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The Promise of Philosophy

The profession of philosophy makes an interesting case. On the one hand, it makes some of the most sweeping claims for itself and on the other hand seems to deliver so little. Let us look at the traditional case made for the value of instruction in philosophy.

We as humans are capable of living two kinds of lives: an unreflective or a reflective life. When we live unreflectively, we live as a conformist, trapped in the world of our own unanalyzed desires and social conditioning. We do not live as free agents. We do not choose our basic and ultimate values. We do not understand the actual options implicit in a human life. We behave in ways that are contradictory to the values we say we believe. We do not understand the forces at work in our lives, nor do we understand what is valuable and wasteful in them. Often, as unreflective persons, our lives are shot-through with irrationality, prejudice, and self-delusion.

Conversely, when we live reflectively, we become the agents of our own destiny. We begin to act as genuinely independent persons. We see a world beyond the world of our personal egocentrism and social ethnocentrism. We come to terms with our own basic and ultimate values. We make decisions based on the actual options available to us. We begin to understand the forces at work in our lives and act consciously with respect to them. We discover the power of rationality and use that power to minimize our prejudices as well as our involvement in self-delusion. The study of philosophy lays the foundation for living a reflective life.

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