Onora O’Neill argues for the value of philosophical research.
My own view is that humanities research, including research in philosophy, is valuable for striking and profound reasons that go beyond economic value, and which we should not be shy of articulating. Research in the humanities has public value because it forms and transforms individuals and societies: it shapes and reshapes what people believe and do, and what they value. The changes can surprise even those who do the research, and once they happen, it is hard to remember how things used to be. We cannot now recapture an understanding of the natural world untouched by scientific research done across many generations. Equally, we cannot now imagine an understanding of the human world that is not deeply shaped by accumulated research in the humanities across many generations. Our understanding of places and pasts, and of our own place and past, and our own present, of our political and legal institutions, is steeped in research into the languages and texts, art and artefacts and arguments that now shape our memories and perception, our understanding and feeling, indeed our very sense of the human world. We locate ourselves not by citing spatiotemporal coordinates, but by pointing to human struggles and striving: the fall of the Berlin Wall; Easter 1916; the Arab Spring. We communicate our sense of the world by evoking resonant reminders: the vasty fields of France; the Beetles’ first LP; the Ode to Joy. Interpreting the world is no small project, nor is it one that can be done, dusted and set aside as complete for all time. Nor is all research in the humanities a matter of interpreting and reinterpreting, as the examples of historical and philosophical research reveal. We are riveted by tough empirical investigations into the past, like the one that showed that some recently-discovered bones were those of Richard III. We are drawn to arguments that offer reasons for taking freedom of speech seriously or challenge claims about miracle cures.