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What is Philosophy?

posed the "What use are Philosophers?" to amateur Philosopher Andrew Lewis.
His reply is below.

"What 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 illustrations.

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 David.

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 endeavours.

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.

Andy Lewis

26th March  2001
(c) A J Lewis, 2001

If you would like to comment or add to the above Andy can be contacted via our phone, fax and via





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