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What is the Value of Philosophy?

Philosophy plays a key role in the lives of people. Since the term means ‘love of wisdom’, it is important for people to love wisdom in order to understand issues better. Therefore, it is connoted that without philosophy, people are not able to know anything. Although philosophy plays such a central role in the delineation of wisdom, people have not come to understand it fully. In fact, some accuse it of being too abstract and thus difficult. This essay is an attempt to explore the importance or value of philosophy. During the classical times, philosophy was the centre of life. Philosophers were the consultants of public affairs. As a result, in an effort to investigate the value of philosophy, this essay looks into the arguments of Plato as well as a philosopher of more recent times: Bertrand Russell. In general, Plato considers philosophy as the centre of everything, while Russell considers the chief role of philosophy the exploration and delivery of knowledge. In this view, the main value of philosophy is considered the solving of problems that bedevil the humanity.

Description and Analysis

According to Plato, it is only through the use of philosophy that human beings are able to understand their own existence. Plato was content that one of the main uses of philosophy is that it helps the individual to understand his or her world. This is entrenched in his theory of ontological dualism. This is a theory purely based on ideas. According to Plato, the world of ideas can be divided into two categories: the sensible and the intelligible worlds. While the sensible world is more material, the intelligible world is ideal.  This distinction is seen as the direct application of the value of philosophy, because according to Plato, a man is not able to make good use of the resources at his disposal, if he does not understand his world. The sensible world is more material and spatial, while the intelligent world is universal, invisible and eternal. It is made of ideas or forms. In trying to define the two worlds, Plato argues that the sensible world is ontologically inferior to the intelligible world. In fact, ideas are able to exist independently out of the person’s consciousness. In the intelligible world, rightness occupies the highest position, because all things in the world tend towards absoluteness.

In a further attempt to depict the value of philosophy, Plato posits that the discipline helps us to understand the nature of knowledge. According to him, not all ideas are equal in value. Some are more valuable and hold more quality than others hold. On this basis, it is possible to arrange ideas in a hierarchical order. In this regard, Plato connotes that the value of philosophy is to understand the truth (Gulley, 1962). According to him, that which is true should hold at all times and in all places; that is, truth should be objective. Through his theory of ideas, Plato demonstrated that knowledge is either scientific of merely an opinion. While the former entails immutable ideas, the latter has to do with changeable aspects, because they belong to the sensible world. As a result, while science is either dialectic or discursive, opinion is either a belief or conjecture. Therefore, philosophy helps in understanding the nature and types of knowledge.

Other than Plato, Bertrand Russell also contributed a lot to the demystifying the value of philosophy. In order to understand effectively Russell’s value of philosophy, it is important to understand the basis of his thought. According to him, there is an inherent contradiction in the way philosophy is conceived. In analyzing the human needs, Russell observes that more often than not, only physical and material things are mentioned such as food and shelter. On the contrary, knowledge is not ranked as a human need yet it is too imperative. In fact, without knowledge, human beings cannot survive. Russell’s call is not for people to know everything, because it is impossible , but to be open to knowledge. Due to this contradiction, Russell compiled his ideas into a text that he called ‘The problems of philosophy’.In his book, he explores the various reasons, why people should appreciate philosophy.

Before analyzing Russell’s value of philosophy, there is a need to pick a comparison between Russell and Plato. Both of them converge on the concept that philosophy is important, because it is an offshoot of interior life. Both of them applaud the concept of ideas. In fact, the entire collection of Platonian philosophy is based on the theory of ideas. In the same way, Russell fails to understand why knowledge, as a collection of ideas, should be conventionally agreed upon the human needs. Moreover, even if it is not explicitly stated, the human person is driven by ideas in terms of choices that he makes on a daily basis.

Russell applauds to various expressions of value or importance that philosophy has. According to him, the value of philosophy is usually aligned with its branches. As a result, the value of philosophy is ontological, epistemological and axiological.

