Uses of Philosophy in Society: Choice Between Reason and Passion

Plato & AristotleThe Battle between Reason and Passion

The Rafael painting (on the left) of Greek philosophers Plato (pointing up towards the sky) and his pupil, Aristotle (palm facing down towards the ground) seemingly depicts them debating what should govern Man’s affairs: either Plato’s heavenly passion of the Gods, or Aristotle’s earthly reason of science.

This battle of wise minds serves as an example that begins this post with an apparent conflict between reason and passion, as I ask the question to myself as to which of the two should be used towards benefiting us personally and society as a whole?

Philosophy, and Stoicism in particular, can be accused of being, at most part, emotionally cold and distant because of it’s aim for us to invoke the use of reason to override all human emotions.  The elements of passion and reason have been opposing forces ever since the very beginnings of philosophy.

The Stoics seemed to think that passion should be avoided like the plague,

Stoicism holds that passion distorts truth, and that the pursuit of truth is virtuous.

Being a man of scientific observation, Aristotle also thought that reason alone should be embraced,

“The law is reason free from passion.”

~ Aristotle

Plato stood side by side with Aristotle against passion, although he did have, paradoxically, passion for worshipping the Gods,

“The passionate are like men standing on their heads; they see all things the wrong way”

~ Plato

Not to worry, passion had its advocates too,

“Only passions, great passions, can elevate the soul to great things.”

~ Denis Diderot

“It’s the soul’s duty to be loyal to its own desires. It must abandon itself to its master passion.”

~ Rebecca West

Did a Passionless Socrates influence the non-progressive Philosophy we have today?

In the following interesting yet educational video (which is in 6 parts), blogger, author and podcaster, Stefan Molyneux questions the beneficial qualities of “Philosophy” in general, and that despite it being around for thousand of years, it has not directly influenced people and the world for the better.

Stefan is somewhat disappointed with philosophy’s contribution to society, and feels that it has been at most part, simply ignored by all quarters as a progressive discipline when compared to Information Technology, Science and Economics.

Stefan also feels there is a case for philosophy to learn and adapt to changing times and combine the calming influence of reason with the driving force of passion, something which may give it more success in terms of energising the world towards wiser action in human affairs.

A couple of questions Stefan asks are, “Why has philosophy failed the world?” And, “Has philosophy simply not progressed because of its lack of passion?”

Two men who also agreed with Stefan are,

“If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins.”

~ Benjamin Franklin

“Passion and prejudice govern the world, only under the name of reason.”

~ John Wesley

Stefan begins his quest by going back over 2000 years ago to an ancient Athens, as he points an accusing finger at a man on trial, and who is considered the father of philosophy – he sought truth through the use of reason to all he would question.  That man was Plato’s Socrates

Before you go, here are a few questions for you all:

1. Does philosophy serve any real purpose to society in the 21st century?

2. Is philosophy practically useless in guiding us all towards meaningful action, and eventually towards progress?

3. Was Socrates irresponsible for providing us with the seemingly passionless philosophy that we now have today?

4. What do you think should govern our lives for the better: reason, passion, or both?  And why?

I would be very much interested in seeing what answers you all provide.  Thanks.

4 Comments

  1. Fatima Da says:

    Philosophy in my own view is a person sense of the world; it’s unique to them because it is strongly associated to them (We cannot see through another man’s eye)..

    Obviously Plato, Freud, Aristotle and the others were able to share their own philosophy to the world on a large scale that’s why we can talk about them today (I think they all had good communication & marketing skills too.. people have maybe forgotten to include this in their history).. Remember it’s their own philosophy not mine -. But of course we all learn, agree disagree about these philosophers’ ways of being and views. For instance I will like to agree with this quote “Only passions, great passions, can elevate the soul to great things.”

    Because philosophy is not tangible I think it makes the whole concept very powerful and may explain why it has been around for years yet failed to deliver…… .

    Philosophy will continue to around cuz humans will mostly like continue to search for meaning, answers and philosophy may serve that purpose .

    However Because philosophy as I mentioned is unique in my view to an individual guiding others may be extremely hard ….it may explain why it does not work for everyone. Some people think philosophers are insane .

    Grt post Jason…. Stefan has Some good points will come back to listen to rest of video.

  2. Jason Cooper says:

    Great insight into philosophy, Fatima!

    I agree with most of what you said. Personally for me philosophy should not be neglected because it can influence people to question and think for themselves in their lives.

    Not only that, it can develop wisdom in people and society towards right and peaceful action, which is championed in great human beings such as Martin Luther King and Gandhi.

    Philosophy should be definately in the school curriculum, which may or may not bring about producing wiser adults for the betterment of the planet.

  3. Nietzsche made similar accusations against Socrates, contrasting the Dionysian with the Apollonian. Personally, I see philosophy more as a personal quest than a cause or movement to change mankind. One’s philosophy is one’s attitude toward life, one’s way of being. It’s not ideas that matter-reason vs. passion, etc-but how one lives. It’s discovering how to free one’s mind, to go beyond words and concepts and simply be happy.

  4. Jason Cooper says:

    I agree with you, NP, that each and every person will have their own philosophy in life for the ultimate goal of finding happiness – but maybe there is a case we could use philosophy generally as a beneficial entity which can influence every other system which governs us, especially in regards politics.

    We did once have a philosopher king in the world of politics, who lead his people wisely because of his humility and self-knowledge, and set a fine example for others to follow (except his son, Commodus) – that king, as you will know, was Marcus Aurelius.