Is Philosophy useless? Hint: No

It’s common these days to hear things like, “Philosophy is useless. It doesn’t answer questions, and it doesn’t give us cool toys like natural science does.” There are a few problems with statements like this.

First off, just because a subject of study doesn’t build things like i-phones, that doesn’t mean it is useless. That’s literally the definition of a non-sequitur. Philosophy never claimed to build cool toys. What Philosophy does do is build critical thinkers, so in an indirect way, it can contribute to building things. In addition, Logic is a branch of Philosophy, and it’s common to use what you learned in Logic class to help with computer software. Someone might object that you can do critical thinking/Logic without doing Philosophy. But, that’s like saying you can do Geometry without doing Mathematics; the statement doesn’t make any sense.

Hence, Philosophy can be thought of as fighting off bad reasoning. The difference between good reasoning and bad reasoning is the difference between Philosophy and sophistry.

Someone might further object and ask why we should use money to teach Philosophy at universities. However, this is an odd objection because you could ask it about other subjects as well. Some Universities require their students to take a philosophy course because they view critical thinking as being that important. To attend college without learning critical thinking skills is like taking a biology class where you don’t learn biology.

Perhaps one could argue that we shouldn’t have so many courses in certain subjects of Philosophy like Epistemology. However, assuming Epistemology is of less practical importance, courses like Epistemology, in my experience, aren’t offered every semester. But nobody can argue with the practical importance of certain courses like Applied Ethics, Political Philosophy, Logic, etc.

Now, someone might object that there is no consensus in Philosophy. First off, that’s not true. Most Philosophers, for example, reject libertarian free will. And, most Philosophers are atheists. And, of course, truth isn’t dictated by consensus.  Even if we grant the objection fully, what follows? Does it follow that we should get rid of professional Philosophy? No. If anything, it says that we should reform professional Philosophy, and that is an ongoing debate. Many professional philosophers agree that things should change with the profession.

It might now be objected that Philosophy doesn’t solve questions, but this is false (assuming that this is somehow the main or only goal of Philosophy). One way Philosophy makes progress and solves things is by ruling certain answers out. In addition, most philosophers can agree with a conclusion about something but disagree about the solution.

Philosophy will always be needed because people will engage in bad reasoning.


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