Study Guide Lesson 3: Thinking Critically
Be able to state common objections and questions often raised against philosophical reasoning and how one might respond to them: a)
Quibbling over Words: Philosophy is little more than quibbling over the meaning of words – key terms of an issue are often defined in the views of the philosopher / It all depends on how you define your terms = Response - Yes, often it does ~ Question is “what reasons are there for preferring one definition to the other” – one’s definition is not always as good as another’s > further debate determines adequacy b)
Need for Absolute Certainty: it may seem most of the solutions to philosophical problems can be supported with good arguments and, in addition, are open to significant objections – a matter of personal preference / Response - assumption that philosophical truth is an all-or-nothing proposition – just because critics always seem to have objections, it does not follow that there are no reasons for preferring one theory over its rivals – the rational acceptability of any philosophical thesis is primarily a matter of degree * a theory that is relatively free from ambiguity, supported with sound arguments, and does not lead to highly dubious consequences, is preferable to one that does not have these attributes (much ground between absolute certainty and complete skepticism) c)
Philosophical Relativism: “although for Smith theory X is false, X is nevertheless true for me. Because the truth is relative to our own beliefs, each of us is correct” > earth cannot be both flat and not flat + same thing cannot be both flat and spherical / Response - failure to distinguish between mere belief and true belief / you must work your way through the evidence, not try to get around it just by declaring that the view in question is “true for me” d)
Just Personal Beliefs: the claim that the choice between two competing theories is determined by an individual’s conditioning and instincts – the use of arguments in philosophy is really just a process of rationalizing the beliefs, commitments, and unconscious forces already at work in our lives / underlies the use of ad hominem arguments (attacking a person’s character or personal circumstances rather than his or her arguments – tendency to predict and evaluate a person’s philosophy in relation to his or her personality / * 2 Responses – a) the psychology behind a person’s commitment to a certain theory is irrelevant to the arguments supporting it – psychology does NOT make that commitment less important or less in need of critical examination and b) the hypothesis of “psychological conditioning factors” is overly speculative (if not false), since it is impossible to specify all the factors leading to the adoption of any given view – even if it is true, it applies to everyone, not only to philosophers – psychological and social conditioning should therefore affect the claims of art critics, mathematicians, theologians, lawyers, politicians, and physicists – not just philosophers > positions supported with reasons and emotions e)
Why be Rational? might request justification for the use of reason itself – unanswerable b/c applicable to all reasons given in response * you cannot rationally prove that one should not be rational without contradicting yourself / Response – simply to note that being rational “pays” in a broad sense of the term and that, by cutting short a philosophical debate with one-liners such as “we’ll never get anywhere” or “you’re just rationalizing what your parents taught you,” one can cheat oneself – in your interest to push the defense and criticism of a philosophical theory to its limits * issues and arguments we encounter in philosophy are further removed from goals with which we can easily identify – intellectual curiosity, peace of mind, moral decisions, political commitment, and scientific investigation are all influenced by the positions we entertain on a variety of...
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