On The Role Of Philosophy
Philosophy, according to Martin Heidegger in his Introduction to Metaphysics, was never meant to be popular. In fact, if such were the case, then that means people are being fooled into believing a bogus philosophy.
Philosophy is essentially untimely because it is one of those few things that can never find an immediate echo in the present. When such an echo seems to occur, when a philosophy becomes fashionable, either it is no real philosophy or it has been misinterpreted and misused for ephemeral and extraneous purposes.
The fact is, philosophy is something that cannot be acquired through a mere 4-year course, nor can it be directly learned like manual and technical skills. It is why there are a lot of people who wonder how come in a world facing economic and social crises there would still be those who would take up what they perceive as a very impractical subject. The reason for this confusion being that philosophy cannot be directly applied, nor is it pragmatic.
Now instead of jumping immediately to the defence of philosophy and doing so by saying that “it may not be useful in a manner which is directly manifest, but through philosophy one gets to learn how to become a critical thinker” with such being the common justification of the average philosophy undergraduate student; in my case I won’t, precisely for the reason that I agree with Heidegger when he says that the aforementioned kind of argument intended to accentuate the role of philosophy is in fact, a relegation of the true role of philosophy.
Indeed the philosophers from the Frankfurt school, those under the intellectual trend called “critical theory” did make a convincing point when they said that a philosophy becomes one if it is receptive to social and political realities; but looking at it from another angle would cause one to ask himself: “what for is sociology or anthropology or even political science, if philosophy, being a subject of such broad scope would take under its wing concerns such as socio-political realities?”, and further contemplation on this would eventually lead one to ask another question: “is this attempt to highlight the nature of philosophy in a pragmatic light a form of defense mechanism against the accusations made by detractors who see philosophy as ‘useless’?”
This being the case, Martin Heidegger brings us this news flash: “Yes, philosophy IS useless.” But this proclamation is not as negative as would strike one at first, for Heidegger explains that philosophy is not so much useless as totally devoid of any significance to anyone engaged with it, but more so anachronistic, meaning that the questions made by philosophy have always been either way ahead of its time, or a metaphysical investigation of the origins of being.
In the words of Heidegger, philosophy is always projected far in advance of its time, and it connects the present with its antecedent, with what initially was.
Aside from this, it is more often than not the case wherein one would find students of philosophy upon asked the question as to why they chose the aforementioned course, to answer the inquiry by stating that ‘philosophy is my gateway to the wonders of critical thinking and analyses, for the benefits which I would acquire from learning of its rigorous logic would certainly become very useful as I face the predicaments of my daily existence’.
This isn’t very reassuring. Nor does it say much about the ‘intellectual fecundity’ which is supposed to characterize lovers of wisdom; in the first place, logic may indeed be a lovely subject matter but they seem to forget the fact that logic is just one of the many branches of philosophy and to boast of wisdom under this context is to mistake a part for its whole, which is in itself a logical fallacy. And secondly, another shortcoming brought forth by the above-mentioned assumed benefit of philosophy is that it doesn’t really give much room for intellectual growth as far as discoursing goes for it retards philosophy, and restrains it within the confines of a little box in which it is to do the things expected of it, in this case being that philosophy is supposed to be an aid to critical thinking.
The importance of critical thinking is already given; whereas philosophy cannot possibly stand alone on this, which to some would necessarily attribute to it the qualities of one such receptive to the realities of our times, issues of the here and now- this here leading to some of us thinking that perhaps it is meant for philosophy after all to accommodate and make its say concerning the issues affecting society. I agree with this as well; however, conceived in my reflection is a juxtaposition of the thought of my favorite philosopher Martin Heidegger with my interest in understanding the realities going on in my milieu.
And in order to have this happen, the answer again lies in Heidegger. He may have said that philosophy is “useless” in so far as it is either concerned with things ahead of the current time or engaged in things past- with what initially was; he also made mention that this peculiar task of philosophy may just be that which would turn out to be most essential as it is geared towards the understanding of being; and to a mind inclined to the principles of continental philosophy, all that is happening around us is to be taken within the context of being. Thus, if the question of being is resolved, what follows from this may be a solution finally to various socio-political concerns. This is the role I would want for philosophy.
 Heidegger, Martin. Introduction To Metaphysics. Trans. by Ralph Manheim, 1959: Yale University Press, U.S.A. p.7