Everyday Philosophy

There are countless things in the world that could be considered philosophical – some more obvious, like a blog for example, and some more discrete like everyday activities or movies. When I think of an everyday activity that is philosophical, walking the dog comes to mind. This example stems from knowing many people who have pets, and taking care of them requires tasks like going for a daily walk. There are different reasons as to why people have dogs, as well the things they do while taking the dog for a walk which ties into philosophy without consciously knowing. Imagine taking your dog to a public park knowing your dog is well behaved, trained, and at no risk of causing harm to others.  However, the park has signs all around stating that dogs are required to be on leashes at all times. The sign is therefore stating a law that one must follow when walking their dog. For some reason though, this law has not stopped many people therefore making those who do allow their dogs off leash to test their morals and consider why people do not abide by such rules. The act of walking a dog has purpose and reasoning behind it, and how one decides to conduct this action speaks to their moral values and objectives.

Before entering this course, philosophy was not something I had given much thought towards. Through conversation, I assumed philosophy was concerned with critical thinking and could also be considered as wisdom. I have since learned that a philosophy can provide a framework for the basis of decision making and choice rationale. It allows one to have a sense of what to do, and why to do it. For example, what should someone do when told not to eat a piece of cake? Philosophy instills values as to why one would want to eat the cake and provides us a rationale to base this decision from. My understanding of philosophy has grown since the beginning of the course. Learning that there are many philosophers with a wide range of perspectives and differentiating theories that has impacted how I view decision making in everyday life. I have learned philosophies may provide a perspective on how individuals should view success in life, and have grown a deeper understanding for those whose views differentiate from my own based on different philosophies. For example, I never would have imagined studying the topic of death in philosophy and debating different perspectives on this topic of whether it was good or bad. For me, philosophy requires individuals to think critically and form decisions based on one’s values, meaning, and purpose toward life.  While I had originally sensed that philosophies would involve some degree of critical thinking, my knowledge has continued to expand and grown to understand that one’s moral values may be strengthened and exemplified within a philosophy.

Much of what I think of philosophy ties into the work of Epicurus and Mills. The work of Epicurus was centered around establishing a life purpose and a goal in which all humans strive to live in a life of static pleasure. His philosophy provides rationale for the desires one should seek in life through understanding of one’s views and virtues. Epicurus’s perspective highlighted that all humans should seek happiness and this is achieved through established virtues, wisdom, temperance, courage and justice. Epicurus argued that if one could live in static pleasure the state of life would be complete. This is similar to the perspective I had come into the course with when considering philosophy to provide life with meaning and wisdom. This is where I find my understanding of philosophy to also tie into the philosophy of Mill who started to distinguish right from wrong, giving morality to one’s life. Mill was concerned with making decisions based on creating the greatest amount of pleasure which is what Epicurus says we ought to live for.  Thus, Epicurus provided the foundation for understanding the purpose of life (seek static pleasure), and Mill’s provided the how (make decisions that result in the greatest amount of pleasure). When we make the right moral decisions, we are completing the goal of life. Both philosopher’s theories fit with my personal views in seeking happiness and provided a foundation of understanding how to rationalize and navigate daily decisions that contribute towards a common goal for all humans.

When looking at the example of walking a dog off leash at a public park, there are many aspects that can be considered  philosophical. Taking a dog for a walk not only benefits the dog, but also the owner in some way or another. The owner may choose to walk the dog because it makes the dog more tired thus making the owner have more pleasure not taking care of the dog constantly at home later on. Therefore, the owner is maximizing the pleasure of the dog, as well as themselves to not feel like their dog is a continuous hassle. In this instance, pet owners have made a decision to break the law based on their own personal philosophy. For some, this decision could be based on considering the happiness of the dog as the primary concern. It may be understood that the happiness of the pet is maximized without a leash, thus providing a philosophical rationale for this decision based on the values of the individual. Maximizing the pleasure of the dog also brings pleasure to the owner, which is the ultimate goal of life based on some philosophical views. If the owner feels as though they do not want to hold the leash and this will make them happy they are to do so to achieve the goal of life which is pleasure. While walking the dog may seem like a simple task, the moral decisions behind the action are what would be considered as philosophical as one conducts actions with purpose towards fulfilling one’s life objective and achieving the main goal of pleasure.

