The relevance of philosophy

The most important value of philosophy is that it utilises reasoning as the method of rational enquiry. Reasoning provides a basis for independent judgement (because its criteria can be internal, and therefore less prone to distortions). This method can avoid some of the pitfalls that spirituality and science are vulnerable to. On the one hand, reasoning is not so difficult to verify as spiritual insights. On the other, reasoning is not limited only to observation, and therefore it has potentially unlimited scope (can deal with non-observable, abstract issues). Indeed, philosophy often addresses problems lying beyond the reach of scientific investigation. So, this approach can have several roles:

It can examine the coherence of concepts, frameworks and existing practices within any individual discipline (for example, whether the concept of learning makes sense in computer science, or programming in biology).

Other approaches have their own ways to validate their findings, but they rarely have criteria for interpreting these findings. This is another sphere where philosophy can make a significant contribution.

One potential problem with any discipline is that its theoretical foundations are usually taken for granted. Thus, besides critical analysis of existing practices and theories, philosophy can make distinct contributions by focusing on the meta-level. In other words, it can tease out and examine assumptions that any particular discipline or method is based on. No individual discipline can do so, because it already operates within its own framework, which requires accepting its presuppositions.

Finally, philosophy can have an overarching, synthetic function. Cross-disciplinary subjects and themes that need a synthetic approach are largely neglected. Whereas scientists tend to become more and more specialised in their interests, philosophers generally stand back from the details of particular research programmes and concentrate on making sense of the overall principles and on establishing how they relate to each other. This can be essential in determining the way all the components function together: the practical aspects in relation to its theoretical premises, as well as the findings of different approaches. Thus, even if some epistemic categories require contributions from specialised disciplines, it is philosophy that can provide the perspective from which they are not only examined, but also combined. Such a contribution is significant because it gives hope that a coherence and completeness of human understanding can be achieved.