(solution) What do you think is the role of philosophy in general?

(solution) What do you think is the role of philosophy in general?

What do you think is the role of philosophy in general?

Philosophy: Who needs it?
By Ayn Rand
(excerpt) Philosophy studies the fundamental nature of existence, of man, and of man's relationship to
existence. As against the special sciences, which deal only with particular aspects, philosophy
deals with those aspects of the universe which pertain to everything that exists. In the realm of
cognition, the special sciences are the trees, but philosophy is the soil which makes the forest
possible.
Philosophy would not tell you, for instance, whether you are in New York City or in Zanzibar
(though it would give you the means to find out). But here is what it would tell you: Are you in a
universe which is ruled by natural laws and, therefore, is stable, firm, absolute ? and knowable?
Or are you in an incomprehensible chaos, a realm of inexplicable miracles, an unpredictable,
unknowable flux, which your mind is impotent to grasp? Are the things you see around you real
? or are they only an illusion? Do they exist independent of any observer ? or are they created
by the observer? Are they the object or the subject of man's consciousness? Are they what they
are ? or can they be changed by a mere act of your consciousness, such as a wish?
The nature of your actions ? and of your ambition ? will be different, according to which set of
answers you come to accept. These answers are the province of metaphysics ? the study of
existence as such or, in Aristotle's words, of "being qua being" ? the basic branch of philosophy.
No matter what conclusions you reach, you will be confronted by the necessity to answer
another, corollary question: How do I know it? Since man is not omniscient or infallible, you
have to discover what you can claim as knowledge and how to prove the validity of your
conclusions. Does man acquire knowledge by a process of reason ? or by sudden revelation
from a supernatural power? Is reason a faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided
by man's senses ? or is it fed by innate ideas, implanted in man's mind before he was born? Is
reason competent to perceive reality ? or does man possess some other cognitive faculty which
is superior to reason? Can man achieve certainty ? or is he doomed to perpetual doubt?
The extent of your self-confidence ? and of your success ? will be different, according to
which set of answers you accept. These answers are the province of epistemology, the theory of
knowledge, which studies man's means of cognition.
These two branches are the theoretical foundation of philosophy. The third branch ? ethics ?
may be regarded as its technology. Ethics does not apply to everything that exists, only to man,
but it applies to every aspect of man's life: his character, his actions, his values, his relationship
to all of existence. Ethics, or morality, defines a code of values to guide man's choices and
actions ? the choices and actions that determine the course of his life. Just as the astronaut in my story did not know what he should do, because he refused to know
where he was and how to discover it, so you cannot know what you should do until you know the
nature of the universe you deal with, the nature of your means of cognition ? and your own
nature. Before you come to ethics, you must answer the questions posed by metaphysics and
epistemology: Is man a rational being, able to deal with reality ? or is he a helplessly blind
misfit, a chip buffeted by the universal flux? Are achievement and enjoyment possible to man on
earth ? or is he doomed to failure and distaste? Depending on the answers, you can proceed to
consider the questions posed by ethics: What is good or evil for man ? and why? Should man's
primary concern be a quest for joy ? or an escape from suffering? Should man hold selffulfillment ? or self-destruction ? as the goal of his life? Should man pursue his values ? or
should he place the interests of others above his own? Should man seek happiness ? or selfsacrifice?
I do not have to point out the different consequences of these two sets of answers. You can see
them everywhere ? within you and around you.
The answers given by ethics determine how man should treat other men, and this determines the
fourth branch of philosophy: politics, which defines the principles of a proper social system. As
an example of philosophy's function, political philosophy will not tell you how much rationed
gas you should be given and on which day of the week ? it will tell you whether the
government has the right to impose any rationing on anything.
The fifth and last branch of philosophy is esthetics, the study of art, which is based on
metaphysics, epistemology and ethics. Art deals with the needs ? the refueling ? of man's
consciousness.
Now some of you might say, as many people do: "Aw, I never think in such abstract terms ? I
want to deal with concrete, particular, real-life problems ? what do I need philosophy for?" My
answer is: In order to be able to deal with concrete, particular, real-life problems ? i.e., in order
to be able to live on earth.
