Why Professionals Need Philosophy

When most people think of philosophy their mind goes fuzzy. It conjures up images of dull textbooks, boring teachers, abstract questions like “the nature of the word ‘the'” or lifeboat situation hypotheticals like “do you pull the lever to kill 1 person or 5?
It’s not really any wonder to me why most students and young professionals, given that this is their exposure to philosophy, avoid it. These questions have no relevance to their lives! But they’ve been lied to.
Philosophy is not just about obtuse, floating questions that have no real answer. That kind of “philosophy,” if you want to call it that, might work in grad school and academia but not in the real world. In life, in education, in business, in love, and in success, philosophy serves a profound purpose. It can be your biggest ally if you define it and use it correctly or your greatest enemy if you choose to ignore it.
Here’s Ayn Rand on the value of doing philosophy:

In order to live, man must act; in order to act, he must make choices; in order to make choices, he must define a code of values; in order to define a code of values, he must know what he is and where he is—i.e., he must know his own nature (including his means of knowledge) and the nature of the universe in which he acts—i.e., he needs metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, which means: philosophy….
As a human being, you have no choice about the fact that you need a philosophy. Your only choice is whether you define your philosophy by a conscious, rational, disciplined process of thought and scrupulously logical deliberation—or let your subconscious accumulate a junk heap of unwarranted conclusions, false generalizations, undefined contradictions, undigested slogans, unidentified wishes, doubts and fears, thrown together by chance, but integrated by your subconscious into a kind of mongrel philosophy and fused into a single, solid weight: self-doubt, like a ball and chain in the place where your mind’s wings should have grown.

Philosophy is something bound up with the human experience. Nobody can avoid it. If you want to make proper short and long-range decisions, you will actively do philosophy to develop a consistent system on which to base your actions and choices. Most people do not do this. They live their lives in a state of guilt, confusion, and anxiety and struggle because they’ve never bothered to do philosophy consciously and they get real-world results that match those states.
Using this understanding as our base, here are some of the kinds of the real-life questions you can answer with philosophy:

  • Should I go to college?
  • Should I stay in college because my parents and friends want me to or should I leave?
  • What job should I go for? Do I even want a job or do I want to freelance or own a business?
  • Do I ask for a raise now or not?

If you’ve ever stressed yourself out over these questions and had no clear answer, you need more philosophy in your life. You can answer them because you have no clear values or understandings on which to base those answers. Let’s take one of the more common questions in this list: “Should I stay in college because my parents and friends want me to or should I leave.”
The answer to this question depends greatly on the philosophy you’ve accepted. Do you exist to serve others and their values or is your life your own? Is happiness the moral purpose of your life or duty and sacrifice? Can you have an unchosen obligation or must all obligations be voluntarily entered?
These aren’t fluffy questions with no answers. It’s the real world and your answers will determine your real-world results. If you know college is not serving your interests but you believe you owe an obligation to your parents, you’ve just condemned yourself to 4 years of misery and lost opportunity that you can never get back. I’ve seen this play out hundreds of times over the last few years.
When I look back on my own life, leaving college despite the wishes of my family and all the adults in my life was one of the best decisions I ever made. I could not have done it if I accepted the belief that my life was somehow duty bound to the welfare and wishes of others. The knowledge and courage to make the jump depended entirely on using philosophic thinking to navigate the decision-making process.
So if you’re looking for your next read, skip the business section and find something that will make you think about your life and your place in it. It might be the most important thing you do.