Society & Culture & Entertainment Society & Culture Misc

Philosophy and the Practical

For people who are not able to see the value and beauty of philosophy, it is easy to accuse it of being impractical. Indeed, there are some problems in philosophy which would easily be characterized as too lofty or too useless for the practical minded. It is said that some ancient Greek skeptics have to be followed by their students for fear that their skeptical masters would fall into holes; after all, they don't recognize that any holes really exist. When the medieval era entered, one of the questions that plague the medieval thinkers is how many angels can stand on the tip of a needle. At present, no contemporary philosopher would seem to be interested in the question; more so, to somebody who is just a typical person living a typical life. When someone surveys the contemporary scene, the field of philosophy has become so technical, with its large volume of jargons and symbols and unfamiliar termsthat one would get the impression that the only person who can understand a contemporary philosopher is another professional philosopher. Philosophers nowadays seem to be talking about problems that only interest individuals wearing the same coat; as such, people from outside the field find it hard to see any practical value in philosophy.

This has not always been the case. During the ancient Greece, most philosophers believe that philosophy should be continuous with life. Being a philosopher for them is to actively engage in the world. This is the reason why Plato, one of the greatest ancient philosophers, argued that philosopher-kings should be the one to rule the state because they are the ones who vigorously use their reason to decide the true, the good and the beautiful for the welfare of the state and its people. The political philosophy of John Locke has an immense influence on the building of democratic societies. There are other lots of examples of philosopher's influence on many different facets of societies but it is enough to say that it is inaccurate to characterize philosophy as essentially impractical. Ethics and socio-political philosophy are some branches of philosophy that have great practical relevance. But there are branches of philosophy that seem technical in nature and whose concerns are impractical in the sense that thinking about them would not afford you of bread or boost your business sales. Epistemological questions like ‘how do you know that you know?' and metaphysical questions like ‘what sort of beings exists?' fall in this category. Indeed, these questions can easily be seen as impractical but there seems to be more to the value of a field of inquiry than just its practical relevance.

Perhaps we should not categorize something as lacking in or having no value just because its concerns happen to be impractical. Part of the nature of man is to question the things around him, to analyze the presuppositions that underlie his ways of looking in the world and by learning to do that is already to be a philosopher. These concerns may not have the immediate practical benefits that characterize the sciences but they have an overall effect on the ways an individual navigates his life. One of the tasks of philosophy is to question our most fundamental beliefs, things that we take for granted, and see if we are warranted in upholding those beliefs in the light of reason and evidence. Asking these questions and attempting to answer them may not be practical in the sense that we are using it here but they are immensely valuable in enlarging one's sense of life and its possibilities and it also frees one from the tyranny of different ideologies and societal manipulations.

In the end, there may really be philosophical questions that for a practical man will only interest a person whose source of living is to do philosophy. This however does not mean that these questions are ultimately of no value. Perhaps their value lies in the kind of intellectual challenge that they pose to the philosopher or to anyone interested in them. Philosophical questions are deeply engaging because they admit of no easy answers and there is no consensus as to how one ought to pursue them or what methods to use in coming up with intellectually respectable answers. This is the main reason why the questions that engaged the earliest living philosophers are still the same questions that baffle the present ones.  Perhaps the value is in the active engagement with the problems, regardless of whether this results to practical outcomes or not. Someone from outside the field would rarely appreciate this value but he is simply not in the position to conclude that the philosophical endeavor is ultimately fruitless in the end.After all, any sports can be impractical in the same sense but one cannot say that these are valueless just because one does not happen to be a sports-minded person.

Copyright 2013 © Ian Anthony B. Davatos

Leave a reply