Sunday, February 10, 2008

Ten Commandments of Philosophy

reposted from Introduction to Philosophy, "What is Philosophy" by Louis P Pojman (2008, 4th ed, pg 7). I quote the text unedited:-

1. Allow the Spirit of wonder to flourish in your heart. Philosophy begins with deep wonder about the universe, about who we are, where we come from, and where we are going. What is this life all about? Speculate and explore different points of view and worldviews. Do not stifle childlike curiosity.
2. Doubt everything unsupported by evidence until the evidence convinces you of its truth. Be reasonably cautious, a moderate skeptic, suspicious of those who claim to have the truth. Doubt is the souls purgative. Do not fear intellectual inquiry. As Goethe said the masses fear the intellectual, but it is stupidity they should fear, if they only realised how dangerous it really is.
3. Love the Truth. "Philosophy is the eternal search for truth, a search which inevitably fails and yet is never defeated; which continually eludes us, but which always guides us. This free, intellectual life of the mind is the noblest inheritance of the Western World; it is also the hope of our future." (W. T. Jones)
4. Divide and Conquer. Divide each problem and theory into its smallest essential components in order to analyze each unit carefully. This is the analytic method.
5. Collect and Construct. Build a coherent argument or theory from component parts. One should move from the simple, secure foundations to the complex and comprehensive in the manner of Bertrand Russell that we mentioned earlier. The important thing is to have a coherent , well founded, tightly reasoned set of beliefs that can withstand the opposition.
6. Conjecture and Refute. Make a complete survey of possible objections to your position, looking for counter-examples and subtle mistakes. Following a suggestion of Karl Popper, philosophy is a system of conjecture and refutation. Seek bold hypotheses and seek disconformations of your favourite positions. In this way, by a process of elimination, you will negatively, indirectly and gradually approach the Truth.
7. Revise and Rebuild. Be willing to revise, reject, and modify your beliefs and the degree with which your hold any belief. Acknowledge that you probably have many false beliefs and be grateful to those who correct you. This is the principle of fallibilism, the thesis that we are very likely incorrect in many of our beliefs and have a tendency towards self-deception when considering objections to our position.
8. Seek Simplicity. This is the principle of parsimony, also known as "Occam's Razor". Prefer the simpler explanation to the more complex, all things being equal. Of course, all things are not always equal. Sometimes the truth is complex, but where to explanations are of relatively equal merit, prefer the simpler.
9. Live the Truth. Appropriate your ideas in a personal way, so that even as the Objective Truth is a correspondence of the thought to the world, this Lived Truth will be a correspondance of the life to the thought. As Kierkegaard said, "Here is a definition of [subjective] truth: holding fast to an objective uncertainty in an appropriation process of the most passionate inwardness is the truth, the highest truth available for an existing individual."
10. Live the Good! Let the practical conclusions of a philosophical reflection on the moral life inspire and motivate you to action. Let moral truth transform your life so that you shine like a jewel in its own light amid the darkness of ignorance.


  1. Good stuff generally, but I have serious doubts about two of the usages in the First Commandment:-

    Spirit: As McGinn says (in “the Atheism Tapes”):-

    "Can an atheist be spiritual? I guess it's a matter of definition really... I mean you certainly can't be if it denotes anything supernatural, but... you know aesthetic and ethical values can approximate to what people call the spiritual... you know, the most deeply held beliefs about human behaviour might be counted as spiritual, I don't know. Feelings about nature might be. I mean, I wouldn't use the word, it doesn't seem to me to be a good word to use. A risky word to use, But it doesn't mean you don't have any deep views about things, you know, or deep convictions about things, but often people feel that."

    Heart: This is a mechanical pump, in which no thought processes take place. So it’s not being used literally. Theists use it all the time – and confuse the metaphorical with the literal.

  2. Richard, I agree that the word 'Spirit' and 'flourish in your heart' in Commandment 1) has theistic connotations which I don't personally particularly approve of. But I suppose it echos "do not stifle childlike curiosity".

    In Commandement 2) "doubt is the souls purgative". A purgative is "tending to cleanse or purge". Not much if any evidence for 'souls'.