The Study of Philosophy

In a 1946 essay, "Philosophy for the Laymen", Bertrand Russell takes up the question, why study philosophy? From the essay,

Those who have a passion for quick returns and for an exact balance sheet of effort and reward may feel impatient of a study which cannot, in the present state of our knowledge, arrive at certainties, and which encourages what may be thought the timewasting occupation of inconclusive meditation on insoluble problems. To this view I cannot in any degree subscribe. Some kind of philosophy is a necessity to all but the most thoughtless, and in the absence of knowledge it is almost sure to be a silly philosophy. The result of this is that the human race becomes divided into rival groups of fanatics, each group firmly persuaded that its own brand of nonsense is sacred truth, while the other side's is damnable heresy. Arians and Catholics, Crusaders and Muslims, Protestants and adherents of the Pope, Communists and Fascists, have filled large parts of the last 1,600 years with futile strife, when a little philosophy would have shown both sides in all these disputes that neither had any good reason to believe itself in the right. Dogmatism is an enemy to peace, and an insuperable barrier to democracy. In the present age, at least as much as in former times, it is the greatest of the mental obstacles to human happiness.

The demand for certainty is one which is natural to man, but is nevertheless an intellectual vice. If you take your children for a picnic on a doubtful day, they will demand a dogmatic answer as to whether it will be fine or wet, and be disappointed in you when you cannot be sure. The same sort of assurance is demanded, in later life, of those who undertake to lead populations into the Promised Land. 'Liquidate the capitalists and the survivors will enjoy eternal bliss.' 'Exterminate the Jews and everyone will be virtuous.' 'Kill the Croats and let the Serbs reign.' 'Kill the Serbs and let the Croats reign.' These are samples of the slogans that have won wide popular acceptance in our time. Even a modicum of philosophy would make it impossible to accept such bloodthirsty nonsense. But so long as men are not trained to withhold judgment in the absence of evidence, they will be led astray by cocksure prophets, and it is likely that their leaders will be either ignorant fanatics or dishonest charlatans. To endure uncertainty is difficult, but so are most of the other virtues. For the learning of every virtue there is an appropriate discipline, and for the learning of suspended judgment the best discipline is philosophy.

Your rating: None Average: 5 (1 vote)

1 comment

7
Sep

Great reasons concerning the

Great reasons concerning the value of philosophy - and critical thinking in general.  Russell is awesome.  However, the majority of people are philistines who will unlikely join us in acknowleding this value for the simple reason that they are programmed (tempermentally) to rely on convenient social prejudices, and many thus could not learn from philosophy if they tried.  
 
So justified or not, people will fail to find interest or value in philosophy because of their most basic inclinations.  No amount of reasoning will ever persuade them to think otherwise because they simply do not think - they follow.  :(  - So, philosophy is doomed to be of almost no value to most people.  
 
(It's amazing how often I've heard the phrase "What's philosophy?" or "How do you spell philosophy?")  And having said that, perhaps I should make a new email...  simpleminded cashiers do enough without having to spend a few brain cells figuring out how to spell some obscure, mysterious word of which their ignorant culture unfortunately deprived them... lol  - I should have some pity!