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

Ask a Philosopher: Questions and Answers 17 (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 17/1.

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) Barry asked:

Hi there, I'm doing a course on Soren Kierkegaard's stages of existence (in Copenhagen University, no less!) And have an essay — well, what's more like a dissertation — 15 pages, long with an 800 page reading list, to prepare for January....

Finally, I am gravely opposed to his claim that happiness is a deficient thing. By pure definition, happiness is the absence of deficiency. It is what should be strived for at all costs, by one and all.

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

Well, first, a 15-page essay is barely publishable paper length... Dissertations are commonly 150-300 pages long. As for the reading list, if it's Kierkegaard, there's a lot of redundancy in it, so you should have no problem.

Now, I'm certainly not going to go through that enormous question of yours and answer it point by point... But I would like to say that Kierkegaard had many problems with religion based on rationality, i.e., On the version of Catholicism termed "Thomism", and related versions. So you might look at the Greeks (particularly Aristotle) to find out just what sort of problems he has relating to "happiness". Kierkegaard's penchant for storytelling rather than for logical argument is, ironically, logically consistent with his anti-rationalist position... You might take that into account.

Steven Ravett Brown


(2) Miriam asked:

Is there a basic substance that everything else is made of? Can water turn into wine? How can earth and water produce a live frog?

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

1) No.

2) Yes, of course. Just plant some grapes and water them; harvest them and let them ferment. You've turned water into wine.

3) We don't know the details of this. But we know a lot about it. However, for me to explain it, inasmuch as I'm able, would require probably an essay of at least 200-300 pages. Go read some basic biology.

Steven Ravett Brown


(3) Becky asked:

Hi, I was just wondering if you could tell me what jobs I can expect to be seriously considered for when I finish my BA in Philosophy? I am taking the degree because the subject interests me intensely and I like the challenges it presents, however I am a little worried about my job prospects upon its completion. Hope you can get back to me, becky x x x

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

Basically your job prospects in philosophy with just a Bachelors are none, nada, zero, zilch. You might conceivably find a job as a clerk in a bookstore devoted to philosophy, or in a company writing essays for people to download from the web in order to cheat on their assignments. That's about it, and I'd only recommend the first as an ethical choice. If you love philosophy, and you want to work in the field and actually earn that stuff... Um, "money", I think they call it... For something you do in the area, then you have to have at the very least a Masters, and even with that you won't find much. A PhD is really the minimum for just getting yourself into the job market, and the prospects are still not great these days. But if you really love it, then go for it. Just keep in mind that at best you'll be lucky to find a job, that it will probably involve teaching students who are mostly not interested, your not earning much money, and your wondering, months and months after you've submitted a paper to a journal, if there's anyone awake there.

Steven Ravett Brown


(4) Kerry asked:

I was wondering what Black Theology has to contribute to Western Theology ( white theology.) How much does White theology influence Black Theology or is Black Theology completely a completely new idea?

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

As a concept (which should not, oh sensitive disputants, be confused with or defended as equivalent to whatever instances it may be supposed to be a concept of), 'black theology' is roughly as valuable as 'female mathematics'.

What colour or sex is the truth? Does it have good teeth? What music does it like? Absurd. Although the kind of absurdity is familiar. Protagoras: Man is the measure of all things [and woman is the measure of all things, and those with clean teeth are the measure of all things, and w.A.S.P's are the measure of all things, and native americans are the measure of all things and so on]. This kind of relativism about the truth would be all very well, if it were true.

In order for it to be true a particular kind of metaphysics has to be true. The kind where there exists: 1) particulars out there in the world, 2) various differing particular standpoints constituted by the individuality and or nature and or history of the perceiver, and 3) in each case a differing relation holding between differing instances of 1 and 2, a relation called 'perception', with the accuracy of all perceptions to be relative to each distinct relation between perceived and perceiver. However none of the elements of this relativist picture of perception are correct. Particulars are not given. This applies to particulars which perceive as well as to particulars which are perceived. Because particulars are not given ('individuality... Is a veneer' — Sartre) but rather everything is in flux ('becoming — not being' — Plato), it follows that the supposed relation at the heart of relativism, that relation between a given perceiver and a given perceived which is supposed to account for and licence the differences of 'relative truths', cannot exist. Relativism is thus invalid in virtue of it's metaphysical assumptions, and not merely in virtue of the hoary paradox of relativism. 'Is relativism true? Relatively.' Well no, it isn't. Not even relatively. It supposes things which just ain't so.

You might think 'hang on, but if the particulars aren't given then denying relativism, wherever it gets you, doesn't yield objectivity'. But you forget: who said the objective truths had to be truths about particulars? God, Goodness, Justice and Maths: are these particulars?

In short, the old fashioned idea that for a truth to be a truth it must be a truth for everyone is, while old fashioned, true. Two plus two equals four? How last season, how beardy, how maths professor in a suit, how male. God is perfect goodness? How ethnocentric. How white. No! You mistake the colour of the thinker for a colour in the idea. Since these claims about God were claims for truth, they cannot helpfully be understood through ethnicity. A theology (body of thought about the divine) may be catholic protestant hindu or jewish, and it may be right wrong indeterminate or meaningless. It cannot be "white".

David Robjant


(5) Helen asked:

Hi do you know who the main protagonists are in intuitionism?

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

Your question is ambiguous. Do you mean the ethical theories referred to as intuitionism or the philosophy of logic and mathematics known as intuitionism? In either case do a Yahoo search for the word 'intuitionism' and you will find information on both.

Shaun Williamson


(6) 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?

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

For information about a modern proponent of Plato's views do an internet search for Leo Strauss, a political thinker who has influenced the right wing of the U.S. Republican party.

Shaun Williamson


(7) Virginia asked:

What is the difference between what is true and what is real?

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

Well things can be real but only statements about things can be true or false. So your mother and father may be real (as opposed to imaginary) but they cannot be true or false. However the statement 'Your mother is taller than you' can be true or false but it does not make any obvious sense to say that it is real.

