In Defense of “I feel…”—Philosophy is Not Merely, “I believe…”

How do you feel? –What did I just ask you? “Feel” is like many/most words, i.e., we usually use it without thinking and its meanings are many and varied. I might ask you how you feel in regard to your physical health—the answer, “I feel good; the pain in my ankle has gone away.” I might ask how you feel in regard to life/mental health—the answer, “I feel kind of down these days; I can’t quite place it.” I might ask how you feel when facing a particular challenge—the answer, “I feel a little intimidated, but I believe I can do it.” Or I might ask how you feel about a particular idea—the answer, “I feel like that’s a good idea; I think we should do it.”

I want to focus on the last example of feeling. I remember being at the University of Georgia, working on my BA in philosophy, when I heard for the first time someone say something to the effect: “Don’t say ‘I feel…’ but rather ‘I think’ or ‘I believe.’” The context was a discussion of writing philosophy papers. So, instead of saying something like, “I feel Descartesdualism is problematic,” one should say, “I think/believe Descartes’ dualism is problematic.”

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The Democratic Fallacy?— A Dialogue

Jim and Sara have just left the philosophy class they take together and are walking on campus.

Jim: I heard some people talking on the bus, saying they want to see Bernie Sanders contest Hilary Clinton’s nomination at the Democratic convention. They think he’s been screwed over by the way the delegates are partitioned, among other things.

Sara: I heard something like that, too. I’m sympathetic, but I already heard complaints about how undemocratic that would be.

Jim: Undemocratic? Hell, this isn’t a democracy anyway; and I don’t mean it’s a republic—people often try to seem smart by pointing out that the US is not a democracy but a republic. But, c’mon, it’s not either—more like an oligarchy.

Sara: Right?! And I know that for many around here what I’m about to say will be akin to recommending we strangle the nearest baby with an America flag, but I’m not so sure about democracy anyway.

Jim: Hah! Really?! Aren’t you in good company with Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Didn’t they all hate democracy? Plato, in particular, saw Socrates’ death as the result of democracy and so for him democracy is nothing but mob rule, right?

Sara: Thank you! I guess I can say what I really mean then?!

Jim: Well, of course! Like I said, you’re in good company, though Aristotle was a son-of-a-bitch about women and slaves, and I don’t think Plato and Socrates were much better. What was that line of the poets, again? You know, the one you told me about that Aristotle quoted, “The virtue of a woman is silence.” Fucker! Anyway, you certainly can say what you mean! Don’t be silent with me!

Sara: Yeah….don’t get me started on philosophers and women! —What I wanted to say was that I’ve long wondered why democracy isn’t simply the committing of the appeal to the majority fallacy?
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