Toastmaster project number 2

Project 2 is ”organise your speech”. The speech has to show good organisation. I have decided to do mine on philosophy, a subject I am interested in. I am using a topical outline which means that I split the main topic into (3) sub-topics.The speech is supposed to be 5-7 minutes long. I like to keep a record of my speeches, and so I thought I would put it up on this blog.

The importance of a philosophical education

”The unexamined life is not worth living”. This is what the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates proclaimed, and it still has relevance today. Philosophy itself means ”the love of wisdom”, and ‘wisdom’ means possessing  the deep understanding that stems from sensible thinking, which leads to good judgment. Unlike other subjects, particularly fact laden ones such as Science or Maths, philosophy does not teach students what to think but how to think. In this speech I will describe the three main benefits of a philosophical education. Firstly, by studying philosophy you learn to think  critically and rationally, which helps you avoid common thinking errors, resulting in better decisions. Secondly, critical thinking involves a rejection of settled and fixed answers to life’s biggest questions, which could reduce violence and make war less likely. Thirdly and finally, philosophy makes life more meaningful by cultivating our innate curiosity and inquisitiveness about life.

Let’s begin with the fact that philosophy is the stuff of existence. Consequently, every single one of us philosophizes all the time, often without even realising that we are doing so.  For example, we all have implicit beliefs about what is meant by fairness or justice that guide our actions. A formal philosophical education simply makes your own philosophy, or the way you see the world, more explicit, and this reduces the likelihood that you will be a slave to subconscious, possibly false notions, and other people’s philosophies.  This connects to the first and most pivotal benefit of philosophy which is that you will learn to think for yourself, critically and wisely, and  therefore you will be less likely to fall into the trap of narrow thinking, such as believing common stereotypes.  Consider the fact that  stereotyping people results in the creation of fixed social categories, the exaggeration of differences between groups, and the growth of intolerance and fear. The  Nazis, for example, stereotyped the Jews as inhuman which allowed the Nazis to treat them inhumanly. Stereotypes are an example of absolute or dogmatic thinking, and this leads to the second benefit of a philosophical education, which is the ability to withhold judgment in the absence of evidence.

To illustrate this point, the philosopher Bertrand Russell in his 1946 essay Philosophy for Laymen  argues that everyday knowledge does not have the certainty of arithmetic, and that, in his own words  ”To teach how to live without certainty and yet without being paralyzed by indecision is perhaps the chief thing that philosophy can do for those who study it’’. Consequently he argues that a philosophical education for all citizens is an important prerequisite for a peaceful and democratic society.  Philosophy therefore encourages empathy and dialogue by getting us to look at the world from other perspectives. Instead of war and tyranny, philosophy encourages us to use reason and critical thinking to sort out our differences.  To be philosophical is to constantly ask probing and critical questions about why things are the way they are in order to constructively imagine an alternative and better society. This process of inquiry broadens our experience of the world, which connects to the third main benefit of philosophy, namely, that it makes life more meaningful.

For example, Jana Lone in the book The Philosophical Child argues that it is important to develop a philosophical sensitivity if we wish to live a fulfilling life. By this she means the ability to reflect on questions relating to life, death, and reality. One outcome of developing an inquiring mind is that you will be more likely to notice features of the world that you had previously not encountered.  As a result, you will learn to re-interpret common words which could lead to a complete transformation of your reality. For example, the word ‘natural’ is often used to refer to plants, animals, and anything that has not been subject to human control. However, if you dig deeper you might  ask whether or not humans are also ‘natural’ considering that we evolved from lower life forms and are but one small part of an interconnected universe. If humans are natural, than it surely follows that anything created by humans is also natural, including items that we don’t think of as natural such as synthetic plastic. This is but one example of how philosophy can create a wider sense of meaning and a deeper understanding of the world.

To conclude,I hope you will have learnt as a result of this speech that, firstly, practicing philosophy furnishes a healthy mind by encouraging critical thinking. By learning to think well, we learn to question and not take anything for granted. Therefore, secondly,  a philosophical education helps to shore up a  healthy democracy that values peace, dialogue, empathy and collaboration instead of oppression and absolutism. Thirdly and finally, critical thinking and imagination enrich people’s sense of meaning, curiosity, and well-being. I hope that you will all be inspired to develop your philosophical sensibility. After all,  as Socrates said, an ‘unexamined life is not worth living.”


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