What is the point of academic philosophy?

I have been struggling with my philosophy module all year, mostly because I cannot see how it applies to real life.  It has contained dualism (the mind is not a physical thing), arguments for ‘the self’ that do not consider sociology or psychology and, to my utter incredulity, intelligent design (FFS!).

On talking to a different tutor last weekend, it was explained that modern teaching of philosophy in the UK does not teach one philosophical thinking, it teaches one philosophical methods and tools.  Hence we have had to study 16th and 17th century texts that are clearly utterly irrelevant today.  They are contrived arguments produced by withholding modern thinking and results of scientific research to produce ways of writing essays.  Sadly, in so doing, they are also teaching some of their students to believe utter bollocks.

My mind-set is that of a practitioner, not an academic, and I do not enjoy studying a pointless subject for the sake of studying it.  If it cannot be applied to real life then it is a waste of time, energy and neurones.

So I have been wondering why it is taught this way.

A common accusation aimed at the priesthood of just about any significant religion, anywhere, at any time, has been of being very conservative, advising the little people to support the status quo, pay their taxes, respect their betters and be glad their suffering will be compensated in the next life.  Meanwhile, the little people are assured the rich and powerful will suffer for their comforts.

But why aren’t philosophers challenging the status quo?  “Isn’t that what they are for?” I thought.  What I am seeing is more like the behaviour of this stereotypical compliant priesthood, telling the little people how to behave.  Then as I was typing up my notes on political philosophy and the arguments for political obligation, a little light came on.  There are shed-loads of reasons provided for why we should adhere to the law and fulfil our political obligations and scant few for why we should not.  Why is this?  It seems this goes back to Socrates who was sentenced to death 2,500 years ago for subverting the state.  He had the chance to not be executed but instead we get a long treatise from him on why he should allow himself to be executed by the state, in a particularly ghastly way, for a variety of reasons.  He is trotted out time and time again – a lesson to young wannabe world-changers: “This will be your fate if you do not comply!

How many academic philosophers since then have stood up to the state?

I think the purpose of philosophy as it is taught might just be to maintain the status quo of the paymasters who pay for the establishments in which the teaching is done.  It is just one huge “busy work” subject, of negative worth to society.  There to prevent students rioting on the streets, chucking petrol bombs at the Police, in protest at the behaviour of the government of the day.

As far as I have seen in this module, philosophy is not about teaching you to think and change the world, it is how to stick your head up some dead bloke’s arse and comment on whether he should have kept that second packet of crisps to himself or shared them out.

As it is taught, philosophy is a pointless dead subject that just serves to maintain the status quo and convert otherwise activist students into confused compliant citizens.

Our tutor said, at the start of the year, he has students who drop the subject early because “This is not what I wanted, it’s just telling me what to think“.  They were right to do so.  I have learned nothing of any practical use.  What a waste.

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