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What is the practical use of philosophy?

Does philosophy move us toward a deeper understanding of the human condition, or does philosophy push us away from understanding the human condition (thru "detactment")?

It was Schopenhaur who said that in order to be a philosopher, one must be half-dead; however, Schopenhaur would have argued that he had unraveled the mystery of the human condition.

However, can one really be "half-dead" and have a deeper insight into being alive than all the non-philosophers? Wouldn't it be the lumberjack with the real insight?

Edit: Philosophy asks us to look at questions from the outside in, yet actual experience is gained differently. We are held captive by the immediatcy of "reality" during experience. Therefore, how is it possible to gain knowledge of experience at all? If the knowledge we obtain through philosophy is not relavant to our human experience, then what is philosophy really teaching us?

For example, with philosophy we can view food in many different ways. We can learn the importance of eating good food. However, it cannot teach us how to enjoy food.

Put more strongly, even if philosophy could definitively tell us what is good, what is truth, what is real, it cannot lead us any closer to the good, the truth, or the real, because there is no such thing as knowledge of experience.

  • Possibly related philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/41/what-is-philosophy
    – Joseph Weissman
    Commented Jul 16, 2011 at 20:08
  • 1
    Yes. It is related. I will add to my question to make it a little bit more specific. Commented Jul 17, 2011 at 4:52
  • Interesting question. If philosohy is contained within the mind then what can it achieve? If we let the mind go and appreciate food, for example, then can we feel the experience? Does philosophy drive us mad or show us how to live? Commented Jul 17, 2011 at 7:10
  • Any chance you could clean this question up a bit? It does read a bit "what is the point of theory." Providing some context would help, but try asking about something specific to do with philosophy.
    – Joseph Weissman
    Commented Jul 18, 2011 at 23:59
  • Yes, I can clean it up. I don't want it to sound like I am asking what is the point of theory. I'd would rather point out what exactly philosophy cannot handle. I believe in a stricter definition of philosophy than most. My major claim is that philosophy by its very nature cannot make meaningful claims about qualia. To me, this is a major flaw in physicalism. I will restate the question soon so that the actual question is clearer. Commented Jul 19, 2011 at 4:55

2 Answers 2


I think philosophy in some sense is something others before us have learned by their experiences and attempted to share with us to guide us in the right direction, knowing that it might be difficult for other people to actually follow every teaching of their philosophy. The intended purpose is just a guidance, if you choose to follow it. It doesn't quite give the entire picture-there's still a lot of things you need to learn on your own, and that's where you'll start getting some experience.

Consider poetry for example. I think the reason poetry is so powerful to us is in it's difficulty in understanding. Poets like Shakespeare have so much to say where it would be impossible to say everything in a 14 line sonnet. So they resort to using really powerful metaphors and analogies that not all can understand at first, but if you put the time and effort into understanding it, it's as if you came up with the thought yourself. It's as if you were the author of the thoughts that Shakespeare was attempting to convey. If he had just written everything so literally, then it wouldn't have been that exciting, and its impact wouldn't have been as powerful.

The point is that philosophers aren't telling you to do this and do that, but rather to just to follow a certain path, that when followed, will lead to endless discoveries made all by yourself, and before you know it, you'll have your own philosophies that, to you, can be even more powerful than what they had been trying to teach you. This is just my view on the matter and how I learn from philosophers and poets, but I'm sure everyone has their own way of understanding it-that's what makes philosophy and poetry so great!


If we were able to live in the "reality" of every moment then perhaps philosophy would be unnecessary since we would be in tune with the true wisdom of experience. But this is not the case. Instead of experiencing the moment fully we think through the moment or get washed away by emotion. Thus, since this is the current condition, philosophy (like poetry :)) can help us to replace thought patterns with fresh philosophical statements, which will have to eventually be replaced by a fresher philosophy...

Since we are so intelligent, studying philosohy or mathematics can organize the mind and leave space for true experience. There seems to be a human state which is able to experience fully and at the same time, through careful observations of others and self, use the mind to philosophize, see truth, and be able to verbalize it.

There is an interesting and visually appealing book which discusses a related question through the history of philosophy called "Does the Center Hold? An Introduction to Western Philosohy" by Donald Palmer.

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