You might claim ? as most people do ? that you have never been influenced by philosophy. I
will ask you to check that claim. Have you ever thought or said the following? "Don't be so sure
? nobody can be certain of anything." You got that notion from David Hume (and many, many
others), even though you might never have heard of him. Or: "This may be good in theory, but it
doesn't work in practice." You got that from Plato. Or: "That was a rotten thing to do, but it's only
human, nobody is perfect in this world." You got that from Augustine. Or: "It may be true for
you, but it's not true for me." You got it from William James. Or: "I couldn't help it! Nobody can
help anything he does." You got it from Hegel. Or: "I can't prove it, but I feel that it's true." You
got it from Kant. Or: "It's logical, but logic has nothing to do with reality." You got it from Kant.
Or: "It's evil, because it's selfish." You got it from Kant. Have you heard the modern activists
say: "Act first, think afterward"? They got it from John Dewey.
Some people might answer: "Sure, I've said those things at different times, but I don't have to
believe that stuff all of the time. It may have been true yesterday, but it's not true today." They
got it from Hegel. They might say: "Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." They got it from a very little mind, Emerson. They might say: "But can't one compromise and borrow
different ideas from different philosophies according to the expediency of the moment?" They
got it from Richard Nixon ? who got it from William James.
Now ask yourself: if you are not interested in abstract ideas, why do you (and all men) feel
compelled to use them? The fact is that abstract ideas are conceptual integrations which subsume
an incalculable number of concretes ? and that without abstract ideas you would not be able to
deal with concrete, particular, real-life problems. You would be in the position of a newborn
infant, to whom every object is a unique, unprecedented phenomenon. The difference between
his mental state and yours lies in the number of conceptual integrations your mind has
performed.
You have no choice about the necessity to integrate your observations, your experiences, your
knowledge into abstract ideas, i.e., into principles. Your only choice is whether these principles
are true or false, whether they represent your conscious, rational conviction ? or a grab-bag of
notions snatched at random, whose sources, validity, context and consequences you do not know,
notions which, more often than not, you would drop like a hot potato if you knew.
But the principles you accept (consciously or subconsciously) may clash with or contradict one
another; they, too, have to be integrated. What integrates them? Philosophy. A philosophic
system is an integrated view of existence. As a human being, you have no choice about the fact
that you need a philosophy. Your only choice is whether you define your philosophy by a
conscious, rational, disciplined process of thought and scrupulously logical deliberation ? or let
your subconscious accumulate a junk heap of unwarranted conclusions, false generalizations,
undefined contradictions, undigested slogans, unidentified wishes, doubts and fears, thrown
together by chance, but integrated by your subconscious into a kind of mongrel philosophy and
fused into a single, solid weight: self-doubt, like a ball and chain in the place where your mind's
wings should have grown.
You might say, as many people do, that it is not easy always to act on abstract principles. No, it is
not easy. But how much harder is it, to have to act on them without knowing what they are?
Your subconscious is like a computer ? more complex a computer than men can build ? and its
main function is the integration of your ideas. Who programs it? Your conscious mind. If you
default, if you don't reach any firm convictions, your subconscious is programmed by chance ?
and you deliver yourself into the power of ideas you do not know you have accepted. But one
way or the other, your computer gives you print-outs, daily and hourly, in the form of emotions
? which are lightning-like estimates of the things around you, calculated according to your
values. If you programmed your computer by conscious thinking, you know the nature of your
values and emotions. If you didn't, you don't.
Many people, particularly today, claim that man cannot live by logic alone, that there's the
emotional element of his nature to consider, and that they rely on the guidance of their emotions.
Well, so did the astronaut in my story. The joke is on him ? and on them: man's values and
emotions are determined by his fundamental view of life. The ultimate programmer of his subconscious is philosophy ? the science which, according to the emotionalists, is impotent to
affect or penetrate the murky mysteries of their feelings.
The quality of a computer's output is determined by the quality of its input. If your subconscious
is programmed by chance, its output will have a corresponding character. You have probably
heard the computer operators' eloquent term "gigo" ? which means: "Garbage in, garbage out."
The same formula applies to the relationship between a man's thinking and his emotions.
A man who is run by emotions is like a man who is run by a computer whose print-outs he
cannot read. He does not know whether its programming is true or false, right or wrong, whether
it's set to lead him to success or destruction, whether it serves his goals or those of some evil,
unknowable power. He is blind on two fronts: blind to the world around him and to his own inner
world, unable to grasp reality or his own motives, and he is in chronic terror of both. Emotions
are not tools of cognition. The men who are not interested in philosophy need it most urgently:
they are most helplessly in its power.
