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Philosophy of Man

WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY?

(Based on "The Value of Philosophy" by B. Russell)

The Essentials

Defining Philosophy
Reflexive "What is philosophy?" is a reflexive question in the threefold sense: it is about philosophy, it is raised
Question: by philosophers themselves and, last but not least, it represents an old and difficult philosophical problem.
This multiple reflexivity is the reason why trying to find out what philosophy is inevitably becomes not only a
way of dealing with philosophy but actually the way of doing philosophy. Once we start discussing philosophy
we cannot escape its intellectual grip. Even an explicit denial of philosophy remains within its spell - it is a kind
of self-refuting philosophy at best, an un-reflected act of theory hatred (misology) at worst. In this sense one
can talk about the inescapability of philosophizing independent from its potential benefits.
Note: Notice that this kind of reflexivity and self-involvement does not occur in other disciplines. (For instance:
"What is mathematics?" is not a mathematical question.)

Elusiveness: If the question "what is philosophy?" represents a vexing philosophical issue it should not come as a big
surprise that it resists any attempt to be answered in a definitive manner. Philosophical issues and reflections
are notorious for their inconclusiveness. This is particularly true of the question "what is philosophy?” In fact,
it is virtually impossible to give one universally accepted definition of philosophy. All philosophers will not
agree even upon some general formal characteristics, for instance that philosophy is a discursive activity of our
intellect. Widely circulated definitions of philosophy are either too general or too one-sided to be considered
as anything better than useful hints about the character of philosophical thinking. In that respect philosophy is
a unique discipline. No other subject in the curriculum has to agonize with a similar problem of an elusive self-
definition.

Why It Is So Difficult To Define Philosophy?


Subject Matter: 1) Philosophy does not have any specific subject matter and hence cannot be defined with regard to
any particular area of investigation. It may deal with every dimension of human life and can raise questions in
any field of study or endeavor (owing to this circumstance we have a variety of philosophies-of
discipline and philosophies-of-subject). Hence trying to tie philosophy exclusively to one or any specific sphere
would be an unjustified limitation of its reach.

Questioning: 2) Philosophy pursues questions rather than answers. The responsibility of philosophy is not so much to
answer our questions as to question given answers. It is not an exaggeration to say that a philosopher is
someone who can make a riddle out of any answer. A true philosopher is not bound by any particular "truths"
that set limits to his/her urge to continue asking questions. Hence philosophy cannot be defined with recourse
to some accepted tenets, beliefs and established class of propositions.

History: 3) Philosophy changes historically both in respect to its content and its character. Over the centuries it has
assumed very different forms (wisdom, science, art, piety, critique, analysis, linguistic game, literary genre) and
has been practiced in very different settings (market place, temple, monastery, studio, university, institute,
conference, the Internet). The only overriding notion that could encompass all these manifestations of
philosophy is something like "mental activity", but it is too general to give an informative definition of what
philosophy is. Thus we cannot find a definition of philosophy that would be both essential and sensitive to its
historical variety.
Note: There are many other activities that are of mental nature too. One may be tempted to say that
philosophy deals with concepts (which are true) but many sciences do the same.

A Side Approach to Philosophy

Three Regards: In view of the above difficulties philosophers tend to refrain from giving any object-related definition of
philosophy and by rule are very reluctant to single out one exemplary form of philosophizing. We are on a
much safer ground if we choose instead to demonstrate what philosophy is not (negative way) or (at best)
what distinguishes it from other intellectual pursuits (dialectical way). While we cannot commit ourselves to
one single definition of philosophy we can formulate many pertinent determinations of philosophizing. Rather
than by defining its object (field) or the supposed permanent core essence) the nature of philosophy could be
(better) determined by making reference to its attitude, source and objective.

Philosophic Attitude
Striving: The very meaning of the word philosophy (derived from the Greek compound philo + sophia) points
at once to a special attitude of a philosopher and her/his objective. According to this etymology,
"philosophy" is "a love of wisdom", which means that it combines both cognitive and
emotional dimension of our mind. "Love" is named first and it is not knowledge - it is a craving and
striving to attain the object of love. But striving to learn precedes knowledge. We need the passion
of love to start and keep questioning the things that are either too familiar or too removed from
everyday concerns. The continuation of this striving points to the essence of wisdom. Its posture is a
passionate search for wisdom, not the possession of it. Nothing great has ever been accomplished
without passion. Thus knowledge proves again less defining for philosophy than its posture.
In western tradition it is not possible to attain wisdom as a final equilibrium. Consequently,
philosophy is a state of mind (inquisitive) rather than a particular kind of knowledge.

