How is philosophical thought useful and relevant outside of academia?

Posted: 2013/05/04 in Uncategorized
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Vivian Ihekoronye

Looking for a non-profit job in youth development, education, and management in the Twin Cities.

  1. Macalester College
  1. Macalester College,
  2. Saint Paul Public Schools Foundation
  1. Macalester College

How is philosophical thought
useful and relevant
outside of academia?

(a fragment of discussion at linkedin)

This question comes from a desire to hear from philosophers who have found ways to challenge the assumption that philosophy is impractical and locked within an ivory tower. Thanks!

Jurriën Rood • @ Vivian. Hello I just jump in here, speaking from my own experience. I’m Dutch, educated as a filmmaker I studied philosophy at a later age, (mostly theoretical: much philosophy of language & cognition, Wittgenstein). After receiving my masters degree I wanted to see how I could put the philosophy to practical use. I found a very special job at the Amsterdam police as an outsider/researcher, free in the choice of subject. I chose police (street) authority as my theme and studied it in a very practical way for years, from within. Wrote several non-academic artucles about it, two reports for the police and now a book for the general public: (title translated: ‘what’s wrong with authority?’). What I contributed theaoretically as a philosopher is I guess basically the will to give clarity of description, clearing up a muddled concept like authority and cleaning it of all kinds of false associations, as well as bringing in some classic philosophy — Locke, Spinoza and Nussbaum — to make new proposals. But already the basic activity of observing and describing extensively the procedures and methods of police authority in the streets of Amsterdam proved to be quite new and helpful. My term for the remarkable Amsterdam form of police authority — ‘communicative authority’ — is being adapted by others within and without the police force. Now with the book I hope to contribute to a better understanding of authority problems for a larger public. What I did not do was go in and hold lectures on philosophy, Wittgenstein or metaphysics — I kept my knowledge at the back of my head, trying to give it a practical appliance. This turned out to work very well and was much welcomed.
So it can be done. I think there are many fields where a philosophical outlook can be relevant and useful. But be careful with theorizing. An interesting philosopher Otto Neurath, member of the Wiener Kreis and also inventor of the pictogram, once stated that ‘any phliosophical theory must be made explicable to a cab driver, using his language’ — this has become a kind of motto for me in writing and applying philosophy in a practical arena.

Mary Catherine De Pauw • My own response will follow in some ways Peter Newins above…Philosophy is a particular kind of intellectual investigation having its own particular «philosophical» objects. This investigation when done correctly yields conclusions, insights, truths that are Universal, Necessary, and give Certainty. For these reasons, philosophy is the most essential of all human academic disciplines. Philosophy is also essential for one to engage in any other discipline…IE. When a particle physicist searches for a «theory of everything», he/ she must ask questions regarding these possible theories wether they can adequately explain all known phenomena…but such questions are not themselves questions of physics but of philosophy. Again, when one investigates the law and attempts to determine the applicability of a particular law to a particular individual case and real persons, one cannot escape questions of justice and of the person. These are philosophical questions. Take a professor of literature teaching her students Romantic era poetry. She rightly asks her students to investigate relationships between various words/ phrases and MEANING. After all, poetry is one kind of demonstration of those very relationships. Poems express meaning. But the study of poetry cannot unpack WHY that relationship is or must be and what a word is and what a meaning is…philosophy does that. In this case, it is philosophy of language and logic. For me, to engage in philosophy is to «live an examined life».

P K Sasidharan •

If philosophy is taken to be a structured form of thought/knowledge/idea, it would only be creating some coercive ideological framework for understanding our life situations and world realities. By organized thought, I mean the kind of thinking that every idea of philosophical knowledge or truth is grounded on a definite form ontological/metaphysical reality. Academically or technically speaking, philosophical thinking calls for a schematic reasoning by which reality or experience is analyzed from the binary frameworks such as truth/false, good/bad, rational/emotional, scientific/superstitious. If philosophy is taken to be some insightful ideas (as some perspectives) on life and world, it may be providing some inspiration for the receivers, instead of being subjected for their coercive tones and tenors. In this sense, there is no point in asking whether philosophy is more relevant within academia or outside of academia. If some idea is to be termed as philosophical on the basis of its ontological and epistemolegical grounds of ultimate truth or universal knowledge, it may be having dangerous consequence for one who experiences life/world in other ways.

Roger Lewis •

«Taste is like philosophy. It belongs to a very small number of privileged souls … It is unknown in bourgeois families, where one is constantly occupied with the care of one’s fortune». In the words of Darnton, Voltaire «thought that the Enlightenment should begin with the grands».[52] The historian cites similar opinions from d’Alembert and Louis Sébastien Mercier.[53]
Sadly that Philosophy is not promoted by state education systems and embraced by Corporations tells us something of Elitism and vested interests. We useless eaters are not encouraged to think but rather to look at the Reflections on the wall of the cave tied with chains of debt.

