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.

    • KINGlebronJames
    • June 25th, 2012 11:26am

    My philosophy is this: Stephen Hawking was not referring to philosophy in the way you are referring to it. You are talking about philosophy in the broadest way there is. You are saying that everything is philosophy, which, technically, it is. But Stephen Hawking is saying that focused philosophy is dead, the type of philosophy that was carried out in earlier times. There are currently very few “Philosophers” whom actually are philosophers (that’s their job). I think thats what Stephen Hawking was trying to say. Thats my philosophy 🙂

    • KINGlebronJames
    • July 4th, 2012 4:23am

    this philosophy is a waste of time writing this.

  1. A waste of time, eh? Well let’s not waste time philosophizing, but I have to ask: what makes a thing a waste of time? Perhaps theoretical physics will tell us?

    Stephen Hawking is idolized by a class of people who see the scientist as the sage of the modern age. These types pat each other on the back for being too smart, too skeptical, and too “scientific” to fall for religion, mysticism, and superstition. Yet they embrace passionate ethical and aesthetic persuasions and principles that they present to the world as real, true, and objective. They have absolutely no skepticism whatsoever with regard to the validity of these components that are core to their person.

    This absence of skepticism demonstrates—not a lack of philosophy—but very bad philosophy.

    I get that science has progressed to the point that some fields of inquiry that were once relegated to philosophical deliberation have graduated to the level of real observable phenomena. But the most science can do is discover and describe causality. That discovery can never validate an assertion of universal principle such as “that behavior is wrong” or “that behavior is just”. Yet these worshippers of science and skepticism never bother to question themselves on these matters.

    Either Hawking is incredibly narrow-minded in actually believing that “philosophy is dead”, or his meaning is unclear and irresponsible; many of his admirers are already inclined to dismiss philosophy as a “waste of time” because science is so much more interesting, and frankly much less threatening. Hawking’s assertion will be sufficient to persuade many “scientific, atheist, and skeptical” types to cling to their unsubstantiated philosophical positions uncritically, while they hypocritically ridicule the religious and the superstitious for their unsubstantiated positions.

    Hawking’s statement only serves to discourage critical inquiry.

    • Josh
    • September 12th, 2013 7:09pm

    Philsophy has been incorrectly categorisied as a subject worthy of a University degree, a degree in a topic where there are no certaintys where everything is open to question where there is no correct or incorrect answer. While philsophy can make for some interesting discussions its application to todays world is null and void. The problem is as with all things that those people who have taken up the Phylosophy batten do not like to be told what they have studied and the degree they have received is really about nothing of tangible value or application.

    So we have a group of people who argue its importance and its relavence.

    It is not philosphy that enables us to question, it is not philosophy that causes us to decide something is inhumane, it is not phylosophy that shapes our moral or ethical standards. Unless of course everyone is in fact borne a philospher in which case why do we give people who study the topic any recognition as having achieved anything out of the ordinary.

    I have a degree in Philosophy and while it was an intertesting and was a good way to get credits towards my final degree as the study is ridiculously simple and easy, it simply has no useful application.

    Philosphy taught me nothing.

    It opened my eyes to a way to get money for having an idea and simply applying a logical thought priocess.

    We truly need to put Phylosophy in its rightful place.

    • Roger Mutt
    • October 15th, 2013 8:52am

    A pursuit is a waste of time iff engaging in that pursuit does not allow one to realize one or more of one’s felt desires. Holler.

    • Helen
    • September 5th, 2014 2:39pm

    As a born philosopher I have been asking questions pretty much 24/7 ( maybe take out time when I’m asleep, but only ‘Maybe’! )since I remember being conscious! I considered doing an open university course when my youngest child was going to university. I asked my father ( another born philosopher ) what he thought of the idea and I sensed some doubt , more by a sixth sense than anything he said. He suggested I get some relevant books first before making a decision which I did. I found them so anal and really did feel that they weren’t something to put my time into. I have always been searching and love to read books /ideas written by ‘wise’ people… Jo Campbell comes to mind. I’m sure there are deeply fascinating philosophy books/ courses out there but my initial feeling is that we are all seeking on our own journeys and I like to find the revelations, wisdom through my own searching …not be told about them second hand. As a musician, composer and clarinettist, I feel that there is much that is unsaid, things we know without ‘knowing’ that we know them. It’s a big subject!