Love Wisdom
Emotion Cognition
Striving Accomplishment
Attitude State of Mind

The Source of Philosophy


Wonder: The main source of philosophic questioning is the sense of wonder, a childlike wonder just about everything.
Philosophy starts with bewilderment, astonishment, amazement about the world, life, and us. Philosophy
arises from the workings of an inquisitive mind which is bewildered by seemingly common things or by those
that appear to be entirely impractical. It emerges out of readiness to follow the call of human intellectual
curiosity beyond common sense acquaintanceship with the world. The same idea is expressed in the old saying
that the business of philosophy is to deal with the things supposedly familiar, but not really known and
cognized. Philosophy reveals the illusion of knowledge where none in reality exists. Indeed, everything
touched by philosophic bewilderment miraculously changes its character from a known to an unknown.
B. Russell resuscitates the same idea in claiming that philosophy "keeps alive our sense of wonder by showing
familiar things in an unfamiliar aspect". As soon as we begin to philosophize, we find that even the
most everyday things lead to confusing problems while those initially "impractical" issues often prove very
significant even for our mundane needs and certainly for our self-understanding.

The Aim of Philosophy


Insight: Philosophy does not stay by pure bewilderment and amazement. Philosophers articulate their initial
amazement by formulating questions (mostly what- and why-questions) that guide their curiosity toward
comprehension of the problem. This does not mean that they seek a simple formula for all the puzzles of the
world (the proverbial "philosophic stone"). Philosophy aims at understanding and enlightenment rather than
shorthand answers. While striving to bring some light into the complexity of human life and the universe it
pursues the old longing for the truth about the whole. Philosophy is absolutely committed to the truth, "the
whole truth and nothing but the truth". However, the truth of philosophy is never given and complete as we
cannot definitely close out the totality it strives to capture (as Lacan says: I always speak the truth but only
partial). Therefore the search for truth is rather like perpetual striving for more insight than for the final word
on the matters of life and the world. Whenever one is engaged in philosophizing the chances are that things
will become more complex and difficult than before.

Philosophic Questioning

Questions Man is a questioning being. But our questions could be of very different kinds. Some are simple and casual,
some very difficult and complex, some mindboggling or even obscure.

Type of Questions Asked by Answered by


Common Sense,
Little Questions All Human Beings.
Everyday Experience.

Collecting Data,
Scientists,
Analyzing Facts,
Big Questions Experts,
Advancing Hypotheses, Providing
Technocrats.
Explanations.

Analyzing Concepts,
Assessing Consistency,
Children,
Fundamental Suggesting Alternatives,
Curious Individuals,
Questions Reexamining Framework,
Philosophers.
Evaluating Standards,
Raising New Issues.

Inconclusive When we look at the history of philosophy it appears that philosophy never attains final conclusions about
Results anything. Even though philosophy takes its subject-matter both from our everyday experience and the
sciences, it constantly remains on the level of conceptual analysis, critical examination, new ideas, and so time
and again fails to produce definitive "positive results". Russell admits that philosophy is not very much
successful in providing "definite answers" to its questions but explains the apparent inconclusiveness of
philosophic answers partly as deceptive, partly as inevitable:

Answered (a) "Those questions that are already capable of definite answers are placed in the sciences, while those only
Questions: to which, at present, no definite answers can be given, remain to form the residue which is called philosophy."
Thus philosophic questions can turn into scientific truths as soon as they are answered. In other words, many
scientifically established truths have started as philosophic questions, but once they received definite answers
they get moved to the realm of science. If one is not familiar with the historical development of science and
does not know that its many questions originated in philosophy s/he may think that philosophers have been
doing philosophy over two thousand years without being able to produce anything valuable ("positive
results"). But this impression of perpetually continuing futility would be a very deceptive impression.

Unanswered (b) There are also many interesting questions both in science and philosophy that are currently unanswered.
Questions Sometimes it is difficult to predict whether and when they will be answered. Hence they could be pursued
both by philosophy and science (just think about the cosmological questions regarding the origin, size and
future of the universe, or the questions about the neurological foundations of our thinking and value
judgments). If it becomes clear that these questions are definitely answerable philosophy will deal with their
general implications while relegating them to the sciences.

Insoluble (c) Philosophy does not deal only with the questions that currently do not allow complete answers. It studies
Questions: the questions that are in principle not answerable. "There are many questions - and among them those that
are of the profoundest interest to our spiritual life - which, so far as we can see, must remain insoluble to the
human intellect unless its powers became of a quite different order from what they are now." In other words,
there are questions that are in principle insoluble although very important and interesting. For instance, the
questions like "What is the meaning of life?", "Does God exist?", "Does the universe have a final purpose?"
resist definite answers by their very nature. Typically these unanswerable questions tackle either Cosmology
(pertaining to the whole of the universe) or Theology (pertaining to the transcendent of the visible world).
Philosophy is interested in these two realms but it cannot encompass the whole of the universe as a given
object nor conclusively prove or disprove the transcendent content of religious beliefs.
Note: There have been many philosophers, from St. Thomas Aquinas to Descartes and Leibniz, who were
convinced that the content of religious belief could be proved to be true "by strict demonstration". That was
the ambition of Descartes' Meditations that purported to prove the existence of God and the immortality of
the soul. Based on his epistemological and logical studies Russell came to the conclusion that we must
renounce any hope in any valid proof of that kind.

Status of Questions Destination


Definitely Answered Questions Science
In Principle Answerable Questions Science
Currently Unanswerable Questions Philosophy
In Principle Unanswerable Questions Philosophy
Why philosophy appears to be a futile undertaking? For one, people overlook the positive answers reached by
philosophers but transferred to the sciences. For another, philosophy does keep asking unanswerable
questions.

