Evaluation of Socrates Philosophical Conversations

Philosophical Purpose

After thoroughly reflecting back on the readings throughout this semester, I choose to examine and elaborate Socrates philosophical conversations, the point and purpose of why he has these conversation is important. Socrates captured the attention of the people, and his students by a unique attractiveness. He raised debates, and thoughts to people, he expanded their minds with simple questions, and made them think. Socrates beliefs are that the mind is more powerful than the human body, with his philosophical conversations he aimed for greater results for the greater good of the people and society. Socrates preached the more knowledge a person had, the greater their ability to reason, and make decisions to achieve happiness, which is the ultimate good.

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How Socrates came to philosophize was by being told he was the wisest. One of Socrates friends, Chaerephon went to the oracle of Delphi, and revealed Socrates is the wisest. “No one is wiser than Socrates” (apologgy 21a). Socrates being told he was the wisest, encouraged his philosophy because he wanted to prove the oracle false, he is not the wisest. Socrates never claimed to be the wisest, he was aware of his own ignorance, and he attempted to find people who had wisdom to prove the oracle was mistaken. He used three categories to do so: politicians, craftsman, and poets. He observed politicians, poets, and craftsmen, and concluded all three occupations lacked wisdom, they all had expertise, but in one field, Socrates believed wisdom is the best examination of peoples claim to knowledge, and the constant search for the truth. Socrates helped people realize and reshape to what they think to be true to what is actually true.

Socrates decided knowing nothing is having a false sense of wisdom, he concluded he is wiser than average people because he does not think he knows what he does not know. Socrates did not boast, nor consider himself a expert in wisdom, he humbly went on to continue his devotion to the god of the oracle. Socrates felt obligated to philosophize, as it was his duty. Socrates had been directed to philosophy by a god, disobeying a command of a god is impious to Socrates. Socrates philosophies, and encourages others to philosophize, he was open, and public about philosophizing, and was confrontational to help get immediate responses. Socrates philosophized because he was concerned with the way citizens should behave, and ethics.

“The unexamined life is not worth living”, Socrates called everything into question, he strived to evaluate, and encouraged humans to overcome ignorance. At his time, the citizens of Athens dividedly admired or scolded Socrates interpretations. Socrates created his own method of thinking, “The Socratic Method”, until today his works are still being evaluated, and studied thoroughly. Socrates is praised, and considered an influential figure of history, Socrates does not have any surviving accounts of his works, he spoke publicly, and casually, he did not write any of his work down. Socrates philosophized orally, all of his works are deprived from his sophists or literature work. He was known for public, oral conversations, all of his ideas/work were published by his followers or students like Plato.

The Socratic method allows interrogation from various viewpoints. Socratic dialogue, and readings throughout the course have demonstrated the different philosophies, and outlooks in everyday life. Socrates asks numerous questions until the person Socrates is asking has found their understanding/purpose of the subject matter. Socrates had a unique way of philosophizing, he would casually walk outside in Athens, approach people, and ask them questions. Socrates starts off with basic questions, then he would shift to another question which would lead to more questions far from the subject. Socrates did this to highlight the contradictions in the person’s responses. Socrates taught to help capture, and teach the authentic meaning of words, the conviction of reason, analysis, and logic lead to essence of everything- this concept has become a popular belief of Socrates.

The Socratic method is still used in today, and looked as a way to discuss broad topics to discover the underlying problems in both subject and between speaker. Socrates breaks down the issue into a series of questions. The answers lead to a better solution, the question, and person being questioned explore the viewpoints from another position, which helps in making better decisions because it is rational. Socrates philosophical conversations began with simple questions, and resulted in gaining reasoning. The idea of thinking, and potential to live an examined life was what Socrates philosophy aimed for. Socrates purpose was to help people uncover and break away from their own ignorance. Socrates asked confrontational questions because that is what lead to wisdom, and growth. Socrates questioned, and encouraged to question.

In the Crito dialogue, Crito approaches Socrates before his execution with an escape plan. Socrates explains to Crito the damage escaping will do, the damage to the soul, and to Athens. Socrates tells Crito the laws of Athens are into place, laws must be obeyed, they are not in anyone’s favor, escaping jail means he is escaping the law. Socrates will not harm, or damage his soul. Socrates unravels the obligation of ruining or nourishing the soul, doing what is right and wrong for the soul. The Socratic method helps force a person to discover the essence of a issue, to know how to think than rather having knowledge given to you.

The word “philosophy” is derived from a Greek term that means “the love of wisdom”. Socrates believed wisdom is defined by what is right and accurate, Socrates helped people discover the truth by thinking logically and trusting your conscience. The Socratic method is enforced by asking questions that make the person use logic. This was a main reason why Socrates philosophized orally, he believed in one-on-one confrontation, face to face. Socrates taught people to trust their judgment, and this later became a issue in the Athens Society. Socrates philosophizing resulting him being brought up with charges and faced death at the age of 70. The ideas Socrates brought attention to were seen as wrong doing, and corrupting the young. Socrates during his trial asked his accusers to justify how Socrates has corrupted the young, and the standards of a person to educate the young.

Although Socrates works may be extremely difficult to grasp, and comprehend, Socrates works have changed and impacted the history of literature. Socrates is not a usual philosopher, he was remarkable, and his legacy lives on. Socrates beliefs and value of wisdom shaped what I believed to be right and wrong. To not live an unexamined life is a idea I believe people should use to conduct themselves and to live their lives by. Life has meaning, Socrates urges people with questions to find self knowledge. Self knowledge is wise and important it can be hard to acquire but it helps cultivate and strive for knowledge. Socrates devotion to the truth, and knowledge is something humans forget to focus on. Socrates learned what people mean is to also learn what others talk with mean, everything can be expanded with knowledge, it is the capability, and willing to do so. People do things, and do not know why or the reason or purpose of the action being taken place. The purpose of life is to grow, and learn, examining your life and values helps better your life. Being aware of your ignorance leads to modesty, and knowledge, uncovering ignorance is improvement. The Examining your beliefs, and testing them to be contradicting helps a person live a life based on those correct ideas, if not you go through your life living a false belief.

Works Cited

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, www.iep.utm.edu/republic/.

“The Socratic Method.” The Socratic Method | University of Chicago Law School, www.law.uchicago.edu/socratic-method.


Philosophical Review: David Hume


David Hume (1711–1776) was a Scottish philosopher well-known for his empirical, skeptical and naturalist system of views. Hume’s empiricism is characterized by theory of impressions and ideas. In his central work, “A Treatise of Human Nature,” he outlines the way ideas are acquired. The philosopher asserts that insights are gained from experience, whereby experience may be understood to mean consciousness and reflective understanding of the mind (Dicker 5). From this basic definition, Hume formulates his numerous propositions.


In the field of epistemology, he had issues with the concept regarding personal identity and purported that there is no long-lasting ‘self’ that endures forever. He rejected the accepted notions about causality and pointed out that our understanding of the association regarding cause and effect are influenced by the patterns of thinking instead of the perceptions of casual forces operating in our environment. Hume conceptualized the notions of space and time, personal identity, free will, and causation (Quine 90). As outlined in the “Treatise,” Hume identifies three main issues. The first one is that humans are incapable of acquiring complete knowledge of some essential philosophical sentiments in question. Next, he undertakes to justify that understanding provides us with limited perception of that sentiments. And finally, he shows how the misconstrued outlook of those sentiments is founded in the imagination. He also persuades others to dismiss such erroneous concepts (Dicker 8).


In discussing the above epistemology section, Hume undertakes a two-way tact of making skeptical propositions while in the same time providing supportive philosophies regarding fundamental beliefs. Towards the end of the book, skepticism appears to be elevated, and there are even several inconsistencies in some of his philosophical ideas. Hume talks of three of such contradictions of which he regrets. He portrays his disappointments by realizing that nature compelled him to abandon his theoretical speculations and revert to the normal activities of life (Fieser). However, over time Hume changed his ideas regarding these contradictions. Therefore, as concerning skepticism, the primary purpose is that even our well-thought philosophies about human mind and body are susceptible to contradictions (Dicker 11). The issues of skepticism are again observed in the concluding part of the enquiry but to lesser extent.

On Morality

Hume was an ardent opponent of concepts of morality as set by systems in the society. He disagreed with earlier prominent philosophers like Clarke who claimed that reason is the central tool that defines morality. Hume also dismisses the rationalists’ concept that represents a good person by considering the degree to which they control their passions and engage reason instead. He argues that moral values cannot be supported by reason alone. Clarke proposed that human actions should be governed by reason rather than passion, and in the event that the passions are high one should instigate reason to curtail them. Hume refutes this argument and claims that “reason alone can never be a motive to any action of the will” (Schmitter). Hume believes that reasoning is a pathway or a link between different ideas and for it to provoke actions, there must be an inherent desire on the background.

Theory of Passions

In his works, the “Treatise,” and “A Dissertation on the Passions,” Hume lays down his theory of the passions in which, like other thinkers, he tried to classify emotions and attempted to explain the mental mechanisms which promote them. Hume examines emotions as general perceptions and subdivides them into either violent or calm. The perceptions of the mind are also divided into two groups: impressions and ideas. He considered impressions as such that permeate strongly into the soul, while ideas are superficial images of impressions that appear as a result of reasoning. While impressions are vivid, ideas are vague. Impressions can also be categorized into two types: those of sense, which he considers original, and those of reflection, taken as a secondary impression. Original impressions constitute all five senses including pain and pleasure. Secondary impressions constitute sentiments and passions. Hume points out that sense impressions are those that occur by themselves having no recognized cause, while secondary passions emanate from the sense passions (Schmitter).

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Hume asserts that passion implies an impression of reflection. In his “Treatise,” the philosopher segregates the blanket grouping of passions into violent and calm. However, in his other works, Hume uses the notion of passion for characterizing violent passions only (“Theories of Emotions” n.p). Hume emphasizes that violent passions do not translate to strong nor do calm passion refers to weak. Instead, he undertakes to differentiate between direct and indirect passions. While direct passions arise promptly as a result of good or evil, the indirect ones are motivated by other factors, especially the encroachment of various ideas.

Hume is mainly interested in evaluating the human reasoning which prompts them to act, and asserts that passions are the propelling force that defines actions without which there would be no impetus to undertake a deed (Theories of Emotions n.p.).

Philosophy of Religion

This philosophy circles around the question of the existence of God. This question prompts another one, that if there is God, then what is his nature? The final question considered is to what extent God is relevant in our lives.

For a long time, there have been debates to justify the existence of God. Not all scope of religious philosophy is based on Christianity, and many Muslim and Jewish philosophers have impacted towards this cause. Even Aristotle and Plato played a role in its development. Like many of other philosophers, Hume approaches religious issues skeptically. Over the years, proponents of religions maintained a low profile for fear of being persecuted by religious authorities. Hume also was careful in matters of religious doctrines and perpetuated his theory in a concealed manner that required listeners’ to derive meaning (Fieser).

In the period of Enlightenment, there were two significant stances regarding Christianity: natural religion and revealed religion. The former involves deducing the existence of God by logical proofs. On the other hand, revealed religion involves the understanding of the nature of God through revelation and mainly through the Bible In his works, Hume sharply criticizes both forms of religion (The Open University n.p). In his “An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding” he states that experience is the foundation of any human testament rather than testimony of an alleged miracle. No matter how much one is convinced regarding some miracle, it cannot override the experience emanating through the natural laws (Morris and Brown).

Works Cited

Schmitter, Amy M. Hume on the Emotions, 2010. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/emotions-17th18th/LD8Hume.html#Int. Accessed 2 May 2019.

The Open University. David Hume, 2019. https://www.open.edu/openlearn/history-the-arts/history/history-art/david-hume/content-section-5.2. Accessed 2 May 2019.

