How to Have a Good Philosophical Conversation

Having quality philosophical discussions can partake with any number of people, but two to six people are especially good numbers when everyone is involved.
Having quality philosophical discussions can partake with any number of people, but two to six people are especially good numbers when everyone is involved. | Source

Philosophy can be a difficult word to define. In the broad sense, it is the practice of rationally engaging the dynamics of existence. Philosophy is asking questions about beauty, morals and ethics, politics, thought, religion, science, the existence and nature of God, and so on.

Most people have asked themselves these types of questions in their lifetimes, though very few would consider themselves a philosopher, or one who engages in these questions on a common basis. Because philosophically natured questions very often cross our minds, we sometimes find ourselves in conversation with another person about a philosophical topic.

Philosophy can be a very engaging and rewarding hobby, and can even be conducted by yourself! But you may find it most exciting, and more rewarding, when you are exposed to the opinions of others.

If you would like to engage in a philosophical conversation with other people, there are a few things to consider, as well as some practices to go about whilst engaged. The more you read and discuss about philosophy, the better you will become at arguing your points as well as understanding the points of those around you. It is commonly believed by those who participate in philosophy as a hobby that doing so will make your life very enriched, so if you have even a slight interest in the subject it may be worth investing some time into.

The very act of the philosophical discussion is an art in itself. When I was about fourteen years old I suffered from chronic insomnia, so during the night I would go walk downtown in my city and try to engage random strangers in philosophical discussion. Homeless were my favorite. College frat students and coffee house intellectuals are also good targets, and after awhile I had developed a complex system for each of those archetypes. Coworkers, friends, and the person next to you on the bus are all great places to begin your discussion.

If you are an outgoing person, then you may want to try starting up a conversation with a total stranger. A good attribute about conversations with strangers is that you are more likely to be exposed to differing opinions and world views. You may even end up making a lifelong friend! To start off, you may want to try what I call "hook" questions. The great thing about these types of questions is that they will force someone to start a deep conversation with you or will make them politely turn you down, at least most of time. Some examples would be "What is your passion in life?" or "What is the meaning in life?" or "How do you know we aren't just dreaming?"

You might want to try to stay away from questions that near religion or politics. Although these two subjects can be very philosophical, most people tend to talk about them in a very personal or purely scientific way, and opinion ends up dominating the conversation rather than a want to learn, which is the ultimate fuel in any good philosophical conversation.

Going to an art gallery with your friends can be a great way to start a conversation on aesthetics and beauty. Modern art is especially good for this purpose.
Going to an art gallery with your friends can be a great way to start a conversation on aesthetics and beauty. Modern art is especially good for this purpose. | Source

If you are a bit shy or maybe just want to try it out on someone you know first, then having a conversation with a friend or coworker is a good choice as well. Because you already know him or her, you can judge what type of questions or branches of philosophy he or she would more likely be interested in. You may also find it a lot easier to relate your discussion to a personal matter. Maybe one of your friends are suffering from depression over a recent breakup. This may be a good time to talk to him or her about the philosophy of love or happiness.

Perhaps you often butt heads with a friend on subjects like politics, economy, religion, or music. Try bringing up a typical conversation on one of those subjects, but slowly start to make it deeper than usual. Questions like, "What is the best form of government?" or "Should we feel guilty for starvation in Africa?" or "What makes Duke Ellington a better/worse artist than Justin Bieber?" can sometimes incite some well-thought out responses from friends you may have never thought to be deep thinkers.

What's really important in any conversation is to make sure to listen to what everyone else is saying. This is pretty easy in a conversation between just two or three people. But it can be difficult depending on your personality when the number becomes anywhere between five and twenty. I attend a monthly philosophy group in my city and quite often I get a bit impatient because I have to hold a response to a statement several minutes ago inside my head until I can wedge in a chance to speak. However, this is usually a good sign, as it means you have healthy and lively conversation.

And while we're on big groups, remember that in these situations that simply listening and not contributing, or contributing very little, can be a great way to learn and observe how people think and formulate their arguments in general. For people like myself this is very difficult, but more timid or calmer people may find this preferable to being in the conversation.

Philosophy requires no formal background knowledge, and only brain power and the ability to communicate, making it a very affordable and accessible hobby. Still, it wouldn't hurt to familiarize yourself with a little background on the practice.

Because of the nature of philosophy, there is practically a philosophy on everything, meaning this hobby can be applied to any hobby you may already have. Most people who are the best at what they do tend to have some interest in the philosophy of it. From predictable hobbies like fashion, art, law, medicine, martial arts, history, etc. to some unsuspected combinations like sex, video games, cooking, or pet grooming.