Futility of Futility Reasons Outcome


Philosophy
Answered Questions Removed from
Apparent = Residue of unanswered questions
Philosophy
No Results in tackling unanswerable
Real Unanswered Questions Repeatedly Asked
questions
Productive If philosophy is just "a residue" of unanswered questions or a pursuit of unanswerable questions why should
Questions: we keep doing it? One may ask, why bother with problems we cannot solve? The answer is simple: just dealing
with the puzzle increases our understanding of the problem and the difficulties involved in it. Moreover,
without philosophic curiosity displayed in this way many important issues would have been overlooked or
forgotten a long ago. Thus by continuing to raise questions and studying their implications, as Russell points
out, we keep theoretical interest alive no matter whether it can yield positive results or not. This is a pretty
rational strategy as many questions that are now unanswered could turn one day into new

areas of study

. Those that are unanswerable in principle are still meaningful and important both intellectually and humanly.
Therefore, despite the fact that philosophy does not provide definitive answers it is not a futile activity of
human mind. It can achieve very profound and very significant insights into the world and the nature of human
condition. We just need to understand the special nature of philosophic questions, very different from
everyday and scientific inquiries.

Anamnesis If we piece together both the old and modern determinations of philosophic attitude and put them along
those of the source and the objective of philosophy, we obtain the following table of its main features:

A Screening of Philosophy
PHILOSOPHY Traditional Phrasing Modern Phrasing
Wonder Curiosity

Source Amazement Perplexity

Suffering Doubt

Loving Investigative

Attitude Contemplative Reflective

Questioning Critical

Wisdom Insight

Objective Truth Enlightenment

Tranquility Understanding

Comparison with Other Intellectual and Spiritual Pursuits


Philosophy does not emerge out of nothing nor does it live in separation from other disciplines and subjects. On the contrary, it is in
a constant interaction with them receiving intellectual stimuli and challenges both from within and without. Therefore trying to
explain the relations philosophy bears to science, art and religion, could tell us more about the nature of philosophy than any handy
definition which takes it in isolation from other areas. While many common links, points of contact and even overlaps make it
sometimes difficult to ascertain whether we are dealing with philosophy or some cognate disciplines, overall and in principle we can
distinguish philosophy from the following four areas of human endeavor.

Science - Philosophy
(1) Science is the methodical study of the universe in its various aspects (physical, chemical, and biological, social, mental).
Science deals with questions that can be decided by experiment and observation. Consequently, it can attain a "definite
body of truths" ("positive results") at least in some domains. Says Russell: "If you ask a mathematician, a mineralogist, a
historian or any other man of learning what definite body of truths has been ascertained by his science, his answer will last
as long as you are willing to listen." Wherever science is effective, it achieves not only "well defined"
but accurate and valid knowledge as well. Scientific knowledge advances by accumulation constantly superseding its
previous historical stages. Scientific language is univocal and its propositions have unambiguous reference.
However, science has its limits. It cannot tell us what is beautiful, good or just, what is the meaning of life, and what we can
hope for. Science does not provide evaluative and interpretive knowledge. Moreover, science does not include full
knowledge about itself. As Russell points out, the sciences cannot attain the unity of scientific knowledge by themselves. For
that purpose they need to turn into a meta-study, which surpasses their methods and competence and leads to philosophy.

Philosophy deals with those fundamental questions that underlie everyday notions or lay ground for scientific
concepts. Examples: Who am I? Where I am coming from? What is the meaning of life? Does the history of mankind lead
somewhere (or anywhere)? What is time? "Has the universe any unity of plan or purpose, or is it a fortuitous concourse of
atoms? Is consciousness a permanent part of the universe, giving hope of indefinite growth in wisdom, or is it a transitory
accident on a small planet on which life must ultimately become impossible? Are good and evil of importance to the
universe or only to man?" (Russell) These questions are as important as the big questions of science dealing with the
structure of matter or the evolution of organic life. They are about meanings and ends, not simply about facts.
Facts are relevant to philosophic study as well, but they alone cannot resolve philosophic questions. The latter both precede
and transcend scientific procedures. Although philosophic questions receive different answers throughout history, the
cognitive effort of philosophizing is not futile. If previous answers are seen to be inadequate this means that we can learn
from them which are a strong indication that past philosophies do not become obsolete by the mere flow of time. On the
contrary, the history of philosophy is itself an area of intensive philosophic study that constantly reveals new insights and
brings old ideas in new light.

Note: It seems that in this early work (written in 1912) Russell views the historical relation between philosophy and science
as a development from "speculation" to "positive knowledge". Philosophy and the sciences were one at the beginning of
Western culture but that unity fell apart for the benefit of scientific progress. A remnant of the initial unity is the practice of
calling philosophy a science or treating physics and mathematics as theoretical philosophies. As Russell indicates, well into
the 18th century the natural sciences were regarded as a variety of philosophy, the fact which is reflected in the title of
Newton's work Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (= The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy). There is
no other reason why we should still apply the Ph.D. (= Philosophiae Doctor) title to as different disciplines as mathematics or
chemistry. As time passes by the emancipated sciences strip away more and more of the original body of philosophic
knowledge. It is likely that some currently puzzling philosophic questions will be resolved with the new advances in
neurology, physiology, and physics. But many will remain forever in that "residue which is called philosophy". This means
that "positive knowledge" will never entirely replace philosophy, and "speculation" will never become absolutely pointless.

