Philisophical Essay How Do You Know What Is Right

Ten of the greatest: Philosophical principles

From John Stuart Mill's On Liberty, Aristotle's 'mean' philosophy to the principle of charity, here are the greatest principles of philosophy

By JULIAN BAGGINI, Editor of The Philosopher's Magazine

Updated: 22:00 GMT, 22 May 2010


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 sufficient 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.

Whenever legislation is proposed that limits our freedoms, someone will reach for John Stuart Mill's On Liberty



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.

There must be a reason why the big bang happened, but that does not mean it happened for any end or goal



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.

Aristotle's saw good as a 'mean' that stands between two bads: that of excess and that of deficiency


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.

Karl Popper suggested that a theory is only scientific if you know what would disprove it (Above, the film Capricorn One)


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.

Immanuel Kant said: 'Since reason commands that such actions should take place, it must be possible for them to take place'


by DAVID HUME, 1771-1776

'A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence' sounds like advice you know already. But it's more easily agreed with than followed, and the results can be uncomfortable. No wonder David Hume felt the need to restate it. In his essay Of Miracles he says: 'A weaker evidence can never destroy a stronger'. Sounds obvious. But when it comes to the miraculous, has the testimony of any witness ever been stronger evidence than the testimony of all the rest of life, which tells us that nature's laws do not admit exceptions? If not, says Hume, then anyone who claims to base belief on evidence can never believe in miracles.

In David Hume's essay Of Miracles, he says: 'A weaker evidence can never destroy a stronger'


by DONALD DAVIDSON 1917-2003

Some principles cannot claim to have a single author. The principle of charity is one, although the 20th-century U.S. philosopher Donald Davidson has more claim than most to have set it out clearly and systemically. In its broadest sense it urges us to interpret the meaning of what others claim in ways that make them as rational as possible. It is, if you like, an injunction to give others the benefit of the doubt. If what someone says could be plain wrong or just badly phrased, assume the latter, until proven otherwise. It is, of course, the opposite principle to that followed by politicians, newspaper columnists and militant atheists, all of whom assume their opponents to be bone-headed fools. In other words, it is a principle more needed now than ever.

The principle of charity urges us to interpret the meaning of what others claim in ways that make them as rational as possible (Above, Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump)


by JOHN RAWLS, 1921-2002

If some philosophical principles seem so obvious as not to be worth stating, others shatter consensus. Such is the case with Rawls's difference principle, which the Liberal Democrats once considered adopting as policy. This states that increases in inequality are only permissible if they benefit the worst-off members of society. It sounds radical, but after recent events with bankers' bonuses, fewer people now believe that concern about growing pay at the top of the economic scale is pure envy. The difference principle states that it is fine for the rich to get richer only if the poor always become richer than they would have done had the wealthy been held back. It's a liberal compromise between the socialist demand for equality and the neo-liberal disregard for equality.

The difference principle states that increases in inequality are only permissible if they benefit the worst-off members of society


by THOMAS AQUINAS, 1225-1274

Thinkers have long pondered when war is morally justified, but modern theories of just war are little more than amendments to those set down by Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century. The morality of a war is determined both by the reasons for starting it and its conduct once begun. To wage war, the cause needs to be just, it must be waged by an army with legitimate authority, it must be fought for the right intentions, there must be a good probability of success, the response must be proportionate, and it must be the last resort. Armies must use proportionate force and discriminate between combatants and innocent civilians.

The morality of war is determined both by the reasons for starting it and its conduct once begun


by WILLIAM OF OCCAM, 1288-1348

In an age of five-blade razors, the one wielded by William of Occam is ironically named, for it is the requirement not to multiply entities beyond necessity. So, if you can explain the workings of the world by postulating only the existence of matter, you should not prefer an explanation that also posits ectoplasm, unless that more complicated theory can explain more. The principle is also known as one of economy of explanation: all other things being equal, a simpler explanation is more likely to be true than a complicated one. It's a principle that has even found its way into Sex And The City: if a man is sending a woman mixed messages, the simple answer is he's just not that into her.

The Occam's razor principle has even found its way into Sex And The City: if a man is sending a woman mixed messages, the simple answer is, he's just not that into her


Share or comment on this article

This Essay Is About A Magical Eraser. Great For A Philisophical Essay, Or If You Have One Of "Thoes Teachers" That Are Contemplating The Universe All The Time

The Magical Eraser

In a time after ours, science had evolved, far beyond our farthest dreams. A lot was discovered. Most of what you have come to know has been proven wrong. The most memorable issue is Cancer. There were merely only two types of real cancer. Phy and M.e.n.t. The thinking of having cancer, the most prodminent one, caused m.e.n.t. cancer. The second was Phy, caused by radiation, sent to earth from the sun. It turns out that Plutonium and Uranium were only reacting with the photons bonded to the UV rays being sent from the sun. Our world was a replica of yours. An exact replica. Opposite in technology. I will get into that later. The cure, simple. Physiological, ESP type waves. The brain is more than what you know, true it does store knowledge, but not in cells, or by mere zaps of electricity, actually, electricity has nothing to do with it. The brain acts on a 4th dimensional level. Your brain is your soul. Still affected by what you eat, and sensitive to vibrations, in touch with the 3d world. So, there are also ways of training your brain, or enhancing its waves. By means of what you call an eraser. Not every eraser has this capability of strengthening ESP waves, just few ones, made of pure rubber. When these erasers were being made in the 21st centaury, scientists did not notice a reaction within the rubber molecules themselves when in contact with UV rays. As we came to know it, everything does revolve around our sun, or at least our science does. As for the center of the universe, there is none. Very simple, the universe is not expanding, and has no limits. So as you can see, these Erasers have became very valuable, seeing as how our sun has died, the only star that we know of, capable of producing the exact right wavelengths of light to create the reaction. In your...

