Doing Philosophy

Philo of Man




Doing Philosophy


In this post, I am going to review Jay Michael Cordero and Ryan Calica’s Chapter on Doing Philosophy in the book titled Introduction to the Philosophy of the Human Person. My main intention here is to explain further or highlight those important concepts in doing philosophy that may provide the students and senior high school teachers in the Philippines who do not have a strong background and orientation in philosophy with additional information that would help them further understand the approaches to doing philosophy. It must be noted that because of word count requirement set by the publisher of the book, the authors have to present this chapter in a succinct manner. This review will also guide students properly in reading the chapter.

In the opening Chapter on Doing Philosophy, again, in the book titled Introduction to the Philosophy of the Human Person, Jay and Ryan remind us that the act of doing philosophy necessarily involves the act of asking questions, contemplating about the mystery of life, and constructing arguments and be able to rationally evaluate them in the end. For this reason, doing philosophy means to ask questions, to reflect, and to formulate and evaluate arguments.

In this way, one does not necessarily have to be a graduate of a philosophy degree in order for one to do philosophy. Anybody can do philosophy as long as she raises valid or intelligent questions, reflects meditatively, and argues in a logical manner. If we recall the discussion on the origin of philosophy, Aristotle, following Socrates, argued that philosophy begins in wonder or in the act of being perplexed. As we already know, when one is perplexed, as Aristotle would have us believe, one begins to think―in a sense, one begins to philosophize.

Philosophical Reflection as a Way of Doing Philosophy

Jay and Ryan proceeded to articulate the specificity of the approaches to doing philosophy. They start with the discussion on the nature and dynamics of philosophical reflection.

According to Jay and Ryan, philosophical reflection is one of the important skills that one needs in doing philosophy. In order to drive their point, Jay and Ryan appropriated Gabriel Marcel’s notion of philosophical reflection, which is deeply personal and is intimately anchored on day-to-day existence. For Marcel, as Jay and Ryan argue, philosophical reflection is first and foremost the act of giving time to think about the meaning and purpose of life.

Gabriel Marcel (Photo credit: Free Wikimedia Commons)

There are two types of philosophical reflection according to Marcel, namely, primary reflection and secondary reflection. Primary reflection is a kind of thinking that calculates, analyzes, or recounts past events. In this way, primary reflection is a fragmented and compartmentalized thinking. Thus, for Marcel, according to Jay and Ryan, primary reflection cannot be a genuine thinking because it failed to make sense of the whole, of the mystery of life. In other words, primary reflection is selfish thinking because it is instrumental thinking. As we already know, instrumental thinking is a “means-end” kind of thinking. Applied to human relations, instrumental thinking thinks only of what it can practically get in a relationship. For example, one may establish a relationship or friendship with somebody who is rich so that she may be able to borrow money in times of need.

Secondary reflection, on the other hand, is characterized by the act recapturing the unity of the original experience by gathering back together what has been separated by primary reflection. Thus, secondary reflection allows us to think holistically. In this way, secondary reflection enables us to integrate our fragmented and compartmentalized experience into a coherent whole. This gives us the impression that secondary reflection for Marcel is genuine or unselfish thinking. Applied to human relations, secondary reflection does not think of what it can practically get in a relationship. Here, the human person establishes a relationship with the other not because of what she can get, but is premised on the idea that the other is a human person that deserves respect, care and love. According to Jay and Ryan, when Marcel speaks of “philosophical reflection”, he specifically refers to “secondary reflection”. For more on the difference between primary and secondary reflection, see Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Gabriel Marce,”

What we can infer from the above discussion is that philosophical reflection provides us with a holistic picture of reality. Thus, philosophical reflection as a tool in doing philosophy enables us to see the interconnectedness and interdependence of peoples, actions and events, as well as our direct relation to them. Indeed, philosophical reflection as a tool in doing philosophy allows as to deepen our understanding of ourselves, as well as our role and place in the world.

Constructing and Evaluating Arguments

As Jay and Ryan claim, Marcel’s notion of primary reflection can be expressed most visibly in our ability to think logically, that is, in the ability of the mind to construct and evaluate arguments. For this reason, although it may appear as a kind of selfish thinking when applied to human relations, primary reflection can be considered as another important tool in doing philosophy.

One important characteristic of doing philosophy properly, according to Jay and Ryan, is the ability to express and support one’s claim rationally. Thus, if we are not able to justify our views or claims, then we are not doing philosophy. For this reason, in doing philosophy, we must learn how to construct and evaluate arguments properly for it is with the use of arguments that we are able to express our thoughts in a clear and logical manner. In this way, we do not only promote agreement and harmony, but also objective thinking.

Let us consider one of the examples of arguments that Jay and Ryan provided in the book and see how they evaluate them.

Premise 1
: All human beings are mortal.
Premise 2: But the President of the Republic of the Philippines is a human being.
Conclusion: Therefore, the President of the Republic of the Philippines is mortal.

In this argument, according to Jay and Ryan, we can see that if the premises are assumed to be true, then the conclusion must also be true. That is, if all human beings are indeed mortal and that the President of the Republic of the Philippines is a human being, then we have to accept the conclusion that the President of the Republic of the Philippines is mortal. If we reject the conclusion, then we are making a logical error since it is what the premise entails. Since the premises of this argument inevitably lead us to this particular conclusion, then the argument is valid or a sound argument.

Indeed, both philosophical reflection and the construction and evaluation of arguments are some of the necessary skills that we need in doing philosophy. To reiterate, philosophical reflection, on the one hand, enables us to look deeper into our experiences and see the bigger picture of reality. On the other hand, the construction and evaluation of arguments allows us to express our ideas in a systematic and logical way. Furthermore, the ability to construct and evaluate arguments allows us to examine the ideas of other people. In the end, these are some of the benefits of being able to do philosophy in a meaningful way that Jay and Ryan presented in the opening chapter of the book.


Below is the front cover of our book in philosophy of the human person, a core subject in senior high schools in the Philippines. If you are interested to purchase the book, you may contact the publisher at For more on the basic information of this book, please visit this link:



Professor of Philosophy
Silliman University

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