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Is philosophy practical knowledge?

  1. Aug 3, 2003 #1


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    Other then teaching, what good is philosophy to each of us? Is it useful to our everyday reality? Is the speculation necessary? Or is it just human to ponder?
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  3. Aug 3, 2003 #2


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    depends how you define 'necessary'... some people seem to get on fine without philosophy, but I would argue that it fulfills a human need to think, to know, to see things differently. In addition to eating, drinking, and sex, it has been proposed that seeking altered states of consciousness is a fundamental drive of human beings. I would add the drive for knowledge and understanding to that list. It's just something that we need, that we seek and that we do.

    The question gets trickier when you consider practical applications of specific philosophies... but I think overemphasizing this angle of it is merely missing the point. I consider my life greatly enriched by all the philosophy I have read and all the personal puzzles I have conjectured and discussed, but I wouldn't say that this enrichment has manifested itself in obvious tangible ways. I don't consider myself a disciple of any specific school of thought and I certainly don't pause to consult a philosophy book when it comes to making decisions in real life-- and yet the simple act of critically thinking and rethinking things has been useful not only as a purely intellectual exercise, but also ultimately as a means to more deeply appreciate the inscrutable mysteries and ineffible aesthetics of this reality we find ourselves in.
  4. Aug 3, 2003 #3
    I have to disagree on this one. But hey, how boring would this forum be if everyone agreed and got along?:wink: I think we use philosophy every day and apply it in little ways. Our very morals, beliefs and way of life are driven by philosophies. If you have a belief system, or a way of thinking, or looking at life, then you're applying it.

    I can only speak for myself, but I find it's very useful, though most times it's a subconcious thing. Each time I make a humanistic decision, weather it's about love, or religion,or just about any topic on this board, it's applicable to every day life.
  5. Aug 3, 2003 #4
    Philosophy is not speculation, teaching, critical thinking, morality and ethics or anything like that. Philosophy is the pursuit of wisdom. Once we have attained wisdom, philosophy is utterly useless. Thus it is a self-extinguishing pursuit.

    As for how useful the pursuit of wisdom is in our daily lives, that just depends upon how we go about it and how successful we are.
  6. Aug 3, 2003 #5
    I think it gives us an opportunity to develop an outlook on life, as well as the opportunity to explore "meaning."
  7. Aug 3, 2003 #6
    I think that we all have philosophies that we live by day to day as well as long term ways of life. We may not think of it as philophy but IMO it is. Morals, ethics, paradigms and religion or lack of it all effect our everyday thinking, behavior and decision making.

    At a deeper level the study of philosphy exercises and expands our minds helping us think, reason and contemplate new ideas or new ways of thinking. It helps open our mind to consider different ideas as well as different ways of thinking. This is all benefitial and reaches and touches every part of our lives whether we are consciously aware of it or not, whether we admit it or accept it or not, no matter what we call it. It is so ingrained and so much a part of who and what we are that we may not realize that it is philosophy, but it is.
  8. Aug 3, 2003 #7
    That about sums it up, I would add that it needn't be the philosophy of antiquity even though many threads don't seem very philosophical at least they are unique and modern thoughts. Philosophy is also the art of self induced confusion, the starting point of learning, I wouldn't say the speculative or concrete knowledge gained is so practical as the process of having fun trying to learn from others and form one's own thoughts, I mean how often in everday life does someone ask you about the driving principles of ethics and are they sound and how do they work? For most people this is way too much to think about and they see no need for it.
  9. Aug 3, 2003 #8


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    OK, we need to define what we mean by 'philosophy' here. :wink: There is a certain sense in which, say, an alligator has a philosophy-- basically something along the lines that it is good to chill out, eat, and protect the nest. This is analogous to calling any particular person's approach to life a philosophy. In a way it is, but is this what we really mean by the word? If so, then basically everyone is a philosopher. I associate 'philosophy' more closely with a deliberate method of analyzing a given topic. Of course philosophizing/thinking about anything is bound to change our worldviews in some subtle ways, but I think the more relevant idea here is someone either explicitly formulating their own system of thought or adopting pieces of someone else's, and going from there.

