Why we should learn philosophy
Philosophy is a battle
against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.
- Ludwig Wittgenstein
Philosophy is the use of reason in understanding such things as the
nature of reality and existence, the use and limits of knowledge and the
principles that govern and influence moral judgement. To the average
man, however, philosophy is nothing but a highbrow subject meant for
All philosophers from Socrates to Jiddu Krishnamurti have studied the
fundamental nature of existence of man and his relationship with it.
Subjects such as history or mathematics deal with certain aspects of
life. However, philosophy deals with the whole realm of life. Although
philosophy will not tell you where you are, it would tell you whether
you are ruled by a democratic leader or a despot. It would also educate
you on how to distinguish between reality and illusion.
Ayn Rand: Reason, according to
Objectivism, is not merely a distinguishing
attribute of man; it is his fundamental
attribute - his basic means
According to philosophy, most of us try to evade answering three
basic questions: Where am I? How do I know it? What should I do? Until
we grow old, we think that we know the answers to these questions. To
the first question, you would say, “I am in Sri Lanka or China.” To the
second question, you would say that it needs no explanation. To the
third question, you would say, “I am not sure. I’ll do what others do.”
We are blissfully unaware that only philosophy can answer such
We find philosophy difficult to understand because most philosophers
speak to us in a different lingo, raising questions and not answering
them adequately. They say there are no definite answers to their own
questions. But Leonard Peikoff refers to a different type of philosopher
who is supposed to be the greatest salesman of philosophy we ever had.
The philosopher is Ayn Rand who was also a highly successful novelist.
Ayn Rand’s romantic best seller Atlas Shrugged was fundamentally a
philosophical novel. According to critics, she could market philosophy
easily because of her particular philosophy - Objectivism.
Explaining it, she wrote, “Reason, according to Objectivism, is not
merely a distinguishing attribute of man; it is his fundamental
attribute - his basic means of survival.”
Ayn Rand firmly believed that man needs philosophy that includes
metaphysics, epistemology and ethics. He needs philosophy to think, act
and live meaningfully. To Rand, philosophy was not a bundle of
abstractions beyond man’s comprehension.
It is also not a chess game divorced from reality. Philosophy is the
fundamental factor in human life. It is the force that shapes the mind
and character of man and the destiny of nations. So, we cannot dismiss
philosophy as a subject beyond our realm of understanding.
Anyone who is familiar with Rand’s writings will realise that
philosophy helps him to identify and evaluate premises at work in his
own life or nation. In a way, philosophy rules man and nations even
without their knowledge. For instance, when a man or nation acts
rationally, the ultimate result is a harmonious life. On the other hand,
when they act irrationally, the result is a chaotic situation.
Many examples can be cited to prove this point. We see notorious
criminals who act irrationally and unethically end their life
tragically. Similarly, terrorist leaders who fight for an irrational and
unethical cause usually get what they deserve, death at the hands of
security forces. Some powerful countries such as the United States
attack Third World countries irrationally. They may be unaware that they
are incurring the wrath of small but independent nations.
Ayn Rand said, “A philosophic system is an integrated view of
existence. As a human being, you have no choice about the fact that you
need a philosophy. In fact, who sets the tone of a nation’s culture? It
is a small band of men and women who are called philosophers.”
Those who kill innocent children, women and men have no compunction
about what they do. Drug addicts and those who are bent on nefarious
activities do not think of the repercussions of their actions.
All such criminals and wrongdoers have never heard of philosophy.
Even the powerful leaders who are all out to decimate small countries
have no regard for philosophy. This is the very reason that certain
philosophers advanced the theory that we should be governed by
Although all of us cannot become philosophers, let us drink deep at
the fountain of knowledge bequeathed to us by a long line of eminent
philosophers down the ages.