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How is Philosophy useful?

  1. Jan 12, 2012 #1
    For example, How did Philosophy of Mathematics made advances in our lives?

    I really like Philosophy, but I need to know if it's worth spending my money at college.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 12, 2012 #2
    Philosophy of mathematics has made no useful advance in mathematics or our real lifes.

    If you think it's interesting, go study it. But don't expect it to be useful.
  4. Jan 12, 2012 #3

    I personally like philosophy, including philosophy of mathematics, but I do not know enough of it to give a quality response, but the reason I am posting is just to say that your question is a pretty subjective one, or at least the answers will be: different people have different notions of "making advances". That's okay, but I think you need to be aware of this and that there may very well be a general bias in the answers coming from a science forum (which, for some reason, is in general not too positive with respect to philosophy).

    EDIT: point proven by micromass' post :D
  5. Jan 12, 2012 #4


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    Spend no money on courses that you can't directly benefit from. You are paying for your education, and you have a limited amount of time and resources to get that education, unless you are well-financed through your family or other sources.

    Eventually, I abandoned my quest for a diploma and paid only to take courses that had practical applications for my employment. This was back almost 40 years ago. I don't regret that choice one bit. Does a framed piece of paper on the wall make you feel better about yourself? If you work hard and put out your best effort every day, you will rise in your field and be every bit as employable as someone with a degree.
  6. Jan 12, 2012 #5
    Oh, very well said. This is very true. The OP should probably say what he means with advances.

    Yes. I admit I'm a bit biased towards philosophy. :frown:

    But anyway: if you want to be a philosopher of a science (math, physics, biology, etc.), then you should major in that science and not in philosophy. Later on you can always do philosophy. Or you can double major in the science and in philosophy.

    The reason that I say this, if you claim to be a philosopher of math, without ever taken a course on math, then nobody will ever take you seriously. On the other hand, if you have experience with mathematics, then I will gladly listen to what you have to say on its philosophy.

    I took two courses on philosophy of mathematics. One course was by somebody who had formal training in math. This was extremely interesting and very to the point. The other course was by somebody who probably didn't even know how to prove something simple. I found that course to be nonsense. They went on and on about how 1 and 0.9999... shouldn't be the same thing. I might be elitist, but I have a hard time taking such people seriously.
  7. Jan 12, 2012 #6
    Advances, as in "useful advances". For example, Using Physics theories and laws, now we have computers to help us with our everyday life, letting us discuss the usefulness of Philosophy while we could be thousands of miles away.

    Does Philosophy help humanity like Physics does? Does it make similar (in amount) advances?
  8. Jan 12, 2012 #7
    I personally think that philosophy is extremely useful.

    Imagine our understanding of the universe as a huge circle. Inside it, there's smaller circles - one for mathematics, one for physics, one for linguistics, etc. Philosophy is between all these circles, what it does, is it tries to connect all the sciences into one meaningful picture. Right now science is not advanced enough to try to relate quantum physics to psychology (make psychological predictions based on quantum mechanical computations), however, since philosophy is less rigorous, there's more freedom, hence philosophy can attempt to relate them, in some relatively meaningful way. This suggests possible explanations for the future science. This has been the case through history - the very first scientists were philosophers, many ideas from philosophy were used in later science, etc.

    Personally, philosophy has helped me a lot also. I've pretty much rebuilt my own psychology with the help of philosophy.
  9. Jan 12, 2012 #8
    Don't criticize things you don't understand.

    One can praise without any arguments. But criticizing without them is just intolerable.
  10. Jan 12, 2012 #9
    Can you name some of these ideas? Well, I think Classification is one, but are there really that many that this should be taken in consideration?
  11. Jan 12, 2012 #10


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    Early on, "philosophy" was a term used to apply against all sciences. Nowadays, the term "philosophy" is used to describe studies in comparative religion and more speculative studies, such as ethics. We need to differentiate the meanings on that historical time-line and in popular usage.
  12. Jan 12, 2012 #11
    Nope. Any attempt to relate those two must come from a scientific discipline. Attempting to relate them through nonrigorous arguments is silly and nonscientific.

