It has become more and more apparent during the last election that the United States is governed by whoever has the best comebacks, can play upon emotions the best, and can depict the other side as a horrible force in dire need to be stopped. For Donald Trump, the enemy was the Swamp. For Hillary Clinton, the enemy was the “deplorables.” The scary truth is not just that there are many factors contributing to the massive schism between Republicans and Democrats, but that we are doing so little to try and change anything about it. As intolerance grows, the solution becomes clear: bring philosophy back, and bring it back on a level America has yet to witness.
What does this mean, exactly? How could philosophy help a divided America? When people hear philosophy, many think of some old white dudes all sitting in the Thinker’s position asking a series of unanswerable questions. However, this is not an accurate representation. Philosophy teaches critical thinking on higher level. It teaches logic and how to approach arguments without emotional attachment. Most importantly, it teaches how to ask questions and how, by just asking them, important truths about our world and ideas can be revealed.
Today, it is taught that a rhetorical paper includes ethos, pathos, and logos. This makes for a very convincing argument, yes, yet there arises a problem when arguments are constructed entirely on ethos and pathos and are still permitted to be called arguments. This may sound like something mostly high school and college students may be accused of doing but even our politicians are guilty of side-stepping logic. To construct a strong argument in philosophy it must be logical, sound, and valid. This means that pathos and ethos, for the most part, are considered irrelevant. Your argument is entirely reliant on its logical grounding rather than on how it makes others feel.
This is exactly what we need in American politics. A freshman who takes her first philosophy class in college will have to learn the different fallacies and how to identify them in daily conversations as well as in poorly structured arguments. This can only be a benefit to her and everyone else. If we are constantly making fallacious arguments that are convincing then we are openly throwing logic out the window for some dangerous supplements.
So what does any of this have to do with American polarization? Easy. Philosophy requires each of its contestants in an argument to be unbiased and open-minded. With this in mind, two people can try and understand each other’s arguments and where their “opponents” are coming from. It becomes less of two people going at it trying to prove each other wrong, like what we have today in American politics, and more of two friends trying to understand each other and make the best decision together.
Today, we support people who are very persuasive in their arguments because that have lots of practice as lawyers or, now, businessmen. That would be a good thing seeing as these two professions have much to do with economics and the legal system in America. Yet, this also means that they are very convincing, even if they’re ultimately meaningless. A couple of examples are when Donald Trump coined the names “Little Marco” for senator Marco Rubio and “Crooked Hillary” for Hillary Clinton. These are nothing more than ad hominem attacks, meaning that they are attacks with no logical, argumentative substance. Clinton, on the other hand, used a combination of the ad hominem attack and the fallacy of hasty generalization when referring to Trump’s supporters as a “basket of deplorables.”
The hard part with this is that we are already so divided that even now we struggle to truly try and fix this gap because it would require us to set aside what we already believe is correct. In other words, when it comes to being actually open-minded, we’re out of practice.
There are multiple reasons and theories for why it is that the Right and the Left are so far apart including race (Olson), religion (Mccann), and just different economic theories. But because the reasons are diverse and are topics that we have deemed off limits for discussion, it becomes harder to overcome whatever lingering problems may be at fault for our arrogance and close-mindedness. For that reason, we should implement philosophy in high school as it was done in Hawaii (Luckey). There, kids can be taught how to use logic and then decide for themselves what to believe and what not to. In philosophy, no topic is off limits and everyone has the right to think for themselves.
If logical arguments were taught like English, history, and math are in schools, imagine what kind of adults the public education system would produce. They would be nearly invulnerable to fallacies and would see discussions entirely differently. Who knows, maybe the word “argument” would no longer mean two people passionately yelling at each other, and instead, mean a series of premises to support a conclusion, as it was always meant to mean (DeCesare).
I think that if taught correctly, philosophy can be the key to beginning to fix things in the United States. Afterall, we are supposed to be united but we are again so far apart and unless we have a tool that allows us to once again become empathetic on a massive scale, the divide might continue to deepen and grow. The first step is to bring it into schools, and the second is to witness as kids question authority, and unless the authority has solid reasoning behind why they are in authority (teachers have this covered) then they will be deemed unworthy.
Plato onced dreamed of a society in which a Philosopher King ruled. This was because he feared that democracy would leave unworthy and uneducated people in power. But what if every person was, to some degree at least, a philosopher? If everyone could give you perfectly logical reasons for every decision they made and society was governed by purely logical, empathetic individuals? I’m willing to bet it’d be a much, much better place. Therefore, there is no doubt in my mind that philosophy must be taken seriously again and the United States once again be united.
MCCANN, JAMES A. “Who Stands Where.” America, vol. 210, no. 7, 03 Mar. 2014, pp. 30-33.EBSCOhost,search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=94618530&site=ehost-live.
This is a scholarly article and therefore credible. It talks about political polarization in America and how religious differences play a major role in the division of congress. I chose to use it because it relates to my topic of political polarization in America and how it can be solved by incorporating philosophy into primary education.
Fay, Jacob and Meira Levinson. “Teaching Democracy in POLARIZING TIMES.” Educational Leadership, vol. 75, no. 3, Nov. 2017, pp. 62-67. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=125935939&site=ehost-live.
I chose to use this article because it focuses on case studies in which students were instructed to converse about controversial political subjects so as to ease the divide between students. This relates to my article directly because it demonstrates that open conversation can be used to solve the political divide. It is a trustworthy scholarly article found on EBSCO.
Olson, Joel. “Whiteness and the Polarization of American Politics.” Political Research Quarterly, vol. 61, no. 4, Dec. 2008, pp. 704-718. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=poh&AN=35266021&site=ehost-live.
This article offers racial discrimination as a reason for American divisiveness. It makes some interesting claims and relates to my topic. I don’t think my paper can go without at least recognizing this point of view. It is a trustworthy scholarly article.
Lukey, Benjamin. “The High School Philosopher in Residence: What Philosophy and Philosophers Can Offer Schools.” Educational Perspectives, vol. 44, no. 1, 01 Jan. 2012, pp. 38-42. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eric&AN=EJ1005649&site=ehost-live.
This is directly related to my argument that philosophy should be implemented in schools. The article is about exactly that: bringing philosophy into primary education. It is a scholarly article.
DeCesare, Tony. “On the Potential Contributions of High School Philosophy to Ethical and Democratic Education.” Teaching Ethics, vol. 13, no. 1, Fall 2012, pp. 1-16. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=87635049&site=ehost-live.
Another scholarly article dedicated to the discussion of philosophy in schools, particularly high school, and its benefits.
“Department of Philosophy.” Department of Philosophy – Department of Philosophy – The University of Utah, philosophy.utah.edu/undergraduate/philosophy-minor.php.
Gross, Sam. “‘It Sort of Makes You Stop and Think, Doesn’t It.’”