The men who are not interested in philosophy absorb its principles from the cultural atmosphere
around them ? from schools, colleges, books, magazines, newspapers, movies, television, etc.
Who sets the tone of a culture? A small handful of men: the philosophers. Others follow their
lead, either by conviction or by default. For some two hundred years, under the influence of
Immanuel Kant, the dominant trend of philosophy has been directed to a single goal: the
destruction of man's mind, of his confidence in the power of reason. Today, we are seeing the
climax of that trend.
When men abandon reason, they find not only that their emotions cannot guide them, but that
they can experience no emotions save one: terror. The spread of drug addiction among young
people brought up on today's intellectual fashions, demonstrates the unbearable inner state of
men who are deprived of their means of cognition and who seek escape from reality ? from the
terror of their impotence to deal with existence. Observe these young people's dread of
independence and their frantic desire to "belong," to attach themselves to some group, clique or
gang. Most of them have never heard of philosophy, but they sense that they need some
fundamental answers to questions they dare not ask ? and they hope that the tribe will tell them
how to live. They are ready to be taken over by any witch doctor, guru, or dictator. One of the
most dangerous things a man can do is to surrender his moral autonomy to others: like the
astronaut in my story, he does not know whether they are human, even though they walk on two
feet.
Now you may ask: If philosophy can be that evil, why should one study it? Particularly, why
should one study the philosophical theories which are blatantly false, make no sense, and bear no
relation to real life?
My answer is: In self-protection ? and in defense of truth, justice, freedom, and any value you
ever held or may ever hold.
Not all philosophies are evil, though too many of them are, particularly in modern history. On the
other hand, at the root of every civilized achievement, such as science, technology, progress, freedom ? at the root of every value we enjoy today, including the birth of this country ? you
will find the achievement of one man, who lived over two thousand years ago: Aristotle.
If you feel nothing but boredom when reading the virtually unintelligible theories of some
philosophers, you have my deepest sympathy. But if you brush them aside, saying: "Why should
I study that stuff when I know it's nonsense?" ? you are mistaken. It is nonsense, but you don't
know it ? not so long as you go on accepting all their conclusions, all the vicious catch phrases
generated by those philosophers. And not so long as you are unable to refute them.
That nonsense deals with the most crucial, the life-or-death issues of man's existence. At the root
of every significant philosophic theory, there is a legitimate issue ? in the sense that there is an
authentic need of man's consciousness, which some theories struggle to clarify and others
struggle to obfuscate, to corrupt, to prevent man from ever discovering. The battle of
philosophers is a battle for man's mind. If you do not understand their theories, you are
vulnerable to the worst among them.
The best way to study philosophy is to approach it as one approaches a detective story: follow
every trail, clue and implication, in order to discover who is a murderer and who is a hero. The
criterion of detection is two questions: Why? and How? If a given tenet seems to be true ? why?
If another tenet seems to be false ? why? and how is it being put over? You will not find all the
answers immediately, but you will acquire an invaluable characteristic: the ability to think in
terms of essentials.
Nothing is given to man automatically, neither knowledge, nor self-confidence, nor inner
serenity, nor the right way to use his mind. Every value he needs or wants has to be discovered,
learned and acquired ? even the proper posture of his body. In this context, I want to say that I
have always admired the posture of West Point graduates, a posture that projects man in proud,
disciplined control of his body. Well, philosophical training gives man the proper intellectual
posture ? a proud, disciplined control of his mind.
In your own profession, in military science, you know the importance of keeping track of the
enemy's weapons, strategy and tactics ? and of being prepared to counter them. The same is true
in philosophy: you have to understand the enemy's ideas and be prepared to refute them, you
have to know his basic arguments and be able to blast them.
In physical warfare, you would not send your men into a booby trap: you would make every
effort to discover its location. Well, Kant's system is the biggest and most intricate booby trap in
the history of philosophy ? but it's so full of holes that once you grasp its gimmick, you can
defuse it without any trouble and walk forward over it in perfect safety. And, once it is defused,
the lesser Kantians ? the lower ranks of his army, the philosophical sergeants, buck privates,
and mercenaries of today ? will fall of their own weightlessness, by chain reaction.
