SECTION ONE: WHAT GOOD IS PHILOSOPHY; WHAT IS IN IT FOR ME?
1. Philosophical training will help you with your work; our efforts will be boot camp for preparation for survival in the marketplace.
By now you may be thinking, "That's all well and good, but what's in it for me; what will I get out of this philosophical journey, this adventure of ideas?" Good question. Let me answer by giving a report of possible benefits --I make no guarantees.
First, take a quick survey of the world you now encounter. Unless you were born rich, you will have to work for a living. More than likely, you will have to work for someone else. Put bluntly, you will have to work for a boss who will make demands of you. Ask yourself a simple question. "What will my boss --in fact, any boss-- want from me, from his/her personnel?" Do they want loyalty most of all? No, but loyalty is important. Do they want punctuality most of all? No, but that is important, also. What they want --cutting to the quick-- is a problem solver. Your boss will have problems and will want them resolved. He has employed you to solve or assist him in solving those problems. If you cannot help him, he will not keep you under his employment.
One of the goals of this book is to establish the practice of solving problems well, or, at the least, of asking the right questions of a problem. The book will be a sort of intellectual boot-camp. You will be given a lot of problems and will be pushed to resolve them. This can be a painful and disagreeable process. No one likes being pushed into difficult tasks especially when the going can be rough because the very skills needed to resolve the problems are ones to be discovered and developed in the search itself --a Catch-22, building a bridge from the middle of the stream. In fact, the going will get downright bothersome; I'll give you some problems to solve that will rattle you as much as they rattle me. The goal is to enable you to handle your thinking processes the way a good surgeon handles his practice. You will have a general knowledge of the diseases (problems) you will encounter and will have the diagnostic and surgical skills (problem solving skills) necessary to cure the patient (deal with the problem). Further, you will gain confidence in your abilities to tackle the diseases (problems), especially those which may come along unexpected which you have not encountered before.
My objective, thus, is to help you to think critically. Again, why? Simple answer: if you cannot, you will not survive in the world of competitive employment. Just remember, we are not the only boot-camp around. Others are training just as hard and will not hesitate to capitalize on your lack of motivation or ability. Your employer will hire and promote those who can solve his problems; he will weed out very quickly those who cannot perform. In a nutshell then, we are after mind tools, the proper use of them and, of course, the truth about things, if that is possible. I hope that by the end of this book, you will be well on your way to being an "intellectual marine," someone capable of handling any and all of the toughest intellectual problems.
So, the prospect of survival in employment is a primary goal. What else? What I have to say next may sound a bit esoteric. Bear with me and hear me out.
2. Philosophical training will involve a search for self.
Life is much of a search for self. A great deal of the enterprise of this book concerns the making of you as a person. This sounds vague; let me explain.
Ask yourself, "Why am I reading this material?" Well, it is my thesis that actions stem from beliefs; we act in certain ways according to the beliefs that we have. If you fail to find this material interesting or do not believe it will benefit you, you will probably put the book down and read no further. Why should you spend important time reading something you believe is unimportant?
As I said, actions are related to beliefs; most of us act according to our beliefs. How do beliefs make us up as persons? Let me use an analogy here to make the point. Consider oneself to be like an onion. (Bear with me, please.) An onion consists of many layers. Peel away the outer layer and you come to a new, slightly smaller layer. Peel away all the layers and you are left with nothing; the onion is composed of a number of layers, the last and center of which is the sprout of a new layer. Now, imagine that your beliefs are like the layers of an onion. The whole you is constituted by the layers of beliefs which make you up; they "compose" you, so to speak. Peel away all your beliefs and there is no more you. In academic slang, you are what you believe. And, your behavior stems from you --your beliefs.
3. Philosophical training will help you develop a set of well-founded beliefs.
Ever come across a bad onion? The layers are all mushy and run together. It has a bad texture and consistency; anything you mix with it is ruined. Ever run across a person who is shallow, dogmatic, claims to know it all, but in fact knows very little, uses other people for his own ends and consequently does not get along with anyone? I'll bet you have. When you talk with such a person you find that his beliefs are ill-defined and not thought through well, if at all. What he has to say about anything tends to be arbitrary. His assertions are often defended by the disclaimer, "Well, everyone has a right to an opinion and who's to say what's right or wrong anyway?" The more you interact with this person, the more he contradicts himself in word and deed. His actions stem from his beliefs that are arbitrary and inconsistent, making him unpredictable --someone whom you cannot trust. Because neither you nor anyone else expect him to be thoughtful or to act on rational bases, you avoid him like the plague.
