Why that useless philosophy degree turned out to not be so useless after all…

It was always the running joke…

Someone might ask me my major in college, or the degrees I have, or where and what I’ve studied, and I’d always answer with, “I majored in art and minored in philosophy…(dramatic pause)….. I guess I really thought that through, huh?” To which I’d smirk and they’d chuckle and we’d both have a good hearty laugh over my foolhardy past.

And, for the longest time, I believed it.  It was a joke, but it was MY joke.  The laugh was on me, I had only to embrace it.

At the time I decided to minor in philosophy, it didn’t seem foolish.  During my freshman year, I began taking more and more philosophy courses alongside my art classes.   By my sophomore year, I had declared art as my major, with a possible double major in philosophy.  However, by the end of that year, I downgraded to a minor in philosophy.  Somehow, I got lost in the weeds of terminology and mind mazes, and (being that I have just enough blue collared blood in me to keep me from levitating) I couldn’t keep up.  More than that, I realized early on, “high-shelf” academic philosophy was not my thing….I was not a good pupil of the high-art of reason.

But it wasn’t a cop-out.  I still persisted in my studies, and was interested in gaining insight and wisdom into life.  Almost always, I stood on the outer rim of philosophical debates, listening attentively, but too intimidated to assert my own thoughts.

Most of all, it wasn’t just WHAT was being said that amazed me, it was also HOW things were being spoken.  Both the WHAT of truth and HOW we reason together to arrive at truth were fascinating to me.  At the time, I didn’t know it, but now, looking back, I realize philosophy and philosophizing gave me tools in my young adult life that have proven invaluable even now, and for the rest of my life.  Most notably, the ability to effectively construct and deconstruct my own beliefs.

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.  -Aristotle

I learned to unclasp my hand, and allow dogma and emotion to evaporate under the light of good reasoning.  It was freeing and eye opening to stand outside myself and observe so many different forces in motion, which were either:

A.  Giving me the ability to see things more clearly,

or

B. Blinding me.

Admittedly, deconstructing my beliefs was scary and intimidating.  No one likes to be wrong…or at least realize they were wrong all along.  Many avoid walking down the path of deconstruction out of fear of losing EVERYTHING, including their own identity.  But I realized the very opposite was true.  Whatever I believed, whether true, or false, if tested by the fire of sound reason, it came forth as either gold or worthless ashes.  In fact, it was a weight off my shoulders realizing all the answers didn’t only exist within the scope of my own personal beliefs.  Saying, “I don’t know” in a conversation/debate became even more life-giving than a breath of fresh air, and provided me the ability to slow down and take time to consider the subject at a manageable pace.

If you think about it, wouldn’t you want to do the same with any precious metal or artifact you personally own?  If you found something you believed to be of great value, wouldn’t you want to run the proper tests to make sure it indeed held great value?  Or, would you be more satisfied with not knowing, but making sure you tout (or, in some cases, hide) your artifact, in the attempt to never reconcile it’s ACTUAL worth with it’s PERCEIVED worth.  In one case, you become a valiant nobleman, or woman, who can stand on the authentic value of the wisdom you have.  In the other case, you are nothing more than a poor, bloated fool.

SO…….WHAT DOES All OF THIS MEAN?

Enter the current political and ideological atmosphere, both on and offline……

Any philosopher, from a dabbler/tinkerer (me), to a heavy hitter (not me) must be horrified.

Sure, we’ve seen the resurgence of psycho-labeling and psycho-diagnosis (the Western world seems almost forcefully pushed into becoming more introspective these days).  However, the ideological civil wars we are experiencing are not just about psychological terminology, but morals, ethics, behavior, and how we arrive at knowing something to be true or untrue.

Here’s some examples of wrong ways of reasoning….(and these days, they come in great abundance):

In all the vying that goes back and forth online and in articles, many people, even highly esteemed reporters and writers repeatedly commit the logical fallacy known as “fallacy of composition” which, Wikipedia states as:

“The fallacy of composition arises when one infers that something is true of the whole from the fact that it is true of some part of the whole (or even of every proper part). For example: “This wheel is made of rubber, therefore the vehicle to which it is a part is also made of rubber.” This is clearly fallacious, because vehicles are often made with a variety of parts, many of which may not be made of rubber.”

(For a more current example, look to all the spinning rhetoric around protests/anti-protests).

Or, how about “Ad Hominem”, which is defined as:

“….an argument [which] is rebutted by attacking the character, motive, or other attribute of the person making the argument, or persons associated with the argument, rather than attacking the substance of the argument itself.”

Or, “strawman”, which seeks to exaggerate or mislead someone’s argument in order to make it easier to attack…

Or, “Black and white” (aka “Either/Or”) which assumes there are only two states presented, and no other alternative options…..

Or, how about “Slippery Slope”?  This improper way of reasoning states that if “A” happens, there are only a series of a few small steps before “B” will happen, and “C”, and so on until you arrive at the worst possible scenario (call it step “Z”).  This line of reasoning leaves so much open to the imagination, it’s almost impossible NOT to find a common thread between scenario “A” and scenario “Z”.  An example being, “if you want equal opportunity to all citizens, we will have to become a communist state.”

And the list goes on and on and on and on…..(see the attached photo below for a simplified list of the most common fallacies)

Sound familiar? (Sweet Lord Jesus, please tell me it does). Good news is some of these fallacies have long been identified in human history as false ways of understanding the truth.  They can easily be identified without much study into what they are.

The bad news?……

From protests, to politics, to name calling on the internet, logical fallacies have become the noxious weeds within all our conversations.  Worse yet, the biggest abusers of logical fallacies seem to have no problem using them freely-at-will, and we seem to be buying it wholesale.

There isn’t enough time and space to get into the nuance of logical fallacies (formal vs. informal for example), however, there is a point to understanding all of this.

Think of it this way, have you ever gone hiking or traversed landscape using a map?  If so, you know you can’t just decide to go North or South and start walking.  There are all kinds of nuances and micro details that exist in real life which make it improbable (and sometimes even impossible) to walk a straight line from point A to point B.  But, if you learn how to read the map and all of it’s detailed navigation, you can make it work for you, and follow a path towards greater heights and more enjoyable experiences.  Even when you run into something unplanned, and drift from the map, it always exists to lead you back to safety. You can choose to trust the countless people who spent years making it, or you can choose to make up your own map, and reap the chaos that follows….

And chaos is a good way to describe us…..complete and wholehearted ideological chaos.  With all the name-calling, shaming, manipulation, and presenting of facts based on how they support our own opinions, we’ve chose nothing short of burning (and even stepping on….multiple times) the very map hundreds of philosophers fashioned for us over the last couple millennia.

WHAT IS TRUTH?

We will never know truth if we don’t learn HOW to get there.  If political meme’s and online articles are all we have, then God help us all…

Philosophers are needed more than ever before in America.   In the pursuit of truth (which is highly coveted these days), psychological name calling and labeling will not go anywhere.  Only sound reason can begin to get us out of our ideological quagmire.

If we don’t see and point out logical fallacies in ourselves and those around us, we will only spend eternity spinning our wheels with useless knowledge.  Sound logic, on the other hand, leads us up the mountain to truth and wisdom.

…..maybe it’s about time America stood up and with one collective voice breathed the words, “I don’t know!”…..this seems like a good place to start a humble, meaningful conversation which will resolve differences, yield results, and bring about peace.

“Until philosophers rule as kings or those who are now called kings and leading men genuinely and adequately philosophize, that is, until political power and philosophy entirely coincide…..cities will have no rest from evils…nor, I think, will the human race.”  Plato.

 

 

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