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

Ask a Philosopher: Questions and Answers 16 (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 16/1.

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) Chris asked:

If humans use only 1%-20% of our brains, what would happen if we were able to use 50%-100% or more of our brains?

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

We would be unable to do anything because our brains are not designed to operate in this way. The brain has evolved over a long period of time and the one thing you can be sure of is that its design is highly efficient and optimal i.e. it cannot easily be improved. Using more of your brain wouldn't improve your mental ability, it would decrease it. At any one time the brain only uses the areas that are needed to solve the particular problems it is dealing with. Anyone who claims to be able to teach you to use more of your brain is a snake oil salesman who obviously knows nothing about how the brain works, so ignore them. The one thing that is known to improve your brain is using it. Learning and thinking will increase the size of your brain.

Shaun Williamson


(2) Steve asked:

I am interested in an explanation of the origin of logic, primarily deductive logic. My own suspicions lead me to look at how a distinction is made between rhetoric and logic. I have looked into Socrates' discussions in the dialogues. Further, I am curious whether anyone has developed a sceptical argument about deduction on the order of sceptical arguments about induction. I am interested in these questions because I have tried to develop an argument attacking what I take to be Socrates' account of knowledge and values as a matter of logical as opposed to rhetorical argument. I'd be grateful for some discussion of what the tradition might say. thanks, steve

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

The idea of deductive logic evolve in Ancient Greece so you will have to study the history of Greek philosophy to discover its origins. However don't get confused here. The fact that the phrases 'deductive logic' and 'inductive logic' both contain the word logic does not mean that they are in any way similar. There are no sceptical arguments about deductive logic, nor can there be any. To understand why this is so you would need to study modern works on deductive logic. Deductive logic is roughly the study of the concept of a valid argument. It should not be confused with deduction as practised by Sherlock Holmes ( a different sense of the word deduction).

Shaun Williamson


(3) Rob asked:

I am an A2 Philosophy student and I need to find out, for my synoptic paper, what did A.J. Ayer believe in relation to the external world? Did he believe in such a thing, did he define it as any such thing in particular? Thanks for your help.

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

Well of course A.J. Ayer believed in the external world. He was a supporter of Chelsea football team and often went to watch games. His ideas about the external world are complex and changed over time. In his early days he was a logical positivist. Read his book 'Language, Truth and Logic'. Its a short book so it shouldn't take too long. Later he moved more towards mainstream 'Empiricism'. You can only really find out more by reading some of his works. They are not that difficult to understand.

Shaun Williamson


(4) Rob asked:

As a Christian, I would like to hear how an Atheist attempts to explain life. How did it begin, what 'spark' sets living things apart from non-living? If it is just a case of an electrical impulse, why does it not happen more often? And why is it so related to order and functionality?

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

I don't know why you seem to assume that an Atheist's explanation of life would be any different from a Christian explanation of the origin of life. There are many Christians and Atheists who are happy to accept the theory of evolution. We still don't know exactly how life began but that doesn't mean that it needs any belief in a mysterious 'spark'. Do we need a mysterious spark to account for the transistor radio and why aren't they more common on other planets etc. etc. There is no reason to assume that science and religion conflict unless you are one of those people who insist on interpreting the bible literally (something which I am sure God finds extremely tiresome).

Shaun Williamson


(5) Christina asked:

Last year I had a nervous breakdown and I was diagnosed with major depression after the loss of a child. I'm not quite sure when I began to lose sight of reality, but during the negative experience I enrolled and withdrew erratically and brought my GPA down from a 3.6 to a .99 over the past year. I have always aspired to be a scholar. I feel I have just ruined my life. I have an idea that I could get away with not including the transcript when applying to other graduate programs. I know this is wrong. Yet, I don't know what else to do to gain my peace and happiness again. Please, if you have any advice, I would greatly appreciate it. School has been my life. I am so sad now. I wanted to get a ph.d. but this loss of personal control over my life has nearly ruined me. I feel so guilty for even thinking that omitting a transcript record is an option. I know I can get away with it, but part of being a scholar is having integrity. I hope you can help.

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

You haven't ruined your life. It hasn't been your fault and things look like they will improve.

It is always best — at least less worrying! — to tell the truth. Perhaps a doctor could send a covering letter with the transcript with an explanation?

You shouldn't feel guilty about just 'thinking' about omitting the transcript.

Even if you actually DO it I wouldn't believe that it was terribly wrong, though most others would. You have been ill and have passed through a time when integrity wouldn't have even entered your mind or have been a matter of concern. You were just trying to get through. Maybe you still don't feel up to integrity, but you show the will to survive and recognition of the value of integrity, so you'll get there.

I'm sorry about the loss of your child. I know that after something like that you might have to act desperately, although desperate action isn't good action by definition: You are not in a state to bring all considerations to bear. However, I think your thought actually shows a good survival instinct. The thought about hiding facts because there is something you need, and something you want to achieve, is really positive in a way. You have motivation back.

For myself, I think that how you get to college doesn't matter as much as how well you work when you get there.

But what do you mean by you 'always aspired to be a scholar'? Are you just after an end? I'm hoping that your thought is that if you get on a PhD course and are just able to study you will feel mentally happier and will work well.

Ethically, honesty is the way. It is also best psychologically. If you feel guilty about the thought, how will you feel about the deed?

You have actually expressed the thought on a web-site. How anxious will that make you?

Rachel Browne


(6) Jon asked:

What does Nagel's Bat mean in the philosophy world?

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

Nagel uses to bat example to show that however much we might know about a bat, scientifically, we would never know what it is like to BE a bat. The same applies to humans. However much we know about the brain and however much neuroscience advances, it won't tell us what consciousness is like.

Looking at an organism from the outside, scientifically, will never show us what it is like inside, from the point of view of consciousness.

Rachel Browne


(7) Kyle asked:

I believe it is wrong, but this is a philosophical question, is eating people wrong? Mammals eat mammals, we eat mammals, we are considered mammals, so why is it wrong for us to eat us. Kant says it is immoral to treat someone as a food. Cannibals eat someone when they die out of respect of them, so that they are now considered to be a part of that person, that is not treating them as a food. If you are stuck on a desert island and someone that is with you dies, is it moral to eat them? What's the difference in doing that and donating your organs?

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

When you eat something you are ALWAYS treating it as food. This is what it is to eat something. Cannibals may have a belief that it is respect, but they are still eating another person, so treating that person as food.

Is it moral to 'eat someone'? You are on a desert island where there are likely to be other things to eat and, while you decide on the moral nature of the option and the digestibility factor, the body is rotting and beginning to stink?

This is a question about what it is right to do when you are desperate, which is the philosophical test case of what is moral, not the normal context of moral decision-making. I think that when you are dying and desperate and there are only two people and one is dead, the only judgement we can make is not moral because morality is about considerations to do with others who are conscious rather than dead.

Donating your organs is to help others to live. To help yourself to continue to live on a desert island when there is only ONE source of something that you are willing to treat as food, is different. It is purely self-serving (although there might family wanting you to return home) but it isn't particularly practical. How long are you going to last after you have eaten the other person?

Rachel Browne


(8) Ray asked:

Why (if indeed it is) that the statement "All the books in my room are on philosophy — if there are no books in my room" true?

