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  View the latest questions and answers at askaphilosopher.wordpress.com
pathways (ask a philosopher)

Ask a Philosopher: Questions and Answers 13 (2nd series)

When referring to an answer on this page, please quote the page number followed by the answer number. The first answer on this page is 13/1.

The latest questions are distributed weekly to members of the Ask a Philosopher panel. If you would like to join the panel, please email askaphilosopher@fastmail.net, including a brief CV and statement of your academic qualifications.

Ask a question Answer a question

(1) Jason asked:

Where can I find on the internet definitions of ancient Greek philosophical terms?

============

Go here: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/

Steven Ravett Brown


(2) Juma asked:

Why did philosophy first start in Greece and not in say; Tanzania, Malawi, Kenya, etc? Can I know the factors that led to the start of philosophy in Greece instead of elsewhere in the world?

============

Who told you philosophy first started in Greece? I'm sure philosophical problems arose far earlier in history than in ancient Greece. Can't you imagine a caveman staring at the stars and wondering what they were, or inside his cave, at night, light glaring from the dim fire he holds in his hands thinking about the shaped he's drawing in the cave's walls? I'm sure you would agree that basic, fundamental questions are as old as man itself, and were certainly posed by these primitive entities, in some form. Even if just by contemplating the stars, or a cave drawing we stablished a difference from all other animals: we were able to know that we were alive, we had a conscience of ourselves. That's some pretty important piece of knowledge.

Nuno Hipolito


(3) John asked:

Hello, I am reacting to the question someone raised where the idea of nothing was raised. What if it's true that even nothing would have to exist? This would imply that existence is a must. Beyond that, what if perception applies to existence? This would mean that existence is aware of itself. If existence is aware of itself, then we might call that "God." This God, however, would not be all powerful, for he must exist. Also, he is the only thing so he can't add to himself. This would mean he must divide in order to create or change, The Big Bang...? Just wanted to hear some of you reflect on the idea.

============

Nothing is an interesting concept. In my view 'nothing' can only exist as a concept, for even vacuum is qualified as such by language, therefore it exists as a concept. Then is existence a must, as you say? Yes. You ask if perception applies to existence. Well, in my view it does. Remember the famous 'esse est percipi', being is being perceived. Your extrapolation that says that existence is aware of itself is, somewhat misleading. To be aware, you have to perceive, and to our best knowledge that is done by observing using the senses and then reason. Does existence have any way of doing this? I would say no. On the other hand, if you say that God is everything, than all that exists is in fact aware it exists. He's not all powerful you say? Controlling his own universe(s) seems pretty powerful to me. But I guess you're right on one thing, he cannot add, only divide, or he can recycle, turn things into other things.

Nuno Hipolito


(4) Tyler asked:

Please explain the self destructive nature of man .

============

Conflict is a factor in analysing the history of Man on planet Earth. In fact, many philosophers have argued that conflict is the basis for development, both inside and outside of human ideas. To be self destructive is, in a way, a by product of living with conflict in a daily basis. I consider conflict a very important factor in both development and evolution of life on earth. Great ideas come from times of conflict, and often wars, struggles and repression bring out the best in man and women. Of course in time of peace ideas come along as well, but Man seems to work at his best when pushed against the ropes.

Nuno Hipolito


(5) Sajita asked:

I desire, I dream and when my goals/dreams are accomplished, the question reverberating in my mind is 'Now What? ( What's next?)". I don't understand why I am in a hurry to live life and experience everything that life has to offer. I am in a hurry to live and finally finish with it (life). I am perfectly normal but there is a constant restlessness within me which I am unable to discuss/convince my most loved one. Why does this happen?

============

I fail to see how anyone can accuse another of "hurrying" through life when it passes by at a constant rate and you cannot make it go any faster or slower, though we do wish it was more malleable. Without knowing you better, all I can do is guess that you are "living" life by observation, participation, and perhaps you are lacking more reflection and perhaps anticipation makes you itch. For you the thrill of life may come from the kill and your loved one may like the hunt more. I would have to ask you the standard psychological test question. Which do you like more, doing the good work or having the good work finished?

J Gregory Jones


(6) Ken asked:

When we become so smart and understand ALL things - and everyone on earth is ENLIGHTENED - would we be bored?

============

For some that is the description of Christian Heaven. All questions answered. I would prefer an eternity of questions, problems, and challenges over a single day of being enlightened. What is life without challenge and what is Heaven without change? You and I would be bored I think. How far would you take being enlightened? Could you be enlightened + 1? If you can, could you be enlightened + 2? Would we know what the last number is? Would we be able to step to the outside of the universe? Would we be able to step outside of what we just stepped out of? If the person who took one more step outside than the person next to him, would he be more enlightened? If there were no more "better mouse traps", would there be any more mice?

J Gregory Jones


(7) Lyne asked:

To everything there is a beginning an end. Does that apply to the human race? Where at one point the human race will wipe out totally, another thing would it ever happen that the earth would become inhabitable for man to live?

============

"To everything there is a beginning and an end." To me that is flawed logic. Everything being defined as "anything that can be conceived" can apply to numbers and they have neither beginning nor ending. Time can also be conceived as well as space or Space-Time. "Matter cannot be created or destroyed" so matter cannot have a beginning nor an end. As far as humans go, we could have come from another planet where they never had a beginning and we could end up spreading to others where we have no ending. One would have a definite knowledge of the past and the future to know whether that statement is true to begin with.