Here's the glitch. Most of us are quick to condemn the obviously bad onion; he stinks. Most of us believe that we are well-rounded persons who have sound beliefs and consequently act rationally given the groundwork of those beliefs. And, of course, most onions look good from the outside. It's when you cut into them that you find out what really is the case. Could it be that our beliefs are not as well-founded as we would think? Could it be that we are more arbitrary in our commitment to them than we would want to admit? Maybe, our beliefs "stink" more than we wish to admit. There's no way to tell, of course, until we apply a knife to cut into them and see.
Which is exactly what we will do in this book. Why? Because actions based on ill-founded beliefs usually hurt someone at sometime --either ourselves, someone else or both. It follows, then, that a prudent move on our part to remove possible harm from our future is to have a critical examination of the beliefs which make us up and upon which we base our actions.
4. Three criteria to establish well-founded beliefs.
"Bad" selves are prone to do bad actions, and we shall do well to avoid actions that do harm, for, as we all know, "What goes around, comes around." But, what is this "bad" or ignorant self which we want to emend?
That's a really tough question and will involve most of the book to clear up; an underlying mission of the book will involve a search for self, or better, a search for each of ourselves. But, here's a start in a quick form. Again, let me propose that we are constituted by our beliefs. We act on those beliefs. A person or self whose beliefs are consistent, complete and pragmatic is confident and secure in the actions based on those beliefs; the beliefs are well thought through and actions are based on the best reasons available. However, if the beliefs are ill-founded (not consistent, complete or pragmatic), mistakes will cause harm either to others, us or both. We need to establish a procedure to cull out from our selves ill-founded beliefs. Asking critical questions of beliefs will be our method. How do we do that?
Let's establish a method of philosophical inquiry the purpose of which is to emend (neat word; it means to free from faults and errors) our beliefs by critically examining them. Our method will involve three criteria: consistency, completeness, and pragmatism. Critical examination involves first of all the criterion of consistency. Let's find out about consistency.
We may borrow here an old practice of the Greeks, from Plato who lived around 485 BC. When Plato was interested in determining the key aspects of something, he would conceive of that something in its ideal state and then compare it to the existing items in the world. For example, he was concerned, as are we, with knowledge and asked the question, ""What is knowledge (in its ideal form)?" In fact, the "ideal" of something truly known Plato called a Form or Idea. Thus, when someone attained knowledge of something, he would know the truth and would not make mistakes; he would be able to speak correctly with respect to that knowledge, for he would have in his mind, so to speak, the Form (the true idea of the thing in question), the truth about the item. He would have the correct "template" to compare all other manifestations of that kind.
For instance, were someone to claim that he knew what squares are, he would be claiming to know what it is that all squares have in common; in other words, he would claim to know what "Squareness" is in itself. Squares in the world are like the Form of Squareness which constitutes the object of true knowledge; it is by knowing what "Squareness" is that he can tell that the worldly square drawn on a blackboard is in fact a square and not a circle. In virtue of that knowledge, he could speak correctly about any square in the world without making a mistake --without contradicting himself. It is this latter characteristic, non-contradiction or consistency, which is important for us to consider.
When a person is consistent, what he says about a square is always consistent with what he says about other squares. An easy way to tell whether or not a person knows about Squareness is to observe what he says about squares. If his statements conflict (are contradictory), he does not have knowledge. Suppose a person says that a square has four sides, but the sides do not have to be equal. Or, that a square has four angles, but they do not have to be 90 degree angles. We would know that something is wrong. How? Because we know that the ideal square (Form) or "Squareness" necessarily indicates that whatever thing is a square must have four equal sides and four right angles. A person who says otherwise about squares would be contradicting what we know to be true; he would be inconsistent. And that means he doesn't know what he is talking about and cannot be trusted.
Let's take another example, which is a bit more complicated, for it concentrates more on the nature of consistency itself.
Suppose I am speaking to you about some ethical issues, abortion and capital punishment. I begin by maintaining that abortion is wrong. My argument runs as follows: "1, It is always wrong to kill persons; 2, The fetus is a person; 3, Abortion is a procedure which kills fetuses; 4, Conclusion, therefore, abortion is immoral." Next, I switch my commentary to capital punishment. To your surprise, I maintain that, "Capital punishment is morally permissible." My argument runs as follows: "1, Persons should get what they deserve; 2, A brutal murderer has forfeited his life by taking that of another; 3, Conclusion, therefore, society is justified in taking his life."
Why are you surprised by my position on capital punishment? Well, take a look at the first premise of the abortion argument, "It is always wrong to kill persons." If I hold that statement to be true, then I cannot consistently conclude that capital punishment is permissible, for that is the taking of a person's life, which I have said should NEVER be done. Given my premises (what I hold to be true as the bases of my arguments), I cannot be consistent and hold that abortion is wrong and capital punishment is right.