Shaun Williamson


(8) Miriam asked:

Is there a basic substance that everything else is made of? Can water turn into wine? How can earth and water produce a live frog?

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

Well according to the latest disputed theories of physics everything is made out of strings. These are not ordinary string. Do an internet search for 'string theory'. Water cannot turn into wine. Wine is water + alcohol and alcohol is made from sugar+yeast. So if you add some fruit or vegetable containing sugar to water and add some yeast, you may produce wine. If you can do miracles, you may manage to make wine without the sugar and yeast. Frogs are made by other frogs not from mud. They grow from the eggs laid by female frogs. Again if you can do miracles you may be able to make frogs from mud but I don't know how to do this.

Shaun Williamson


(9) Brf asked:

What is a religious experience?

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

It is any experience that you sincerely believe is a religious experience.

Shaun Williamson


(10) Steph asked:

What is better truth or beauty and why?

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

I do not regard truth and beauty to be in competition, beauty being subjective and in the eye of the beholder, truth being objective and concerned with facts. Both are desirable attributes in life.

John Brandon


(11) Rex asked:

Are people innately good?

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

Judging from behaviour, there appears to be evidence that some people are innately good and some people are innately bad. However, evidence based on behaviour is not always to be trusted, there is a possibility that an innately good person could behave badly owing to circumstances, and an innately bad person could appear to be good to suit his/her own ends. There appears to be no evidence to suggest that all people are innately good.

John Brandon


(12) 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 into 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.

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

As a confessed atheist I am not surprised that you find this subject difficult to come to terms with. Like yourself, I understand more about Christianity than other religions, however as all religions are founded on faith the atheist is placed at a disadvantage trying to reason about the basic concepts of a religion whilst standing outside its faith. As the atheist has rejected the notion of a God from the outset there seems very little purpose in pursuing the subject.

Christians are carrying on a 2,000 year old tradition of belief in a creator, a creator envisaged as the God rather than a god or gods. The basic underlying faith is that the world has been made by someone rather than something. Your assertion that God created humans so that they could worship Him is not quite what christians believe. Because God is believed to be the creator of mankind, making Him the Father, then we, as the children of God, are expected to show respect for the parent, but in addition to this we are expected to recognise the power of God the Almighty in worship.

I agree that humans have no choice with regard to their birth, a basic fact in the argument for determinism. Also, looking at it from the Christian view, a person not born would not be created, hence there is no possible way he/she could have a choice. This only becomes available at birth whence Christians believe that humans have a choice, they can choose to obey the alleged laws of God and walk in the path of righteousness, or they can take the risk of choosing an alternative path. Following the right path will lead to the eventual reward of everlasting life, presumably in the Kingdom of Heaven.

With regard to suffering, the foundation of this belief rests in love and the willingness to suffer for others, as Jesus suffered for the human race. Through His love and suffering the human race is freed from 'original sin'. Why you particularly choose miscarriage from the range of misfortunes which befall the human race is not clear. There are many situations in life which adversely affect humans and which are not of their choosing. Christians allege that this is a result of the freedom afforded to mankind, making it impossible for God to intervene. It would be illogical for God to grant freedom then to continually intervene when the going gets tough. God can weep with the afflicted and afford comfort if it is sought. But as you can see, the basic tenet for a believer is faith. An atheist cannot have faith in a God in whom he has no belief.

John Brandon


(13) Laura asked:

"Why would David Hume have uncertainty that you would float into the air ten minutes from now or at any time?"

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

Hume identified the problem of Induction. If knowledge is acquired from experience as the empiricists hold then what we have experienced forms the foundation for human knowledge. We learn from the past to apply it in the future. Fine? Well no. That something happened in the past is no guarantee empirically or logically that it will like wise occur in the present or in the future. That the sun rose this morning, yesterday, for the last ten or million years provides no guarantee that it will rise tomorrow. So, just because the occurrence of you suddenly floating off into the air hasn't occurred in the past, provides no guarantee that it could not happen in the next ten minutes and beyond.......

Martin Jenkins


(14) Subahmanyan asked:

"How does Sartre define and analyse existentialism?"

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

See Existentialism and Humanism. Here, Sartre defines Existentialism as 'nothing else but an attempt to draw the full conclusions from a consistently atheistic position'. If God exists, people cannot make free decisions. Sartre is, if writing about nothing else, writing about human freedom. So if people are to make free decisions on the basis that their being and how they live it, is to be a real issue for them to confront and deal with then God cannot exist. Hence atheism is freedom and freedom is atheism or, as Sartre terms it, Existentialism. Sartre analyses existentialism in Being and Nothingness [where he examines the phenomena of consciousness as it appears to itself] and in his novels, plays such as Nausea, The Age of Reason, and so on [where existentialist themes are promulgated].

Martin Jenkins


(15) Jordan asked:

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

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

Jordan, you have already identified the difference. You have denoted 'this' Thursday and 'next' Thursday. There is a difference. It seems to be a difference denoting time and future intentional designation. The next question is from where does human understanding of time arise?

Martin Jenkins


(16) Arisce asked:

I was told that Thomas Aquinas was anti-semitic. Is this true and how was this demonstrated in his works or deeds? Thank you!

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

I have never found any evidence that Aquinas was any more anti-semitic than any other medieval Christian thinker. Most philosophers at that time said that it was immoral to lend money and charge interest on it. This of course made people very reluctant to lend money. Jewish merchants didn't think there was anything wrong with lending money and charging interest. So they were often encouraged to do this by the kings and princes who needed to borrow money. Later of course when they didn't want to repay the money they were only too willing to encourage persecution of the jews. Aquinas (not an economist) condemned money lending for interest. Also at that time most Christian thinkers would have held the jews responsible for the death of Christ etc. I don't think there is any point in trying to discuss people who lived so long ago in modern terms e.g. Were they anti-semitic etc. And I wish teachers would stop asking this sort of question. What did Aquinas think about quantum mechanics? How could we ever know.