        Walking a dog, and choosing to restrict a pet with a leash are decisions embedded in one’s personal conscious or unconscious philosophy and view towards life.  Another decision I make everyday that could also be considered philosophical is whether or not I should go to class. Though the decision may be quite obvious to some, for me it is not. When considering the definition of philosophy, in which I say is to give purpose to life through the goal of pleasure and making moral decisions, the act of choosing to go and not to go can be philosophical. Not going to class can maximize my pleasure in that particular moment though it is not morally right to miss class. Long term, the decision not to go could cause disruption of that pleasure when material from class was missed and trying to catch up. Though some may say going to class is not mandatory, for myself maximizing my pleasure long-term and making the most moral decision would be to go, to avoid any disruption of pleasure resulting in pain. To choose to go to class or not is greatly considered on the person you are and what it is that will give you the most pleasure. Everyday activities such as walking the dog or deciding whether or not to do to class all have some philosophical aspects to them. To me, philosophy means giving life a purpose by achieving an end goal and making moral decisions towards that objective. While each individual may act uniquely based on their moral beliefs and values to act in a way that provides them with the most pleasure, this course has enlightened me to appreciate the extent of philosophical decision making that is present and embedded in everyday life.

The Philosophy of Owning a Dog

The philosophical activity that I have chosen for this assignment is being a dog owner. This is a very consistent part of my life which I have never analyzed in a philosophical way, but with some deeper thought, it is something that contributes to my definition of philosophy. I am the owner of a beautiful golden retriever who I love more than most things in this world. Despite this being a pleasurable “activity,” it comes with a lot of responsibility and at times is not very enjoyable. It requires a lot of patience, time, and energy. I have to walk my dog twice daily, I have to feed her special food because of her allergies, and I have to spend time giving her adequate affection. Along with this, my dog does not always behave and does not reciprocate the effort I put into taking care of her, as most well functioning human relationships do. Regardless of this, I love her and take pride in caring for her and treating her well. 

Being a dog owner is philosophical to me in the sense that it requires one to be selfless and care for a different species. It has taught me a lot about myself and what it means to truly devote yourself to another being, which to me is quite a philosophical lesson. In my opinion, the act of caring for a dog resonates with the Kantian perspective of ethics, because I believe the maxim behind taking care of a dog should be a good one. The Categorical Imperative of universalizability approves this action as being morally ethical, because not all animals can be treated poorly. Along with this, whether someone is acting according to duty or not in taking care of a dog, their action is still considered morally right according to Kant. Therefore one may take of care of their dog because they love it and are intrinsically motivated to, or they could be taking care of it because, for example, their grandmother is ill and needs someone to care for her dog that you do not really want to. 

Many people view animals lives as not being as significant as human lives. It is scientifically proven that animals have smaller brains and do not have the same understanding of the world, but this should not give humans the right to exploit or neglect them. This resonates with the opinion of Peter Singer who believes that animals should not be disregarded because of their smaller brains (Singer, 49). Singer believes that it should not “depend on what they are like or what abilities they possess,” and that every animal should be seen as equal (49). In the same sense just as different “races” should be considered equal in every way, so should animals (49). I very much agree with Singers opinion, because I have a deep love of animals and believe that my dog is of equal status, although a lot of people in the world do not share the same views. 

My definition of philosophy is evident in my example of being a dog owner. I identify my view of philosophy with Kant’s idea of having good will behind my maxim for caring for a dog, as well as Singers perspective on animal ethics. By owning a dog I have further understood what it means to live philosophically according to my opinions, and I have embraced selflessness and caring in my daily life. Being a dog owner is only an example of this definition of philosophy in my life, as it is also prevalent in my family life, my relationships with friends, and my passion for volunteering.

Works Cited

Shafer-Landau, Russ. “The Kantian Perspective: Fairness and Justice.” The Fundamentals of Ethics. Oxford University Press, 2012. pp. 154-167.

Singer, Peter. “Equality For Animals?” Practical Ethics. Cambridge University Press, 2011. pp. 49.