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Why aren't more people interested in philosophy? And what should be done to change their minds?

Ayn Rand wrote some great stuff about this. She explained why men need philosophy. But most people won't read her arguments, or won't actually study them well enough to understand what she was saying. After they understood her philosophy, they'd see the value, but they don't see the value beforehand because their own pre-existing philosophy is an anti-philosophy. There's a sort of chicken and egg problem here. Does Objectivism have a solution to it?

I think even most people who read Atlas Shrugged don't come away actually understanding it very well.

asked Nov 29 '14 at 22:21

Curi's gravatar image


edited Nov 30 '14 at 12:40

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

As the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink.

I'd guess that religion is probably one of the major problems. It's specifically set up to try to scare people away from thinking for themselves. But people do have free will.

(Nov 30 '14 at 11:23) anthony anthony's gravatar image

The U.S. political left has lots of atheists who aren't interested in philosophy or reason. I haven't found atheists to generally be more rational. I don't see how religion is the issue.

(Nov 30 '14 at 14:16) Curi Curi's gravatar image

I didn't mean to imply that religion was the only issue, just that it's one of them.

Perhaps mysticism would have been a better term, but then I'd almost be begging the question.

Truth be told I don't think there's a simple answer to your question beyond that more people don't choose to be interested in philosophy.

(Dec 01 '14 at 01:14) anthony anthony's gravatar image

To clarify my point: if religion was a major issue (and independent of the other major issues – which it actually isn't), then you'd expect on average for atheists to be majorly better, but I don't see that. For this reason, I'm not convinced that religion is a major issue here. (I have in mind US Christians and Jews. For some religions like Islam, I do see the average adherent being worse.)

(Dec 01 '14 at 01:19) Curi Curi's gravatar image

In my anecdotal experience, atheists do on average tend to be more rational. Given that religion itself is, by definition, irrational, at least atheists potentially have one thing going for them. But I don't know of any formal study which supports or contradicts that.

(Dec 01 '14 at 01:57) anthony anthony's gravatar image

If I were asked this question, "why aren't more people interested in philosophy", I would say the reasons fall into these categories...

  1. Less introspective by nature

  2. The consequences of living by a mishmash philosophy aren't bad enough to compel one to examine and search for a working philosophy

  3. Preference for the belief in an afterlife

[and combinations of the above]

(Mar 06 '15 at 11:09) Marce11o Marce11o's gravatar image
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Ayn Rand ... explained why men need philosophy. But most people won't read her arguments, or won't actually study them well enough to understand what she was saying.... [There is a] problem here. Does Objectivism have a solution to it?

The underlining is added, and that's the key. "Most" people may be very slow to change until they see enough other people doing it first and setting an example for others; but most is not all. There will be some who will be moved by Ayn Rand's words and will lead the way for others. Here is how Ayn Rand expressed it in the concluding paragraph of her Introduction to the 25th Anniversary Edition of The Fountainhead:

It does not matter that only a few in each generation will grasp and achieve the full reality of man's proper stature -- and that the rest will betray it. It is those few that move the world and give life its meaning -- and it is those few that I have always sought to address. The rest are no concern of mine; it is not me or The Fountainhead that they will betray: it is their own souls.

This presupposes that people remain free (from physical force by the government) to read Ayn Rand and think about her ideas and begin to apply those ideas in practice. If governmental censorship is imposed on a country before the spread of a rational philosophy can gain enough momentum to stop it, the country is doomed. In "The Establishing of an Establishment" (PWNI Chapter 14), Ayn Rand explained (3rd paragraph before the end of the article):

So long as a society does not take the ultimate step into the abyss by establishing censorship, some men of ability will always succeed in breaking through. But the price -- in effort, struggle and endurance -- is such that only exceptional men can afford it. Today, originality, integrity, independence have become a road to martyrdom, which only the most dedicated will choose, knowing that the alternative is much worse. A soceity that sets up these conditions as the price of achievement, is in deep trouble.