Shaun Williamson


(17) Carol asked:

If it is enlightenment or knowledge you seek through examination then are you supposing that philosophical thought belongs in a time frame of x amount of hours determined by a university?

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

No one with any sense thinks that examinations have anything to do with knowledge but going to university can be useful because there you can meet and talk to other people who are interested in the same things as you are. And remember you don't have to do the exams at the end of the course. No one will force you to go to the exams. When I went to university I had already been studying philosophy for 9 years. I went to university because I needed a holiday from work. When I was there I didn't learn anything new about philosophy but I did learn a lot about logic which was another of my interests. I also found the qualifications useful afterwards because they enabled me to earn money which enabled me to continue thinking because starvation tends to stop you thinking. If you haven't already read it you might like to read 'Hunger' by Knut Hansum

Shaun Williamson


(18) Jeremy asked:

What is a philosophical question?

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

A question that seems to be real and important and cannot be answered by any other subject. So it is not a scientific or psychological question etc. Beyond this it is difficult to give a precise answer. Read 'The problems of Philosophy' by Bertrand Russell

Shaun Williamson


(19) Fitz asked:

What does it take to be a philosopher?

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

Extreme curiosity, determination, a lack of interest in money. The same sort of things it takes to be an artist, poet or a musician but you never get applause from an audience or an exhibition in a gallery.

Shaun Williamson


(20) Nicole asked:

What are the effects of racial and economic discrimination and it's relationship to crime?

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

Fairly easy to answer this one. Most crime is committed by poor people because some poor people are more tempted to commit crime to get money because they don't have any money. You are more likely to be poor if you are a member of a group subjected to racial or economic discrimination because it will be much more difficult to get a job. Also if you are a poor you are more likely to be sent to prison for the crimes you commit. The crimes committed by richer people are more difficult to prosecute and less likely to result in a conviction or prison sentence.

Shaun Williamson


(21) Heather asked:

If a human was cloned, how would the police tell the difference between the clone and the original if a crime was committed?

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

This is an easy one I think. Suppose a crime has been committed and a DNA sample at the scene of the crime pins it down to Mr. A and his clone Mr B. Then we question them and find out which one doesn't have an alibi for the time of the crime. Most criminals are not prosecuted on the basis of DNA or fingerprint evidence so the idea of clone may make things more difficult but they don't make them impossible and of course we are a long way from cloning humans. And if we can't find any good evidence then remember that it must be the butler.

Shaun Williamson


(22) Nwaopara asked:

Dear Steven Ravett Brown, Your response to my question: "Referencing to actuality and potentiality, which one takes precedence over the other or which one is more important than the other; the hen or the egg?" Made me go into an intellectual exile so as to comprehend fully the Bayesian statistics that you pointed out in your response. But to tell you the truth, you had a clear ignorant understanding of the question at stake! There's a sharp difference between the Bayesian statistics vis-a-vis oncology and epistemology. However, my question cannot be answered without a metaphysical ramification, no matter how much it does not put clarity in your mind. But remember that "egg" and "hen" as framed in the context of the question should signal a moral philosophical undertone and thus your intellectual wit should be focused in that direction. Making mention of Bayesian statistics puts you on the right track to think of the ontology and epistemology of the question but does not direct you towards the metaphysical cum moral aspect of the question, and the later calls for more justification. Good job but try more if your intellect can comprehend the depth of that little but challenging question. I'm hoping that you're asking a bit more general question than one about chickens...

Here's my very rough take on this. There's a huge amount written on "potentiality", and in my view most of it is pure speculative metaphysics, not worth much. The only place where potentiality, if you want to term it that, is treated seriously and reasonably, is, in my opinion, in statistics, particularly in Bayesian statistics. Now, given the point of view that one can use data from the past and present to predict the future, i.e., The statistical viewpoint, what do we say about potentiality vs. Actuality? Clearly, since statistics, and indeed prediction in general, deals with less than certain events, and is based on data regarded as more certain (i.e., Than future "possibilities") taken from the past and present, we must say, from that viewpoint, that actuality takes precedence over potentiality. Which is the chicken and which the egg I have no idea; they both seem quite actual to me.

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

Neither of them seem quite actual to me. You need to explain your question much more clearly.

Shaun Williamson


(23) Anders asked:

I am currently working on a project where I discuss universals and the different positions on universals. On the edge of this subject I have found myself stuck on a difficult but quite interesting question: Is there any connection or likeness between the pros hen theory of Aristotle and the family resemblance of Wittgenstein?

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

No there is no connection although some people have tried to make one. Wittgenstein was interested in the way in which philosophers try to address a philosophical problem by giving a definition of the subject and he was pointing out that maybe not everything has a neat definition. Wittgenstein was not thinking about the problem of universals.

Shaun Williamson


(24) Anthony asked:

Hi, Since I was small I have been wondering what lies beyond space. Any ideas? Thanks.

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

Why have you been wondering this? Space is always the space between two objects. So nothing lies beyond space. Will this do as an answer.

Shaun Williamson


(25) Jo asked:

Give a reasoned account for reality does it exist

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

No, it doesn't exist and are you daft enough to believe me? What would a reasoned account look like. Why is it that when you look in a mirror you only see your own reflection and not someone else's reflection.

Shaun Williamson


(26) Paul said:

You can not please all of the people all of the time. Or can you? If I pose a religious question on your sight I might get scientific answer, and vice versa. Rarely do I see conflicting replies from the ask a philosopher panel.How is this possible? Do all philosophers have religion? Or are the scientific philosophers quiet while the religious ones reply and again , vice versa? Can matters of philosophy be resolved with a 'best not tread on toes attitude'? How can I get a accurate reply to my questions if this is the case?

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

No not all philosophers have religion but not all philosophers may find your questions interesting so they might not want to answer them. Only you can answer your questions. Other people can help you but don't rely on other peoples' answers.

Shaun Williamson


(27) Iza asked:

When is the right time to call yourself a philosopher?

