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

Ask a Philosopher: Questions and Answers 22 (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 22/1.

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) Cassie asked:

Does philosophy exist in today's society?

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

What do you mean? Of course you know of those philosophy-departments and philosophy-books and philosophy-cafes and philosophy-on-the-internet projects like this one you are taking part in. And there are teens and twens and other people debating philosophical questions here and there. Thus the only meaning of your question could be: "Is this a time when people are aware of philosophical problems?"

I think that most people are not — and not even in the Western world. Why "not even in the Western world"? Because to think philosophically you first have to think freely. If you are used to think what the elders think and what the priest and the teacher say, you are not philosophizing. Philosophizing begins with questioning. To be questioning you need some doubt. This can be dangerous. Because he was doubting too much and telling others how to doubt, Socrates was put to death. But I think that "not even in our liberal Western world", where people are allowed to doubt, there is much philosophizing. For even when people are allowed to doubt, not many are interested.

But the interest in philosophical things has grown dramatically in the West over the last some two dozen years. Jostein Gaarder's blockbuster "Sophie's World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy" first appeared in an English translation some ten years ago (see http://members.lycos.co.uk/sophiesworld/) and this philosopher's net of Geoffrey Klempner is only some five years old now, and most philosopher's cafes and internet-forums are not much older. Why? Because there are so many new and strange problems seen today — globalization and "clash of civilizations" and "multi-culturalism" and "genetic-engineering" and "cloning" and "free choice" on death and abortion and PID etc., that more and more people like to debate with others in what strange a world we are living today. And they feel that the teacher and pastor and the politicians and elderly are not up to those problems and not helpful generally. In this sense your question may be answered to the positive.

Hubertus Fremerey


(2) Dasha asked:

If a person tells you to put your hands on your mouth how do you know where to put them? Well because your parents told you and their parents told them but if we evolved from monkeys then how did the first man know where his/her mouth was if he/she didn't know. No one would have him/her.

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

This looks like a typical "philosopher's" problem: Everybody knows the solution of course, but only philosophers think it is difficult. How do you know — or how did "the first man" know — that a tree is a tree or a horse is a horse etc.? Just by pointing at it and uttering some "word" to label it such and such.

Another question would be: What is labelled — and why? This depends on what is needed. Some languages know of only 3-4 colours. Of course the people using those languages see as many colours as we do, but the don't care too much to label them. On the other hand, bedouins use up to some 50 different labels for different forms of sand and stone, because they are living in the desert, in a world of sands and stone-formations. Likewise the Inuit use some 50 different labels for those many forms of snow and ice that we would ignore. If you become a specialist in any field, you have to invent new labels. In our world of pop-music, there are some 50 different labels of music-styles unknown to our grandparents. There is not only pop, rock, and Jazz, but there is rave, hip-hop, Celtic, Blue-Grass, Reggae, Rap etc.etc.(see http://dmoz.org/Arts/Music/Styles/). All this had to be "invented" as needed in time. And this is even more difficult than pointing to a tree or horse — or to the mouth.

Hubertus Fremerey


(3) Dasha asked:

What comes first the egg or the chicken?

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

You seem to take part in a semantics-course, Dasha? This is another of those eternal classics. And it's once more a typical "philosopher's problem". What is "real" is always the offspring. Whether you call this "chicken" or "baby" or "larva" does not matter much. There simply has to be offspring. And since in all "more advanced" animals (including insects!) the offspring is grown in some sort of "bag" (you and me are too in what is called "uterus") this "bag" may be kept in the womb of the mother or thrown out together with the fetus as in spiders and snakes and birds. In this case the "bag" is called an "egg", independent of whether the cover is only a flexible skin or hardened by calcium-shells. Thus you see how artificial this whole problem of "priority of egg or chicken" looks when it is translated back into the reality from where it was taken.

