Monday, 25 February 2013

Why Philosophy: From Bertrand Russell

If we are not to fail in our endeavour to determine the value of philosophy, we must first free our minds from the prejudices of what are wrongly called “practical" men. The “practical man, as this word is often used, is one who recognizes only material needs, who realizes that men must have food for the body, but Is oblivious of the necessity of providing food for the mind. If all men were well off, if poverty and disease had been reduced to their lowest possible point, there would still remain much to be done to produce a valuable society; and even in the existing world the goods of the mind are at least as important as the goods of the body. It is exclusively among the goods of the mind that the value of philosophy is to be found; and only those who are not indifferent to these goods can be persuaded that the study of philosophy is not a waste of time. 
. . . Philosophy is to be studied, not for the sake of any definite answers to its questions, since no definite answers can, as a rule, be known to be true, but rather for the sake of the questions themselves; because these questions enlarge our conception of what is possible, enrich our intellectual imagination and diminish the dogmatic assurance which closes the mind against speculation; but above all because, through the greatness of the universe which philosophy contemplates, the mind also is rendered great, and becomes capable of that union with the universe which constitutes its highest good.

Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1912), selections from Chapters 1, 14, and 15.

Why Philosophy: from The Mansions of Philosophy

The busy reader will ask, is all this philosophy useful? It Is a shameful question: We do not ask it of poetry, which is also an imaginative construction of world incompletely known. If poetry reveals to us the beauty our untaught eyes have missed, and philosophy gives us the wisdom to understand and forgive, it is enough, and more than the world’s wealth. Philosophy will not fatten our purses, nor lift us to dizzy dignities in a democratic state; it may even make us a little careless of these things. For what if we should fatten our purses, or rise to high office, and yet all the while remain ignorantly naive, coarsely unfurnished in the mind, brutal in behavior, unstable in character, chaotic in desire, and blindly miserable?

... Perhaps philosophy will give us, if we are faithful to it, a healing unity of soul. We are so slovenly and self- contradictory in our thinking; it may be that we shall clarify ourselves, and pull ourselves together into  consistency, and be ashamed to harbor contradictory desires or beliefs. And through unity of mind may come  that unity of purpose and character which makes a personality, and lends some order and dignity to our existence. 

Will Durant The Mansions of Philosophy, 1929  p.x