Why Philosophy?

Philosophy is a subject that keeps drawing me in. The trouble is that I, like some others, find it hard. And inevitably after getting deep into the weeds, it’s all too easy to start questioning whether it’s the most productive thing I could be reading (or even just doing) with my day.

The attraction of the subject for me comes from a couple of (related) angles: first, that all-too-human desire to understand what the point of it all is, coupled with the constant search for a possible major upgrade of your own operating system as a human being.

I finished listening to ‘Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction’ by Edward Craig today on a run. In the conclusion, he set out a more expansive explanation of why many feel driven to explore philosophy:

“In the hope of learning to control nature, or of learning to control themselves, to get to heaven, to avoid going to hell; to enable us to bear life as it is, to make life bearable by changing it; to shore up institutions political, moral, or intellectual, or to tear them down; to promote the writer’s interests, to promote other people’s interests (yes, that happens too), even to promote everybody’s interests; because they can’t stand certain other philosophers; because their job demands it. Perhaps just occasionally out of pure curiosity.”

My philosophical bookshelf expands with every passing year. And although it grows at a rate that rapidly outpaces my actual rate of consumption, I’ve heard a number of people recount a very similar story after reading one set of ideas in particular, those of David Hume, the hugely influential Scottish philosopher who lived not too far from where I write this blog post this evening.

You may not find simple answers in such books. But they do contain ideas so powerful that they have the power to shake the foundations upon which you build your life.

So the best time to read such texts may be in your mid- to late teens. That gives such ideas the longest possible time to inform and influence your thinking as you journey through life. But of course, perhaps such things weren’t at the top of your list of most fascinating pursuits in those heady teenage years. In which case, the second best time? Right now.

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