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The Case for Learning Philosophy as a Political Enthusiast

The act of turning people onto philosophy is one that is unrewarding. It's even harder with people that think they have it all figured out - especially those with interests in politics, you'll be greatly rewarded for taking on the task. I'm by no means an expert on philosophy, but I'm always learning - learning about myself.
Philosophy has taught me to:
  • Develop my ideas and views to well-reasoned positions.
  • Since my positions are better, I can argue them better.
  • And since my positions are better, I can defend them better.
When someone new encounters philosophy that most likely end up overwhelmed. Tough questions, different responses and many feel that it's all a matter of opinion. "Do you exist or are you in the matrix? How do you know?" "Is murder morally wrong? Why? How do you know?" It's not an easy field to learn.

There was a great comment on reddit that I had to save because this was the question brought up, "isn't it all a matter of opinion?" and I thought the reply was worth wild.
I think a lot of people, when they first encounter philosophy, aren't really sure what to make of it. For most of their education, and life generally, they are used to taking claims mainly based on authority. So, the textbook says something, or the teacher says something, or your parents say something, or your priest says something, and that's that. You might ask some internal questions about what they say, but rarely are you going to raise your hand in a physics class and ask "but, really, what is 'knowledge'?"

So, people come in to philosophy, and they are thrown. It's one of the first time people are being asked to think for themselves and really inquire about the foundations of thought. You are being asked to evaluate an argument, defend claims, make cogent objections, and articulate reasonable positions. And without being able to rely on authority, a lot of people get lost and confused. Not seeing a clear answer, they then say, "well, I guess it's just all opinion." And this is, in some sense, an intellectually cowardly answer. It's often a sort of thought that goes "well, if there is no one to tell me what the answer is, then there must not be an answer."
What is gained in philosophical study is your thought process working in a much more reasonable manner. Inevitably you'll learn that all views and positions are reflected in the way one thinks; from their religious views to politics. The real value to those interested in politics is better understanding the fundamentals. Political positions are a meaningless point to start with people - even though that seems to be where everyone starts. Political positions are the result of hierarchically more important views and positions - something many people don't understand.

There's a foundation of metaphysics (reality, the universe), epistemology (what is knowledge, how do you know what you know), and ethics/morals (the good and bad behaviors). Politics is merely another piece on top of these concepts, in particular the ethics/morals.

Making Arguments and Critiquing Arguments

My understanding of arguments has grown so much that it is the most valuable skill I've attained from philosophical study that I can apply to my interests in politics. When it comes to exchanging ideas and winning people to better ideas, arguments need to be presented.

The most alarming thing to take away is how your arguments lack any sort of credibility as an argument. Just poor assumptions and weak premises - no wonder I wasn't able to convince anyone of any ideas. Why does this happen? It happens because you challenge your own ideas and the reasons that lead you to believe it. It's not about your partisan politics, it's about the best idea. You challenge yourself because you want to know. When you're ideas are backed up with sound reasoning, you then form proper premises and harder to dismiss arguments.

The counter is true of your opponents. You start to see the fractures in people's arguments they give to you. The amount of times that I would end up in endless conversations about topics where someone had premises that didn't even lead to the conclusion. An example of this would be the is-ought problem, also know as the naturalistic fallacy. This is where someone takes a fact of reality (the is) and turns that fact into some sort of ethical action/behavior/policy (the ought), even though is doesn't get you to ought without some sort of ethical view to qualify what to do with the is.


Philosophy is the study of the more fundamental questions of existence, knowledge, values, ethics, etc. Most people never put more than a momentary thought in these questions. A person that challenges these ideas, understands them and hears a new perspective is going to be able to solidify their views and positions.

The value is the ideas and views you hold become much more stronger. Since they're stronger and better understood, you're better at arguing them and dealing with counter arguments.


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