I am sure this has been a breath-taking enterprise for you. You must be wondering when will it end and what actually is the value of all this abstract thinking? I should tell you to relax. This is the last unit of this course. And in this unit we shall try to give a sense of the value of philosophy in your personal life and in the life of the society. You will realize that though philosophy appears to be useless, yet its usefulness cannot really be quantified.
At the end of this unit, you should be able to:
demonstrate that philosophical knowledge is more a treasure than it is for utility
discuss philosophy as not only good for life but as necessary for a good life.
3.0 MAIN CONTENT
3.1 The Value of Philosophy
You will remember in the introductory sections of this course, we repeatedly said that philosophical knowledge is not a useful knowledge; it is rather a free knowledge. It is sought for the sole purpose of truth or knowledge itself. If this is the case, it means that philosophy is “useless”, it has no value and therefore probably should not be studied at all. It is a waste of time.
Well let us think again. The fact that philosophy is sought not for any production or extrinsic end, does not mean it is useless; it is actually a sign of nobility and dignity. Aristotle explains it, as follows “Clearly then it is not for extrinsic advantage that we seek this knowledge; for just as we call a man independent who exists for himself and not for another, so we call this the only independent science since it alone exists for itself. For this reason its acquisition might justly be supposed to be beyond human power, since in many respect human nature is servile, in which case … God alone can have this privilege, and man should only seek the knowledge which is within his reach” (Met. 1.2 (982b25-30)). This is why philosophy, although not an art, is in the curriculum of the liberal art. It serves no other end beyond itself and is pursued for its own
sake. On the other hand servile art are not free. They serve the external purposes and satisfy temporal needs: for example, Engineering for bridge building; Economics for increase in production; Medicine for curing disease; etc. But a philosopher simply studies for the love of wisdom. Therefore, to say that philosophy is not useful in the sense of producing external effects does not render it without value. On the contrary, it is because philosophy is precious and precious like jewel, it is not to be used, but to be treasured. Philosophy has a higher value above and beyond other sciences. It is knowledge of the first and highest cause, and in a way, it is a divine science.
It is always the desire of man to overcome his limitations. That desire is rooted in the very nature of man. That which makes man specifically human is his intellect, according to Aristotle, which in him is something divine (Ethics 10.7). By his intellect man shares the nature of pure spirit.
Since spirits have no material cares, wisdom alone is their food.
This is also the case with human mind. This is why Thomas Aquinas says: “To live a life of pleasure is beastly; to live the active social life is human; but to live the contemplative life is angelic or superhuman. According to Jacques Maritain, although he/she remains truly human, the contemplative person lives a life better than the purely human life.
Again, to say that philosophy is useless does not mean that philosophy has no benefit to human kind. The service of truth or the contemplation of truth is a great benefit to man, it answers the need of man’s rational nature. It gives man a profound view of reality, it enables him to give a
stable orientation to his entire conscious life, it makes man more truly human and indeed more than human. Without philosophy man would only be limited to the practical concerns of life and the things that bring material success but he would fail to the see the true interest of man. This is why Chesterton notes that the most impractical man is the practical man. We can see now that philosophy is not altogether useless. It is useless only for those who do not want to make use of it. It usefulness is not as a means, it is not a means of making life more comfortable, but it helps us to understand the very purpose of life and the reasons for caring, suffering and of course hoping. Science and technology are useful in the sense that they provide us with the means to master the forces of nature. This is the sense in which knowledge is power, using the words of Francis Bacon. But we also know that knowledge can be put to a good use or a bad use. Philosophy does not give us power but it gives us the direction on how to use the power in service of the ultimate end of human life. It is in line with this that Mortimer J. Adler rightly notes: “The more science we possess, the more we need philosophy; for the more power we have, the more we need direction” (Great Ideas from Great Books, pt.1,ch.4).
3.2 Philosophy and Society
For the Greeks, the value of philosophy was so strong that even knowledge for practical purposes was looked down upon. This is why Plato believes that the one who is most fit to govern a city is the philosopher. This was because the philosopher was believed to have achieved the knowledge of the first principles, one who was not merely satisfied with the appearances. Therefore, just as reason must rule the perfect soul, so the philosophers rule the ideal city. (Rep. 473d) “Until philosophers are kings and princess of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one … cities will never have rest from their evils – no, nor the human race.”
Therefore, in the society today, philosophers should not shy away from discussing contemporary social problems. It is only the wise man who can give counsel in matters requiring direction. The wise man does not have to rule, but he has the responsibility even to teach and instruct the kings, the rulers or the leaders.
A philosopher who wants to discuss social and political problems should first of all acquaint himself with the nature and details of such problems. However, philosophers are not advised to be rulers since this will pose a danger to their vocation of contemplating the truth. According to
Immanuel Kant, “That kings should be philosophers, or philosophers kings, can scarce be expected; nor is it to be wished, since the enjoyment of power inevitably corrupts the judgment of reason, and perverts its liberty.” In other words, to ask a philosopher to assume the responsibility and power of the king is to punish him. The function of the philosopher as a philosopher is to contemplate the truth and not to rule. He can teach the necessary principles of social order, and not even to offer practical solutions to transitory problems of the state. What we need in matters of government is not just the virtue of wisdom, but also the virtue of prudence. Thus we can go by the saying which is attributed to Thomas Aquinas: Let the wise teach us, the prudent govern us, and the good pray for us.
Philosophy is useless because it is supper useful. It is a priceless knowledge. You are lucky if you possess the wisdom of philosophy.
This has been a long intellectual journey. What we have presented to you is the summary of the body of knowledge called philosophy. It is reflective, it is argumentative but above all, it is an exercise of reason. I believe you have enjoyed it and I wish you good luck in your tests and examinations.
6.0 TUTOR-MARKED ASSIGNMENT
- Why do people think that philosophy is not a useful science?
- Why do you think the philosopher should not rule?