Fieser, James. David Hume. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy”. 2019. Iep.Utm.Edu. https://www.iep.utm.edu/hume/. Accessed 2 May 2019.

Morris, William E. and Charlotte R. Brown. David Hume. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2019. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/hume/#MorRatCriPhaTre. Accessed 2 May 2019.

Dicker, Georges. Hume’s epistemology and metaphysics: an introduction. Routledge, 2002.

Quine, Willard V. “Epistemology naturalized.” Akten Des XIV. Internationalen Kongresses Für Philosophie 6 (1971): 87-103.


Philosophical Debates on the Existance of God

Does God exist? Theologian and philosopher Thomas Aquinas was at the fore in addressing this question to conciliate the relationship between faith and reason. He set out five proofs of the existence of God the fifth one being a teleological argument or argument from design. Teleological argument assumes one can infer the existence of intelligent design from the evidence of order and complexity in nature. This essay will consider a classic argument from design and compare it against a modern argument from design presented by Stephen Meyer whose argument is based on biological information. I will argue not only is the modern argument an improvement on the classic argument, but its conclusion is sound. The classic argument from design was put forward by philosopher William Paley (1743-1805) and is sometimes referred to as the watchmaker analogy.

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Paley’s uses an analogy where he attempts to show if something has been designed then logically it suggests there was a designer (Paley-1803) cited in Chappell (2011, pp.67-70). Paley speaks of if going for a walk his foot hits a stone he might wonder how it got there and supposes perhaps it had lain there forever. However, if he found a watch on the ground and was asked how it got there would the same answer as for the stone be appropriate. Paley says not, whereas the stone can be used for multiple purposes and if broken in two each piece would remain a stone the watch performs a specific function. It is made up of intricate parts and mechanisms any of which if sized or arranged differently would prohibit the watch from performing its function of keeping time. This, Paley argues proves there was a watchmaker who made and designed the watch for a specific purpose. Paley argues if intricacy and order are representative of design in the case of the watch, they must be representative of evidence of design in the case of the universe. He continues by stating nature is also mechanical and designed to be fit for a purpose, but it surpasses the most perfect constructions designed by humankind. Therefore, considering the precise organisation and mechanics of the universe there must be a designer who is God. Paley’s argument works on the assumption one can deduce the existence of intelligent design through examination, since life and the universe is reminiscent of something humans might design, it too must have a designer. This design claim is challenged and criticised by others who argue one cannot use an argument from analogy as proof of a designer who is God.

Most often cited criticisms as a powerful argument against Paley were ones presented by philosopher David Hume (1711-1776) in forms of dialogue the two main characters being Cleanthes who bases his beliefs about God’s existence on the teleological argument and Philo who argues human reasoning is inadequate to make assumptions as to the nature of God (Hume-published posthumously in 1779) cited in Chappell (2011, pp. 50-66). Although Hume’s criticisms are applicable to Paley it is a criticism of the design argument in general-Paley had not yet written ‘Natural Theology’ (1802).

The basic principle that underlies the design argument are that similar effects are based on similar causes. However, Hume uses what he calls ‘argument from experience’, if one observes something happen on many occasions one can infer what the result will be. If one has seen a plate being dropped and smash on the floor many times it is reasonable to infer if a plate is dropped it will smash. We can also work backwards if we see a smashed plate on the floor it is reasonable to infer someone had dropped it. However, if one has only seen one smashed plate one can’t be sure it was dropped. As only one universe has been observed and we didn’t see it begin how can we say for certain what caused the universe to come into existence and even if one could prove there was a first cause it doesn’t prove he first cause was God.

Philo’s argument in response to Cleanthes’s claim the world is an organised system, accurately suited to bring about particular outcomes is that it is a weak analogy. Although some parts of nature are highly organised accurately suited to enable particular outcomes there is also a degree of chaos and randomness in nature. Also, any similarities between the natural world and human creations are superficial and therefore any conclusion will be weak and require evidence. If we see a house, we know it had a builder and designer because we have experience of houses being built. If the universe is compared to a house the dissimilarity is so great any conclusion based on the analogy is guesswork. However, one could argue that if Hume was transported from the eighteenth century to our time and he saw an aeroplane would he have the philosophical right to say it was designed if he had never seen an aeroplane being designed?

It may be reasonable to say parts of the natural world resemble a machine, but this is a tendency to attribute human characteristics to non-human things, namely God and if God is perfect how can He be compared to imperfect human designers. Cleanthes’s argument says nothing about the attributes or the nature of God. As most human constructs are made by teams of designers and builders maybe the universe was created by a team of gods. Another argument is how could a benevolent God design a world with so much evil and suffering, couldn’t an omnipotent god have made a better world? From a human perspective it appears God is indifferent to human suffering, therefore a cruel God. Another challenge came later from Darwin’s Theory of Evolution which throws doubt at Paley’s design argument that if nature shows signs of design it must have been created by an intelligent designer. Darwin’s theory showed over time random processes could produce things with signs of design and It is not the strongest or most intelligent one of the species that survives but the one that is most adaptable to change. The modern argument from design is presented by philosopher and scientist Stephen Meyer.

Meyer (2000) cited in Chappell (2011, pp.92-105) argues that the building blocks that started the evolutionary process such as DNA, RNA and protein molecules are preconditions to evolution and as life depends on genetic information any theory must provide an account of the origins of such information. He argues to produce even a single functioning DNA molecule or protein in a pre-biotic setting that to put it down to chance even in a thirteen-billion-year-old universe is so small as to be absurd. Even a marginally complex cell requires about one hundred complex proteins all operating in close collaboration.  Then there is the chicken-and-egg paradox, proteins cannot arise apart from DNA, yet proteins need DNA to function. Therefore, Meyer argues chance is not an adequate explanation for the origin of such biological complexity and specificity and origin-of-life biology are unable to offer an adequate explanation of how life originated.

Meyer continues by asking if it was possible life could have originated without an intelligent designer by a self -organising system. Chappell (2011, pp. 95-96) uses analogies to explain this system, smaller cornflakes are more likely for gravity to push them to the bottom of a pack because it is easier for them to fall through the gaps. When shaken the smaller cornflakes fall even further and settle at the bottom, one could argue this is self-organisation without the need for an intelligent designer. These self-organising systems also occur in nature, when waves push pebbles up a beach the smaller pebbles end up at the top of a beach whilst the large pebbles remain at the bottom. This doesn’t happen due to intelligent design but because it takes more force from a wave to push large pebbles up a beach. As the force of each wave is inconsistent the larger pebbles remain at the bottom because the force is more likely to push the smaller pebbles to the top.

Meyer refutes this argument by saying whilst self-organisation can produce systems of some complexity it doesn’t produce such complex systems as one finds in DNA, RNA and nucleic acids which he calls information-intensive systems. He concludes as human experience of information-intensive systems especially those containing codes and languages doesn’t occur by chance or physical necessity but by design. Therefore, mind or intelligence is the only cause of creating an information-rich system such as functional proteins, the coding found in DNA and the cell as a whole. Does Meyer’s argument improve on Paley’s and does he give a valid argument there must be an intelligent design behind the building blocks of life?

Paley argued from a particular philosophical understanding of the designer and his purpose whereas Meyer’s argument from design is based on science and doesn’t rely on any theological beliefs. As Darwin’s theory of evolution wasn’t developed until after Paley’s death, he was unable to change his philosophical framework of his argument. Meyer doesn’t make argue for or against the evolutionary theory because his examples of design is prior to the evolutionary process. Hume’s argument of Paley is one may conclude a watch was made by human’s, but one cannot conclude the universe or life was designed by a creator because of no experience of such and no direct observation. However, Meyer’s argument begins with the premise that intelligent beings produce certain types of complexity and does not argue from the position of the degree of complexity but for the kind of complexity. Philosophers Hume and Dawkins refute Paley in part because of ‘evil’ found in the world which contradicts Paley’s claim of perfection and symmetry in nature. How does Meyer approach this issue?

Meyer doesn’t, his theory doesn’t ‘wander’ into the world of metaphysics he relies solely on science to make his argument. Philosopher Richard Dawkins in his critique of Meyer talks of how Darwinian evolution explains how complexity can come from simplicity. Dawkins is missing the point Meyer is making, Meyer is arguing about the complexity needed to start life which is necessary to get evolution going. Another claim by Dawkins is that Meyer summons a designer God to explain complexity, so this designer God must also be complex, but Meyer offers no explanation of his complexity. Meyer is not arguing for there being a God, he is arguing there must be an intelligence behind the complexity and specifity we find in biological systems. If those with theological beliefs wish to call this intelligence God, this is a personal decision. There is a current theory called the RNA world hypothesis which claim that maybe self-replicating RNA molecules reproduced rapidly before the evolution of DNA and proteins. However, there is no consensus amongst the scientific community as to the validity of this hypothesis according to molecular biologist Professor G. F. Joyce (2018) who states many scientists have come to the conclusion life couldn’t have started with RNA.

Although Paley’s argument may not be inherently wrong Darwin has shown at least one of Paley’s arguments is invalid, so he has failed to prove the existence of God. Whether science in the future may or may not prove as to how life got started currently there is no concrete scientific evidence to refute any of Meyer’s arguments, in my opinion Meyer has been successful in proving at the very least the likelihood there is an intelligent designer some may choose to call God. I think the modern argument from design is an improvement on the classic argument from design because it has a true premise, valid arguments so therefore a sound conclusion.


Chappell, T. (2011), The Philosophy of Religion, the classic argument from design, second version: Paley, Exploring Philosophy, Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp. 67-70.

Chappell, T. (2011), The Philosophy of Religion, the classic argument from design, first version: Cleanthes, Exploring Philosophy, Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp. 50-66.

Chappell, T. (2011), The Philosophy of Religion, the modern argument from design, second version: Meyer’s argument from biological information, Exploring Philosophy, Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp. 92-105.

Joyce, G. (2018). The RNA world: Life before DNA and protein. [ebook] Available at: https://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/19980211165.pdf [Accessed 24th Nov. 2018]


Anon, 2009. One hundred and fifty years after the publication of Charles Darwin’s Origins of the Species, the British population remains uncertain and divided about evolution and the role of God in creation, with at least one-quarter showing some sympathy to intelligent design or creationism, according to a recent study. (CURRENT RESEARCH) (Brief article). Religion Watch, 24(4), p.8.

An Essay Of Man Is A Philosophical Poem Religion Essay

An Essay of Man is a philosophical poem by Alexander Pope. It was published in 1734. In this poem the author makes an attempt to explain complex relations between man and God.
The author makes an attempt to explain people their destination and will of God. Pope presents complex philosophical, political and ethical ideas in the form of the poem. This form is unusual for the philosophical content, but Pope accomplishes this task brilliantly. He describes complex ideas in interesting literary form. This manner become more entertaining for the readers and people get an opportunity to perceive complex ideas in more interesting form.

