There are some rules behind philosophy that can teach us about how to think and live well. Our amazing capacity for abstract, complicated thought is what sets humans apart from other creatures. We have a varied cultural heritage, technological advancements, and a capacity to anticipate the future. But our flawed minds have also produced awful errors and perilous ideas. We often believe things we shouldn’t and act in ways that are detrimental to ourselves, to others, and to the environment.
The classic example of an expert thinker is a philosopher. Their field is frequently portrayed as a formal process that identifies fallacies. They aim to avoid and differentiate between deductive and inductive thought, flawed and strong arguments. Each of these items has a purpose. Philosophy, however, cannot be reduced to a mere technicality.
Adopting the proper attitudes and being ready to develop productive routines are also necessary for good thinking. Wise people have worked on these issues throughout history in order to further both humanity’s advancement and their own. Why not build upon the countless years of experience and millions of hours of reflection and practice rather than starting from scratch?
Sometimes philosophical debates become competitive. But the sharpest thinkers refrain from arguing or criticizing. According to one such philosopher, Bernard Williams, accuracy and sincerity are the two main virtues of truth.
The greatest threat to truthfulness is not outright lying, but rather the triumph of righteousness over the quest for the truth. Hence, truthfulness in thought means overcoming an ego that despises making mistakes.
It’s simpler to discard people with whom we disagree if we attribute obviously silly or ignorant opinions to them. But just as we are not as intelligent as we would like to believe, neither are other people typically as foolish as we believe them to be.
Because of this, we must take into account an opponent’s strongest and not only their weakest argument. They might not be able to make a stronger argument than this. During the EU referendum campaign, for instance, it would have been easy to ignore some of the assertions made by the official leave side if you had been a remainer. But some arguments were more serious and less amenable to dismissal; those were the ones that most deserved a response.
Using the compassionate principle can highlight both strengths and weaknesses. The easiest approach to comprehend any stance is to consider the underlying presuppositions that would justify it.
Keep things straightforward but not too much
The idea of Occam’s razor is that all other things being equal, a simpler explanation is better than a more comprehensive one.
But putting on of the most famous rules of philosophy into practice is not an easy task. All other things being equal is the main qualification. Complex conspiracies are less frequent than all-too-human slip-ups, yet some things genuinely are conspiracies. The enemy typically uses bombs and weapons, but there are also false-flag activities.
So, the old adage isn’t always applicable in the real world. The inclination for simplicity is a virtue but we should search for explanations that are neither overly complex nor overly simple.
Think independently but search out knowledge
Having courage to apply your own intellect is the mantra of enlightenment, according to Kant. He described immaturity as the inability to make use of one’s own understanding without direction from another.
You can gain more information by drawing on other people’s experiences and what they have to offer. They may be more knowledgeable than you are on particular issues or have simply read more about it.
We should be open to thinking outside of our own culture and be willing to apply other ideas. Just as it is conceited to believe that we as individuals have nothing to learn from our peers, it is arrogance to believe that any one tradition has the only right to interpret the universe. The best thinking occurs while we are conversing with others.
Pursue clarity rather than assurance.
Many people prefer to focus on either clarity or certainty. In terms of the rules of philosophy one of the few certainties we know however is that certainty of any anything is rare. But, if you strive for greater clarity fresh perspectives become apparent.
The tempting nature of certainty is another reason to be wary of it. While confidence is an unreliable predictor of correctness, witnesses in court trials who show conviction about what they have seen tend to be believed more. Certainty is also related to fundamentalism, dogmatism, and pompousness. People who desire it should exercise caution in their wishes.
Follow the average
One of the rules of philosophy states there are excesses and deficiencies rather than an opposite virtue for almost every virtue. Generosity is the middle ground between wastefulness and restraint; compassion between indifference and indulgence, and pride between self-hatred and haughtiness.
You can be both too specific and too ambiguous. Too accepting of a point of view you don’t agree with and too dismissive. You can either think too much for yourself or not enough.
Because of this, every intellectual virtue must be accompanied by a warning not to slavishly apply it. For example, follow an argument wherever it goes, but don’t follow it to absurdity. Question everything, but not always. Define your terms as precisely as you can, but don’t assume that all terms can be defined with 100 percent accuracy. Even highly moral stances can be abused to turn into vices. Balance and discernment are necessary for thinking virtues, but happily, everyone can master these abilities.