Is Philosophy Useless?

1999-12-11

I've just finished reading all of Jacob Bronowski's books, and this process has led to a realization on my part -- not quite an epiphany, more of a simmering insight. I'll preface this by mentioning that I've been selling off my book collection, discarding the detritus of 15 years of reading and thinking, clearing the way for the next phase in my intellectual evolution....

I've come to the conclusion that philosophy is useless, or very nearly so. Anything that philosophy can do is better done by either science or art. I'm not saying that there has been no value in philosophy through history. But in the long run, philosophy is unnecessary, and is made unnecessary by the ongoing march of science and the undying value of art. Philosophy has shed cosmology, psychology, economics, physics, and other sciences, and this has been a boon to humankind. We will be even better off once philosophy has shed epistemology and ethics.

Bronowski talks about the open nature of scientific inquiry in ways that make me think of open source software development. It seems to me now that philosophy is given to the development of closed systems. It is hard to see how it could be otherwise -- philosophy lacks the reality-prod that science has in much the way that non-profit organizations lack the reality-prod that businesses have. The incentives are not there. In science you have the incentive of tracking reality so that your theory will work, so that your code will compile. There is no such discipline in philosophy.

So in selling off my books, I have been especially zealous with regard to philosophy. What need have I of Descartes or Hegel? None. I admit I've kept my Rand and Aristotle and a few others, mainly for historical reasons. But I think even these will start to go as I continue to sell.


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