I like philosophy. And I like flowcharts. So — obviously — I had to make a philosophy flowchart. It outlines my process as a philosopher.
1. The Process
According to the philosophy flowchart, my philosophical process is pretty straightforward. There are just a few steps.
- Look for a thesis.
- Look for an argument.
- Determine whether you care about the thesis.
- Take a stance.
- Give an argument.
- Evaluate the argument.
- Document and/or repeat.
2. Try Out The Process
Let’s see how the philosophy flowchart would work. Imagine that you’re reading Peter Singer’s “Famine, Affluence, and Morality” (1974) [PDF]. Here’s how I’d proceed:
Step 1. Look for a thesis.
Singer was pretty kind to his reader. He made the thesis fairly clear. It’s just this:
Thesis: “[most people in affluent countries] ought to give lots of money away, and it is wrong not to do so.”
Step 2. Look for the argument.
Singer has also made it pretty easy to find the argument for his thesis. The premises are as follows:
Premise 1: “Suffering and death from lack of food, shelter, and medical care are very bad.”
Premise 2: “If it is in our power to prevent something very bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything else of comparable moral significance, [then] we ought, morally, to do it.”
Premise 3: “([For people in affluent countries] It is within our power to prevent something very bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything else of comparable moral significance — e.g., by giving away lots of money away.)”
Step 3-7: …you get the idea.
Challenge. If you’ve never run read or written anything about Singer’s paper and you’re interested in the thesis, then you might consider the following challenge:
- (re)read the paper
- complete the remaining steps in the flowchart
- share your results in the comments.
3. What do you think of the process?
Maybe you’ve done some philosophy. If so, you might quibble with the flowchart. Maybe you think it mischaracterized the process. Or maybe there is more than one process and this philosophy flowchart just doesn’t capture your process.
Whatever the case, I’m interested in your thoughts: how might the philosophy flowchart better portray the philosophical process?
Or maybe you’re trying this philosophy thing for the first time. If so, what do you think?
If you want to know more about philosophy, then check out this post.
Singer, P. (1972). Famine, Affluence, and Morality. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 1(3), 229–243. [PDF]