The digitally connected world we live in today has become far more complex and the need to communicate effectively even greater. The world is now a global village. Often, you’ll find you need to write and communicate in such a way that your message can be easily understood by people from diverse backgrounds across the globe. That’s precisely where philosophy can help. To write in a way that your message is universally relatable, philosophical thinking is essential.
Philosophical thinking has to do with human beings, rather than manmade objects. It has to do with how we think and deal with questions of existence. All human beings – regardless of race, creed or even literacy – have the same fundamental desires and needs, including the desire for a better quality of life for ourselves and our children. Thus, writing with philosophical concepts in mind can help you cut through the superficial barriers that divide us and communicate more effectively.
Here’re some philosophical concepts and ideas that can help you become a much better writer and also an overall better person.
Philosophy — the very love of introspection and reflection itself — seems to emphasize critical thinking more than anything else. The ability to think critically is immensely beneficial in a wide range of real-life situations, including writing. At any moment in life where you have to make a decision about something, that decision will always depend on your thinking and reasoning abilities.
Dr. David Brendel MD, in a Harvard Business Review article, suggests that the true value of philosophy is that it leads to valuable self-reflection. Self reflection leads to asking the right questions, which in turn helps us think more clearly and deeply about the issues we face every day. Ultimately, deeper thinking leads to deeper living; shallow thinking leads to shallow living. You write better pieces when you take time to think deeply about your topic.
For this reason, nurturing the habit of thinking critically and applying good judgment in your day-to-day life, can not only help you become a better writer, but also a better reader, a better leader, a better consumer, a better voter, a better friend, a better parent, a better brother, a better sister, and so on. It has a ripple effect throughout your life that scientists describe as the “Butterfly effect.”
An issue of concern to many writers and professionals is fairness. We want to not only be fair, but also be perceived as fair. Apart from legal liability, readers and customers also levy a heavy social tax on writers and brands they see as acting unfairly. People in positions of influence, therefore, find they need to show empathy, to put themselves in others shoes so that they are perceived as fair and just.
John Rawls’ concept of the veil of ignorance is quite helpful for those who want to be fair. Rawls’ basic idea is to think about how you would like things to work if you had no idea where you would end up in the system. So, for example, if you were a columnist for a particular online publication, you would be offended by people unfairly criticizing your writing. On the other hand, if you were the reader, you would want the columnist to be considerate and empathetic when discussing sensitive issues that matter to you.
It makes sense, therefore, to treat others as you would like to be treated and avoid unnecessary friction. Similarly, we should write what we wish to read, and create what we wish already existed. Be the change you wish to see—it’s only fair. Besides, according to the Law of attraction, we attract into our lives who we are. Whether you are good or bad, that is exactly what you will attract into your life.
Logic is a term whose meaning is often misrepresented. Many people say something is “logical” or “valid” when they mean it is true, but that is a misnomer. Logic applies only to whether a statement is internally consistent. Something can be logical and false, just as a statement can be logically nonsensical, but true nonetheless.
That is the basic premise of Aristotle’s logic, which survived for nearly 2000 years without any significant amendment. It notes that you can judge the validity of a statement by simply analyzing its structure. As writers, it is important to understand the Aristotelian logic. Once you are familiar with it, you can avoid common logical errors in your writing.
For example, someone who says that reading is a good idea because “everybody knows it is,” is making a logical error called begging the question. That person is taking for granted precisely what is in dispute. Such logical errors lead to poor communication.
If you’ve ever had to read through a jargon filled text, you will understand why the great philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein denounced the use of private language. Private languages such as jargon, acronyms and neologisms can provide helpful shorthand for complex ideas, but they can also obscure their meaning.
Wittgenstein observed that relying on private language not only confuses the listener, but also the speaker. He argued that if you can’t explain something in a public language that everyone can understand, you don’t really understand it yourself.
So, while technical language can be helpful, try to explain things in everyday terms. Not only will you become a better writer and communicator, you will also grasp your own ideas better.
In 1931 a 25 year-old Austrian logician named Kurt Gödel published his incompleteness theorems, which determined that logic was broken forever. He proved that every logical system crashes eventually. It is just a matter of time. Gödel’s theorem was significant because it explained why Aristotle’s theory of logic, though unparalleled in its power and longevity, was found to have flaws and contradictions over time that no one seemed able to reconcile. The contradictions are captured clearly in Russell’s paradox.
The theorem is relevant to you because every time you think you have built the perfect system for writing, editing, promoting your work or whatever, that system is flawed. It will eventually crash. The same case applies to running a business. Your best systems for lead generation, product distribution, compensation, or whatever are inherently flawed. That’s a feature of all logical systems.
No system – not your own system or those that “experts” or influencers swear by – are perfect. This is a basic fact, not only of life, but of logic. That means there is no right or wrong way of doing things. It’s about doing things your way. So quit obsessing with what worked for others. It may not work for you. Also, stop following other people’s writing processes or systems blindly. They may not help.
Milk the systems that work while they work; and then adapt, change or replace them as necessary. Don’t hoard your best ideas or systems, either. Give them away. Once your idea or system no longer works, you can always come up with another one. That’s how you become a thought leader and trailblazer. People will come to trust and rely on you for developing the best ideas, which is what you want.
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by Hugh MacLeod
Ever wonder what it really takes to make a living as a creative person in today's complicated world?
MacLeod presents some witty keys for creative success, including "ignore everybody. Why should you "ignore everybody"?
Because, he writes, nobody else can tell you whether your idea is worthwhile. People can give you advice, but at the end of the day, it's your decision. The more original an idea, the less helpful the advice is going to be.
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