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The Importance of Practical Philosophy by Derrel Walters

I’ve heard – as many of you have – that behind every good man is a good woman. Although this adage is true in many cases, the statement is actually a narrow observation of a more general truth. More broadly, one could say – behind every good person is a good guiding philosophy regardless of the source or whether it is realized or unrealized. The most important knowledge that can be imparted from one generation to the next is a set of principles that allow for men and women to live successfully amongst one another in the world as it exists at the time. For progress to occur, that practical philosophy must evolve as conditions change and as Man as a whole becomes on average more intelligent.

The only divides that separate humans from other animals are Our superior ability to communicate complicated ideas and the superior dexterity provided by Our opposable thumbs. With these two means of survival, Man has been able to transform the resources found in the environment into a seemingly endless diversity of doo-dads and whatchamacallits. It is also these two traits that have made it absolutely necessary for Man to continue an ongoing development of a guiding philosophy that maximizes the success of Our species. After all, if a deer were to find a way to create a water canteen, all the other deer would want to use it. Then, the damn deer would need to improve upon their guiding principles. Envy originated the need for a practical philosophy.

If it weren’t for underhanded actions motivated by envy, there would be no need for any type of security. Envy itself is not evil. Actually, envy can be a useful survival tool. For instance, suppose Caveman A creates a spear that allows him to increase his leisure time by making hunting less difficult. Caveman B notices A while hunting and immediately begins to feel envy and wants the new tool for himself. B could take one of three avenues to acquire a spear: 1) B could use force (or the threat of force) to steal the spear and violate A’s right to the fruits of his own labor; 2) B could ask A to make him a spear either for free or for barter; or 3) B could request that A teach him how to make a spear (again for free or for barter).

It is only when Caveman B chooses option 1 that envy becomes detrimental to the community. With tenets of classical conditioning in mind, the theft serves as a punishment to the productivity of A, and as a consequence, Caveman A may even decide not to produce any more spears than is necessary for his own survival; productivity is minimized.

On the other hand, option 2 increases the overall productivity of the community while minimizing potential conflict. Option 3 – for B to learn to fashion his own spear – is the best of the choices. In that instance, it is more probable that future cavemen will have the opportunity to learn how to make the spear and possibly improve upon it (rather than the knowledge dying with Caveman A). It turns out that options 1, 2, & 3 are general to all instances where envy is sufficient to provoke action. A successful practical philosophy must therefore encourage constructive employment of envy and discourage individuals from choosing the ever present “option 1.”

Envy should be channeled productively to achieve one’s desired ends without the initiation of force. Otherwise, the productivity of the affected community will tend to slow or even decrease.

Every individual has a guiding philosophy that continues to develop over a lifetime based upon personal interactions with the environment and interactions with other individuals. These principles can be as simple and crude as not pissing into the wind or as broadly applicable and graceful as the realization that – like my great grandfather would say – “A flash flood will only wash the dirt off of a rock, but a steady drip will beat a hole plumb through it.” A person’s guiding philosophy is the continuously evolving sum of lessons learned and persisting ignorance.

Historically and on a larger scale, organized religion and compulsory education have served as major contributors to the molding of Man’s practical philosophy. Nowadays however, humans have progressed to a point where a significant number question the sincerity of organized religion, and traditional approaches to education have lagged behind the rate of development that the Information Age has brought about. As the intentions and authority of these institutions have garnered more criticism, a philosophical vacuum has been created that begs to be filled. These institutions have traditionally aspired to answer the question as to what is to be considered normal and acceptable behavior as defined by the originators of the religious philosophy or educational curriculum. So then, who or what is now filling this void?

Today, various forms of media serve to instill much of Man’s practical philosophy. Books, internet articles or videos, and television programming all contribute to varying degrees depending on individual tastes. The diversity of information (and disinformation) available for consumption necessarily leads to a parallel level of diversity in individual guiding philosophies. As a result, otherwise demographically similar individuals can display drastically different behavior.

