BY: MITCH CONSKY
A few nights ago I was having a philosophical conversation with my roommates.
No, we weren’t all baked out of our minds. A few of us were completely sober.
Like many philosophical conversations go, the arguments spiraled from one topic to another in a vortex of linked ideas. Nothing that a bunch of university students haven’t discussed at the end of a Thursday night with a few empty pizza boxes scattered around the couch.
As the clock hit four a.m. and the thought of waking up for classes was non-existent, we realized a flaw in the system of academics. It happened like this:
Jonah: “Yo, is humanity innately good?”
I know, typical.
Me: “Well, it depends on what ‘good’ is. You would have to consider what morality falls under. Are we talking Bentham’s theory of utilitarianism? Kant’s theory of deontology? Aristotle’s ideas of responsibility and achieving ultimate happiness?”
Blah blah blah.
Through the pressures of academics, we have been trained to think through the lens of other minds. Obviously our thought process is limited to what we are capable of perceiving; in order to develop knowledge, it needs to be acquired through exposure to facts. But students have been conditioned to articulate theories, internalize what those theories represent and then intuitively jump to conclusions on the trampoline of information available. Often, it seems that we are forced to conform to the system of credibility, where we believe that the only way to have trust in our own thinking is to pull out a quote from a textbook that supports our claim. We have been trained to believe that our freedom of thinking can only be liberated through the influence of other great minds.
Is this wrong?
I believe that the greatest ideas derive from a level of theorist exploration — considering multiple academic arguments and then concluding with your own interpretation, essentially keeping you on track while you board your train of thought. Some of the greatest academic ideas are driven forward with the vehicle of academic discussion. This being said, are we wrong to dismiss thoughts that do not carry some scholarly credibility?
Going back to the question I was asked – I intended to say all of this before getting lost in the search of other philosophers.
“Out of all the theories, I think I agree with Aristotle and Bentham the most, but I also understand some components of Kant’s deontology in terms of applying consequence to a universal scale, blah blah bah…”
This response would only continue to feed the problem. Yes, I am saying what I think, and the theories aren’t speaking entirely for me, but I’m not rocketing my thinking without the launching pad of long-gone philosophers who’ve spent their entire drunken lives stressing about the debate I’d been having with my roommates over one night.
The structure for an argument, at least according to my philosophy textbook, is as follows:
- Logical premise.
Our society has a level of expectation when it comes to this form of argumentation. We need sources to back up our claim, we need real life examples to support our logic, we need pre-existing theories to calculate our conclusion.
As the Opinion Editor of my university paper, I have been exposed to what makes a piece well-argued and which ones use vague generalizations to support some foggy outlook. Naturally, as society demands, the best argument comes from personal experience with the interpretation of one or more secondary sources.
However, does the need for credibility in every scholarly essay, exam and project limit our level of thinking to what has already been thought? Is the need to academically back up our logic diluting whatever it is we are trying to say? Are our minds constricted to the demand of academic evidence to the point in which we are holding ourselves back? Or is the inclusion of other theories simply cooking our claims into something that can be easier digested by those of the academic community?
No matter what, every claim needs some source. That’s just how logic works. Whether the source is scholarly, based off of experience, or even just some general intuition, you need to have a basis of understanding to link one idea to another. But the conditioned need for academic credibility should not compromise or invade the inception of a thought.
Sometimes a realization can break through the realm of what is supported, and it should never be shut down just because there’s no dead guy backing it up in a textbook.
Simply put, we shouldn’t only be looking backwards while attempting to accelerate forward.
And for those of you who are still itching for some respected theorist to jump into my claim in order to nod your head with the slightest trace of agreement, I’ll leave you with this.
“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge, but imagination.” – Albert Einstein.
According to my sources, that guy’s fairly credible.