Tract #3: What Are the Two Questions?
Download tract #3, What Are the Two Questions? (PDF). See page #3 for printing instructions.
What Are the Two Questions?
How often do you step back and make sure that your philosophy and opinions form a coherent whole? If you do this with any regularity, you are a rare individual indeed.
The more you examine your own beliefs (your considered opinions, philosophy, metaphysics, ethics, and morals) with a critical eye, the more likely you are to catch mistakes in your own thinking. You would certainly rather be right than wrong, so isn’t being right worth the extra effort?
To begin your process of introspection, you will need to ask yourself two questions. These questions are based on concepts you already agree with, so you should have no trouble accepting their validity.
“Does My Philosophy Contradict Itself?”
You should not have two beliefs that contradict each other. That just makes sense. In fact, it makes so much sense that you might think it’s silly to even consider — how could you have two beliefs that contradict each other? In the real world, this happens more often than you might expect.
This first question is usually the easiest to ask yourself. Just take a mental step back from the topic at hand and ask yourself if your opinion on this matter contradicts your opinion on related — even loosely related — matters. It can be applied to politics, personal relationships, moral issues, religious philosophy, or pretty much any topic you come across where an opinion is needed. If you find that your philosophy contradicts itself, then you need to rethink your position.
“Would I Condemn Another for Reasoning as I Do?”
If you are reasoning in a logical, rational way, then you shouldn’t have any problem with other people reasoning in the same way. For example, if you think that your child should not be allowed to wear a shirt with a certain slogan on it because it offends you, then you shouldn’t criticize another parent who doesn’t want their child to wear a shirt with a slogan that offends them. But what if the slogan the other parent objects to doesn’t offend you? It doesn’t matter. You might argue that the other parent shouldn’t be offended (that’s a different subject), but you can’t argue about how they’re acting on their feelings since you are doing the same thing.
Ask yourself this question any time you are drawing a conclusion. If you might consider someone wrong if they were reasoning in the same way you are, then you need to examine your reasoning for flaws — even if you like the conclusion it’s reaching.
You’ve got the two questions under your belt, but before you start putting them to use you need to know one more thing: The two questions are an important step on the journey to a clear, valid philosophy, but they are only a step. If something fails the two-question test, then it is not valid, but you can’t consider something valid just because it passed this test.
There are other issues to consider when developing your personal philosophy. We’ll discuss those in more detail another time.