What Is Philosophy And Why Is It Important


As human beings we struggle with very basic problems of knowledge about our selves, our societies, and the fundamental nature of the world in which we find ourselves. We have always struggled with these problems. The methods by which we seek to overcome them have their deepest roots in the discipline of philosophy. Philosophy picks up where poetry leaves off, seeking not just some one person's or group's story about the way the world is, but the way the world is for all of us. Philosophy seeks knowledge about the fundamental nature of the reality that we share. Where it has been successful, sciences have been born. Where there is work yet to be done philosophers work hand in hand with historians, social scientists, religious scholars and others to pursue answers (or at least approaches to answers) to the great problems of human life: "What is the good?", "What is justice?", "What is it, if anything, that makes me who I am?", "What is real?". This interdisciplinary nature is part and parcel of philosophy. As the twentieth century philosopher Wilfrid Sellars once said, "The aim of philosophy is to understand how things in the broadest possible sense of the term hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term”. Follow any chain of reasoning long enough, and you will arrive at a philosophical question—or if you're not thinking carefully enough, at an undefended philosophical assumption. At worst you will find that ugly combination of assumption and unwarranted confidence that we call a bias.

If philosophy has one rule, it is to avoid bias by letting the question lead the investigation, not the answer one hopes or expects to find. We aim at the truth, even if knowing it will prove unpleasant. If philosophical questions are inescapable, and if they lie at the deepest places in our thinking about ourselves and our world, then honest answers must be preferred to dishonest ones lest we tie all of our thinking to convenient falsehoods or empty slogans, or give up thinking altogether. For those that wish neither to believe what is merely convenient nor to give up on thinking altogether there is only one path: to seek after the answers. Seeking honest answers to philosophical questions requires a sort of intellectual discipline, technical skill, and courage that can only be acquired through an active practice of philosophy. Hence the intrinsic value of the study of philosophy.

Philosophy, like many important and valuable undertakings, is not easy. The links given on the academic resources page are intended to help you in your studies. You may find that the advice given here for the study of philosophy applies to the study of other disciplines as well. Good luck!

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