I have taught high school and college-aged kids for many years, and am very often lobbed the relevance question. The logical coherence of the concept of God. Theories of space and time. Classic questions in epistemology and metaphysics. "How is this relevant," they ask. It annoys me. I make an impotent gesture toward the intrinsic value of knowledge, but am always left frustrated by having to defend what is so obvious to me --and to everyone else prior to the mid twentieth century--the indelible importance of these topics. Maybe you can help me out?
Philosophy is an end in itself. This is why it is foolish to try to convince philistines that it is good for something. It is not primarily good for something. It is a good in itself. Otherwise you are acquiescing in the philistinism you ought to be combating. [. . .]
To the philistine's "Philosophy bakes no bread" you should not respond "Yes it does," for such responses are patently lame. You should say, "Man does not live by bread alone," or "Not everything is pursued as a means to something else," or "A university is not a trade school." You should not acquiesce in the philistine's values and assumptions, but go on the attack and question his values and assumptions. Put him on the spot. Play the Socratic gadfly. If a philistine wants to know how much you got paid for writing an article for a professional journal, say, "Do you really think that only what one is paid to do is worth doing?"
3. "I make an impotent gesture toward the intrinsic value of knowledge, but am always left frustrated by having to defend what is so obvious to me . . ." Most of the people who need to have this explained to them are not equipped to appreciate any explanation. So we humanists are in a tough spot. One of the conclusions I came too early on was that philosophy simply cannot be a mass consumption item at the college level. Although I didn't mind, and actually enjoyed, teaching logic courses, which can be of some use to the masses, I loathed teaching Intro to Philosophy and other philosophy courses designed to satisfy breadth requirements.
Part of the problem is that college level is so low nowadays that it has become a joke to speak of 'higher education.' People are not there to become educated human beings but to garner credentials that they believe will help them get ahead economically and socially. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but then why waste time on the pursuit of truth for its own sake? The average person has no intellectual eros; what he wants and needs is job training.
4. There is an irony here. People like you and me and thousands of others would never have had the opportunity to make a living from teaching philosophy if the level had not sunk so low, not so much because our level is low, but because there would simply have been no jobs for us if 'higher' education had not metastazised in the 1960s and beyond. So while we complain about the low level of our students, we ought to bear in mind that we have students in the first place and are not selling insurance or writing code because of the democratization of 'higher' ed.
5. I am an elitist, but not in a social or economic or racial sense. Everyone who has what it takes to profit from it ought to have the opportunity to pursue real education -- which is not to be confused with indoctrination in leftist seminaries -- in institutions of higher -- no 'sneer' quotes -- education. Equality of opportunity! But of course there will never be equality of outcome or result because people are not equal.
Philosophy -- the real thing, not some dumbed-down ersatz -- cannot be a mass consumption item. It is for the few. But who those few are cannot be decided by criteria of race or sex or age or religion or national origin. High culture is universal and belongs to all of us, even though we individually and as members of groups are not equal in our ability to contribute to it.