Usefulness of Philosophy

From the Open University

1 Approaching philosophy

The 1960s show Beyond the Fringe included a sketch satirizing philosophy. In it, Jonathan Miller and Alan Bennett play two Oxbridge philosophers discussing the role of philosophy in everyday life. It concludes like this:

Jon: … the burden is fair and square on your shoulders to explain to me the exact relevance philosophy does have to everyday life.

Alan: Yes, I can do this quite easily. This morning I went into a shop, and a shop assistant was having an argument with a customer. The shop assistant said ‘yes’ – ‘yes’, you see – and the customer said ‘What do you mean, “yes”?’ – and the shop assistant said, ‘I mean “yes”.’

Jon: This is very exciting.

Alan: Here is a splendid example in everyday life where two very ordinary people are asking each other what are in essence philosophical questions – ‘What do you mean, “yes”?’ – ‘I mean “yes”’ – and where I, as a philosopher, could help them.

Jon: And did you?

Alan: Well no – they were in rather a hurry…

(Bennett et al., 1987, pp. 51–2)

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