... it is the moral character of decent average men that has no chance under the rule of entrenched mediocrity. The genius can and will fight to the last. The average man cannot and does not.

Ayn Rand actually discussed this topic at length in her very first nonfiction book, For the New Intellectual (FNI). The opening article describes people as being classified into four groups according to their psycho-epistemology: Attilas, Witch Doctors, producers (including rational intellectuals), and human ballast. The crucial key to the rise and advance of civilization is the influence of the producers (relying on reason), as against the primordial alliances of Attilas (men of force) and Witch Doctors (men of faith) seeking to suppress and subjugate all the others.

Update: Pyramid of Ability

In the comments, the questioner asks why some people are interested in philosophy while most others are not, i.e., what explains the difference. Ayn Rand's view is indicated in the final paragraph of her article, "The Establishing of an Establishment" (PWNI Chap. 14):

In Atlas Shrugged, I discussed the "pyramid of ability" in the realm of economics. There is another kind of social pyramid. The genius who fights "every form of tyranny over the mind of man" is fighting a battle for which lesser men do not have the strength, but on which their freedom, their dignity, and their integrity depend. It is the pyramid of moral endurance.

Ayn Rand expressed a similar "pyramid" perspective in another article, "The Chickens' Homecoming" (in ROP):

The task of philosophy requires the total best of a mind's capacity; the responsibility is commensurate. Most men are unable to form a comprehensive view of life: some, because their ability is devoted to other professions; a great many, because they lack the ability. But all need that view and, consciously or subconsciously, directly or indirectly, they accept what philosophy offers them.

Leonard Peikoff's book, The DIM Hypothesis, elaborates further on the differences between integration (I), misintegration (M), and disintegration (D) in man's cognitive methodology, and why 'I' is so much more difficult than 'D' or 'M' for an average person to achieve on his own, particularly in a culture that is dominated by 'D' or 'M'.

Update: Can Abilities Change?

A comment asks:

Regarding the pyramids [of ability], are these differing abilities of men a matter of nature or nurture? Either way, can they be changed by any means in adulthood?
  • Nature versus nurture is an important topic in the special sciences. It isn't something that philosophy by itself can answer.

  • "Changed" by whom? (Referring to abilities.) To some degree, a person can change his own abilities over time if he so chooses and makes the effort. But if the issue is someone else somehow trying to change a person's abilities, that suggests the use of physical force, which only destroys a person.

A further comment asks if Objectivists can offer any "opinion" about "nature versus nurture" without necessarily having any specific knowledge about it. Regarding intellectual ability, my own best view is that it's probably a type of developed aptitude. The basic aptitude probably would be a "nature" issue, while the development of it probably would be mostly a "nurture" issue in cases where the individual makes a strongly motivated volitional choice and effort for self-development. Objectivism identifies man as a being of volitional consciousness, but also recognizes that volitional choice and effort alone can't produce a highly developed aptitude if the underlying potential is lacking, just as a potential alone is not sufficient to assure the actualization of it.

answered Dec 03 '14 at 09:52

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦

edited Dec 07 '14 at 02:47

The primary question, "Why aren't more people interested in philosophy?", is not addressed in this answer. The answer is more a claim that it doesn't matter because a minority will be interested somehow, for some reason (I'd like to know how that works, specifically, too – why those minority act differently, what exactly is going on there).

(Dec 03 '14 at 13:58) Curi Curi's gravatar image

Regarding the pyramids, are these differing abilities of men a matter of nature or nurture? Either way, can they be changed by any means in adulthood?

(Dec 04 '14 at 02:18) Curi Curi's gravatar image

Do Objectivists have divided opinions on nature/nurture? Or is there a typical view?

(Dec 07 '14 at 01:50) Curi Curi's gravatar image
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Asked: Nov 29 '14 at 22:21

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Last updated: Mar 06 '15 at 11:09