    Explanations of science is best done by scientists who actually do the research and know the dangers involved.

    But please, tell us one major advancement lately that wasn't possible because of philosophy.

    What makes you think I don't understand?? Just because I don't share your opinion doesn't mean I don't understand it.

    This is scientifically unsound. One must always present arguments.
  13. Jan 12, 2012 #12
    Well, I just never seen any uses of philosophy (and I took philosophy courses). So I deduced that philosophy is not useful. However, you could change my mind and try to answer the OP's answer of a recent advancement that philosophy made?? Can you give one?

    Intuitive understanding is not the same as philosophy.
  14. Jan 12, 2012 #13
    Haha, o boy, I was fearing this... (EDIT: I see some uglier postings have been deleted while posting this :))

    I think philosophy has always been speculative. Once it stops being speculative, it starts a new branch of science. Philosophy is the science breeder, and we, as all children, are unappreciative of our parents. The challenge is not too regard all philosophy as the same bunch: there are some philosophers who treat it as the academic branch that it is, and there are some who have respect for Deepak Chopra.

    You're on physicsforum.com! I realize that there is a chance you're not a crackpot, but your sentence can easily be read as if you were. But in a sense I agree with you: the philosophy of physics, for example, occupies themselves with what quantum mechanics, if universally true, would imply about the human mind, but I do think it's a bad example to give cause it's such an abused topic (cf. my Deepak Chopra remark above).

    Phew, hard one. Even though I favour philosophy, I would say the shortest answer is "no". The somewhat longer answer is "not in that sense, philosophy brings about other changes, much more subtle, but then again, in the bigger picture of things, at least as important and sometimes more important: philosophy gave birth to things like science, and as noted by Turbo a great part of philosophy is ethics, which has been very important (just think of "human rights"), it has lead to new ways of thinking which in the end influence how everyone lives their lifes, it has shaped and sometimes even created politics, it has created the enlightenment, etc. It's hard to see how much we've been influenced by philosophy, cause it's such a slow procedure, contrary to your examples, but the reason is simply because it goes much deeper.
    Some might say "well that was the role of philosophy in the past, but it's over now", but I think that is what every generation has thought, again, I think, because philosophy works so slow that you don't notice its effects like in other disciplines. A good way to discover its effects is, of course, to study it ;)

    That being said, I also agree with micromass:
    On a personal note: this year I had to apply to graduate school and I considered the Oxford MSt in Philosophy of Physics and asked my "favourite" professor his opinion on it (someone I knew also had an interest in such matters) and he suggested me to wait with such things and first focus on the physics itself before you philosophize about it. I now agree with him (and I'm still planning to do that master one day).
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2012
  15. Jan 12, 2012 #14


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    I have found that studying philosophy of science has made me a better or at least more aware scientist. However as much as I would enjoy studying a philosophy degree I would not advise it if your goal is to use your degree to get a job, especially in science.

    That said not all goals should be career orientated but you should be aware that in this economic climate a degree in philosophy isn't likely to make you competitive with the thousands-millions of unemployed graduates.
  16. Jan 12, 2012 #15
    On the other hand. A double major in science-philosophy seems to be a very nice choice! It won't make you less competitive, but it does allow you to actually study the philosophy of the thing you're doing.
  17. Jan 12, 2012 #16


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    Definitely. I met a person a few years ago who was doing a double degree in physics and philosophy; It made me jealous that my course wasn't biology and philosophy!
  18. Jan 12, 2012 #17
    it's useful insofar as it has utility--people find it intersting, and can build a profession around it. That's all the intrinsic value of anything is.
  19. Jan 12, 2012 #18
    Depends upon what you want to do. Back when I got my B.S., the career counselors said physics was the #2 degree that Law schools desired - #1 was philosophy, since the basis of that degree is teaching the ability to argue effectively.
  20. Jan 12, 2012 #19
    What about Hilbert's program and the subsequent development of the theory of computation?
  21. Jan 12, 2012 #20
    Like I was telling someone else here, philosophy has its uses, but don't waste money on it. Philosophy is a hobby. Treat it as such.
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