Rebirth of Reason


Why Hire Philosophers?
by Joseph Rowlands

Consider a thought experiment. Imagine universities/colleges were given up, and curriculum was decided by the students with the help of parents and advisors. In this world, you would decide what you want to learn and you'd take the appropriate classes. You wouldn't be forced to take additional classes, and every subject would rise or fall on its own merits instead of being required for graduation. How would philosophy fare?

Some students take philosophy classes because they are required to, or because they have to fill an elective and that seems interesting or easy. But in the new world, there would be nothing like that. If you wanted to take a philosophy class, you'd have to actually hire the professor. You'd have to pay money to do it, and you wouldn't be forced to pay it through some kind of package deal. You'd have to actually justify the cost of paying for the class with the value you expected to get out of the class.


This would likely be seen as a disaster among philosophy professors! They could no longer demand students conform to their ideologies in order to graduate. They could no longer present philosophy as anti-reason and explain how you can't trust your senses or ever really grasp reality. They would no longer be able to try to convince you that you area just a brain in a vat.


So why would someone hire a philosopher? What legitimate values could the philosopher offer the students? How would they try to sell their classes? How would they market them? What would they present as the useful and appealing? What would they say you would get out of it?


The thought experiment is interesting to me because philosophy is very valuable, when done right. And it would be very interesting to see people trying to sell philosophy in terms of actual, objective values by showing how it can positively contribute to your life.


Instead of teaching how you can't really know anything, an epistemology professor might try teaching how you actually can know something. He would teach the foundations of knowledge. He would teach the requirements for justifying knowledge. He would teach the methods of logic, including the proper approach to utilizing induction. He would teach methods of integration. He would teach how abstractions are connected to concretes, and provides methods for better concretizing abstractions so that they can be utilized better. He would teach the nature of concept formation, and provide examples of ambiguity in definitions or meanings for various terms, and how a proper method would overcome them.

A morality professor would teach the need for a method of decision making, some of the kinds of moral systems that exist, and how you can objectively determine values that are appropriate to your life. He could teach moral principles, showing how they connect to your life and how they can be used to steer away from trouble and towards achievement. He can provide a clearer idea of what life as a standard means, and how to integrate your goals and over time to successfully promote your life. He can correct misconceptions about morality, and provide a firm foundation for future choices.


A philosopher can provide an explanation of the connection between reason and emotions, and provide methods of harmonizing the two. He go into detail in describing the source of emotions, and provide a clearer understanding of their importance and impact in our decision making.


A philosopher and teach political philosophy, showing how political views are tied to more basic moral views. He can describe the harmony of interests and the need for justice. He can explain the concept of individual rights, and show how this can be used as a defining characteristic of a political system. And he could show what happens when individual rights are abandoned for some other purpose. He can describe the nature of government, it's key requirements, the roles that is play and functions it provides, and which are necessary and which are not. All of this can be done, not to brainwash the students, but to get them to understand the political system in terms of principles.


A philosopher could also offer a course on esthetics, and the role art plays in the realm of cognition. He can provide tools for understanding and analyzing this relationship, and for judging the effectiveness and purpose of works of art. He can show how this connects to fundamental views of the world and man's place in it. He can show how a work of art can be powerful even if its message is undesirable.


In general, philosophy has the power to be a massive integrator of knowledge in our lives. Instead of holding information in isolated chunks with varying levels of integration, philosophy can make important and sweeping connections. For instance, in the area of morality, we learn all kinds of lessons and morals from stories, we learn idioms that express some kind of moral insight, we have various role models and tidbits of collective wisdom. But without understanding the nature and purpose of morality, as well as the methods appropriate to that purpose, all of this information will likely remain as a collection of disparate parts. But once you do see how it is all connected, it is possible to integrate all of this information and more, to see how it all connects and to organize it more effectively, as well as draw wide conclusions in the form of principles. Philosophy acts as a massive integrator of knowledge.


Philosophy really is useful, when done right. And in a world where value had to be offered for value, we would expect to see much more of this.


Sanctions: 20Sanctions: 20Sanctions: 20 Sanction this ArticleEditMark as your favorite article

Discuss this Article (3 messages)