Archive for May, 2012

Philosophy—A Waste of Time?

A lot of smart people claim that philosophy is a waste of time.   Stephen Hawking claims that philosophy is dead.  And no doubt there are obscure highly abstract corners of the world of philosophy that are arguably mental masturbation with little in the way of valuable application.

This misses the point.

Philosophy is not in the class of things to which we can appraise the value of time and mental effort expended in their pursuit, concluding that they are valuable or a “waste”.  Philosophy is inextricably intertwined in every valuation we make.  Ironically, you have to do philosophy to appraise it.  Calling philosophy a waste is like saying, “Words are meaningless.”  The very assertion undermines itself.

We can’t not do philosophy.

You do philosophy a little bit in almost every decision you make and every conclusion you draw.  Every time you determine that something is “good”, “bad”, “right”, “wrong”, “valuable”, “worthless”, “virtuous”, “evil”, “true”, or “untrue” you are doing philosophy.  You do philosophy virtually continuously in every waking moment.

Every assertion of value begs the question “why?”  If your philosophy is sound, you will be prepared to answer that question.  But if you are not prepared to answer then you cling to a philosophy that you cannot defend.

Typically those who dismiss “philosophy” as a “waste of time” are those who are are happy with their particular philosophy and do not wish to expend the mental energy contending with scrutiny.

It’s not a question of the value of philosophy.  It’s a question of the value of your philosophy.