If a person comes to believe that some behavior or principle is “normal,” the belief is bolstered through similar, repetitive occurrences in personally consumed media. For instance, a child that believes in the boogeyman will continue to do so – and possibly more devoutly – with consumption of media that portrays it as a real creature. Such a child may incorporate into their guiding philosophy something silly (but nonetheless earnestly adhered to) like it is never a good idea to let one’s feet be uncovered while asleep.

An individual that grew up watching Andy Griffith may have subtle (or not so subtle) characteristic differences compared to a person who watched 90210 or CSI: Miami on a regular basis. Although often not as pronounced due to an individual’s exposure to multiple sources of media, this phenomenon is analogous to differences in behavior that tend to occur between people of different religious faiths (or people that attended rivaling schools on opposite sides of town).

If popular media wanted to drastically aid the philosophical development of Man, it should challenge widespread misconceptions of reality rather than pandering to them. Meanwhile, aware individuals have the ability to use their free market vote to boycott junk media by not watching or reading the content or by cancelling services altogether. Media has largely displaced religion and compulsory education as a persuasive source for a philosophical guide to action. Individuals should be weary and selective of what they consume.

You are not only what you eat. You are also (at least partially) what you read, watch, and play.

As it is more widely realized that the individual is the fundamental unit of society, it will also become more apparent that all forms of collectivism will continue to fail just as racism, sexism, and nationalism have failed and/or led to horrible results in the past. Demonizing particular groups of people in order to gain enough popular support to extort them, murder them, or enslave them will only ever motivate the victims to become emboldened and likely seek retribution against the perceived oppressors.

Every person is born into the world free of any legitimate (voluntarily incurred) debts. My neighbor has no right to harvest my garden without permission or rob bandwidth from my internet service. On the same note, being born in a particular geographic location does not entitle the ruling class of that land to a 30% lifelong cut to the fruits of one’s labor.

Governments were only instituted to make defense of natural rights less time consuming for the productive members of society. No person likes for his or her spear to be stolen, and some individuals are unable to successfully defend themselves against would be predators. So people seek protection, and the institution of government inevitably ensues along with a resultant monopoly on the use of force. This does not become a problem until government is transformed into the vehicle for theft.

For the reasons stated, the development of Man’s practical philosophy has brought into existence the idea of limited government where supposedly only necessary functions are to be performed. Perfecting the principle of limited government and its successful application – in my humble opinion – is the most important philosophical dilemma to ever face humanity.

With a high degree of certainty, involuntarily enforced collectivist policies will not be part of the solution in the long run. If collectivist policies are to exist at all, they should be as local as possible, and only those people who choose to participate should bear the burden of finance. Philosophies that include collectivism are incompatible with an optimally productive society.

As long as information has a way to flow freely, the philosophical evolution of Man will be unstoppable. Only the widespread use of censorship or terrorism by governments or cataclysmic destruction can severely retard, halt, or reverse the progress of humanity. Even with the employment of extreme measures, attempts to quell the long-term, ideological development of mankind will very likely fail due to the persistence and resourcefulness of the human species to communicate ideas.

Ideas that ring of truth cannot be easily exterminated. For example, quantum mechanics will never be replaced by Newtonian mechanics, farmers will never give up their modern tractors for slaves, and free men and women will continue to seek more freedom as the intermittent, bitter tastes of totalitarianism sputter from the flailing powers that be. The ever adapting practical philosophy that guides Man will continue evolve with or without resistance from governments or other entities that choose “option 1” for their means of survival. The practical philosophy that guides Man is extremely important to Our species’ long-term success, and ultimately, it will lead to more freedom and less thievery – whether one likes it or not.


I would define practical philosophy as the principles that guide the day to day actions of individuals. Widely agreed upon principles, in turn, make up Man's practical philosophy.

In addition, I would like to say - beware of substances or strong emotions that would otherwise make you act against your own practical philosophy.

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Old post bump...

When I Startpaged my name, this was one of the first articles to appear.

Your Post is at the top of my reading list


lindalsalisbury's picture

Breath of Fresh Air

What a great post! It' a joy to find this jewel among the garbage I have been sifting through this morning!!!!



Shameless morning bump


Wrote this the other day, thought I would dig it out of the heap

one more time for others to see.