Philosophy, well done, was, and is, the sharp edge of human culture. All of it. A civilization is as healthy as its ruling philosophies. So, contrarily to repute, philosophy is more at the core of thought, and is more practical, than any other human activity. Indeed all humans use an effective philosophical theory (cheaply offered by frantic adoration of the son of the boSS in the USA; and his name was Jesus, although nobody ever saw his face).
First of all, philosophy is the method of searching ruthlessly for (some) truth in an uncertain world.
Many people who think of truth, think of science.
Science is only about establishing truths so certain that planes can fly, and computers can compute. Science is all about nearly certain truths (hence the unease about Quantum Mechanics, which is only sure about probabilities of things happening).
Outside of the tiny realm of science, most truths are not that certain. (See the note on “Fuzzy Logic” and “Quantum Logic”.)
Philosophy is also the attitude of putting one’s brain in a state that puts investigating all and any truth high enough relative to normal values, that it happens only exceptionally to common people (thus Socrates, a bit carried away, claimed that the proper mood of man was to feel that the “unexamined life was not worth living”, an admission, or confession, that many emotional dimensions escaped him; thus Socrates had major pieces missing in his mental machinery, making him an unlikely contender as the philosopher par excellence!).
Philosophy, per necessity, investigates of how fuzzy perception, indistinct knowledge, and unimaginable worlds could be researched. Creative philosophy, well done, is guessing writ large, and in dimensions never imagined before.
In that sense, philosophy covers deep, creative, investigations in all fields, from possible logics to the meaning of surrendering to pleasure. Thus many philosophers founded many fields: Aristotle, biology (although the philosopher and scientist Lamarck named it). Xenophon, economics. Buridan, modern mechanics and the heliocentric system. Descartes, analysis. Less well known, Bruno and Kant did serious work on extraterrestrial, or even extragalactic considerations. Science is a flower rooted in philosophy.
Philosophy is about finding, or guessing, what reality is, or could be. To do this using all available methods, neurobiological or not, existing, or yet to be created by the imagination. New philosophy, when it is created, does not just use the methods of extant science, mathematics, technology, society and even poetry. instead, it creates, or guesses, new ones.
Some say philosophy ought to focus on living life well. Sure. However, to do so, one first has to determine what reality is. So we are back to examining.
Examination, critique, make one weight systematically the positives and the negatives in a spirit of equality. In some countries tradition insists that the proper mood ought to manage only the positives; this happens in the USA and Asia, for example. There people are more interested in speaking of the positive sides of life instead of about what’s wrong. That makes individuals much less eager to share their inner qualms and honest opinions. This is no way to get to truth.
In literalist Islam, “al-Taqiyya” dissimulation, concealing or disguising one’s beliefs, convictions, ideas, feelings, opinions, and/or strategies is made into a religious command when dealing with enemies (in a half dozen verses of the Qur’an). That, too is hostile to philosophy.
Dozens of famous philosophers, starting with Socrates, defended philosophy rather than their lives or comfort. Descartes, for example, fled to the Netherlands. Bruno was burned alive (by the Vatican). More recently several French philosophers were tortured and executed by the Nazis.
French civilization was founded by the Franks (who somehow changed, and improved the mood of the 97% of the Gallo-Roman population that was not Frank). Roger Cohen in “France’s Glorious Malaise” pointed out that: “Far from morose, the French attitude has a bracing frankness.” Frankness was always the defining character of the Franks, as indicated by their name.
Frankness is why the Franks refused, alone among the Germans, to become Christians for two full centuries (although Frankish generals were breathing down Roman emperors’ necks). They frankly disagreed with the Christian madness. (When they became Catholics, that was on their own terms, as they made their own leaders bishops, in their own special way!)
Frankness is the emotional core of the attitude that creates science, technology, or philosophy. Finding the truth, exposing and revering it as if it ruled, is the core principle of Western civilization (and was sorely missing in Rome: exposing truth in Roman science would have led to expose the truth of Roman plutocracy, namely, the deification of related criminal idiots.)
In any case, philosophy can influence the national character, and reciprocally.
Philosophy systematically focuses on creative interpretations of one-time events (whereas science tends to use mostly certain, that means, repeatable facts; science can use one-time events; for example the crash of an asteroid in Siberia, although a one-time event, is shaking a lot of established science). Once again, too optimistic (or too pessimistic, or too fatalistic) an attitude can skew the selection of these one-time events.
The philosophical method is not science, but it is how revolutionary science has always blossomed, and always will. The mark of the greatest scientists and mathematicians has always been, and will always be, that some of their work can be viewed as philosophical.
For example Newton casually declared that his own gravitation theory, with an instantaneous force at a distance, was so counter-intuitive on that point, that it could only be false; I have the same objection with the entanglement at a distance interaction in Quantum Physics; both Newton’s, and my, objection are grounded in a philosophical reasoning. (See Note.)
Thus scientists hostile to philosophy do not understand the birth of their own field of expertise. All and any serious scientific progress was born from philosophical methodology.
(There are many philosophy haters in a very loud field, High Energy Physics. That sounds strange, until one realizes that some practitioners of this field of expertise have to take themselves for God, since much of QFT makes no sense whatsoever, and only Jihadist like certainty can make them forget that.)
Nor do philosophers hostile to science understand the aim of the philosophical method, which is science. Even if it’s simply the prosaic science of how to lead the best possible life.
Science shattered so much old philosophical errors, that, to this day, most thinkers do not seem to realize how revolutionary established fundamental science is. That’s one of the points I made in the essay “Revolutionary Science”.
Someone’s philosopher can be someone else’s devil. Kant, for example, was used massively by the Nazis to justify their blind obedience to order (Kant, like Confucius or Mencius, or the Qur’an made obeying blindly orders from above a basic moral principle).
Philosophy is a method, using whatever to get to truth. But it’s also a set of knowledge, fake or not. Debatable always. Naturally enough, the human species evolved into that method. The only difference between Philosophy with a capital P and common sense, is that the former is applied to questions esoteric enough to bring forth new ideas, and new emotions.
In any case, philosophy is, first of all, the ultimate quest for truth.
Philosophy, the ultimate quest for, and by, the essence of man, truth mastering reality, kneading it into making one’s bed really more comfortable is not just what made us, but what we are made from.