What is philosophy? Why is it important?

There is this preconceived notion that philosophy has very little intrinsic worth, especially in the twenty-first century.  Many people have a hard time comprehending the significance of a study they believe has long been replaced by psychology and the natural sciences.  Many people are intrigued then when I tell them I am a philosophy major at Johns Hopkins.

So I’m often asked two questions.  What is philosophyWhy is it important?

Philosophy arises out of curiosity and wonder.  It desires to know and understand the entire facets of life.  In the West, philosophy is the first science from which all natural sciences derive from.  It is, in a sense, the first form of inquiry that brought about the concepts of analysis, criticism, interpretation, and speculation.

When I think of philosophy, I see it as a discipline that attempts to understand the mysteries of our very reality.  It is empowered by those who seek to discover the nature of Truth and the intrinsic value of life itself.  Philosophy attempts to make sense about the true nature of justice, humanity’s relationship with the world, and the fundamental necessities of the human condition.

Even though I’ve attempted to define the entire scope of philosophy, it would foolish to say that I’ve given an accurate portrayal of with philosophy is.  The discipline is so complex and controversial that it would be impossible for a single definition to encompass the entirety of what it is.  It’s also important to consider that people have differing views on the nature, methods, and scope of philosophy.  For instance, philosophy in Ancient Greek literally means ‘love of wisdom’.  Wisdom, by definition, is not something passive a person possesses.

But this is why philosophy is so important.  Wisdom is the active use of our intelligence for the betterment of both ourselves and society.  It will always bean inescapable part of our very human existence.  Many of us have asked ourselves questions such as “What is the meaning of life?” “What is right and wrong?” and “Is there life after death?

Philosophy is an expression of the human condition.  Those who have an interest in philosophy become stimulated to think about very pressing questions and examine what they believe in.  In their writings, philosophers of the past echo their thoughts and experiences for other to read for the very purpose of passing down their own developed wisdom.  Some of the greatest philosophers in human history are important figures of study today.

The fact of the matter is, a person’s personal outlook on life is itself a philosophy.  Even those who claim that philosophic questioning is a waste of time is expressing what they believe is to be important, valuable, or worthwhile.  Rejecting all of philosophy is in itself philosophy.

People do not realize the enormous influence philosophy has on everyday life.  For instance, the very language we speak and write uses classifications derived from philosophy.  Classifying nouns and verbs involve this philosophic notion that there is a difference between things and actions.  If we ask ourselves what the difference is between things and actions, we start delving into philosophic inquiry.

The way we structure society is based on various philosophies.  The way we should organize constructs in society such as government, law, education, and so forth is in the discipline of philosophy.  It is so influential that philosophic differences have led to the overthrow of governments, transformations of entire economic systems, and widespread revolutions.  These events occur because the people involved held certain beliefs about what is important and is deeply concerned about how life should be ordered.

Philosophy is vital in our everyday lives.  The boundaries of philosophy are the boundaries of the world.  It separates us from the common animal and differentiates each of us as human beings.  It makes us understand autonomy, dignity, and respect.  It gives us a clearer picture of the world around us and the existence of what is beyond.  Philosophy, in essence, is life.

I hope this post will serve as some sort of inspiration for you to examine the world and appreciate its immense complexity and beauty.  As you begin reading the articles and essays on the website, note that in each and every written piece of work something significant is happening.  Our writers are expressing their thoughts and ideas in written form for the sake of knowledge and understanding.  I hope you appreciate and enjoy their work as much as we do.


Cuong Q. Nguyen

6 thoughts on “What is philosophy? Why is it important?

  1. What is philosophy? After reading this I’ve typed and deleted for about an hour and came to a conclusion. Philosophy is a question mark. Why do we live? Why do we exist? What is right and wrong? Is 1+1=2? Some of the answers come quick while some don’t. Philosophy questions everything until it no longer becomes a question and it becomes a statement. After it becomes a statement it’s no longer philosophy. It turns into truth.

  2. In response to what Min Shin said, “After it becomes a statement it’s no longer philosophy. It turns into truth.” I enjoy putting the study of philosophy on a pedestal as much as the next aspiring philosopher, but I do not know if this is the proper representation of the methodology of philosophical inquiry; it is not simply a matter of transforming questions into statements, where those statements become “truth”. If anything, I would consider the inquiry of philosophy as a ramification, where the initial question becomes another series of questions. The value of philosophical inquiry, therefore, is what is revealed to us in the quest of the answer themselves.

  3. I came to the same kind of conclusion when i was answering to the question “what is art?” It is not directly about the answer. The key lies in the search, in the questioning itself. I think art and philosophy are just different wheels of the same wagon.

  4. Philosophy is play for the soul, just as art is play for the mind. Sometimes play has a use, sometimes it doesn’t. It can teach, or it can be simply a game, but it is part of what it is to be human to want to use the faculties we are given.

  5. “The boundaries of philosophy are the boundaries of the world.”

    This statement, in my opinion, is where the paper “jumps the shark” in what would otherwise be a very thoughtful paper. If the boundaries of philosophy are equivalent to the boundaries of the world, then perhaps you may be suggesting that the extent to which philosophy is the quest for knowledge, is indeed ‘limited’ just as it the boundaries of this planet or world are ‘limited’. If that inference is true, then the theological queries of Aquinas or even existential introspections of Sartre would consequently be , according to your statement, contradictory. They are contradictory because the aforementioned philosophical speculations surely delve into greater depths of our thoughts – and , might I be so bold as to say, beyond the ‘boundaries’ of our imagination.

    It is in fact, the inexistence of such boundaries, which intrigue the most insightful minds. As a result, it exposes to us ‘mere mortals’ to the endless nuances and intricacies of philosophy.

    Keep on questioning.

    in the spirit of academia,

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