What is Philosophy good for?

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.

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A-debate a-brewing

Ludwig Wittgenstein in his youth.

Ludwig Wittgenstein in his youth. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As Wittgenstein put it in the “The Blue Book”:

Our craving for generality has [as one] source … our preoccupation with the method of science. I mean the method of reducing the explanation of natural phenomena to the smallest possible number of primitive natural laws; and, in mathematics, of unifying the treatment of different topics by using a generalization. Philosophers constantly see the method of science before their eyes, and are irresistibly tempted to ask and answer in the way science does. This tendency is the real source of metaphysics, and leads the philosopher into complete darkness. I want to say here that it can never be our job to reduce anything to anything, or to explain anything. Philosophy really is “purely descriptive.

Part one of the debate here.

Part two is here.

Importance of teaching

Some three years ago Dr. Justin Kalef wrote a beautiful piece about his time at VIU and about me. You can read it here.

One of the people who responded was Laura. She is a valued contributor to the Blog, a good friend, a brilliant student, and an all round cool person!You can read her “Letters from South America” here.

She has been ill for some time now which explains her recent absence from the Blog.

Her words are important:

Justin, to say these are nice words doesn’t do justice to this well deserved accolade. Bob is soooo cool; and you too. And I love when you say I was one of your greatest students. How can someone not be great having a maestro like you, and an inspiration like Bob? But one thing stands out for me within your piece. When you turn tough and talk about mediocrity, complacency, and low standards, even if one doesn’t feel mediocre, it certainly leaves a strong resonance: Am I doing something really innovative in my class? Am I doing something for my institution? Am I doing enough for my students? Can I change things? How can I change things? Am I complaining too much and not acting? Am I being excellent; the best I can be? Am I afraid of performance evaluation? Ay! I feel shaken up.