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

This is a statement which has the logical form of a conditional, which is 'if . . then'. A conditional is true, according to formal logic, if the consequent is true. When a statement is put in the formal notation of logic, where you simply have a symbol, you cannot make inferences according to the content, because there isn't any.

In the logical notation of conditional form, the assumption is that A entails B, so that if B is false then A is too, because B SHOULD have followed from A and if it didn't, then A wasn't true.

Your statement is more clearly put as 'If all the books in my room are on philosophy, then there are no books in my room' or 'if there are no books in my room, then all the books in my room are on philosophy' and neither makes sense in terms of content.

In ordinary language we expect there to be a conceptual connection between the antecedent and consequent of a conditional if it is to make sense. The antecedent should at lest IMPLY the consequent. Your book case doesn't do this. If you don't have any books there is no implication that they should have a subject matter. In ordinary we wouldn't even say this is false, just that it is nonsense.

While in ordinary language there is implication, in logic there is entailment. Entailment, as above, means that it is impossible for A to be true without B being true. So an example would be 'if something is square then it has four sides' because it is logically and conceptually impossible for this to be false. In ordinary language there aren't many conditionals of this type.

Implication is looser than entailment. It is not tied to impossibility and you could use the term 'therefore' quite sensibly, which is to make an inference. You might say 'if the streets are wet it must have been raining' or 'the streets are wet therefore it has been raining. But this doesn't meet the demands of an entailment relation because it could be the case that the streets have been cleaned with water.

Logical form doesn't reflect ordinary language. Logical form is supposed to embody the essential logical nature of a statement, but logical notation is totally based around the function of the connective rather the content.

But you question whether your statement about books actually IS a statement and Grice has said that a statement should be assertable and what you say. You can't use the statement to convey anything meaningful nor can use it to express anything that makes sense in ordinary language.

Rachel Browne


(9) Jas asked::

I am interested in learning how others view the concept of subjectivity. I have favoured a mathematical approach (lending itself to Set Theory) and I usually end up with the idea that there is a fundamental and common Truth, with each of us (generally) having some idea of this Truth and some misconceptions, some ideas that we are unsure about and others that appear to each of us as definite as you can get. Of course, we have limited ways of verifying our knowledge. Where would I find a resource that provides a counterpoint to this? I am not a philosopher, maybe a lay philosopher. I would like to challenge this view because it always leads me to classify knowledge as potentially "off target" and I end up in an epistemological rut. I'm sure this is familiar territory to you! Very many thanks, Jas

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

Well your ideas are interesting but perhaps they have more application to the logic of knowledge and belief or even to theoretical linguistics . One of the problems is that word like subjective and objective have many different uses especially in philosophy. There is nothing wrong with the idea that knowledge is always potentially off target. Since the most common use of 'I know that X...' is to claim that you have good evidence that X is true. But it always makes sense to say 'He was sure that X was true but in fact he was wrong'.

Shaun Williamson


(10) Kyle asked:

I believe it is wrong, but this is a philosophical question, is eating people wrong? Mammals eat mammals, we eat mammals, we are considered mammals, so why is it wrong for us to eat us. Kant says it is immoral to treat someone as a food. Cannibals eat someone when they die out of respect of them, so that they are now considered to be a part of that person, that is not treating them as a food. If you are stuck on a desert island and someone that is with you dies, is it moral to eat them? What's the difference in doing that and donating your organs?

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

Well this is just a silly question that requires much more explanation. Suppose we agree that eating people is ok and I am hungry. Can I take a bite out of your arm? Should we be able to buy canned human meat in the supermarket. If you are stuck on a desert island and a dead companion is your only food source then eating them wouldn't be morally wrong. I would think that there is an obvious different between donating your organs and eating someone's organs. Usually when people donate their organs they don't expect them to be eaten. There are good medical reasons not to eat other humans and groups of people who have engaged in ritualistic cannibalistic practices have provided evidence for the dangers of doing this. They have suffered from a high incidence of BSE like brain conditions etc.

Shaun Williamson


(11) Haylight asked:

Why do we need rules?

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

Well we don't need them but humans prefer to have rules. If someone steals your possessions then you would probably be very upset and expect other people to sympathise with you. You will be appealing to a rule that 'stealing is wrong' When you buy something in a shop then you want to get the right change. You will expect the shop assistant to use the same rules to calculate your change as you do. When you play games then you expect other people to keep to the rules. When you are driving your car then you expect other people to drive on the correct side of the road (i.e. to keep to the rules).

Shaun Williamson


(12) Sapna asked:

Suppose amoeba had a conscious life and were non humans. Should an amoeba consider that fission was a form of death or a way of surviving death?

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

Well I think we can all agree that amoebas are non humans. Imagine that a human could only reproduce by dividing into two exact copies of itself . Would this seem like death or a way of surviving death? I really don't know. I would reluctantly accept it as a useful alternative to death as we humans know it.

Shaun Williamson


(13) Antonette asked:

1. how do you feel about women entering traditionally male jobs? 2. how do you feel about the men who object to women entering these jobs? 3. do men have the right to object to "women only" executive job openings? how do you think a court would decide this issue?

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

As a man I have no feelings about women entering traditionally male jobs. I have no sympathy with men who object to this. I don't know how the idea of rights are applicable here. I don't know how a court would decide this issue. Which legal system are we talking about here?

Shaun Williamson


(14) Bunny asked:

Why do people argue whether viewing violence affects children aggressive behaviour and not about the fact that earth revolves round the sun?

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

They used to argue about the latter question, until there was a theory, and enough experiments and resulting data, to settle the matter. That is not the case, according to some, for the former... although most of the studies I know of support the position that viewing violence increases aggressive behavior.

Steven Ravett Brown


(15) Samantha asked:

Religious Language. Is religious language about factual assertions? So far, for the debate on religious language I have found many philosophers and theologians who give opinions and doctrines however I can?t determine which are most beneficial to answering positive towards this question, I have been able from research to find many which would disagree but none which would agree. The verification principle and falsification principle would argue for neither as they believe that as religious asserts are not empirically verified. They are meaningless therefore can not be a factual assertion nor is it a non-cognitive view point, unlike Braithwaite who takes a non-cognitive stand point and considers religious language to be meaningful as it plays other roles in our language; for example a guideline of morals, but again would disagree with religious language being factual as religious language cannot be used to assert or deny the existence of God. John Wisdom (parable of the gardener), Hick (the parable in which two men walk towards the city)and even Swinburne (the parable of the toys coming alive) would all argue that religious language does not have to be factual to have meaning to a believer. David Hume stated that religious language was ?nothing but sophistry and illusion? so again is not beneficiary to me in agreeing with the before question. I considered Ramsey's theory of models and qualifiers, can it be used to suggest we can make factual assertions, I'm not sure as I don?t feel the argument would be strong as he doesn?t state anything from my knowledge that the models drawn from the observed world must be factual. I do feel Wittgenstein could be beneficial as he describe religious language as a game in which only the players can understand the rules so therefore the statements made in religious talk are factual to those who understand and believe in them. I would greatly appreciate some advise as to who would say religious language is about factual asserts or even philosophers who suggest that it?s possible to make factual statements when talking about God would be a great help. Thank You.

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

In answer to your question: of course religious language is about factual assertions; religious language makes assertions about the person making religious claims: that person has certain beliefs, etc. The question you seem to want to ask, however, is what we can employ to help decide whether religious assertions are true or not; I'm not sure what the difference is between that and asking whether "religious language is about factual assertions".

