Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Role of Philosophy in Everday Decisions

Stanley Fish has an interesting to read article in the NY Times on the question of what difference our answers to philosophical questions makes to everyday moral decisions. As he points out, a person who takes a position of moral relativism in asserting that moral values cannot be determined in a purely abstract realm of thought nonetheless can and will come to everyday "common sense" moral judgments about what is right or wrong in everyday life.

I think Fish's proposition is interesting. To some degree philosophy, while highly interesting, is in fact impractical when it comes to resolving concrete questions of morality. Although under certain comprehensive theories, moral deductions regarding concrete issues is certainly possible, we may question on what basis we choose a comprehensive theory to begin with if highly contested religious motivations for choosing a particular comprehensive theory are conceded to not be universally accepted.

Going along with the same point about the implications (or lack there of) of philosophical debates as a guide to living, let us assume that a person believes in determinism rather than free will. That person still has to make what we call "decisions" and will have to live life with the consequences of those decisions.

None of this is to suggest that thinking about philosophical questions is not worthwhile. If anything, a philosophical inquiry is useful in giving us a sense of what can and cannot be resolved and a firmer understanding of the basis of our beliefs. However, the limits of philosophy itself, I think, is evident.

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