J Gregory Jones


(8) Russell asked:

Two men walk about the market center, the good man decides to indulge himself in some chocolate. The lesser man tells the good man to buy him some as well, but the good man says he won't and doesn't. The lesser man claims to cut all trade of an important and valuable export with the good man if he does not give the chocolate to the lesser man, for he feels it is rightfully his. The good man says "I merely act to regain my honor through revenge, for you once indulged yourself in chocolate in front of me." The lesser man kept to his word and cut all trade with the good man. Should the good man seek to regain his honor through revenge again? Would the revenge be right? (I forgot to leave my email)

============

You are mistaken in your analysis, starting at the very beginning, and indeed before that, with your assumptions. That is, your statement that the "good man" acts out of "revenge", and the assumption that revenge is a "good" reason to act, are incorrect. Revenge is immoral, and so a good man would not act out of revenge.

The idea that revenge is somehow good comes from one of two underlying assumptions you're making, of which you seem completely unaware.

One possibility is that you are a member of a group, such as a small tribe, in which revenge is a cultural value, taken for granted. In these cultures, consisting of tribes (or groups of criminals) living in constant conflict, revenge is probably a fairly functional as a way of punishing and in fact eliminating one group, which will otherwise keep attacking another group. This of course is not necessary, indeed is dysfunctional, in cultures with police and high populations, where the revenge either escalates indefinitely, since the groups are too large to completely kill, or in which revenge results in imprisonment for those manifesting it. And we see many examples of these latter results today in situations where those small groups interact with larger cultures.

The second possibility is that you belong to a "shame" rather than a "guilt" culture, such as many of those in the mid-East and East (but there are examples everywhere), in which morality is dictated by group norms rather than by internalized norms, as in a guilt culture. In a shame culture, once a particular bias or idea has spread through enough of the culture, whatever that bias is, is moral, merely because enough people hold it. Thus revenge becomes moral if enough people, and particularly if that includes people in authority, hold that it is moral. Texts are interpreted, not as sources for morality or as sources of ideas to debate about morality, but as support for the viewpoints of the group, and criticism is suppressed by public shaming of the people who hold divergent opinions, or by casting them out of the group.

There are no philosophers I know of, and this includes myself, who accept either of those as valid reasons for morality. There are philosophers who argue that cultural values are moral because cultures function, or because cultures have some sort of intrinsic value, or because as cultures evolve they converge toward moral values. But that is not the same thing as saying that merely because a group holds a value, by that fact that value is moral. In addition, I know of no philosopher who holds that revenge is moral. There are many philosophers who hold that punishment is moral, but that is not at all the same thing.

Revenge is loosely similar to an example of what is termed, in simulations of morality that have been created on computers, "tit-for-tat" behavior. However, in those simulations, aggressive behavior only works in limited circumstances, and it is not "revenge" as that term is usually meant, it is the mimicking of aggressive or deceptive behavior because that mimicking has more benefits, in some situations, than following that type of behavior with non-aggressive or non-deceptive behavior. If you're interested, go look up the literature on "tit-for-tat" morality.

Steven Ravett Brown


(9) Ken asked:

When we become so smart and understand ALL things-and everyone on earth is ENLIGHTENED-would we be bored?

============

I've a few thoughts on this. It's an interesting one. I admit it has the flavour of a generation gap. You might be thinking of those sad old buffers who start to say they've seen it all, and when that kind of boredom starts to set in, surely, you might think, they've one foot in the grave.

On the other hand, consider:

Boredom and war: a bored soldier is one who isn't being shot at.

Boredom and dissatisfaction aren't necessarily the same thing, I'd say, as is shown by the soldier case. It wouldn't cheer the fellow up to be shot at, now would it?

I suppose we might habitually associate boredom and dissatisfaction because:

1. Dissatisfied children often complain of being bored.

2. Our picture of a satisfying human life includes having fun finding things out. Just as we would take care to design a stimulating monkey compound in a zoo, we would want human environments to contain (in zoo speak) human orientated stimulation. So: imagining a world where we were so successful at find things out as to put our selves completely out of our job, so to speak, is disquieting.

Of these reasons, 2 is the more interesting, and I guess your question tacks on to that point, which is a serious one, and which I will come to.

But the children pointed towards in 1, on the other hand, as reasons to think that understanding implies boredom implies dissatisfaction, are rather more easily dismissed. 'I'm bored!' is what children complain of when they have an imagination deficit and have to be entertained by others (Either in the room, or from far away, e.g. via television). In such cases, 'I'm bored' certainly doesn't mean 'I understand everything'. It instead means 'pay me attention' or 'I don't like this'. The fact that there are particular individual children who tend to complain more of 'boredom' seems to bear this out. There is truth, after all, in the thought that those who complain of boredom most often are the most boring: they are simply too obtuse, or asleep, to notice what's interesting right in front of them, or too unimaginative to create something interesting for themselves. Is this child one who has to have the expensive toy seen on TV? Or are they one of the ones that generally played with the box it came in? The latter is a mite healthier.