You might take a look at these:

Alper, M. 2001. The "God" part of the brain: a scientific interpretation of human spirituality and god. Brooklyn, NY: Rogue Press.

Azari, N.P., J. Nickel, G. Wunderlich, M. Niedeggen, H. Hefter, L. Tellmann, H. Herzog, P. Stoerig, D. Birnbacher, and R.J. Seitz. 2001. Neural correlates of religious experience. European Journal of Neuroscience 13:1649-1652.

Barrett, J.L., R.A. Richert, and A. Driesenga. 2001. God's Beliefs versus Mother's: The Development of Nonhuman Agent Concepts. Child Development 72 (1):50-56.

Boyer, P. 2000. Natural epistemology or evolved metaphysics? Developmental evidence for early-developed, intuitive, category-specific, incomplete, and stubborn metaphysical presumptions. Philosophical Psychology 13 (3):277-297.

Dupre, L. 1998. Religious mystery and rational reflection: excursions in the phenomenology and philosophy of religion. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Eliade, M. 1961. The sacred and the profane. Translated by W. R. Trask, The Cloister Library. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

Giovannoli, J. 2000. The Biology of belief: how our biology biases our beliefs and perceptions: Rosetta Press, Inc.

James, W. 1968. The varieties of religious experience: a study in human nature. New York: Collier Books.

Langdon, R., and M. Coltheart. 2000. The cognitive neuropsychology of delusions. Mind & Language 15 (1):184-218.

Laski, M. 1990. Ecstasy in secular and religious experiences. Los Angeles, CA: Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc. Original edition, 1961.

Lawson, E.T., and R.N. McCauley. 1993. Rethinking religion: connecting cognition and culture. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Russell, B. 1981. Mysticism and logic and other essays. Totowa, JN: Barnes & Noble Books. Original edition, 1917.

Sagan, C. 1996. The demon-haunted world: science as a candle in the dark. New York, NY: Random House, Inc.

Steven Ravett Brown


(16) Ashley asked:

I am an atheist with a question I can't answer. Why do people believe in God? I have thought about this for years and years now, but cannot find a reasonable response to it. I'm talking mainly about Christianity, but also other world religions too, although I don't know as much about these. My main problem with it is my judgement that God created humans so that they could worship Him: Humans have no choice over whether they're born or not, yet when they are, if they don't dedicate they're lives to God, they don't get entry to the Kingdom of Heaven. This leaves me with the impression that God is arrogant. This is not to say that people shouldn't be thankful for their lives. I could understand worshipping God if we had ASKED to be created, but we had no choice. He, 'who creates all things', created us. I'm also particularly interested in the problem of suffering. Most Christians can answer suffering with the 'free will' and 'original sin' arguments, but I'm yet to find an answer from anyone to the question 'Why does God allow miscarriage?' as neither the baby nor the mother has free will over the event. Your help with these (rather long and ranted) questions would be much appreciated as they have bothered me for a long time. Thankyou.

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

Some of these might be helpful:

Alper, M. 2001. The "God" part of the brain: a scientific interpretation of human spirituality and god. Brooklyn, NY: Rogue Press.

Azari, N.P., J. Nickel, G. Wunderlich, M. Niedeggen, H. Hefter, L. Tellmann, H. Herzog, P. Stoerig, D. Birnbacher, and R.J. Seitz. 2001. Neural correlates of religious experience. European Journal of Neuroscience 13:1649-1652.

Barrett, J.L., R.A. Richert, and A. Driesenga. 2001. God's Beliefs versus Mother's: The Development of Nonhuman Agent Concepts. Child Development 72 (1):50-56.

Boyer, P. 2000. Natural epistemology or evolved metaphysics? Developmental evidence for early-developed, intuitive, category-specific, incomplete, and stubborn metaphysical presumptions. Philosophical Psychology 13 (3):277-297.

Dupre, L. 1998. Religious mystery and rational reflection: excursions in the phenomenology and philosophy of religion. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Eliade, M. 1961. The sacred and the profane. Translated by W. R. Trask, The Cloister Library. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

Giovannoli, J. 2000. The Biology of belief: how our biology biases our beliefs and perceptions: Rosetta Press, Inc.

James, W. 1968. The varieties of religious experience: a study in human nature. New York: Collier Books.

Langdon, R., and M. Coltheart. 2000. The cognitive neuropsychology of delusions. Mind & Language 15 (1):184-218.

Laski, M. 1990. Ecstasy in secular and religious experiences. Los Angeles, CA: Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc. Original edition, 1961.

Lawson, E.T., and R.N. McCauley. 1993. Rethinking religion: connecting cognition and culture. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Russell, B. 1981. Mysticism and logic and other essays. Totowa, JN: Barnes & Noble Books. Original edition, 1917.

Sagan, C. 1996. The demon-haunted world: science as a candle in the dark. New York, NY: Random House, Inc.

Blanke, O., T. Landis, L. Spinelli, and M. Seeck. 2004. Out-of-body experience and autoscopy of neurological origin. Brain 127:1-16.

Gregory, R. 1980. Perceptions as hypotheses. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London Series B, Biological Sciences 290:181-197.

Piaget, J. 1971. Insights and illusions of philosophy. Translated by W. Mays. New York, NY: The World Publishing Co.

Piattelli-Palmarini, M. 1994. Inevitable illusions: how mistakes of reason rule our minds. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Steven Ravett Brown


(17) Jean Maria asked:

As scholars do we have an ethical obligation to attempt genuine communication with those whose moral positions we oppose (in print), if our opponents are in positions of potential wrongdoing? Or is it sufficient to run our own arguments to justify our positions, without regard to the worldviews or situations of our opponents? Perhaps someone can help me frame the question in philosophical terms. The question arises because my "Utilitarian Argument against Torture Interrogation of Terrorists" [Science and Engineering Ethics, 10(3), 543-572] has been criticized by some non-utilitarian philosophers for flawed methodology. As a social scientist, I sought empirical data to assess whether torture interrogation of terrorist suspects has produced, or can likely produce, the positive results promised by advocates. The critique of my method goes that if my assessment had favored torture, then I would be in the position of advocating torture. I respond that, although I am opposed to torture on other grounds, in order to communicate with military professionals and others working in institutions that require utilitarian rationales, it behooves me to run a utilitarian argument. If my research had upheld the positive results promised by advocates of torture interrogation of terrorists, I suppose I could have had a tough problem on my hands. But my oral histories of some military professionals who had been involved in coercive interrogation made that possibility remote in my mind. I am not trying to raise the issue of torture interrogation again here but only to illustrate the possible urgency in truly communicating with one's opponent on a moral issue. Thanks again to all philosophers who responded to my query in Answers 18 concerning torture interrogation. I acknowledged their help by name in my paper.

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

You might look here, at p. 154, re how one progresses to different moral stages:

Dawson, T.L. 2002. New tools, new insights: Kohlberg's moral judgement stages revisited. International Journal of Behavioral Development 26 (2):154-166.

Please do not use my name in a paper. Thank you.

Steven Ravett Brown


(18) Shima asked:

Explain the following quotation, state by whom it was said whether you agree or disagree? "all men by nature desire to know" (I know Aristotle said it, but I don't understand it).

