“Philosophy is the science that studies the fundamental aspects of the nature of existence. The task of philosophy is to provide man with a comprehensive view of life. This view serves as a base, a frame of reference, for all his actions, mental or physical, psychological or existential. This view tells him the nature of the universe with which he has to deal (metaphysics); the means by which he is to deal with it, i.e., the means of acquiring knowledge (epistemology); the standards by which he is to choose his goals and values, in regard to his own life and character (ethics)—and in regard to society (politics); the means of concretizing this view is given to him by aesthetics.
“It is not a question of whether man chooses to be guided by a comprehensive view: he is not equipped to survive without it. The nature of his consciousness does not permit him an animal's percept-guided, range-of-the-moment form of existence. No matter how primitive his actions, he needs to project them into the future and to weigh their consequences; this requires a conceptual process, and a conceptual process cannot take place in a vacuum: it requires a context. Man's choice is not whether he needs a comprehensive view of life, but only whether his view is true or false. If it is false, it leads him to act as his own destroyer.
“In the early stages of mankind's development, that view was provided by religion, i.e., by mystic fantasy. Man's psycho-epistemological need is the reason why even the most primitively savage tribes always clung to some form of religious belief; the mystic (i.e., anti-reality) nature of their view was the cause of mankind's incalculably long stagnation.
“Man came into his own in Greece, some two-and-a-half thousand years ago. The birth of philosophy marked his adulthood; not the content of any particular system of philosophy, but deeper: the concept of philosophy—the realization that a comprehensive view of existence is to be reached by man's mind.
“Philosophy is the goal toward which religion was only a helplessly blind groping. The grandeur, the reverence, the exalted purity, the austere dedication to the pursuit of truth, which are commonly associated with religion, should properly belong to the field of philosophy. Aristotle lived up to it and, in part, so did Plato, Aquinas, Spinoza—but how many others? It is earlier than we think…
“The task of philosophy requires the total best of a mind's capacity; the responsibility is commensurate. Most men are unable to form a comprehensive view of life: some, because their ability is devoted to other professions; a great many, because they lack the ability. But all need that view and, consciously or subconsciously, directly or indirectly, they accept what philosophy offers them.”
~ Ayn Rand, from "The Chicken's Homecoming" in The Anti-Industrial Revolution
[hat tip Anoop Verma]