    For instance, when Socrates said "the unexamined life is not worth living," he was basically exhorting people to philosophize about their lives, in the manner I explained it above. If I make a particular decision that demonstrates a certain moral judgment, then sure you can say it is indicative of an implicit worldview or 'philosophy'-- but if I haven't consciously examined the decision or the ideas underlying the decision at some point in time, then was my action really philosophically motivated?

    Philosophy roughly means 'the love of thinking'. Thus to call something a philosophy, it must be the product of conscious thought! If my knee is tapped in the right spot, my leg will reflexively kick outwards. Is this a demonstration of my nervous system's philosophy that it is good or necessary to kick my leg if my knee is hit in a certain spot? I would argue that a lot of people's ideas and actions are closer to a knee jerk response than to a reasoned deliberation. Only the latter is what I would call philosophical.
  10. Aug 3, 2003 #9
    If it's abstract, interesting, and makes me think then it's philosophy to me, but here is some perhaps useful guiding defenition and quotes for fun.

    Philosophy 1.the rational investigation of the truths and principles of being, knowledge, or conduct. 2. any of the three branches, namely natural philosophy, moral philosophy, and metaphysical philosophy, that are accepted as composing this study. 3. a system of philosophical doctrine: the philosphy of Spinoza. 4. the critical study of the basic principles and concepts of a particular branch of knowledge, especially with a view to improving or reconstitutiong them: the philosophy of science. 5. a system of principles for guidiance in practical affairs. 6. a philosphical attitude, as one of composure and calm in the presence of troubles or annoyances. [1250 -1300]; ME philosophie <Gk philosophia, Philo-(love),-sophy(wisdom).

    Philosophize 1. to speculate or theorize, usually in a superficial or imprecise manner. 2. to think or reason as a philosopher.[1585]

    Philosophy of life, any philosophical view or vision of the nature or purpose of life or of the way that life should be lived.[1850-55]

    Philosopher. 1. a person who offers views or theories on profound questions in ethics, metaphysics, logic, and other related fields. 2. aperson who is deeply versed in philosophy. 3. aperson who establishes the central ideas of some movement, cult, etc. 5. a person who regulates their life, actions, judgements, utterances, etc., by the lifght of philosophy or reason. 6. a person who is rationally or sensibly calm, especially under trying circumstances.

    "My definition [of a philosopher] is a man up in a ballon, with his family and friends holding the ropes which confine him to earth and trying to haul him down."-Louisa May Alcott

    "Now, my suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.... I suspect that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of, in any philosophy. That is the reason why I have no philosophy myself, and must be my excuse for dreaming."-John Burdon Sanderson Haldane

    "A philosopher of imposing stature doesn't think in a vacuum. Even his most abstract ideas are, to some extent, conditioned by what is or is not known in the time when he lives."-Alfred North Whitehead
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 3, 2003
  11. Aug 3, 2003 #10
    “Students of Philosophy learn to look carefully for similarities and differences among things. They also develop an ability to spot logical difficulties in what others write or say and to avoid these pitfalls in their own thinking. In addition, they learn to recognize and critically assess the important unstated assumptions people make about the world and themselves and other people and life in general. These assumptions affect how people perceive the world and what they say and do, yet for the most part people are not aware of them and are disinclined to consider them critically. These abilities are of great value in any field that requires clear thinking.”

    (bold text applied by BH)
    -Philosophy – The Power of Ideas
    5th Edition

    “According to The Economist, “Philosophy students do better in examinations for business and management schools than anybody except mathematicians – better even than those who study economics, business or other vocational subjects.””.

    -From the same book as above (current college level text).
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 3, 2003
  12. Aug 6, 2003 #11

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    Re: Re: Is philosophy practical knowledge?