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The poem consists of four epistles. Originally they were published separately and the pseudonym, but later Pope collected them into one long poem. An Essay on Man is an attempt to understand the nature of man an to discover things which may help people to become happy. He wants to distinguish the place of man in the society and in the world around him. He speaks about different controversies, which usually influence human life:
Know then thyself, presume not God to scan
The proper study of Mankind is Man.
Placed on this isthmus of a middle state,
A Being darkly wise, and rudely great:
With too much knowledge for the Sceptic side,
With too much weakness for the Stoic’s pride,…
Pope speaks about controversial nature of man. He views man as a combination of different moving forces. From this position the man becomes a unique creature who combines in his nature controversial things. From the one side this controversy makes it hard for man to find inner harmony but from the other side it becomes a moving force which helps to discover new things about inner nature and external world.
As states Pope:
He hangs between; in doubt to act, or rest;
In doubt to deem himself a God, or Beast;
In doubt his mind or body to prefer;
Born but to die, and reas’ning but to err;
Alike in ignorance, his reason such,
Whether he thinks too little, or too much;…
The author describes major conflict which is presented in each man. This conflict is a conflict between passion and reason. The author see the way out in controlling passions and using reason in order to get a virtuous life.
Pope makes an attempt to get a deeper understanding of human nature. His views are common for intellectuals of the eighteenth century. In the first part of the poem Pope makes an attempt to show harmonious nature of the universe. He wants his readers to see that the universe has perfect and harmonious order and people also have their special place in this universe. Pope believes that people can improve their life if they understand this order and their place in the Universe.
In the third pat of the poem Pope speaks about the relations between individual and the society. He explores roles and functions of individual in the society and the relations between personal needs and desires and needs of the society. The author explores the origin of state power and division of social class system.
The fourth part of the poem makes an attempt to answer the main question posted by the author – it makes an attempt to find that mechanism which would help people to become happy. The problem described by the author in this epistle becomes the relation between personal selfish desires and a desire to bring use to other people. Virtuous living and desire to bring use to other people the author regards as the main source of human happiness.
The poem explores many important themes and philosophical questions. The author combines literary genre and philosophical style of the narration. It gives his readers the opportunity to read complex philosophical ideas in easy and interesting style. Pope investigates the theme of existence of Supreme Being or Supreme Power, the structure of the universe and the role and place of people in it. He underlines that God is the strongest power of the universe and people may have happy living only if the follow the will of God:
Yet cry, If Man’s unhappy, God’s unjust;
If Man alone ingross not Heav’n’s high care,
Alone made perfect here, immortal there:
Snatch from his hand the balance(10) and the rod,
Re-judge his justice, be the GOD of GOD!
The poem expresses the most important philosophical, ethical and social concepts of the author. It give a fundamental descriptions of Pope’s perception of the world and universal order. These principles were expressed by many outstanding scholars, thinkers and artists, but Pope presents them to the public in unique and interesting manner. Pope turns to universal human values. When he speaks about religion, he does not turn to any specific religious confessions and doctrines. He wants to presents his reader a universal picture of the world order which would be suitable for people of different religious beliefs. The author counts on universal religious and philosophical ideas which underline the common nature of all people. In his work he centers on things which make people alike and help them to find common ground rather on the thing which separate them.
The universal order and perfect structure of the world are among the main themes of the poem. The author wants his readers to understand that the word if perfectly organized and that the understanding of the universal principles of world structure may help people to have a successful and happy living. He regards man as a part of natural order and speaks about his great ability to save and support this universal order:
But ALL subsists by elemental strife;
and Passions are the elements of Life.
The gen’ral ORDER, since the whole began,
Is kept in Nature, and is kept in Man.
The author presented complicated and important ideas in his philosophical poem. His style and manner of narration give the readers easy way to understand complicated things. The genre of philosophical poem

Philosophical Theories for Making Good Decisions

The Good Life

 December 2018. The weather outside is frightful. It’s snowing and sleeting as you slowly creep along the abandoned streets in your luxury vehicle. Off in your peripheral view you see a young child. The child, while old enough to theoretically fend for themselves but still too young to be outside, is walking in the direction you are headed. As the child takes two steps forward, the weather pushes him three steps back. You attempt to ignore his actions, but they become obvious when he approaches the crosswalk at the red light where you and your family are waiting. While you wait and observe, you ask yourself several questions; what is going on with this child? Is he homeless? Where are his parents? Ultimately you reach the main question: Should I help? While assisting this child in reaching their destination is the ideal option, the child may have other intentions. This indeed could be a distraction to robbery, or in an attempt to perform a good deed you and your family could be killed in the process. Decisions made during times like these can help one determine what is considered the good life.

 As humans, we are meant to socially interact with different people within their residing community, while making decisions regarding ethical behavior. One primary decision that different human beings continuously make is how to live the most ethical lives (Mitchell, 2015). Recognizing that people distinguish things differently from one another, a good life may be different for each person.

The Consequentialism Debate

 Utilitarianism theory states that an action is right if it tends to promote happiness and wrong if it tends to produce the reverse of happiness—not just the happiness of the performer of the action but also that of everyone affected by it (Duignan, 2017). Utilitarianism also differs from ethical theories that make the rightness or wrongness of an act dependent upon the motive of the agent, for, according to the utilitarian, it is possible for the right thing to be done from a bad motive. In layman’s terms, it is possible to do a good deed for a wrong reason. In contrast, deontological ethics holds that at least some acts are morally obligatory regardless of their consequences for human welfare. Philosophers John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham, utilitarianism is an ethical standard that generally views actions as being proper if the actions allow for the maximum amount of contentment and the minimal amount of dissatisfaction for everyone (Mitchell, 2015).

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  Bentham’s ideas of utilitarianism assumed that mathematics could be used to calculate units of happiness or sadness for people who are most likely to become affected, and could use this calculation to measure an action’s tendency for good or evil (Mitchell, 2015). Mill’s ideas of utilitarianism claim that humans aim to reach the maximum level of satisfaction which in turn leads to the happiness of the greater number of humans. Mill and Bentham would end up being opponents due to Bentham’s belief that happiness is measurable.

 An example utilitarianism theory would be an elderly man (Jed) who has suffered a stroke on Friday and is not expected to make it through the weekend due to the amount of brain damage suffered. If Jed’s family applies the utilitarianism theory and request that the hospital remove his organs for use in saving others, then Jed’s family can take solace in knowing Jed’s organs are saving others while also celebrating the fulfilled life Jed has lived. This would be considered an act of utilitarianism in that it aims to reach maximum satisfaction for all involved. In contrast, the ethical aspect would view the family’s donation of Jeb’s organs as killing him thus committing a violation of universal goodness because it is unquestionably unethical and unjust to kill. It is important to acknowledge that there are instances in which utilitarianism is both ethically and politically appropriate.

 The direct opposition to utilitarianism would be deontology. Deontology does not regard consequences as a measure for making positive ethically sound decisions in order to live a good life (Mitchell, 2015). Deontology theory does, however, defend that human beings are ethically obligated to behave in a certain standard manner regardless of consequences (Mitchell, 2015). In the example of Jeb, deontology would criticize the decision as immoral and unethical regardless of the potential positive outcomes. Under the ideology of utilitarianism, is hard to achieve due to one not being aware of another’s motivation thus leading to decisions made on another’s behalf without knowing if the intent would be substantiated.

Virtue and Care ethics

 Virtue ethics is among the major approaches to normative ethics that emphasize the virtues, or moral character rather than emphasizing duties or rules (deontology) or emphasizing on action consequences (utilitarianism).

 A virtue is a trait or quality that is deemed to be morally good and thus is valued as a foundation of principle and good moral being. Virtue ethics theorizes that that if human beings promote moral personality, it will promote ethical behavior. Aristotle claimed that the two types of qualities were intellectual qualities established through insight and ethical qualities established through truthfulness and determination. In instances where a person is in obvious need, a utilitarian would focus on the view that the consequences of doing bring maximum well-being. A deontologist on the other hand would see that performing a just act would be abiding by the “Golden Rule”.

 An example of this would be a person who follows the speed limit at all times. If this person continues to practice this method, without receiving any citations, they will be considered a responsible driver. Under Aristotle’s idea of virtue ethics, it was believed that virtue lives amidst excess and insufficiency and it emphasizes fairness without completely removing happiness. Contemporary ideas of virtue ethics declares human personality as the key element of ethical reasoning, which is portrayed by: (1) living a moral life despite the circumstances, (2) focus placed on society, agreement and relationships, rather than general equality, and (3) evaluation of human interactions that are based on creditable behaviors such as charity and compassion (Mitchell, 2015). An example of virtue may be as follows: Jim is in line at the grocery store. As he pays for his items and leaves the store, he notices a woman in line behind him fumbling through her purse as if she is looking for something. Jim pays for the woman’s items and walks her to her vehicle. Jim’s compassion virtue has allowed him to assist the woman without an expectation of reward.

 Care ethics entails the belief that that, along with forming a moral personality, morality should also include the ability to genuinely care for another human being (Mitchell, 2015) and memories of receiving care and self-idealizations. When contrasted with deontological and utilitarian ethics, care ethics have affinities with moral models like Confucian ethics, African ethics among others. Care ethicists assert that the basis for ethical concerns should be our emotional responses to them. In line with this, they defend that special relationships lead to special moral responsibilities. It is argued that people cannot be seen as caring agents if they fail to care for the interests of other beings whom they are aware that they are suffering. Nel Noddings believed that care ethics is not only about caring for those one is already acquainted with, but that we should build relationships with new people as well. For example, Jim might buy his elderly neighbor groceries on a weekly basis due to their familiarity. To grow as a human being, Jim may want to start a food drive for elderly citizens in his town.


  Existentialism is a philosophy concerned with finding self and the meaning of life through free will, choice, and personal responsibility. The belief is that people are searching to find out who and what they are throughout life as they make choices based on their experiences, beliefs, and outlook. And personal choices become unique without the necessity of an objective form of truth. An existentialist believes that a person should be forced to choose and be responsible without the help of laws, ethnic rules, or traditions (“Existentialism”, 2002). Some of the concepts existentialism takes into consideration include: free will, decisions are not without stress and consequences, there are things that are not rational, personal responsibility and discipline is crucial to survival, worldly desire is futile and the belief that society is unnatural and its traditional religious and secular rules are arbitrary.

 Due to the variety of concepts supported by existentialist, there can be no one answer as to what it is only what it is not. Existentialists do not support any of the following concepts: the idea that wealth, pleasure, or honor make the good life, social values and structure control the individual, the notion that “it is what it is”, science can and will make everything better, or the “I want my way, now!” or “It is not my fault!” mentality. Due to its wide array of philosophical, religious and political beliefs, existentialists have no universal agreement as what its central beliefs consist of. Existentialism was first identified post the Great Depression and World War II. It was believed that World War I destroyed the optimism of the country which led to philosophers believing well into the 1970s and beyond that people have the freedom to choose one’s preferred moral belief system and lifestyle. An existentialist may appear in many forms. They could be a student majoring in religion or an atheist manifesting their beliefs to others. Each basically agrees that human life is in no way complete and fully satisfying because of suffering and losses that occur when considering the lack of perfection, power, and control one has over their life (“Existentialism”, 2002). Existentialism is the search and journey for true self and true personal meaning in life.

 Existential ethics has a great recognition that morality starts with every individual’s fundamental valuing of personal being and his decisions to go on in existence in wholeness. Hence, every person has an important interest in the management of his valued life. Existentialism has remained one of the greatest philosophies. Existentialism assumes that people are totally free to make decisions and must take individual responsibility for them. Its emphasis is on action, freedom, and decision making. It also holds that the only way to rise above the normalcy of the human condition is by exercising personal freedom and choice. This view is not supported by determinism.

  Possibly the most important part of decision making is the idea of free will. Free will ensures that decisions are made regardless of whether information is valid or not. Free will forces one to make a responsible choice without influences from laws, ethnic rules, and traditions (Mitchell, 2015). Free will is based on personal existence and preference.

 Authenticity, ambiguity, freedom, anxiety, and bad faith are all elements of existentialism. Anxiety and authenticity help one recognize the truth, but anxiety presents two vital implications. Existentialists stress the critical nature of emotions and feelings, so long as they are presumed to possess a less culturally or intellectually mediated relation to personal as well as separate existence, thus anxiety stands for a particular existence that is its recognition of being. Authenticity is a central virtue found in existentialism that values remaining true to oneself instead of patronizing others. When authenticity is missed, the outcome is bad faith. One is seen as acting in bad faith if they are acting out of character by allowing others to control, their behavior and thinking. Therefore, one can conclude acting from bad faith diminishes freedom while authenticity opens one up for more freedom.