Now, suppose you point this fact out to me. I think to myself, "This is bad. I am being inconsistent, which means that I am asserting a contradiction; I am stating that something is true and then denying it at the same time. No one will believe what I say. So, unless I change my premises or do something else to eliminate the contradiction, I cannot maintain my conclusions to be true." Then, it hits me. "Why don't I change my first premise to be stated as follows: 'It is always wrong to kill INNOCENT persons.' That will do it, for the fetus, I can argue, is innocent, whereas the murderer is guilty. Adding this refinement in making distinctions between innocent and guilty persons to my arguments enables me to be consistent. I can have my cake and eat it too," I say to myself; "My statements are all consistent."
But, you may not like either of my arguments, even if they appear to be consistent with one another. You may want to inquire into one of the arguments and its premises. Suppose you didn't agree with me on abortion. You may want to follow up on what I mean by "innocent." "How," you might ask, "is a fetus 'innocent?' Is a fetus innocent in the same way adults are when they choose to do no wrong? But, can fetuses choose? Is a fetus 'innocent' in the same way a puppy is? But, if so, then it would be wrong to kill any similar animal?" Given your questions, it looks like I'm not off the hook yet with respect to my position on abortion. But, at least I am out of the woods with respect to the glaring contradiction between my preliminary arguments on abortion and capital punishment.
This type of inquiry gives you a good idea of how philosophers search after the truth. After all is said and done, one sign of the best or most reasonable answer is that it is the most consistent. Persons who are sure of themselves have consistent beliefs; an integrated self is one that is composed of compatible beliefs.
The main point is that consistency is very important. Consistency underlies well thought-out primary beliefs --what we are after. It is very difficult to "trip-up" someone when he has a consistent argument derived from true premises. The same will apply to you and your career. You will be less likely to make mistakes in judgment when those judgments are based on well-founded (consistent) beliefs.
A second criterion is COMPLETENESS. By 'completeness' I mean a belief (or set of beliefs) which adequately resolves any problematic case that may arise under the category covered by that belief(s). Sounds like a muddy definition. OK. Let me give some examples to clarify the definition.
Suppose I want to explain a brick. Could I give a satisfactory (complete explanation) using only descriptions derived from physical and chemical principles? "The brick is an object made of quantum particles, moving around at incredible speeds, constituting atoms with atomic weights of...." That description will go a long way, but would it answer the question, "What are bricks used for?" Not really. More is needed, especially if the brick is to be used as part of a fountain; an aesthetic or artistic principle must be incorporated in the explanation. So, more is needed to completely explain a brick than a physical/chemical explanation.
Or, suppose I were required to give an explanation of a plant. Would physical and chemical principles alone be satisfactory? Some physicists want to say, yes. But, most biologists want to say that more is needed to explain living organisms. Along similar lines, suppose I had to explain the difference between a computer and a human being. Would physical and chemical principles alone be satisfactory? Well, some physicists and computer scientists may say yes, while cognitive psychologists tend to indicate that more is needed (a mind, for example).
Here's another example, one that we may want to talk about later. Suppose I were to claim that the Ten Commandments constituted a complete set of moral principles. That is, the Ten Commandments, I would claim, are ALL that I need to solve any moral problem I may encounter. Any question about right or wrong can be satisfactorily resolved by applying it to the Ten Commandments.
Have I a complete set of moral principles? Let us test with case situations to determine whether or not the Commandments can deal with any moral problematic. Consider the commandment, "Thou shalt not kill!" or, as some interpret it, "Thou shalt not murder!" The question to ask is, "Kill or murder what?" Humans, Martians, animals, plants, plankton, unneeded cels of your own body? The Commandment does not specify, and consequently, is inadequate to give a satisfactory answer. Returning to our quick look at abortion, does the Commandment resolve the abortion question; is it morally permissible to terminate a pregnancy knowing that the action will kill the fetus? It's not clear, for the Commandment does not establish that fetuses are exempt from killing; in fact, the Commandment itself doesn't tell us whether or not it is wrong to kill animals or plants sperm or eggs. If murder is intentional killing of something with a right to life, then strictly speaking, the Commandment obligates us not to kill ANY living thing for ANY reason, be it for food, clothing or defense, for it says nothing about what entities have rights.
But, such a conclusion look to be untenable. So, either the Ten Commandments are terribly incomplete and we must abandon them for more complete principles, or we must add "amendments" to them to help us resolve cases such as just described. And, in fact, that's what many persons do --give additional information derived from Biblical texts that help resolve the problems. (Much like what we did by adding "innocent" to the abortion argument.) But, as you may note, when they do so, consistency comes into play. For example, some persons maintain that the Bible supports vegetarianism whereas others say that it is morally permissible to use animals for food. Some maintain that Biblical texts allow for abortion (even slavery) whereas others hold the opposite view. There is even some doubt as to what are the correct texts themselves. We must watch our step in adding new propositions to make up complete principles, for those new propositions may not constitute a consistent set. We'll get back to some of this later.