So we come now to 2 - the serious point about discovery and fun. Well, I'll wholeheartedly agree to this much:

Human life would be absolutely impossible if we were omniscient.

This, I think, says something fairly obvious.

But, having agreed to this, is this - as your question might seem to imply, a reason to think that 'enlightenment' as such is impossible, or a reason not to try to enlighten ourselves?

Something which your question doesn't do, and which we absolutely need to do, is to distinguish different areas of knowledge.

And I'll start with physics. Here I'll stick my neck out and say that I just don't think that knowledge of the kind of universal theory of everything which would make the lives of physicists nice and easy is ever going to be in the running for human beings. That's not a widespread view. For most of the last few hundred years, we've been imaging either that we were just about to read the "mind of god", or that we just had. That's all hokum. Scientific theory is just that: theory. We hold on to the pictures that seem to help us, and then somewhere along the line we run into a snag, something our limited imagination failed to foresee. That's just how it is with human imaginings. None of this stuff is established from 'first principles', whatever they are. For instance, you can't derive general relativity from Euclid. For instance, theories such as general relativity and quantum mechanics, both of them 'true', contradict each other. Einstein's work is a tremendous bit of dedicated imagining, and is so near the mark, so far as we've been able to see and fire at the mark, that it really helps us a lot in hitting it. Usually. But the same thing might be said for the way Tolstoy's War and Peace helps us a good reader see the complexity of human experience, and nobody out there is nuts enough to think that, one day, far off in the future, and with a good following wind, some genius writer is going to end the novel to end all novels, and make us bored with imagining humans.

So: no danger that we're ever going to know everything, then. There's the danger we might think we do, but arrogance and omniscience, not the same thing - no, not at all.

But there are other fields than physics and character based historical fiction. There's gardening and cooking and what have you.

And then there's the philosophical (or perhaps 'spiritual'?) side of things, which you might have been getting at with your "enlightened".

Well, what I've agreed to is that for human flourishing there has to be continuing discovering and exploration. I didn't specify the field. And there's no need to. I can't see why (although I intuit that some reader is about to tell me) you couldn't have people coming to a deep and decently complete understanding of their own answers to philosophical questions, without their getting bored, sick of life, and the like. There'd still be other people and historical novels and poetry and food and, I dare say, the odd bit of scandalous physics to look forward to. And your understanding and appreciation of all of these things would be transformed and spiced up, so to speak, by your appreciation of a map of the alleyways of thought that lead off from everything. It wouldn't be the map to end all maps, but it it were a true map, by which we mean at least map truer than others in at least the respect of not being comprehensively inaccurate and dangerous for anyone who followed it, then, I think, we might be tempted to say you were on the way to enlightenment.

But: on the way only. Because having the map, the picture, the theory, certainly isn't getting there. Even where your map happened to be pin-point accurate, there's still be the difficulty, and the discovery, involved in getting yourself to use it successfully.

In sum: there's nothing boring about knowledge, and no danger that we'll ever know everything. Those sad buffers who claim to have seen it all? They were probably the children who played with their toys according to the advert/instruction leaflet, and not the ones who played with the cardboard boxes.

David Robjant


(10) Russell asked:

Two men walk about the market center, the good man decides to indulge himself in some chocolate. The lesser man tells the good man to buy him some as well, but the good man says he won't and doesn't. The lesser man claims to cut all trade of an important and valuable export with the good man if he does not give the chocolate to the lesser man, for he feels it is rightfully his. The good man says "I merely act to regain my honor through revenge, for you once indulged yourself in chocolate in front of me." The lesser man kept to his word and cut all trade with the good man. Should the good man seek to regain his honor through revenge again? Would the revenge be right? (I forgot to leave my email)

============

Is this a confusing way of asking a carefully loaded question about Oil?

Other questions:

In what does the goodness of the good man here consist?

In what way is the lesser man lesser?

What 'honor'? (Your eating chocolate in front of me doesn't reduce my 'honor', so far as I can get a hold of that concept, and its chocolate ramifications.)

Why does the lesser man think the chocolate is rightfully his?

David Robjant


(11) William asked:

I have an assessment to complete regarding the differences between a poet and a philosopher. I've been looking at quotes from Plato, but I can't seem to get started. If anyone could help to define the differences between philosophy and poetry I would be much appreciated

============

Check ISBN 0140264922 Iris Murdoch "Existentialists and Mystics" pages 3 to 30 for good introductory discussion of this exploring a Platonic perspective. It's transparent enough. As broadcast on BBC, so must be accessible.

David Robjant


(12) Ed asked:

Do you think it is morally acceptable an employer to read his or her employee's e-mail?

============

If they work for MI6/CIA, yes. If Wal-Mart/Asda, hmm. Depends.

If there's an incident of some kind in the Wal-Mart office and the emails become evidence, then yes, that's not just acceptable, but imperative.

And where life or limb is at stake then that, I'd hold, has an overwhelming moral force.

