At university, I studied Philosophy. Often, when I introduce this fact into conversation, people will say "What use is Philosophy?". It is evident that this is a rhetorical question; the manner in which it is posed makes it clear that the person asking thinks that Philosophy has no use at all.

Once upon a time, I would attempt to subvert the question's rhetorical force by trying to answer it. "Philosophy gives you useful transferable skills", I would chirrup. Eventually, however, I jetissoned this strategy. Why? Well, because I started to find the core assumption made by the questioner offensive. That core assumption is very easily stated: "A thing (using 'thing' in its broadest possible sense)has no value unless it is useful". I submit that this assumption is horseshit.

Let's just consider for a moment how absurd the assumption would be if it were indeed true. If a thing x is useful, it is useful in so far as it achieves some other thing, call it y. Now, if x has value only in so far as it achieves y (as our assumption supposes), it would seem that y must have value only in so far as it achieves some other thing, call it z.

It doesn't take long to realise that this process must go on forever (which can't happen, as we'd soon run out of letters of the alphabet!). That is, everything we encounter only has value so long as it leads us on to something else. If our assumption is true, then, we never ever reach anything that is just valuable in itself.

So, I submit, anything that is really valuable, that is valuable in itself, must of necessity be absolutely useless. And this view, paradoxical though it may sound to Westerners of the 21st century, accords pretty well with our experience. After all, what are truly valuable things for? What is happiness for? What is friendship for? What is feeling good for? All these things are utterly useless. And all these things are supremely valuable.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.