 Philosophers’ interest in ambiguity has largely stemmed from concerns regarding the regimentation of natural language in formal logic: arguments that may look good in virtue of their linguistic form in fact can go very wrong if the words or phrases involved are equivocal (Sennet, 2011). This has an effect on decision making due to multiple options one may possibly be presented with. Ambiguity can have a deleterious effect on our ability to inspect the validity of arguments on account of possible equivocation. ambiguity in the laws can undermine their applicability and our ability to obey them. Finally, ambiguity is one important feature of our cognitive understanding and interpretative abilities. Studying ambiguity and how we resolve it can give us insight into both thought and interpretation (Sennet, 2011). While people want to embrace freedom, our ambiguous nature tends to give up some of that freedom due to not wanting to either make a decision or make the wrong decision.

  When it comes to living a fulfilled life, things such as life experiences, family interactions, memories and success play a vital factor in what can be determined as an “examined life”. As far as experiences go, they are wasting the experience that is life if they just allow themselves to fall into a routine that doesn’t challenge them to become virtuous. Many people do not examine their lives, not because they simply do not have the time to, but because they avoid the thought altogether. Some of these people tend to avoid this thought because they are just content existing and going about their lives as how they see fit, which would include recognizing the laws of the land as well as social norms they may exist. One might consider this existence an unfulfilled one, but as Americans we have been conditioned to do as we are told and not ask or investigate the reasons. If you stray from this conventional thinking, then you are considered an outlier, troublemaker and to an extreme antisocial. But going against conventional thinking, does not mean that one is living an examined life.

What is the “Good Life”? For better or worse our lives are examined on a continuous basis. To eat or starve, what do I want to eat, does it serve any nutritional benefit? Since we are humans, we are all born with the mental capacity to reason and as we get older that capacity begins to fill with knowledge and with that knowledge we make decisions. Our species, unlike the rest, functions on more than instincts. We have the ability to have hopes and dreams, we have aspirations for our future and we make choices that get us closer to that future and dream. Even through inaction there is a decision to not act, and our life is not always about what we do but what we don’t do.

 Life isn’t about following the social order nor is it about being a sociopath. A truly examined and fulfilled life includes a myriad of different experiences, both good and bad. In reality, we are all one wrong decision away from a changed life, either for better or worse. Our core system of values, for the most part, is what separates the civilized from the primitive. Marriage, child rearing, interactions with friends and family are some of the more meaningful aspects of “living” in my opinion, at the same time divorce, death and separation from loved ones offer valuable life lessons as well. All of these experiences help one to become a well-rounded and adjusted individual while also allowing room for personal growth and development.

 In 41 years of existing, I have examined my life on several occasions and experienced things that some should never endure and some that are beyond the average person’s imagination. All these experiences have led to what I consider to be a “fruitful” existence. But just like a bunch of grapes, everyone is not and occasionally you get left with a bad taste in your mouth. Just in case you are walking in a snow storm, please believe I would offer my assistance.


Duignan, B., & West, H. R. (2017, November 15). Utilitarianism. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/topic/utilitarianism-philosophy

Existentialism. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.allaboutphilosophy.org/existentialism.htm

Mitchell, H. B. (2015). Roots of Wisdom: A Tapestry of Philosophical Traditions (Vol. 7). Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning.

Sennet, A. (2011, May 16). Ambiguity. Retrieved from https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ambiguity/


Doctrinal and philosophical dimension of Buddhism

Buddhism has over three million followers world-wide, is the state religion in Burma, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos, and maintains a tremendous influence in other countries such as Ceylon, Tibet, China, and Japan. The Oxford Dictionary defines religion as a ‘belief in the existence of a superhuman controlling power, especially of God or gods…’ or, as ‘…a particular system of faith and worship.’ (Hawkins, 2002). The dictionary’s short descriptive passage does not take into account the spiritual well being, security, and comfort, a religion gives to its followers, and therefore may be seen to be inadequate and superficial.

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The doctrinal and philosophical dimension of Buddhism emerged at a time of political and economic instability. The Buddha was born in the 6th century Before The Christian Era (Robinson, 2009). Large, powerful tribes began to invade the Ganges Basin, and society became more complex as the populous moved towards the newly instituted metropolitan centres. During this time a strict and rigid caste system was in place, which did not allow for movement within its structure. The Buddha, as a member of the warrior elite, would have had considerable wealth and standing within the tribe, but he became disenchanted with this way of life, and ultimately rejected it to become a wanderer (Robinson, 2009).
The wanderers believed that anybody, regardless of caste, could be wise and good. These qualities could be achieved by rejecting or renouncing life at home, which was ‘dirty and cramped’ and instead, going out into the wider world which was ‘…. completelyperfect and pure’ (Robinson, 2009). Such ‘renounces” believed in the re-incarnation of the spirit, but what or whom you returned as in the next life, depended on how you had conducted yourself in the previous one. By leading a life of purity and devotion one could escape the agony of re-birth and thereby obtain Nirvana or ‘liberation’ (Robinson, 2009). Such a pure and devoted lifestyle could be achieved by accepting the Four Noble Truths. The first truth was that of suffering; ‘birth, ageing, death, sorrow and defilement’ (Buddahnet.net, 2010). The second truth was that the causes of suffering were human traits such as greed, and sexual desire. The third Noble Truth stated that suffering can be eliminated if the ‘way’ of the fourth truth, or Nobel Eight Fold Path, was followed. This would result in salvation by releasing the follower from perpetual re-birth. This last truth was a guideline to redemption which could only be obtained by correct behaviour, such as correct attitude and correct speech. The method of obtaining Nirvana in conjunction with correct behaviour is by meditation; by having the correct mental attitude one can only think good thoughts and therefore the intentions or deeds are pure also. This is known as ‘Karma’ or ‘mental work’ (Hawkins, 2002). Once Nirvana has been achieved, the follower becomes designated as a Buddha or ‘enlightened’ one and these saints reside on a higher plane.
Since the time of Buddha two main proponents of Buddhism have developed, namely Therevada, predominant in South Asia and Mahayana, followed in North Asia. The former believes that the only way to obtain Nirvana is by being a monk or a nun, and may therefore be considered as an elitist form of Buddhism, while the latter shows more liberal qualities and is sympathetic to others (Robinson, 2009).
The narratives of Buddhism, the Pali Scriptures and Jakata tales, are important in the historical sense as they give an insight into the words and meanings of the Buddha, and may be construed as being inspirational to his followers (Buddahnet.net, 2010). The oral nature of these stories could possibly lead to them being misinterpreted and lost in translation and therefore their actual meaning may become muted and distorted. Although some of these tales may be deemed to be of a mythical nature, such as the Buddha being conceived by his mother’s union with a white elephant they, as in parables from other religions, cannot be taken as literal, historical facts, but could quite possibly contain a hidden meaning (Buddahnet.net, 2010). Therefore because Buddhism uses such stories to accentuate its teachings, it is similar to other faiths and does not detract from its perceived status as a religion.
The practical and ritualistic dimension, especially in Mahayana Buddhism, is extremely important. This dimension contains the preaching, prayers and worship element of a religion. By travelling the Ganges Basin in its entirety the Buddha and his followers went to great lengths to make Buddhism accessible to all and encouraged others into believing that salvation was at hand if the proper codes of conduct were adhered to. Buddhists offer prayers to the Buddha as much in the same way that Christians offer prayers to Jesus Christ, they are both a vehicle unto God or Nirvana., which has been thought by ‘some writers to be a Buddhists substitute for God’ (Buddahnet.net, 2010). The Christian word worship, the worship of a God, constitutes the major problem in the definition of Buddhism as a religion. The Buddha stated that he was neither a messenger from God nor his emissary and denounced the notion that there was a God (Buddahnet.net, 2010). This has led to Buddhists being considered as Atheists, but Buddhism is a cosmopolitan religion which embraces other beliefs and cultures and ultimately their gods. Therevada Buddhists acknowledge other gods but they maintain that it is the Buddha who is supreme and it is these other, lesser gods who defer to him (Bullitt, 2005). The Buddha is revered by his devotees and may be seen as the object of worship, as prayers are chanted praising him and asking for salvation, and gifts placed at his shrines and temples (Bullitt, 2005). At the New Year festival, the water festival, Buddha’s name is used to ward away evil spirits
The ethical dimension of a religion is its moral code. The laws and rules that a particular religion abides by are usually, in a mono-religious state those that govern society, as in Islam and Christianity. A religion must be able to teach a moral code and give guidance to a society as to what would be morally abhorrent and that which is deemed as acceptable behaviour. As much in the same way that Christianity has the Ten Commandments, The Buddhists rules or virtues are called Dhammapada, ‘the way of virtue’ (Jung, 2010). These rules give guidance and a set of guidelines on the proper behaviour of a Buddhist, such as compassion and denounce improper thoughts and actions such as ‘greed, vice, hatred and envy’ (Jung, 2010).
The experiential and emotional dimension is the feeling of perhaps exultation or sense of peace that the follower of a particular religion can get from for example, reciting a prayer, liturgy, or chant (Buddahnet.net, 2010). These feelings can also be shown in many other ways such as a Buddhist attaining enlightenment, or by using meditation as a way of clearing the mind from the mundane aspects of life. A Christian may achieve an emotional experience by seeing a sign from God, chanting a prayer of contemplation, or just from a general sense of well being and contentment.
The social and institutional dimension is the self containment of the organisation for its own protection. The Buddhists, like many new groups were persecuted for their beliefs and radical outlook from their foundation (Buddahnet.net, 2010). Buddhism has its own structure, although not hierarchical as in other religions, the monks are seen as the closest to obtaining the goal of Nirvana. It was, and still is the foundation within the lives of its followers, especially those living in remote areas where the rules passed to them from the Buddha and his followers, is followed without deviation.
A religion can be interpreted by its followers in many different ways. It can be seen as providing, a comforting belief in the hereafter, and spiritual well-being, while also supplying a code of behaviour and a sense of belonging. Buddhism certainly follows these pre-requisites and although some commentators view Buddhism as atheistic, its followers worship the Buddha as a god, and Buddhism shows numerous similarities to many other widely accepted religions. Regardless of criticism Buddhism is considered a religion by its millions of followers, which today include the peoples of both Eastern and Western civilisations.

Philosophical Concept of the Identity of an Object

Philosophers over the decades have often discussed continuity of identity. Continuity of identity is ‘the question of whether a person at time T1 is the same person as person at time T2’ (DiGeovanna 2012, p. 1). Personal identity is also challenging to define as there are many different senses of identity. This is why there are many different conclusions that can be drawn from thought experiments such as The Ship of Theseus, because of the philosophical complexity of continuity of personal identity. Answers would wary based on both physical and psychological aspects. Each scenario would have slightly different criteria to what its personal identity would be. This means that when discussing the continuity of identity of a renovated house in contrast to a face transplant in a thought experiment, it would have different set of criteria applied to each by different philosophers.
This essay will argue that the identity of an object, in the case of a face transplant, is not preserved after it has been altered in some way by exploring Locke’s definition of a person and principles of individualization, and Nietzsche’s senses of identity.
After a face transplant, the identity of the original object is not persevered because of Locke’s definition of a person. Locke had his own definition of what a person was. “Person” is at times referring to the literal term of a human being and can be noted as person1. Personality is often times associated with a creature, and the personality of that creature is connected to that creature being a “person” and can be noted as person2 (Strawson 2014, p. 6). Even though an individual’s personality can change, they are still considered the same “person”. When an individual says, “he isn’t the same person anymore”, they often times refer to a personality change in the individual rather than a physical change. Locke uses person2 in his works and refers to human beings as “man” (Strawson 2014, p. 7). Strawson (2014, p. 78) states on Locke’s use of person that ‘It’s a human being considered as a thing of such a kind that same human being doesn’t immediately entail same Person’. Locke (1689, cited in Strawson 2014, p. 7) once stated that ‘the body, as well as the soul, goes to the making of a man’. Locke (1690, cited in Weinberg 2011, p. 400) mentions on consciousness that if one was to remember a thought or action in the past that it would be defining to that one’s identity, saying it would be the same self then as it is now. This specific notion has some errors as memory can be faulty and events may be remembered differently or with error.

