Those Who Turn Away

This poem beautifully explains why philosophy matters, and why it’s foolhardy to pursue a narrow, vocational skill with dubious utility.

Cowley Road, Oxford, circa 1997. Back: Suyash. Middle (L-R): Ben, Dimitrie, Travis. Front: Me.

When I first read it in the December 2019 issue of Philosophy Now, it immediately reminded me of a conversation I had more than 20 years ago with Travis, my housemate – in Oxford, no less – after I had disparaged the study of philosophy while trumpeting the extraordinary virtues of “useful” knowledge such as engineering. I was wrong.

Those Who Turn Away

By Glen Reid, Royal Wootton Bassett

Talented thinkers through the ages:
Some fail, and some fail to try.
We focus on the former,
Yet no one asks the latter why. 

So who is the Worst Philosopher?
My brother John is a candidate strong.
And, no, I do not stereotype him,
So please don’t just say I’m wrong. 

A double first at Oxford,
Laser physics is his thing.
Science gives him answers:
Philosophy’s praises he does not sing.

Yes, he’s a Doctor of Philosophy,
Although on him the irony is lost.
He says rationality is his god.
Philosophy? “No return, there’s only cost.” 

His advice helped win a Nobel,
A successful professorial hit:
“Why sit and wait,
When you can get on with it?”

But thinking about thinking
And taking the measure of measure? – 
All best left to others;
Those circles give no pleasure. 

Science can help with consciousness
And what is meant by life,
But philosophy deserves distain:
“Who needs the angst and strife?” 

His dot-com career was fortunate,
Though he treats this view with scorn.
“The internet needed fibre optics.
Fast transmission, even if for porn” 

So the Worst Philosophers
Are not the ones who try,
But the ones who turn away
And do nothing but decry.