Posts Tagged ‘value of philosophy’

last day

April 28, 2010

The last day of class, at last. But, already?! We were just getting started.

Monday’s final report presentations were good, but Bushra’s stood out because she brought chocolate (to symbolize and help us all visualize the possibility of world peace, and to disarm her professor’s critical defenses). I agree with her point about “meaning” being made rather than (or as well as?) simply found.

But I can’t agree that philosophy generates only questions, not answers. I find that it generates plenty of answers. THE answer, no. That would be too easy, and would probably make philosophy irrelevant. Fortunately it’s not.

But I know what she meant. So did Bertie Russell.*

So what’s my parting word, as we all prepare for final exams?

First, from Uncle Einstein:  “The important thing is to never stop questioning.”

*And from Prof. Russell:

The man who has no tincture of philosophy goes through life imprisoned in the prejudices derived from common sense, from the habitual beliefs of his age or his nation, and from convictions which have grown up in his mind without the co-operation or consent of his deliberate reason. To such a man the world tends to become definite, finite, obvious; common objects rouse no questions, and unfamiliar possibilities are contemptuously rejected. As soon as we begin to philosophize, on the contrary, we find that even the most everyday things lead to problems to which only very incomplete answers can be given. Philosophy, though unable to tell us with certainty what is the true answer to the doubts which it raises, is able to suggest many possibilities which enlarge our thoughts and free them from the tyranny of custom. Thus, while diminishing our feeling of certainty as to what things are, it greatly increases our knowledge as to what they may be; it removes the somewhat arrogant dogmatism of those who have never travelled into the region of liberating doubt, and it keeps alive our sense of wonder by showing familiar things in an unfamiliar aspect…

Philosophy is to be studied, not for the sake of any definite answers to its questions since no definite answers can, as a rule, be known to be true, but rather for the sake of the questions themselves; because these questions enlarge our conception of what is possible, enrich our intellectual imagination and diminish the dogmatic assurance which closes the mind against speculation; but above all because, through the greatness of the universe which philosophy contemplates, the mind also is rendered great, and becomes capable of that union with the universe which constitutes its highest good.

-Bertrand Russell, The Value of Philosophy



August 26, 2009

Must be brief this a.m., I’m off to the Faculty Senate retreat. What are we retreating from? Probably from any honest acknowledgement of our marginal power as a body to influence the whim and fiat of administrators, charged to enact the anti-intellectual will of petty politicians and their complacent-but-angry constituents. Our keepers will no doubt seek to assure us of their solidarity with our plight: We’re all just pawns in this short-sighted game of state legislative belt-tightening, “we’re doing all we can” (as Nancy Reagan once prompted poor Ronnie to parrot).

But that’s too cynical. Retreating can mean running away from confrontation with power, flight not fight. Or, it can mean gathering in a safe zone to shore up resources, devise intelligent strategies, and recall what’s worth fighting for.

Last Spring our campus was embroiled in sound and fury and confusion, as the budget axe began to fall we knew not where. Most of our colleagues were spared the worst that had been feared. Our department apparently remains on the hot seat to demonstrate its usefulness, and philosophy’s,  notwithstanding the “Academic Performance Award for your Philosophy graduates’ outstanding performance on the 2008-09 general education test!” It’ll be nice to stand up before the President on Friday at the annual new school year convocation to bask in his ironic recognition. “Again, congratulations to the faculty of the Department of Philosophy for their excellent work with their students!” Thank you. Thank you very much.

Seriously, it’s gratifying to know that we’ve inspired our students not only to excel academically, but to recognize the value of philosophy and to fight for it.

One more redeeming thing about retreating, there will be food. And then, soon, there will be classes. It’s important for us all to remember: that’s why we’re here.