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Don’t Forget to Live

What are you doing right now? Yes, right this very second? Got your answer? Okay, here’s what I think of your answer (no matter what it is): You might be wrong.

The choice(s) you’re making at this moment might be based on a mistake. How do I know? Because the process of making judgments of any kind is a fallible process. Your cognitive capacities are finite. Your understanding of logic is finite. Your knowledge of facts is finite. There’s always something you could be overlooking or underestimating.

Some people try to avoid this by not making any choices at all. But the decision to not make any choices is a decision that’s still subject to the same possibility of doing the wrong thing. Does that scare you? What do you do if any choice you make could turn out to be the wrong one? You simply do the best you can and leave it that.

Is it important to think things through? You bet. It’s more than important. It’s necessary.

Is it important to cross-check your opinions and decisions with contrasting points of view? Certainly.

Is it important to make sure you’re not avoiding the process of rigorously challenging yourself to think critically about everything you think and do? Absolutely.

But as a former philosophy professor of mine once said, “you’re never going to answer the final question.” At some point you have to get on with your life and make decisions. No matter what you do or where you go, there’s no possible way of taking a break from risks. Even if you could take a break from risks, you’d still be taking the risk of picking the wrong time to take a break.

If you’re living your life in fear of committing errors, here’s a bit of wisdom from C. Joybell C. that you may find useful:

“There’s that “margin of error” that you allow to exist in your mind, you want to give everything the benefit of the doubt, you want to look at another person and say “maybe we could be friends” and that’s all well at first, but then you have to reach that point in your life, wherein you don’t have time to live on the margins of error, and you have to say, “so what if there is a margin of error that exists? I don’t think that this person and I could walk down the same path together, because she’s like that, and I’m like this; I must relieve myself of fearing the error, the ‘what could have been’.” You know, sometimes we can be so afraid of the “what could have been” that we overlook the right here and now! And end up forsaking who we are and what makes us happy, and what we want and don’t want! There is an error that takes place; when living too much for the “what could have been.” There comes a time when you must give YOURSELF the benefit of the doubt! Know thyself. Color-in those margins of error with your favorite color; make them your own, make them work for you, let them be in your favor!”

Analyze your choices, but don’t get stuck in analysis paralysis. Think critically, but don’t be paranoid about making mistakes. Examine your beliefs, but don’t forget to live the rest of your life in the process.

Although I agree with Socrates when he said “The unexamined life is not worth living,” I also think it’s important to remember that life must be examined along the way. Thinking is something you do *while* you live, not *before* you live.

Do You Know What Your Epistemology Is?

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that deals with questions about what constitutes knowledge, rationality, justified belief, etc. Your opinions about how we know things, the limits of what we can know, and what constitutes a good standard for evidence are the elements that comprise your epistemology. Everyone has an epistemology whether they consciously reflect on it or not. When people say things like “there is no truth” or “the truth is absolute,” they’re expressing a very specific epistemology. When people say things like “truth can’t be known” or “beliefs are only rational if they’re backed by science” or “science isn’t the only way to know truth,” they’re expressing their epistemology.

It is literally impossible to not have an epistemology. Whenever people argue or make claims about the world, their claims are based on very specific understandings about the nature of truth and knowledge. This is an inescapable aspect of all forms of reasoning. Different people can have different views about what constitutes good evidence. Different people can have different views about what truth is and what it means to know something. A religious person who accepts what the bible says, for example, has different epistemic presuppositions than an atheist who rejects the concept of divinely inspired books. These differences are rooted in their respective epistemologies. That’s largely the basis of their disagreement and debate.

To say that someone is making philosophical presuppositions isn’t an insult or a criticism. It’s just a simple fact that logically follows from the very nature of reasoning and communicating. Philosophy underlies everything we do. That’s not inherently bad. It just is what it is. To say things like “we don’t need philosophy” betrays a misunderstanding of what philosophy actually is. You may not need to declare a major in philosophy at a university. You may not need to read Plato and Aristotle. That’s all fine. But it’s impossible to not do philosophy. We all have fundamental ideas about the nature of reality, the nature of knowledge, the nature of morality, and the meaning of life. Philosophy is nothing less than the investigation, analysis, or application of these fundamental ideas.

Philosophy is inherent in all we say and do. You may not do it consciously, but you’re doing it. You may not like using the word “philosophy,” but a rose by any other name is a rose still the same. Even when you say “philosophy is irrelevant,” you’re making a philosophical statement about what matters in life. We can do philosophy badly or we can do it well. We can do philosophy consciously or we can do it unconsciously. It’s up to us. The important thing to remember is that we have a choice.

We can’t avoid philosophizing, but we can choose to think consciously, critically, and creatively when we do it. When we do philosophy that way, we tend to get more out of it. And when we get more out of our philosophy, we usually get more out of life.

Not too much, Not too little

The first challenge is to see the value of an idea without romanticizing away its limitations.

The second challenge is to see the limitations of an idea without losing the ability to make constructive use of its value.

Most fallacies are not the result of placing faith in bad ideas, but in making too much or too little of good ideas.

Thinking Caps Are Always in Style

Critical thinking isn’t just for stuff on the internet. It’s for every medium and every message that will ever exist.

Intelligence is the only technology that never gets outdated.

Our commitment to analyzing and assessing information will always be just as important as the credibility of the sources from which we gather that information.

Wherever we go, offline or online, it’s never a safe thing to leave our thinking caps behind.


Does it make you think?

The Myth: “If I disagree with an idea, it’s not worth contemplating. If I can find the flaws in an idea, then it’s a waste of time to analyze it.”

Not so fast!

Does it make you think?

Does it force you to achieve greater clarity about your own views?

Does it challenge you to deepen your understanding of other people’s logic?

If so, then it’s not a waste of time at all.

There’s more to the value of an idea than what can be determined simply by evaluating its truth or falsity.

The process of wrestling with provocative concepts, even if we don’t agree with them, helps us open what Maxine Greene calls “new vistas of possibility” in our minds.

If it makes you think, it’s worth something. If it stretches your imagination, it’s worth something. If it helps you relate to different people, it’s worth something. If it compels you on a journey to enrich your knowledge of self, it’s worth something.

An idea doesn’t have to be flawless in order to contribute value to our pursuit of truth.

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