There is a special reason why you, the future leaders of the United States Army, need to be
philosophically armed today. You are the target of a special attack by the Kantian-Hegeliancollectivist establishment that dominates our cultural institutions at present. You are the army of
the last semi-free country left on earth, yet you are accused of being a tool of imperialism ? and "imperialism" is the name given to the foreign policy of this country, which has never engaged in
military conquest and has never profited from the two world wars, which she did not initiate, but
entered and won. (It was, incidentally, a foolishly overgenerous policy, which made this country
waste her wealth on helping both her allies and her former enemies.) Something called "the
military-industrial complex" ? which is a myth or worse ? is being blamed for all of this
country's troubles. Bloody college hoodlums scream demands that R.O.T.C. units be banned
from college campuses. Our defense budget is being attacked, denounced and undercut by people
who claim that financial priority should be given to ecological rose gardens and to classes in
esthetic self-expression for the residents of the slums.
Some of you may be bewildered by this campaign and may be wondering, in good faith, what
errors you committed to bring it about. If so, it is urgently important for you to understand the
nature of the enemy. You are attacked, not for any errors or flaws, but for your virtues. You are
denounced, not for any weaknesses, but for your strength and your competence. You are
penalized for being the protectors of the United States. On a lower level of the same issue, a
similar kind of campaign is conducted against the police force. Those who seek to destroy this
country, seek to disarm it ? intellectually and physically. But it is not a mere political issue;
politics is not the cause, but the last consequence of philosophical ideas. It is not a communist
conspiracy, though some communists may be involved ? as maggots cashing in on a disaster
they had no power to originate. The motive of the destroyers is not love for communism, but
hatred for America. Why hatred? Because America is the living refutation of a Kantian universe.
Today's mawkish concern with and compassion for the feeble, the flawed, the suffering, the
guilty, is a cover for the profoundly Kantian hatred of the innocent, the strong, the able, the
successful, the virtuous, the confident, the happy. A philosophy out to destroy man's mind is
necessarily a philosophy of hatred for man, for man's life, and for every human value. Hatred of
the good for being the good, is the hallmark of the twentieth century. This is the enemy you are
facing.
A battle of this kind requires special weapons. It has to be fought with a full understanding of
your cause, a full confidence in yourself, and the fullest certainty of the moral rightness of both.
Only philosophy can provide you with these weapons.
The assignment I gave myself for tonight is not to sell you on my philosophy, but on philosophy
as such. I have, however, been speaking implicitly of my philosophy in every sentence ? since
none of us and no statement can escape from philosophical premises. What is my selfish interest
in the matter? I am confident enough to think that if you accept the importance of philosophy and
the task of examining it critically, it is my philosophy that you will come to accept. Formally, I
call it Objectivism, but informally I call it a philosophy for living on earth. You will find an
explicit presentation of it in my books, particularly in Atlas Shrugged.
In conclusion, allow me to speak in personal terms. This evening means a great deal to me. I feel
deeply honored by the opportunity to address you. I can say ? not as a patriotic bromide, but
with full knowledge of the necessary metaphysical, epistemological, ethical, political and
esthetic roots ? that the United States of America is the greatest, the noblest and, in its original
founding principles, the only moral country in the history of the world. There is a kind of quiet radiance associated in my mind with the name West Point ? because you have preserved the
spirit of those original founding principles and you are their symbol. There were contradictions
and omissions in those principles, and there may be in yours ? but I am speaking of the
essentials. There may be individuals in your history who did not live up to your highest standards
? as there are in every institution ? since no institutions and no social system can guarantee the
automatic perfection of all its members; this depends on an individual's free will. I am speaking
of your standards. You have preserved three qualities of character which were typical at the time
of America's birth, but are virtually nonexistent today: earnestness ? dedication ? a sense of
honor. Honor is self-esteem made visible in action.
You have chosen to risk your lives for the defense of this country. I will not insult you by saying
that you are dedicated to selfless service ? it is not a virtue in my morality. In my morality, the
defense of one's country means that a man is personally unwilling to live as the conquered slave
of any enemy, foreign or domestic. This is an enormous virtue. Some of you may not be
consciously aware of it. I want to help you to realize it.
The army of a free country has a great responsibility: the right to use force, but not as an
instrument of compulsion and brute conquest ? as the armies of other countries have done in
their histories ? only as an instrument of a free nation's self-defense, which means: the defense
of a man's individual rights. The principle of using force only in retaliation against those who
initiate its use, is the principle of subordinating might to right. The highest integrity and sense of
honor are required for such a task. No other army in the world has achieved it. You have.
West Point has given America a long line of heroes, known and unknown. You, this year's
graduates, have a glorious tradition to carry on ? which I admire profoundly, not because it is a
tradition, but because it is glorious.