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The value of philosophy


The pragmatist asks, “what is the value of Philosophy?”

The philosopher responds, “what standards do you use to determine value and what evidence can be offered for the justification of such standards?”

In the philosopher’s response to questions about the value of his discipline, we discover the following principle:

the very act of questioning something, no matter what it is, presupposes basic concepts and judgments which are themselves open to the same kind of questioning.

It is impossible for us to ask questions about anything without making use of certain fundamental ideas.

Concepts and judgments are the atoms and molecules out of which all our questions, even the most simple ones, are constructed.

If our basic concepts and judgments are flawed, fallacious, or hastily formed, then the questions that are based upon those concepts and judgments will yield answers that are characterized by the same limitations.

In philosophy, not only do we question reality, but we also question our own questions.

If there are things in this world that are truly important, then they can only be fully appreciated if we engage them with an open-mind that is willing to rethink its assumptions and refine its conceptual framework.

This vigilant effort to maintain an open-mind and a healthy sense of wonder is what lies at the heart of the philosophic enterprise.

The value of philosophy, then, is not that it offers us some tangible product of great worth, but that it invites us to think critically and unconventionally about what it means for something to even have worth and, moreover, it challenges us to be clear and honest with ourselves as to why we bother to care at all about the meaning, value, and importance of things.

This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. If I say, “The worth isn’t in what we think, but instead, how we think,” would I be close to understanding this? This also makes me think of math. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not fond of math and that algebra and calculus were a huge struggle for me. Too, how much I’ve used it has been minimal, YET I often note that I apply math-like logic to everyday problems, solutions that I believe would have eluded me if not for the mathematical training my brain endured.

    1. Exactly! The content of our thoughts goes hand in hand with our methods for thinking. I like your math connection because it illustrates the powerful ways in which a particular discipline or subject can shape our minds even if we are not highly knowledgeable of its specifics.

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