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

What is there not to understand? You understand "all men by nature desire to eat". Perhaps the difficulty here is that you disagree with "all men by nature desire to know". I certainly do, having met lots of people who desired peer approval /fame/wealth/love to the exclusion of any desire to have knowledge. Doubtless a pro-aristotelian may now wish to defend him by redefining 'knowledge', or, perhaps more interestingly, by arguing that the pursuit of certain kinds of knowledge is fundamental to all those other loves. But I am not that man.

David Robjant


(19) Allison asked:

Why is having a distinct and rigid class system, as Plato has in his Republic, dangerous?

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

The question contains two errors. The class system described in the Republic while distinct is not rigid. Entry is by exam. Secondly, it is in my view a misreading of the Republic to think of it as a political manifesto. The tripartite class system is introduced as a way of understanding the tripartite soul, and the three elements common to both are clearly of psychological inspiration rather than political, and differentiated by objects of affection: the rational element (loving geometry and harmony), the spirited element (loving esteem), and the appetitive element (loving sensory enjoyment). These three elements are not 'classes' as any sociological thinker (such as Marx) would understand them. They are not 'economic' classes, and if there could be such things, they would be 'moral classes'. They represent the elements of the state conceived of as an image of the moral life of the person.

As to why the rigid and non-platonic class system you are imaging would be dangerous, isn't that patently obvious? Dangers of stultifying rigidity here are to the state, to the individual, and to the moral and intellectual life of the state and person.

David Robjant


(20) Thomas, Judith and Nicola asked:

If you could answer the questions separately, that would be great. Thanks 1) Is this a question? 2) Why? 3) Is hell exothermic or endothermic? 4) Is our body trapped in our mind or is our mind trapped in our body? 5) Who can exist in a time compressed world? 6) Does everything that has a beginning, have an end? 7) When will we receive your email — Please rsvp asap — thank you — we are philosophy students.

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

Yes. Because (At length: it's a spectacularly uninteresting and useless question, but unless you connect utility to meaning that doesn't obscure the fact that it's grammatical form is that of a question, and 'question' does after all indicate a grammatical form — although on the other hand one can see the merit in stipulating arbitrarily that in order for a question to be called a question it would have to be a minimally good question — make up your own mind on that). Endothermic, obviously (fires of hell, not under hell). No. What does that mean? No (eg the series of whole numbers has a beginning and no end). Promptly.

David Robjant


(21) Jean Maria asked:

As scholars do we have an ethical obligation to attempt genuine communication with those whose moral positions we oppose (in print), if our opponents are in positions of potential wrongdoing? Or is it sufficient to run our own arguments to justify our positions, without regard to the worldviews or situations of our opponents? Perhaps someone can help me frame the question in philosophical terms. The question arises because my "Utilitarian Argument against Torture Interrogation of Terrorists" [Science and Engineering Ethics, 10(3), 543-572] has been criticized by some non-utilitarian philosophers for flawed methodology. As a social scientist, I sought empirical data to assess whether torture interrogation of terrorist suspects has produced, or can likely produce, the positive results promised by advocates. The critique of my method goes that if my assessment had favored torture, then I would be in the position of advocating torture. I respond that, although I am opposed to torture on other grounds, in order to communicate with military professionals and others working in institutions that require utilitarian rationales, it behooves me to run a utilitarian argument. If my research had upheld the positive results promised by advocates of torture interrogation of terrorists, I suppose I could have had a tough problem on my hands. But my oral histories of some military professionals who had been involved in coercive interrogation made that possibility remote in my mind. I am not trying to raise the issue of torture interrogation again here but only to illustrate the possible urgency in truly communicating with one's opponent on a moral issue. Thanks again to all philosophers who responded to my query in Answers 18 concerning torture interrogation. I acknowledged their help by name in my paper.

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

About the wider context to your question, terrorists and torture and utilitarianism, I have nothing to say here. But your first question interests me, although I'm a little taken aback by the fact that you ask it:

As scholars do we have an ethical obligation to attempt genuine communication with those whose moral positions we oppose (in print), if our opponents are in positions of potential wrongdoing? Or is it sufficient to run our own arguments to justify our positions, without regard to the worldviews or situations of our opponents?

What seems obvious to me is that if we do not have regard to the worldviews of our opponents in "our own arguments", then our 'arguments' are unworthy of the name. The kind of 'regard' that we should have? Well, it is axiomatic that in defending our position (in philosophy as opposed to a street fight) we are claiming that our position is superior to the opposing one. What credibility can such a claim possibly have if the claimant fails to make diligent efforts to understand the opposing position? I do not mean that one must understand exactly why each and every opposing person is variously and separately motivated to hold their view — for this would set the standard impossibly high and make all passionately held opinions undebatable ('you wouldn't see it like that if you were where I'm standing' etc etc). Rather, I mean that one must understand the view that they hold: ask the right questions about the details of the picture, it's internal structure and so on. If both parties do this, argument is possible. IE, it is possible for each to talk about why they hold their views and, in the process, even possible for them to discover that they do not understand why they hold their view as opposed to the other — which would be an important revelation ('the unexamined life is not worth living', and a life worth living in knowledge begins by becoming capable of realizing our own ignorance). None of this is possible unless we "attempt genuine communication with those whose moral positions we oppose".

David Robjant


(22) Olivia asked:

If metaphysics does not involve empiricism then how can it claim to produce truth; surely it's totally unjustified in doing this?

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It is a Kantian lie (or act of tendentious persuasive definition) that metaphysics is a separate area of work from describing experience, and it is really this Kantian lie which through the work of Kantians like Wittgenstein has all but succeeded in killing off the metaphysics Kant so willfully redefined. Schopenhauer ably challenged this lie, but because Kant has had such a formative influence on so many, not enough attention has been paid to Schopenhauer's direct hit on this point. So 'thank you' for the opportunity to direct your attention to an important part of World as Will and Representation. Schopenhauer goes on at length, and while there is important detail in his exegesis of Kant and also some righteous joy to be derived from the intelligent abuse he heaps on Kant, an extended quote may detain. So as the key point and taster:

"the task of metaphysics is not to pass beyond the experience in which the world exists, but to understand it" [Schopenhauer: World as Will and Representation, supplement to Book 1 Criticism of the Kantian Philosophy This translation is Iris Murdoch's. Compare pages 427-8 of World as Will and Representation volume 1, Translated by E.F.J. Payne, published Dover ISBN 0486217612.

Importantly, the idea of experience plays contradictory roles in these two rival versions of metaphysics to such an extent that if Kantian Metaphysics is Metaphysics then Schopenhauerian Metaphysics cant be, and vice versa. In Kantian Metaphysics, we are supposed to set aside sense experience and critique something called pure reason (for which one may nowadays read 'pure grammar'). In the new, modern but also Pre-kantian and acceptable to Plato [from Iris Murdoch 'Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals'] Schopenhauerian idea of Metaphysics favored by Iris Murdoch, the job at hand is to describe experience and attempt to picture it adequately, to 'understand' it aright, and start our imaginings on that platform. Murdoch thinks that this is exactly what Plato attempts (one may cite the argument from flux in the theory of forms, the manner of investigating the good, and so on). In my forthright opinion, she is completely right about this: Plato was a Schopenhauerian Metaphysician and not a Kantian Metaphysician. Therefore, if Kant is right that Metaphysics is the study of pure reason excluding the sensory, it follows that Plato wasn't a Metaphysician. But Plato was a metaphysician. And Kant has a very great deal to answer for.