But this sheds some light of what philosophy is doing: Not only this "problem" but nearly every philosophical problem is in a similar way "artificial" and evaporates into nothing if translated back into reality. This was the starting point of analytical philosophy: "What are people speaking of when they use this X-concept?" What are we speaking of when we speak of "freedom", "justice", "truth", "progress" etc.etc.. This means: "What are the facts and practical problems that made us introduce such concepts in the first line?" Or put in another way: "What would get lost if those concepts — "freedom", "justice", "truth", "progress" etc.etc. — would be removed from our language?"

The radical analytical "positivists" once tried to get rid of all those concepts that seemed to be without any foundations in "scientifically established facts". So they tried to get rid of the concept "god" by this argument. But then they learned that the whole of European (and even non-European) philosophy would become meaningless. So they reluctantly had to leave "god" in his (its, her?) place.

And in a similar way they had to leave "freedom", "justice", "truth", "progress" etc.etc. in their places: Those are shorthands for some "real" problems in the same way as "chicken" is shorthand for some real living animal.

The problem of "naming" — even in chicken and egg — is fundamentally connected to the problem of "being". What does it mean to "label" something which is "not there" or which "does not exist". "Nessie" and "Bigfoot" and "Unicorn" are labels for objects that (very, very probably) "do not exists". Thus to have a word or "name" does not include to have the thing itself. And while God may only exist in your imagination, your "world" is only existing in your imagination too. So when you remove God from your imagination, your whole world may come down and you have to build a new one.

So much on the "egg and chicken"-problem this time. But of course there is much more to it.

Hubertus Fremerey


(4) Deborah asked:

Okay, I remember learning in a freshman philosophy class about a distinction in schools of thought where one view is that people seek pleasure and avoid pain. What I would like is what is the name for that belief or school of thought? Also, what are the alternatives to that belief? Are there philosophers who don't take that for granted?

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

Well you can try reading Jeremy Bentham, and then John S. Mill, for the beginnings of modern hedonism. As for the alternatives... um, well, just about anything else you can think of.

Here are a couple of introductions to ethics you ought to look at:

Solomon, R.C., and Martin, C.W. Morality and the Good Life: An Introduction to Ethics through Classical Sources. Fourth ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2004.

Sommers, C., and Sommers, F. Vice & Virtue in Everyday Life; Introductory Readings in Ethics. 4th ed. Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1985.

As for your last question... let me put it this way... the tradition of Western philosophy is to not take *anything* for granted. So pretty much *all* philosophers do not take that for granted, even hedonists.

Steven Ravett Brown


(5) Sim asked:

What defines a philosopher and at what point can a particular being call themself a philosopher?

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

If I think of someone as a philosopher then I expect them to have a good knowledge of the history of philosophy and of philosophical problems. It still seems to me that a good place to start is to obtain a university degree in philosophy since by doing this you will have undertaken a systematic study of the subject.

Shaun Williamson


(6) Duncan asked:

is it possible for a dream to come true.

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

Yes. I might dream that I win the lottery and then the next week I really do win the lottery. Then I could say that my dream came true.

Shaun Williamson


(7) Mike asked:

I hope this accurately describes my point. I Apologize if its a little ruff...

You say spacetime is four dimensional... with three dimensions of space and one dimension of time....

I am not saying this is wrong, but I can see another possibility of dimension, it is a little difficult for me to explain, but here it goes.

The easiest way to explain this is probably through a theory which proposes the concept of spacetime being a product of our mind's creation....Now just consider that this is true...all life as we know it, is just a product of our mind's creation...

Pretend you are walking through the park. Imagine what it would look like in your mind. Now let's say our mind (or time) just paused. Now, without time, you are observing a two dimensional point of view...

Maybe time moves us into the third dimension? Or maybe time could connect a series of 2 dimensional frames together in our mind...

Most people believe that we see in three dimensions, but we most definitely do not. We can understand the third dimension by observing different points in space and time...quite similar to looking at a television...

Maybe time moves us into the third dimension? Or maybe time could connect a series of 2 dimensional frames together...

I hope that description is accurate... I have a hard time explaining all of my theories, because usually I have nobody to share them with, so they are usually non-existent in words... thanks for your time...

