Why Philosophy?

1.1 Philosophy: The Quest for Understanding

Philosophy is a discipline and a process. As a discipline, philosophy is typically categorized among the humanities; it is a field out of which others—such as biology, physics, and psychology, and political—have evolved. As a process, it is a mode of deep reflection called a method.

The Good of Philosophy

Because philosophy is about fundamental ideas and beliefs—ideas and beliefs on which others logically depend—it is important to study them to better understand those that depend on them. Studying philosophy allows us to clearly, comprehensively, and carefully examine these fundamental beliefs.

Philosophy is also of practical importance, since when we improve our philosophical lives, other parts of our lives are also improved. There is no more powerful tool for critically understanding our beliefs and for freeing us from faulty beliefs.

Philosophy’s theoretical benefit is that, like other disciplines, the student of philosophy gains understanding for its own sake.

Philosophical Terrain

The four main branches of philosophy are metaphysics, epistemology, axiology, and logic.

1.2 Socrates and the Examined Life

Socrates’s method for seeking definitions to ethical terms, known now as the Socratic method, was thought by Socrates to be essential to the well-being of the soul. This is because the method aims at eliciting knowledge, while ignorance harms the soul.

1.3 Thinking Philosophically

Thinking philosophically is largely a matter of providing reasons to believe or disbelieve some fundamental claim. In other words, thinking philosophically involves careful argumentation, which is the philosopher’s rational mode of inquiry.

Reasons and Arguments

In an argument, reasons are called premises. Premises are the statements provided as evidence in an argument. An argument is a series of statements, one of which, the conclusion, is supported by the other(s). A statement is a sentence that is true or false—that has a truth-value. Good arguments provide good reasons for accepting a conclusion, while bad arguments do not.

The two modes of argument are deductive and inductive. Deductive arguments are evaluated as structurally correct or incorrect (valid or invalid), while inductive arguments are evaluated as probable or improbable (strong or weak). A correct deductive argument’s premises guarantee the conclusion; a correct inductive argument’s premises strongly imply the conclusion.

Reading Philosophy

A major focus of reading philosophy is on argumentation. This involves identifying the premise and conclusion by way of their indicator words and phrases. This process, especially when the focus is on identifying the conclusion first, clarifies often opaque or otherwise difficult reasoning.

Four approaches to reading philosophy are

  1. approaching the text with an open mind;
  2. reading actively and critically;
  3. identifying the conclusion first, then the premises;
  4. outlining, paraphrasing, or summarizing the argument; and
  5. evaluating the argument and forming a tentative judgment.

Fallacious Reasoning

Common types of bad reasoning include straw man, appeal to the person (ad hominem), appeal to popularity, genetic fallacy, equivocation, appeal to ignorance, false dilemma, begging the question, slippery slope, composition, and division.

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