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What is philosophy and why should people care about it?

asked Aug 25 '10 at 00:00

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦
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edited Sep 22 '10 at 12:00


“Philosophy? Who needs it!?” Ayn Rand asked and answered this question in an address with that title, which she gave to the West Point graduating class on March 6th in 1974. Her answer was: You do!

What is philosophy?

In her words, it is that science which

studies the fundamental nature of existence, of man, and of man's relationship to existence. As against the special sciences, which deal only with particular aspects, philosophy deals with those aspects of the universe which pertain to everything that exists. In the realm of cognition, the special sciences are the trees, but philosophy is the soil which makes the forest possible.

She, in that article and elsewhere, goes on to point out that philosophy has five branches:

  • Metaphysics is the science that deals with the fundamental nature of reality as such, rather than any particular aspect

  • Epistemology is the science that deals with the methods of thought by man and how we can come to know about reality, how to form concepts and thoughts, and how to integrate simpler thoughts into more comprehensive thoughts

  • Ethics is the science that deals with how man should act in the face of the conditions he finds himself in, centered on what he should value and why, showing why he needs principles and then examining those principles

  • Politics is the science that deals with how man should interact with and organize himself with respect to other men, ultimately leading to the discovery of rights and the role of government

  • and Esthetics is the science that deals with the nature and value of art in man’s life, its role in integrating his philosophic outlook and providing much-needed emotional fuel for his life

Why should people care about it?

Her answer to that was that its influence was inescapable. The mere fact that man is a conceptual being makes him forever dependent on philosophy, that no matter what he will act on at least some sort of implicit philosophy, which is then going to affect his life for good or for ill. In her words,

the principles you accept (consciously or subconsciously) may clash with or contradict one another; they, too, have to be integrated. What integrates them? Philosophy. A philosophic system is an integrated view of existence. As a human being, you have no choice about the fact that you need a philosophy. Your only choice is whether you define your philosophy by a conscious, rational, disciplined process of thought and scrupulously logical deliberation—or let your subconscious accumulate a junk heap of unwarranted conclusions, false generalizations, undefined contradictions, undigested slogans, unidentified wishes, doubts and fears, thrown together by chance, but integrated by your subconscious into a kind of mongrel philosophy and fused into a single, solid weight: self-doubt, like a ball and chain in the place where your mind's wings should have grown.

People should care about philosophy because man’s whole life depends on it, where, as Objectivist economist and philosopher Dr John Ridpath put it in blunt terms, “bad ideas KILL.”

answered Sep 19 '10 at 18:38

JJMcVey's gravatar image

JJMcVey ♦
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Man lives in active contemplation of his own power to choose, of his vulnerability and mortality, of the forces that affect him in nature and his social environment, and of the limited extent of his knowledge. Philosophy is essentially the skin of this reflective capacity. Figuring out what to do, what to choose, and what to believe, in all the situations of life, and making it consistent so that one choice doesn't invalidate another, is just what philosophy amounts to. As philosophy, we can draw on the wisdom of thousands of years of experience and the insights of many great thinkers to supplement our own understanding. For the exact same reason that one doesn't want to be stupid or blind or ignorant or clueless, one does want to have a philosophy.

answered Nov 08 '10 at 22:03

Mindy%20Newton's gravatar image

Mindy Newton ♦
(suspended)

edited Nov 08 '10 at 22:09

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Asked: Aug 25 '10 at 00:00

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Last updated: Nov 08 '10 at 22:09