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The face transplant would mean that a level of the identity is preserved as they are still essentially the same Person (person2) as only their physical appearance has changed. However, a change in physical appearance would then influence the psychology of that individual (to an extent) therefore changing both personality and physical aspects which would mean it’s a new identity. For example, an individual with working eyes at t­1­ and the same individual with a blinded left eye at t­2 ­would act differently­. So, it cannot be said that the same individual has the same identity at both points as both body and soul would have a change. This is further supported by Locke’s principles of individuation.
Locke has 3 principles which can be referred to as L1, L2, and L3 (Kaufman 2016, p. 238). L1 is that it is impossible for two (or more things) of the same kind to be in place, p, at a time, t (Kaufman 2016, p. 238). L2 is that it is impossible for one thing to have more than one beginning (Kaufman 2016, p. 238). L3 is that It is impossible for two or more things (of the same kind) to have one beginning (Kaufman 2016, p. 238).
When these principles are applied to the preservation of identity after a face transplant then it is evident from the principles that Locke has stated, that the face at t2 cannot have the same beginning as face at t1. When the process of the face transplant was completed, the individual now would have an altered identity.
Furthermore, the identity of an individual is not preserved after a face transplant because of Nietzsche’s work on the senses of identity. There are many senses of identity like substance, materiality, and being (Steinhart 2005, p. 2). Nietzsche denied the basis of most of the senses stating most were errors. Eric Steinhart (2005, p. 2) stated based on Nietzsche’s work that there are two primary senses of identity: identity as endurance, and identity as equality.
Identity as endurance is identity through time, involving temporal difference (Steinhart 2005, p. 2). Another common term for it being a diachronic identity (identity of something existing between one point in time and another). There are two logical forms, one being that x at time t­­­1­ is the same as y at t­2 (Steinhart 2005, p. 2)­. An example being that Arnold Schwarzenegger was a bodybuilder in 1970 and also the Governor of California in the 2000s. The second is that x at t­1­ is the same F as y at t­2­. F is a sortal term, a sortal is what the essence of a thing is (Grandy 2006, p.1). For example, a man says the little girl in a picture is the same person who is now married to. Steinhart (2005, p. 2) states that it is important to have details restricted to F as it can become complicated, using the example that material in the human body is always being replaced so it is possible to be the same organism an individual was 10 years ago but not the same material construct the individual was 10 years ago (Steinhart 2005, p. 2). But in the case of a face transplant, the process of change in physical appearance is sudden in contrast to a gradual 10-year cell replacement, this means that there would be a drastic change in the F variable, supporting the statement that after a face transplant, the identity of the individual is not preserved.
Identity as equality is when objects can be simultaneous or timeless (Steinhart 2005, p. 2). This sense of identity has 3 main logical forms that Steinhart (2005, p. 2) states:

x is one and the same as y;
x is one and the same F as y;
x is the same F as y.

The first means x is literally and absolutely the same as y. The second is a numerical identity relative to the sortal, an example of a sortal-relative being that two ships may be the same but use different wood (Grandy 2006, p. 1). Steinhart (2005, p. 2) uses the example that Cicero is the same man as Tully, the morning star is same star as the evening star. ‘x is one and the same F as y means that x is an F, y is an F, and x is one and the same as y’ Steinhart (2005, p. 2) explains. Therefore, Cicero is not one and the same man as the morning star. The third logical form is type-identity, and also a sortal-relative. If an individual holds The Communist Manifesto in one’s left hand and another copy in the other, both the books are the same, however the book in the right hand is not one and the same in the left.
If all logical forms of Nietzsche’s sense of identity as equality is applied to the face transplant thought experiment, then the identity of the individual is still not preserved. With logical form 1, the face before and after surgery in not one and the same, form 2 doesn’t really apply to the situation, and form 3, although the individual is the same biostructure, the applied material neither resembles the old face nor is it of the same material construct, therefore the identity through logical form 3 is not preserved.
This essay argued that through a face transplant an individual identity is not preserved through philosophical principles set by Locke and Nietzsche. When Locke’s definition of a person is applied to a face transplant, the parameters within Locke’s definition does not account for the psychological change the individual would have. The principles of individualization further supporting this statement, as through a face transplant the individual would have a ‘new’ face. Meaning the individual would have two different faces in their lifespan, but two different objects cannot have one beginning therefore the identity is not preserved. Nietzsche’s two primary senses of identity were then presented, endurance and equality. In the first sense, there is a drastic physical change in the individual so the logical terms presented by Nietzsche would be invalidate the continuation of identity. In the second sense, preservation of an identity after the face transplant is simply proved wrong when the logical terms are applied. The presented evidence in the form of notes shows that there are substantial events related to a face transplant that would alter an individual’s identity and therefore the preservation of the old identity is not possible. Under different parameters by different philosophers, the answer may be different.

DiGiovanna, J 2012, ‘You are and are not the person I once knew: eclecticism and context in the continuity of identity’, Appraisal, vol 9, no. 1, viewed 20 April 2019,
Grandy, E 2006, ‘sortals’, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, viewed 25 April 2019,
Kaufman, D 2015, ‘Locke’s theory of identity’, in M Stuart (ed.), A companion to locke, Blackwell Publishing Ltd, pp. 236-57.
Steinhart, E 2005, ‘Nietzsche on identity’ Revista di Estetica, vol 28, no. 1, viewed 28 April 2019,
Strawson, G 2011, ‘Locke on personal identity: consciousness and concernment’, Princeton Monographs in Philosophy, vol 42, no. 1, pp. 5- 78, viewed 20 April 2019,
Weinberg, S 2011, ‘Locke on personal identity’, Philosophy Compass, vol 6, no. 6, viewed 23 April 2019,


Max Webers Contribution Philosophical Methodology Of Social Sciences

For decades, numerous philosophical studies have attempted to explore modern society characterized by pluralism and conflicts over values. Against this background, no definitive answer has been given to the question of how we can better understand the complexity and diversity of the contemporary world. Under the circumstances, there have been attempts within certain philosophical circles to find a new approach to interpret modern society based on epistemological foundation. The difficulty of understanding the contemporary world mainly stems from our tendency to adopt an explanatory approach driven by a natural scientific model. According to the natural scientific methodology, the world is governed by universal laws which can be discovered empirically. This deductive methodology is likely to consider general trends but ignores the particularity and individuality of specific cases. This obsession with the natural scientific model was criticized by Max Weber in the nineteenth century. Against the naturalistic monism which generalizes all empirical facts into a common law in all empirical facts, Weber argues that “objectivity” analysis (the reduction of empirical reality of law) is meaningless in the cultural sciences (Weber, 1949, p. 80). In particular, he emphasized the sharp distinction between the natural and cultural sciences and raised the question if the ‘objectivity’ of the natural sciences could be applied equally to the cultural sciences.

