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How Much Philosophy?

I'm a philosopher. It's my #1 favorite thing. I'm happy to learn all kinds of stuff about philosophy. (BTW I didn't just naturally grow up that way, or anything like that. I changed. I chose philosophy over various other interests I already had, and many other options I could have had if I wanted.)

Some people don't want to be philosophers.

But everyone needs philosophy. If you have NO philosophy, you're fucked. You'll make tons of mistakes, suck at solving problems, suck at noticing problems, and generally be a fuck up.

Some people want philosophy for a practical purpose – learn some philosophy to be a better parent.

Learn some philosophy to stop fighting with spouse.

Learn some philosophy to understand political debates better, like liberalism vs socialism.

Those are a bit narrow. One also needs some philosophy just to have a better life in general – it helps with everything.

Why does philosophy help with everything? Because that's the name of the field which includes topics like:

- how to think well, in general, about everything

- how to learn

- generic methods of solving problems

- generic methods of identifying and understanding problems

- generic methods of truth seeking, question answering, and idea understanding

So of course you need a bunch of that, no matter what sort of life you want.

It is acceptable not to have philosophy as your #1 interest. But it needs to be an interest.

I do philosophy that is not strictly required, because I like it. Other people like it less. Partly their preferences should be improved, but partly it's OK to have different interests.

So there's a question: how much philosophy do you need? How much is enough? When can you stop?

(Another distinction worth considering: do you want to make progress in philosophy, or just learn what others already know?)

The current situation looks something like this:

- Philosophy is a pretty small field with a limited amount of productive work ever done in it, despite dating back over 2000 years. It's possible, and helpful, to be loosely familiar with most philosophy.

- Some topics, like Objectivism, liberalism, Critical Rationalism and Fallible Ideas require detailed study. This is not at all optional. If you don't do that, you're missing out, hugely.

- If you're not one of the top 100 philosophers in the world, you're not even close to good enough. Virtually everyone is super super bad at philosophy, way below the basic amount you'd want to not fuck up your life.

- Philosophy courses (and professors) at universities are very bad.

This doesn't tell you the exact answer. But it gives enough of an indication to start with: you're not there yet.

There's no need to try to understand at what point you could stop learning philosophy until you're already most of the way there. Then you'd have a lot more skill to use for figuring it out. Trying to understand it right away would basically be the general, common mistake of trying to do stuff before having skill at philosophy (aka skill at thinking).

Elliot Temple on July 27, 2015

Comments (3)

There are fewer than 100 people with basic competence at thinking *in general*. All the specialists who are good at something do other stuff in their life (e.g. family, social life, hobby, deal with diet or exercise, deal with people with social expectations, something) which could benefit from being good at thinking *in general*, rather than just at one thing. And those same specialists are typically either messing up or missing out on some interdisciplinary opportunities because of their lack of general skill and knowledge – whatever amount of limited stuff they are good at in their specialization, there's gonna be opportunities to improve things using some knowledge outside of that. And of course "basic competence" is a low bar – even if they are effective in their specialization, they could still be **more** effective if they actually understood the right methods of thinking, creating new ideas in their field, etc.

Anonymous at 3:52 PM on July 27, 2015 | #2522
Should everyone learn some programming and math to help understand philosophy better?

Anonymous at 4:17 PM on July 27, 2015 | #2523
I don't think learning any programming/math is STRICTLY necessary, but it's quite helpful.

Elliot at 4:23 PM on July 27, 2015 | #2524

What do you think?

(This is a free speech zone!)