Judy Barad •

Philosophy is the most useful of subjects because it is the home of critical thinking and ethics. Clearly, we need critical thinking and the knowledge of ethical decision-making in our everyday life.

I agree with Judy, Judy posted some time back a discussion on the closure of many Philosophy faculties predicated on the practical usefullness of the subject. Heres a poem I wrote.

Democracy 2011

Pontificate, Certificate, Defecate.

Agitate, Aggregate, Obviscate.

Repudiate, Obviate,Opiate,

Satiate Fascist Hate


Pontious Pilate, Judas Kiss

Politics of envy, Divide and Rule

I legged Milking Stool

Mushroom Clouded vision

Dark Room

No Hope

Fed Shite

Ponzi State, Economic Bubble

Death of Ethics, No Spiritual Revolution

Satanic Absolution, Hypocritical Contortion.

Legalised Extortion.

Keep in Unstable , Wear your skin like Sable

I legged stools and uphill tables

Tables turned and loyalties spurned

Dark Room, No hope , Fed SHITE!


I find it very useful in my own Art.

Julius (jufa) Fann •

Hi Jurrien Rood, knowledge, wisdom philosophy, or any academic learning learned, without the ability to apply it to every day living and relations, to this writer serves only to feed one in a bragging contest. I applaud you in showing how to expand that which is a given, to that which is not, and achieve results beneficial.

Like to place upon minds that men reality do not learn anything. All men do, in whatever field of endeavor of choice, is to discover that which already exist. It matters not whether it be psychological, theoretical, scientific, religious or just how to make the requirement of the day. What are you getting at jufa?

All the knowledge man has learned comes from other men. Man is a piggy backer. And in piggy backing, they take that which they discover and expound up, but do not expand. Look how the philosophical writing of Plato (Greek philosopher, c. 428 BC — c. 348 BC), Spinoza, Immanuel Kant, just to name a few, still are considered in a completely different world of thought, as conclusive even when thoughts have not limitations.

Yet, more important to the matter of philosophy, as psychology, is they have not, nor cannot solve problems. I have seen so solutions to stop the two mentality of self-righteous egotism destroying individuals, and thus the world society. Why is this? Because any avenue of man’s thinking must know why such thinking is. Thinking is issued out of an invisible place no human mind has touched. Why? because man cannot philosophize on the reason for existence to exist, no less himself. Theories, opinions, concepts, or I think this, or I think that is given or accepted a conclusion definitive are absurd. Why? Because «a shadow does not exist where it falls, and a shadow also does not exist where it falls.

Never give power to anything a person believes is their source of strength — jufa

Steven Easley •

This is bit like asking is breathing relevant outside the womb?

Nelda McEwen •

Who am I? Why am I here? What is my purpose? These are essential themes in our collective human experience. Yet if we elevate our language to dominate, exclude, disconnect or merely to entertain ourselves, we miss something important. Philosophy is the search that explores our human condition.

Here is another take on ‘filters’ of experience.

Julius (jufa) Fann •

Speculation explores what? When one places the cart before the horse, then speculate on why they have to push it to make progress, is not the real issue. To know why of anything, one has to go beyond fragmented subjectivity of conscious, as well as the object of it, and delve into the reasoning of why Consciousness must have an object to justify the subject? Or why does the subject have to justify the object of Consciousness when one does not have the sentient ability of even comprehend why it is a living thinking entity?

The question of why I, or why me, is like leading a horse to the water attempting to make it drink without a cause of action to remove it’s stubbornness. Philosophy must deal with the cause/effect of collectivism as a whole. When philosophy only take one deeper into individualism of conjecture, it does not expand the avenue to higher consciousness of knowing the logic and reasoning for the existence of existence.  Never give power to anything a person believe is their source of strength — jufa

Julius (jufa) Fann •

First one has to ask themselves is the breath & breathing relevant inside the womb to the developing unit growth and development within? In answering this question, the relevance of the question «is breathing relevant outside the womb?» is found to be the necessity for the parent incubator for the unit incubating to existence. No breath of the host carrier, nor breath for the incubating unit within the womb. Meaning, no life for either to be.

Never give power to anything a person believe is their source of strength — jufa

Bruce C. Meyer •

Philosophical thought is useful and relevant ONLY outside of academia, with the possible exception of instructors (at any level) who try to educate and are thrown upon philosophic thinking in their crises, and those non-academic employees of colleges who think philosophically to match what they do with what they are supposed to do. It is a category mistake to equate what happens in chairs of philosophy with what philosophers do. Writing about philosophy is unrelated to being philosophical or exercising philosophical thought per se.

