Again and again people ask: “What is the benefit of philosophy?” Because they would not do it, if it had not benefit. Or because they only do things which do have a benefit.
I have do admit that I find it hard to answer this question. But the reason why I find it hard is not so much that no possible answers would come into my mind. Rather, if I am honest I have to admit that I do not understand the question.
Yes, in quiet moments I have also already asked myself about the personal benefit a person gets from philosophizing. Then things like “You learn to think in a structured, analytical manner” or “You learn how to express your thoughts in clear language” come to my mind. These and some other possible answers to the question of the benefit of philosophy are true, but, in reality structured thinking can be learned in some other field of interest, too, and the same is valid for clear language.
But what is more, such secondary benefits do not constitute the reason why one philosopizes.
So, if somebody asks me what I consider to be the benefit of philosophy, I now tend to return the question: “How can you live without philosophizing?”
“If I tried to live without philosophizing,” I would add, “within three weeks my head would be stuffed with so many confusing and contradictory contents that I would not know my own name anymore. My head would echoe from what other people have told me and from what I have heard or read in the media or in books like from the soap-opera oratories from politicians of different parties. It would all be a terrible havoc inside me, and I would not know anymore what to believe and what I think about things.”
To be clear about that: My concept of philosophy is philosophizing; it is not studying philosophical books or papers. Studying the works of professionals of the discipline of philosophy does not help you to bring order into your head. Of course, it might provide one or the other useful hint you were looking for. But in general, when studying Kant or Hegel or Thomas Nagel you are not busy with your own problems but with someone else’s business.
Now somebody could object: “But after all you are telling us, the benefit of philosophy for you is to bring order into your head!”
Theoretically or literally taken, this statement is somehow true. But what is wrong about it, is that it does not give a true account of my motivation for philosophizing. My motivation is not to philosophize in order to make order in my mind, but the growing disorder in my mind seems so threatening that I feel the urge to run away from it into philosophizing.
Would you say that somebody who is gasping for air because he is drowning, is doing that because the air has some kind of benefit for him? Theoretically you could say that, but practically somebody who is gasping for air does not ask for the benefit of air.
The real question, in my opinion, therefore is not: “What is the benefit of philosophy?” – but: “How do people manage to live without philosophy?”
I do accept the fact that there are people who are not philosophizing, because I know people who say that they do not consider themselves to be philosophers, that they would not want to consider themselves to be philosophers or one of their activities to be philosophizing. People also often say, that they do not understand philosophy, and that, after all they have seen of it until now, they do not like it. I think that those people should be taken seriously in considering themselves as not philosophizing.
But the question remains: How do they do it. How do they manage to live without philosophy? Do they do it, but just call it by a different name? That could be true in some cases. Or do they run away from reflecting about their situation? That does not sound implausible either. In total, if I take into regard my existential equilibrium, I need philosophy for my sheer survival. But I would not wonder if other people emotionally function different in a manner, so that they do not need to philosophize or that philosophy even constitutes a threat to their existential equilibrium.
The only thing I can say is that I am not able to understand their way of functioning. And this is the reason why I do not really understand the question about the benefit of philosophy.