Applied Philosophy in the Workplace
by Thomas M. Miovas, Jr.
A co-worker of mine has been bugging me about applied philosophy and what does it have to do with working for a living. He keeps saying, “What does applied philosophy have to do with cutting insulation panels for buildings?” and “What does applied philosophy tell you about how to do your job?” While many people these days can see that electronic equipment (computers and machinery) and mechanical devices are the result of engineering (applied physics), they do not see what philosophy has anything to do with working for a living.
My first response would be that the mere fact that you have chosen to work for a living and earning a paycheck is itself an application of philosophy. You could decide to become a welfare bum and live off the State and not do a damned thing in favor of your own life. What makes that difference? It is the philosophy that you accept and live by. Do you consider the ability to earn a living to be a good thing or a nuisance? Do you think others ought to support you, no matter how much you screw up your own life? Do you think those earning more money than you owe you anything from their paycheck, whether you have anything to do with their lives or not? These are all philosophical questions.
But more specifically, if you decide to work for a living, rather than being a parasite off the State, applied philosophy is everywhere. If you think about how to do a specific task based upon the specific nature of the job you are doing – i.e. cutting insulation panels, for example – your ability to think that way comes from a philosophy that says that thinking ought to be applied to real physical facts. And this philosophy, historically, came from one philosopher, Aristotle, who lived in Ancient Greece and taught his students how to think about real-world events and practices. Prior to Aristotle, there were practical thinkers (they called it Practical Wisdom in the practical arts), but only because Ancient Athens was geared towards a rational life for the Polis (the City State), and not many before Aristotle understood that the practical arts were a form of reason. Most others around Ancient Greece used rituals and incantations to try to get what they wanted out of life – and I don’t think casting a spell or citing an incantation on those insulation panels will cause it to do anything, let alone cutting them to size and cutting out sections for practical use.
It was this difference between Ancient Athens and those around them that made it possible for certain philosophers to think about and to identify what it is that makes the good man a good man, and that is his ability to reason – to apply rational codes of thinking to everyday life and to broader principles to guide man in how to think and how to operate his own mind and what to focus it upon. So while a pottery maker and a basket weaver and a statue maker and a spear carver all seem to be different tasks at first, it is the philosopher who can see the similarity in these particular activities and that they are all applications of reasoning. The better philosophers, including Aristotle and especially in his formulations, found that they all used a method of thought called logic, which is non-contradictory identification of what one observes.
And it was Aristotle who formulated the principles of causality (a thing acting the way it does based upon what it is) in many applications in his writings. So, the fact that the Styrofoam of an insulation panel has to be handled a certain way or it will break, or the fact that one must use a powerful saw to cut the panels down to size (due to the steel struts running down their length), all comes from the formulation of philosophers, who taught man how to think in terms of the facts, as opposed to merely fantasizing about having things without taking the facts into account. And this is an application of logic, which methodology did not exist before the philosophers. If you look at a drawing and cut a panel to the right size and shape, this comes about due to applied logic, which says that a panel cannot be five feet long and thirty feet long at the same time and in the same respect. This is Aristotle’s Law of Non-Contradiction.
Even issues of morality and justice come up in the workplace. Should a man who does more work and more accurately get paid more than the man who slacks off, expecting others to do his work for him? How to treat others in a social context or at the work place is an issue of justice, which is logic applied to human interactions. And how one treats them depends on the philosophy one has accepted. Should good, accurate, and productive work be encouraged or should it be resented and fought? This goes back to the working man versus the welfare bum. Which type of man should you encourage and which type of man ought you to keep out of your life? These are philosophical issues.
In short, philosophy really comes down to mental methodology – of what use are you going to use your own mind for? If you sit around and fantasize all day and don’t get anything done, how can you expect to achieve anything out of life? Should you use your mind for dealing with practical reality or spin things out of thin air that have nothing to do with the facts at hand? These are very broad questions (they cover a lot of ground), and it is the job of the philosopher to answer them so they apply to all areas of life. Without the rational philosopher such as Aristotle, you might know how to do a particular task (if you were taught it), but you wouldn’t know what to do with your own mind for various other things going on in your life, and would be like a child wishing for things instead of acting in reality to accomplish your goals.