The Institute for Advanced Physics

What is the Use of Philosophy?

by Jacques Maritain

Philosophy, taken in itself, is above utility. And for this very reason philosophy is of the utmost necessity for men. It reminds them of the supreme utility of those things which do not deal with means, but with ends. For men do not live only by bread, vitamins, and technological discoveries. They live by values and realities which are above time, and are worth being known for their own sake; they feed on that invisible food which sustains the life of the spirit, and which makes them aware, not of such or such means at the service of their life, but of their very reasons for living and suffering, and hoping.

The philosopher in society witnesses to the supreme dignity of thought; he points to what is eternal in man, and stimulates our thirst for pure knowledge and disinterested knowledge, for knowledge of those fundamentals about the nature of things and the nature of the mind, and man himself, and God which are superior to, and independent of, anything we can make or produce or create and to which all our practice is appendent, because we think before acting and nothing can limit the range of thought: our practical decisions depend on the stand we take on the ultimate questions that human thought is able to ask. That is why philosophical systems, which are directed toward no practical use and application, have, as I remarked at the beginning, such an impact on human history.

The advocates of dialectical materialism claim that philosophy does not have to contemplate, but to transform the world: because philosophy is essentially praxis, instrument for action, power exercised on things. This is but a return to the old magical confusion between knowledge and power, a perfect disregard of the function of thought.

From On the Use of Philosophy, by Jacques Maritain

The Institute for Advanced Physics

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