Using Philosophy to Form Opinions

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I’m still going through old half-written posts and deciding which ones are worth completing before I move on to my new project. The thoughts in this one are things I haven’t really shared on here, so here you go.

As a disclaimer, I am not a philosopher. But I do try to be thoughtful, and I’ve done a fair amount of reading about politics and policy and philosophy over the last couple decades, and this is how I currently see philosophy fitting into my interests.

I see philosophy as the deeper thinking about what’s important and what’s good or bad. Without having a personal philosophical understanding of these things, I have no way of evaluating government or society for myself. I will be subject to others’ opinions about those things, allowing them to decide for me. Or maybe I will form my own opinions, but I will have nothing to base it on other than what superficially or intuitively seems best.

So that’s the overview. But getting a little more specific, I believe there are different layers of knowledge we need if we are to have well-founded opinions about governmental and societal issues.

The deepest layer is moral philosophy. This is what helps you define what your overall goals are for human life and society. The absolute Truths you believe in and their priority relative to each other. What is justice? What is liberty? How do you obtain fulfillment? Your answers to these questions shape your core values, which guide your opinions on everything.

I used to think moral philosophy wasn’t very interesting, but when I started to analyze how I was forming my own opinions, I realized moral philosophy is the pre-requisite that informs every other aspect of opinion making, and it has since become very interesting to me.

The next layer up is political philosophy, which I think of as an attempt to figure out an idealized organization of society and government that achieves my core values. It’s the theory of government and society.

So when you are deciding where you would place your ideal government on each of the 5 spectra that I use to categorize governments, you are using your knowledge of political philosophy to do that.

And then the next layer up is policy, which is the attempt to implement those ideal structures. I notice a lot of writers about healthcare skip straight to this level without first stopping to analyze or at least clarify the moral and political philosophy they are applying.

And then the top layer is politics, which comprises the efforts to turn those policies into law and implement them. I know the political process is where the rubber meets the road, but I am content to focus on the three deeper layers and then help advise politicians on them so they can focus on the messy work of getting things enacted in the real world.

In summary, we form our core beliefs through moral philosophy, which then guides our political philosophy efforts to define a preferred ideal structure of government and society, which leads to supporting specific policies, which are then run through the gauntlet of politics to finally be implemented in the real world.

I write primarily for myself–to help synthesize my ideas. But I also write with a desire to be persuasive. I want all countries to implement better policies so their healthcare systems can deliver better value. And I believe the only way to do that is to have a solid foundation at the deeper philosophical levels. They are what inform every opinion I share about specific policies. This is probably why I write so much about what could be considered “theory,” maybe sometimes to my detriment in our data-driven world. And the fact is, we need both. The theory and the data. Optimally, the theories are informed by and tested against the data. I need to write more about that data since I’ve read it but not stored it in an easily accessible and easy-to-cite way, which is why I’ll soon be spending a lot more time doing that.

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