Unit 1: What Is Philosophy?

2 An Introduction to Russell’s “The Value of Philosophy”

Heather Wilburn

Russell’s “The Value of Philosophy” is a chapter in his book, Problems of Philosophy. Overall, “The Value of Philosophy” presents four main points to keep in mind.

  • The first is that the practical person is the one who recognizes the need for food for the body, but not food for the mind. The goods of the mind are at least as important as the goods of the body. If everyone in the world had food and biological needs met, there would still be needs to produce a solid society. Russell’s point here is that we need to get away from the idea that the only needs we have are biological.
  • The second point is that philosophy aims at knowledge. However, it is a type of knowledge that we are typically not accustomed to. It is a kind of knowledge that gives order to the sciences and that critically evaluates our beliefs and prejudices.
  • The third point is that once an answer becomes absolute, it ceases to be philosophical; we are now in a separate science. For example, the study of the heavens used to be a point of inquiry in philosophy, but now it has moved to astronomy. Furthermore, some questions that philosophy asks cannot be answered definitely. For instance, does this universe have a plan or purpose? Are good and evil important to the universe or only to man?
  • Finally, philosophical inquiry is possible to eliminate prejudice, dogmatic lines of thought, maintain curiosity, and allow us to think speculatively (into what may be, rather than what already is). It also enlarges our world, perspective, and experiences. Thus, even if we cannot have a definite answer, the inquiry itself is important.

Here’s a video interview with Russell explaining his take on what philosophy is: