How can I improve the skill of deciding whether something is relevant?


Can philosophy aid with improving the skill of deciding and judging what is relevant and irrelevant? If so, which subfields do so (The Wikipedia page on relevance references epistemology)?

Context: There are many books, but too little time: this is true for philosophy and law, much less other subjects! E.g., books on philosophy of law cite court cases, all of which cannot be read as there is too little time. Even guidebooks, textbooks and secondary sources do not help, because:

  1. they also abound and so this problem concerns them too.

  2. the problem is NOT with omitting primary sources, which sources must be read some time after the secondary sources, and so for which the problem reappears.


Posted 2016-11-24T17:53:44.967

Reputation: 1

One thing philosophy has helped me with, personally, is recognizing that there's more categories between "relevant" and "irrelevant," and that things do not always need to make a rapid progression to one side or the other in order to be useful. – Cort Ammon – 2017-02-10T21:50:58.587

if you're following an argument then yes – None – 2016-12-27T16:11:57.640



There's is no short-cut: you must climb the Tree of Knowledge and see from that standpoint (or not).

Philosophy can help, as it is nominally about Truth. You'll probably have to get a degree to have a seat on that perch.

But the real quick path in lieu of that is to ditch books and dive headfirst into every challenge that is creating problems in the world. You'll eventually probably get stuck at the point between God and Science and get lost as everyone else. At that point, contact this author or go on a bigger adventure.


Posted 2016-11-24T17:53:44.967

Reputation: 550


The single most important thing I have found to improving that skill is to realize that you should not be deciding whether something is relevant or irrelevant. You should be trying to improve your skill at determining the relevancy of a thing. The former wording implies a binary classification, when the reality is that relevancy is much more continuous than that.

The next best skill is finding ways to do something such that its value is not dependent on its relevancy to a given topic. Find ways to make sure that, after you're done with a book or a topic that it will be applicable, even in ways you might not have thought of when you started.

That is where I find philosophy valuable. The idea of knowing whether something will have value before you know what it is can be an alien concept under many worldviews. Philosophy is an excellent tool for unsettling worldviews and allowing them to change. It's also an excellent tool for helping one find value in the subtle things that many people ignore. The more subtle things you can find value in, the easier it is to make sure you get value out of whatever act or book you are exploring, relevant or irrelevant.

Cort Ammon

Posted 2016-11-24T17:53:44.967

Reputation: 16 681


Chance governs all. In a world of opinions, how do you decide which one to listen to first? Ultimately you still rely on your own senses to decide whose opinion on what is relevant is relevant.

According to Neil Postman, words of mouth or gossips are most relevant; next to that are printed words; last of all is TV news because the far-away events it reports have virtually no impact on your day-to-day life. How many people were inconvenienced by the 9.11 attack, even though most would admit it was a major event in their lives?

Nevertheless, regarding printed words, a Russellian would prescribe adventure during one's soldier period before everything else. The reason behind this is that words have no meanings before experience. In order to make sense of words, one has to have some experiences first. Take a perfectly good word such as "pineapple" for example, it is basically destitute of meanings to you unless you have smelled, touched and tasted one.

Every one has his soldier period during which he is brave and adventurous. If a person spends a good portion of his youth on gaining life experiences, chances are he will judge well later in life. On the other hand, if a person spends his youth in an ivory tower where he thinks he is learning words of wisdom when he is supposed to be smelling roses, braving thunders, flying high, diving deep, making friends and fending off adversaries, by the time he comes to the age of "full of wise saws and modern instances," he is mostly likely to be full of s***t.

Again, this is the view of a Russellian who believes that sensations are more fundamental than "abstract ideas," not the other way around.

George Chen

Posted 2016-11-24T17:53:44.967

Reputation: 2 102

1-1 for the implication of written works being less relevant than gossip; +2 for the recommendation of gaining life experience in to better one's ability to gauge relevancy (amongst many other life skills). – immortal squish – 2017-05-12T16:01:03.343