Loading: Checking Spelling


Read more

THe mistakes I made and the regrets I have to face. Do yourself a service and read this if you are a slacker like me.

659 words - 3 pages I am writting this essay as a senior in high schhool sharing the ambitions as most, going to college then having my perfect job in my choosen career. Although instead of applying for college and easing into the end of the year like most of my friends i am working my butt off to make up for the mistakes I have made the last four years.Starting off freshman year I began...

"Bolt claims, 'All my plays and films have a modern relevance'. What do you think is the modern relevance of A Man for All Seasons?

987 words - 4 pages LiteratureA man for all seasons"Bolt claims, 'All my plays and films have a modern relevance'. What do you think is the modern relevance of A Man for All Seasons?Bolt's play portrays a modern relevance. We can compare the two ideals of "A man for all seasons" alongside modern society. People such as rich are identified amongst...

Essay by Margaret Wikman. This is a one hundred percent true story. I wrote it as a grammar exercise for my English students. I have transformed it into pure pose. I will send you both versions.

1548 words - 6 pages Angle or Bat Essay by Margaret Wikman. I sustain myself an English teacher, but my passion is Mexico....

If you know you have Alzheimer's, how do you regard the person who will inherit your body? Is that person you? How is this case connected with philosophical theories of personal identity?

769 words - 3 pages I discover that I have Alzheimer's and that within the space of a year I will lose all my memories and all my character traits. I regard the person who will inherit my body during this time as one and the same person, numerically identical to the person who has been present in my body for my whole life previous to Alzheimer's, but with a high level of

This paper was for a class called History of Mathematcis. Newton, Sir Isaac (1642-1727), Mathematician and physicist, one of the foremost scientific intellects of all time.

791 words - 3 pages Isaac Newton's life can be divided into three quite distinct periods. The first is his boyhood days from 1643 up to his appointment to a chair in 1669. The second period from 1669 to 1687 was the highly productive period in which he was Lucasian professor at Cambridge. The third period (nearly as long as the other two combined) saw Newton as a highly paid government...

Impressionism and the Twentieth Century (Important) I cant remember if I have submitted this essay or not so...I guess You will have to look it up website dudes!!!

7717 words - 31 pages Impressionism and the Twentieth Century1. ComposersSamuel Osborne Barber II (March 9, 1910 - January 23, 1981) was an American composer of orchestral, opera, choral, and piano music. His Adagio for Strings is among his most popular compositions and widely considered a masterwork of modern classical music.Orchestral musicBarber intensely played and studied the music of J.S. Bach. He also was an adherent of Brahms, from whom he learned...

This is an essy on the English Civil War. IT is good if you have to pick a side to be on. With bibliography.

710 words - 3 pages Although I would prefer to pledge my allegiance to the King, I cannot. There are many reasons why I would side with Parliament instead of the King during the war. Some of those reasons are stated below.Taxes would be increased if I relied on the King. The King does not have the finances to help his people. Whenever he needs extra finances, he must go to Parliament. He would need to increase the taxes on many things that are essential to...

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Sometimes a character may appear for only a short time or never appear at all and still have a great impact ona work

1011 words - 4 pages In Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, there are many characters that make brief appearances, or never even utter a sentence. The character...

Its all about demi moore.Its a biographie on her which adds all her movies, were she was born. All the details you want you will have them here.

597 words - 2 pages Demi MooreToday Demi Moore is as well known for her fabulous figure, daring "Vanity Fair" cover photos, and much-publicized 2000 split from husband Bruce Willis as for her films. However, the husky-voiced actress who rose from a troubled upbringing to stardom has toiled successfully behind the scenes, as a producer of the hits Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997) and its sequel

Discuss the way one or more groups of Australians are represented in film and to what extent this representation reflects wider social attitudes. Refer to at least one feature film you have studied.

1319 words - 5 pages The representation of certain groups of Australians in film does to some extent reflect wider social attitudes. The extent of the truth in these representations is obtainable in

Do spaces have sexualities? With close reference to one or two actual social spaces that you are familiar with. discuss how sexuality is inscribed in social space.

2677 words - 11 pages Sexuality is defined in the present day by the The American Heritage Dictionary of English as the condition of being characterized and distinguished by sex. However, the meaning of sexuality changes over time, in relation to the individual and his or her cultural background. Homosexuality, as practiced in Ancient Greece, is quite different from that of the 20th century. In Ancient Greece, the gods' love for men was due in part to their beauty:...

0 Thoughts to “Philisophical Essay How Do You Know What Is Right

Leave a comment

L'indirizzo email non verrà pubblicato. I campi obbligatori sono contrassegnati *