Philosophy: Who needs it?

If you have seen the Hindi movie ‘Judai‘ you will know Hasmukhlal, played by Paresh Rawal quite efficiently. He had this habit of coming up with a barrage of questions in every conversation he made. Dramatic enough, he had a question mark on his forehead too. While the movie itself was forgettable, the character was the basis of a larger philosophical repercussion in me. I never knew I had something to thank Raj Kanwar for, given the usual mediocrity he has served till now 🙂

Even if I will permit the cinematic license of exaggeration in the above case, it will be quite logical to say that a person who questions, is a person who thinks. Show me a person who does not question, and I will show you a person who is doing nothing! Problems arise when we dont question and take things at face value, by default. We need to question, more and more.

All problems faced by man in his daily life requires him to question. He needs an answer based on which he will take an action. This is the most fundamental problem of life, for every human being. He can be a student working out some mathematics, an Engineer working on some complex aeronautics, a musician working on the notes or a painter on his canvas. He may have been an expert in his chosen field of study, yet he cannot escape the basic framework of a question and his struggle to reach an answer. How and on what basis he is supposed to get to an answer, is going to decide whether he reaches a correct answer or not. I am afraid, probably the engineer, doctor, painter or musician was never taught this! So on what basis everybody in this world is making decisions? The answer is tradition, custom, whim and wish. The probability of reaching a correct answer is as strong as I winning a multi million dollar lottery this month.

The point I am trying to drive at is, everybody needs Philosophy. If you think you dont, congratulations on your lottery this month end.

Who needs philosophy? I read the shortest and IMO the most immaculate answer to this question. It is an address given by Ayn Rand to the Graduating class of the US Military Academy at West Point New York – March 6, 1974. You can go through the whole address here. This address is also a part of her non-fiction Philosophy: Who needs it? I am yet to read this book though.

She does a “Philosophy for dummies” and how! With an example of an Astronaut crash-landing a planet she tries to get rid of all the traditions and customs that might bias the person. She goes on to pose the questions that the astronaut can not avoid, and the answers he must come up with. Each question leads to another set of questions and Rand describes what question relates to which field of philosophy(Metaphysics, Epistemology, Ethics, Politics and aesthetics). A must read for everybody.

The inescapable quote in this address is this: In the realm of cognition, the special sciences are the trees, but philosophy is the soil which makes the forest possible.

Are we giving enough importance to the soil? The answer is any body’s guess.

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