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A Study of Bertrand Russell's Philosophy Value and the Study of Uncertainty

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“The Value of Philosophy” by Bertrand Russell defines philosophy as a study of the uncertain because the questions asked in philosophy have no answers. Once something has an answer it ceases to be philosophy and becomes an entirely new discipline. Thus, philosophy constitutes the undefinable and the unanswerable.

But an answer can not be achieved without asking the question first. Though philosophic inquiry yields no direct answers, it produces questions that may in turn lead to the discovery of answers as well as the discovery of new disciplines. Philosophy is not considered a “hard science” but its contemplative process is an essential step in creating “hard sciences”. The provable set of truths that are known to us today would not have been discovered without philosophical inquiry.

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This also implies that philosophy is unlike the other sciences in the respect that it is not about a certain subject the way history is strictly about events in the past and astronomy is strictly about celestial bodies. Rather, it is a collection of unanswered questions about various subjects.

According to Russell, philosophy’s value lies in its uncertainty. The importance is placed in the questions rather than the answers. The questions let us contemplate things that broaden our perspective and help us see more possibilities. This open method of thought, “…while diminishing our feeling of certainty as to what things are, greatly increases our knowledge as to what they may be” and “..keeps alive our sense of wonder by showing familiar things in an unfamiliar aspect.” The idea that philosophy’s value is in the uncertain challenges our tendency to put more value in answers than questions and consider unanswerable and improbable things pointless.

Russell also asserts that because philosophy is a broad study, it helps the individual studying it think openly and without the limitations of conventional thought. While our view of the universe is influenced by the physical world, personal prejudices, culture, instinct, etc., philosophy is impartial, unbiased, and looks outside of the individual. By adopting the philosophical mindset, we are able to lay aside our bias and view the world from a wider lens. “In contemplation… we start from the non-Self, and through its greatness the boundaries of self are enlarged. Through the infinity of the universe the mind which contemplates it achieves some share in infinity.” This reading challenges the popular concept that “Man is the measure of all things” and that “…space and time and the world of universals are properties of the mind.” It challenges the common belief that in order to achieve useful outcomes, we must think inside the parameters of our established set of values and provable truths which we use to define the world.

This implies that our perspective of the universe is clouded by our human bias. It connects to the aforementioned idea that philosophy is a first step in invention, discovery of answers, and creation of other disciplines. Because philosophy encourages contemplation without bias, it allows us to consider new possibilities that in turn may lead to new ideas, theories, and discoveries. Discoveries such as the Big Bang theory and the heliocentric system would not have been possible without thinking outside of the cultural and religious biases of those times. This means that in order to innovate, it is essential for human thought to defy norms and conventional beliefs and become open to ideas that would otherwise be considered implausible.

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