    • Matt
    • March 2nd, 2015 4:06pm

    So a friend’s fb post asked us to try writing our first name followed by .com to see what happens. I end up finding this awesome blog and another Matt with a passion for philosophy. Kind of surreal.

    • Matt
    • March 25th, 2015 4:55am

    I feel the same way Matt #2. Is there free will or was it planned that I would stumble upon this one day? Oh and Roger Mutt is very correct

    • Yo
    • November 1st, 2015 7:33pm

    Philosophy is translated to love of wisdom, so it’s all philosophy if you are lovingly engaged in extracting the knowledge in whatever you are focused on. We are all philosophers in any give subject of our choosing–

    Matt- Choosing? Yes, it’s possible to have a complimentary pairing of fate and choice…an option that is not confided to only binary codes in its logical nature..rather wave like in quality…just going with the flow..!

    • Tom
    • December 27th, 2015 9:58am

    He is right in a way though, philosophers serve absolutely no purpose when it comes to the universe apart from being wrong about almost everything, I mean look at someone like Kant with his idea that space and time don’t actually exist but are just creations of the mind, he’d be ridiculed today and rightly so he was an idiot and to be honest wasted his life writing bullshit ideas like 99% of other philosophers, the only philosopher who I have any respect for is Daniel Dennett and that’s because he’s clever enough to actually understand and accept science as being right. The other 99% are just anti-science crackpots who are just jealous and upset that their precious ‘art’ has been thrown in trash.

    • Matt
    • December 28th, 2015 2:54pm

    If you’re assertion that 99% of what philosophers say is “bullshit” is correct, then it becomes even more critically important that good philosophy happens. The problem isn’t philosophy. The problem is BAD philosophy. Again, philosophy isn’t in the class of things we may dismiss as irrelevant—it is hard wired into everything we do and why we do those things. If you determine that some behavior is either “right or wrong”, or that one ought to value one thing over another thing, or that one ought to do one thing and ought NOT do another thing, you are doing philosophy. Science can show us how the universe works and even how we may manipulate it to achieve particular outcomes, but it can’t tell us which outcomes we ought to pursue. It can’t tell us why we should or should not manipulate the universe. It can’t tell use why we should even care about the universe or anything or anybody in it. All the important decisions people make involve these types of questions. And answering those types of questions involves a class of inquiry beyond the scope of science—we call it philosophy.

    • Matt
    • February 22nd, 2016 2:13am

    I hope ur right cuz if not that is probably the dumbest thing arguably the brightest mind alive today could ever say.

    • Jason
    • August 8th, 2016 3:02pm

    Philosophical + any theory which cannot be implementated to raise the quality of human life is useless . Just a way of showing off the “superiorty” of some minds over the others. With 1% implementation and 100% “mental verbal” abuse. And yes this 1% breeding skepticism; a constant mental agony ; seeing everything foolishly critica.

    • Jason
    • August 8th, 2016 3:03pm

    Oh yeah sponsored “scientific” research is as useless as philosophy.

    • Matt
    • August 8th, 2016 7:55pm

    Like I said, it’s not a matter of the value of philosophy, it’s a matter of the value of your philosophy. Philosophy is mandatory. You don’t get to opt out.

    You’re doing philosophy right here right now. You determine that the value of a thing is whether or not it raises the quality of human life. You know not everyone agrees with you? Some people feel the value of a thing is how well it minimizes human interference in the otherwise natural workings of the world–quality of human life be damned. You’ve already done the philosophy. Also, what precisely does “quality” look like in reference to human life? Apparently you know what it is, so you have done the philosophy.

    These are matters where there is much dispute. And these disputes have very practical implications, particularly when it comes to government policy.

    In the absence of sober philosophical consideration, people just resort to whatever it is they want. They KNOW that quality of human life is what matters most. And they also KNOW what quality human life looks like. They’ve done their philosophy. And their philosophy is based on their personal feelings being God. It’s philosophy. It’s just bad philosophy.

