Background: I've read Bertrand Russell's essay on the value of philosophy, and a small bit of Rorty.

A few non-knowlege-centric reasons for engaging with philosophy I've come across and am open to:

  1. pleasure. Contemplation is an intellectual pleasure
  2. personal ethics and self-counselling. Particularly, the Greco-Roman moralists. CBT has roots in these.
  3. Challenging cultural beliefs and the influence of 'bad' philosophy

Assuming philosophy is not capable (or not the best means) of acquiring the type of knowledge that leads to technological improvements, what are some reasons for the layman to engage with it? (Feel free to challenge the 3 above too).

  • 3
    I have found that once one is used to and has trained their agility in analysing concepts, identifying premises and focusing on concepts rather than the words that point to them, it's much easier to exert skepticism and have a critical view on the word salad that continuously surrounds us in this age of information society. Identifying who has a meaningful discourse and who is just making noise, what discussions are about real issues and which are red herrings helps in keeping oneself serene and focused.
    – armand
    Apr 21, 2023 at 7:45
  • On the last bit, "keeping oneself serene and focused", do you think philosophy promotes or could support quietism, which supports peace of mind? I don't mean full-blown Quietism, rather some level of reservation from cultural immersion, due to skepticism or consideration of alternatives, which supports peace of mind?
    – user65720
    Apr 21, 2023 at 13:43
  • Once one has trained their agility in analyzing concepts, could we say that it also becomes much easier to exert skepticism and have critical views on the barrage of word salad that continuously assails the reader in some quarters of philosophy itself?
    – Frank
    Apr 21, 2023 at 14:50
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    @Frank absolutely. The ratio actual philosopher/people who present themselves as philosophers is sadly one of the highest among academic disciplines. Being able to immediately spot an individual like Jordan Peterson for what he is surely helps one keeping serene.
    – armand
    Apr 22, 2023 at 0:18
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    @Paul skepticism helps doing triage among the noise to know what to engage with fruitfully. In a democratic society where one is trusted with participating in the decision process there is a duty to engage with issues and make an informed choice.
    – armand
    Apr 22, 2023 at 0:23

4 Answers 4


I’m not sure I can think of a bad personal reason for engaging with philosophy, so your question is hard to answer. If you find the activities involved in philosophizing engaging and satisfying, they are good reasons for you. On the other hand, I would expect that if you engage with philosophy because you are seeking fame and fortune, you are very unlikely to find it satisfying, so you are unlikely to continue your engagement. The best I can do is outline some of the reasons why I think people engage with philosophy; it’s up to you whether they are good reasons for you.

The training in analysis of arguments and ideas can be satisfying in itself and useful in many other contexts.

It is particularly useful to be able to identify nonsense when you encounter it. In addition, it can be important to recognize radical disagreements which are difficult to discuss and often impossible to reach agreement about. Philosophical training can help with both of these.

It’s also helpful to know something of how key ideas such as truth, beauty, and ethics have developed in history.

But the key to philosophy is discussion (with yourself and others) and reading and discussion (with yourself and others) and writing (not necessarily for publication, though it is very gratifying when you find someone else who will read what you have written) and discussion (with yourself and others). I find those activities intrinsically worth-while and believe that other people engaged with philosophy also find them satisfying.

This is not, perhaps, the best place to talk about the down-sides and difficulties in philosophy, but it would not be right to give you the impression that there are none. For example, a philosophical stance in relation to certain issues and on certain occasions is – let’s say, socially awkward. But if you find that the down-sides do not put you off, then philosophy is definitely for you.

It may well be that you find philosophy helpful in relation to personal ethics and self-counselling and it is true that the Greco-Roman philosophers are especially interesting in those contexts – though some people like the existentialists and others like the Buddhists. Boethius’ argument in The Consolation of Philosophy is not fashionable at the moment, but you might find it of interest.

This falls under the heading of practical (as opposed to theoretical) philosophy; I haven’t seen much about this on this site. I’m rather sceptical about it; but anything that helps is – well, helpful.

For more about Boethius, see:- Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

For more about practical philosophy and philosophical counselling, see:-

Philosophical counselling - Wikipedia and Practical philosophy - Wikipedia


Good philosophy helps one see what is and what is not and how to make the best of it. One doesn't have to look far to see many bonkers beliefs that philosophy can help with. Once one has seen through one's delusions they become like dreams and one might wonder about the continued utility of philosophy, like the need for a raft when one has crossed a river.

  • "Bonkers" beliefs are held by philosophes too. By focusing in rationality, then following rational inferences to limit cases, philosophers can easily fall into what "ordinary" pragmatic people consider "bonkers" beliefs. Most philosophers today are embarrassed by behaviorism, but that idea -- that one can do psychology WITHOUT referencing what is inside our heads, dominated philosophy in the USA for half a century! No, philosophy does not protect one from being "bonkers".
    – Dcleve
    Apr 23, 2023 at 16:17

As Socrates once pointed out, wisdom is the most important virtue to attain, because any other virtue one wants to attain can only be attained if one has a capacity for wisdom.


OK, here are two arguments for how it is personally beneficial:

  1. Philosophy, at least in the Western tradition, is motivated by a pursuit of "Truth" as the highest virtue in one's life. Virtue ethics arguably leads most directly to one becoming a better person -- as self-improvement is the POINT of Virtue ethics. Examination of the challenging problems that remain within philosophy (I treat philosophy is that subset of remaining questions about our world that have not been understood to the point they have split off as separate subjects of study) SHOULD hone one's ability to discern Truth.

  2. People are innately subject to capture by ideological thinking. We THINK in memeplexes, and the memeplexes that include memes that prevent questioning of their assumption set are the ones most likely to remain adopted. Note, however, that memeplex worldviews can lead to toxic/detrimental attitudes and lifestyle choices and societies. However, the basic philosophical mindset is to learn to question and examine the walls of the boxes within which one thinks. This attitude -- identifying and questioning previously unidentified and uncritically adopted assumptions -- is the best way I know of to potentially escape from an invalid/detrimental/toxic/untrue memeplex worldview.

But now two negatives:

  1. Focus on TRUTH is not actually the highest virtue. LOVE is, and a purely truth-focussed life will not lead one to the most virtuous life. One will be disengaged/callous with others if one follows Truth over Love. One will also lose out on full engagement with the world, as the abstractions of Truth not only harm one's ability to engage with others emotionally, they also harm one's engagement with the physicality of living. A better virtue ethic is to recognize three primary virtues, Love, Truth, and Beauty/Creativity, and prioritize them in that order.

  2. Questioning the walls of the boxes that people think within is unpopular, and one becomes a target for hostility for any who defend the memeplexes that depend on those assumptions being unquestioned. Philosophers have been executed for millennia by religious or otherwise ideological regimes, and Socrates was even executed by a democracy. You may not face execution, but social disapproval is common.

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