What is meant by “practical,” in the vulgar sense? Let me take an example. Suppose a man to be trapped on the roof of a burning building. His friends gather round to make suggestions. One friend suggests that a ladder be brought from next door; another friend suggests that the man climb to an adjoining roof and descend by the rain pipe. These are practical suggestions. A third friend, on the other hand, wants to know what caused the fire, or why the man is trying to escape. He is promptly silenced on the ground that his inquiries are beside the point. Or approach a man in the heat of business and offer him advice. You will soon find out whether your advice is practical or not. If you have invented something, a physical or industrial mechanism, that will facilitate the matter in hand, you show that you are a practical man, and there is a chance that you will be listened to. But if you ask the business man why he is trying so hard to make money, and express some doubt as to its being worth while—well, let the veil be drawn. He may see you “out of hours,” but you will scarcely recover his confidence. “Practical,” therefore, would seem to mean relevant to the matter in hand. It is usual with adults to have something “in hand,” to be busy about something, to be pursuing some end. The practical is anything that will serve the end already being pursued; the unpractical is anything else, and especially reflection on the end itself. Now the philosopher’s advice is usually of the latter type. It is felt to be gratuitous. It does not help you to do what you are already doing; on the contrary, it is calculated to arrest your action. It is out of place in the office, or in business hours. What, then, is to be said for it? The answer, of course, is this: It is important not only to be moving, but to be moving in the right direction; not only to be doing something well, but to be doing something worth while. This is evidently true, but it is easily forgotten. Hence it becomes the duty of philosophy to remind men of it; to persuade men occasionally to reflect on their ends, and reconsider their whole way of life. To have a philosophy of life is to have reasons not only for the means you have selected, but for what you propose to accomplish by them.

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