Art - Philosophy
(2) Art is a very diverse phenomenon which resists any simple and exhaustive definition. Like philosophy, the concept of art is
also an open one both historically and in terms of its possible current applications. Hence, different definitions only stress
different dimensions of art: formal signification, emotional expressiveness, intuitive character, meaningful organization of
interrelated parts, etc. We are on the safe ground if we say that art is a creative activity aimed at producing objects of
appreciation. No matter what is its form or content, art is oriented more toward subjective expression of views, unconscious
desires, and emotions than toward argumentation, cognition or transmission of information. It emits powerful messages but
the language of art is more visual, acoustic, metaphorical, allusive and therefore more ambiguous than the language of
philosophy.

Philosophy, in contrast, is rather a theoretical than productive activity. It seeks to find some inter-subjective methods
of inquiring truth and to establish the standards of evidence and norms for evaluating our beliefs, ideas and arguments
(Russell). It aims at rational knowledge and uses discursive methods in dealing with the views drawn from experience,
history, work, or any other realm of human life. Its language is conceptual although not so standardized as scientific
terminology. Philosophical language is very often equivocal and its references cannot be easily (if at all) checked by
observation and experiment. But its ideas are organized according to more rigorous procedures that are bound to the truth
and not only exposition of our opinions.

Note: Russell does not explicitly discuss the relation between philosophy and art, but his critique of subjective urge to
subsume the universe under the self indicates that he repudiates artistic approach to the world if it is supposed to provide
more profound cognition than science or philosophy. He rejects the "view which tells us that Man is the measure of all
things, that truth is man-made". For him, this is a kind of subjectivism which is determined solely by "the here" and "now"
of our own self - which is by definition limited and cannot encompass the universe from within itself. In contrast, he thinks
that a "free intellect will value more the abstract and universal knowledge" than the knowledge "brought by the senses, and
dependent, as such knowledge must be, upon an exclusive and personal point of view and a body whose sense-organs
distort as much as they reveal". Translated to our comparison, art is a great source of emotional satisfaction, but its
products are cognitively inferior to objective study and cannot replace science and philosophy.

Religion/Theology - Philosophy
(3) Religion and its conceptual articulation (theology) are grounded on a revealed truth. The former preaches certain beliefs
that make a claim to a privileged truth, the latter tries to make these beliefs understandable and believable by explaining
rationally the content of the main tenets. The attitude of all religions is well represented through the self-proclamation of
Jesus: "I am the truth." This identification between the Person and the truth is essential for religion and cannot be overcome
without losing the tautological mystique of religious message. If you ask God who is He the only appropriate answer would
be the biblical one: "I am who I am." Man cannot get more than this about God. Religious beliefs cannot and do not need to
be derived from controlled experience, let alone proved by strict demonstration (Russell). Their certainty is based on
personal acceptance of religious tradition and authority. The common aim of both religion and theology is to strengthen our
convictions and to give us an overarching sense of life and the universe.

Philosophy, by contrast, is a critical (sometimes even skeptical) activity of human mind based on the ability of natural reason
to understand and follow logical implications. Its aim is not to uphold any set of beliefs but rather to undermine everything
that tends to get inculcated in the mind. It is Pontius Pilate with his skeptical response "What is truth?" who assumes a
philosophical stance, not Jesus. In general, philosophy is a systematic effort to avoid any kind of dogma or cliché that can
arrest our questioning and suspicion. This is why philosophy often challenges faith and dogmatic tenets offering instead only
doubt and uncertainty. On the other hand, in regard to the intelligibility of the universe, it prefers the audacity of human
mind over religious epistemological modesty. However, while striving to capture the essence of the universe philosophy
does not construe extemporized theories but attempts to provide inter-subjectively acceptable reasons for proposed
hypotheses.

Note: Russell recognizes that both philosophy and religion arise from the concern for fundamental questions of meaning
and purpose. As he puts it elsewhere, they both emerge from the insight that the whole and infinity transcend our finite
self. However, religion accounts for the quality of infinity by invoking the idea of other (true) world, whereas philosophy
"does not divide the universe into two hostile camps “and in fact combats the religious doubling of the world. It strives to
achieve more impersonal ("impartial") and more comprehensive contemplation of this world in its totality. Its goal is to
enlarge our own self by contemplatively partaking in the infinity of the universe (this is a kind of "objective Platonism" which
negates the subjective moment as a distortion of the truth). In this sense philosophy, for Russell, is "a contemplative vision"
or "speculation". (Russell uses the word "speculation" without any negative connotation because he takes it in its
Aristotelian sense of "sightseeing adventure for its own sake".)
Later on (in the forties) Russell started to regard the allegedly "residual character" of philosophical questions as an
unavoidable consequence of philosophy's placement "in-between" science and religion. According to this view, philosophy
is a neglected and uncertain area ("No Man's Land") stretching between the certainties of science and theology.