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

When you are at a party and trying to impress a very intellectual member of the opposite sex. Failing that after you have studied philosophy for at least 20 years.

Shaun Williamson


(28) Mark asked:

At college we are looking a the Kalam Cosmological argument and we are now looking at counter arguments to each premise, my teacher then gave us this question "Would you die for a Hippy Chick?" We are so confused??

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

Yes it is confusing. Perhaps you missed something the teacher said. However the Kalam argument is well known. Kalam is also the name of a valley, the name of a language and the name of the Indian president. Tie die does not include dying but was a favourite pastime of hippy chicks. Perhaps you should ask the teacher.

Shaun Williamson


(29) Blake asked:

When we die, do we take our thoughts with us?

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

No but we can leave then behind.

Shaun Williamson


(30) Mehdi asked:

Why shouldn't we be paedophiles? Should having safe consensual sex with a minor (at puberty) be prohibited by law? Apart from the psychological "problems" of the minor when he/she grows up, what are the other negative impacts on society? Psychological problems, traditional bans, etc. Can be overcome once we build up the structure that way. If it is because "problem with drawing a borderline on age" kind of thing then there are lots of cases (other cases) where a jury decides an accusation based on circumstances. Why can't it be circumstantial depending on things such as the mental maturity of the child, the consent, the attachment between the two partners (one minor, one major), the "no-harm-done" factor, etc, etc? Why is it an absolute NO NO (in the West)? Thanks.

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

In general it isn't an absolute no no in the west e.g. A 14 year old boy having sex with a 14 year old girl may be strictly illegal but is unlikely to attract heavy legal sanction. But what is your real reason for asking this question. Every society has to arrive at some sort of legal age of consent for sex and adults should be able to keep to this. If a 40 year old man wants to have sex with a 9 year old girl then he should be asking himself why. So how old are you. In general the definition of a paedophile is someone who is a liar. They pretend that children want to engage in sexual activity when it is clear that they don't. They will do anything to preserve their lies. If you can't have sex with people who are over the age of legal consent then you have a psychological problem so don't try to pretend that it is a philosophical problem. Get help.

Shaun Williamson


(31) Ruth asked:

Is Plato's 'Republic' ironic? Evidence to suggest that it is can be found mainly in Books II, III and X — the books in which Socrates discusses the banishment of the poets. Of course, in the Ideal State, 'The Republic' itself would be banned — the dialogue is a form of mimesis and the myths, particularly the Myth of Er, contradict the strict running of the state and the role of the Guardians. If it is ironic, then what is the point of 'Republic'? Perhaps warn us of a state with no knowledge of the Forms, and warn us at the same time of a an ideal state? It seems that the temptation to explain away the text should be resisted. What is your interpretation?

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

I think you're pushing it. Think of Plato's life, for example... He attempted to establish an ideal state, which failed, of course... But surely that attempt indicates that he was serious about the matter. I also don't see how the myths "contradict" the running of the state, since they're supposed to be allegories. An allegory is an extended metaphor, and meant to be reasonably loosely interpreted, not analyzed for contradictions unless they're extremely overt. The Myth of Er seems pretty strict to me about enforcing obedience and punishing transgressions, which is what happens in the ideal state, after all. As for the overall form being one that would be banished... You may be correct on that one, although taken at face value, these are actual historical documents, right? In addition, if Plato wanted to be ironic, why spend so much time on it? He could have merely written a dialog. No, I think that the irony you're finding is your own, and probably not too far off the mark. No one has considered Plato the most consistent of philosophers, after all.

Steven Ravett Brown


(32) Natasha asked:

is it morally wrong to enjoy riding your horse across beautiful open country you have permission to ride on for one day only on a crisp winters morning, participating in a sport where an animal is killed, even though you do not kill it yourself eg. Foxhunting?

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

Well, is it morally wrong, if you're a vegetarian because you don't want to kill animals, to go into a grocery store and buy a delicious cut of meat, even though you didn't kill it? What do you think?

Steven Ravett Brown


(33) Saiful asked:

If the gravity between earth and a specific mass above it's surface is stronger when the mass is closer to earth. What actually stops the gasses produced escaping the earth's atmosphere(if the gasses are able to float away from a stronger attraction)

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

Whoa... You've got several conceptual problems here. Your first sentence is correct. But think about it... Suppose there were nothing on earth except the gas you're talking about, ok? Then, would it escape? Why? Earth's gravity would be pulling it, right? It would just sit on the barren, rocky surface (because remember I've said there's nothing else) and not go anywhere, unless perhaps the gas was very hot. Why then? Because heat is molecular motion, and enough heat might give the gas molecules enough energy to escape earth's gravity. Now, however, suppose there was something else on earth: another gas which was heavier than the first. Well, what would happen with those two gases? Of course, the lighter one would sit on top of the heavier one, right? Just like oil sits on water, because it's less dense. The density of a material determines the force that gravity exerts on it (roughly speaking — if you want more details you'll have to learn general relativity theory). So... That's what's happening in your example. Light and/or hot gasses are floating up through the denser air to the top of the atmosphere. Do they escape? Only if they're hot enough so that their molecular motion gives them enough energy to escape earth's gravitational field. Otherwise, they just float up there... Unless of course a passing airplane or missile or whatever stirs them up enough that they mix back into the atmosphere.

Steven Ravett Brown


(34) Paul asked:

You can not please all of the people all of the time. Or can you? If I pose a religious question on your sight I might get scientific answer, and vice versa. Rarely do I see conflicting replies from the ask a philosopher panel.How is this possible? Do all philosophers have religion? Or are the scientific philosophers quiet while the religious ones reply and again , vice versa? Can matters of philosophy be resolved with a 'best not tread on toes attitude'? How can I get a accurate reply to my questions if this is the case? Paul.

