Friday, August 13, 2010

Philosophy (huh) What Is It Good For?

Yesterday was George Soros' 80th birthday. One of the world's wealthiest men, he made a fortune investing. Before that, he was a student of Karl Popper at the London School of Economics and claimed that his application of Popper's falsificationism to the market was one of the reasons he was so successful.

This is one of those stories we pull out when asked by students or parents, "Sure it seems interesting, but what is philosophy good for?" Pointing out that Aristotle showed us that something can be good without being good for anything, or that Kant distinguished between categorical and hypothetical imperatives, never satisfies these folks.

The professor of my very first undergraduate philosophy class, Bruce Goldberg, was asked and, being a good Wittgensteinian, responded that it wasn't good for anything but that there were a bunch of people who were obsessed with these questions and it was safer than having them out in public. A funny line, but surely wrong.

So, what is philosophy good for?