This is a letter I wrote in my free time, although it is probably formatted like an informational handout. It's addressed to my high school class mates. While initially I started out of frustration I realized that writing was helping me understand my own thoughts better, so I just kept on going.
I know many that are too afraid to speak up in high school, despite their ability to think critically. Unfortunately I know far too many more that want to be heard and do voice their opinions without the proper preparation. It doesn't help that my peers unknowingly use such strong rhetoric. I had always thought of Pathos as the normal way to write and speak. If you make an emotional appeal more people tend to believe you. Now that I use more logic people look at me like I am crazy. I have even had one friend tell me that I was much too logical, and stated that I had no strong beliefs because they are not based in solely emotional responses.
I'm not trying to force my views down anyone's throat. I am just confused and slightly upset. It really is "uncool" to be logical. I don't have enough hands to count how many friends I have that are on anti-depressants when they can't help but feel inadequate in a reality of obscene expectations. I want people to be happy. Not happy because they got that new cell phone or video game, but happy because we are alive and have freedoms that many people can't afford. I don't want my friends to have to pull down their sleeves to hide their cuts. I don't want one of my friends to end up on the news. As selfish as it sounds, if just one lonely teenager read my letter and felt a change then I would feel like I made a difference.
Comment if you have any critiques or disagreements. I have only had the internet and a few books on loosely related subjects to guide my world view.
Are you depressed? Do you feel lost? Are you alone? Feel confused? Are you curious? Are you angry? Why are you angry? Stop being angry! No really, you are scaring me! Stop it!
All jokes aside, it's evident that most of us have many questions that are left unanswered. These aren't questions like “What is b in the quadratic formula?”, but questions about life, society, or identity. In philosophy this is often categorized as epistemology and ethics. Few people realize that philosophy can be more than just a study, and become a useful tool to improve your life. As soon as you begin to question things that others wont, you start on the path of independence and autonomy. When people speak of intelligence it is often linked to education and knowledge, however intelligence and wisdom are obtained through deep personal reflection and use of sound logic and reasoning. To be truly intelligent, you have to recognize yourself first.
“To find yourself, think for yourself.” - Socrates
Socrates, the ancient philosopher, walked the market paths of Athens talking with his peers. He would often be found chatting with men of power about the biggest questions in life. He found that not everyone had good reasons for their actions or beliefs, and that people preferred gut reactions to thought out answers.
Even after all these years, modern society is still plagued by these gut reactions. Some of our largest fears, especially as teenagers, come from unfounded assumptions about the way life works. The relevance of popularity, clothing style, financial status, and even race are often blown way out of proportion because of some widely accepted concepts that we believe to be true. They must be true, since the majority of us believe in them. Right?
Wrong. One of the sneakiest logical fallacies or logical short circuits is the bandwagon fallacy. A belief or concept's validity is not determined by it's wide spread acceptance or rejection. Just because 95% percent of your high school believes football players to be Gods, does not mean that the football players are Gods. Unfortunately the inverse is also correct. If 95% do not believe in the football gods, does not mean that the statement is false.
These bandwagon statements are all around us, but how does knowing this help someone who is struggling to find their identity? By acknowledging that not all beliefs are valid or precise, we can find the truths within our world and figure out which things are most important to us. Breaking down your problems into it's basic components will also help you come to terms with your emotions. You can question why you feel an emotion and if it is appropriate for the context.
So are you ready to face your emotions and challenge your beliefs to become a better person? Socrates thought so. Not only did he believe that everyone could be a philosopher, he believed it was their duty to examine their life as a human being.
“The unexamined life is not worth living.”-Socrates
To help us along our philosophical journey he provided a guideline to enlightenment. When using the Socratic Method, it is important to maintain a skeptical yet logical mind set. Don't let the notions of family, religion, or peers interfere with this process. Truth is to be found by you, not provided by another. With that in mind, let's begin.
Step 1: Define the core value or statement expressed.
“Having lots of money will make you happy.”
This states that having an abundant amount of money, wealth, commodity, or other object of direct value will make you happy.
Not all values or statements will be as clear cut as this one. Dissect what is being proposed and break down the topic into it's constituents. Often, especially in politics or heated class room arguments, you have to cut through the crap to find the real message. The message can often be concealed in strong rhetoric, making it harder to access in it's pure form. Rhetoric is the use of language to perpetuate a certain viewpoint. Usually this means using emotionally charged words that imply a certain tone.
Step 2: Understand the direct implications of this statement, and find exceptions to the rule.
Interpret the statement literally.
To bring the statement into metaphorical or symbolic boundaries blurs the lines of reality creating a vague generality. This can make a statement harder to interpret and is often used to impose validity. If the statement claims that having money will make you happy then it means exactly what it says.
Joe has no money, but he is still happy.
Allison is very wealthy, but is often unhappy.
Assume that the statement is false.
You should refrain from negative or cynical views, but try and keep skepticism and curiosity in mind. Think of any situations where the statement would be false, imprecise, or illogical. Expand upon statements you already have to clearly define the scope of an argument.
Step 3: Rephrase the statement to take the exception into account.
“Having lots of money may sometimes make you happy.”
You want your new statement to encompass all possibilities and be as precise as possible. It must cut right to the core and present the bottom line based on the exceptions or rejections you provided.
Step 4: Challenge your new statement with new questions and exceptions.
Repeat Step 2, but deepen your philosophical inspection. Broaden your interpretation and bring into account the stability or validity of the premises stated if you have not already done so.
Happiness is subjective, therefore it is hard to compare.
Wealth also has no set value, and is also therefore relative.
These truths make the statement harder to interpret and understand, but are necessary questions to bring up. Offering a hypothetical baseline for these concepts can make them easier to interpret. Just be careful that your baseline is realistic. Consider other baselines to compare against so that your argument doesn't break down under special conditions.
Step 5: Apply and Repeat.
Once you have come to a conclusion, apply it to your life. If you spent enough time thinking about the wealth and happiness statement and following the method then you may have come to terms with your financial status.
“The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.” - Socrates
Getting to the root of your problems can often bring emotional stability into your life. It put's perspective and context into the picture. Without critical thinking and reasoning is like viewing a one dimensional monochromatic painting, a misrepresentation of the bigger picture. Begin to question the beliefs that you hold. Find logical reasons to justify your opinions. When you are sure of your logic, stand by your truths. Do not accept the opinions of others unless they are equally cogent and thought out. Think about the questions or problems that trouble you. Are you upset by your lack of popularity? Ask yourself what popularity is? Who are the people you know that are popular? Question others about popularity. Question the popular people about popularity. How do others feel about popularity? Do they have valid reasons to feel that way?
Even after you have found an answer, continue to be open to new ideas. There are many paths to finding truth, and you have taken but one of many. Your truths should be dynamic and adaptable. If technology did not continue to re invent the wheel we would not have the high tech tires and ultra light rims we use on our cars today. In the same way you must constantly re invent your truths in the face of new information. Leaving your ideas unchanged over time makes them as useless as the statement you started with.
“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”-Socrates
The Socratic Method is a formal way of questioning beliefs and finding truth, but you can benefit from it in your life by applying it more loosely, as long as you stick to the major tenets. Identify, Question, Amend, and Question Again. Using this method you can begin to sort the truth from the crap humans invent. You can face the causes of your emotions, and come to terms with why you feel them. The Socratic Method isn't the ultimate solution to answer all of life's questions, but it is definitely a useful tool on the continual journey to finding truth in life.