Philosophical Floors and Ceilings

Early this morning (as all my philosophical discussions tend to happen), my friends and I were arguing with another friend as to how water can be found in soda and milk, since he said it wasn’t in it. I won’t bore you with the details of that argument, but we essentially told our friend that “You shouldn’t speak on things you don’t know.”

Taken as a principle, it’s a very valuable one. One does not speak on things he doesn’t know, lest he makes himself out to be an ass.

On this point, I’d like to talk about certain things that go on social media sites, namely Twitter since that is where I see a lot of ‘argumentation.’ I use the scare quotes because it’s not really argumentation, rather its more shouting matches of who can scream loudly “FALLACY!”

Given any type of discussion, whether you are discussing games, art, housing, or football, everyone involved in the discussion assumes everyone else has some understanding of the topic at hand.

This includes any philosophical discussion.

The issue that I find is that many, who try to be “philosophical” or try to participate in these discussions, do not possess neither the skills nor equipment to do so. What one can find is that a person has taken into reading websites, such as or Wikipedia, and all of a sudden they become logicians.

A single website in a few hours a logician does not make. If anything, it makes one a LOLgician.

While these websites are (maybe) informative, they often do not teach the differences in what makes a fallacy formal or material. Nevertheless, for the LOLgician this is not necessary. They are ‘equipped’ with enough information to scream “FALLACY!” at their opponents.

And at the end of the day, all they do is scream into the void that is their incompetence.

Given a philosophical discussion, you are expected to approach the discussion with a certain ‘floor’ of knowledge, much in the same way one is expected to know something about football rules when saying why the Chicago Cubs should have lost(1).

One need not be a professional philosopher that teaches it, writes books, etc.. to engage in philosophical discourse (though it does help), nevertheless there are ‘The Basics’ one should have. These being: Understanding logical inferences, willingness to learn, and willingness to argue from your opponent’s position.

Really, that’s probably the most basic. A simple understanding of how logic works will take one further than anything else can. This, I think, is the floor of any philosophical discussion. Once you understand how logical inferences work, it becomes an internal ‘Fallacy Detection Machine.’ No longer will you be screaming “FALLACY!” but instead pointedly show why an argument is not correct.

But let us return to the beginning. Supposing one, honestly, wishes to enter a philosophical discourse, though they possess little to no knowledge: What are they to do?

As with all things in life, especially much like the work-place: You ask questions.

You would never, NEVER, do anything at work that you didn’t know how to do. So one should never, NEVER, speak on things one does not know about.

However the secondary trope that I find is one comes “with the intent of understanding” but does not, out of bad faith. There is a difference in asking questions that help one to understand a position versus asking questions that try to undermine the teacher’s position. These type of questions are easy to point out, for those who attempt to undermine a question put no effort into understanding the subject; that is, the questioner does not proceed from one vantage point to another in discussion but remains in the same mode.

For example, I explain that If P, then Q. P, ergo Q.
The questioner then asks why is P/Q true.
I give an explanation, to which they begin the childish “Why?” game.

Don’t be this guy.

Now suppose I explain that If P, then Q. P, ergo Q.
The question asks why is P/Q true.I give an explanation, to which they ask: “So.. if ~Q, then ~P?”

Here we see actual advancement in learning. Having seen how the terms work, they begin to articulate it within their own mind and ask questions that advance the issue. They may not agree with it, but they can, nevertheless, make arguments from the position.

I have been discussing the philosophical discussion ‘floor.’ But what makes a philosophical ‘ceiling?’

Herein we would be discussing something that one has mastered, or is at least very adept. In such a position, one will not often engage in others through debate. Rather they engage themselves in a debate. They argue, in good faith, for and against a certain position. They have investigated the subject to the best of their knowledge, and they are able to articulate it in such a manner that it best describes the position in a reasonable manner.

Several philosophers, such as Edward Feser, often makes these types of arguments on his blog. He argues against a position, then states how one of that position would argue back.

Of course, one may ask, very reasonably: Am I in a position to do so?

The current trend of “philosophical” epistemology is to doubt everything, which really just means: Doubt what others tell you.

It is far better, instead, to doubt this very skeptical outlook and to genuinely ask oneself: Am I proceeding rationally and justifiably in argumentation?


(1) I hope someone catches this joke.


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