SS: Is philosophy good for anything?

What is Philosophy good for?

Illustration of a "duckrabbit", disc...
Illustration of a “duckrabbit”, discussed in the Philosophical Investigations, section XI, part II (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Philosophy is quite unlike any other field. It is unique both in its methods and in the nature and breadth of its subject matter. Philosophy pursues questions in every dimension of human life, and its techniques apply to problems in any field of study or endeavor. No brief definition expresses the richness and variety of philosophy. It may be described in many ways. It is a reasoned pursuit of fundamental truths, a quest for understanding, a study of principles of conduct. It seeks to establish standards of evidence, to provide rational methods of resolving conflicts, and to create techniques for evaluating ideas and arguments. Philosophy develops the capacity to see the world from the perspective of other individuals and other cultures; it enhances one’s ability to perceive the relationships among the various fields of study; and it deepens one’s sense of the meaning and varieties of human experience.


Philosophy is the systematic study of ideas and issues, a reasoned pursuit of fundamental truths, a quest for a comprehensive understanding of the world, a study of principles of conduct, and much more. Every domain of human existence raises questions to which its techniques and theories apply, and its methods may be used in the study of any subject or the pursuit of any vocation. Indeed, philosophy is in a sense inescapable: life confronts every thoughtful person with some philosophical questions, and nearly everyone is often guided by philosophical assumptions, even if unconsciously. One need not be unprepared. To a large extent one can choose how reflective one will be in clarifying and developing one’s philosophical assumptions, and how well prepared one is for the philosophical questions life presents. Philosophical training enhances our problem-solving capacities, our abilities to understand and express ideas, and our persuasive powers. It also develops understanding and enjoyment of things whose absence impoverishes many lives: such things as aesthetic experience, communication with many different kinds of people, lively discussion of current issues, the discerning observation of human behavior, and intellectual zest. In these and other ways the study of philosophy contributes immeasurably in both academic and other pursuits.


Werner Erhard and Associates v. Christopher Co...
Werner Erhard and Associates v. Christopher Cox for Congress (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today I would like to engage you in a conversation, a sort of interactive sermon. I’ll begin by asking you to respond to a few quotations. Something like this read from a printed book:

Assertion: Thou shalt have no other Gods before me.

Question: Why?

Answer: The Lord thy God is a jealous God.

No, not like that. That comes from my childhood memories of the Lutheran Church. The catechism had all the answers in a scripted text where even the questions were closed. So, today, unlike the old fashioned readings where the congregation’s responses are written down to be recited in unison, I’ll ask for individual responses, extemporaneous responses. I have every reason to believe that this approach will prove fruitful with a thoughtful group of Unitarians.


All men by nature desire to know… It is owing to their wonder that men both now begin and at first began to philosophize.


In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.

Bertrand Arthur William Russell


Believe that life is worth living and your belief will help create the fact.
– William James


Belief means not wanting to know what is true.

All our dignity lies in thought. Let us strive, then, to think well.

-Blaise Pascal

I am uneasy to think I approve of one object, and disapprove of another; call one thing beautiful, and another deformed; decide concerning truth and falsehood, reason and folly, without knowing upon what principles I proceed.

-David Hume

Philosophic study means the habit of always seeing an alternative.

-William James

Philosophy recovers itself when it ceases to be a device for dealing with the problems of philosophers and becomes a method, cultivated by philosophers, for dealing with the problems of men. -John Dewey


What is the use of studying philosophy if all that it does for you is to enable you to talk with some plausibility about some abstruse questions of logic, etc., and if it does not improve your thinking about the important questions of everyday life…?

-Ludwig Wittgenstein

It is absolutely correct and proper to say that ‘You can’t do anything with philosophy.’…granted that we cannot anything with philosophy, might not philosophy, if we concern ourselves with it, do something with us?

-Martin Heidegger

There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.

-Albert Camus

Philosophy ought to question the basic assumptions of the age. Thinking through, critically and carefully, what most people take for granted is, I believe, the chief task of philosophy and it is this task that makes philosophy a worthwhile activity.