So, completeness is an important factor for our beliefs. Our beliefs, when complerte, should be able to deal with any problematic situation we may encounter. Think of a complete set of beliefs as you would a complete set of tools for your car; whatever breakdown or malfunction may occur, your complete set of tools will be able to repair the problem.
Suppose someone were to say that he had a consistent and complete set of beliefs about unicorns. He could tell us all we needed to know about unicorns, their origin, care of, what saddles to use and so on. In fact, this person complains bitterly about the concrete and asphalt surfaces used on roads; he reports that they are terrible for unicorns' hooves. We may ask him about why these surfaces are so bad and his replies are always consistent and complete with respect to what he says about unicorns' hooves and road surfaces. But, of course, the problem is, there are no unicorns around and his complaints are really misguided. The underlying problem is that he has a set of beliefs that do not apply to the world of our experiences --the world in which we do our day to day living.
Consider a more true to life example. A deeply religious person who believes that ALL persons are really saints (good at heart) may find that his belief doesn't match up to the real world should he find himself in a dark alley late at night in a big city.
You may say, "I'll never find myself in such ridiculous situations; that is, I would never maintain ridiculous positions about things like unicorns or persons being moral saints." But wait. Consider the following.
It may be that a pragmatic criterion is sometimes more important than consistency, at least in the short run. Suppose I were to tell you that the basic constituents of the world were bundles of energy moving around in space/time at very rapid speeds. Next, I hold out a tomato to you and say that the tomato is made out of those basic components. You say, "Fine." Then, I ask you, "What color is the tomato, so that we can tell whether or not it is ready to eat?" You say, "Red," in response. But, then I ask you, "Is the tomato REALLY red?" You must answer, "Not according to the principles which we adopted in describing our world, for, atoms, quarks, quanta do not have any color." In fact, the light rays that reach our eyes are not colored. But, the tomato looks red, and we know it is ready for eating.
The problem is, what should we believe about the tomato? If we stick with what physicists tell us, we must believe that the tomato is not red at all. On the other hand, for most of us, "seeing is believing"; the tomato looks red, hence it is red for all practical purposes. Further, most of us act on the belief that the tomato is red. What else would we use to determine its readiness to eat? Perhaps, seeing colors and smelling odors is our bodies' pragmatic way of enabling us to survive in a purely quantitative world. The upshot of all this is that the physicists may just be right that tomatoes don't have any color (THEORETICALLY), but we may for PRACTICAL (pragmatic) purposes override that belief or suspend the judgment that the tomato is purely quantitative in nature with the belief that tomatoes are red. More about this when we take a look at epistemology --the study of the nature of knowledge.
What the criterion of pragmatism requires is that whatever beliefs we have, they must fit our world of experiences and behavior. Our beliefs must help us survive in the world. Obviously, sometimes consistency and pragmatic criteria conflict with respect to what beliefs we should hold as primary or true. The philosophical work is to make those beliefs compatible. For example, we may change our beliefs to say that physicists are right that tomatoes are not red, but nevertheless, the constituents of the tomatoes have the powers to cause red images in our mind. Those powers are not themselves red, but give rise to the ideas of redness. Well, so far so good, but we can see that there will be trouble explaining the existence of minds and ideas in minds which portray red if EVERYTHING is constituted by colorless atoms.
OK, where do we stand. Good persons or integrated selves have consistent, complete and pragmatic beliefs; their beliefs are well-thought through (based on good reasons), are adequate to resolve the problems they encounter, and enable them to live well in the world with other persons. To repeat what we determined before, a prudential reason for having an integrated self is that we will be able to solve problems for our employers. A second reason is that we will be able to live better. It is a fact of life that when actions are based on false or fuzzy beliefs, someone usually loses or is harmed; when we make mistakes, we either hurt ourselves or others, many times both. How many times do we find ourselves saying, "If I had only done x instead of y. I should have thought the matter through much better. Now it's obvious why I should have done x." Hind-sight is always better, of course, but taking the time to think and base actions on the best reasons available is a kind of hind-sight that we can use in the present.
Take me for example. I remember my first car, a convertible. I really wanted a hot-rod convertible and I bought one. But, what I NEEDED was a comfortable sedan. Had I thought more about what I really needed and could afford (who I really was as a self), I wouldn't have ended up sitting on wet seats due to a leaky top which could not be cheaply repaired. Put it this way, an integrated self, one whose actions are based on consistent, complete and pragmatic beliefs will have a much easier life in many more ways than one that is not.
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