How do philosophers (or academics in general) justify their choice of profession? How is it defensible to be studying esoteric ideas with relatively few (if any) implications for the greater good, rather than devoting one's life to solving the much more practical problems that burden so much of the world's population? I realize that some philosophical ideas have had important worldwide impacts and have directly improved people's lives, but I doubt that almost any philosophers working today would say that that's what they expect to come out of their analyzing a particular view of Wittgenstein's or whatever. (I think this question ought to be asked of most professions, but it seems that philosophers would be thinking about this sort of thing much more so than would, say, investment bankers.)

I'm too tired to answer this directly. But if I had nothing else to say, I'd insist that art---painting, sculpture, music---has as little "direct" contribution to make as does philosophy, and I'm quite convinced of the importance of art to human flourishing. So perhaps the answer should be, "Man does not live by bread alone". Which is not, of course, to say that bread isn't important.

How does anyone (not just philosophers or other academics) justify a choice of profession? One does what one is good at and what one likes to do.

Academics in particular (philosophers included) need not apologize for their choice; we are, after all, teachers (in addition to being [perhaps] ivory-towerish scholars or researchers), and teachers surely serve the greater good. We philosophers, in particular, encourage critical (and skeptical) thinking, which--I suggest--is a Good Thing even if what we critique might be whether or not material objects are mereological sums of simples (or something equally esoteric).

Some of us do try to help solve practical problems (and Karl Marx once observed that philosophers have only tried to understand the world but that the point is to change it--I would imagine those are fighting words to some, inspiring to others!). Yes, my analysis of Wittgenstein or, more obscurely, Meinong might not directly improve people's lives, but then again how would we prove that? Maybe my analysis of Meinong in a course might inspire some student to further study of philosophy and that might lead in turn to her studying artificial intelligence (yes, there is a link!--see some of my own publications :-), which might lead to some breakthrough in applications of AI to medicine.

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