But I would think that the habitual reading of employee emails by employers prior to any specific offence or malpractice, is, all things being equal, something morally objectionable in that:

(1) it may tend to corrupt the employer (there can be some things that it is better not to be obsessed about, and some obsessions that it is better not to indulge - partly this is about appropriate and productive usage of management time: 'petty' is a rather good word)

And

(2) it may tend to corrupt the employee (if you imply that x is expected to be up to no good, any insult involved in your lack of trust may be reciprocated by the employee with exactly the feared outcome)

That is not to say that circumstance might not arise in which these considerations took second place, but only that a good argument for a special case would have to be made for doing something which, in itself, risks damage to good workplace relations. I should note that in this case I do not think the recognised 'right to privacy' has a legal or moral force, since it is not compulsory for employees to discuss their private lives in work emails. However, what does have some moral force is that, usually, trust on one side is best fostered through trust on the other.

David Robjant


(13) Lyne asked:

Are numbers significant to human life? We need numbers to tell time and so forth, but I was wondering can numbers play a major role in human life and everything that man does depend on numbers.

============

Answer: Numbers are very important to humans. Everything we do, advances in science and medicine and depended on advances in mathematics but if you mean numbers in the sense of numerology. Do they have any mystical significance or can we use them to calculate our destiny then most western philosophers would say no. This is just a superstition.

Shaun Williamson


(14) Juma asked:

Why did philosophy first start in Greece and not in say; Tanzania, Malawi, Kenya, etc? Can I know the factors that led to the start of philosophy in Greece instead of elsewhere in the world?

============

Very difficult to say and there may never be a real answer. Firstly most Greek states were slave societies so while the slaves did all the work. The Greeks could sit around and think about things such as life, poetry etc. But this doesn't explain why they had such a theoretical turn of mind. The Egyptians had a practical system of arithmetic but the Greeks invented Geometry which is an entirely theoretical system of mathematics. Things have to start somewhere. Why they do is often inexplicable. A number of things come together in a society maybe by chance and that leads to a creative explosion. If you study any society then in the end you may get a feeling of what life was like for them and why they thought as they did.

Shaun Williamson


(15) Erick asked:

Can God make a rock he can't lift?

============

God doesn't lift rocks and he's far too busy to go to the gym.

Shaun Williamson


(16) Sajita asked:

I desire, I dream and when my goals/dreams are accomplished, the question reverberating in my mind is 'Now What? ( What's next?)". I don't understand why I am in a hurry to live life and experience everything that life has to offer. I am in a hurry to live and finally finish with it (life). I am perfectly normal but there is a constant restlessness within me which I am unable to discuss/convince my most loved one. Why does this happen?

============

People are different but most people are happiest when they have a goal to achieve and are working towards it. Once they have achieved it then they need a new goal. Some people are happy with small goals like planning their next holiday or organising family occasions. Women are often happy bringing up their children. Men are different. They can't give birth to children and sometimes need to find other creative outlets in their lives. But these things are different for different people and you can't make universal laws. You recognise that your wife is not as restless and you so you will have to find some way of compromising between her speed of life and yours.

Shaun Williamson


(17) Ed asked:

Do you think it is morally acceptable an employer to read his or her employee's e-mail?

============

If your employer came round to your house and read your personal email then this would be illegal and immoral However at work your employer has provided computers and email systems for business use only. If you use them to send personal emails then you cannot complain if your employer reads them.

Shaun Williamson


(18) Lyne asked:

To everything there is a beginning an end. Does that apply to the human race? Where at one point the human race will wipe out totally, another thing would it ever happen that the earth would become inhabitable for man to live.

============

Well we know that at some time in the future the sun will start to die and it will expand into a red giant and swallow the earth. This may take about 4 billion years but it will happen. So we need to leave the earth before then. But other natural disasters such as a supervolcano eruption are more likely to happen first. This would blot out the sun for several years causing a failure of food harvests but that is unlikely to wipe out all human life. Nuclear war would be a man made disaster which amongst other problems would also cause disastrous climate change. We came close to this in the 1960s over the Cuba crisis. The earth could be hit by a large asteroid (big bit of rock) from outer space. But we do have ways of detecting these and possible the technology to deflect them. Then there is the effect of global warming which is difficult to predict accurately but is maybe also something we could control. However there is no way we can say that it is inevitable that man would be wiped out. There is no way of proving that everything has an end. But of course the Big Bang theory says that the universe won't last forever and that would mean the end of us.

Shaun Williamson


(19) Ken asked:

When we become so smart and understand ALL things-and everyone on earth is ENLIGHTENED-would we be bored?

============

Forget it Ken it is never going to happen we will never understand all things and we will never all become enlightened. There is no evidence that people on the average are becoming smarter but at least each individual can try to become these things.

Shaun Williamson


(20) Jelena asked:

Is categorical imperative same as moral law? If not, what exactly is moral law?

============

Answer: No they are not the same although they are related. The idea of moral law is that we all have an inborn knowledge that certain things such as murder and theft are wrong. The idea of the categorical imperative came from the philosopher Kant who said that we had an inbuilt imperative to want a system of universal laws of conduct which apply equally to everyone. For a good account of Kant's idea search on yahoo.com's advanced search page for the categorical imperative. Follow the links to Wikipedia where you will find a good article on Kant's ideas.

The idea of moral law is more difficult since it has been formulated in many different ways. But it stresses more that we actually have an inbuilt knowledge of right and wrong and moral principles rather than just an urge to formulate moral principles. Do a similar search for moral law and you will find lots of references.