Philosophy is divided in different ways, but often philosophers divide it into branches based off the nature of the questions a specific branch asks. Most philosophers tend to specialize in a few or one particular branch, and certain personalities will find they like certain branches better.

The most commonly studied branches are:

Aesthetics, which is the study of beauty, art, and design;

Epistemology, the study of where knowledge comes from and how we learn;

Ethics, the study of morality and ethical decisions;

Logic, the study of the validation of conclusions and reason,

Political/Social Philosophy; the study of the origin of political power and social interactions, and

Metaphysics, the study of reality and existence.

Getting to know a basic history of philosophy and perhaps specifically the history of the branch you find yourself the most interested in will help you formulate your ideas better. If you find yourself very interested in philosophy, then you may even decide to pick up a book or two by philosophers who interest you.

You should also keep in mind that when engaging in philosophical discussions it is important to respect the views and opinions of others. You should listen to what they have to say and not try to finish their sentences. This doesn't necessarily mean to refrain from interrupting them, as wedging in your point at the right time can make the conversation more interesting than waiting after your fellow debater has finished everything they are trying to get across.

While the reasons to carry on a philosophical discussion may vary, one common mistake to avoid is to simply argue for the sake of your own ego. This is a problem I found in a lot of the coffee house intellectuals in my city. While they are usually knowledgeable and interested in engaging in philosophy, they tend to be talking with their egos, and not out of love for wisdom. What I mean is that when engaging in philosophical discussions we should do so for the following reasons:

The enrichment of our own lives;

The altruistic attempt of the enrichment of other people's lives;

To create a healthy system of evolution for opinions, a growingly important aspect in a growingly democratic world;

And to better understand the culture of other people and their ideologies and philosophy.

Plato, one of the most famous of the early Greek philosophers, claimed that until philosophers are kings, or kings have the spirit of philosophy, cities will never have rest from their troubles. This very statement in itself is worthy of debate, but it also makes a good point. Philosophy is a very helpful discipline, not only to our own lives but to the very enhancement of human civilization and is often overlooked. Philosophy is one of the most rewarding things we can do with our lives because it is ultimately the study of life in itself.

So go out and learn, discuss, and have fun with it. As cheesy as that may sound, you will probably enjoy yourself once you have found a group of people with whom you feel very comfortable with in philosophical discussions.

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Comments 21 comments

Mr. Happy profile image

Mr. Happy 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

Learning, discussing and thinking about Life is certainly not cheesy. Most people cannot comprehend the meaning of their existence and live Life like being in the Matrix. Talking about our existence can often help in understanding ourselves, our goals, wants, needs, etc. It can help in countless ways.

Very nice blog and even better since this is your first one. You hit the ground sprinting. I am impressed. Cheers and welcome to Hub-pages!


cbl2988 profile image

cbl2988 5 years ago from Mesa, Arizona

Bravo!

Some food for thought:

Have you ever considered the idea that egoism is good and altruism is evil? Think about it.

I dislike Plato very much (too mystical) and I completely disagree with his idea of the philosopher-king.

What are your epistemological and metaphysical positions?

Who is your favorite philosopher?


Philosophicalboy profile image

Philosophicalboy 5 years ago from Lexington, KY Author

“The purpose of morality is to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live.”

I believe in Ayn Rand's idea of altruism. I think people should do good things because it improves their quality of life as well as whoever it helps.

I don't like to think in good and evil terms. But I will say that all we do is ultimately for egotistical purposes. I have not heard a convincing enough argument to suggest otherwise.

Altruism is inherently a "good" thing if we're thinking of Plato's idea of utopia, or rather his idea of striving for utopia. I hold that the most important factor in that striving for utopia to be education, and all proceeds and good efforts towards education that are altruistic in nature are "good."

I find myself agreeing very much with his idea of the philosopher-king.

Epistemologically speaking I am a constructionist, post-Cartesian thinker, whatever. I think we borrow from experience of our senses entirely in order to organize primal thoughts that develop into our personalized forms of the scientific method that we use for our entire lives to understand knowledge, knowledge being what we believe to be true.

Metaphysically I am a scientific realist. I do not believe in some higher essence that exceeds beyond scientific limits, only beyond what we as a race have not yet discovered of those limits.

