Etymological, philosophy means ‘loving wisdom’. When technically defined, it is the critical evaluation of all the facts of an experience. Critical would include the rejection of bias or prejudice and evaluation would include valuation. To have value is etymological to be ‘strong’ or ‘effective’, and hence have ‘worth’. In this context, philosophy differs from science in that it attempts to determine without bias the ‘worth’ of every variable in the experience, whereas the scientist merely seeks to describe selected facts of the experience which lie within his or her special field. The placement of value or worth requires a criteria used to distinguish truth from error.
“A criteria of truth is a standard, or rule, by which to judge the accuracy of statements and opinions; thus, it is a standard of verification” [Sahakian & Sahakian, 1993].
This process is important, not only to the field of human services, but to the process by which people with problems in living seek coherence. The individual must decide upon the criteria which can enable him or her to distinguish what is true from what is not true. It should be obvious to most readers that not all criteria have equal validity for this process. Philosophers have used a wide range of criteria including custom, tradition, time, feelings (emotion), instinct, hunch, intuition, revelation, majority rule, consensus, correspondence, authority, utility, consistency and coherence.
The process includes not only criteria of validity, but the avoidance of material fallacies of reasoning. Such erroneous ways of reasoning about facts are “numerous, deceptive and elusive – so elusive that a person untrained in detecting them can easily be misled into accepting them as valid” [Sahakian & Sahakian, 1993]. The ability to reason without committing error is an obvious asset. Philosophers list such material fallacies in classifications such as 1) linguistic fallacies, or those which involve the abuse or misuse of language; 2) fallacies of irrelevant evidence, or arguments which miss the central point at issue and rely principally upon emotions, feelings, ignorance, etc., to defend a position; 3) miscellaneous fallacies which belong to a number of other classifications but which do not readily lend themselves to further subdivision.
Some examples of such fallacies are dicto simpliciter, or the attempt to apply a general rule to special cases where there are exceptions to the rule. To make universal statements about matters to which the rule does not always apply. The paradoxical cliche ‘All generalizations are wrong; including this one’ is advice against such fallacies and their converse variants.
False cause or post hoc fallacies consist of reasoning from mere sequence to consequence. That is from mere sequence an assumption of causal connection is made. The fact that A precedes B, does not necessarily make A the cause of B.
Compound questions, also known as ‘poisoning the well’, is an error which consists of combining several questions in such a manner as to preclude all opposing arguments, thus placing one’s opponent in a self-incriminating position. “Do you still beat your wife” is the quisessential example.
Petitio Principii, or begging the question is comprised of circular reasoning such as when in order to prove that A is true, B is used as proof, but since B requires support, C is used in defense of B, but C also requires proof and is substianted by A, the proposition which was to be proved in the first place.
Such examples are not inclusive, but should indicate to the reader that such fallacies are reasonably common. In fact, a list of cognitive errors expounded by a cognitive scientist would not appear much different. Such cognitive errors lead to problems in living when they are applied to the problem of truth about oneself, other people and future prospects for it is difficult to avoid projection of one’s philosophical position into any definition of truth. Since all persons have a philosophy of life, whether they have consciously considered it or not, this philosophy impedes their ability to define truth, unless they are very aware of material fallacies.
A philosophy is vital to the development of coherence. If we seek truth in the delivery of human services, it requires a criteria of validity and a process which avoids error. “True ideas are those that we can assimilate, validate, corroborate and verify. False ideas are those we cannot.” Truth happens to an idea. It becomes true, is made true by events.”, according to the Pragmatists. It is assumed that human beings can therefore obtain only partial knowledge based upon partial experience, which differs from what others obtain. Knowledge, at best, then is opinion, a subjective truth. Since truth is opinion, what is true for you is true only for you. [Sahakian & Sahakian, 1993]
Seeking coherence for those in the human service system, therefore requires the development of a “common truth” or common cause. Human services cannot be effectively provided with different perspectives of truth each vying for prominence. The collective discovery of the summum bonum, (life’s greatest good) cannot be determined without a discussion of philosophy. “The right act can readily be known once the greatest good has been determined, for it becomes simply that act which enhances the realization of the greatest good, and the immoral act is that mode of behavior which is a deterrent to its realization” [Sahakian & Sahakian, 1993]. Ethics embodies two areas, namely right action and life’s greatest good. Without a clear system definition of life’s greatest good, one is unable to determine ‘right action’. If in the service of human beings, we cannot agree upon or determine right actions; we enter into the realm of morality.
The relationship between ethics and morals is like that between theory and practice, since the former denotes the theory of right conduct and the good life, whereas the latter refers to the actual practice of right conduct and the good life. The term moral has a dual meaning: the first has to do with the ability of a person to understand morality as well as his capacity to make moral decisions; the second has to do with the actual performance of moral acts. Using the term moral in the former sense, we may contrast it with amoral, which refers to a being incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong. Using the term moral in the latter sense, we may contrast it to immoral, which refers to actions which transgress moral principles. [Sahakian & Sahakian, 1993]
In distinguishing between personal ethics signifying the moral code applicable to individual persons, and social ethics, referring to the moral code of groups, we identify the latter as concerned with the development of social policy and the former with the implementation of this social policy in a manner which not only does things right, but does the right things.
Seeking coherence as an individual is to examine closely the criteria of validity. This will require an awareness of one’s own beliefs, prejudices and intents. As Socrates said “the unexamined life is not worth living”. To know oneself, that is to know oneself completely, one’s conscious and unconscious self, makes for power, self-control and success. Individuals encounter difficulty only because they do not truly know themselves – their natures, limitation, abilities, motives, the entire gamut of their personalities. They need a psychological mirror enabling each person to see his spiritual self as it really is, including all its shortcomings, strengths and potentialities. [Sahakian & Sahakian, 1993]
For people with problems in living, this psychological mirror is the helper. The examination of life’s greatest good, right action, ethics and morality of social policy and social action is considered a prerequisite for human service delivery. To do otherwise is to create the opportunity for material and moral error.
For human service agencies, the requirements of philosophy are prerequisite to the development of a coherent learning organization. Without a defining summum bonum, there is not ability to measure right action and without right action, there is no coherence.