Solved: Philosophical Belief Map Exercise

Often philosophical theorizing and reflection proceeds at least in part by critically considering how well our concepts “hang together” with each other. Our attitudes and beliefs are not just an unstructured list of things we happen to believe any more than our beliefs about the physical world are (e.g., I have an implicit theory about objects that leads me to believe that my bike is across the room from me as a write this, and not that I just happen to be seeing a sort of wavy green patch). We often feel ­reasonably ­more confident in our own beliefs if they are tightly interwoven and mutually supporting, rather than disconnected and sparse. And it can be helpful in understanding and constructively engaging with others to understand how their beliefs and attitudes and perspectives are linked with each other. Further, someone who holds a single view you find obtuse or bizarre may be a lot more approachable once you realize how that view fits into the rest of her epistemic life (you may still not agree but understanding may show you other ways to address the issues). This writing assignment asks you to construct a map of your “philosophical belief network.” The map will show how your various philosophical “bits” (values, principles, ideals, beliefs, concerns, etc.) are linked together. And, ideally, the process of constructing it will spur you to reflect on your own beliefs and values. Here’s how to construct your belief map: 1) Write answers to the following questions on small pieces of paper (“PostIt” notes work well) and stick them randomly on a table surface. Write one answer on each note and use as many notes as you like. Skip any questions for which you do not have significant and genuine answers; it will be normal to leave several of them unanswered, or even most of them.
  1. What abstract moral principles seem compelling to you? (An example—but your own may be quite different—would be “Every human life has equal value.”)
  2. Which exemplary people do you strive to emulate? Whose life stories do you admire most?
  3. What stories or scenarios (real or fictional) seem to recur and move you when you think about moral questions?
  4. What fundamental truths about nature or the universe seem relevant to your moral ideas? (For example: Everything happens for a purpose, because God is in charge. Or: all life is suffering.)
  5. What techniques do you use for making assessments or decisions? (An example—but again, yours may be quite different—would be weighing costs against benefits.)
  6. What personal virtues do you strive to develop?
  7. What do you think matters for having a good life?
  8. What vices do you particularly dislike? (Write these down as aversions, e.g., "Against sloth.")
  9. Whose approval matters most to you?
  10. What situations most deeply upset you?
  11. Of what communities are you a loyal member?
  12. Any other relevant ideas that emerged when you considered the questions above.
Before moving on to the next step, take time to look at your notes as a whole. Consider adding or removing notes based on the following prompts. The choice to add or remove is based off subtle distinctions. It is important, however, that you know what you are doing. If you are very stringent about what counts as part of your philosophical worldview, you will get a stringent map. If you are permissive, you will get a more generous map. Just be conscious of how you have made your choices.
  • Omit your vices: This is a map of your thinking­­ of what you believe to be right and good, and why. It is not a map of your whole personality or an explanation of your behavior. We all have vices: motivations that explain our actions but that we dislike and disapprove of. They do not belong here.
    • For instance, if I admire hard work but I am actually lazy, then "hard work" belongs on the map (as one of my moral judgments), but laziness does not.
  • Include your biases: On the other hand, you may think that things are good or fair for reasons that you do not wholly approve.
    • For example, I rank my family’s safety and happiness much higher than the safety and happiness of distant, and anonymous strangers. That difference colors my moral judgments, making me disproportionately upset about threats to the safety of middle­class American families.
    • I do not consider my own partiality or favoritism commendable, but it is a part of my moral thinking. So, it belongs on the map. I might also put "impartiality" on my map if I felt that the tension between the two ideas influenced me.
  • Exclude ideas that have no real influence on you: Even though I may believe that my own life isn't more important than any other person's, that belief is inconsistent with my everyday judgments.
    • I would probably be giving myself too much credit if I put "perfect human equality" on my own map. I endorse it, but so theoretically (or hypocritically) that I don't think it belongs.
2) Connect the notes. Look at the notes you have completed, one at a time.
  • For each note, consider whether it is connected to any of the others.
  • For this step, how A and B are connected is less important than whether they are connected.
    • For instance:
      • what is written on note A may imply what is written on note B
      • A may cause B
      • A may be a person or institution that teaches or endorses B
      • A may resemble B
      • A may increase/decrease the odds of B
      • A may just remind you of B.
If you sense a connection, record it. Count the relationships that exist between each note and all the others and write the total on the note. You may find it helpful to use one corner of each note to make tick marks as you consider how it is connected to the others. Then when you are done, you can count the sum of tick marks and write it in another corner. 3) Arrange the notes so that the ones with the highest numbers are near the center.
  • If two of these notes are in tension or contradict each other, push them apart, as if they both carried the same magnetic charge.
  • Then arrange all the other notes (working from higher to lower scores) so that they are near the ones they resemble and far from those that they contradict.
    • No single arrangement for your notes is correct, but spend time moving them around until the pattern seems meaningful.
    • A central location implies importance to the network as a whole.
    • Closeness between two notes implies similarity.
    • Distance implies tension or contradiction.
4) Draw pencil lines between any two notes that you connected in step 2. Keep in mind that the point of the exercise is to find the connections between concepts, so don’t take the procedure in 2­ to be absolutely set in stone. If another way of coming up with connections between your “nodes” is more congenial for you, use it! 5) Results and Reaction: Record your reaction to your moral map. Answer the following questions:
  1. Which notes were most central? Did you know these would be central in your framework, why or why not?
  2. Which notes were least central? Did that surprise you, why or why not?
  3. How did constructing a moral map help you understand how your own moral concepts “hang together”?
Take a picture of your moral map and submit it as an attachment.