    • Topkek
    • November 19th, 2016 12:31pm

    Accept Science as being right … What is this dork talking about. As if Philosophy is somehow anti-scuence ir anything.

    • Nicholas Prado
    • November 28th, 2016 12:29am

    Ah, a pseudoskeptic. Is cannot lead to ought.You cannot go from science which describes what happens in the world to morality or ethics which describes what should happen. Is cannot lead to ought. And once you realize this, one doesn’t need to turn to religion to answer questions of morality and ethics, or conclude that morality is impossible in a world without God. This is why moral nihilism and nihilism are somewhat useful, not dead philosophy, in that it’s only the position(s) about what objectively exists, and some types of it state that morality and meaning in life don’t (objectively). Life is meaningless and death is inevitable. People just like to argue against these notions because of how uncomfortable they might make you or how crazy it might drive you. In truth, the Universe does not give a fuck about us or what we do to each other, we are not eternal in any way, we take solace in comforting delusions like the thought that we are in any way eternal.

    Morals are entirely real, but entirely subjective. They are without universal truth or authority. Just like meaning in life, which isn’t intrinsic, it is nowhere to be found except that meaning which comes from within. Nihilism says that morality comes from within, and so can meaning. Since it comes from within it is not universally true what we ought do since the idea of what we ought do is abstractly contrived. You cannot go from science which describes what happens in the world to morality or ethics which describes what should happen. Is cannot lead to ought. And once you realize this, one doesn’t need to turn to religion to answer questions of morality and ethics, or conclude that morality is impossible in a world without God. But I think what Hawking is saying is that philosophy has never made any progress, basically, and is wasting time trying to answer questions similar to ‘what is the sound of one hand clapping’ which is as nonsensical are some of the biggest questions philosophers have always tried to answer, instead of spending time trying to find out more about how the world works, be it a simulation or not (science).

    • Matt
    • December 11th, 2016 1:56pm

    @Nicholas Prado
    Nicholas, I’m not sure we actually disagree on any particular point. Let me address your remarks in reverse order.

    First, it may very well be true that philosophy has failed to answer the answerable questions.

    Second, I welcome the notion that morality is entirely subjective and that this sensation of the rightness or wrongness of a thing comes from within each of us as individuals, and that sensation is informed by our individual sets of values.

    Third, you are correct regarding the indifferent universe and humanity’s desperate—and ultimately failed—attempt to cobble together some kind of a coherent framework to prop up the notion that they, in some ultimate sense, matter.

    Fourth, I absolutely agree that the pursuit of God is folly and that moral nihilism is a useful tool.

    Fifth, I also recognize and absolutely accept that an is cannot inform an ought.

    I’m not sure we disagree on any particular point here. The critical point I’m trying to make might have been lost though, and that is this: While you and I embrace moral nihilism and readily admit there is no universal objective morality, most atheists do not. Most atheists reject God, embrace science, but then still cling to this vestigial religious notion that an objective universal “right-and-wrong” actually exists. You know this because they speak like any other religious individual who would invoke God to judge another as “wrong” or “evil”. They continue to speak up for their “rights”. Or they may ask you, “Where do YOU get the RIGHT?”

    The problem is that the definition of terms like “morality”, “rights”, and “wrongs” is dangerously fluid. You seem to define morality as a set of behaviors consistent with some kind of internally generated value system. So far so good. But by that definition it makes no sense of you to judge MY behavior as “wrong”. For example, if I decide to pave a forest to make room for commercial expansion, and I destroy the habitat and perhaps even cause a few species to go extinct in the process, just because you happen to value the preexisting state of that environment, it makes no sense for you to say to me “that action is wrong”. It would only make sense if “wrong” or “morality” was some kind of a universal objective actual thing that exists outside of either one of us. And most people prove by their own behavior and speech that they do in fact define it that way. This means that when people like you and me discuss “morality” with another person, we may be talking about very different things.

    That atheists continue to speak in these terms demonstrates they don’t get it. And it’s the work of good philosophers to get atheists past this idea. Let’s accept that the universe provides no meaning, purpose, or morals. If we can do that, we atheists will stop running around making moral proclamations as if we are little god-like moral authorities ourselves and start getting to the practical work of identifying our shared values and working towards furthering them.

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