Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Philosophy - an essential luxury good

I read an interesting article Is philosophy a luxury good? at the Economist’s Free Exchange blog. The author notes that according to Maslow (of heirarchy of needs pyramid fame) ‘you can only ponder the state of your soul when your most basic physical and material needs have been met’. In a downturn students tend to choose programs with more practical job prospects, and universities and governements tend to cut back on the humanities.

But cutting back on humanities could be a false economy. Studying subjects like philosophy does impact critical thinking and communication skills. Intellectually diverse societies often are the very ones that tend to thrive. Amar Bhide argues that India did itself a great economic disservice by producing too many engineers. Also, law professor Anthony T. Kronman argues that economic and social upheaval only highlights the need to re-examine moral issues. But “the need for my older view of the humanities is, if anything, more urgent today,” he added, referring to the widespread indictment of greed, irresponsibility and fraud that led to the financial meltdown. In his view this is the time to re-examine “what we care about and what we value,” a problem the humanities “are extremely well-equipped to address.”

I’m with him. Of course, with someone who is hungry it is difficult to discuss anything more than the next meal. But in modern-day society hunger is not a problem, basic needs are not a problem. Philosophy is a luxury good that everyone can afford. Philosophy matters. I find it impossible to think of a time and a place where philosophy would not matter. Certainly it matters today more than ever, in the new era of responsibility.
Image from Wikimedia: Maslow's hierarchy of needs

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Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)

Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)
Kiyomizudera Temple has a large veranda looking out over Kyoto and beyond