Shaun Williamson


(21) Rose asked:

Regarding Descartes' Meditation II: What is Descartes' argument that convinces him that there is at least one thing about which he can be certain?

============

Well Descartes thought that the best way to start in philosophy was to doubt everything. so he thought the world might be an illusion placed in his mind by an evil demon etc. However he reasoned the one thing I cannot doubt is that I am doubting everything. And if I am doubting everything then there must be a me who is doubting things. So he arrived at the conclusion 'I am thinking therefore I exist' and this is the one thing we can never doubt.

Shaun Williamson


(22) Angel asked:

About LUTHERANISM: 1.what is the background of their philosophy and religion? 2. View of happiness of the LUTHERANISM? 3. View of Man of the LUTHERANISM?

============

The Lutherans were one of the first Christian Protestant groups. Followers of Martin Luther they rejected the authority of the Pope. Do a search of Yahoo.com using the advanced search page. Search for Lutheranism and you will find lots of articles explaining their views.

Shaun Williamson


(23) Nikki asked:

Does goodness require the strength to be bad?

============

Goodness requires a lot more strength than that. The idea that goodness is weak and badness is strong is the exact opposite of the truth. Don't confuse goodness with niceness.

Shaun Williamson


(24) Erick asked:

Do I perceive colors as other perceive colors? How do we know what colors are? When we were young. Someone sat us down and said That is yellow. What if your yellow is my green?

============

Well when someone sat you down and said 'this is what yellow is' they weren't just offering a personal opinion. They were showing you what is called yellow in the English language. Suppose we build a big wall. Then we paint it yellow. Then we sit you down in front of it along with several other people and you all look at the wall. Now whatever you are experiencing is what in English is called the experience of the colour yellow. Now you will say 'Suppose his experience is different from mine.That really doesn't matter because your experience and his are both defined to be the experience of the colour yellow unless you are colour blind and we can detect that by testing etc. And in what way can his experience be different from yours. Well you want to say he could be experiencing red. No he can't not unless he is hallucinating or looking at a red wall. If he's looking at a yellow wall then he's experiencing yellow and it really doesn't matter if we imagine his experience is different or the same as yours.

But this is a difficult area of philosophy and I can only give a short answer to the problem. You might be interested in finding out about 'The Problem of Other Minds'.

Shaun Williamson


(25) Michelle asked:

What does it mean to be human? What are the qualities that define our humanity?

============

Reply to J Gregory Jones (12/5):

If you are Christian you will believe that being human is to be created in the image of God, and to be the dominant form of life on Earth. If you are atheist you may support the notion that humans have slowly progressed from some sort of marine life through a whole range of mammalian development , to eventually be elevated by natural selection to the status of the most advanced ape on the planet. As an agnostic you may be content to regard humans as glorified apes until such times as the undeniable proof of the existence of God is revealed.

The ability to use language and to reason raises the human above other forms of life, establishing the the dominance of the species. Of course, those with a religious inclination believe there is far more to being human than this. Our access to a higher power and the notion that humans are in many ways a reflection of that higher power elevates the status of man to a spiritual level consistent with the rank of God's representatives on Earth, with the responsibility of stewardship. Though the non-religious hold a very different view, it is probably safe to say that even here there is an awareness of something special about being human when compared to other forms of life.

Perhaps we should also mention the human paradox of responsibility for the concepts of love, beauty, kindness, caring, understanding and truthfulness, etc., etc., on the one hand, and ugliness, hatred, murder, theft, torture, avarice, deception and repression, etc., etc., on the other.So far as we know, no other form of life on Earth has access to such a range of conflicting conceptual diversity and choice of behavioural activity.However, when we consider the two extremes represented by, say, Adolph Hitler on the one extreme and Saint Francis of Assisi on the other, we seem to be confronted by two totally different human beings which, in an odd way, begs the question that there may be at least two different species of human being, which certainly raises concerns with regard to your second question; What are those qualities that define our humanity? We are certainly given a wide choice!!

John Brandon


(26) Tyler asked:

Please explain the self-destructive nature of Man.

============

Man, like all other forms of life, is naturally adapted to self-preservation, hence your concern does not entail a universal trait. There is evidence to indicate that some members of the species, blinded by greed and power, set out to achieve their ambitions without regard for the consequences either to themselves or to others. Power and greed unfortunately blinds common sense and logic. It is this blindness to the consequences imposed on others which raises the greatest concern. Where it is seen that the power and influence of capitalism/materialism, embodied in a handful of multi-national corporate bodies is rapidly taking control of this planet there is obviously a case for some form of immediate action to stem it. It is from this aspect that your notion of the self-destruction of the human race will materialise if something is not done soon.

Profit before people has always been a threat to the human race, and outside the control of respectable, trustworthy government it is rapidly becoming a menace. Pollution continues to increase, deforestation seems unstoppable, the un-necessary use of oil in place of solar energy, no great enthusiasm for pursuing alternative sources of energy. Material gain is now even capable of manipulating our culture in the interests of those who stand to benefit; art, music, sport, entertainment, much of the media, are now in the main controlled by huge capitalist interests. Add to all this influence in education, medicine, food and many other necessities of human life and the picture becomes more than a little disturbing.