David Robjant


(23) Jean Maria asked:

As scholars do we have an ethical obligation to attempt genuine communication with those whose moral positions we oppose (in print), if our opponents are in positions of potential wrongdoing? Or is it sufficient to run our own arguments to justify our positions, without regard to the worldviews or situations of our opponents? Perhaps someone can help me frame the question in philosophical terms. The question arises because my "Utilitarian Argument against Torture Interrogation of Terrorists" [Science and Engineering Ethics, 10(3), 543-572] has been criticized by some non-utilitarian philosophers for flawed methodology. As a social scientist, I sought empirical data to assess whether torture interrogation of terrorist suspects has produced, or can likely produce, the positive results promised by advocates. The critique of my method goes that if my assessment had favored torture, then I would be in the position of advocating torture. I respond that, although I am opposed to torture on other grounds, in order to communicate with military professionals and others working in institutions that require utilitarian rationales, it behooves me to run a utilitarian argument. If my research had upheld the positive results promised by advocates of torture interrogation of terrorists, I suppose I could have had a tough problem on my hands. But my oral histories of some military professionals who had been involved in coercive interrogation made that possibility remote in my mind. I am not trying to raise the issue of torture interrogation again here but only to illustrate the possible urgency in truly communicating with one's opponent on a moral issue. Thanks again to all philosophers who responded to my query in Answers 18 concerning torture interrogation. I acknowledged their help by name in my paper.

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I think you are really confused here. We do not have an obligation to communicate with those whose moral positions we oppose unless such communication is likely to advance the moral debate. I do not feel any need to try and convince a criminal psychopath that murder is wrong because I know that such an activity is likely to be fruitless. It would certainly be dangerous to adopt dubious moral principles in order to find some sort of middle ground. And any moral argument based on Utilitarianism is dubious (i.e. unlikely to be a moral argument). It may be of some interest to psychologists that torture does not work but this has no bearing on the fact that torture is immoral. If you could dissuade a torturer from following his chosen path by convincing him that torture does not work then that would be a good thing to do but don't confuse this sort of argument with a moral argument.

Shaun Williamson


(24) Rex asked:

Are people innately good?

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Yes but people are also innately evil. For a perceptive insight into these contradictions in our nature read 'Lord of the Flies' by William Golding.

Shaun Williamson


(25) Steph asked:

What is better truth or beauty and why?

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Well truth is beauty and beauty is truth so its not really a problem

Shaun Williamson


(26) Bunny asked:

Why do people argue whether viewing violence affects children aggressive behaviour and not about the fact that earth revolves round the sun?

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Well people used to argue about whether the earth revolved around the sun but that question has now been settled. The problem about viewing violence is more difficult to settle and it is possible that we will never arrive at a final answer since the things that effect the acceptability of violence in a society are many and complex. The fact is that many people looking for easy scapegoats or easy answers to the problems of violence are most likely to blame violence on films, computer games etc. However if you compare societies with high and low rates of violent crime then there is no clear evidence that this is so. Other attempts to link violence to rates of gun ownership etc. have also failed. Also it is difficult to obtain accurate statistics for violence in many societies. However what does seem to be clear is that societies exposed to equal amounts of viewing of violence have very different murder rates and societies with equal rates of gun ownership have very different murder rates.This problem cannot be answered by blind prejudice, but prejudiced people on both sides of the argument are always willing to jump to conclusions. So try not to be one of this ignorant mass of pundits.

Shaun Williamson


(27) Kirstie asked:

I'm currently in year 13 but I can't find enough information on religious experiences such as numinosity and conversion relating to science and to what extent scientific views prove or disprove the nature of religious experiences (RE's). I've found scientific arguments to RE's like chemical activity in the brain, neurotransmitters and something to do with activity in the brains right temporal lobe but I've no idea how much of what i've found is relevant or whether these arguments oppose religion enough to make religious experiences invalid claims. Please help.

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Kirstie I have no idea of how year 13 relates to your age etc. However the relationship between the brain and the mind is one of the most disputed and complex areas of philosophy. What is true is that everything we think is accompanied by activity in the brain but this can easily be misunderstood especially by experts. So even thinking that 2+2 = 4 is accompanied by brain activity but this doesn't mean that mathematical truth is invalid. In the same way religious experiences are accompanied by brain activity but this doesn't invalidate belief in religion. By stimulating a certain area of your brain it is possible to make you experience the smell of lavender This doesn't mean that the smell of lavender is always an illusion. I'm an atheist but I am also sure that theories about the brain can never provide the answer to questions about religious belief and that there are no easy answers to these problems.There are no scientific theories that say that God doesn't exist because this is something that is not within the scope of science.

Shaun Williamson


(28) Elizabeth asked:

I posed the following question to a friend: If everything were simultaneously growing at the exact same rate and proportion, would it be possible to be aware of it?". We grappled with the question for a while, and my friend eventually concluded that it was meaningless/nonsensical. He argued that the notion/event of "increasing in size" necessitates an observer and point of reference, which don't exist in the scenario. I then argued that the case can theoretically exist, that is, we could say "there is a universe in which everything is growing.....", or "suppose this is happening, with humans removed from the situation....then add humans back in", etc (I was trying to establish that the situation could physically exist). His response was that there was still an observer and reference--namely that this time I was still projecting myself as observer and reference, although inexplicitly and unintentionally (simply by saying/conceiving of it). So, does the initial question have meaning, and if so, what's the answer? Is it possible to make a case in which one is theoretically removed/to deny one's own existence?

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Well the scenario you outline of everything growing in an undetectable way is not nonsense. After all we can all understand what you are saying. It is however just another example of what I would call the invisible undetectable football scenario i.e imagine there is an invisible undetectable football hovering 6 inches above your head. Wittgenstein said that philosophy arises when language goes on holiday and by this he meant that when we are not thinking for a purpose but just thinking we seem to discover new possibilities, new ways of thinking about things. The lack of any context for our words lets us become tangled up in our own language. Usually when we talk about things growing we mean growth that could be measured in some way by using a standard measuring instrument. We do not necessarily imply that an observer exists to do the measuring. So for example we can imagine baby dinosaurs growing into larger adult dinosaurs even though no observers or measuring instruments existed at that time. But the idea of growth which is undetectable even in principle or the idea of an undetectable football introduce new rules for the use of words while at the same time claiming to keep their old familiar meanings. The fact is that anyone is entitled to say that your idea of undetectable growth makes no sense and you cannot defend what what you say by claiming that you are still using words in a way that we are all familiar with. Certainly there is a difference between me imagining that there is an undetectable football hovering above your head and imaging that there is nothing hovering above your head. Both these ideas conjure up very different pictures but maybe that is all they do. We can conjure up an infinity of such scenarios but we can't do anything with them. If nevertheless you want to say but still they describe something real then we can choose not to follow you by saying that to us they don't describe anything.

Shaun Williamson


(29) Simon asked:

If God does exist, and if he is omniscient and all-knowing, therefore he knows what choices we will make and also what our future's will be. If God knows our destinies and decisions surely we do not have free will, or do we?