-Peter Singer

To teach how to live without certainty and yet without being paralysed by hesitation is perhaps the chief thing that philosophy, in our age, can do for those who study it.

-Bertrand Russell

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Review: Buddhist Enlightenment

What Is Buddhist Enlightenment?Review – What Is Buddhist Enlightenment?
by Dale S. Wright
Oxford University Press, 2016
Review by Bob Lane
Jan 24th 2017 (Volume 21, Issue 4)

King Lear is a play as profound as it is puzzling. It seems to be uncompromising in its attitude to the nature of things. Either its last scene is a powerful continuation of the theme of self delusion or it is an intimation of immortality.

Read the review.




18th-century depiction of King Lear mourning o...
18th-century depiction of King Lear mourning over his daughter Cordelia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Science and pseudo-science

One of the great spoofs in recent history.

Alan Sokal’s original article
Related articles

Alan Sokal
On Pseudo-Science, Religion and Misinformation in Public Life

In 1996, Alan Sokal, Professor of Physics at New York University, published, after being reviewed and accepted, a paper in the cultural-studies journal Social Text entitled Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity. Sokal immediately confessed that the whole article was a hoax designed to expose and parody the style of extreme postmodernist criticism of science, and became front page news around the world, triggering a fierce and wide-ranging controversy.

Sokal remains a powerful voice in the debate about the status of evidence-based knowledge. In Beyond the Hoax he targets pseudo-science, religion, and misinformation in public life arguing that clear thinking, combined with a respect for evidence, are of the utmost importance to the survival of the human race in the twenty-first century.

Please click below to read an interview with Alan Sokal

 Interview with Alan Sokal

Letter from Sayward

This post is by a former student, Paul Stahnke, who is living off the grid in Sayward, BC. I have invited him to contribute to the Blog when he feels like it. Welcome, Paul! What he has to say complements the discussion on happiness.

“Suck City” sure grabbed my attention.

We have invented a reflective lifestyle here, in Sayward. Certainly no Thoreau, but Michelle and I have made a conscious effort to live differently.

Most days I do not leave the 1 km dead end road we live on. Cell phones don’t work here. On sunny mornings I take my dog for a long walk and just enjoy the experience. On rainy days I light the woodstove in the shop, and then go for my walk. I try to work at least 6 hours per day….doing whatever project(s) I am consumed with.

Our scourge is the local elk herd, and I have spent countless hours trying to figure out their habits. I have fenced our home site and welded up a large steel gate to keep them out. We ensure it is locked every evening. If we are away, the neighbours do it for us. I spent hundreds of dollars constructing the ultimate predator-proof enclosure for our chickens. That is also locked up every night.  We are also very wary of cougars, and when they are actively around I pack a weapon and/or carry bear spray. If there are racoon tracks on  the river bank and lots of squirrels about there is most like no cougar in the neighbourhood. Plus, ravens follow them around and the stellar jays go nuts when they see them. There are clues, for sure.  In the last 5 years I have walked into 4 of them at close range. In the past they have killed our sheep and I have had to kill them in turn. One time a large cat tore open the closed shed they were locked up in. I no longer raise sheep because of that. (Sheep are cougar magnets).

Last summer a large cat broke into my neighbours house across the river. It pushed the door open and attacked one of their dogs about 9:00 in the evening. The next day I walked into the same cat as it had crossed the river to our side during the night. I grabbed up my little Jack Russell and squared to the cat and we both backed away. From that time on I always keep my dog leashed in the woods and a knife in my pocket. It is definitely a good way to ‘live in the moment’, for sure.

Living in Sayward is a way to live consciously for us. I try to ensure it is every moment, but certainly don’t succeed. The river, (where we live is tidal), is a main focus as is ‘the Mountain’. What’s the tide doing? The current? How much longer until the sun is above the mountain. Or, “Look at the way the shadow climbs every evening and turns the mountain pink”. Of course, many many days the clouds obscure it, entirely. And the wind! On those beautiful days it is usually blowing westerly here, sometimes 45 kts. Sometimes for days on end.

It is a vary encompassing place to live.