Roger Lewis •,Antonio/q11-12.htm
It is essential to destroy the widespread prejudice that philosophy is a strange and difficult thing just because it is the specific intellectual activity of a particular category of specialists or of professional and systematic philosophers. It must first be shown that all men are ‘philosophers’, by defining the limits and characteristics of the ‘spontaneous philosophy’ which is proper to everybody. This philosophy is contained in: 1. language itself, which is a totality of determined notions and concepts and not just of words grammatically devoid of content; 2. ‘common sense’ and ‘good sense’, 3. popular religion and, therefore, also in the entire system of beliefs, superstitions, opinions, ways of seeing things and of acting, which are collectively bundled together under the name of ‘folklore’.

To criticize one’s own conception of the world means therefore to make it a coherent unity and to raise it to the level reached by the most advanced thought in the world. It therefore also means criticism of all previous philosophy, in so far as this has left stratified deposits in popular philosophy. The starting-point of critical elaboration is the consciousness of what one really is, and is ‘knowing thyself'[1] as a product of the historical process to date which has deposited in you an infinity of traces, without leaving an inventory. Such an inventory must therefore be made at the outset.

The active man-in-the-mass has a practical activity, but has no clear theoretical consciousness of his practical activity, which nonetheless is an understanding of the world in so far as it transforms it. His theoretical consciousness can indeed be historically in opposition to his activity. One might almost say that he has two theoretical consciousnesses (or one contradictory consciousness): one which is implicit in his activity and which in reality unites him with all his fellow-workers in the practical transformation of the real world

The Praxis of Philosophy is not in the agenda of the vested interests of the Elites- Much intellectual activity is apologetic to the unsupportable less than virtuous institutional predjudices of the Elite ruling classes. Bringing philosophy back to the masses in the manner of Thomas Pain is the road to Liberation.

Vince Di Norcia •

As a retired Phil prof, I would say, first, that it must respect all other forms of intelligent, inquiry & tested knowledge & science & 2nd, also respect human social & technical, artistic achievements, & 3rd face the irrationality & evils of history. It cannot pretend to superior or special knowledge. I think philosophy is the handmaiden of the arts & knowledges (plural is deliberate). The aim is to help the students/people to understand the world & its unsolvable problems & face its unfathomable depths, not to pretend that we are rational, or able to answer all questions, clarify everything, solve all human problems, etc

Phil’y is not the queen of science. There I bow to Darwin & Einstein, with deep respect.
Philosophers should see themselves as humble man/maidservants, cleaning the floors, opening doors, and, hopefully, making good tasty food for thought in the intellectual kitchens. Cheers, Vince.

Julius (jufa) Fann •

Whether philosophy is labeled elite, common, historical, futuristic, Cartesian, idealism, deterministic, or collectivism, all are in use and applied in one way or another to the dualism of man’s thinking and thought process. And irrespective of how a mind views the communicative language, or the ruling class judge virtue, the issue always fall back upon whether man’s high and low philosophical outputs have altered the principles and patterns of mankind’s behavior to one another and safeguard of this planet.

Liberation and standards of thoughts for one individual, group, or nation does not propagate liberation for all men. Relativism halts unity. Prejudices therefore is uniform in all men. For each live and base their cause for living, irrespective, on a drink of wine, of a needle in their arm. All men live their live in a mystical landscape.

Never give power to anything a person believe is their source of strength — jufa

Roger Lewis •

Hi Julius,

We could all try a few of these on for size.

1. Uttama Kshama — Supreme Forgiveness (To observe tolerance whole-heartedly, shunning anger.)

2. Mardava — Tenderness or Humility (To observe the virtue of humility subduing vanity and passions.)

3. Arjaya — Straight-forwardness or Honesty (To practice a deceit-free conduct in life by vanquishing the passion of deception.)

4. Shaucha — Contentment or Purity (To keep the body, mind and speech pure by discarding greed.

5. Satya — Truthfulness (To speak affectionate and just words with a holy intention causing no injury to any living being.)

6. Sanyam — Self-restraint (To defend all living beings with utmost power in a cosmopolitan spirit abstaining from all the pleasures provided by the five senses — touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing; and the sixth — mind.)

7. Tapa — Penance or Austerities (To practice austerities putting a check on all worldly allurements.)

8. Tyaga — Renunciation (To give four fold charities — Ahara (food), Abhaya (fearlessness), Aushadha (medicine), and Shastra Dana (distribution of Holy Scriptures), and to patronize social and religious institutions for self and other uplifts.)

9. Akinchanya — Non-attachment (To enhance faith in the real self as against non-self i.e., material objects; and to discard internal Parigraha viz. anger and pride; and external Parigraha viz. accumulation of gold, diamonds, and royal treasures.)

10. Brahmacarya — Chastity or celibacy (To observe the great vow of celibacy; to have devotion for the inner soul and the omniscient Lord; to discard the carnal desires, vulgar fashions, child and old-age marriages, dowry dominated marriages, polygamy, criminal assault on ladies, use of foul and vulgar language.)

Devi Sahny •

Philosophy «trains the mind.» This skill is translatable to all careers that involve critical thinking, problem solving and logical reasoning.


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