On the Use of Science and the Use of Philosophy

I came across this passage in Mortimer J. Adler’s wonderful little book, Aristotle for Everybody, and I rather liked it.

Is philosophy totally useless, then, as compared with science? Yes, it is, if we confine ourselves to the use of knowledge or understanding for the sake of producing things. Philosophy bakes no cakes and builds no bridges.

But there is a use of knowledge or understanding other than the use we put it to when we engage in the production of things. Knowledge and understanding can be used to direct our lives and manage our societies so that they are better rather than worse lives and better rather than worse societies.

That is a practical rather than a productive use of knowledge and understanding–a use for the sake of doing rather than a use for the sake of making.

In that dimension of human life, philosophy is highly useful–more useful than science.

This is why I get sad when I hear talk of focusing education so heavily on STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, math). No doubt important, STEM still lacks what’s so valuable about the humanities. Philosophy and literature don’t just teach us knowledge. They also make us better people.