It is understandable that others will hold a different view to the horror picture painted above, however, in response to your expressed concern, I would suggest that we are not looking at the self-destruction of Man per se but at a potential threat to the planet by the greed and power of the few to the determent of the many. Perhaps Man's inborn sense of self-preservation will somehow come to the rescue, but it will have to be soon!!

John Brandon


(27) Jelena asked:

Is categorical imperative same as moral law? If not, what exactly is moral law? Thank you!

============

Normally people don't speak of moral "law". Kant was unique, to my knowledge, in trying to establish a moral principle as a "law". Normally we speak of moral principles, duties, moral norms.

A law is such that if we break it we are liable to punishment. This isn't so with morality. People might object to our behaviour but often there is no comeuppance. We don't have to abide by principles or accept duties to treat others well.

There are certain things which are illegal, such as murder, which are both legally and morally unacceptable. Not caring much about the feelings of others is fine legally, but isn't morally acceptable. It can't be the case that adjudication is over actions rather than personality/feelings, though, because it is personality and feelings that leads to murder.

So I don't think there is a moral law. Law is about passing judgement and settling matters by coming to a decision or by referring to the statute, which is written.

The categorical imperative reflects religious thinking, but holy writing can hardly be taken to be law. There is no-one to enforce it: It is up to you to believe in the priest and accept what he says which isn't like the law at all!

Rachel Browne


(28) Erick asked:

Do I perceive colors as other perceive colors? How do we know what colors are? When we were young. Someone sat us down and said That is yellow. What if your yellow is my green?

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This is the problem of other minds: Do we know that others have minds as we do and is it possible to know what they are like. It is the problem of consciousness. We have no access to another's conscious states and cannot know if another person has experience.

Because we have brains that allow us to experience colour and they operate similarly in relation to a distal source (object out there) it is likely, scientifically, that we have the same phenomenological experiences.

It has been found that there are several colours (focal colours: see George Lakoff, Women, Fire and Dangerous Things) that we all experience, and beyond that there are distinctions which are probably based on environment and language. So all people are thought to experience red, but further distinctions like crimson and scarlet are based on language or environment. Eskimos have lots of words for snow because snow is a major part of their environment.

How does this research come to know that everyone experiences red if you can't experience an experience?

There are cases of colour blindness such that you cannot experience redness. My husband had an experience when he had to turn on the tap to experience hot water before he could see the red spot on the tap. Before that it looked grey. But that is not the normal case!

It has been pointed out (Colin McGinn) that it is possible, logically, that our experiences of colour could be different. It wouldn't make any practical difference if everything you saw as green I saw as yellow, just so long as we used a single term for this experience and ALL the things you experience as "green" I experience as "yellow".

But, maybe, yes, you were sat down at primary school and the teacher pointed at colours. As long as you have the same experience, whatever that is like, every time she pointed to yellow, you'd be able to function in a linguistic environment.

Rachel Browne


(29) Lauri asked:

I know what philosophy is and what a philosopher is but what exactly does a philosopher do besides sit around thinking of answers to questions? How does a philosopher help and contribute to the world? I've tried reading books about that stuff but I'm only 13 and all the books use big vocabulary I don't understand. Can somebody please explain it to me in simple english I can understand?

and

Fortune Kokey asked:

What is the significance of philosophy in our existence? Because for me philosophy only gives us a plurality of ideas without certain evidence, that's why it only gives us confusions. Please answer my question, because I deemed that it can really help me a lot in solving my problem. Thank you very much.

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I am pleased to find that someone of the tender age of thirteen is taking a serious interest in philosophy. Though it is not surprising to find that without guidance you find philosophy to be a difficult subject. It can certainly be off-putting to try to wade through complex philosophical literature without some basic introduction to what philosophy is all about. Hence it would be wise to curb your ambitions to tangle with the great philosophers until you have established some sort of foundation on which to build your reading. Teach Yourself Philosophy from the Teach Yourself series, published by The English Universities Press, is a good place to start. Also, The Problems of Philosophy by Bertrand Russell, Oxford University Press, is a good introduction for beginners. The amount of information packed into its ninety-four pages is quite staggering and, of course, Bertrand Russell is amongst the greatest teachers of philosophy.

Provided that it can be understood that the mind can be extended beyond the limited knowledge of the immediate material/physical world the importance and usefulness of philosophy begins to reveal itself. Philosophers are not content to confine themselves to the limited interests of so-called everyday life. There is far more to life than the perceived practical activity which recognises only material needs. To quote Bertrand Russell: "... even in the existing world the goods of the mind are at least as important as the goods of the body. It is exclusively among these goods of the mind that the value of philosophy is to be found; and only those who are not indifferent to these goods can be persuaded that the study of philosophy is not a waste of time,"

In the past virtually all pursuit of knowledge came under the heading of philosophy, science was included in the 'Philosophy of Nature'; religious pursuits have always had a firm link with philosophy. Neurological science and psychology have separated from the philosophy of mind; astronomy is an off-shoot of the philosophical study of the Heavens. Despite these separations philosophy maintains a role of supervision throughout the whole body of knowledge, providing a source of criticism and leaving open the opportunity of further contributions to the ever growing body of knowledge. This is becoming particularly prominent in physics, where philosophy and science seem to be once again uniting in the search for 'truth' and 'reality'. Ethics and Morality are fertile areas of philosophical investigation. Philosophy always has and probably always will be interested in the subject of metaphysics and the consideration of alternative 'realities'.

