Rebirth of Reason

The Importance Of Philosophy
by Joseph Rowlands

In the year 2000, Jeff Landauer and I began working on a new website called The Importance Of Philosophy. This site, which you can find at ImportanceOfPhilosophy.com, has over 150 articles, some book reviews, a dictionary of important terms, a concept chart linking major ideas in a graphical form, questions and answers, and extensive hyper-linking to show the interconnection of various ideas. It covers the five branches of philosophy (Metaphysics, Epistemology, Ethics, Politics, and Esthetics) in a bit of detail. There is also a section called 'Misbegotten Notions' which covers many dominant bad ideas from philosophy.

Building the site was very useful for us, as well. In the process of trying to explain the ideas in as simple of terms as we could, we had to really integrate the ideas and understand them in a more rigorous way. Identifying the connections between different ideas, and determining which ideas were the most fundamental were just minor parts of the problem.

Our dictionary alone, which has a genus and differentia for each term, took an enormous effort. Even common words are difficult to define in terms of genus and differentia. We had to explore each concept, determining what was the basic meaning, and discovering its essential difference with other similar concepts.

It took us months of serious work to complete to the point of being presentable. We worked hard making the ideas presentable to laymen, while keeping the content rich enough to be useful for even well-read Objectivists. We went public in the summer of 2001.

We had several goals in building this project. The first was to build an online resource for people studying Objectivism. I've found that seeing arguments presented in a different way can give you a deeper, more thorough understanding of a topic. And the hyper-linking makes it easy to see connections between different topics, as well as makes it easy to look up a related topic if your unsure of what it means.

Another goal of the site was to create a site that already had many Objectivist arguments for use in discussing ideas with other people. Need to explain the virtue of honesty to someone? Send them a link to our honesty page. Tired of explaining why vegetarianism is an absolutely evil ethical system? Just send them a link. We can find ourselves repeating arguments over and over to people who aren't convinced that we've thought about the argument in detail already. A quick link to an article should shut them up.

Our last major goal in producing this site was to get the message out. That's one of the big reasons why we tried to make it accessible by anyone. The message we are presenting is that philosophy is important and meaningful, despite what your college professor might be telling you. The importance of philosophy is not only our title, but also our theme. Every article was written to present not only an idea, but also why that idea matters. Even the misbegotten notions are written to show the effects of bad ideas. The first three words on our front-page shout, "Philosophy is inescapable".

The site has already been an amazing success. After a little under a year, we have already reached 50,000 visitors with an average of 5 minutes per visitor. We are sometimes getting over 300 visitors a day, with at least one person per day that spends over an hour reading these pages (varying between 60 and 100 pages read in that hour). We've gotten about 200 questions and comments, ranging from young Objectivists thanking us for making such a useful site, to college professors damning us for corrupting their students.

We worked hard to get our site into many search engines and web-rings. When people try to figure out what a mixed economy is, or what the definition of capitalism is, or even why the separation of powers is a useful constitutional principle, they wind up at our site. From the feedback we've received, some of these innocent lookups have led to people studying our website in depth, recommending it to friends, and going out to buy themselves a copy of Atlas Shrugged.

Of course, that isn't unintentional. We present a clear message that people respond to. Philosophy is a tool for living, not the childish mind games that so many philosophy professors make it out to be. At our site, people learn that ideas matter, and that philosophy can save your life. They see that the truth can be presented clearly, and they want more of it.

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