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Benefits of Philosophy and Ethics

Benefits of Philosophy and Ethics

Author: Glenn Kuehn

In this lesson, students will learn about the benefits of philosophy and philosophical ethics.

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Hello, I'm Glenn, and this is the ethics tutorial for the benefits of philosophy and ethics. First, let's begin with a review and then cover the topics that will be going over in this tutorial. The topics that we will be covering are going to be the benefits of philosophy on both the individual and societal level. The benefits of ethics as it aids us in the pursuit of truth, and, as always, we will have examples to help illustrate these points.

Regarding the individual benefits of philosophy, we can see three primary areas where it is of great use to us. First, it teaches critical thinking because it forces us to ask the bigger questions-- the why questions. And because of that, we accept things less blindly.

Second, we improve our oral and written communication abilities. We are better able to articulate our positions and communicate our ideas. And third, we improve our understanding of a topic or a position by dissecting it into its individual aspects and analyzing it more fully.

A specific example that I can offer here is from my own work. Since I am a chef and a philosopher, I have combined those two in some of my publications and writings, and I've argued that food and cooking is an art form. And I want to argue this because I want to say that food is art more than just the reason because we like it and we like to eat.

There's something more going on. Why does any of us want to call food art? Why do we want to refer to food and cooking as an art form? Therefore, I do not blindly accept it as an art just because I say so.

Second, because I have written over and over articles and presented papers over and over, my ability to articulate my position has become more refined, and I have found myself better able to communicate the ideas I have regarding food and art. And third, it improved my understanding of the topic because I looked at individual aspects of why food could be called art. On a societal level philosophy helps us out by freeing us from dogmatism and believing blindly in customs and traditions. That is, it keeps us from believing something just because others believe it, or it's always been that way, or it's something our parents, or our grandparents told us.

Therefore, what philosophy can do is advance other disciplines, it can help us develop objectivity, and it encourages rational disagreement over personal attack. A couple of examples for these illustrations could be how philosophy helps out psychology. Psychology is normally the area that deals with emotions and explaining emotions, but the classical American philosopher William James pointed out that the connections of the mind and the body are so strong that we don't need to make a distinction between them.

And it turns out that he believed that emotions actually have a physical basis. Emotions are bodily based, and this has turned out to be true. Contemporary psychology is now confirming what William James said nearly 100 years ago regarding emotions.

In terms of objectivity from my own experience, I studied in Japan as an undergraduate and the family I lived with had a dog, a small chihuahua named rose. And early on when I was sitting in the living room, the dog was barking, and the mother of the house, Chico, was talking to the dog. And I felt this strange sort of incongruence almost a sense of pity towards the dog, because I immediately thought that the dog would not understand anything she was saying because she was speaking Japanese, and didn't she know that dogs only understood English?

Now when that thought came to the forefront of my mind I thought, well, that's kind of the silliest thing I ever thought, but I had only ever experienced, up until that point, people speaking English to dogs. So naturally, from my own subjective point of view, that's what I thought to be true. Through greater experience, I was able to take a more objective point of view and realize that obviously dogs probably understand a whole bunch of languages because they're all over the world and that has helped me on a bigger perspective.

And then concerning rational disagreement rather than personal attack, the all time silliest argument I ever had was with another philosophy major over whether or not a particular piece of candy was called a sucker or a lollipop. And this argument escalated into near shouting levels. When we were able to take a deep breath and distance ourselves from the personal attacks that were being waged towards each other and take a more rational approach, we realized that what we were disagreeing about was our use of language, and not what the actual piece of candy was.

Onto the benefits of ethics. Ethics has a bunch of complex possible definitions, but basically it comes down to a couple of things. One, it asks the fundamental questions of how ought I to ask in any particular situation, and it's an exploration of the ways that we get along with other people. It fits with the pursuit of philosophical investigation, in general, because philosophy is about pursuing truth, and therefore, the pursuit of truth in ethics helps us find the best method for figuring out what we should do in a situation and how to get along with people in the world.

A few examples of questions in ethics, which all stem from the basic idea of what should I or ought I to do in a situation and which involve other people, are the following, one, is cheating wrong if you don't get caught and no one is harmed? This question also could be used for stealing.

Two, should I always tell the truth? Or is it OK to occasionally lie? And if so, what kind of lies would be acceptable?

Three, what kind of career should I pursue? Does what I do in the world in terms of earning money matter in on an ethical level? Four, is it OK to eat animals? Is that morally permissible?

And five, also pertaining to animals, if I consider my cat to be a member of my family, does that mean that my cat also should be granted something like rights? All of these questions point to the underlying issues of how ought I to behave, and it takes into consideration others in the world.

Now without this approach, also adhering to the philosophical standards of consistency and logical argumentation, we could end up having ethical debates being merely shouting matches. And this is often the case in public discourse where we do not follow the guidelines of philosophical thinking and inquiry. This could be seen in a kind of debate like pro-choice versus pro-life where you have both sides shouting at each other, but they're not really talking about the same thing.

If you even look at the labels, pro-life position is about the sanctity of life. Pro-choice is about rights, an individual's ability to make choices in their own lives. These are two different topics.

A philosophical approach would highlight that these are in fact different topics, and if the two opponents want to have a discourse, they need to find a common topic on which to engage. We can also see some concrete successes and ethical advancement in our own society.

One, on the topic of desegregation, it was Dr. King who pointed out in the fundamental documents for the founding of this country a certain promissory note was made that all are created equal, and we need to adhere to the standard. So long as American society was segregated by race, color, the promise was not kept, and we were not living up to our own standards.

Another example would be the women's suffrage movement towards gaining the right to vote, which was achieved in 1920. The difference in sexes was shown to be no reason to judge the rational capacity of someone to vote wisely. And so like desegregation, the right to vote was granted, and we have advanced concretely in our society on how we ought to behave, and how we ought to conduct our behavior together.

In review, we can see the benefits of both philosophy and of ethics. Philosophy benefits us on an individual level by teaching critical thinking, improving our communication skills, and improving our understanding of a position. On a social level, it frees us from dogmatism, it helps advance other disciplines, develops objectivity, and encourages rational disagreement over personal attack. The benefits of ethics are that it helps us explore the ways of learning how we ought to act and behave with other people. It provides many good questions for us to explore, and it shows us concrete ways in which we can advance as a society.