use are philosophers?" Here it is. By the way, I'm not a philosopher, I
read philosophy. For all sorts
of reasons. I do not see it as my role to justify or otherwise contemporary
professional philosophers, philosophy lecturers or academics. However, as it
was a set book on my "A" level course, a good start if you're
interested might be "Practical Ethics" by Peter Singer.
The domain of philosophy, like
engineering, has a number of sub-disciplines, such as Moral Philosophy, Mind
and Body, Logic. Each of these disciplines has its main champion, and some
champions, such as Aristotle and J. S. Mill span more than one discipline.
However, I shall attempt to elucidate my answer to the editor's question by
a humble attempt at Platonic simile. I hope to answer for both the
individual reading philosophy, and for society at large, giving
Imagine on a warm night in Tuscany you
are in the garden of a hostelry with a mound of modelling clay with which to
replicate the statue of David by Michael Angelo you saw in Florence that
afternoon. However, the night is pitch black, and there is no street
lighting to provide an ambient backlight. Thus you require a torch to
illuminate the clay. The torch however, only illuminates one side and one
angle of the clay. Thus only one side of the statue can be modelled. If this
view were sufficient, that you had reproduced enough of the statue, then
this would suffice. Indeed one might want to add new features, such, as
another arm, but this would look grotesque because of having only one light,
and thus you would have a distorted representation of Michael Angelo's
However, if you were really keen to
complete the work, and perhaps display it, then you could find another
torch, place it at another angle, and complete the work on the newly
illuminated portion. And so on with a third and fourth and subsequent
torches until you were satisfied with the result..
To firm up on the point, imagine
Aristotle, Locke, Mill, Hegel as torches, and the modelling clay your own
In fact other people have taken guidance
from philosophy, and it has made a great impact. Consider Christianity,
Islam, and to some extent Aristotle, whose tenets represent a
"How-To" lead one's life, as opposed to Mill who tried to define
the limits to which one was entitled to present people with a
"How-To" lead their life.
Or the impact of John Locke on Thomas
Jefferson when drafting the Declaration of Independence, along with other
writers from the age of enlightenment.
Or the effects of Karl Marx on the twentieth century?
Perhaps the role for philosophers in
today's world is to maintain the knowledge and ability of these luminaries
for a future Thomas Jefferson, possibly from their own ranks? Perhaps, as
one reads the works of these greats, they too will say "Ah Ha!",
and a radical new idea will enter the world of thought and reason.
(c) A J Lewis, 2001
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