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2 Tutorials that teach The Philosophical Approach to Inquiry
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The Philosophical Approach to Inquiry

The Philosophical Approach to Inquiry

Author: Glenn Kuehn

Identify the steps of philosophical inquiry in a given scenario.

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Source: Image of Socrates, Creative Commons,

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Hello. I'm Glenn. And welcome to the ethics tutorial on the philosophical approach to inquiry. First, let's begin with a review and look at the topics for this tutorial.

Things to keep in mind for this tutorial are the definition of philosophy and the four qualifications for philosophical inquiry.

In this segment, we're going to cover how philosophical inquiry uses both evidence and argumentation and how it works. Specifically, we're going to formulate a precise inquiry, we're going to explore positions and evaluate their support, and we're going to see how this leads to providing a reasoned position that is defensible. And this time for this inquiry we're going to use a specific example to carry us throughout this demonstration.

To show how philosophical inquiry works, we need a specific topic. And a good way to get to that topic is to narrow down a general idea. So let's begin with the general idea of honesty.

We generally think honesty is good and lying is bad. So we can go from the general idea of honesty down to the question of, is it wrong to lie? Fundamentally, if we take away the distinctions between little white lies and huge fabrications, is it basically wrong to lie? And now that we have that simple question, we restate it as a definite specific position-- lying is wrong.

To evaluate the position of lying being wrong, we look at both support for and against it. Support for the position that lying is wrong could come in the following way-- we could say that if you lie, you show a bad character. You reveal yourself as being a type of person that is disliked. And the reason behind that is that you are being deceptive, unreliable, and therefore untrustworthy. Therefore, we have support for lying being wrong.

In disagreement with lying being wrong, we could say that lying is, in fact, OK because it perhaps would avoid unnecessary harm. Specifically, we might avoid hurting people's feelings and we would keep them from worrying. So we can see that in evaluation, initially, there is both evidence for and against lying being wrong.

Now we can come to a reasoned position that is defensible because we can show support for our position based upon our exploration. So we might say the following-- lying is, in fact, fundamentally wrong, and as a general rule it should be followed. However, there are cases where lying may be justified, where telling the truth would cause unnecessary and significant harm.

An example for and against this is the following-- lying should be avoided because telling the truth enables us to trust each other in what we say, and therefore it enables us to be good communicators. Why would we ever talk to each other if we didn't believe what each other was going to say is the truth? So it's fundamental to communication.

However, there are instances-- specific circumstances-- where lying may be justified. For example, it might be in the public interest or national security not for the public to know everything that's going on in the government. Also, we may wish to avoid hurting people's feelings. If someone asked for our comment about how they look or if they enjoyed the gift they gave us, we may wish to caution our response and hide it behind a little lie so as to not harm the other person's feelings.

So while there is great support for always telling the truth, there also is some support for not telling the truth in absolutely every circumstance. This position then is reasonable, it is defensible, and it is the result of philosophical inquiry.

In summary, we can see that in this tutorial we have covered how philosophical inquiry uses both evidence and argumentation to go from a general idea to a specific and defensible reasoned position. We covered the formulation of a precise inquiry, we've explored positions both for and against our position and evaluated the support, and we ended up providing a reasoned position that is defensible.