I’ve heard many times the opinion, that philosophy is an idle chatter and people cannot benefit from it in any way. Do you agree or disagree?
The simplest proof of this is the memes on the internet claiming that degree in philosophy won’t help to get a job.
But then we are more than willing to follow life philosophy quotes of famous people from Steve Jobs to Gandhi or Einstein. Since this website is about positive philosophy, I must explain WHY I am sure it is helpful.
What is philosophy?
We can find a definition by Wikipedia easily, but I will provide the one that is used through the pages of this website.
Philosophy is a set of ideas that helps.
Helps to do what? Everything! To get things done, to think, to love, to be. If something is not helping, then it is just an idle chatter. If something is right but has no practical use, then it is the truth, maybe even scientific, but not philosophy.
Philosophy is the application of that truth, the HOW. How to get things done, how to think, how to love, how to be? How to do what we do?
We know many truths about economics. So HOW to do business with those truths? We know many truths about psychology. HOW to maintain good relations according to those truths? We know many truths about health. HOW to live a long and healthy life?
Sometimes we don’t know the exact truth, just some vague speculations (as in economics, brain science, cosmology). How to live with this limited knowledge?
And then we do what? Read philosophies of achievers.
“Stay hungry, stay foolish,” said Steve Jobs. This is his HOW, his philosophy.
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them,” said Einstein. The practical application is implied in this sentence and it is his HOW, his philosophy.
“Love your neighbor as yourself,” said Jesus. This is his HOW, his philosophy.
I guess none of these three men studied philosophy as usual students. But they applied it a lot. From my personal observations, I can tell that the best performers in any field have a personal philosophy HOW they do that. And sometimes it’s unique.
Did you know, that Marcus Aurelius was the Roman Emperor and Stoicism philosopher at the same time? Not only beggars like Diogenes were involved in this field.
I could argue that the book “Winning” written by American businessman Jack Welch is also a piece of business philosophy. This is the story HOW he did his business, but it was put in writing only after he retired.
Honestly, I am not saying that all the philosophy is helpful. I came across many articles about “the philosophy of action” where it was nothing else just overthinking on simple things. As usual, we must filter out those pieces that do not help us.
Philosophy as product
But I don’t have my personal unique philosophy! What should I do?
Through ages, this question was solved by the means of tradition, culture, religion, law.
I don’t know how to live my life! Here is your package, it’s called tradition – tested and safe.
I don’t know how to interpret the world! Here is your package, it’s called religion – it works really well.
People without lack of time or will to think about their own moral principles were offered stories and explanations created by those who dedicated their time to overthink simple things. The biggest challenge was to explain those ideas to poor uneducated people, and the common solution was to make them believe everything without question and follow the procedures (so-called rituals).
It’s amazing, but they were lazy enough and they really accepted everything without question and followed the rituals happily.
The problem is that after decades of blindly following the procedures without deep understanding what the philosophy truly means, everything that survived was those formal procedures. After decades of belief without question, all the misinterpretations of the original story became the part of it.
The most incredible piece is the Holy Bible, where Jesus often complained that his disciples did not understand what he meant. But letters of his disciples or even disciples of disciples were included in the Bible itself. The same disciples who didn’t understand their teacher.
Now the philosophy is sold as a product. We have plenty of books, courses, and classes – how to do this and how to do that. And they’re all certain philosophies of dealing with certain problems.
A good example is a super practical book “Getting things done”. Before explaining how to get things done, the author David Allen explains the underlying philosophy that reverberates in the entire book: the natural thinking model and the need to make the mind like water. All his techniques utilize these two principles.
Philosophy is needed as a consistent way of achieving things. All good and systematic pieces of advice have some philosophy behind them. Otherwise, they would be just random ideas.
The problem we have now is that it is more important what sells well than what is helpful, so there are plenty of poorly-thought philosophies or even ones that are blindly following misinterpretations of some old stories.
For example eating organic is nice, but are there real benefits for health and ecosystem? Discussions continue, but overpriced pseudo-natural products are sold really well.
And useless ideas how to find your true passion are innumerable.
It’s nothing wrong to buy and accept the philosophy of others. We cannot spend our time thinking about time and space all the time, maybe we have more interesting things to do. But let’s keep our critical thinking and don’t accept everything we find online as “proved by one ambiguous study” as hard scientific truth.
If you read too much of my articles, you will start accepting my philosophy, so be careful.
Examples of helpful thinking
To make it clearer I will give some examples of thinking that helps and that doesn’t help.
What if they say: “The god is almighty!“? I don’t know what. I guess nothing.
And what if: “There is no god!” So what can I do with this?
But if they say: “Every action has a consequence”, then I know, that I better look what I do and avoid actions with negative consequences.
“The god created the world!” I think that’s nice.
“The world was created by the Big Bang!” I say: “Wow!”
“Everything is temporary.” That makes me feel better during hard times and encourages me to seize the opportunity during easy times.
“God created humans!” That’s so great!
“Humans evolved from apes!” Good for them. (I mean apes.)
“Human actions are mostly instinctive responses to various triggers.” Oh dear! That means I must watch my actions, tame my instincts and control the triggers surrounding me.
So, we can see that even truth is sometimes not that useful. I like science, I like reading articles about cosmology and dark matter, but these things do not help me to live my life, except for providing some amusement.
But philosophy helps. Please do not fear or ridicule this word.
What is your favorite philosophy book?