Breaking the Rules of Philosophy

I once heard a teacher tell his students, “If you want to be able to break the rules, you have to know them first.” Basically, the point is something similar to Chesterton’s fence. Rather than breaking the rules when you don’t understand them, you should only remove barriers with a good cause. In Meditations on First Philosophy, Rene Descartes flips the rules of philosophy on their head in this experiment.

“If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.”

Rene Descartes
Meditations on First Philosophy

Know the Rules

Philosophy operates on certain rules and conditions, and it takes a lot to learn them. While I’m no expert, I do think that I know what I don’t know. I enjoy philosophy and walking through arguments, but I don’t have all the terms and processes down. But, I do see why the rules are in place. They keep the conversation on track and help people know how to “play the game.” If two people want to spar or square off, the rules must be established and agreed upon. The framework philosophers have created over the last couple thousand years help us do that in a much more productive way.

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Different Ways of Breaking the Rules

Now that we know why we have the rules, I want to discuss the ways we break them. Rules can be broken out of ignorance, anger, spite, or for a good cause. So, it's important to know which reason you have to break a rule when you do it.

Here are some different ways people go about it:

  • Know the rules, and not care that you're breaking the rules
  • Not know you're breaking the rules
  • Know what the rules are and break them for a good reason
  • Break rules in play or in an exercise, but still abide by them

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