A Philosophical Exercise in Listening


Currently my best friend is taking a 100 level philosophy class that studies valid arguments and paradoxes. As a person who studies math, which relies on people agreeing on certain core assumptions, philosophy’s constant scrutiny of what people assume to be true is disconcerting. However I wish to tell you that if for a moment you assume all knowledge to be abstract, you can become a very skilled listener.

Let me be very specific. Assuming all knowledge is abstract in this case means knowledge only exists as ideas and not an agreed upon physical or concrete existence. You would probably tell me that concepts like the number 2 or the earth revolves around the sun are not abstract and something very concrete or real to the average person.

Let us focus on how a person perceives the number 2 for a second. Historically integers originated as a counting mechanism. You can count two sheep and that eventually lead to the concept of measuring a length such as 2 meters. My main point is that the number 2 itself is associated with mathematical quantities of measurement or for the more advanced, mathematical applications concerning 2 (y = 2 or the set {2}). Hence much of our knowledge is built upon associations to applications or related concepts. I believe this greatly impacts how different people use their knowledge and their true interpretation of any given piece of knowledge is very personal.

If you treat knowledge as behaving in this manner, you will start to understand other peoples assumptions instead of immediately thinking they are wrong. If someone told you there are 12 days in a year, we could start thinking if this person defines a day as we define a month using the Julian Calendar. This becomes more significant when dealing with controversial topics.

Let us take the topic of one night stands. Many people are divided on this issue with a plethora of opinions, but for the sake of simplicity I will break it down into two opposing viewpoints and talk about how this affects women. Side (a) says we live in the 21st century and women can do damn well as they please. If they want to sleep with a man (or woman) on the first date, they are free to do so and if they scour the streets for casual sex that is their personal business. Side (b) says sex concerns certain emotional connections that go beyond such a brief interaction and one night stands can take a psychological toll without people realizing it. In addition certain encounters can be highly unsafe if individuals are not familiar with the character of their partners.

Let’s take side (b) here and pretend we are listening to side (a) disagree with us. In many cases if people cared enough about the issue they would disagree strongly enough to not truly care what the other side says. However let us apply our really funky assumption that all knowledge is abstract. We can see that side (a) values individual freedom and validation of desires over control of one’s self at the very least. In addition maybe side (a) also believes that women are being judged unfairly for behavior that is justified for men, which is unfair in their eyes. Even if you do not agree with their argument, you can take their beliefs and morals and apply them to yourself.

You could ask yourself questions like:

Do I favor controlling my desires and thoughts? If so why do I do this? Are there cases where this holds me back?

Do I treat women fairly? Do I want to treat women fairly?

These types of questions came from people you disagreed with. In essence there are many things to be learned from people who disagree with you. You solidify your own beliefs and decisions, question them, or alter them by listening to others and what they assume to be true. I took the assumption that knowledge is abstract in this scenario because people often assume information to be trivial or incorrect when their own belief in that piece of information is strong. Even if that is the case, you have a lot to learn by ascertaining the assumptions behind that line of logic. The key to listening is finding these assumptions before you rush to disagree.

One comment on “A Philosophical Exercise in Listening

  1. earthstills says:

    I enjoy the reasoning within your thought process!


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