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According to Weber (1949), unlike the natural sciences, which study the phenomena of nature, the social sciences aim to find social phenomena: the relation among humans including their behaviors and subjective intentions. The objects of the natural sciences can studied without the investigator’s value-judgment because they are completely separated from the investigator. In contrast, the objects of the social sciences consist of people with different values. Since the investigator is also a member of society, the involvement of his or her values is unavoidable when researching a certain social phenomena. Simply put, completely “objective” study can barely be conducted and it is much more difficult in the social sciences. Thus, it is important for social scientists to be aware that their “subjectivity” can have an impact on their analyses. Max Weber’s greatest concern was in what ways investigators cognize the social phenomenon and how they can overcome the matter of “objectivity”.
Many remember Max Weber as a sociologist due to his considerable amount of writings about various areas in the social sciences. However, he was also a social philosopher who gave us comprehensive ideas about human nature and the world in which we live. This paper aims to examine Max Weber as a philosopher with regard to his contribution to the philosophical methodology of the social sciences.
In his journal, ‘”Objectivity” in Social Science and Social Policy’, Max Weber develops his unique methodology of the social sciences in relation to the debates between naturalism (positivism) and historicism (German historical school) (Tenbruck, 1959; Ringer, 1997). As Weber acknowledges, there is a sharp contrast between naturalism and historicism with regard to how we acquire knowledge: explanatory and interpretive methodology (Hekman, 1983; Ringer, 1997). Recognizing the strong contrast between these two theories, Weber tried to find an alternative methodology which would overcome their limits(Eksrom, 1992; Hekman, 1983; Ringer, 1997; Tenbruck, 1959). It is worth taking a quick look at these two philosophical theories for a better understanding of Weber’s methodological position in the social sciences.
Naturalism, which is also called positivism, was the most widespread theory in the philosophies of science in the early nineteenth century. Driven by the intellectual movement of the Enlightenment, central to positivism is the notion that only rational evaluation of empirical evidence can distinguish knowledge from unscientific thoughts such as traditional religions and superstitions (Halfpenny, 2003). In other words, only knowledge confirmed by scientific method can be accepted and this knowledge becomes a universal law to explain a particular phenomena. In addition to natural phenomenon, positivists claim that the casual laws discovered by scientists can also be adopted to the study of society. In the early 1990s, this positivism was reexamined by logical positivists, the Vienna Circle. Like previous positivists, logical positivists believed in empiricism and stressed “the demarcation of knowledge that was properly scientific” from others which are not logically and empirically justified such as metaphysics (ibid, p. 372). More specifically, logical positivists put an emphasis on deductive methodology following the natural scientific model. The predominance of the deductive method over the inductive one driven by logical positivists produced distorted image of the scientific methodology (Huff, 1984, p. 2). In fact, since the 1960s, logical positivism has been confronted with many criticisms by post-empiricist philosophers and their criticisms are based on Weber’s ideas of the methodology (ibid, p. 8).
As a rule, Weber took the view of German historicism: he rejected positivists’ ideas of the naturalistic monism (Tenbruck, 1959). Unlike the positivists advocating deductive methodology (in which we acquire knowledge from casual law confirmed by scientific method), German historians espoused inductive methodology, and called attention to individuality and cultural diversity (Ringer, 1997). German historians refused to study a particular fact or phenomenon with a definite concept. For example, Ranke, one of the German historians, made an explicit statement as to weakness of deductive methodology and put on emphasis on “individualities”. He wrote, “From the particular, you may ascend to the general; but from general theory there is no way back to intuitive understanding of the particular.” (quoted in Ringer, 1995, p. 11).
Weber’s disposition of German historicism can be found most explicitly in his adaptation of Rickert’s view on scientific conceptualization. Rickert argued that empirical reality has no definite features and that the understanding of empirical reality depends on the way we see it. In his book, Die Grenzen der naturwissenschaftlichen Begriffsbildung, Rickert said: “Empirical reality becomes nature when we view it with respect to the universal; it becomes history when we view it with respect to the particular and the individual” (quoted in Mises, 1958, p.129). In accordance with Rickert, Weber (1949) argued as follows. Here and further on this paper I use bold face type for my own emphasis:
The transcendental presupposition of every cultural science lies not in our finding a certain culture or any “culture” in general to be valuable but rather in the fact that we are culture beings, endowed with the capacity and the will to take a deliberate attitude towards the world and to lend it significance (ibid, p.81).
Now, as soon as we attempt to reflect about the way in which life confronts us in immediate concrete situations, it presents an infinite multiplicity of successively and coexistently emerging and disappearing events, both “within” and “outside” ourselves. The absolute infinitude of this multiplicity is seen to remain undiminished even when our attention is focused on a single “object”….All the analysis of infinite reality which the finite human mind can conduct rests on the tactic assumption that only a finite portion of this reality constitutes the object of scientific investigation, and that only it is “important” in the sense of being “worthy of being know” (ibid. p.72)
Simply put, human perception attributes the meaning and significance to the world. Only a limited part of the universe can be the objects of scientific research. In this sense, Weber disagreed with the positivist belief that we can derive universal truth from the conjunction of events. That is because the concrete reality is not identical with the casual explanation discovered by scientific research. According to Weber:
There is no absolutely “objective” scientific analysis of culture – or put perhaps more narrowly but certainly not essentially differently for our purposes- of “social phenomena” independent of special and “one-sided” viewpoints according to which – expressly or tacitly, consciously or unconsciously- they are selected, analyzed and organized for expository purposes (ibid, p. 72).
For Weber “objectivity” cannot be scientifically justified even in the natural sciences. For that reason, the deductive methodology (reducing the conjunction of events to causal law) advocated by positivists is meaningless. Accordingly, we can say his point of view is in line with German historicism. However, he did not fully accept the historians’ view on finding rules in the society. Although Weber commends historians for their acknowledgements of ‘particularity’ or ‘individuality’ of reality, he differed from their traditional views of historicism (Tenbruck, 1959). From the point of view of historians, clear concepts or knowledge of causal laws obstructs our understanding of reality. In opposition to their standpoint, Weber declared these are indispensible analytical tools to conduct scientific research (ibid, p. 75-76). Weber wrote:
… knowledge of reality with respect to its cultural significance and its causal relationships can be attained through the quest for recurrent sequences…the analysis of reality is concerned with the configuration into which those (hypothetical!) “factors” are arranged to form a cultural phenomenon which is historically significant to us…. If we wish to “explain” this individual configuration “causally” we must invoke other equally individual configurations on the basis of which we will explain it with the aid of those (hypothetical!) “laws.” (ibid, p. 75)
Consequently, despite his criticism of positivism, Weber recognizes the necessity of finding casual laws because we need these concepts to understand the infinite world. However, unlike positivists, these laws are not the purpose of scientific research but ‘heuristic’ means of understanding reality. Put it in another way, what he denies is that these laws become a principle of nature as the positivists argue. Due to his acknowledgement of causal laws, Weber faced many criticisms for his position (Huff, 1984). It is beside the point, however, to discuss whether he is an historian or a positivist. What we should focus on is the fact that Weber tried to establish an alternative scientific methodology in the social sciences in relation to disputes between naturalism and anti-naturalism. More specifically, his aim was to explore “an empirical science of concrete reality (Wirklichkeitswissenschaft)”.
Weber declared that “the type of social science in which we are interested is an empirical science of concrete reality” :
Our aim is the understanding of the characteristic uniqueness of the reality in which we move. We wish to understand on the one hand the relationships and the cultural significance of individual events in their contemporary manifestations and on the other the causes of their being historically so and not otherwise (ibid, p. 72).
An empirical science of concrete reality is a way of understanding the phenomenon in the world in a cultural context. According to Weber, ideas about universal laws must be based on, and related to, values of particular people and society. In other words, there can be no complete objectivity. Rather, valuation of the world is always qualified by ideas and perceptions of the investigator. Weber wrote:
The significance of a configuration of cultural phenomena and the basis of this significance cannot however be derived and rendered intelligible by a system of analytical laws, however perfect it may be, since the significance of cultural events presupposes a value-orientation towards these events. The concept of culture is a value-concept (ibid, 76).
Therefore, the most important criteria to select “worthy of being know” is our value-orientation. In other words, researchers use their “evaluative ideas” to judge what can be studied as the objects of investigation and what significance has to our lives. To be exact, the researcher “weighs and choose from among the values involved according to his own conscience and his personal view of the world” (ibid, p. 53). Weber argues that the cultural or social sciences can only be conducted under researcher’s “cultural values”. Furthermore, the meaningfulness of the research can only be found when the researcher’s value is acknowledged:
To be sure, without the investigator’s evaluative ideas, there would be no principle of selection of subject-matter and no meaningful knowledge of the concrete reality (ibid).
In this respect, Weber disagrees with people who believe that the “objective” and “true” reality exist on the facts discovered by scientists. He asserts this point of view as “the naive self-deception” of researchers whose evaluative ideas are unconsciously involved when selecting “a tiny portion” from “an absolute infinity” as a subject-matter for their study (ibid). Consequently, Weber denies the possibility of an “objective” point of view with regard to conducting investigation. According to Weber, all evaluative ideas are “subjective”. As a result, he rejects the naturalists view that all investigators’ values should be excluded with regard to studying the social sciences. That is because a value-free investigation is impossible in the social sciences due to researchers’ evaluative ideas.
Against this ostensible “value-freedom”, Weber argues that the validity of empirical knowledge is achievable when the investigator explicates his or her subjective “evaluative ideas” (value-relevance). However, we should not identify Weber’s conception of value-relevance with value-judgment. Although the investigator’s values influence on his or her approach to selecting subject-matter, Weber claims that the researcher should be free from value-judgment in his or her analyses (Tenbruck, 1959). More specifically, as mentioned above, the selection of subject-matter and its concept-construction are conducted by researchers’ evaluative ideas. It means that the results of scientific research cannot be universal laws or common cultural values. Accordingly, it is inappropriate to enforce particular ethical standards by using scientific authority. This is the freedom from value-judgment Weber meant. In other words, Weber’s “objectivity” in the social sciences can be defined in the following way: Historians or social research workers, by acknowledging their value-orientation, can avoid confusion created by a wide range of different values. Then, they seek the logical consistency of what they study in a value-free way. In this sense, Weber’s “objectivity” in the social sciences is not the objectivity of empirical sciences. Instead, Weber argues for a qualified “objectivity”, methodology which is aware of its own limits and values, but which makes an effort to be logically consistent.
As mentioned before, Weber attempted to overcome the disjunction between naturalism and anti-naturalism by rigorously defining the foundation of epistemology; how do we know the things we know? When it comes to different aspects of the social sciences from the natural sciences (an empirical science of concrete reality), Weber disapproves of the natural science model which seeks to discover universal laws. However, unlike historians, due to limits of interpretive understanding, he argues that we need theoretical concepts as ‘heuristic means’ for understanding of the ‘infinite’ reality. In other words, along with historians, Weber’s starting point is with specific cases, the particularities of individual situation. Once this was achieved, taking positivists’ way, he turns his eyes to methodology in order to conceptualize theory (Hekman, 1983). His attempt to construct theory based on value-relevance can be explained through the concept of the “ideal-type”. An ideal-type enables investigators to have both approaches advocated by historians and positivists: individualization and generalization.
His construction of ideal-types comes from his criticism of Menger’s abstract-theoretical approach. Menger understands the disparity between concept and reality, but acknowledges the necessity to build abstract theory(Ringer, 1997). Weber agrees with his basic position, but points out Menger’s error. According to Weber (1949, p. 87), “In spite of the fundamental methodological distinction between historical knowledge and the knowledge of “laws” which the creator of the theory drew as the first and only one, he now claims empirical validity, in the sense of the deductibility of reality from “laws,” for the propositions of abstract theory.” That is to say, Menger is aware that knowledge of laws discovered in all social sciences cannot be identical with reality, but argues that we can deduct reality from the knowledge. Weber rejects his view that reality can be deducted from laws and particular phenomenon can be anticipated from these laws. In other words, Weber disagrees with the statement that the purpose of the sciences is to establish laws. These laws are nothing but ideal-types which were arbitrarily formulated based on subjective perspectives. For example, in Weber’s argument, “abstract economic theory” offers an “ideal” picture of commodity-market such as “free competition” and “rational conduct”, but the “construct” is a “utopia” because it is achieved by conceptual “accentuation” of a particular element of reality (ibid, p. 90). In this case, ideal-types can be used as analytical tools to explain the “characteristic features” of this relationship clearly. Weber wrote:
This conceptual pattern brings together certain relationships and events of historical life into a complex, which is conceived as an internally consistent system. Substantively, this construct in itself is like a utopia which has been arrived at by the analytical accentuation of certain elements of reality. Its relationship to the empirical data consists solely in the fact that where market-conditioned relationships of the type referred to by the abstract construct are discovered or suspected to exist in reality to some extent, we can make the characteristic features of this relationship pragmatically clear and understandable by reference to an ideal-type. This procedure can be indispensable for heuristic as well as expository purposes. The ideal typical concept will help to develop our skill in imputation in research: it is no “hypothesis” but it offers guidance to the construction of hypotheses. It is not a description of reality but it aims to give unambiguous means of expression to such a description (ibid).
Ideal-types are used to demonstrate the general quality of a particular human behavior. According to Weber, a certain ideal-type comes into being when characteristic features of particular facts selected by investigators are put together. Weber calls this “ideal-construct” (ibid, p. 91). For example, if we attempt to find a ideal-construct of “handicraft”, the same principle characterizing the ideal-typical “handicraft” appears in any states and any periods(ibid, 90-91). Weber acknowledges that the process of constructing an ideal type looks like a utopia. A utopia here, however, should not be negatively understood. Ideal-types are by no means reproduction of the facts and are not something far away from the facts. Rather, they are concepts to provide guidance for analyzing the causal relationships behind the human behavior. That is to say, ideal-types are not an “end” but cognitive “means” to understand the particularity of cultural phenomenon (ibid, 92). Weber see ideal-types as functional tools, not as universal truth. Therefore, he stresses that we must not identify ideal-types with actual “reality”.
As Weber mentioned above, ideal-types cannot be hypotheses, but they can provide guidance to construct hypotheses. And these hypotheses are means to understand social phenomenon. Of course this raises the question of how we verify ideal-types with empirical facts(Winch, 1958). As Weber argued, ideal-types need to be scientifically verified and historical science is also a “rational science”(Aron, 1968, p. 192). Thus, verification of ideal-types also require “clarity and verifiable accuracy of insight and comprehension(Evidenz)” by rational understanding such as “logical and mathematical” methodology(Weber, 1947, p. 90). For example, Weber argues that human behaviors can be understood in the same way as “2 X 2 = 4” by “a logical train of reasoning according to our accepted modes of thinking”(ibid). This implies causal laws can be discovered by logical thinking in the social sciences. More specifically, social scientists should be able to interpret and explain why a certain historical event took place (Aron, 1968). Weber shows how we can rationalize our interpretation of certain human behavior or historical events within society through causal analysis. In Weber’s argument, historical causation originates from connecting particular facts with the components of previous ones:
Our real problem is, however: by which logical operations do we acquire the insight and how can we demonstratively establish that such a casual relationship exists between those “essential” components of the effects and certain components among the infinity of determining factors … Rather, does the attribution of effects to causes take place through a process of thought which includes a series of abstractions. The first and decisive one occurs when we conceive of one or a few of the actual causal components as modified in a certain direction and then ask ourselves whether under the conditions which have been thus changed, the same effect or some other effect “would be expected” (Weber, 1949, p. 171)
For example, if we attempt to find the origin of capitalism, we first need to discover the unique features of capitalism. Then we analyze which previous events are related to these features and observe how those causal components are intertwined in a particular direction. From this process, we will be able to find which sources are relevant to the origin of capitalism and conclude that these are the historical causes of capitalism. In other words, we produce “imaginative constructs” in order to gain insight into the causal relations between historical facts (ibid, p. 173). Here, Weber’s causal analysis rests on the “motivational understanding” of actions (Ringer, p. 93). According to this argument, we are able to explain the origin of the capitalism in the same way as we analyze a temperamental mother’s motive to commit violence to her child (ibid, p. 178). Let us suppose a young mother, who is upset with child’s misconduct, boxed her child’s ear. Afterward, she makes an excuse based on “empirical knowledge”. This empirical knowledge means that she usually does not use violence toward her child and her irrational behavior would not have happened when she was not irritated by a quarrel with the cook. For that reason, she defends herself by asserting that the violence was an “accidental” and not an “adequately” caused one. Simply put, “she had made judgments of objectivity possibility and had operated with the category of adequate causation”(ibid). Weber wrote:
Reflective knowledge, even of one’s own experience, is nowhere and never a literally “repeated experience” or a simple “photograph” of what was experience; the “experience,” when it is made into an “object”, acquires perspectives and interrelationship which were not “known” in the experience itself (ibid)
This implies that causal laws are formulated by investigators not only by the researchers’ subjective views but also by objective possibilities based on empirical knowledge. When investigators attempt to make ideal-types, they extrapolates their evaluative ideas in relation to empirical data (which is viewed as objective) and these ideal-types continue to be modified by empirical analysis. Ideal-types are not complete scientific theory but methodological means. Ideal-types are also changing depending on the dominating value concepts of a particular society and age. Therefore, for each period or society that we study, we have a correspondingly new notion of ideal-types.
Max Weber’s primary contribution to the social sciences is his suggestion of alternative methodology between naturalism and anti-naturalism. Within the extreme conflicts between the two, he points out the fallacy of both positions and attempts to develop his independent methodology. As for naturalism, he acknowledges that social phenomena can be scientifically investigated like the phenomena of nature. Importantly, however, Weber has a different view on objectivity from positivists. In the natural sciences, “objectivity” can be achieved when investigators exclude their subjective values. In contrast, “objectivity” in the social sciences can be accomplished through “ideal-types” when the investigator’s values are aligned with (insofar as possible) the cultural values of the society he or she studies.
When it comes to anti-naturalism, he takes the historians’ view that the aim of the social sciences is to study particular individualities based on interpretation. Unlike the historians, however, it is possible to find causal laws about specific social phenomenon and these are “inevitable” means to understand “infinite” reality. These casual laws are discovered not by subjective intuition but “objective possibility” based on empirical laws.
Against the natural monism which understands reality under universal laws, Weber distinguishes “an empirical science of concrete reality”. With value-orientation, social scientists choose “worthy of being know” and this enables us to uncover unique characteristics of reality. Weber argues that we need concepts to explain social phenomena. In this regard, through an “ideal-type”, Weber believes that we can explain meaning and the causal relations of various human behaviors.
Ideal-types are not universal laws, but heuristic means for understanding our culture and society. Since ideal-types reflect our cultural values, they differ in accordance with peculiar people, societies and times. In this sense, the ideal-types still have important meanings to modern society. More specifically and perhaps his most important contribution from Weber’s methodology is able to bridge the gap between individual values and social sciences. This gives us insight into how to solve the problem of pluralism and conflicts over values.
Aron, Raymond. (1968) Main Currents in Sociological Thought Richard Howard and Helen Weaver, trans. London: Basic Books Inc.
Burger, Thomas. (1976) Max Weber’s Theory of Concept formation: History, Laws, and Ideal Types Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press.
Ekstrom, Mats. (1992) “Casual Explanation of Social Action: The Contribution of Max Weber and of Critical Realism to a Generative View of Casual Explanation in Social Sciences” Acta Sociologica 35(2): 107-122.
Hekman, Susan J. (1983) Max Weber and Contemporary Social Theory Oxford: University of Norte Dame Press.
Halfpenny, Peter. (2000) “Positivism in the Twentieth Century” in Rizter, G. and Smart, B.(eds) Handbook of Social Theory London: Sage
Huff, Toby E. (1984) Max Weber and the Methodology of the Social Sciences New Brunswick: Transaction, Inc.
Mises, L. (2003) Epistemological Problems of Economics Ludwig Von Mises Inst.
Ringer, Fritz. (1997) Max Weber’s Methodology: The Unification of the Cultural and Social Sciences Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Tenbruck, Friedrich H. (1959) “Die Genese der Methodologies Max Webers,” in : KZfSS 11: 573-690.
(1980) “The Problem of Thematic Unity in the Works of Max Weber” The British Journal of Sociology 31(3): 316-351.
Weber, Max. (1947) The Theory of Social and Economic Organization A.M. Henderson and Talcott Parsons, trans. London: The Free Press.
(1949) The Methodology of the Social Sciences Edward A. Shils and Henry A. Finch, trans. New York: The Free Press
(1991) From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology H.H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills trans. London: Routlege.
Winch, Peter. (1958) The Idea of a Social Science and its Relation to Philosophy London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Philosophical Approaches to Research Methods

