The Inescapable Importance of Philosophy

by | May 5, 2010

Have you ever wondered why seemingly intelligent, articulate people cannot seem to come to a consensus on the important issues facing our nation today? Or even on what the issues should be? Whether it’s the economy, foreign policy, immigration, gay marriage or any other issue you could name, the diversity of opinion is immense. In […]

Have you ever wondered why seemingly intelligent, articulate people cannot seem to come to a consensus on the important issues facing our nation today? Or even on what the issues should be? Whether it’s the economy, foreign policy, immigration, gay marriage or any other issue you could name, the diversity of opinion is immense. In this scientific age, with information and communication just a mouse click away, why can’t the experts agree?

Some years ago, a friend and I were discussing a political issue in which I gave him a step-by-step explanation of my position. He agreed with me on every single point I made. In spite of this, his conclusion was the exact opposite of my mine. Exasperated, I asked him how he could possibly agree with me on every point but disagree with my conclusion. He explained very matter-of-factly, “We have different philosophies.” My friend had identified for me the very root of our disagreement. And he was right.

If you asked people how philosophy is important to them, most would probably tell you that it isn’t. Popular opinion holds that the study of philosophy is a waste of time, a useless subject with no practical value in the real world. That opinion is not without merit as philosophy, as it is taught in our colleges and universities today, belongs to the Dark Ages, not to modern culture.

Philosophy is the study of the nature of reality and knowledge and how that applies to man’s life. Whether you study philosophy explicitly or not, everyone acquires basic philosophical premises. Is the world real or am I just imagining it? Can I be certain of anything? What actions should I take? Should I pursue my own interests or those of my family, my country or God? What is the proper system of government?

There are very few original thinkers when it comes to philosophy. A larger but still small number of us think about philosophy explicitly but follow from the lessons of our predecessors such as Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas and Kant to name just four of the more influential philosophers. The vast majority, though, assimilates whatever philosophy they learn from the culture in which they’re raised. Changes in philosophy occur as the culture they’re exposed to changes: family, church, school, work, community.

Imagine someone raised in a country based on the inalienable rights of life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness versus someone raised in a country based on Islamic totalitarianism. Could individuals who have embraced the philosophies of these vastly different cultures ever agree on what is right and what is wrong? On what values are proper to pursue?

When one looks at the history of the world, you can see the rise and fall of man’s prosperity based on the dominant philosophy of the time. Under Aristotle’s philosophy of reason, Greece flourished as the cradle of Western Civilization. When Plato’s philosophy of intrinsic knowledge dominated, the result was the Dark Ages. Thomas Aquinas brought reason back to philosophy and we had the Renaissance. The philosophy of Immanuel Kant, whose stated goal was the destruction of reason, was embraced by the Church and, unfortunately, it is his philosophy that dominates the world today in the form of altruism, the most evil fraud ever perpetrated upon the mind of man.

Altruism is a philosophy of self-sacrifice. The good is anything done for others. The evil is anything done for oneself. Your duty is to society, to country, to God but never to yourself. You live to serve so that others will have food, clothing, shelter, education, health care and any other need one can imagine. Every man has a claim on your productive efforts, every man but yourself. To claim to keep for yourself what you’ve earned labels you as selfish, contemptible, cold and heartless. Self-sacrifice is the clarion call of every priest and politician.

Don’t believe it? Then listen. Listen to the priests. Listen to the politicians. Listen to your family, co-workers and friends. You will hear these claims endlessly and people take them seriously. But no one can practice altruism completely. At some point, you need to think of yourself or die. So what we have in actuality is a mixed philosophy where people practice some elements of altruism and some elements of rationality. And often, because they don’t practice the “virtue of self-sacrifice” completely, they are besieged with unearned guilt for their selfishness. And they sanction government to act as their proxies, to perform the sacrifices they are not “virtuous” enough to practice themselves, through taxation, regulation and benefit programs.

Altruism is the basis for every collectivist system of the twentieth century including communism, socialism and fascism. The United States’ economy, once primarily capitalist, has become increasingly mixed as we have moved ever closer to socialism and fascism over the past eighty years.

Fortunately, there is an alternative. In 1926, Alisa Rosenbaum escaped from communist Russia and came to the United States and freedom. In spite of English being a second language, she went on to become a successful novelist, screenwriter and playwright under the pseudonym Ayn Rand. Her greatest achievement, though, was her development of the first fully integrated, reality-based philosophy of life. Standing on the shoulders of her most competent predecessor, Aristotle, Rand developed a system based on objective reality, reason, rational self-interest, capitalism and romantic realism. She named her philosophy “Objectivism.”

What makes Objectivism especially important is that it treats philosophy as science. Comparing Objectivism to skepticism, idealism, pragmatism or any of the other myriad philosophies taught in schools today is like comparing chemistry to alchemy. Objectivism and chemistry are sciences. The others are not. In spite of this, Objectivism has not yet taken hold. It is relatively new on the scene and philosophy departments are entrenched in their old ways.

But Rand’s is the only philosophy compatible with the United States’ founding principles of inalienable rights, individualism, reason and freedom. She has shown us how reality is real, how certainty is possible, how rational self-interest is the good, the mutual benefits of trading, how the practical and the moral are the same thing, and how, as she often stated, the United States is the only country in the world founded on a proper moral system. But we’ve moved away from that moral system, often just giving it lip service.

The real root of our problems is bad philosophy. The only solution is good philosophy. Rand has given us the latter with the accompanying tools for solving the greatest problems of the world from economics to foreign policy and from biology to physics. If you haven’t read Rand, I urge you to do so. She has given us a blueprint to understanding nature and our place in it, a blueprint that if followed could lead to a true golden age for man.

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Bob loves life, his wife and two daughters, Objectivism, fiction, comic books, music and communicating ideas with intelligent, honest people. He has a B.S. in business management from Providence College. He's worked in administration at IBM, in sales, as landlord in a partnership, as comic book publisher in his own business and as government bureaucrat.

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