The Value of Philosophy


It is generally agreed that there are two types of value: instrumental value and intrinsic value.

Something is instrumentally valuable just in case it is not valuable (good, preferable, useful) in and of itself, but rather it is a means to acquire or do something else that has intrinsic value. For example, money is not valuable in and of itself. We value money instrumentally insofar as we can use it as a means to ends that we consider intrinsically valuable: sustaining a family, having fun with friends, and more.

On the other hand, something is intrinsically valuable just in case it is valuable in and of itself. Things like love, justice, beauty, knowledge, truth, friendship, and happiness are great examples of things we value intrinsically for themselves.

This dichotomy is incredibly useful when expounding the value of philosophy, as we can talk of philosophy’s indubitable intrinsic value as well as its instrumental value.

Philosophy: Instrumental Value

Much of what is learned in philosophy can be applied in virtually any endeavor. This is both because philosophy touches on so many subjects and, especially, because many of its methods are usable in any field.

First, philosophy develops, refines, and cultivates problem solving skills. Philosophy enhances (in a way no other discipline or activity does) one’s ability to analyze concepts, definitions, arguments, and problems. It aids one in analyzing a problem, evaluating various ways it could be solved, and arriving at the best possible solution. It also contributes to one’s ability to organize ideas and extract what is essential from large amounts of information. Finally, it enhances one’s ability to find hidden or underlying assumptions behind claims and arguments — an incredibly valuable tool in the workplace and in general problem solving.

Second, philosophy broadens one’s horizons and outlook on life. Studying the various ways thinkers of the past and present have come to varying conclusions allows one to see the world in a more unified way from varying perspectives, and it keeps one aware that there are many perspectives from which to approach problems and issues (both intellectual and practical). In short, it helps one to synthesize a variety of views or perspectives into a unified whole.

Third, philosophy develops and enhances one’s communication skills. It gives one the essential tools needed to express one’s views in a coherent, logical, and well-constructed way. This is due to the nature of philosophy, as it revolves around precision and systematic argumentation. This, in turn, enhances one’s ability to understand and explain difficult material as well as eliminate imprecision and vagueness in one’s writing.

Fourth, philosophy trains one’s persuasive powers, as it gives one the tools necessary for the clear formulation of sound arguments, apt examples, and cutting thought experiments. Thus, it aids crucially in one’s ability to be convincing. Philosophical reading, writing, and dialogue, all of which are integral parts of a philosophy education, helps one build, defend, and criticize one’s own and others’ views.

Fifth, as previously hinted at, philosophy greatly helps with writing skills. Through its marriage with challenging and oftentimes esoteric texts, philosophy develops argumentative writing and the ability to construct forceful examples. It thereby develops one’s ability to structure and organize one’s writing.

There’s a myriad of other benefits, but I have neither the space nor the time to explicate them all here. One further benefit is a greater understanding of other disciplines, their ways of knowing, their inherent limitations, and their relations to other disciplines. Another benefit is its contribution to one’s capacity to frame hypotheses, do research, and put complex problems into manageable form. Overall, the ability to analyze problems and consider them from many points of view, combined with the precision that characterizes the field, makes philosophy an incredibly valuable field of study.

Philosophy: Intrinsic Value

As a quest for understanding of life’s biggest questions, it is clear that the study of philosophy has intrinsic rewards. Does God exist? Does free will exist? How are we to make sense of moral responsibility? Do minds exist? Are they separate from the physical brain? Is there an afterlife? The pursuit of these fundamental questions is undeniably intrinsically valuable in and of itself, as it allows one to contemplate existence and transcend the banalities of everyday life.

Philosophy’s ultimate goal is knowledge, truth, and goodness. Such intrinsic values, inherent to the methodology and subject matter of philosophy, make life worth living.

The best way to end this article is with a profound and cutting quotation on the value of philosophy:

“Philosophy is the systematic study of ideas and issues, a reasoned pursuit of fundamental truths, a quest for a comprehensive understanding of the world, a study of principles of conduct, and much more… Indeed, philosophy is in a sense inescapable: life confronts every thoughtful person with some philosophical questions, and nearly everyone is guided by philosophical assumptions, even if unconsciously… The problem-solving, analytical, judgmental, and synthesizing capacities philosophy develops are unrestricted in their scope and unlimited in their usefulness… Wisdom, leadership, and the capacity to resolve human conflicts cannot be guaranteed by any course of study; but philosophy has traditionally pursued these ideals systematically, and its methods, its literature, and its ideas are of constant use in the quest to realize them. Sound reasoning, critical thinking, well constructed prose, maturity of judgement, a strong sense of relevance, and an enlightened consciousness are never obsolete, nor are they subject to the fluctuating demands of the market-place. The study of philosophy is the most direct route, and in many cases the only route, to the full development of these qualities” (American Philosophical Association).

Author: Joe



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