TEN OF THE GREATEST; LIVE FOR LISTS; Philosophical Principles

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), May 23, 2010 | Go to article overview

TEN OF THE GREATEST; LIVE FOR LISTS; Philosophical Principles


Byline: by JULIAN BAGGINI Editor of The Philosopher's Magazine

1 THE HARM PRINCIPLE

by JOHN STUART MILL, 1806-1873

Whenever legislation is proposed that limits our freedoms, someone will reach for Mill's On Liberty and point to the passage that says, 'The sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not suf-ficient warrant.' What could be clearer? Except it isn't clear: it depends on what you mean by harm. Does hate speech harm minorities? Does sexist language harm women, by making them less credible in the eyes of society? Philosophical principles are like credit agreements: the headlines are convincing, but the small print catches you out.

2 THE PRINCIPLE OF SUFFICIENT REASON

by GOTTFRIED LEIBNIZ 1646-1716

The idea that everything is as it is for a reason is the assumption behind most of philosophy. If we thought that things just happened, we would not bother to try to work out their causes. But then nor would we assume that longer days meant more sunshine meant warmer weather. But this principle is crucially different from the one that says everything must have a purpose. There must be a reason why the big bang happened, but that does not mean it happened for any end or goal.

3 THE MEAN

by ARISTOTLE, 382BC322BC

Moral thinking is steeped in sharp dualities: Good v Evil, God v Satan, Right v Wrong, Heaven v Hell. Popular mythology, from humanity's fall from grace in the Garden of Eden to Star Wars, is full of tales of people going over to the dark side. But long before modern psychology told us that we all have our shadow side, an Ancient Greek philosopher came up with an idea that was even more subtle: it is not that there are shades of grey between moral black and white - good and bad aren't opposites at all. Rather, the good is a 'mean' that stands between two bads: that of excess and that of deficiency. Courage, for instance, is the mean between the excess of rashness and the deficit of cowardice. Mercy is the mean between the excess of vengefulness and the deficiency of surrender. It's a brilliant idea that utterly transforms how you look at right and wrong.

4 THE FALSIFICATION PRINCIPLE

by KARL POPPER, 1902-1994

Common sense once held that a theory was scientific if you knew how to prove it. But Popper suggested that a theory is only scientific if you know what would disprove it. That's why conspiracy theories are nonsense: no matter what the evidence, believers insist this proves how tough the cover-up is. Similarly, you could argue that the theory that God does what is best for us is not scientific, because whatever happens, believers insist it must be for the greater good. God's goodness may be a theological claim but it's not evidential.

5 OUGHT IMPLIES CAN

by IMMANUEL KANT, 1724-1804

How often do people insist that 'Something should be done' even though they've no idea what that something is? But unless you have an idea what should be done, how do you even know that it's possible to do anything at all? It makes no sense to say something should be unless it actually can be. Kant is usually credited with formulating this principle: 'Since reason commands that such actions should take place,' he wrote, 'it must be possible for them to take place.' In other words, if a prescription is truly rational, then it must be possible. Which means if it looks rational, but isn't possible, it isn't rational at all, like expecting a system to run on debt indefinitely.

6 THE PRINCIPLE OF EVIDENCE

by DAVID HUME, 1771-1776

'A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence' sounds like advice you know already. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

TEN OF THE GREATEST; LIVE FOR LISTS; Philosophical Principles
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.