Without philosophy Man can go through life imprisoned within his prejudices and the habitual beliefs derived from what is loosely considered to be 'common sense'. He stands in danger of submitting to convictions derived from unchallenged everyday experiences. The confined restrictions of the materialistic life blinds us to liberating thought and eventually stifles the sense of wonder which lies at the root of philosophical pursuits.

We find an ideal summary in Russell's Problems of Philosophy. Philosophy is to be studied, not for the sake of any definite answers to its questions, since no definite answers can, as a rule, be known to be true, but rather for the sake of the questions themselves; because these questions enlarge our conception of what is possible, enrich our intellectual imagination, and diminish the dogmatic assurance which closes the mind against speculation; but above all because, through the greatness of the universe which philosophy contemplates, the mind also is rendered great, and becomes capable of that union with the universe which constitutes its highest good.

John Brandon


(30) Rose asked:

Regarding Descartes' Meditation II: What is Descartes argument that convinces him that here is at least one thing about which he can be certain?

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In Meditation 1, Descartes has analysed all he formally held to be true and found it doubtful. He wonders if he has entered epistemological nihilism as everything can be doubted as being true.

One thing which cannot be doubted is that Descartes is doubting when he doubts!!. So something must exist in order to doubt, in order to perform the process of doubt. This cannot be refuted. It is incontestable. How can you think or doubt that you think or exist when you are doubting, when you are thinking? It cannot be done. Something must exist so as to doubt, think and so on. It is the pre-condition for doubting, thinking. That is why Descartes is convinced he has found the one thing he was searching for of which he can be certain.

Martin Jenkins


(31) Adam asked:

Why is the 'Argument from Design' as evidence for the existence of God rejected by philosophers?

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The Argument from Design as a proof for the existence of God fails. It does not provide the required, compelling proof for the existence of the Abrahamic God of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The attempted proof consists in identifying this God as the designer, the Creator behind the creation or what exists, what is. The argument can be subdivided into The Argument from Regularity and The Argument from Teleology.

The Argument from Regularity

This argument maintains that what exists displays a coherence, regularity and an intricacy. If we came across a pocket watch in a park, and peered into its complex innards of wheels, cog wheels, springs and other mechanisms, we would conclude not only that it was dropped by someone but more importantly, that it has been created. Its coherence, intricacy and regularity are evidence of a designer, evidence of a creator. Likewise, coming across natural phenomena which display coherence, intricacy and regularity leads to the conclusion that they are evidence of a designer. The designer is concluded as being God.

Analogy

Firstly, this argument rests on analogy. What is observed in the human, sensible world is then taken to be analogous or to logically hold for a non-human, super sensible realm. That a pocket watch presupposes a designer and creator may be deduced from empirical observation in the human world but it does not follow that it holds or can be applied to the non-human realm.

This objection can be met with Scriptural writings. Citing this as evidence, the Book of Genesis says that God created the world. Evidence of this is provided by the Argument from Design. If this is maintained then insofar as the argument from design goes outside itself to rely on Scriptural evidence, the more it fails to convince on its own terms. It becomes contingent to scriptural evidence. The emphasis for the veracity of the Designing God is shifted towards scripture, towards an already existent belief in God and away from the argument from design per se.

Order?

Secondly, assuming regularity, order etc is perceived by human beings two points arise: what can 'order' mean and, can it be stated beyond doubt that order etc is objectively present in the 'ready made world' awaiting perception and discovery by human beings. In response to the first point, order to one person might not be order to another. A filing system deemed 'disordered' by an office audit holds and displays order to those familiar with it. A painting, which displays order, form and regularity to some observers, displays nothing but chaos to others.

Order is not an objective quality. It is subjective or perhaps a matter of cultural intersubjectivity. In The Order of Things, Michel Foucault cites the writer Borges quoting a system of animal classification that seems absurd and irrational to us, but was operated by the natives concerned. Thus 'order' displays an ambiguity which negates any conclusion in favour of the argument from design.

On the second point, the existence of ordered 'objective reality' outside observers, in the world itself is questionable. As well as being the result of cultural intersubjectivity, perception may also be the consequence of the structure of the human intellect as the German Idealist thinkers argued. Immanuel Kant maintained that Human understanding creates the world of human perception. As the world is in itself, we cannot know with certainty. Johann Fichte argued that the external world that is not-I[nicht Ich] is reincorporated to the knowing I [ich] because the Absolute I creates it, even if the finite I is not so aware. Order is thus a human construct and not an objective given.

Of course, a realist may maintain that the human intellect 'reflects' reality thus cognising an order that is present in the world itself. Be it so, the realist does not so cognise an empirical God. So realism excludes the possibility of a proof for the existence of God. It is usually associated with agnosticism and materialist atheism.

Evidence for Design?

Thirdly, assuming that regularity, coherence and intricacy exists objectively in the world itself. This would still not be conclusive evidence of a designing, creator God. Such evidence can support alternative explanations. From being the experimental creations of extra-terrestrial scientists to Darwinist Natural Selection other hypothesis can provide explanations for regularity which are contrary to the view of God as the designing creator.