Assignment Question: Compare and contrast two philosophical approaches widely used within your discipline/topic of research



The endless debates debate between qualitative and quantitative research are hugely influenced by the very nature of research today. However, as Creswell (2007) points out, even before considering whether to adopt a qualitative or quantitative approach, it is important to understand the philosophical approaches underpinning each of these research designs as these hold claims on what counts as valid knowledge.  As such, a number of philosophical approaches exist and this is attributed to the divergent ways of thinking and explicating natural phenomena. Although a hidden feature of any research process, these approaches continue to influence decisions at different points along the process right from choosing a research design down to research methods. The importance of these is highlighted by Mack (2010) who posits that in order to conduct clear congruent research, there is need to work through different  philosophical debates down to more concrete and practical decisions about research questions, methodology and methods. However, central to this, are assumptions the researcher holds about the world. These assumptions include ontological assumptions, epistemological assumptions as well as axiological assumptions  which are central to the continued quantitative – qualitative debates (Denzin and Lincoln, 2011).

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Ontological assumptions deal with the nature of reality while epistemological assumptions deal with knowledge and what constitutes valid and legitimate knowledge while on the other hand axiological assumptions deal with the researcher’s values and the role these play within the research process (Schwandt, 1998). The importance of these is highlighted by Hammersley (1993) who contends that these bring to the fore competing claims regarding what constitutes knowledge. Therefore, based on these core assumptions there are several philosophical approaches that exist along the continuum such as positivism, critical realism, feminism, and constructivism. However, this discussion will be centred on the positivist and constructivist philosophical approaches as these have been the predominant approaches in the nursing field. This essay will unpack these two philosophical approaches and respectively highlight the similarities and differences.

The Positivist Approach

The positivist approach often referred to as the scientific approach is one that “applies scientific methods of natural science to study human activity using objective inquiry and thereby presupposes the unity of the sciences” (Delanty, 2005, pp.10–11). It originates from the works of Aristotle through Francis Bacon to August Comte(Mertens, 2015).  Pertinent to this approach is that natural sciences are the best way to study the social world and this can be studied the same way as the natural world while regarding human behaviour as passive, controlled and determined by the external environment (Albon and Mukherji, 2009). It hinges on the ontological assumptions that there is one reality  that is constant across different settings and is external to the researcher and epistemological assumption that knowledge can be tested empirically independent of the researcher’s values (Seale, 2004; Mackenzie and Knipe, 2006).  Therefore, this approach assumes that there exists an independent objective reality and that this can be observed empirically. Proponents of this approach have identified core tenets that are important in defining it.

Firstly, Blaikie (2007) identifies that in positivism, what counts as knowledge is only what can be perceived by the individuals senses. Delanty (2005) also agrees that in a positivist approach anything that cannot be observed cannot be valid and ultimately will not be taken as the truth.  As such, in a positivist approach,  any scientific explanations must be derived from experiences, therefore, any explanations for which “observation is not possible have no legitimate existence” (Blaikie, 2007, p.110). Therefore, the purpose of this approach is simply to stick to what can be observed and measured. Consequently, there is a general consensus that scientific knowledge is the only valid and accurate knowledge and this can be tested, confirmed, verified and generalised through the right data to produce absolute truth. Therefore,  as a  basic rule of this approach, Tuli (2011) remarks that the overall goal is to develop the most objective methods possible to get the closest approximation of reality with emphasis on universal laws of cause and effect.  Hence, any research that follows a positivist approach will be deductive with the main goal of predicting results, testing a theory or establishing relationships between variables and employs a quantitative research design (Tuli, 2011). In this type of research, ideas, concepts, theories or hypotheses are a starting point with methods such as experimental, randomized control trials, quasi-experimental, correlational and causal comparative often applied to generate generalisable knowledge (Delanty, 2005; Mack, 2010; Mertens, 2015).

Furthermore, when dealing with axiological assumptions, positivism demands value free research with the aim of separating the knower from the known and facts from values in an attempt to ensure objectivity (Blaikie, 2007).  In fact, the use of scientific methods for data gathering to achieve objectivity and neutrality throughout the process is strongly emphasised as Giddens (1984, p.20)  highlights that “judgements of value have no empirical content of any sort”.  Ultimately, positivism is an assertion of science and stability and its attempt at searching for objectivity, causality and value neutrality made it appealing (Macdonald et al., 2002). As such, this approach and the subsequent use of quantitative methods dominated the nursing field, however, the growing criticisms of this approach particularly the lack of attention given to human behaviour identified led to the development of other philosophical approaches one of which is constructivism.

Constructivist Approach

There are different ways by which constructivism is defined in literature, however, Wilson (1996) defines it as an approach which contends that individuals  construct their own meaning and knowledge of the world through their experiences. This approach argues that knowledge and reality do not have an objective or absolute value and aligns with the relativist ontology (Murphy, 1997). As such realities are constructed with the knower interpreting and constructing this reality based on their experiences and interactions with their environment. On the epistemological continuum, constructivism aligns with subjectivism which assumes that the researcher and the researched are co-creators of meaning or reality. Therefore, as Murphy (1997) points out, in constructivism there are as many realities as individuals.  As such, various types of constructivism have emerged and some of these cited include radical, social, physical, evolutionary, postmodern constructivism, social constructionism (Steffe and Gale, 2009; Wilson, 1996; Murphy, 1997).


However, distinctly different from the positivist approach, constructivism recognises that individuals are intelligent and reflective, and these influence how individuals understand the world (Moses and Knutsen, 2012). Subsequently, the inquirer must explicate the process of construction as well as clarify what and how meanings are expressed in the language and actions of the participants.  This in turn influences the axiology with the approach asserting that the inquiry process is value-laden and as a result the knower cannot separate their experiences from what is being studied (Denzin and Lincoln, 2005). Ultimately, these biases will influence the research findings.  As Moses and Knutsen (2012, p.11) point out, ‘observations can contain bias and can be understood in different ways, consequently making even factual facts value laden’. Therefore, the researcher has to openly discuss values that shape the research and must include one’s own interpretation as well as the participant’s interpretation.

 As such, the constructivist approach is used to underpin qualitative studies that aim at understanding how individuals make sense of their everyday lives in their settings and generally the researcher will use inductive logic. This allows the researcher to understand the complexities, details and situated meanings of everyday life to generate knowledge (Schwandt, 1998). Most importantly, this knowledge is limited to context, time and to individuals or a group of people and consequently cannot be generalised into one reality. Therefore, the researcher may employ a variety of data collection methods which may include but are not limited to interviews, focus group discussions, observations and document reviews (Denzin and Lincoln, 2011). However, Schwandt (1998) cautions that examination of these methods cannot explain the approach because it is primarily concerned with knowing and being,  focus on the methods masks a full understanding of the relationship between the method and the inquiry process.



In understanding these two approaches, it is important to closely contrast in detail the key features of these approaches. The literature suggests that there is a huge divide between these two approaches and these are centred around the differences in the ontological and epistemological assumptions (Delanty, 2005; Mackenzie and Knipe, 2006; Denzin and Lincoln, 2011). A discussion about these is provided below.

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To begin with, it’s been argued that while being a predominant approach in generating appealing knowledge in a vast array of disciplines, the positivist approach has boundaries and limitations, therefore, cannot not be used to answer all questions. Mertens (2015) contends  that the  positivist approach falls short of knowledge generated by human behaviour particularly due to that fact this is unobservable and complex yet still vital in when studying phenomena. This is supported by Zaman (2016)  who posits that facts alone based on deterministic concepts are never enough to lead to the truth and therefore, one must add subjective interpretations which are against the core tenets of positivism. Additionally, Blaikie (2007) asserts that positivism ignores social reality and as a result fails to account for ways in which this reality is constructed and maintained thus creating fictitious social worlds.  However, Denscombe (2002) cautions that  this does not mean that the positivist approach is not useful but rather there are certain realms where it will not be able to provide answers and ultimately a more suited approach will have to be adopted.