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

1) No. 2) Because, speaking as an atheist, I find most religious questions irrelevant. That is, why, if I don't believe, say, in Catholicism, and particularly, say, in Thomism, should I answer a question about Aquinas' beliefs, unless that question relates to what I consider more interesting philosophical questions? To me it's like answering a question about the technical requirements of raising zombies. Such a question could be interesting, if it related, say, to the effects of certain drugs on hypnotic states, or perhaps an anthropological inquiry into the function of those cultural practices, but as a religious question about the nature of a god (e.g., Baron Samedi) I have no belief in, it seems very uninteresting to me, except perhaps as myth, which comes under the anthropological category above. Why should I think that Thomism is more likely correct than Voodoo, and why, given that I think both are misguided (although at base I think that both are types of searches for some sort of truth), should I be interested in the details of either, in only that context? And should I merely repeat the above when faced with such questions? That seems silly, doesn't it. Thus, I leave those questions to those who believe. 3) No, most don't... At least in most conventional senses of that term, i.e., In having belief in some specific religion or cult, like Thomism, Sufism, Conservative Judaism, Voodun, Mormonism,... Well, I could go on and on, couldn't I. 4) Yes, for reasons above. 5) No, not usually; and they usually aren't. 6) Since I don't know what you mean by "an accurate reply", I have no idea. You ask, and we sometimes answer. I suppose that if this were a real job, and we philosophers were getting paid for this, you might consider that we, all of us, had an obligation to answer you. But it isn't, we aren't, and we don't.

Steven Ravett Brown


(35) Cecelia asked,

Is there a difference between religious and scientific knowledge that makes a debate points of perceived conflict between the two?

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

I would say that there is a perceived gap between the two types of knowledge to which you refer. Religious knowledge is mainly based on faith placed in the alleged revealed wisdom provided by a Deity. Science on the other hand is concerned with knowledge provided by the study of nature. Scientific knowledge is therefore obtained from empirical evidence, to which reason is applied. Religious knowledge is obtained from ancient scripture, alleged revelations, mystic experiences and alleged divine intervention. Some religions claim knowledge of an after life, some claim proof of reincarnation. Hence, one of the main conflicts between religion and science lies in the rejection by science of the ability of blind faith to provide answers to some of the most perplexing problems confronting mankind; such as the origin of the universe and the origin of humanity itself. Religion on the other hand is convinced that these answers are provided in the revealed wisdom of God, and that it is the misguided secular beliefs of science which are to be condemned.

Having said this, the position is not as cut and dried as it might seem. Some scientists are agnostic rather than atheist and are prepared to keep an open mind, some indeed have religious leanings, though not really orthodox. Some religious factions are now willing to believe that though God created the universe and all there is therein, he just might have done it in a different way to the orthodox interpretation. However, religion remains a faith, science continues to believe in observation and reason.

John Brandon


(36) Jesse asked:

I was teaching a history class about World War 2 and the Holocaust, and one student of mine made the comment that it was my opinion that Hitler was evil. Which leads me to my question. Is everything an opinion, or are there basic, common, societal truths.

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No there are basic common moral truths and you can find a list of them at www.... (No sorry that was just a joke). Your question is probably the wrong question to ask. If I say 2+2=4 then some stroppy pupil could say that's just your opinion, prove it. Given any reasonable human idea of good and evil Hitler would qualify as evil. Ask your pupil what he/she thinks good and evil are. Remember that the thief doesn't want people to steal from him, the murderer doesn't want to be murdered. Under Hitler your unruly pupil would probably have been sent to a concentration camp. Naziism was based on not questioning authority and this meant not arguing with your teachers.

Shaun Williamson


(37) Kathy asked:

Is outer space part of Mother Nature or is it separate? Thank you.

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Well Mother Nature isn't a real person but it is obvious that outer space acts upon the earth. The moon causes the rise and fall of the tides. Meteors collide with the earth and cause drastic climate changes. If another star ever collides with the sun then we will all cease to exist etc.. So everything is collected.

Shaun Williamson


(38) Lauren asked:

"Knowledge is unattainable, as knowledge is subject to perspective". Discuss.

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Well this is one of those smart, glib sayings that isn't much use. Obviously if you owe me money and I know that you owe me money then that sort of knowledge is not relative to any perspective. This sort of knowledge is just as important as any other sort of knowledge. That Beethoven was a great musician is something that we can all know and even in 500 years time that will still be true. 2+2=4 Isn't subject to any sort of perspective. Of course some sorts of knowledge are subject to perspective. Our knowledge of history, scientific theories, our ideas about our parents etc. But we all know this.

Shaun Williamson


(39) Jamie asked:

After having just read 'Problems of Philosophy', I am confused. Can anyone clarify how Russell thinks we gain knowledge of the world? Is it only from our knowledge of universals? Are sense datum knowledge in themselves?

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'Problems of philosophy' is not a book that will give you a clear idea of Russell's own view of philosophy. It is intended to give an account of all the problems that have been regarded as important problems by western philosophers. If you want to find out about Russell's own ideas about knowledge then read his other works.

Shaun Williamson


(40) Eero asked:

If invincible resistance and irresistible force should fight which one would be the winner?

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Well after they have destroyed each other the winners would be the people watching them.

Shaun Williamson


(41) Heath asked:

What did Freud mean in saying that art is an exercise in 'sublimation'?

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For Freud the basic human instincts were physical e.g. The need for food, the desire to live, the sex drive and the need to reproduce etc. The same things that occupy the lives of the other animals. But humans also have other behaviors which animals don't have, art, music, philosophy etc. Freud explained these things by saying that they were a way of using sexual energy to achieve something else. So the need for sex may become transformed into love poetry, playing the piano etc.

Shaun Williamson


(42) Telia asked:

Why is capitalism a necessary condition for the possibility of a communist revolution, and why was the russian revolution therefore not a communist revolution?

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Well we are talking here about the ideas of Karl Marx who got his ideas from Hegel. The basic idea is that societies evolve politically and have to go through certain stages in a certain order. So a tribal society evolves into a monarchy which evolves into a mercantile society which evolves into a bourgeois society etc.. This is just a rough account of how things progress. According to Marx's ideas a communist revolution could only occur in a capitalist society. Russia at the time of the revolution was not a capitalist (industrial) society so there are good grounds for regarding the Russian revolution as being a a bourgeois revolution rather like the French revolution and the English civil war etc..

