The Value of Philosophy and the Point of Our Lives
It is basic human nature to question. There is a curiosity inside all of us that leads us to wonder about everything. Curiosity leads to examination, which leads to contemplation. Through this process the mysteries of life and the universe are slowly discovered. But there are some questions that can never be answered with certainty. These questions make up the study of philosophy, and are considered using reason and logic. Two of the main arguments in philosophy discuss its value and the meaning of life. Socrates, Bertrand Russell, Blaise Pascal and Thomas Nagel attempt in their own way to reason through these questions and form their own unique answers.
In Bertrand Russell’s “The Value of Philosophy”, he discusses what philosophy is and why it is important. He concludes that the value of philosophy is rooted in its very uncertainty. He maintains that all those questions that cannot be answered are a part of philosophical discussion, and questions with definite answers are a product of the physical sciences. When Russell is explaining in detail the value of philosophy he says, “These questions enlarge our conception of what is possible, enrich our intellectual imagination and diminish the dogmatic assurance which closes the mind against speculation” (Russell 12). For Russell, philosophy opens the mind and dispels ignorance and dogmatism, allowing us to think more freely and consider more possibilities.
In Plato’s “Apology: Defence of Socrates,” Socrates also holds the view that philosophy is a necessary practice for all persons when he argues, “An unexamined life is no life for a human being to live” (Plato 40). Socrates has just been found guilty of corrupting the youth and not acknowledging the gods of the city. Once the verdict is reached, he argues for execution rather than exile because he believes that his study of philosophy is supreme in his life and it would be more honorable to die than to flee and study philosophy elsewhere, under subpar conditions than those in Athens. Philosophy is important to him because it allows people to think for themselves rather than go along with what they are told to believe.
Russell and Socrates both uphold that the importance of philosophy come from what is does for the mind. Philosophy opens our minds, allowing unawareness and hypocrisy to dissipate. By questioning, we come to know more about the universe, and ourselves. However, Russell and Socrates do disagree on the certainty of truth. Socrates believes that there is certain truth, and one can reach it through reason and contemplation. Conversely, Russell maintains that everything is uncertain, but philosophy is still valuable because thinking of all possible explanations enlarges our minds. Through philosophy we are released from presumption, obliviousness, and bigotry. Whether or not we can know the absolute truth, contemplation through reason still holds immense importance for human beings.
I draw from Socrates as well as Russell when I consider the value of philosophy. Philosophy allows me to see the world for what it is, instead of being bogged down by the opinion of the masses, or the societal norms. Through reason I can consider the truth and it’s importance to me. Similar to Russell, I see that much of philosophy’s greatness lies in its uncertainty. We cannot know for sure what the answers are, but through observation and thought we can form many possibilities, enlarging our minds to hold more than one solution to any given problem. Consequently this allows us to have a more open mind, and we can approach life with a broadened sense of self.
Another question philosophers ask is “What is the point of our lives?” The answer varies greatly between each individual, demonstrated by the separate thoughts of Socrates, Pascal, and Nagel. Socrates argues that it is worse than death to be unjust. He gives some examples of what qualifies as unjust. Injustice...
References: Nagel, Thomas, “The Absurd,” In John Perry, Michael Bratman and John Martin Fischer, editors, Introduction to Philosophy: Classical and Contemporary Readings, Fourth Edition (New York: Oxford University Press) 2007.
Pascal, Blaise, “The Wager,” In John Perry, Michael Bratman and John Martin Fischer, editors, Introduction to Philosophy: Classical and Contemporary Readings, Fourth Edition (New York: Oxford University Press) 2007.
Plato, “Apology: Defence of Socrates,” In John Perry, Michael Bratman and John Martin Fischer, editors, Introduction to Philosophy: Classical and Contemporary Readings, Fourth Edition (New York: Oxford University Press) 2007.
Russell, Bertrand, “The Value of Philosophy,” In John Perry, Michael Bratman and John Martin Fischer, editors, Introduction to Philosophy: Classical and Contemporary Readings, Fourth Edition (New York: Oxford University Press) 2007.
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