On the issue of objectivity, proponents of the positivist approach maintain that social reality does not count as knowledge because it simply cannot be verified nor confirmed (Persson, 2010). Thus, findings from research undertaken with this approach are considered more reliable and valid as compared to than those from the constructivist approach. On the contrary, there are doubts about the validity of such findings and whether they claim to represent accurately what they claim to capture (Nudzor, 2009). This is supported by  Tuli (2011) who posits during the interpretation of data, there is a bias towards a particular conclusion which subsequently results in dismissing or ignoring particular findings that fail to fit current theories  and ultimately this affects validity. 

On the other hand, the innate subjectivity of constructivism, has been a source of criticisms with Nudzor (2009) asserting that this approach produces findings that lack reliability. With constructivism more interested in issues of subjectivity, it is argued that often contradictory and inconsistent explanations are produced and would need to be advanced to explicitly explain social phenomena (Krauss, 2005). Ultimately, all knowledge produced by research is interpreted subjectively underpinned by political and different ideologies thus disputing the objectivity stance taken by the positivist approach (Zaman, 2016).

Furthermore, central to positivism, is the rule that research lending itself to this approach should be context free thus generalisable.  This implies that in undertaking positivist research, observed occurrences in the studied phenomenon should be able to explain what can be expected elsewhere in the world. However,  Krauss (2005) believes  that the importance of generalisability is often over-estimated.  According to Kraus (2005) differences in contexts cannot allow knowledge to be generalisable because of the role context plays in research findings. Additionally, this approach runs a risk of neglecting or ignoring individuals whose understanding and interpretation related to phenomena could reveal a lot of truth about reality (Kester, 2011).  Therefore, society cannot be reduced to an abstract set of universal generalisations. Scott and Usher (2001) caution that generalisations are possible but they often tend either to be truisms or too general.

On the other hand, the lack of generalisability in the constructivist approach has drawn criticisms with Mack (2010) asserting that this approach does not allow for generalisations since it encourages the study of a small number of cases which often do not apply to the whole population. However, it has been argued that the detail and effort involved in constructivist inquiry generates insight into particular events and other perspectives that may otherwise have not come to light without that level of  scrutiny (Macdonald et al., 2002). Additionally, in a constructivist approach generalisations are not sought and independent and dependent variables are not predefined since the goal of the research is often to understand the deeper structures of the phenomenon rather than generating numbers (Schwandt, 1998).

On the issue of axiology, the positivist approach demands value free research with the aim of separating the knower from the known and facts from values in an attempt to ensure objectivity.  In fact, the use of scientific methods for data gathering to achieve objectivity and neutrality throughout the process is strongly emphasised on the premise of enabling generalisability (Delanty, 2005). On the contrary, in the constructivist approach, the idea of ethical neutrality has been dispelled with Scott and Usher (2001) arguing that the separation of scientific knowledge from the realm of values, freedom and will of the individual is not possible since every individual has feelings and ultimately this affects how one defines and attains knowledge.  Lee (2002) argues that research does not take place in a vacuum but is rather entrenched in social systems and beliefs, all of which play a major role in the final findings. Gadamer (1975), cited in Scott and Usher (2001) contends hat it is impossible to separate oneself as a researcher from the historical and cultural context which subsequently influence the individual beliefs and this as a result defines what is observed and the outcome.

Additionally, causality has been identified as one of the important tenets of positivism, however, critiques suggest that causality is not observable but rather requires many different analyses of the situation  yet these  remain meaningless among standard positivists (Blaikie, 2007).  However, Zaman (2016)  argues that even if it is unobservable, causality remains core to the understanding of natural phenomena. He also contends that the vast majority of human knowledge is unobservable and the fact that positivism cannot deal with unobservable remains the main failure of this approach. As such, this approach does not lead to sufficient comprehension of the phenomena under study even with the notion of objectivity at the core (Khlentzos, 2004). However, it should be noted that  the positivist approach does not reject inquiry into any unobservable causes of phenomenon but rather those that are only inaccessible to human knowledge as pointed out by  Hammersley (1993).

Similarly, it has been argued that the constructivist approach with its ontological assumptions creates problems when undertaking health and disease research. As Broom  and Evan Murray (2007, p.27) contend that ‘what can be more real than cancer, pain or diabetes? How can it be argued that these phenomena are socially and cultural determined rather than purely physiological conditions?’.  This argument tends to suggest that a positive approach is more suited for health and disease research, however, Broom and Evan Murray (2007) call for a middle ground when choosing an approach in studying certain phenomena and ultimately, the appropriateness and usefulness of a particular approach will be intimately tied to the nature of the research question.

As the essay elaborates the dichotomies between the positivist and constructivist approaches underpinning nursing research science, it is undoubtedly clear that these centre on the issue of the nature of reality and how to construct it. The arguments put forward challenge orientations towards both approaches thus raise the issue of what constitutes the best approach. However,  they also share some commonality when studying natural phenomena as Cupchik (2001) notes that in examining natural phenomena, both approaches segment the social world into an object of inquiry.  They both deal with data and in the process of collecting data, the flow of events in the social world is disrupted to selectively focus on a particular object of study. This act, consequently, creates bias and distortion ultimately displaying the inherent subjectivity of both approaches.   However, notably, none of the approaches is superior to the other and choice will ultimately depend on the individual’s professional, education and/or personal background and the phenomena under study.


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The Philosophical Views of Robin Hood

When someone utters the name: Robin Hood and almost immediately people will conjure up images of the green-clad archer of Sherwood Forest, or the noble robber who steals from the rich to give to the poor, and in a deeper sense, a man who will stand up to injustice and tyranny during the period that historians classify as the Middle Ages. Robin Hood is looked at by many as a hero. When taking a look at this idea through a philosophical point of view, there are more things to consider. Should people actually regard him as a hero? If so, don’t we have some sort of a responsibility as a society to look upon people who steal no matter what the reason for their actions may be as nothing more than a thief who is blight on society? On the flip side, is it acceptable to consider him a hero because he is helping those who are deemed less fortunate in society and therefore making society better as a whole? Upon using the ideas of Mills, and Kant it is this authors opinion that indeed Robin Hood though his actions aren’t the most morally ideal, he is breaking laws that ultimately were made by rich men and done so to most of the time to protect themselves and their fortune. Philosophically speaking, what Robin Hood did was help the greater good of many at the expense of a few and as a result society as a whole improved.

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Before diving in and explaining this further one must look at the three philosophers and their ideas and compare them to the folk hero himself. John Stuart Mill’s idea of utilitarianism can be considered as the idea of greatest happiness. Like the folk hero Robin Hoods actions, it can be described as that that a person has a duty to always act so he/she can accomplish the most happiness for the greatest number of people. One of Mill’s major ideas to the concept of utilitarianism is that he argues for the group over the individual. When looking at Robin Hood, while he is stealing, he is doing so for the greater good of many as opposed to the individual (in most cases, Robin Hood steals from the Sheriff of Nottingham). But there is a difference between what Mills argues than that of say Jeremy Bentham. Bentham argues that all phases of happiness as indeed equal. Mills tends to argue that pleasures derived from thinking and that of moral fiber can be considered superior to those pleasures that are in the physical nature. Mills also argues that happiness can be considered of higher value than that of contentment. This can be considered one part where Mills might have a problem with what Robin Hood is doing. Mill’s idea of being morally correct and having that leading to happiness can lead some people to believe that he would not have approved at Robin Hoods actions.
Mill’s definition of the difference between happiness of a higher and lower nature coupled with the idea that those who have seen and been a part of both tend to favor one over the other. In other words, Mill’s tends to argue is that it is the simple pleasures of life that people tend to prefer when they have no experience with something such as art or a night out at a museum and are because of this, these people are not in a position to make any sort of distinction between the two. This is something that can apply to Robin Hood as the people that he steals from certainly have an idea about museums and art and those who he gives his stolen products to certainly prefer the simple pleasures in life such as being able to eat a full meal or have some place to sleep. While Mills is certainly distinguishing two groups of people, he is not forgetting about the people that can be considered poor in his writing. Therefore it can be argued that while morally he does not totally agree with Robin Hood’s way of being, when looking at this writing, he does talk about the happiness for the greater good and there are some people who prefer the simple pleasures in life. These people, who prefer the simple pleasures, are those who Robin Hood helps the most although he may not fit into Mills idea of moral ambiguity. It should be noted that, Mills certainly have advocated sending the poor to universities to get an education and he believed that education would then qualify them to have more influence in say government but lets not forget that at the time that Robin Hood supposedly lived, there was a rigid class system and it was like it was today where people have ways through government programs to make that happen so this idea of his argument does not really apply here and therefore one must go back to the simple writings of Mills of happiness for the greater group and the simple pleasures that the poor during this time period to apply the idea of Robin Hood and whether he is right or wrong. When taking all factors into consideration it is the argument of this author that he would have seen Robin Hood as someone who is doing good work.
When taking a gander at Immanuel Kant, he tends to argue that people occupy a special place in the idea of creation, and his definition of morality can best be defined as that there is a law of reason that create all of humans duties and obligations. In other words, there is a reason that people do the things that they do and sometimes the reasons can be really simple. He takes this one step further by arguing that anything important as any idea that declares a certain action to be necessary. A good example of this can be described as: if someone is thirsty, they must have something to drink to make that thirst go away. Well, when looking at the idea and actions of a Robin Hood, he quenches the thirst of those who are thirsty. He feeds those who are hungry. He takes care of those who are less fortunate and does so using Kant’s definition of morality because there is a reason that creates his duty and obligation (the definition above). It should be noted however, that he also talks about a categorical imperative which, on the other hand, denotes an absolute, unconditional requirement that asserts its authority in all circumstances. “It is best known in its first formulation:
“Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” This last idea is where Kant might have a problem with the actions of Robin Hood. Certainly, stealing will never become universal law, but this begs to ask the question, is feeding someone who is deemed an outcast from society because they don’t believe in the laws made by someone who is ruthless and attempts to weed out those who don’t agree with him wrong? Let’s not forget that laws are made by man himself and usually those laws are made to benefit those who make them. They are not made with everyone in mind. This is why the idea of universal law can be certainly considered biased. They are made with the idea that they benefit those who are making them without thinking of how they affect the “little people” of society. This is who Robin Hood thinks about; those who are not taken into consideration when laws are made. This is why he can be considered “a man of the common people.”
Kant was known for his major unhappiness with those moral philosophies that were considered popular during his time; because he believed that it would never pass the level of being hypothetical. An idea such as that a utilitarian says that killing someone is indeed wrong because it does not create the most good for the most number of people. But this idea doesn’t relate to someone who doesn’t care about the greater good of the group and is only concerned with maximizing the positive outcome for themselves such as the Sheriff of Nottingham. Because of this, Kant argues that the idea of hypothetical moral systems cannot influence people’s moral actions or be looked upon as moral judgments against different people.
While both Kant and Mills would not totally be on board, so to speak with the way that Robin Hood conducted his daily life, it would be safe to argue that a lot of their writings pertain to the idea of what Robin Hood represents. Robin Hood showed people that sometimes an otherwise wrong deed is at times a good thing. Or in simpler terms, sometimes stealing isn’t necessarily wrong, particularly when justified by worthy ideal such as the greater good of the group or when laws are made by man for the benefit of the few in society, an idea that is still very prevalent today all over the world. Some consider Robin Hood an outlaw, this author considers him someone who had the courage to stand up to those who could not stand up for themselves and often was banished by society. He is fighting what can be considered a class war during the Middle Ages and it certainly is an idea that almost a millennium later, we are still fighting as a society. Maybe some things will never change.