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

I'll tell you what. Here are two books for you to read: Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin A. Abbott;

and

Spaceland: A Novel of the Fourth Dimension by Rudy Rucker

They're both neato novels, and they'll get you a bit better acquainted with all this.

Steven Ravett Brown


Ian asked:

Why exams should not be abolished? It gives us pressure and stress and some students even commit suicide due to being overly stress out. Why can't we replace exams with assignments and projects? This would help in discovering hidden talents.

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

And the difference between an "assignment" or "project" and an "exam" is...? Suppose there were no "exams", i.e., you didn't sit in a classroom answering questions on a test. Then your grade would be entirely dependent on a "project"... and just how stressful do you think a "project" would be, then? Why not just abolish grades entirely? All evaluations of students' learning and progress? Then everyone could just sit in class and listen to their radio, not pay attention, not care, and everyone would graduate. Gee gosh, wouldn't that be wonderful? Of course when all those ignoramuses got out into the real world where they'd actually have to *really* do something, what do you think would happen? Do you think an employer would keep someone who couldn't do the job? Or how about this... the only people who go through school, take those awful "test" things, and graduate, would be students who *wanted* to do that, and the rest of you would just... what? Be supported by the people who *did* work, for doing nothing? Be supported by your parents? Go dig ditches, since you wouldn't know how to do anything else, including read? Go live on farms and grow food? Well, guess what, that last is what people who can't read, write, or do much skilled labor (e.g., cabinetry, etc...) actually do, with the exception of a very few who *like* being farmers.

The bottom line is that somehow you have to learn stuff, and that people who are teaching you, and the people for whom you will be doing the stuff you learn, have to *know*, somehow, that you've actually learned it. *Before* they go and let you do it. Because otherwise, *they* will have to be the teachers, and you're back where you started, with this difference: that if you *don't* learn on the job, you won't *have* a job, and you starve or dig ditches. And teaching, say, computer programming, on the job, to someone who can't read or write is not something an employer will do. You have to learn to read and write, and do arithmetic, *before* you can learn to be a store clerk, a bank teller, a file clerk, a typist... much less a computer programmer or bookkeeper.

Steven Ravett Brown


(8) Rossella asked::

I'm very curious to know what is the "aleph". Everybody talks about the book of Borges, but I couldn't find a real answer in that book. I've overheard that it was an instrument (imaginary? mythologic? philosophic? metaphysic?) capable to explore the whole world of knowledge. And also, do you know if there is an image, a drawing or something similar that shows it?

Please, help me to find the answer.

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

This isn't a philosophical question. The aleph isn't a thing or device so it doesn't really exist and there are no drawings of it. Do a search for 'aleph' on the internet and you will find out where the idea came from by following the links.

Shaun Williamson


(9) Sam asked:

What is a bonar?

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

Who knows? Maybe you are having problems with spelling here.

Shaun Williamson


(10) Rickina asked::

Where did God come from?

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

Since God (if there is a god) exists eternally outside of time and space the question does not make sense.

Shaun Williamson


(11) Paul asked:

What is the question that will stump the philosopher; that is, render him/ her incapable of any intelligent response?

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

There is no such question. However this doesn't mean that philosophers know the answer to every question. Sometimes the intelligent response to a question is just to say 'I don't know how to answer that'.

Shaun Williamson


(12) Diory asked:

Many philosophers say that the difference between man and animals is that man has a faculty of reason. It seems to me that they are just assuming since we have no exact means to verify if animals indeed have no reason. Is it really the case that man is the only creature that has reason?

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

I think you are just very confused here about what reason is. Other animals don't write novels or poetry. They don't play music and they don't ask philosophical questions. They don't do mathematics or build aeroplanes. They don't write music or play musical instruments. They don't train doctors and they don't go to chemists. They didn't invent television or photography or railways. They don't have moral disputes. They can't discuss their behaviour or make promises or tell lies etc. etc. All these things are the products of the human ability to reason. So it is obvious that other animals don't have the human ability to reason.

Shaun Williamson


(13) Bill asked:

Is this a good Question?

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

No.

