Is Philosophy Necessary?

In this piece, Craig Rood, a graduate student in philosophy at North Dakota State University opines about the value of philosophy in light of the University’s decision to close the Cardinal Muench Seminary. By closing the seminary, the philosophy department at NDSU will lose two of its professors due to lack of funding. Rood’s article raises some interesting questions about the role philosophy plays in the modern university with implications of questions the role the discipline plays in education in general. When looking to cut costs, administrators tend to gravitate towards the humanities as easy targets. Philosophy programs with their meager enrollments and long programs, tend not to fare well.

But the article also raises larger questions about the value of philosophy and the disciplines it engenders. Most philosophers I come in contact with are in the discipline because they love it and not only believe it’s valuable, but believe it’s essential to a well-equipped intellectual life. Root’s conclusion is that “human beings absolutely need a philosophy in order to live.” While this seems prima facie true, this doesn’t necessarily mean human beings need philosophy as the formal discipline to develop a philosophy of life.

Still, knowing even a little philosophy and spending some times in its core disciplines (particularly logic, epistemology, and ethics) can make all the difference in how one develops intellectually. A strong theme in existentialist thought is the distinction between being on the inside and the outside of an idea, a relationship, or an endeavor. The view from the outside may give one the impression the idea is irrational, confusing, useless, and meaningless. However being on the inside, one sees things very differently. This transition from out to in can only take place by an irrational leap and that leap is a hard boundary—a firewall—for many.

Philosophy is like that. From the outside, it seems pedantic and impractical. For those of us that have spent time on the inside however, we have come to learn that it is indispensible .

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