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Well I am inclined to think that your question is really a theological one rather than a philosophical one but I will try to answer it. It might certainly be true that if God knew NOW what you were going to do at some time in the future then this would deny the possibility that you can freely decide your own future. But the flaw in your argument is that God does not exist in time so we do not have to imagine that he has foreknowledge of what you WILL do. Gods knowledge of things is like his existence, it is outside time itself. So Gods knowledge of your actions is neither before nor after the fact of what you may choose to do. Theological reasoning is difficult and difficult to make sense of. It may not even make sense but one you admit the existence of an eternal, timeless, all powerful and all knowing being then you have to throw the usual ways of thinking about things out of the window. Hope this helps.

Shaun Williamson


(30) Talia asked:

I'm not sure where to begin with my question. If everything is special but at the same time equal — how can one decide what is more important? Personal fulfillment or social success. Social status is nothing in comparison to the big question, but just in everyday life — you want people to like you, understand you, and hopefully even love you for who you are. But how many people really know who you are. There are so many behavioral nuances within one individual. So lets choose to disregard everyone's opinion. Be who you want to be, and do what you want to do. That is nearly impossible in some cases. So do the next best thing and .... oh, it's all much too confusing. The real question can be quoted as 'to be or not to be" If today philosophy is all that runs through my mind — why take a position in politics? Why not sit back, read and perhaps even learn something of life. Because in doing that, I am invariably detaching myself from life. I have met few in my life who would like nothing better than to relax and discuss existential matters with me. Indeed it may be that I have surrounded myself with the "wrong" people — but only in regards to philosophical chats. These friends and mentors have all come to be such because they have been able to teach me something. To detach myself from them would be to break away from my roots. Still... I do continue to grow. And there are more important questions becoming me. Can there truly be such a thing as a calling...

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Well you are asking very big questions so they are not so easy to answer. Life is different for everyone and we all have our own strengths and weaknesses. What is more important to you is something that you will have to decide for yourself. Philosophers, scientists artists, chess players etc. may seem to some people to be detached from life but that just means that the paths they have chosen don't suit everyone. There is nothing wrong with social success, everyone has to relate to other people in some way and we all need to love and to be loved. However there are two fundamental things that measure everyone's life, one is truth vs falsity the other is good vs evil. We become the things that we do, so while no one can be perfect we should all try to follow what is true and what is good. You need to keep in mind that even if you feel you are called to something then you still have to assess that something in terms of truth and good.

Shaun Williamson


(31) Daniel asked:

1/ Do you think that time exists OR do you think, that time exists? 2/ I think therefor I am OR I am, therefor I think? 3/ Every action has an opposite and equal reaction OR every action is an opposite and equal reaction? Some of many that that I believe the later of each to be true. Many thanks for your thoughts.

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Well Daniel I think you are getting lost in word here. The things you say might be the start of a discussion but they are certainly not the end of a discussion and we should never decide what is true in terms of what we prefer. It reminds me of the poets, one of whom (W. H. Auden) wrote 'We must love one another OR die' and the other poet wrote in reply 'We must love one another AND die'. Of course both meant something different by the word 'die' and both were expressing profound thoughts we are worthy of consideration. Philosophy of course isn't poetry and 'I think therefore I am' has a particular philosophical context although it can also be regarded as poetry. We can assess mathematical proofs in terms of their elegance But even an ugly mathematical proof is still a mathematical proof.

Shaun Williamson


(32) Jack asked:

Is there a tenet or line of reasoning that their is no proof for an argument and that it carries more weight than there being a proof? For instance I am working on the idea that it is best that God existence could never be proven or that no proof exists. With this argument "best" means most fair to everyone interested. Any human that desires can make their case for God's existence but none can prove it as is the case now. One could also make a case for what would happen if a proof to god's existence were found. The case would be a series of arguments for those attempting to describe how this proof would change the future of man's behavior or how certain past beliefs are now invalid. In short if a proof were found wouldn't that force non believers to change their beliefs and even their behavior?

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No, I don't believe this is true. The important differences between people are more accurately described by their moral beliefs i.e what sort of things they think are good and what sort of things they think are evil and this transcends belief in God. I have just seen an interview on television where a young muslim boy was relating that if he dies (as a suicide bomber) and goes to paradise he will instantly be married to 72 virgins and will be able to drink the purest water from 4 rivers. He sincerely believes these things. What is important is not belief in God but what sort of God you believe in. Jehovah's witnesses seem to believe that only they will be resurrected after the final judgement so their God would seem to be a rather arbitrary and cruel God. Good Muslims and good Christians and good Atheists may have more in common than just a belief in God would give them.

Shaun Williamson


(33) Damian asked:

A year is the time the Earth takes to travel round the sun, and the solar system has existed for 4 to 5 billion years. What made a year before the solar system (we happily speak of ten or more billion years)?

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You might just as well ask how long was a twelve inch ruler before the ruler had been invented. The answer of course is that it was twelve inches long. We measure things including the time the earth has existed using the measuring instruments we have now. So the idea that Stonehenge was built 4000 thousand years ago doesn't imply that the builders could buy calendars in their local shop or that they had clocks or rulers etc. By the way a year now is not measured by the time that the earth takes to travel around the sun since we now recognise that that time varies. Instead the rate of decay of certain radio active elements is used as the standard of time. Concepts of time and measurement are complex but they do have a practical use. So for example we believe the universe as a whole is expanding and measure this using the Doppler shift in the light emitted by distant galaxies. This may seem puzzling if you have the idea that there must be some absolute measure of what time is i.e. time in the mind of God. For example see Wittgenstein's remark that we call 'White paper' white even though when we hold it up against the clouds it look grey in comparison. It is possible to be in the grip of primitive superstitions about language i.e that white is white and can never be different. But we forget that language has a practical use e.g. pass me the white paper as opposed to the green paper.

Shaun Williamson


(34) Olivia asked:

If metaphysics does not involve empiricism then how can it claim to produce truth; surely it's totally unjustified in doing this?

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Well I'm a philosopher who completely rejects metaphysics but this means that I also have to reject empiricism because the idea that only empirical statements can be true or false is a metaphysical idea. So for me metaphysics cannot produce truth and that also includes empiricist metaphysics. Philosophy can be very difficult that is why it can be interesting.

Shaun Williamson


(35) Jessica asked:

Is reason creating a better world?

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Yes and only reason can create a better world. Prejudice and blind ignorance certainly won't do the job. Reason and our attempts to find our way out of the darkness is all that we have.

Shaun Williamson


(36) Thomas, Judith and Nicola asked:

If you could answer the questions separately, that would be great. Thanks 1) Is this a question? 2) Why? 3) Is hell exothermic or endothermic? 4) Is our body trapped in our mind or is our mind trapped in our body? 5) Who can exist in a time compressed world? 6) Does everything that has a beginning, have an end? 7) When will we receive your email — Please rsvp asap — thank you — we are philosophy students

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1 & 2. Yes because it has the grammatical form of a question but that doesn't mean it has a sensible answer. 3. That is a chemical and theological question not a philosophical one, so I won't answer it. 4. Neither. 5. Very busy people in London , New York and Tokio 6. No. The series of positive integers has a beginning i.e 1, 2,3.. etc but no end. 7. Very soon.

Shaun Williamson


(37) Alex asked:

Hi! I'm going to be doing a presentation soon and I think I got a little bit stuck on the question, so I thought, that maybe you could help me. The question is: "Can there be a 'selfish gene'?What could this mean?" I'd be grateful for your help! Thanx!