Shaun Williamson


(43) Jeff asked:

If Aristotle wondered if a person could be a friend of himself, then is it not logical to wonder if one can be erotically attracted to oneself, or even be in love with oneself? Would that mean necessarily that one is perverse? Socrates himself, apparently, did not share himself sexually with those whom he associated with intensely (e.g., Alcibiades), but in his fits of ironic dialectic? When he reaps the benefits of a well-laid elenctic trap? He seems quite enamoured of his accomplishment, to the point of almost self-satisfiedly, perhaps even erotically, loving himself. If his irony was as politically and socially detached as Kierkegaard argues in his dissertation "The Concept of Irony: With Constant Reference to Socrates", then we might conclude that he was incapable of loving anyone but himself, erotically or otherwise, and so with befriending. What thoughts have you amicus Plato?

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Does being erotically attracted to yourself display bad taste or good taste? Who knows? I think Woody Allen is probably the major philosopher who deals with this sort of problem so I would direct you to his films for more information on this.

Shaun Williamson


(44) Brett asked:

One morning at the breakfast table I suddenly float out of my body and find myself hovering near the ceiling. Looking down I can clearly see myself at the table behaving normally. Then everything returns to normal. Other than the possibility I am dreaming, what other explanations are there for this experience?

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Well out of body experiences are well known and quite normal. In fact in has been found that by stimulating a particular area or the brain an out of body experience can be induced artificially. I myself have had the same experience as you but only under conditions of great stress. A real out of body experience would enable you to go down to the supermarket, do some shopping and fly back home while all the time still sitting in your kitchen. Unfortunately this more useful out of body experience never seems to happen.

Shaun Williamson


(45) AJ asked:

What is the meaning of life?

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'Meaning' is a word in a human language. The meaning of life is whatever meaning you give to it.

Shaun Williamson


(46) Wendy asked:

Is it ethical to terminate a teacher based on his or her sexual preferences. What are some philosopher views on this like from Plato, Vaske etc.

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Yes if the teacher is a paedophile, no if the teacher is anything else (e.g. Heterosexual lesbian or gay etc.) Plato didn't really think about this sort of thing so we have no idea about what he would have thought.

Shaun Williamson


(47) Aaneesa asked:

I think the answer to the question is along the lines of anyone who has moral sense and cares about humanity must commit suicide but I want information to be be all the way correct.

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Aaneesa this just seems like nonsense to me. In what way does committing suicide help humanity or display any sort of moral sense or care for other people. And why do you want to be so correct. Life is hard and maybe especially when you are young but stick around and see how things turn out. Don't be so chicken. Try to leave the world a better place than the way you found it You only have your life, try to make it mean something. Don't let the world get you down.

Shaun Williamson


(48) Riley asked:

See I have been thinking a lot lately about things that only appeared to me just now , but actually have been there for about..All of my life of my life . A friend of mine told me that we all are in a play called 'life' that we all have a specific role to play , and I have been wondering about what do I do ? Should I stay still and be a extra , or say a line or two ?... Now I think I am confused. My father is gone and I have even asked my mom about letting me see him, because I don't remember ..Him, my old house..Anything . Its like a an odd case of amnesia or in a coma , but I am still awake. What I want to ask is , Do we actually mean anything anything to other people ?

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Yes Riley we do mean something to each other. Of course we can all see life as a play in which we have roles but in fact that is not the truth. Life is what we have, to see a play we have to go to the theatre or the movies. Of course you might not remember your father because maybe you haven't seen him for a long time and memory does fade. Don't be an extra, take control of your own life and speak out. Go and see your father and make up your own mind about him.

Shaun Williamson


(49) Natasha asked,

Is it morally wrong to enjoy riding your horse across beautiful open country you have permission to ride on for one day only on a crisp winters morning, participating in a sport where an animal is killed, even though you do not kill it yourself, eg. Foxhunting?

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I have no objection to people riding horses across beautiful open country. The pastime is usually referred to as horse riding. However, I am at odds to understand why an enjoyable pastime should be converted into a vicious assault on wild animals and referred to as a sport!! A sport is usually a contest between evenly matched participants, hence foxhunting does not qualify as a sport. You seem to have the quaint idea that riding as part of the hunt you are somehow exonerated when you do not kill the animal yourself. The purpose of the hunt in which you are participating, however, is to tear the animal to pieces, and so far as I understand it, none of the hunters do the killing, so you are no different. The killing is done by vicious dogs trained for the purpose, the rather sad, or is it sadist, hunters gaze upon the scene with great enjoyment, after all this is the climax of their day.

One of the lame excuses used by foxhunters against those who oppose it, is that the opposition do not understand the countryside or country people. Believe me I have been brought up and lived in the countryside all my life, and I would never in my wildest dreams associate hunting down foxes with vicious dogs as anything like a prerequisite for understanding the countryside. I believe that in some areas hunters do massive damage to the countryside, and often scare the residents out of their wits. It seems now that they are preparing to break the law when the ban comes into force. I remember that the last body of people to stand against the law were the miners. In that case the Prime Minister of the day, backed by the Government, turned out virtually the entire national police force armed with cudgels, sorry batons, to knock the daylights out of the protesters. I remember one police sergeant, who must have weighed eighteen stone, laying into a slightly built miner with his cudgel, and obviously thoroughly enjoying it. Great sport?!! I wonder who's side the hunters were on then? The difference between the hunters and the miners is that the latter had a legitimate grievance, as their livelihoods were being destroyed by the type of capitalist conspiracy that we are seeing more and more of today. Shall we see the entire national police force with their cudgels turned out by the Government against the hunters? If not, why not? To complete the answer to your question, there does seem something morally wrong in what you suggest, but whether or not it is a question for the moralists, I think the whole concept of what you imply is rather sad in the year 2004, perhaps we should all by now have grown out of mediaeval pursuits

John Brandon


(50) Blake asked.