Eastern Wisdom - Philosophy


(4) Eastern Thought, has different forms ranging from Taoism to Zen-Buddhism and Transcendental Meditation; despite some
practically oriented strains (Confucianism), it is mostly intuitive, directed toward the Self and introspection; its insights come
from our inwardness that needs to be emptied from all external influences; the Self is meditative, with readymade precepts
for the resolution of all life problems; this is why so many self-help books draw on this tradition; Eastern sage is balanced,
poised, silent; his/her prototype is the Buddha. The findings of Eastern wisdom are not fully communicable which prevents
it from being entirely discursive and argumentative.

Philosophy as practiced in the Western tradition also tackles the Self but it, as Russell notes, believes that the Self must be
enriched by embracing the outside universe. Otherwise it is regarded as void and worthless. Philosophizing in the manner of
Western thought means engaging ourselves in a discursive activity of our intellect, rather than divining the blank slate of the
supposed Self; Western philosophy is also reflexive but more methodical and analytic; a Western philosopher is extrovert,
talkative, suspicious, relentless in the quest to think things through; his/her model is Faust = expanding knowledge even at
the cost of our soul.

Despite many deserved attempts to integrate Eastern thought (primarily Indian and Chinese) into Western intellectual
tradition the differences are so huge that it is advisable not to apply the same term "philosophy" (itself of Western origin) to
both.

EASTERN
Discipline SCIENCE ART RELIGION PHILOSOPHY
TRADITION

Means Explanation Expression Illumination Enlightenment


Understanding

Form Knowledge Creation Revelation Wisdom Insight

Goal Mastery Fulfillment Salvation Tranquility Truth


What does Philosophy know?
Knowledge: A deep commitment to knowledge is what unites Philosophy with the sciences. Yet the knowledge of science is not
the same as the knowledge of philosophy. The common origin, kindred procedures and obvious congruencies cannot
conceal big differences between philosophic and scientific knowledge. Philosophic knowledge is not "demonstrably
true" whereas scientific knowledge seems to be well established and accepted as truly supported by factual
evidence.

Methodology What kind of knowledge does philosophy boast if it does not consist in "definite" and "positive" answers? According
and to Russell, philosophy aims at the knowledge that could be described in one of the following ways:
Epistemology
(a) The knowledge that gives unity and system to the body of science (this is what we would nowadays call the
methodology or philosophy of science).
(b) The knowledge that critically examines the grounds for our beliefs (this comes down to epistemology or theory of
knowledge).
Are these two realms the only ones that are amenable to philosophic cognitions? Obviously not. Russell does not say
that these two kinds of knowledge are the only kinds of philosophic knowledge. He mentions them only as
representative examples of philosophic cognition (a tribute to his rationalistic and scientific preferences).

Truth: If we stayed only by (a) and (b) our conception of philosophy would be too narrow. Philosophic knowledge cannot be
reduced to the study of sciences or to the study of reasons for our beliefs. It is a pursuit of truth in a very broad
sense. Philosophy asks border and transcendent questions with regard to the sciences. It strives to give unity to all
human knowledge - not just the sciences. It is the best rational substitute for the ultimate truth in the absence of full
demonstrability for a whole range of "fundamental" questions. In order to keep "speculative interest" in truth alive
philosophy is permitted to go beyond "positive knowledge" and pure demonstration and formulate some ideas and
hypotheses that right now do not possess a sufficient empirical foundation and corroboration. However, by
venturing to go beyond established facts philosophy makes it possible for us to deal rationally with unascertainable
knowledge that would otherwise remain outside of human reach and interest. In addition to these speculative
concerns, philosophy provides guidance to our evaluations and to our quest for our personal truth: the meaning and
the purpose of our existence.

Union Note: By the end of his book, Russell makes several remarks about the nature of "philosophic knowledge" that sound
very platonic, something one would hardly expect from a logically and empirically minded philosopher. For instance,
despite his critique of the tendency to assert the Self at the expanse of the world he concedes that: "Knowledge is a
form of union of Self and not-Self". This statement goes counter the main stream of Modern philosophy which
conceives knowledge rather as a process of distinguishing Self from the object that should be represented as such: to
know something means to represent it in its distinctness from the knower. To take knowing as becoming one with
the object of knowing was an ancient doctrine which has found its last echo in the Renaissance. But Russell makes it
abundantly clear that this "union" cannot be accomplished by "taking the Self as it is" and projecting it to the world
("assimilating the universe to Man"). On the contrary, the Self needs to adjust itself to the world, to enlarge itself by
cognizing the world ("All acquisition of knowledge is an enlargement of the Self."). Hence the desired "enlargement
of the Self" depends on the full appreciation of the object, not the other way round. If these lines still sound
idealistic, the sort of idealism one can detect here is certainly not that which is called the "subjective idealism".
Russell's language (Self, not-Self, Union) should be perhaps linked to the very similar statements by F.H. Bradley, a
British Hegelian who had influenced Russell before he became a "logical empiricist" (cf. Bradley's Ethical
Studies, 1876).

