Updated date:

A Reflection on Bertrand Russell’s “The Value of Philosophy”

Justine is a university student currently taking up Psychology. She always aims to share her ideas through writing about various subjects.

Bertrand Russel’s “The Value of Philosophy” is one of the most important chapters in his book - The Problems of Philosophy. Bertrand Russel is a known British Philosopher and logician known for his works in mathematical logic and analytical philosophy.

Bertrand Arthur William Russell (1872 - 1970)

Bertrand Arthur William Russell (1872 - 1970)

Philosophy and Beyond

Time fleets swiftly, people rushing down the streets, cars running late along the roads, fast conversations around, and continuous due dates to fulfill. In today’s fast pacing world, full of instants, full of deadlines, and unending tasks, could we still think about what philosophy is and what it ought to be? Could we still recognize the value of it?

We are now living in a world of modern technology, where urgency is the mainstream and where “practical men” as described by Bertrand Russell were almost everywhere. Practical men who were only focused on the practical products of the mind or with the material things that our body needs. Practical men who were not aware of what we really need rather than the “practical” matters. Upon reading the text The Value of Philosophy by Bertrand Russell, I came to realize how we should value Philosophy in our lives and ended up asking myself a question.

Philosophy and Today's Reality

Philosophy, as defined by Russell, has no definite answers to be given. With this, the practical men might ask, “What is the sense of asking questions if there would be no definite answers? Senseless, very impractical.”, such thoughts confined them with their finite and limited beliefs. This made them numb with the real sense of having indefinite answers. Accordingly, almost all people today around the globe were eyeing continuous innovation, discoveries, new inventions, etc. Were all that enough? What is next? Another batch of innovation, discovery, and new inventions again? Is that it? An unending cycle of certain matters, is not that boring? How about peace? Calmness? Simple things that are hard to achieve because we are bound of being practical, things that we usually took for granted. Could we still remember the last time we had real peace in mind and the last time we became calm and free?

Indeed, we could provide every material need of our body – that is very practical – but at the same time, we are snatching all the possibilities that our mind could possibly attain – very impractical. Being too practical limits a man to go beyond, it keeps us within that comfort zone thinking that what we know were already enough but it is not. What we know are just little fragments of the infinite knowledge. As humans, we can never attain that infinite knowledge, but philosophy could show a glimpse of it by questioning the common sense, the obvious, and the finite.

Philosophy, though unable to tell us with certainty what is the true answer to the doubts which it raises, is able to suggest many possibilities which enlarge our thoughts and free them from the tyranny of custom.

— Bertrand Russell

The quote was a direct statement from the text which states that philosophy could suggest various possibilities that could enlarge our thoughts. Indeed, it could, “what is life after death?”, “why I am alive?”, “what is love?”, one’s thought could derive many possible answers from these questions, though, nothing was certain to be true among those answers unlike with other sciences, but it enlarges our thoughts from what it could just be. Philosophy lets us go beyond what we just know and let us think of our own answers until we end up having no definite answers at all, questioning even the answers that we had. What was the point? Is it just a waste of time? It may seem to be, but it is not, the point is the questions themselves.

Philosophy is to be studied, not for the sake of any definite answers to its questions since no definite answers can, as a rule, be known to be true, but rather for the sake of the questions themselves.

— Bertrand Russell

In the last part of the text, Russel states that philosophy is to be studied for the sake of the questions rather than the answers, and that is the point, philosophy is the endless acquiring of infinite knowledge through the question. And acquiring knowledge is not all about finding definite answers, it is also about enlarging one’s self, enlarging self through acquiring things of what we do not know from outside the self or from the not-self. Accordingly, Russell also stated, “Knowledge is a form of union of Self and not-Self”.

How could this be applicable in our lives?

Simple, it could enlighten us with everything beyond what we can imagine. The fast-pacing society today tends to dictate us what we shall do, we are bound to unknowingly follow the flow of the society that locked us with the tyranny of custom of definite routine as if following a track without any purpose. The way to escape that routine is to pause, take time to think, and reflect – contemplate. As quoted from Russell, “One way of escape is by philosophic contemplation.” The contemplation that views every side equally and not by which is on the wrong or right side. For example, one of the reasons why we usually end up between disputes due to misunderstandings is because of how we narrowly see the situation – of how we tend to understand only a side of the story and sees the other side as wrong. Now, in philosophic contemplation, there will be impartiality and shall see both sides of the story without any biases of who is right or wrong, with that there shall be understanding, and disputes could be prevented. The world is too huge to be just the way we see it, philosophic contemplation shows that the world and the things in it have so much to give and show us, more than we could imagine. We start to philosophize the moment “that even the most everyday things lead to problems to which only very incomplete answers can be given” according to Russell, and also the moment we start knowing that we don’t know anything, such thing was even stated by Socrates – a great Greek philosopher who said, “I know that I know nothing.”. Because the moment we free ourselves from prejudices we tend to acquire more knowledge and if we really understand philosophy, we end up admitting that we really don’t know anything.

Conclusion

Philosophy might not produce a new version of smartphones nor new car models, rather, it could give us endless possibilities greater than any luxury. Endless possibilities of infinite knowledge that were good food for our minds.

To conclude, I must state that the value of philosophy is not just as a subject requirement for students just for the sake of passing, it is far more than that. The value of philosophy is to make us aware of everything around us and realize the purpose of everything that we encounter because basically, everything has its purpose. We might not be aware of that purpose, but there is, a mistake for example. Whenever we made mistakes, it means that we fail but it does not stop there, contemplate, we made mistakes it means that there were lessons to be learned and an opportunity to improve and to correct those mistakes next time. Every single thing in this universe has its purpose and all we must do is be aware of them.

We need material and definite things to live, as much as, we need to value philosophy to exist. As I believe, philosophy is what started everything, but it will not end anything. Philosophy opens a window to see the universe and what is beyond it, yet it will not tell us to stop seeking, the universe is too enormous to be just the way we see it. Too diverse to just stay where we are and to be contented with what we know especially in today’s era of innovation and advancement.

Source

Bertrand, R. (1912). The Problems of Philosophy. https://chilonas.files.wordpress.com/2018/11/the-problems-of-philosophy-bertrand-russell.pdf

© 2021 Justine Louice Jiao

Related Articles