It’s curious that the importance of philosophy has ever been questioned, but this is probably attributable to two simple facts: people are naturally curious, and there is no money in philosophy. But it seems even more curious that the question, “Why is philosophy important?” sounds completely rational, whereas if I were to ask, “Why are smart phones important?” it would sound not only stupid, but extremely desperate as a petty attempt to wage psychological war on (primarily) industry and technology.
As fate would have it, we can use elements of philosophy to begin to answer both of these questions, and that’s a start for why philosophy is important. I begin the never-ending discussion below, but anyone who wants to take these ideas further should begin with this introduction to philosophy course that starts in Ancient Greece and works its way to the present day.
Let’s look at a very basic definition of philosophy, as supplied by Oxford Dictionaries:
Philosophy: The study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality and existence.
The definition seems to speak for itself, doesn’t it? There is even some rationale in the idea that if, after reading the definition, you still need convincing of philosophy’s importance, then the chances are very good that you will never be convinced of it.
But that’s some pretty harsh philosophy right there. There’s a lot more to this ancient field than its definition.
This is often considered one of our greatest evolutionary gifts. It also gives us a good excuse to defend philosophy.
When we are born, we are essentially a clean slate. Obviously we have specific genetic identities that give us certain tendencies and characteristics, but we are not born with an innate sense of morality and understanding. Our consciousness allows us to make our own decisions. We have control over what we do, how we respond, even what we think. For example, we can direct our attention to anything as we please. So why not use this skill to learn to think like a philosopher, as you can with this course?
Naturally, then, we have questions. And to answer these questions, we have ideas. These ideas are the beginnings of philosophy. Our observations concerning our own ideas, as well as the inherited ideas of others, are the foundations of who we decide to be, both morally and metaphysically. This is philosophy, and this is what makes us human.
Light And Dark
The common image of philosophy is of old men in marble cathedrals contemplating poetry and happiness. But philosophy is not necessarily “good.” Ideas that cause harm, that establish regimes, that hurt and condemn and contribute to the evil in the world are all philosophical as well. This is not the aim of academic philosophy, of course (although no doubt these ideas are often discussed), but it is a fact of human reality.
Where do the ideas come from that cause people to strap bombs to their chests and kill innocent civilians? Philosophy. Which is why it is so important to consider the fact that everyone is contemplating the same questions as everyone else – reality, the nature of existence, purpose, good, evil, eternal life – yet coming to wildly different conclusions. After all, do you know what you are willing to die for?
Deep questions require deep thinking. You don’t need any philosophy background to take this course that teaches you how to run a philosophy salon.
Ideologically, philosophy is clearly important. But what about the study of philosophy? What about personal, non-academic experimentation? What about philosophy and, say, business? (as a matter of fact, this blog post examines just that: leadership philosophies to success in any situation).
The benefits here are numerous and, while less profound, certainly more concrete.
- For starters, philosophical thinking strengthens your ability to distinguish between well-reasoned arguments and arguments you are trying to force yourself, or others, to believe.
- Self-consciousness takes a huge leap forward in people who practice philosophy. You learn to consider yourself in a third-person point of view, to examine your faults more honestly, to be critical of things you would otherwise conceal.
- Empathy. Philosophy is fertile soil for struggling empathy. It allows you to transplant yourself, to observe things from a variety of perspectives, to sort value from falsities and find common ground and understanding.
While you will develop critical thinking skills by studying and practicing philosophy, you’ll go farther faster with a little bit of help. Join this five-star Critical Thinker Academy course and learn the concepts and skills that can make you a more effective and independent thinker.