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Why Philosophy Is Still Relevant - And Has Useful Applications

05/05/2014 11:36 BST | Updated 04/07/2014 10:59 BST

To a great number of people, philosophy has become obsolete; to others it's mind-numbingly boring; to others it's incredibly confusing and too hard a subject to get around. The latter two may certainly be correct, depending on your own opinion; however the first one, the idea that philosophy has lost its purpose, most certainly isn't. In fact, it's more necessary than ever. It's a useful subject that has applications in our daily lives - whether it's on an individual level, for example to help us cope with a bereavement or whether it's about building an alternative society, philosophy can help provide us with the answers.

The transition from the 20th to the 21st century was a turbulent and hectic one. Rapid modernisation and globalisation, coupled with the collapse of the iron curtain and the end of the Cold War, brought with it new technologies, new opportunities and a renewed faith in capitalism. However, the effects weren't all good. The rush, hustle and bustle of urban life can have serious effects on us all - both physically and psychologically. In the mad dash of everyday life, we are barely given time to sit on the side lines and think.

And that's where philosophy comes in.

One philosopher whose lessons still ring true today is Epicurus (341-270 BC). Born on the Greek island of Samos, Epicurus spent most of his life in Athens, where he became somewhat of a cult figure, and attracted a band of students, with whom he lived on a commune. Epicurus believed that if we strive to eliminate suffering from our lives it will inevitably be better. In short, Epicurus believed that three things were key to increasing happiness: firstly, live a fairly simple lifestyle; be kind to those around you; and surround yourself with friends. Another feature of Epicurus' philosophy was that we can overcome certain events by dwelling on positive memories, especially before death.

If Epicurus isn't enough, there is another trio that might interest you. The term attached to them is well recognised and actually in quite common use - the Stoics: Cicero, Seneca and Epictetus. The basic philosophy of the stoics was thus: it is a waste of time to become too tied down in our emotions during events that are essentially out of our control. They essentially argued that we could control our emotions, and we would ultimately feel better for it. Seneca in particular believed that we should not feel angry by the fact that life is short, rather we should find time to make the most of it; indeed, we get nothing done dwelling on how long we're going to live.

Finally, there is, as I mentioned in my short intro, a macro application. Philosophy is, by definition, the 'love of wisdom'. It provides the foundation stone for all critical thinking. Philosophy is not just about the academic; it is about the creative. John Stuart Mill, probably the most famous liberal philosopher, espoused the view that when we have space to develop, there are benefits not just for the individual, but for wider society. Philosophical inquiry is no different. By encouraging people of all ages to think about, and to question, the world around them, we can help create new, realistic ways of changing society to the benefit of the individual and the collective.

Philosophy is not obsolete. Philosophy brings the important questions to the table and works towards an answer. It encourages us to think critically about the world; it is the foundation of all knowledge and when utilised properly, can provide us with huge benefits.