Bertrand Russell: the everyday value of philosophy
30.03.2021 Clare Carlisle
Bertrand Russell

Many teachers and students of philosophy today feel that the subject is under threat – not only from funding cuts, but from a more pervasive and less quantifiable cultural shift towards measuring value only in instrumental and monetary terms. But when we philosophers try to defend our discipline, the question of why philosophy is important sometimes gets entangled with our own self-importance. More to the point, perhaps, when we seek to protect philosophy we are also protecting our livelihood. There is an irony here, since philosophers often present themselves as thinkers who attain a supreme objectivity in relation to whatever issues they engage with.

I'm not suggesting that philosophers should give up insisting on the value of philosophy, or that our collective expertise in reasoning and in the history of philosophy isn't something to be proud of. But the question of our objectivity concerning the significance of philosophy gives us good reason to listen to Bertrand Russell's views on this subject. Russell was more than a philosopher: he was also a mathematician, a peace campaigner, an educator, a populariser of modern science and a cultural critic. The range and diversity of his work makes him well placed to comment on the value of philosophy, for he appreciated the relationship between philosophy and other kinds of inquiry. And Russell more than once showed himself to be committed to the pursuit of truth even when this jeopardised his professional life, or conflicted with his earlier work.
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