Philosophy. It has to be my favorite word – just edging out words like idiosyncrasy, confabulation, curmudgeon, and bamboozle. I like philosophy for the way it sounds. I like it more for what it means: the love of wisdom.
But what is philosophy actually for? Does it have any practical use outside of academia?
In an nutshell, philosophy teaches us the rules of rational thinking. Yes, there are branches which study more ethereal topic such as the nature of being and the truth that underpins reality. But even in these branches of philosophy, rational argumentation and logical thinking are essential parts of the exposition of ideas. At its heart, then, lovers of wisdom are clear, logical and rational thinkers.
(A quick word of caution: Philosophy is often misused to mean some kind of homespun truth or belief. This is not true philosophy. Although it’s sometimes clever and often rings true, it isn’t philosophy.)
So if philosophy is about building rational arguments, what on earth is it for?
The scientific method, for one thing, is based on philosophical rules for acruing and interpreting evidence going back to Aristotle at the very least. (There’s the reason why an advanced qualification in science is called a PhD – a doctor of philosophy.) And all computer programs make use of many of the rules of logic developed through the ages by philosophers and mathematicians.
But what about you and I? What’s the use of philosophy in everyday life? I’d sublimate it down to three things:
- Thinking deeply and clearly about things helps us to distinguish fact from woo and hard truths from comforting lies. This means that we are less inclined to embarrass ourselves by falling for conspiracy theories, food myths, homeopathy, anti-vaccination rhetoric and other such nonsense.
- Philosophy teaches us better communication skills. Being able to build a cogent argument is essential whether you’re giving a business presentation, conducting training or even interviewing for a job.
- We are less likely to be taken advantage of if we understand the laws of logic. This is especially true in the case of logical fallacies and how they are so often used in the media, in advertising and in politics to manipulate and bamboozle us.
And that’s it. Philosophy helps us to think better. And thinking better, in the grand scheme of things is good for us not only in our daily lives, but, as a collective endeavor, lies at the core of human progress and a better world.
Postscript: Here’s an interesting little game you can play to find out for yourself that philosophy lies at the heart of all things. (OK, this isn’t strictly speaking a necessary outcome of the game, but it is fun anyway!)
- Do a Wikipedia search on anything you like.
- Click on the first hyperlink that isn’t in italics and isn’t in parentheses. (Also ignore external links and links to the current page.)
- Repeat the process enough times and you will get to the page on Philosophy. (At least, you will about nine times out of ten.)