My favorite philosopher? I get asked this question a lot when I tell people I enjoy philosophy and I don't know how to answer because quite honestly I haven't read that much into philosophy. I want to develop my own world view before I delve into the world views of others. When I read them later in life I can alter my own world view in some ways but ultimately it will stay personalized and unique to myself. I really enjoy the modern Philosopher Robert M. Pirsig. I'm reading Plato's Republic as of now and I find myself agreeing with most of what he says. My friend is reading Nietzsche and from what she is telling me about him I strongly disagree with nearly everything he says.


cbl2988 profile image

cbl2988 5 years ago from Mesa, Arizona

The good is that which contributes to your happiness and the evil is that which does not.


Mr. Happy profile image

Mr. Happy 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

"I hold that the most important factor in that striving for utopia to be education" - nicely said. I agree on that.

I disagree with the statement: "I think people should do good things because it improves their quality of life as well as whoever it helps."

I also disagree (for the most part) with your claim that: "I will say that all we do is ultimately for egotistical purposes". Think of Mother Teresa.

Have you read anything written by Immanuel Kant? I like his idea that we should look for what he calls the categorical imperative. Doing something for the sake of doing something? I like to do good things because it is good to do good things. How does that sound?

If you have a chance read my last essay: http://hubpages.com/hub/To-Be-and-How-To-Be, and perhaps you can let me know what you think. Cheers!


Philosophicalboy profile image

Philosophicalboy 5 years ago from Lexington, KY Author

Mr. Happy,

You're right about arguing against what I said concerning selfless purposes. I am looking back at it now and I realized I was confusing two different ideas because I was caught up in the moment. I entirely agree with your counterargument.


Philosophicalboy profile image

Philosophicalboy 5 years ago from Lexington, KY Author

And cbl,

I can agree with your terms for good and evil for the sake of an argument, I just think the two words have become so misused in society (think of the word 'smart') that they have become almost dangerous and beyond salvageable.

And I'm not sure if happiness is the sole goal in life, either. I think it is the most important, but the only goal. I think Plato supported this, maybe Aristotle: happiness being the sole purpose. I know it was definitely a Zeno and Epicurean idea.

I think a lot of altruists out there would continue to do good for their rest of their life even if they were told the last ten seconds of their lives their memories would be erased and they would die without knowing they did good and without the possible happiness it would bring them. I would definitely continue to strive for being active about improving the education system knowing this inevitable condition.

This would suggest that comfort of the self, i.e. happiness, is not the sole purpose in what we do in life.


Philosophicalboy profile image

Philosophicalboy 5 years ago from Lexington, KY Author

P.S.

Also disregarding post-existential rewards like spirituality and heaven/hell consequences.


Philosophicalboy profile image

Philosophicalboy 5 years ago from Lexington, KY Author

P.S.S.

Also, cbl, I am inferring you are Christian. But I think the idea of happiness being that which objective good and evil is based off of to contradict the teachings of the Christ. Good and Evil should, in case of the follower of Christ, be based off of what is sin and what is not sin, what is done with God and against God, what is with the rule of the Bible and what is without it. Of course you are probably writing in such a way in order to speak to a secular intellectual audience, which I understand. But I keep feeling your strong Objectivist ideas do not go well with Christianity.

Could you elaborate a bit? Sorry if I'm not being specific just tell me to do so if you find it too broad of a request.


Mr. Happy profile image

Mr. Happy 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

Amigo, regarding happiness: "Happiness is over-rated"! (the book is by Angelo Belliotti and if you get a chance, do read it).

Keep thinking, discussing and questioning ... Life is beautiful if we pay attention, I think.

Cheers!


Philosophicalboy profile image

Philosophicalboy 5 years ago from Lexington, KY Author

I ordered the book. Look forward to giving it a read.


cbl2988 profile image

cbl2988 5 years ago from Mesa, Arizona

Let me first say that Kant is society's greatest villain. I reject anything Kantian (he is largely responsible for the intentional destruction of man's mind--see his metaphysics and epistemology), as well as anything Platonist (he was a mystic and an advocate of dictatorship via a "philosopher"). Doing something for the sake of doing it is moral suicide. His is even worse than that of the Altruists.

I do not regard Mother Teresa as Selfish in any way. For that reason I do not regard her as moral, only irrational.

You do not know my Christianity. I know that man's highest moral purpose is his own happiness and I believe (not know) that God put me on this earth to be happy. How am I to achieve it? By doing that which betters and enriches my life. What is that? Whatever is in my rational self-interest. As an Egoist, life is my standard of value and my happiness my highest moral purpose. That which helps me to achieve these is the good. That which would hinder or keep me from realizing them is evil. Good and Evil do exist as objective absolutes derived from objective reality. Existence exists, or A is A.

