Philosophy Hammer
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Four Fundamental Questions to ask for a Personally Practical Philosophy

Four Fundamental Questions to ask for a Personally Practical Philosophy

1. What is the effect on me and my wellbeing; on society and on society's wellbeing of believing "X"? Where "X" is any notion, idea, proposition or phrase (such as, for example: what is the effect of believing in "Free Will" for my wellbeing and how is society's wellbeing affected by a general belief in "Free Will").

2. What would be the effect on me and my wellbeing; on society and on society's wellbeing of believing an opposite of "X"? Where "X" again is any notion, idea, proposition or phrase (such as, for example: "no one is perfect"). One opposite of "X" may be: "I am perfect." or "People can be perfect." Interestingly there are often (though not always) many opposites to any proposition.

3. Without considering the truth value of each proposition, (since believers of each can always find evidence to support their claim), which belief is better for me and my wellbeing; which is better for society and society's wellbeing?

4. If one finds that the benefits of the opposite belief are better than one's current belief, is the effort to change worth the gains in wellbeing or not?

Consider the common expression "no one is perfect," it is in my experience most commonly said after a failure or after not having achieved a certain goal. For example, after a student fails to get top marks on an exam, one can often hear: "Oh well, no one's perfect." Why do some people say this? I sense that in some cases the expression's unsaid conclusion is " why bother trying." It seems that in many cases the expression is a defeatist justification for their ranking. They did their best, some are better and that is just the way it is.

The first question of a personally practical philosophy asks us to consider the effects of this defeatist attitude on our psychological health, prospects for the future and on society, in effect, on our general wellbeing. I submit that for citizens of free countries, such an attitude is detrimental for all aspects of their lives. In a society in which one's skills and talents can make or break you, anything that encourages defeatism is likely to be like a leak in the gas tank of one's ambitions: one may not notice the leak at first but, over a lifetime, it will keep you from going as far as you otherwise could have gone.

It seems to me that almost all people who believe something believe it because it is believed to be true. If it is believed to be true, I claim that the believer has found (at least in their mind) some sort of confirming evidence. One thing that I have noticed about people is that we all seem to have a very developed ability to create justifications and rationalizations. These are the very least that all beliefs have in confirming evidence.

Without considering the truth value of any particular belief, consider the psychological, social and material effects of an opposite belief. If we consider an opposite belief, "I am perfect," for example, and we mean it in a realistically rational way (not making mistakes is therefore not a criterion of human perfection). One way to justify it is: my mind works perfectly; I can apply myself and learn anything that anyone knows; I am perfect in this sense. If this is your belief and you do not achieve your goal on an exam it is because you did not learn the material and others learned it better. It is not that others are just better -- they merely did better; it is not that you did your best and failed -- it is that you did not do your best.

How does this opposite belief affect our general wellbeing? I submit that in a free society the second belief has much greater psychological, social and material benefits. A person with the first belief (that no one is perfect) may likely give up and try something else (it of course all depends on your personal interpretation of the idea). A person with the second belief (that I am perfect) would have to make a decision to try harder or to choose another subject to concentrate on. It seems that on at least the level of choice the second belief is better.

I further claim that the benefits far exceed the detriments to the point that I believe we should all choose to consider ourselves perfect, in the second sense, and we should reject the defeatist lack of perfection attitude. It seems that a society of such minded people would be a far better place to live than a society of psychologically defeated people.

A fifth question to ask at this point would be: "Who benefits from the more prevalent system of belief?" But now we are getting beyond the fundamentals. I hope you will join me as we consider some of the great philosophical ideas of our times.

James Jeff McLaren