Objectivity Philosophy does not divide the world into two opposing camps: one that suits our personal interest and the other
that appears inimical. It studies the whole impartially and objectively - the only "partiality" of philosophy is its
insistence on the truth. The desire for truth that Russell finds in a properly understood philosophic striving for the
enlargement of the Self is not limited to the theoretical realm. If consistently pursued it stretches into the "world of
action and emotion" where a philosopher seeks non-cognitive counterparts for impartial truth: compassionate love
and justice. Thus we obtain a unity of all three dimensions of human being.

Unity: Contemplation Action Emotion


Impartiality Justice Love
Is Philosophy Impractical?

Ineffectiveness: The inability of philosophy to produce positive and applicable knowledge gives rise to the view that it is a
"useless" pursuit. In comparison with other fields of human knowledge, particularly applied sciences, philosophy
really seems to be deprived of any practical value and effectiveness. This is generally regarded as its most serious
defect, especially nowadays when everybody values usefulness and effectiveness. As Einstein has noticed:
"People like chopping wood, because it shows immediate results." For good or for bad, philosophy does not have
any utility of that kind. (Russell) It is, therefore, widely perceived as a completely otiose activity in the world of
universal nitty-gritty (know-how). In short, it is worth of nothing. At best it is "innocent but useless trifling, hair
splitting distinctions, and controversies on matters concerning which knowledge is impossible." (Russell)
Maladjustment: Consequences: Philosophers appear as maladjusted and bungling individuals (for an illustration of how people
typically react to this inability of philosophy to be "successfully" engaged in world affairs, cf. The story of Thales
and a Thracian maid). Or worse, they are perceived as a threat for the accepted life routine or the status quo in
society. With its protracted questioning philosophy only complicates our life and disturbs the peace of our mind.
We live in a world of efficiency and effectiveness, not reflectiveness. Making things more difficult and more
uncertain in a culture wherein the ease of living becomes the law of everyday grooving makes philosophy
embarrassing, subversive and even dangerous.
Negative Russell names two main sources of negative attitudes toward philosophy:
Attitudes: (A) The influence of science (it would be more accurate to speak about scientism and technocratic consciousness),

and
(B) The influence of practical affairs (in fact of pragmatist, philistine consciousness).

The former recognizes only definite, applicable knowledge derived from scientific questions, while the latter
values only practical action as an immediate response to everyday trivial (= little) questions. The former does not
bear the indefinite, uncertain character of philosophic study; the latter does not tolerate philosophic
procrastination and the ineffectiveness of thinking. Both are insensitive toward the beneficial effects of the
uncertainty philosophers cultivate as their typical state of mind.
Misconceptions: Russell is convinced that both attitudes espouse a superficial view of philosophy based on some misconceptions.
These misconceptions pertain to:

(a) the ends of human life, and (b) the goods of philosophy.

Misconceptions Formed Under (A) Practical (B) Science Correct Conceptions of Life Ends and
Influence of Affairs: Goods of Philosophy:
Wealth, Know-How Self-Knowledge
Possession
Self-Realization
(a) Ends of Human Life Calculation, Control
Power, Fame Self-Contentment
Application, Utility

Pleasure
Gratification
Mind Game Arbitrariness Understanding and Reflection
(Giving Unity to Human Knowledge)
(b) Goods of Philosophy Critical Insights
Annoyance (Testing Grounds for Beliefs)
Speculation Foresight and Direction
(Keeping Speculative Interest alive)
Waste of Time
Ineffectiveness

The first group of misconception identifies ultimate human goals with acquisition, power or pleasure, whereas the other
inappropriately measures philosophical goods upon the yardstick of positive, tangible and useful results of other human endeavors.
These misconceptions are only prejudices of the people who are fascinated by material goods and the effectiveness of technology
(Russell calls them "instinctive men"). Who are they? And why are they "wrongly called practical men"?
They are modern philistines who view philosophical questioning as an idle game played by lazy, intellectual slackers who avoid real
problems of everyday life. These philistines present themselves as advocates of practical needs and concerns. But the philistine
notion of useful thinking is obviously formed upon the model of instrumental thinking ("what is the utility of this?") and doe s not
take into account practical concerns regarding our personal existence, identity and the sense of life. And precisely these concerns
make up the realm of the traditional "practical philosophy" which deals with the problem of "good life" and "just community". In
view of this, the notion of "useful" practicality in the sense of immediate and everyday "utility" is very narrow. This is the reason why
Russell indicates that in fact it is wrongly called practical (it should be perhaps named pragmatist).

What is the Value of Philosophy?


Why it is necessary to consider the question of value with regard to philosophical thinking? Simply put, because its value is not self-
evident. On the contrary, philosophy is under suspicion of being not only practically useless but of being deprived of any value. We
have admitted that philosophy is not useful in producing tangible, immediate results. It is so helpless that it cannot even pull a dog
out of its house (Hegel). The fact is that philosophical questions do not bring income, do not fix broken gadgets, and do not help us
attract the person we may like. But they are not worthless for that matter. They satisfy intellectual and spiritual needs (the "needs of
the mind"). They achieve their value indirectly, through their effect "upon the lives of those who study" philosophy.

