Wednesday, August 27, 2008

What’s Philosophy got to do with it?

Main waiter at fancy restaurant talking philsophy to employees
What's the use of philosophy really? Is there any? Philosophy amounts to not much more than futile intellectual exercises for the few academically inclined people. That's all there is to it, isn't it? Forget the high and lofty aspirations of the ancient Greeks and modern philosophers trying to get to the essence of life, figuring out the reason and objective of our existence here, answers that would illuminate the hidden mysteries of life. In the end, a philosophy degree won't even get you a job now, so what's the point?

You can get your doctorate in philosophy, and end up working in a restaurant. You can be an educated waiter who can chat about deep philosophical issues hoping to get at least a “sympathy tip” from the customer. Or drive people around in a taxi and proclaim the truth, converting one client at the time to the truths of Socrates and Kant while hoping to make ends meet, to have enough for tomorrow’s meal and next month's rent.

It's a shame really. Not that philosophy was ever really well-paid. Philosophers have often been ridiculed, ostracized and trampled upon. As a profession there is the erroneous deep-seated belief that philosophers (even worse than artists and writers) don't contribute anything to society. But is it always necessary to contribute to society in order to be useful and valuable?

The problem is actually much more complex. Fields like philosophy have become the sole domain of academia; they have become too complicated, intricate and specialized for the common man or woman and what he or she does not understand often turns into fear and rejection. It might be one of the main reasons why intellectuals in general do not get the attention and the praise they deserve.

There is, however, a growing branch of philosophy that deals with the more practical aspects of life, called “applied philosophy.” It deals with various situations in our daily life and sheds light on them through the lens and the previously accumulated knowledge of philosophy. However, as in any endeavor in humanities or arts, and unlike science, there are no conclusive results.

Today's society, mostly in North America, is focused on a cost-benefit, pros and cons analysis, namely, the financial and pragmatic advantages of each action. If I spend this many years and that much money to get a degree, I would rather choose something that will get me a good and decent job that pays well. If science and technology or business administration and economics will land me definite high-paying salaries, that would be the “best” choice out there.

Philosophy, humanities, the arts are all seen as fields with no future, with no tangible value. It is not unusual to overlook the spiritual aspects when you are living in a materialistic society. All that cannot be seen, that is not tangible or measurable, that does not give you visual results and outcomes is seen as a waste of time, money, and energy. But at least, you can have a great chat with a philosophically-inclined waiter, and please, don't forget to tip them well!


Midwest Mom said...

Arash --

My brother went to school to be an accountant. He went *back* to school for a philosophy degree.

I think there is something in the humanities that is fascinating enough to touch our desires for something *more* than the mundane.

Even if we use our "powers" only to enhance our dinner conversation (hopefully as paying customers), I will continue to believe that the arts of the mind and the study of human society are always worth it.

Best to you, MM

Georganna Hancock M.S. said...

Wow! I doubt that people understand philosophy any better than they understand psychology, economics or statistics.

Keep at it!

Georganna @ A Writer's Edge

Arashmania said...

Thank you all for your wonderful comments and for believing in the humanities ; )

Meka said...

Philosophy isnt something that brought much mind to me but after reading your post it has enlightened me. Very informational post and great content.

Everyman said...


keep up the good work. I am impressed by the depth and yet elegant simplicity of your line of thought. You made me sign up for this blogg to leave a message of praise. And that means something, indeed, as I have successfully resisted the use of bloggs for many years.

Everyman said...

...or as another great mind once said: not everything that matters can be counted; not everything that can be counted matters.

In a sense, philosophy as you describe it leaves the realms of 'hard metrics' (time, money, cars) behind and gives us a much fuzzier scale. Is that aim? Well - why not. But does that discard logic? I hope not.

I believe that philosophie as you try to facilitate it is a good mental stimulus. If forces us to articulate thoughts in a structured, often multi-facetted, manner. And - most interestingly - it bears the burden of cultural identity.

It is a subject that must be handeld with care. It is not an intellectual subsitute for those who failed in maths or can't sort their finances out. It requires discipline and endurance -like any other intellectual field. Just because we don't use cryptic symbols doesn't mean that philosophy is 'soft'.

Keep facilitating this blogg. It's cool.

Arashmania said...

Thank you everyman! I'm very glad that I have managed to convert you to the blogging world after years of resistance ; )

I absolutely agree with you when it comes to the modern emphasis on "hard metrics" and that philosophy requires mental discipline and effort. It is definitely not the easy way out. I think one should train and flex not only the muscles of one's body but of one's brain as well through the practice of intellectual stimulation.

Thanks again for you praise and comments!

Wizard said...

I think philosophy was always a hobby. Something you do for the love of it not prostitute it for money. Still one has to eat and find a way to monetize an education.
It was certainly easy in prehistoric times to get into an easy public job doing nothing while others provide for you. I believe the first profession wasn't that one you are thinking about but that of the rainmaker. One only had to claim the ability to make rain and that was enough to ensure the good life of relative though primitive luxury. Not much competition for the job either because those who failed to produce rain were killed and probably eaten by their unhappy clients. It must have been hard to make rain too because the job probably existed only in dry regions. Given the difficulty to produce rain prehistoric professionals turned to other devices preserve their status of being fed without having to work by preventing their benefactors from turning against them by inventing paid armies and religions to invoke god's wrath upon their Brute force and ideology managed to keep the masses in check even when the masses managed to topple the dictator the revolutionaries themselves turned "professional rainmakers" see Castro and the like. And democracy alone is not an answer: the ancient Greeks managed to kill Socrates for thinking and Hitler was democratically elected.
The only hope for finding and keeping under control someone who knows something about rainmaking is the liberal system of checks and balances as in the US. It's not perfect (no human creation ever is) but even if under permanent reconstruction (the way any proper political system should be) it has shown remarkable resilience and ability to recover from dangerous disasters

Alara said...

I think that most people are tied up in today's modern, worldly issues like money, interactions with family and friends, jobs, taking care of house and car, etc. Everyone's interested in learning math and business and current events- things that will help them get ahead now. They don't stop and think why or wonder as they did as children. Philosophy- and psychology- help us to better understand not only the unseen, but ourselves and the minds of others.

As for needing to contribute to society to be useful... I don't believe you need to make a big impact to make an impact, and that you can affect things indirectly. I myself have never had a major job and hardly leave my house, but I know I contribute to society (or will) by way of my children, and by helping my friends however I can, enabling them to make more of an impact while I cannot.