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Just go here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Selfish_Gene/

and here:

http://www.royalinstitutephilosophy.org/articles/dawkins_genes.htm

and take a look around.

Steven Ravett Brown


(38) Rudy asked:

What perceives? Is it the eye or the I?

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It's both. I'm not even going to attempt to give you a list of references for this or an explanation, except to say that our habits, expectations, etc., influence how and what we see... but that what we see is also severely constrained by what we receive from the sensory organs. Go look up "sensory perception", "Gestalt theory", "top-down" and "bottom-up" influences.

Steven Ravett Brown


(39) Hank asked:

In a discussion, I made the point "Truth (Correspondence with reality) is not subjective, but objective. It is independent of opinion. If I say that I am 6"4? tall, either that statement is true, or it is not. It does not matter whether anyone agrees with the statement, or whether a majority support the claim, or whether a person even knows if the claim is true: either I?m that tall, or I?m not." Someone responded "But the definition of your height has been defined by people. This truth is objective, because it depends on the truth of the measurement system, which is never ultimately true because it can be changed by man whenever we want. An inch is only an inch in our scope of reality." My response: "The truth of my height isn't determined by what measurement system we use. If we convert that to metric, or to some other system, then the expression of my height would change: my height remains the same, and either the expression of it is true, or it is not. If you change the measure, then claim my statement is untrue, then you are engaging in the logical fallacy of Equivocation." Now, it has been pointed out that my last statement is incorrect: the problem is not Equivocation. But I'm having trouble putting a name to the problem. The lady is interested in my point, but I'm having trouble explaining the flaw in her rebuttal.

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In essence, I agree with you. You are 6' 4" tall, or whatever that converts to in whatever measuring system you want to use. But the problem isn't "equivocation", which means, roughly, "hesitate", or perhaps better, "be ambivalent". There are lots of ways to criticize the correspondence theory of truth, but that isn't one of them. One can, for example, speak of the uncertainty of measurement, and question what it is to a) measure, and b) make a definite statement such as "you are 6'4" tall"... and require that you say something like, "given uncertainty in measurement, given human error, at this particular time, in this context.... blah, blah... you are 6'4" tall". Ok, fine. But I don't take that as a refutation of the correspondence theory of truth, but as a caution on how one legitimizes particular results. One can more profoundly criticize it, perhaps, on more fundamental grounds derived from something like a Kantian perspective, where one admits that our conceptions of, and perceptions of, the most basic aspects of reality are at the very least highly influenced by innate mental constraints. Thus, one could claim that the very notion of space, from which we get the idea of measuring feet, is something that we humans have created, and that "out there", there's no such thing. Well, fine... but I have problems with that, myself, from a very pragmatic viewpoint, i.e., that if we walk off what seems to be a cliff, by gosh we end up falling off something. One can also criticize it on the basis of induction, saying something like, "well that's fine, you just measured your height as 6'4", but how do you know that's what it is now?" And that's either, to my mind, an absurd degree of skepticism, or a rather profound comment on the nature of induction and the necessity for something like Bayesian statistics.

So if you take all that into account, first, then the problem with the critic as far as I know isn't anything capitalized, any formally named fallacy, it's just ignorance of what different measurement systems are and how they relate to each other, viz., not as different kinds of actions, but merely as different types within a kind, i.e., measurement. To say that one can change types is not to say that one is doing anything intrinsically different within that kind of praxis (action, practice, activity...). Now, given uncertainty of measurement, human error, etc., I wouldn't go so far as to say that "either the statement is true or it is not". That's a misconception of science and similar activities which has led to things like Darwinian evolution being criticized because scientists, accurately, term it a "theory". Really, any such statement, ultimately, is untrue, if only because there is always going to be quantum uncertainty in the length of our rulers. But that doesn't mean it's "untrue"... in the profound sense that we can't meaningfully make measurements; certainly it's just fine in most contexts, and as true as it needs to be, that your height is 6'4", where "needs to be" relates to whatever use you're going to make of the measurement. To put it another way, saying that the result of a measurement is " 6'4" " is precisely to take uncertainty of measurement into account, if you know anything about science, and it implies that "measurement" does not give us truth in any absolute sense. And so what? Again, we may not know exactly what the "cliff" is that we don't want to walk off, but we do know that we'll rather definitely fall off something if we do.

If you really want to get into this, take a look at this book:

Kitcher, P. 1993. The advancement of science; science without legend, objectivity without illusions. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Steven Ravett Brown


(40) Subrahmanyam asked:

How Sartre defined and analysed 'Existentialism'?

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Sartre starts basically where Nietzsche left of: God is dead and man is alone in the big cold Universe. Sartre analyses what are the choices for such a being, being denied the presence of the peace of having God to take care of the existence of an afterlife, a meaning to life itself, and not having to deal with existential loneliness. If in Renaissance man was the centre of the Universe, with Sartre Man is the Universe. Sartre defines the condition of man as follows: nothing exists a priori, no moral values, no God, nothing, meaning that existence precedes essence. So everything is allowed. This doesn't mean that anarchy should follow, because the new found liberty, although a release from the religious prison, demands that man must now make choices, building his own personality. With liberty comes responsibility — not very different from the Spider Man motto, I believe. This angst, commonly known as the 'condemnation to be free' defines an all era of thinks dressed in black and walking around depressed, usually consuming large quantities of absinth'.

Nuno Hipolito


(41) Asif asked:

Q1: Is it possible for more than one (eg: two) Necessary Being(s) to co-exist? Q2: Would I be right in stating that one cannot logically prove that there is only one God. All the arguments I've come across thus far seem to start with some point or the other that has to be taken for granted and the entire argument depends on whether or not you accept the given premise. Is there anyone out there who can present a "solid" argument to prove there is only one God?

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Kant proved that one Necessary Being cannot exist and simultaneously interact with reality. Kant destroys the cosmological argument for the existence of God, that states that a Necessary Being must exist to initiate the process of actions that lead to the present time, saying that such a God, being an ideal concept, could not interact with reality to make something happen'. I too believe it is harder to prove that God exists if you state that there is only one God. However, you could present a theory that states that a two God Universe' could exist, if in fact the God A' created the God B'. God A' is ideal and perfect, so he cannot create or manipulate matter. So he creates God B' to interact with reality, making God B' a semi-god, both ideal and material. Just a theory, I know, but we have to throw this things out there'.

Nuno Hipolito


(42) Cara asked:

Throughout The Republic Plato discusses the question of whether a functioning city will need to be based on some lie. Plato seems to think that lies are necessary for social cooperation. What are some convincing arguments for and against this claim?

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Democracy is a big fat lie. And democracy is the basis for most of the modern governments. In fact the people hold no power other than the one to elect leaders from a restricted list, and to protest their actions if they choose to. Ok, it's better than tyranny, but not exactly a truth to be hold as a basis of social liberty. In a smaller scale, lies are necessary to avoid conflict and make life easier. You can lie to your boss when you say you will deliver the project you are working on in time, even if you don't know if you can. But your answer will ease his mind, and make room for your work — and his — to flow peacefully for some time'.

Nuno Hipolito


(43) Rose Ann asked:

Why does some women thinks that they are men. I mean why does lesbians exist?

