Philosophy: Who Needs It

Ayn Rand delivered a speech to the 1974 graduating class of West Point Military Academy in which she addressed the question, "Why bother with philosophy?"

A portion of that essay is reproduced here, as modified for the Activities Midway sheets given out on September 2, 2005. For the full text, see Philosophy: Who Needs It by Ayn Rand, Penguin Books, 1982, pages 1 through 11.

You might claim -- as most people do -- that you have never been influenced by philosophy. I will ask you to check that claim. Have you ever thought or said the following? "Don't be so sure – nobody can be certain of anything." You got that notion from philosopher David Hume (and many, many others), even though you might never have heard of him. Or: "This may be good in theory, but it doesn't work in practice." You got that from Plato. Or: "That was a rotten thing to do, but it's only human, nobody is perfect in this world." You got it from Augustine. Or: "It may be true for you, but it's not true for me." You got it from William James. Or: "I couldn't help it! Nobody can help anything he does." You got it from Hegel. Or "I can't prove it, but I feel that it's true." You got it from Kant. Or: "It's logical, but logic has nothing to do with reality." You got it from Kant. Or: "It's evil, because it's selfish." You got it from Kant.

The principles you accept (consciously or subconsciously) must not clash with or contradict one another: they have to be integrated. What integrates them? Philosophy. A philosophic system is an integrated view of existence. As a human being, you have no choice about the fact that you need a philosophy. Your only choice is whether you define your philosophy by a conscious, rational, disciplined process of thought and scrupulously logical deliberation – or let your subconscious accumulate a junk heap of unwarranted conclusions, false generalizations, undefined contradictions, undigested slogans, unidentified wishes, doubts and fears, thrown together by chance, but integrated by your subconscious into a kind of mongrel philosophy and fused into a single, solid weight: self-doubt, like a ball and chain in the place where your mind’s wings should have grown.

Who needs philosophy? Everyone, especially MIT students. MIT can be a tough place, and you could use another weapon for self defense.
Copyright MIT Objectivist Club 2005