Recently I've got into an argument with a friend of mine about a cliché, "What is the use of philosophy?". Well we didn't discuss it that much but I want to keep the argument based on some philosopher's reasoning rather than my own.

I actually really like the introduction of "History of Western Philosophy by Russell:

“ Science tells us what we can know, but what we can know is little, and if we forget how much we cannot know we become insensitive to many things of very great importance. Theology, on the other hand, induces a dogmatic belief that we have knowledge where in fact we have ignorance, and by doing so generates a kind of impertinent insolence towards the universe. Uncertainty, in the presence of vivid hopes and fears, is painful, but must be endured if we wish to live without the support of comforting fairy tales. It is not good either to forget the questions that philosophy asks, or to persuade ourselves that we have found indubitable answers to them. To teach how to live without certainty, and yet without being paralyzed by hesitation, is perhaps the chief thing that philosophy, in our age, can still do for those who study it.”

But I thought considering the fact that the book has been written in 1945, there might be better and more up to date counter-arguments against this question and maybe even more elaborated ones. I have already browsed here, but answers there are either personal opinions (which as I said, I am looking for a reference) or improper from my point of view; Take Delouse's answer; he basically insults the person who asks such a question. I'd rather prefer a more disinterested argument as Russel's.

I am not asking for a book on the subject. But maybe a book that discusses the topic as part of its objective, like Russel's. Does anybody know any reference for it?

  • So despite my answer below this does feel really close to the existing question (that you yourself identified!) I'm wondering if you could explore a little bit further what might differentiate this question from that one; the headlines are particularly close in one thing that worries me -- cf. philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/2088/…
    – Joseph Weissman
    Commented May 25, 2014 at 14:44

1 Answer 1


Just in passing and much too long for a comment: Deleuze's thoughts on this may be aggressive -- but keep in mind that (as he says) the question "what is the use of philosophy?" itself is intended to be caustic or at least ironic.

So the ideas below may not be expressed with your sensibilities in mind, but they are certainly not meant to insult anyone. He does say that philosophy makes stupidity something shameful, but again this is not exactly an insult to anyone -- given again that he emphasizes that philosophy is at its most positive as an enterprise of critique, dispelling the various myths that stupidity falls for.

For background, here are the relevant remarks from Nietzsche and Philosophy (p. 106 of this edition):

When someone asks “what’s the use of philosophy?” the reply must be aggressive, since the question tries to be ironic and caustic. Philosophy does not serve the State or the Church, who have other concerns. It serves no established power. The use of philosophy is to sadden. A philosophy that saddens no one, that annoys no one, is not a philosophy. It is useful for harming stupidity, for turning stupidity into something shameful. Its only use is the exposure of all forms of baseness of thought. Is there any discipline apart from philosophy that sets out to criticise all mystifications, whatever their source and aim, to expose all the fictions without which reactive forces would not prevail? Exposing as a mystification the mixture of baseness and stupidity that creates the astonishing complicity of both victims and perpetrators. Finally, turning thought into something aggressive, active and affirmative. Creating free men, that is to say men who do not confuse the aims of culture with the benefit of the State, morality or religion. Fighting the ressentiment and bad conscience, which have replaced thought for us. Conquering the negative and its false glamour. Who has an interest in all this but philosophy? Philosophy is at its most positive as critique, as an enterprise of demystification.

We'll go a little further in the reading than we did in the other answer just to underline this point:

And we should not be too hasty in proclaiming philsophy's failure in this respect. Great as they are, stupidity and baseness would be still greater if there did not remain some philosophy which always prevents them from going as far as they would wish, which forbids them -- if only by yea-saying -- from being as stupid and base as they would wish. They are forbidden certain excesses, but only by philosophy.

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