Is Philosophy Necessary for the Good Life?

Like many of my fellow Sweet Talkers, I’ve got an interest in philosophy, and especially ethics. But as interested as I’ve found it to be, the more I read, the more I have this nagging question:

Is philosophy necessary for a good and virtuous life? If so, then must we write off all of humanity as incapable of achieving the good life, save for the tiny sliver of those that engage in philosophy (never mind getting particular about which philosophy). If not, then what is the purpose of a philosophy of morality in the first place?

In the preface to Fragility of Goodness, Martha Nussbaum writes:

Like Socrates, I think that modern democracies need philosophy, if they are to realize their potential. And they not only need Socratic inquiry and self-examination, they also need engagement with complex ethical theories, prominently including theories of social justice.

If democracy’s potential requires the median voter to have “engagement with complex ethical theories”, then democracy is doomed to never fulfill its potential. Forgive me if that is excessively cynical.

But if philosophy and complex ethical theories are not to play the role that Nussbaum envisions, what role are they to play, if any?

2 thoughts on “Is Philosophy Necessary for the Good Life?

  1. Clearly Nussbaum means, by “modern democracy”, the modern formulation of “democracy” that is based not on the will of the populace, but by the will of the unelected NGOs / professional bureacrats / technocrats.

    …and by “they need”, he means not “the populace needs”, but “the unelected technocrats need”.

    1. I do not think that’s a fair assessment of Nussbaum’s position. She is a straightforward Enlightenment type idealist (self described) and Fragility of Goodness also covers how the Greeks used things like tragic poems and other moral stories in order to get audiences in general (not technocrats or tyrants) to engage with complex ethical situations and ideas.

      So I don’t think it’s fair to call her elitist, and if you read Fragility of Goodness I think you’d find the stuff examined there pretty appealing (based on what I’ve seen of your opinions here and there).

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