God's whole purpose was to increase his glory by giving his children happiness, infinite and eternal. All of his commandments have the sole aim of us achieving that objective. That which is not sin brings me closer to that objective and that which is sin takes me away from it.

I must make it clear that I regard my faith as subjective. I cannot objectively know whether it is true or not. I cannot do that by the very definition of Faith (which is a requirement). Therefore, I do not waste my time trying to prove God's existence. It matters not to me.

I must also recommend a book or two: "The Virtue of Selfishness" and "Atlas Shrugged"--both by Ayn Rand.

Happiness is over-rated? Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, there is nothing more important than happiness.


Mr. Happy profile image

Mr. Happy 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

Mr. Cbl ... of course, Aynn Rand (she's been haunting me for years, the witch lol) - her and I might start the First Spiritual-World War in the Hell you both believe in.

Okay, now to be more serious: you cannot know what Angello Belliotti meant by "Happiness is over-rated" until you have read his book (with the same title). If you ever get that far, we can comment on it.

Your faith is subjective, my faith is subjective ... we don't know much at the moment, either about the true meaning of our existence or about ourselves (ex: as spiritual beings). We are searching. Therefore, to take anything spoken or written by a human being and say it is categorically the word of God, in my opinion that is just a bunch of dudu- to put it nicely.

Why not be honest and say: we just don't know. Why pretend?

And I would be a little ashamed of myself to call Mother Teresa irrational, even though I do not regard her as a saint. She was just an amazing human being with a beautiful and strong spirit, in my opinion. I must say, you are the first Christian I have heard call Mother Teresa irrational. lol

Doing something good for the sake of doing it, say helping an elderly person carry their groceries home (for the sake of carrying their groceries) and not for a material compensation for example, in your opinion is moral suicide?


Philosophicalboy profile image

Philosophicalboy 5 years ago from Lexington, KY Author

It would seem to me that this extreme A=A Objectivist absolutism would promote a very saddening society whereas everyone only cared for their own pursuits and happiness. Even accepting the idea that such people may give to charity in their own sake of happiness is too optimistic even for someone like myself who has seen all-too-often the bitter side of human nature, more often manifested in those individuals who seek their own sole happiness and do good for the simple sake of their own self-pleasure.

I will give Atlas Shrug a read in time, but I don't think I'll agree with Rand's ideals if this is the society she promotes.


cbl2988 profile image

cbl2988 5 years ago from Mesa, Arizona

Mr. Happy... That was basically my point about faith.

To both of you... I understand why you think those things about Objectivism. I used to think the same way about it until I really started learning about it, and now I understand. Yes, it is absolutism because reality is absolute. The society she promotes is a society of rational men of good will trading value for value, with complete absence of force.

Concerning Mother Teresa: Self-sacrifice is not virtuous and I believe (I say believe because I am not her) she did a lot of those things out of guilt. She could of done a lot more good by being more productive.


cbl2988 profile image

cbl2988 5 years ago from Mesa, Arizona

A saddening Society? What do you think has been the overall state of society since its existence? Just look at the world.


cbl2988 profile image

cbl2988 5 years ago from Mesa, Arizona

I would check out this lecture series for brief explanations of Objectivism: An Introduction to Objectivism - Lecture by Leonard Peikoff

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cW-xUEYaBnU&feature...

Granted, it is brief and not completely explanatory.


John Sarkis profile image

John Sarkis 5 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

Great hub philosophicalboy - I'm impressed, especially since you're so young....

Also, these days, philosophy has taken a back seat to science and psychology, because those two fields of study have corrected much of what we thought we knew about philosophy.

No one has really been able to prove Decartes, Locke, Kant, Hegel and Marx wrong. Even if you fully disagree with Hegel like Kierkegaard did. Hegel was still Kierkegaard's starting point....

Thanks for sharing and take care

John


Thek1ngsway profile image

Thek1ngsway 5 years ago

Im a philosophy degree student and i like what im saying here . I remember reading somewhere a long time ago that every human its a philosopher in its essence since all of us have , are ,or will think of issues like god ,afterlife , freedom etc and try to see how our own waters float on those subjects.

That is what people should do , they should think . Like Kant said when he was elaborating his theses on the Enlightenment : Are incapability to think for ourselves lies not in our intellectual impairment , but in the lack of courage to think for ourselves.

I plan on writing a lot about philosophical subjects here on hub pages , but i haven't made up my mind yet , as on what should my first article focus upon . cheers


steve 16 months ago

Very nice information..thanks..

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Susan 13 months ago

How would you give a philosophical discussion on Susan Pharr's book "Homophobia as a Weapon of Sexism."

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