game you can abstain from. This is a game you can either be good at or bad at. If you believe you are not a player, you are bad at the game.

Indeed, the worse we are at philosophizing the more confined we are to beliefs imposed on us and the more likely we are to cling to beliefs we have grown comfortable with. The worse we are at philosophy, the more we NEED certain beliefs to be true or false.

So, having said everything I have said so far, the silliness of the question “Marcus, why do you believe philosophy is important to men” begins to come out. You might as well ask “Marcus, why do you think thinking is important to men?” How can I coherently think otherwise?

Another way to argue the point is to reach to the literal translation of the Greek word for philosophy. Philosophy in Greek is a compound word formed of two separate words; philo-sophia. It roughly translated to love of wisdom. To deem philosophy as unimportant is to deem wisdom unimportant. The proof of the importance of wisdom is contained in attempting to live a life opposite of a life of wisdom. Namely, a life of foolishness. If one wishes to defend that a life of foolishness is good while a life of wisdom is bad, he is free to do so but such a defense is beyond my powers.

There is one final point I want to make on the subject. To get good at philosophy is not synonymous to the ability to remember and quote from philosophical texts. Such a display is one of memory and not of talent in philosophy. To be good at philosophy is to develop those skills of thinking that allow you to produce such arguments yourself out of basic premises. Though one often gets good at this skill through reading philosophical texts, one is not committed to accepting as true any of the beliefs defended in those texts.

Another way to think of it is like learning to play the guitar. You do not become a musician because you can play songs written by others well. No. You become a musician when you can compose songs and play them well. You can learn composition through going through another person’s work but ultimately, a good musician only needs his instrument to bring into being something great. The philosopher in turn, only needs his mind to bring into being clear and coherent thoughts.

As no one can escape thinking, and therefore philosophizing, we all become philosophers of some sort or another; one subject or another. It’s just some of us are better at it than others.

Thanks for listening,

Go team.

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