By Ayn Rand
Most people, if asked to list the subjects that are of most practical significance to human life, might name medicine, computer science, engineering, physics, or even political science. But few would name philosophy, which is regarded as an esoteric subject, good for little more than debating unanswerable questions on college campuses or in coffee shops. When it comes to living one’s life in the real world and dealing with real issues, it is commonly thought, philosophy is irrelevant.
Ayn Rand’s view is the exact opposite. To her, philosophy is an indispensible, practical science.
Rand presents her view of what philosophy is—and why it is of such crucial, practical importance to human life—in her address to the graduating class of the United States Military Academy at West Point, which she delivered in March, 1974.
Rand presents philosophy as a science that studies the fundamentals of human thought and action. She explores the kinds of questions philosophy addresses: What kind of world do I live in? Do I control my own destiny? What do I know? Can I prove it? What is the good? Should I be selfish and pursue my own interests, or should I devote myself to serving God or other people?
Rand argues that, in order to deal with concrete, real-life problems, an individual needs some implicit or explicit view of the world, of man’s place in it, and of what goals and values he ought to pursue. The abstract premises an individual holds may be true and consistent, reached by conscientious thought—and the purpose of the science of philosophy is to teach him how to achieve this—or his premises may be a heap of clashing ideas unwittingly absorbed from the culture around him. But either way, she argues, the power of philosophy is inescapable.
Her answer to the implied question: “Who needs philosophy?” is: everyone.
An edited version of this talk is available as the title essay of Rand’s book Philosophy: Who Needs It. The talk is also available as a free video course offering at campus.aynrand.org.
(MP3 download; 68 min. w/ Q & A, 48.85 MB)
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