Monday, September 15, 2014

Philosophy is not "useful"

"Philosophy needs neither protection, attention or sympathy from the masses. It maintains its character of complete inutility, and thereby frees itself from all subservience to the average man." -- José Ortega y Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses, p. 86


  1. I hope that he was joking about this...

    One of the things that I find most frustrating (and irritating) is the idea that philosophy is some entirely abstract "thing" that has little purpose or usefulness - or no purpose or usefulness. Ironically, most of the people who espouse this viewpoint are philosophers! Even more strangely, they seem to take pride in it.

    I view this as absurd on many levels. If philosophy doesn't have any usefulness, then why bother?

    Perhaps I'm inferring Gasset's point incorrectly, but it does seem as though he is expressing what I consider a serious flaw in philosophers: the pride that they often obtain in "freeing" their intellectual endeavors from common people's beliefs. If something is common, then it is vulgar, and we can't have that, or so the thinking seems to go. Philosophers who take this view often reject things out of hand that the common man believes, simply because he is a commoner, and presumably doesn't have the insight or introspection of the "elites".

    This, I think, is misguided. Anyone who reads modern literature on ethics will find a lot of yawn inducing false "problems" that they argue about endlessly. It is difficult to see any real progress here - largely because philosophers in this field refuse to take common morality seriously. Sexual morality is out the window; homosexuality is considered wholesome, and increasingly, incest. Decency and human dignity is considered obtuse; we need a "proof" that an intangible thing like human dignity actually exists. Of course, since philosophers don't have a census on, well, anything, the non-existence of a "proof" of human dignity is great justification for things like, ohhh, abortion. Complaining that it is arbitrary because it appeals to something "vague" like human dignity is navel gazing. Anyone who studies or even browses moral philosophy will find the entire discipline vague. You would think that since we are still debating abortion more than 50 years after Roe v. Wade, philosophers in general would come to a conclusion that, dur, maybe we have a strong moral intuition against abortion; and that maybe, just maybe, this intuition should be listened to, since it is the grounding for our entire moral knowledge.

    Whew! Sorry for the rant, Gene, but this issue is one of my biggest pet peeves of philosophy: the rejection of common sense or the boasting of it's arbitrary and useless nature. You have been quoting Gasset a lot recently, and so I will have to add his work to my enormous Wish List. But right now, I am unimpressed.

    1. Interesting, because this is the same thing Oakeshott says.

    2. Yes, and this is something that I'm trying to get my mind around. Even if he was wrong with this, Experience and It's Modes is still fantastic for about a thousand other reasons. I can't recommend the book enough.

    3. See the post I just put up, Alex.


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