    This is the key in my mind too. All I do lately is spot unfounded assumptions and question them. I feel like I am on a crusade.

    Philosophy is definately important in my life. This is a personal thing really. I don't expect this to apply to everyone, but for me, Philosophy is not something I do, it is simply who I am. I question everything that i face. I ponder, I wonder, i reasses, i doubt, and i try to find inconsistencies. I can't help it. The result though, is that I have found my own meaning, I have my own ethics, I have my own goals in life, and ideals that I strive after. All of these personal things which I have found tend to be superficially similar to the ideals strived after by every other human in society, but mine have a much stronger basis: I chose mine for reasons. I didn't accept them. As such, they mean a lot more to me.

    But don't think that that means my mind is made up. Coming to an ideal through philosophy need never be a conclusion. Coming to an ideal through indoctrination typicaly does. Indoctrination is the enemy of philosophy.
  13. Aug 6, 2003 #12

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    My GF has a theory that I am inclined to agree with (I'll let her come in and explain it (I know she will want to)). Basically, the concept is :

    Most people aren't philosophers. Most people don't think. Most people are happy to go with the flow, accept what they see, and just enjoy the ride.

    Some people can't think. You present them with a problem, and they can't solve it, and sometimes can't even see the problem. These people go with the flow because they see no alterntive.

    And then you have this very small minority of people who are philosophers. The people who question everything, the people who can't stop thinking about everything..the people who can't be indoctrinated. These people are the ones who instigate social change, the ones who change the world. They are only a fraction, probably less than 1%, but this is a necessary condition. If everyone tried to change the world, then there would be no consistency to change. You only need one person to create the theory of natural selection. You only need one person to question the earth centered universe, you only need one person to propose everyone in a society should be treated equally etc..

    Is philosophy practical knowledge? With the above in mind, I don't think our society would be beyond the caves without philosophers... Does that help?
  14. Aug 7, 2003 #13
    Philosophy? Practical? Now there's a real case for an oxymoron! :)

    Is philosophy useful? Now there's a different ball game. :)
  15. Aug 7, 2003 #14
    Philosophy should be a process of verifictaion, all other forms of contemplation such as has been mentioned should be categorised as metaphysics, essentially non-sensical, contraiwise, vastly stimulating.
  16. Aug 7, 2003 #15
    Philosophy is everywhere. In any imaginable view on world, there is philosophy behind it. Its what makes up paradigm. Entity without philosophy is not concious, its robot, or animal at best.
    The rest is 'details'.
  17. Aug 7, 2003 #16


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    AG, another post of yours that rhymes true to my heart

    i believe you are right when you (or your gf) state that most people don't think for themselves...they have what i call, AUTOPILOT SYNDROME ...

    also, i think you hit the nail on the head with your theory...the very core of philosophy is to question, and pursue why regardless of the subject at hand...

    Brian...in your opinion, what is the difference?
  18. Aug 9, 2003 #17

    Another God

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    Hmm Interesting philosophy you have there TheGorx.

    *nudge nudge, wink wink...say no more*
  19. Aug 9, 2003 #18
    Truth demands unsettling changes to improve, without reasoning to guide I'm often duped into believing lesser truths and feel as reaching for unreachables. A philosopher is an intellectually disgrutled explorer. Philosphy teaches me to think long and hard about things and often wrong, the good thing about it is that the little questions in life become very hard and the hard questions become very easy, the bad thing is when I try to go to work or talk to people which is more reflexive I get to thinking way to much and slowed down and make more mistakes.
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  20. Aug 9, 2003 #19


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    Logic is a phylosophical school, and hopefully we all learned something about it in Tom's "Logic" thread. Surely, the ability to tell the difference between a valid and an invalid line of reasoning is essential to any type of advancement. Without that, everything we attempt would succeed or fail based solely on trial and error, or random chance. We'd never get anything accomplished that way!
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