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First of all, a lesbian doesn't think she is a man. I'm not a lesbian, I'm not even a woman and I know that much! Lesbians and Gay men have a same sex preference when it comes to their sexual interests, that's pretty much it. A transsexual, however, is someone who wants to change his or her sexual orientation along with physical transformations of the body. But you seem more confused with lesbians, so we'll stick with that issue. You don't know why lesbians exist? Well; I'm sorry to tell you, that us heterosexuals don't know why we exist either, it's that life long problem with the meaning of life. If you mean that a person who won't procreate should not exist, that's an all different matter. But I'm sure you don't mean that; or do you?'

Nuno Hipolito


(44) Luzviminda asked:

Why do we need to philosophize??? what is the definition of philosophy? what do you mean by the saying of Socrates "AN UNEXAMINED LIFE IS NOT WORTH LIVING"?

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Who told you we need philosophers? We just need to think, that's all. It's a basic liberty, a basic need, such as eating or breathing. Would you prohibit someone of exercising such a right? Philosophy means passion for knowledge, pleasure of knowing things about the world and ourselves, as a race and as individuals. You can live a perfectly normal life without questioning things, but I'm quite sure that's impossible. You can't say you won't question love, hate, destiny, bad luck, why the USA are always at war with someone, the rising prices of oil.

Nuno Hipolito


(45) Tiffani asked:

Should children with gay parents be banned from christian schools?

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Blessed those with a pure heart, for they shall see God' (Mathew, 5, 8); Let the children come to me. Don't keep them away, for the kingdom of God belongs to them. Trust me when I say: who arrives at the Kingdom of God not as a child, shall not enter' (Mark, 10, 14-15). I'm an agnostic and I think Jesus answers your question quite well.

Nuno Hipolito


(46) Adnan asked:

What is the real reason of creating human beings?

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A Christian creationist would say that God made you to obey him and grow, both spiritually and physically. A Darwinist atheist would say that you weren't created, you evolved in an environment, like thousands of other species, and no special reason exists for you being here, other than a biological one.

Nuno Hipolito


(47) Mike asked::

How does a philosopher make money?

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By writing popcorn novels.

Nuno Hipolito


(48) Mike asked::

How does a philosopher make money?

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In the same way as a poet makes money i.e.with great difficulty.

Shaun Williamson


(49) Michelle Lisa asked:

Why in philosophers the questions are more important than answers? Explain.

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It is far more important to know that you are alive, than to know the meaning of life.

Nuno Hipolito


(50) Hamish asked:

What defines a person? do you that it is merely being a member of the homo sapiens species? if so what about the mentally retarded or people in comas. if this is not true (which I don't think it is) does popular opinion in a society affect it at all? for example, in the movie Castaway, the volleyball wilson is regarded by Tom Hanks as a person. I would really like to hear other people thoughts on this. Cheers.

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I don't think that what I think about my definition of a person has any importance. It is purely a question of how the word person is used in the English language. And yes it would seem that being a living member of the homo sapiens species is enough. If you are in a coma then you are an unconscious person. If you are mentally handicapped then you are a mentally handicapped person. Of course there is a moral and legal aspect to the use of the word person and there are areas of dispute for example in the abortion debate (when does a foetus become an independent person). Groups such as the Nazis tried to redefine jews, gypsies etc. as sub-humans i.e they are not really people and so don't have the same moral or legal rights etc. Don't be confused by movie phantasies or fairy stories or metaphorical uses of language. So a poet might write 'Death stalked the battlefield' but this doesn't make death into a person. I may talk to my dog as though is were a person but just doing this doesn't make it true. Nor can I make it true by claiming that my dog is a person. Suppose everybody got together and agreed that in future a dog was also a person would this make my dog a person? Well in one sense it would but we can also say that the use of the word person has changed and therefore so has its meaning. So given the new meaning of 'person' it is now correct to say my dog is a person. However this wouldn't make him a person in the original sense of the word.

Shaun Williamson


(51) Jordan asked:

Is there a difference between 'this Thursday' and 'next Thursday'?

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When you asked your question on Wed Nov 10 the phrase 'this Thursday ' referred to Thurs Nov 11 and the phrase 'next Thursday' referred to Thurs 18 Nov. Now I am sure that there were many differences between these two days just as they had some things in common. On Thurs Nov 11 you were seven days younger than you were on Thurs Nov 18.

Shaun Williamson


(52) Jordan asked:

Is there a difference between 'this Thursday' and 'next Thursday'?

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This Thursday (suppose that it is today) was 'next Thursday' a week ago, and will be 'last Thursday' in a week's time. Because we are talking about the same day, there is no difference — between Thursday which is now, or Thursday which will be, or Thursday which was. — In essence, this is McTaggart's proof of the unreality of time in his book The Nature of Existence.

I disagree with McTaggart. I believe that time is real, and therefore that there is a difference between the three Thursdays. You will find a discussion of this in my book Naive Metaphysics which can be downloaded from the Pathways site at http://www.philosophypathways.com/download.html .

Geoffrey Klempner


(53) David asked:

What is heart broken?? It feels similar to anxiousness.

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No I don't think they are the same, being heart broken involves feelings of sadness, grief etc. Anxiousness does not generally involve feelings of sadness. Anxiety is a general undefined feeling of fearfulness and may also involve feelings of being disconnected from the world. However both feelings may be experienced at the same time especially where fear of rejection is involved. Both feelings are common human experiences at some time during our lives.

Shaun Williamson


(54) Rose Ann asked:

Why does some women thinks that they are men. I mean why does lesbians exist?

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Rose Ann I think you are confused here. Lesbians are women who are sexually attracted to other women. Women who want to be men are called transsexuals. These two things are quite different. Nobody knows why some women are lesbians. There is some evidence that it may be genetic and some evidence that it may be a result of upbringing. We really don't know. The question is does it matter?

Shaun Williamson


(55) Korakpe asked:

Dear Sir, How do I naturally impart supernatural power/ knowledge via philosophical means ; or how do I grow my potential energy and exercise it.also how do I use this to grow wealth/ material profits.

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Wilson if you want to make lots of money then study business, economics etc. Stay well away from philosophy. If you want to become spiritually rich then study philosophy and poetry etc. Supernatural power is beyond your reach so forget about it.

Shaun Williamson


(56) Rudy asked:

What perceives? Is it the eye or the I?

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Well perceives is too general a word so lets rephrase it to 'What sees? Is it the eye or the I? Obviously it is the I. For example I can see you by using my eyes. As a witness to a crime the police may question me about what I saw. They don't question my eyes. Perhaps this is because my eyes can't answer questions. Now of course you shouldn't be deceived by some types of language such as 'He saw it with his own eyes' because of course he couldn't have seen it with anybody else's's eyes could he? Also sentences like 'Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the lord' . And remember it doesn't really make sense to say that my eyes saw him but I didn't.

Shaun Williamson


(57) Tiffani asked:

Should children with gay parents be banned from christian schools?

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Well by 'christian schools' I take it you mean schools run by extremist christians who hate gay people and think they are condemned to hell. I don't understand why any gay christian parent would want to send their children to a school based on such hate for other people. Christianity is supposed to based on love for each other, not on hate.

Shaun Williamson


(58) Louis asked:

What do bears have to do with philosophy and ethics?

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I have never met a bear who had any interest in philosophy or ethics. Most bears are only interested in food.

Shaun Williamson