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My co-workers are curious about what philosophy has to do with everyday working, and I even get flack from some of you on this forum for being an applied philosopher, so I wrote the following essay to briefly touch upon the subject:

Applied Philosophy in the Workplace

Applied Philosophy in the Workplace

by Thomas M. Miovas, Jr.

08/19/2012

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), but only because Ancient Athens was geared towards a rational life for the Polis (the City State). 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.

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 and would be like a child wishing for things instead of acting in reality to accomplish your goals.

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Added some clarification points to my original essay on my website, build on the idea that it was Ancient Athens respect for reason in applications -- i.e. basket weaving, spear making, statue making,pottery making, etc. -- versus what was going on with the barbarians outside of Athens, that made it possible for more broadly thinking individuals to bring about philosophy, which was an integration of what they observed in the culture of Athens, especially with philosophers like Aristotle.

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looks good.

When I first read your post title, I thought you were going a slightly different direction with this. I think it might be interesting to explore in more detail how philosophy is applied to specific work related tasks and everyday situations. For example, I am a teacher. I use applied philosophy when I choose what and how to teach in a given lesson. My philosophy affects how I approach and handle my students in different situations. As a science teacher, I frequently read about the philosophy of education and the philosophy of science, and I apply rational concepts from these philosophies.

I would be interested to see how others apply philosophy in everyday tasks in different careers.

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Right, I was not trying to identify the specific philosophy of management at the shop I work at, which is mixed. They do try to reward strong good, productive work when they can with a bonus system, but some of us are concerned that since the boss is not permitted to write down notes on our performance (because we are paid by a temp agency), that he is overlooking things that ought to be rewarded because he forgets them three months down the road. I do think Objectivism when it gets to the point of being applied at the work place will mean more justice and more of a focus on rewarding good work that aims at making the company more profit. Trouble is, the company I work for is not making a profit, and I don't run the place. And sometimes I think their production desires are a bit high for the work, because I think I'm a good worker, but I have to really struggle to meet the goals on a daily basis. And working that quickly gunning all day long can lead to errors because there is just too much to try to get done and one gets in a hurry.

I remember back when I first started integrating Objectivism about five years after reading Atlas Shrugged. I worked for a major chemical company and we had to fill and stack a certain amount of bagged pigment onto a pallet coming out of a machine. Some of us were really good at it and could get nearly twice as much as was required, but we got no reward for it. So, I suggested that they pay us a small bonus for exceeding the production schedule and you should have heard the howls they would make. Eventually, those of us who could do better deliberately only did the minimum. Being paid by the hour has its benefits and its hazards, because one winds up only doing what has to be done, and maybe a bit more out of personal pride, but the smart ones don't burn themselves out trying to prove a point.

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I remember back when I first started integrating Objectivism about five years after reading Atlas Shrugged. I worked for a major chemical company and we had to fill and stack a certain amount of bagged pigment onto a pallet coming out of a machine. Some of us were really good at it and could get nearly twice as much as was required, but we got no reward for it. So, I suggested that they pay us a small bonus for exceeding the production schedule and you should have heard the howls they would make. Eventually, those of us who could do better deliberately only did the minimum. Being paid by the hour has its benefits and its hazards, because one winds up only doing what has to be done, and maybe a bit more out of personal pride, but the smart ones don't burn themselves out trying to prove a point.

Your example reminds me of the joke about two guys encountering a hungry cheetah. One of the guys pauses to replace his hiking boots with a pair of running shoes, and the other says, "You can't possibly outrun a cheetah", to which the first one replies, "I only have to outrun you." I had a similar job experience when my firm swapped from dividing profits to pay bonuses (rewarding effort & avoiding paying higher taxes), to channeling profits to pay off loans taken out in order to buy out retiring CEOs. I still work there, but now I only run a little faster than my coworkers.

In terms of a working philosophy as an employee, job security depends on convincing management that replacing U costs more than replacing employee X. Maintaining a diversity of job skills is essential; delegators are expendable. In this regard, I find that maintaining an active interest in everything helps me to perform better at work, and that work provides me with a test platform to try out new ideas. That's one reason I keep returning to this forum and back to work.

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