Philosophy helps in the investigation of real things or study of existence of things. Through philosophy, we are able to understand what really exists and what does not. This is what philosophical scholars refer to as the ontology or metaphysics. Therefore, it is possible, through philosophy, to investigate the question, whether there is unity of purpose in the Universe. However, although philosophy helps to understand the nature of knowledge, Russell wonders whether there is a limitation to knowledge. This concern belongs to the branch of philosophy called epistemology. It helps in the exploration of the limits to which human wisdom can stretch. It is also concerned with the question, whether human beings can know everything. Thirdly, according to Russell, philosophy is valuable, because it helps people to get a clear understanding of good and evil and the beautiful. Russell summarizes all three objectives of philosophy into one solid goal: to seek knowledge. However, Russell cautions that philosophy is different from science. Although both seek knowledge, science is mostly based on initial observation then on the assumption or speculation. On the contrary, philosophy may give a rise to something that was not suspected at all.

Russell also discusses other values of philosophy. According to him, philosophy reduces dogmatism. This is a situation, in which action is dictated. It is based on the fact that only a few members have the right and ability to deliver something. Therefore, ordinances are decreed and people should follow without failure and without questioning. No doubt should be expressed at all. This kind of situation is mostly found in the realms of churches and religious organizations. In this kind of a situation, there is no room for growth in terms of knowledge. Moreover, according to Russell, philosophy increases people’s possibility to acquire more knowledge. This is because the human mind is able to stretch to greater extends that can accommodate more information only through curiosity and inquisitiveness. Philosophy gives people freedom.


It appears that the views advanced by both Plato and Russell were somewhat affected by the societies in which they were writing. For Plato, philosophy was like the ‘daily bread’. There was not only an explicit competition among philosophers, but also a public participation in terms of following the philosophers as kings of the time. Plato’s society can be described as being aristocratic. There were a few people, who were powerful and knowledgeable thus controlled others. One of the prevailing issues in the Platonian society was the concept of worship of many gods as well as they questioned whether actually God existed. That is why in terms of the centre of focus, his theory touched on beliefs, such as knowledge based on opinion. On the other hand, Russell’s society was more evolved and may not have wrestled with whether God existed or not. On the contrary, his society was troubled by the concepts of evil and good.

Most authorities seem to agree that one of the main values of philosophy is to enhance the gaining of knowledge. However, in most cases, today philosophy is applied to articulate the issues in various fields. Unlike in the past, where there was no distinction, for instance, between politics and economics, today there is more integration of philosophy and other disciples; but as separate entities. According to Warburton (2005), today’s philosophy is being applied in the file of human right in order to help tackle some of the ethical issues surrounding the human conduct.

Personal Position

There is no doubt that the two writers were highly influenced by the societies they were writing for. Today, I would rather view philosophy as a discipline that helps in the solution of the problems that humans face. Some of these problems are based on simple philosophical topics of such as knowledge. In this regard, authorities have differed on the kind of knowledge that should be imparted to students while they study. Furthermore, this has led to differential views on the curriculum development. Should curricula include technical subjects, extracurricular activities among other things? To me, philosophy is very valuable in solving some of the deadlocks, upon which parties and entities do not readily agree. I do not necessarily hold a different position from the one that Russell and Plato held. It is commonly agreeable that philosophy’s main role is to contribute to the field of knowledge acquisition. My focus is on the issues that philosophy would seek to solve today bearing in mind that there have been both social and as well as technological advancements. In the final analysis, philosophy helps students to grow in critical thought as well as in argumentation.

Summary and Conclusion

This paper was an attempt to explore the value of philosophy in three perspectives: Plato, Russell and mine. Beginning with Plato, it was found out that the core role of his philosophy was to help people understand the nature of knowledge and ideas. In addition, Russell viewed philosophy as a discipline that seeks to solve dilemmas in the ontological, axiological and epistemological arena. In other words, Russell’s view may have been wider than that of Plato, because it transcended epistemology and ontology. Thirdly, my view was that philosophy helps in solving the problems that bedevil the human society. Overall, philosophy is an interesting disciple that deals with both sensible and intelligible.

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