When we die do we take our thoughts with us?

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I would like to think so, but never having died, so far as I know, I am afraid the answer is beyond me. Those who visit mediums, and I have done some research into this myself, often come away with the belief that a loved one on 'the other side' has revealed memories and thoughts that only the recipient could possibly be aware of. If this is true the answer to your question must be yes.

John Brandon


(51) Anthony asked,

Hi. Since I was small I have been wondering what lies beyond space. Any ideas? Thanks.

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You are not alone in your search for an answer to this intriguing question, in fact you are in the very good company of ancient and modern philosophers, ancient and modern religious thinkers, ancient and modern astronomers, cosmologists, physicists and mystics, etc.. However, the answer to the problem remains elusive, and as Kant might say, 'beyond the capabilities of man to envisage. We have no innate, a priori knowledge which provides even a hint of access to answering the problem.'

Cosmologists, on who we rely to reveal knowledge of the universe are trapped within what they call 'the horizon' of space-time. The 'Big Bang', in which most cosmologists and physicists now believe, and which itself seems to stretch the imagination to the bounds of absurdity, is thought to have occurred in confined space and zero time. The outcome being a rapid expansion of space-time, giving the impression that galaxies are racing away from each other at the speed of light, increasing to beyond this speed at the 'edges', thus causing them to disappear as the light can never reach us, this constitutes the horizon within which our scant knowledge is confined. The analogy offered is a rubber mat stippled all over with dots representing galaxies; if this were surrounded by people pulling on the edges the dots would be seen to separate from each other in all directions. However, it is not the dots that are moving but the rubber mat itself which is stretching and representing expanding space. Now, manipulate the flat mat into the form of a balloon, and you have an analogy of the current concept of expanding space-time.

Most cosmologists claim that space-time and matter is all there is, and to assume that space-time is expanding into 'something' is absurd. Also, if space-time is a sphere it would be difficult to claim that expansion continues, particularly as the horizon is lost to us.

Sorry, your answer is still in the 'air'.

John Brandon


(52) Heather asked:

If a human was cloned, how would the police tell the difference between the clone and the original if a crime was committed?'

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You are thinking of DNA evidence. If police only find DNA evidence on a crime scene, of course both could be charged. If both looked alike, one could also, mistakenly, be charged. But don't forget that the 'original' could have present evidence in court that proved his/hers innocence, like an alibi or other documental proof, that places him far away from the crime scene, and place the guilt on the 'clone'. In the USA the problem would be to prove reasonable doubt, in case of a murder, to convict. In other countries, the defendant is considered innocent until proven guilty, so the weight of proving his guilt would remain with the police/justice department, until the guilt was obvious, and he would have to fight for his innocence, presenting opposing evidence'.

Nuno Hipolito


(53) Ruth asked:

Is Plato's 'Republic' ironic? Evidence to suggest that it is can be found mainly in Books II, III and X — the books in which Socrates discusses the banishment of the poets. Of course, in the Ideal State, 'The Republic' itself would be banned — the dialogue is a form of mimesis and the myths, particularly the Myth of Er, contradict the strict running of the state and the role of the Guardians. If it is ironic, then what is the point of 'Republic'? Perhaps warn us of a state with no knowledge of the Forms, and warn us at the same time of a an ideal state? It seems that the temptation to explain away the text should be resisted. What is your interpretation?

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Often philosophers, as well as poets, build fictitious worlds in which they depict their ideas and dreams. Some examples are 'Utopia', 'Alice in Wonderland' or 'Lord of the Flies'. Plato's republic is, more than just a poetic idea, a philosophical essay, so it contains both irony (in its symbolism) as well as well thought out ideas (in its idealism). But Ruth, keep in mind that for Plato, ideas were much more important than reality, and truth remained in the world of ideas, not in our world of governments and social struggles. We could say that Plato had to use irony when describing a perfect society, because for him truth — and perfection is a form of truth — could only exist as an idea, in a formal state of existence. Idealism is all about trying to apply perfect concepts to the everyday world. But ultimately we could not have the perfect society that Plato drew up in his Republic, because that would be the antithesis of what Idealism is.

Nuno Hipolito


(54) Sarah asked:

How does Descartes "cogito" relate to the movie "The Matrix?"'

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Descartes had a revolutionary way of looking at the world. He stated that we could not be sure of anything, that all could be nothing more than an elaborate illusion of our senses. So how could we discover truth? He was sure of only one thing: his 'cogito' or 'thought'. He knew he was able to think, that was his only certainty, and his Archimedes point, in which he built an all new philosophical system. In the movie Matrix, we find a world that is an illusion. In truth nothing exists as Neo sees it in the beginning. When he takes the pill and goes down the rabbit hole (clear references to Carrol and even Descartes) he sees the truth behind the illusion. At some point, the confusion is so great that his only truth is his own existence, because the world he considered to be real is no more. Neo's existence and struggle are his only truths: his cogito.

PS: because there are no video recordings of Descartes, we can't tell if he was such a bad actor as Keanu Reaves.

Nuno Hipolito


(55) Natasha asked:

Is it morally wrong to enjoy riding your horse across beautiful open country you have permission to ride on for one day only on a crisp winters morning, participating in a sport where an animal is killed, even though you do not kill it yourself eg. Foxhunting?'

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Are you saying you enjoy riding your horse or that you enjoy hunting? If you just enjoy riding your horse trough those beautiful fields why don't you fight for that right and not for the right to hunt a fox on horseback? Gather a group of your friends that enjoy riding too and form the 'Foxhunting without the fox' riding team.

Nuno Hipolito


(56) Brent asked:

Hi, What is Poetry? According to Plato? According to Shelley? According to Sidney? According to Pinsky? Or, just answer the question, "what is poetry?"'

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I read once a definition that I remember to this day: Poetry is the language of the unintelligible.