Evil

Fourth, if God designed his creation, the existence of Evil has to be accounted for. Whereas moral evil [arising from the free will of human beings] may arguably be discounted, Natural evil cannot. Earthquakes, famines, tidal waves, plagues and the like are a consequence of the nature of the earth and thus, of design. The designer has either lapsed [being imperfect which is impossible], acted deliberately [rather sadistic contrary to nature as loving, just God], acted deliberately to create a greater good [an act of dubious moral worth] or is indifferent to what it has created and what lives in that creation [Deist conception of God not the personal, loving, good, just, theistic God]. Of course, it may be proposed that there is no evil, only the absence of Good. This seems to me to be weasel-worded sophistry and not at all convincing.

Creation red in tooth and claw

Fifth, God has designed a living natural world which appears inherently cruel. Predators prey on the vulnerable tearing them limb from limb. Insects use living hosts for their larvae to hatch within and then devour. The designer seems to relish creating regularity of pain and suffering. This contradicts the general understanding of God as Good, benevolent and loving as required by the argument from design.

Divine intervention

Sixth, designer and what has been designed are separate. If not, pantheism results but this reinforces the criticisms made in point three above. If separable, how can the designer intervene in its creation? If by grace or by miracle this contradicts the thesis that regularity, order are present. Miracles upset and contradict order and regularity contrary to the central thesis of the argument from design that regularity, order are discernible in the world and in relation to a designer, make it all intelligible.

Deist Architect

Finally, assuming there is evidence of regularity, order and intricate coherence in the world, universe, this would provide evidence only for the existence of an impersonal and indifferent architect at the time of creation and nothing more. It would entail a deistic understanding of God. Namely, as an impersonal architect devoid of the traditional characteristics [loving, just, benevolent, listens and answers prayers] of a theistic God. The argument from design might succeed here but not in a way its advocates may want. So it seems to me that the Argument from Regularity is not a convincing proof for the existence of God.

The Argument from Teleology

This second variant of the Argument from Design centre's on the unique specificity of environmental, chemical conditions which have permitted the existence of life and its development. These conditions are much too specific - maintaining a delicate balance without which, life would not have developed. Just as the scientist has to ensure that all the correct chemicals and conditions are met for the success of the experiment, so God the designer has deliberately ensured that all the correct conditions were/are present for life to flourish. It could not be a matter of chance nor accident.

Serendipity

First, the argument from teleology can be thrown back on itself. Namely, it is only because of the unique concatenation of conditions that we discover, that it follows that life came into being. These conditions are not found elsewhere which is why, life developed here on Earth and not elsewhere. The existence of life can quite feasibly be accounted for as a lucky, happy accident and not due to intended conditions and aims.

Detrimental conditions

Second, inherent to the Argument from Teleology is the tenet that the delicate and unique concatenation of conditions facilitates life. The delicate, unique combination of conditions can equally militate against life. A slight rise or fall in temperature, a lack of water and so on can be

detrimental to life. Again, a central thesis of the argument from teleology - that the specificity of conditions that allow life are evidence of design - can be contested. For the specificity of conditions can be detrimental to life.

Scriptural reliance

Third, the Argument from Teleology relies on external scriptural support. For it assumes that human beings are 'the crown of creation'. All the concatenation of conditions were intended for human beings to develop, to recognise and link to a designing God. Yet without additional scriptural support, the argument alone cannot provide evidence that the conditions were intended for designed by a theistic God. Deism, Serendipity or other accounts are equally viable.

These are only some of the arguments against the Argument from Design. Yet I believe they demonstrate why thinkers and philosophers have rejected the argument.

Martin Jenkins


(32) Juma asked:

Why did philosophy first start in Greece and not in say; Tanzania, Malawi, Kenya, etc? Can I know the factors that led to the start of philosophy in Greece instead of elsewhere in the world?

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The assumption that 'Philosophy First Started in Greece' seems flawed. Around the same time as the Golden Age of Philosophy in Greece, civilisations in China and India were enjoying their own philosophical revolutions, influenced by Confucius and the Buddha respectively. This period is seen as the start of the 'Axial age', the period from which gave birth to most of the major world religions. In the Indian sub-continent the 'Vedic' Tradition represents a Philosophical 'school' that goes back much further than the likes of Socrates and Plato. So it isn't true to say that Philosophy first started in Greece, although Ancient Greece is widely accepted as the oldest major influence on Western Philosophy.

On the question of Africa, I can assure you that, if Africa was the continent on which Humans first appeared, then it was also the continent on which Philosophy first 'happened'.The Egyptian Civilisation was founded upon a complex religio-philosophical system, and many of its allegorical myths influenced other peoples of the near-east and the Mediterranean. That we don't know of any Ancient African philosophers indicates only that their work has not survived until the present, not that it didn't exist in the past.

If you persist with your thesis that philosophy first happened in Greece, then the most obvious avenues of enquiry will consider the freedom of thought that came from living in a democratic society, and also one which didn't take religious dogma too seriously. However, I would advise you to challenge the question's assumptions by researching the philosophy of Ancient Egypt. Perhaps you could even suggest that 'Philosophy First Started' there?

Thornton Webber