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Lesson Explainer: Benefits of Philosophical Thinking Philosophy

In this explainer, we will learn how to recognize the benefits of philosophical thinking.

Philosophical thinking has numerous benefits, for both the individual and society.

Philosophical thinking can enable us to develop our own worldview. A worldview is a system of beliefs and attitudes that shapes the way a person perceives, understands, and lives in the world.

Key Term: Worldview

A worldview is a system of beliefs and attitudes that shapes the way a person perceives and understands the world.

For example, suppose your friend, Fares, tells you that your other friend, Dina, had a party and did not invite you. What you think about this bit of news may have a lot to do with your worldview.

If according to your worldview, humans are caring and generous by nature, you will probably assume that Dina had a good reason not to invite you to her party. Maybe she was planning activities that she knew you would not enjoy, or maybe she was trying to protect someone else’s feelings.

On the other hand, if according to your worldview, human nature is selfish and cruel, you may think that Dina did not have any admirable reasons not to invite you.

We all have worldviews, but they are not always coherent; sometimes, they are full of contradictions. Philosophy can help us to better understand our own minds and be more consistent.

A landscape seen through the lens ball. Glass ball with a landscape seen through it.
Figure 1: A lens refracts light, causing an image to appear upside down. Likewise, our understanding of the world is affected by the worldview, or lens, with which we perceive it.

Another benefit of philosophical thinking is critical thinking. Critical thinking involves providing reasons for what we believe and do and refusing to accept beliefs without examining them.

The ancient Greek philosopher Socrates emphasized the importance of critical examination when he said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

Socrates, ancient Greek philosopher
Figure 2: A statue of the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates. Socrates defended a lifelong commitment to philosophy or the love of wisdom.

Key Term: Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is a type of thinking in which beliefs are not accepted unless they are examined.

You might be able to think of times that you have used critical thinking in everyday life.

For example, you can use critical thinking to understand the situation involving your friends Fares and Dina. You might think about whether Fares tends to tell the truth or whether it seems out of character for Dina not to want you at her party.

Critical thinking can help us avoid hasty judgments, unfounded beliefs, and habits or traditions that are not helpful or rational.

Example 1: Defining Critical Thinking

What does critical thinking mean?

  1. Refusing to accept beliefs without examining them
  2. Judging the behavior of others
  3. Assuming that other people are wrong
  4. Complaining about the food at a restaurant

Answer

Because critical thinking contains the word “critical,” it is easy to confuse it for holding negative beliefs about, or making negative statements regarding, the behavior and actions of other people.

However, “critical” does not refer to negative statements or beliefs.

In the sense of the term used in critical thinking, criticism means careful examination. It is for this reason that critical thinking means refusing to adopt beliefs without examination.

Therefore, the correct answer is A.

Philosophical thinking involves pursuing knowledge and searching for truth. This profound investigation is not limited, like the sciences, to the boundaries between subjects.

This means that the investigation of something like the origin and composition of the universe might lead to the investigation of another question entirely, such as the meaning of life.

On the other hand, a physicist studying the origin of the universe would avoid any question regarding the meaning of the universe. Questions like that would fall outside the boundaries of physics.

Example 2: Identifying Indications of Philosophical Thinking

What is the best indication that a person has taken up philosophy and the pursuit of truth?

  1. They only believe what they perceive with their own senses.
  2. They involve themselves in profound investigations.
  3. They suspend judgment on everything.
  4. They involve themselves in superficial investigations.
  5. They only believe what can be experimentally proven.

Answer

Philosophy and the pursuit of truth are investigations without any limits.

For that reason, someone who has taken up the pursuit of truth will not limit themselves to only believing what they can perceive with their own senses or what can be experimentally proven. That is because there are sources of truth other than what we perceive with our senses or prove in experiments.

They will not suspend judgment on everything because to suspend judgment would be to give up pursuing the truth.

Because philosophy and the pursuit of truth are investigations without any natural limit, they are not limited to superficial investigations, but involve profound investigations.

Therefore, the correct answer is B.

Philosophy allows us to understand our own values. Our values are what matters to us. They make the difference between what we consider good and bad, and they are reflected in what we consider worth doing with our lives.

Suppose you choose to join a junior football team. There are many values that could be behind that choice—it might be because you love the game or it might be because you want to exercise, make friends, or please your parents. It might be some combination of these.

Many values could be expressed by the choice to join a sports team.

By giving us ways to examine our values, philosophy helps us to find meaning in our lives and live in harmony with ourselves.

Key Term: Values

Our values are what matters to us. They make the difference between what we consider good and bad, and they are reflected in what we consider worth doing with our lives.

Figure 3: Our values are reflected in how we think about the world around us and the choices we make in life.

The philosophical examination of values also plays a vital role in the progress of human societies.

Different societies promote different values. For example, capitalist societies encourage increasing wealth, whereas religious societies often encourage faith and the avoidance of sin.

Philosophical thinking involves the evaluation, criticism, and defense of the values held by a particular society.

For example, the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates asked his friends to explain what they meant by one of the values that the ancient Greek society held highest: justice.

His friend Polemarchus defined justice as helping one’s friends and harming one’s enemies. However, Socrates showed him and his friends that this definition was not adequate. How could it be just to help a friend who is themself unjust or harm a just enemy?

In this way, Socrates showed the need for his friends to revise their understanding of justice.

Example 3: Recalling Socrates’s Criticism of Values

Why did Socrates keep questioning his friends about justice?

  1. He loved asking meaningless questions.
  2. He knew asking questions would make him look smart.
  3. He wanted to make his friends look like fools.
  4. He was a sophist.
  5. He wanted to find the true meaning of justice.

Answer

Socrates wanted to provoke his friends to examine their own values.

He believed that this kind of examination is necessary because we often accept the values that we are taught without thinking about what they really mean.

Instead of unthinkingly accepting taught values, Socrates encouraged people to critically examine them in order to understand their true meaning.

Therefore, the correct answer is E.

Sometimes, philosophers also introduce new values into society.

For example, John Locke and other seventeenth- and eighteenth-century English philosophers helped to develop the ideas of liberalism. Liberalism is the idea that individual rights and freedoms, including freedom of speech and freedom of religion, should not be limited by any government.

These philosophers introduced a new social value—freedom—that was crucial in providing the justification for the American and French revolutions.

The relationship between philosophers and the societies that they live in is a complex one. Philosophers have an impact on society, as we can see in the example of liberalism. At the same time, the social context in which philosophers live has an effect on their philosophy.

For example, it was because the ancient Greek society considered justice one of its highest values that this is the value that Socrates chose to question his friends about.

What values does our society place highest today? They may not be the same values that the ancient Greeks considered highest. When society’s values change over time, philosophers can help us reconcile newer values with the older ones we inherit.

Let’s summarize some of the key points we have covered in this explainer.

Key Points

  • Philosophical thinking has numerous benefits, for both the individual and society.
  • Philosophical thinking can enable us to develop our own worldview.
  • Philosophy involves thinking critically.
  • Philosophical thinking involves pursuing knowledge and searching for truth.
  • Philosophy allows us to understand our own values.
  • Philosophical thinking involves the evaluation, criticism, and defense of the values that a particular society holds.
  • This philosophical examination of values plays a vital role in the progress of human societies.
  • Sometimes, philosophers also introduce new values into society.

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