A comparison with the sciences as to the respective impact on people gives the following picture (after Russell):
Impact of / Sciences Philosophy
on

(In)direct Impact on Personality Direct Impact on Personality


Students

Obvious, Tangible Impact Indirect Impact


Humankind (through common applications) (through some individuals)

Impact of The impact of the sciences on mankind could be described as "direct" only if we accept technology as an immanent
Science: extension of science, which is a very plausible supposition for modern science. Technology is the realm where
scientific discoveries find their practical applications. But what about the impact of science on those who study it?
That Russell believes it exists follows from the phrasing that "the study of physical science is to be recommended
not only, or primarily, because of the effect on the student". This must mean there is some impact on those who
study and do science. This effect could be either external (mentally absorbing or materially rewarding for the
student) or of a more cognitive nature (enlarging their knowledge, influencing their current scientific views). But if
we have in mind the potential influence of the content of the study on the personality and the general outlook of
the students, then it is difficult to see how it could be anything else but "indirect". What shapes the identity, the
character, the attitude and the views of a scientist is not what he does as scientist but what he experiences as a
human being.
Impact of While the impact of philosophy on mankind must be viewed as only "indirect", coming through those who study it,
Philosophy: its impact on students themselves must be recognized as "direct". By critically examining the grounds for our
beliefs and convictions philosophy inevitably influences our identity and stature (we are by and large what we
believe). Owing to the ability of philosophy to influence our individual existence in this manner, its value does not
have to be measured in terms of positive material gains. Philosophizing is not like gambling which makes sense
only if we are winning. It is a worthwhile activity even if you are not wining (or solving the problems for that
matter). It is desirable for itself not because of some prize that should result from it but because of the potential to
autonomously shape and guide our lives.
Food for the The needs of the mind are no less important than the needs of the body.
Mind "Each of us has an intellectual dimension to his experience. We need ideas as much as we need food, air or water.
Ideas nourish the mind as the latter provide for the body. In light of this, it's clear that we need good ideas as much
as we need good food, good air, and good water." (Tom Morris, If Aristotle Ran General Motors, 1997)
Uncertainty: Philosophy may be very embarrassing in shattering our beliefs but it could be no less liberating in releasing us from
the bondage of prejudices. It can keep spurring human mind to new intellectual adventures against any kind of
dogmatism and prejudices precisely because it is not bound to any set of doctrines and the demand to abide by
accepted beliefs and customs. Yes, in some areas we need certainty and definite answers. But we have other
resources to tap from for certainty. Science and mathematics meet that need effectively and progressively on a
very large scale, common sense supplants certainty in everyday situations. Philosophy would be redundant if it
tried to replicate what research, common sense and faith already provide. It has its own objectives and should be
judged based on its specific merits.
Apparent Uncertainty Real Uncertainty
Unascertainable
Scientific Progress appropriates Philosophic
Non-Demonstrative
Achievements
Knowledge
Value Thus the value of philosophy appears to be twofold:
-Overcoming narrow-mindedness by contemplating the whole of the universe impartially.
- Discovering unsuspected possibilities by becoming uncertain about those that are given;

These two aspects separate philosophy both from common sense and religion.
Correlation Common Sense Philosophy
Definite Answers Unascertainable Knowledge
Certainty Uncertainty
Confidence Shattered Convictions
Prejudices Critical Scrutiny
Dogmatism Skepticism

Compensation As Russell indicates, the value of philosophy could lie precisely in its uncertainty and incompleteness. Its
uncertainty is not just a deprivation of scientific, common sense and religious certainty. Its uncertainty is very
stimulating both cognitively and practically (see below). As Russell says, while diminishing our confidence and
certainty as to what things actually are it immensely increases our ability to envision them in terms of what they
may be if viewed from a different angle or from a more viable standards. Hence "unascertainable knowledge" is
worthy both of the effort and of the name of knowledge, especially if it helps overcome the bondage of prejudices.
Reversal Philosophy is perceived as a departure both from common sense and reality. It is very often regarded as their
distortion. In a sense it presents a "topsy-turvy world" of what appears to be real. But if this appearance is itself an
illusion, what philosophy does is in fact a reversal of a previous inversion and in that sense a recovery of reality that
was distorted before.
Comparison The nature and the quality of our knowledge determine our attitude and our own nature. The world is perceived
differently by "practical" ("instinctive") men and those who have "tincture of philosophy". An open-minded person
sees more (and more differently) than the one imprisoned in habitual and un-reflected beliefs. How these postures
look like and how their respective world-views differ? The following chart summarizes Russell's comparison
between these two kinds of human existence and attitudes:
Two Styles Kind of Person World Life
Definite Narrow
Instinctive Man Finite Enclosed
Obvious Feverish
Open Inclusive
Philosophic Man Infinite Free
Strange Calm

