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“The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed, the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually slaves of some defunct economist.”

John Maynard Keynes

Marcus Arvan

What Patrick said Keynes said. :)

Kristina Meshelski

Love the Keynes quote, and don't like the soup metaphor. One reason is that the founding fathers also reached into that alphabet soup of academic work for their scientific justifications of racism, so obviously just adding to the soup isn't necessarily a good thing. And if you think about the founding fathers in their capacity as colonial intruders into America, then imagining them reading Locke, with his passages about how the natives don't need the American land, makes philosophy seem positively sinister. I would say political philosophy can contribute good things to society, when it is good. But it can also be bad. Or both or neither. (And by the way I actually like Locke's political philosophy, but we can't pretend there aren't those parts!)


I'd like to think that philosophy does good for society not only by "producing knowledge" about ways to understand and address problems, but also by producing good people. That would be philosophy as a practice, rather than philosophy as knowledge about practices. But Kristina's qualification probably applies here as well.

Marcus Arvan

Adam: I'd like to think that too. What I'm not so sure of is whether we have any evidence to think that it is true. :)

A. P. Taylor

The meta-response: In order to know whether or not x harms or benefits society, one must first have principled understanding of what harms or benefits society, and such an understanding is the bailiwick of the philosophers. The is no empirical concept of a harm or benefit, such concepts are necessarily relative to a conception of the welfare of society, and any such conception will necessarily be non-empirical and thus not resolvable by empirical inquiry.


"philosophical work does not contribute to the improvement of society"

Anyone who makes this claim is just ignorant. Marx alone should stand as another definitive counterexample to add to the examples you give. For any given person in any Western country, it is extremely likely that they enjoy many benefits that have resulted directly from Marx's critique of pure capitalism. Some questions don't call for detailed answers, they call for an accusation of ignorance on the part of the questioner.

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