Why study philosophy?

  • Some practical reasons
Unbeknownst to many mortals of today, Aristotle had proved once for all – many centuries ago – that the study of philosophy was necessary; and to date, nobody has ever come up with a more elegant proof of anything. His reasoning couldn’t have been more ingenious: Either philosophy is necessary or unnecessary. If it’s necessary, it’s necessary. On the other hand, if it’s unnecessary, you can only prove that using philosophy. Hence philosophy is necessary. Q.E.D. (The letters stand for ‘Ain’t I brilliant?’)
If this is a bit too logical for you, don’t worry. For there are many practical benefits of philosophy that make its study a useful exercise for anybody. Because in the more than 2,300 years since Aristotle, what hasn’t changed is that people still believe in things for all the wrong reasons – and some reasons that aren’t even wrong. (What’s more important is not your conclusions per se, but how you reach them.) These people – unaware of how bad their arguments are — regularly advance those arguments, both on- and off-line. Some of these are established logical fallacies, while others are worse: they appear to be aiming to break new ground in unclear thinking. Some of these are so bad that on encountering them, one can easily be reduced to the state of wanting to tear one’s hair out. However, if you take up the study of philosophy, very soon you can start savoring them, sometimes even wishing for one in advance (for comic relief). Instead of getting infuriated, your attention will first and foremost go to the task of classifying the fallacy. (You can also cultivate the exciting hobby of collecting non-sequiturs and can build an impressive collection over time.) The previously undesirable and exhausting task of responding to the sorry imitations of arguments will occupy your attention much later; and often will amount to little more than mentioning the name of the fallacy and letting your opponent run for the dictionary. Nobody is ever going to change his views anyway; so, might as well let him do some work.
Life and the universe are full of fundamental questions. It’s useful if one can answer those questions; and not just academically speaking, because those answers affect how one lives one’s life. Philosophy certainly helps you to answer those questions, barring a few minor ones such as ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ and ‘Is there life after death?’
His reasoning was extremely sound: if they managed to get a good wife, they would be happy; if not, they would become philosophers
Not to forget that one feels (and looks) rather foolish when people are brandying around words such as post-structuralism, logical-atomism, phenomenology, and antireductionism; and you have no clue what any of it means.  While on the subject, a training in philosophy prevents one from making broad and sweeping ‘wise’ statements such as, ‘You can never be certain of anything’ or ‘The problem with proofs is that they can fool you.’ These declarations that some people are in the habit of triumphantly making in response to something that they can’t refute, are obviously rather silly to start with. But it often gets worse: when confronted with ‘Are you sure?’ some of them have been known to make a further fool of themselves by retorting, ‘I’m positive!’ or ‘I can prove it!’   A training in philosophy helps you to keep track of your previous statements for a few minutes at least (an excellent quality). I am assuming here that not making a fool of oneself is a practical consideration. On this point there is disagreement among the human race, and no amount of philosophising has bridged this gap yet.
It pays to be familiar with philosophical terms for another reason too: if you are not familiar with them and your opponent is, he is sure to exploit the fact against you by employing the smokescreen of terminology, so to speak. These should be your tools. Although, like mentioned above, there have been a handful of men in all history who have changed their minds when confronted with better arguments, it’s still important to appear to be winning.
Even if you are one of those competitive souls who are unfortunately somewhat slow in processing information, philosophy still ensures that you can win arguments – if not the real ones, where one needs to be quick; then definitely the imaginary ones (in the shower, for example), where there’s no time-constraint, and where there’s infinite scope for replays.
Coming back full circle to Socrates (an-unexplored-life-is-not-worth-living fame), who probably made the greatest utilitarian argument in favour of philosophy when he advised men to marry. His reasoning was extremely sound: if they managed to get a good wife, they would be happy; if not, they would become philosophers. He obviously rated philosophy (read coping-mechanism) as the second-best thing after happiness. One can only nod in agreement. But brilliant that this argument undoubtedly is, I would go one step farther: Every bachelor who intends to marry in future should also study philosophy. He will either be cured of the temptation; or, in case he still goes ahead and gets married, the painful learning curve will be all the less steep.


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