Benefits: While philosophy cannot boast many "positive results", its study is valuable for many reasons that go beyond an
individual's immediate livelihood. Studying or doing philosophy could be beneficial in many regards out which the
following appear to be the most important ones:
Educationally Philosophy enlarges our understanding of the world; it expands our intellectual horizons and freedom of thought.
and Philosophy releases from the "prejudices derived from common sense", from the "habitual belief of an age or
intellectually: nation", and from convictions that have grown up "without the cooperation or consent of (our) deliberate reason".
(Russell) Philosophy may help develop the capacity to look at the world from the perspective of other individuals
and cultures. Perhaps it is not as effective as science and religion, but it is the most free and valuable of all
intellectual endeavors. (Aristotle) The old idea of liberal arts survives in the study of philosophy that liberates from
prejudices and creates free spirits. It develops at once tolerance and critical sense.
Socially and By discussing political and social issues philosophy raises public awareness and helps in forming engaged and
politically: responsible citizens. By performing critical examination of current social and political conditions it can enlighten
people as to the shortcomings of the current order. By viewing social practices from the perspective of a better and
more just future it can foster necessary social change. "While diminishing our feeling of certainty as to what things
are, it greatly increases our knowledge as to what they may be." (Russell) In this sense, although indirectly,
philosophy can make a difference and even change the world. If the ambition to change the world is not shared by
all philosophers the fact is that some philosophical theories have practical intent and that some had ignited the
energy for change (think about the Great French Revolution and the role of Les Philosophes in stirring the masses).
Morally and Philosophy can increase our sensitivity for universalistic moral values and stimulate our readiness to stand up for
practically: the principles of justice and fairness. Since it provides tools and opportunity to reflect on our basic values and
concepts, it may prove very practical in defining our choices and acts. In view of all potential benefits we can argue
that studying philosophy is a very practical undertaking. Philosophy is practical in the sense that its questions
pertain to the value of our personal existence as well as to our relations with others. Remember: practical life is not
necessarily an acquisitive life, but life focused on self-reflection and ethical issues.
Psychologically On a personal level, philosophy can give one self-knowledge, foresight, and a sense of direction in life. It touches
and upon our own existence (in a way we are fully humans only if we are capable to reflect upon our humanness) and
personally: tackles the questions of our personal identity. It can lead to self-discovery, expansion of consciousness, and self-
renewal. Philosophy nurtures individuality and self-esteem and broadens the range of things one can understand
and enjoy. It enhances one's ability to understand other disciplines and to perceive the relationship among various
fields of study.
If studying philosophy can bring all these benefits why people do not study it in great numbers? Why students do
not throng around philosophy departments? The answer is: they are afraid that a degree in philosophy is not
marketable. But even this seems to be a prejudice.
Pragmatic While studying philosophy does not help directly one's job search, it has an indirect impact even in nonacademic
Uses of fields. Contrary to the wide spread view, employers prefer candidates with general and flexible skills that could
Philosophy: adjust to new situations rather than high specialists. They look for and reward many of the capacities developed by
the study of philosophy, for instance, the ability to analyze problems, to organize ideas and issues, to assess pros
and cons, and to boil down complex data. A report of the American Philosophical Association cites that majors in
liberal arts with philosophy as the core discipline "continue to make a strong showing in managerial skills and have
experienced considerable business success". A congressman from Indiana has noticed "that philosophers have
acquired skills which are very valuable to a member of Congress." These skills include:
Transferable
Skills
General Problem Solving
Communication Skills
Persuasive Powers
Writing Skills
Ability to Conceptualize
Anticipatory Capacity
These capacities are transferable skills, meaning - they are applicable in a great variety of ways and areas.
Moreover, they represent basic abilities on which other skills depend or build. No wonder that philosophy majors
score better than any other humanities major on the LSAT (the law school admission exam) and the GRE (aptitude
test for graduate programs). Thus, at a closer look philosophical questioning proves both very useful and effective
even in a very pragmatist sense. (Cf. The story of Thales' renting all the olive mills.)

Philosophical Lexicon
Reflection = (from Latin: reflectere = bend back): the way of thinking which is "mirrored" back to itself; reflexive thinking is one that
takes itself as an object of thought.
Contemplation = (from Latin: contemplari = gaze at attentively): activity of thinking, theoretical thinking.
Demonstration = (from Latin: de=from, monstrare = show): indirect knowledge based on the proof that clearly shows the inferences
that lead to the conclusion.
Speculative = (from Latin: speculum = mirror): theoretical thinking that reflects the totality of objects involved. Speculation leads
thinking from visible effects of a distant cause to the ultimate (first, most general) principles.
Equivocally = (from Latin: aequivocus = with equal voice, but different meaning):
speaking ambiguously, using one nominal designation (Latin: vox) for different things.
Univocally = (from Latin: unus vox, one voice) using one expression in only one sense, speaking unambiguously.
Scientist = stemming from uncritical trust into sciences which are considered to cover the whole realm of sensible questions (don't
confuse with "scientific"!).
Pragmatist = focused only to immediate useful consequences (from the Greek pragma, thing): to be distinguished from
the practical in the sense of ethical and political concerns (Greek praktikos, pertaining to human conduct).
Common sense = ordinary, everyday knowledge of ourselves and our surroundings.
Little questions = conventional questions that can be answered by relying on our common sense (what time is it?).
Big questions = questions that require systematic technical and scientific research (how did the ozone hole come into existence?).
Fundamental Questions = questions that make sense but cannot be answered by relying on common sense or scientific procedures
(what is time?).