Nuno Hipolito


(57) Jesse asked:

I was teaching a history class about World War 2 and the Holocaust, and one student of mine made the comment that it was my opinion that Hitler was evil. Which leads me to my question. Is everything an opinion, or are there basic, common, societal truths.'

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There are common, social truths, which are known as moral and ethical standards, which help maintain our society as it stands. But these truths are not eternal; they change from time to time. For instance, in ancient Rome it was acceptable to have a law that said slaves were not citizens of Rome, only free men. Today that would be immoral. In the time of Genghis Khan it was not immoral to slain an entire village, if that meant that the supplies, food and gold was put to the use of the conquerors. In India one could not marry outside one's cast. These were all very important social truths for a specific time in history, and helped the stability of a certain civilization. Today you could call Genghis Khan evil, for killing so many people, as you do Hitler, but you can't say how they would be viewed in the future. And ultimately, the moral judgment if always made by those who do not live in the same time period as the one being judged.

Nuno Hipolito


(58) Blake asked:

When we die, do we take our thoughts with us?'

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From a biological stand point, thoughts are neuron ramifications that are built by our brain, and correspond to certain electro-chemical phenomena. For instance, when we see something that has a great impression on us, we build a 'memory' of it, by building a very specific electro-chemical connection in our brain. So our brain keeps being rewired as events in our life develop. We remember only those dear to us, or some that are traumatic, for a sentimental, emotional, or rational reason. When you die, your brain cannot maintain the stream of electro-chemical reactions, in which your thoughts are stored, only the physical ramifications of the neurons remain, until decomposition starts. So no thoughts remain, they die with you. On the other hand, if you believe in an afterlife, your thoughts could be 'stored' in your soul, and this being an immortal part of you, your identity would never be lost.

Nuno Hipolito


(59) Brett asked:

One morning at the breakfast table I suddenly float out of my body and find myself hovering near the ceiling. Looking down I can clearly see myself at the table behaving normally. Then everything returns to normal. Other than the possibility I am dreaming, what other explanations are there for this experience?'

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You could be daydreaming. There could be something strange in your Kellogs that morning. Or... You were having an experience called an OBE or Out of Body Experience. Try searching the Internet with that keyword and you'll find a vast array of information about it.

Nuno Hipolito


(60) Kyle asked:

I forget who said it, but it was said that because God is the perfect being, He exists by definition for if He did not exist He would not be perfect. This to me is not right but I have yet to think of a counter argument that makes sense. I was wondering if anybody could help.'

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This is the ontological argument for the existence of God, formulated by Saint Anselm in is book 'Proslogion'. Kant said later on that one could not say that it is logical to go from the idea of something to the reality of that something. The reality of an object could not be deduced from its concept. Other than this argument, one could say that Man, also existing, would possess one of the perfections, as God, and that would be difficult to comprehend, for Man is not a perfect being.

Nuno Hipolito


(61) Jenny asked:

All cows eat grass? Tomorrow will be another sunny day? What goes up must come down? These are three questions I have been asked by my daughter and simply think how to explain them to her. Can you help?'

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Not all cows eat grass. I'm sure very few of them eat grass, most eat rations, and from that came the big disaster of the Mad Cow Disease. Don't tell that last part to your daughter. The traditional image if that of a cow eating grass, and cows do like to ruminate, having two stomachs and all... Tomorrow probably won't be another sunny day, especially if you live in the UK. What goes up must come down? True, until Arthur C. Clarke thought that if you threw a satellite over the horizon, it would keep on falling down forever, and called it an orbit.

Nuno Hipolito


(62) Nalina asked:

Twenty-nine year old Debroh Rodriquez is a militant member of Brazil's landless movement, the Movimento Sem Terra (MST) which is battling for of under utilized land to as many as 4.8 Million landless families. Recently Ms. Rodriquez made a decision to appear in an upcoming Brazilian edition of Playboy, photographed in the nude. Many fellow members of the MST are highly critical of her decision, believing that it will tarnish the Movement's image.Some other members (apparently) do not have this concern, but believe Ms. Rodriquez should contribute a portion of the $18,000 she will earn to the MST's efforts on behalf of impoverished Brazilian farmers. Ms. Rodriquez says she will use the money to buy a home for herself and her two children, aged 11 and 9, as well as other things the children need. Currently Ms. Rodriquez and her children live in a tent at a settlement organized by the MST. Is Ms. Rodriquez's decision morally justifiable? If so, why? If not, why not?'

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In my view it's not moral to get undressed in Playboy for personal gain using such a noble cause as the MST. But it's moral to be poor and try to feed your children, by doing nothing illegal, even if using a noble cause such the MST. If you put both on the plates of the moral scale, I would say that the MST could grab some publicity for its cause by saying the woman is so poor she's doing to use the money for her own welfare, being so poor, and deprived from essential things such as housing and education. But would that be moral of the MST?'.

Nuno Hipolito


(63) Gassendi asked:

I've been trying to find information concerning the Serbian physicist Roger Boscovich's philosophy of Science.

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As part of my studies towards an M.Phil/ Ph.D on Nietzsche's doctrine of The Will to Power, I also had to research information on Roger Boscovich. I hope the following information proves useful Gassendi.

Various. The Journal of Nietzsche Studies #20. Autumn 2000.

Peter Poellner. Nietzsche and Metaphysics. Oxford Clarendon Press 1995.

Adrian Moles. Nietzsche's Philosophy of Nature and Cosmology. New York: Peter Lang 1990.

Roger Joseph Boscovich. A Theory of Natural Philosophy. Cambridge MA. MIT Press. 1966.

Greg Whitlock. Roger Boscovich, Benedict Spinoza and Friedrich Nietzsche: The Untold Story. Nietzsche-Studien 25. 1996

Martin Jenkins


(64) Jane asked:

If a tree falls and no one is there does it make a sound?

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Yes and if we had some microphones there hooked to to recording equipment and maybe some video cameras as well, then we could watch and hear the fall of the tree even if we weren't there at the time.

Shaun Williamson