Patrick Hayes


(14) Bryan asked:

I have a question about time. I think this is about philosophy if it isn't please tell me. If someone goes into the future by some means, and writes their name on a certain tree, (we'll call it tree "a"), and than they go back in time, and cut down tree "a". How will the future be changed? ( keep in mind he wrote his name on the tree in the future).

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

I don't know if it is about philosophy, either, but it is certainly an interesting question. The puzzle you have set up is one of many apparent paradoxes that arise when one imagines the possibility of time travel, in particular time travel into the past. (Time travel into the future is easy: just go to sleep for a while.) Of course there is no evidence at all that travel into the past is in fact possible, and indeed the creation of such apparently impossible situations has itself been used as an argument that it must be impossible to "go back in time". The idea has been extensively treated in science fiction, with Robert Heinlein probably the author who has the most fun with the possibilities. In one time-travel tour de force, his hero in one novel manages to be his own father, his own mother (after an appropriate sex change) and also the person who finally assassinates him, forming a kind of closed knot in time. In another short story, a brave hero is sent into the future, but can stay only a few minutes. He finds himself in a future museum and, desperate to bring something back, breaks the nearest case and grabs the peculiar object in it before being zapped back to the present. But nobody can figure out what it is, what it is made of, or what it is for; so eventually it gets put in a museum...)

Your puzzle is most interesting to me because it highlights a question that arises in making logics of time, which is whether or not there is a single future. You seem to assume that there is when you speak of the future being changed. But suppose there are several, or many, futures, so that time 'branches' in the forward direction, and what happens 'next' amounts to the universe choosing one of the various possible next-times to go along, as it were. Then your example could be explained very simply. There are two possibilities at some future time: one in which the tree is cut down, the other in which it is not. That moment is a branch point in time, like a switch on a railway line, where travel into the future can go in one of two directions. The first trip to the future took the second branch, for some reason; but when the person travelled back along that branch to a point earlier than the switch, and then cut the tree, they obviously went 'back' into the future along the first path: the cutting of the tree chose that future for them. So the future is not changed (the futures are not changed), in this view; but the choice of which possible future one finds oneself in depends in part on the actions one takes on the way to that future.

This idea of a branching future has been seriously discussed as one way to understand quantum indeterminacy, and it is widely used in applied logic, as it provides a technique to allow computers to 'imagine' what will happen if they take certain actions, and so figure out how to achieve goals. These programs are called logical planners, and they have been applied to all kinds of useful tasks, including some of the recent robot space probes. So you see, even science fiction and far-out philosophical puzzles have their practical uses.

Patrick Hayes


(15) Stephanie asked:

what is your opinion that if freewill goes then so does morality?

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

Well, think about it. First, we figure out what "free will" is. Right, people have been on that one for about 3-5000 years. But anyway, let's say we do that... then we decide we don't "have" it; we decide there's no "free will"... ok, fine. Then, the next time someone asks us to rob our youngest child, or our employer, we do... what? Well, pretty much what we'd do anyway, *but* we say that our behaving that way has nothing to do with "morality"? But, why say that? One could say many other things. For example, that morality and free will aren't related; that not robbing our employer is moral, whether we have or do not have free will. What's wrong with that? Why not say that the correct way to look at morality is through *action*, whatever does or does not cause the action? That would imply that accidentally killing someone is an immoral act. Well... is it? What about the legal punishments for "manslaughter", which is precisely involuntary killing?

Second, we could say that *feeling* that we have free will is enough; and that feeling is what justifies calling actions moral. After all, even if we assume that we do not have free will, we have *not* assumed a connection between free will and morality; perhaps the correct and/or functional connection is between a *feeling* of free will, or a specific feeling of a particular choice being freely made, and morality.

In other words, this problem is not merely related to the incredibly difficult problem of deciding what "free will" is and whether we "have" it, but to the almost equally difficult issue of deciding what morality is, and how, or whether, it relates to the free will issue. It's nice to assume that without free choice we are amoral mechanisms... but there are several differences between us and things which are obviously mechanisms, namely, that we are conscious and that we have feelings about things, including morality. Whether those differences imply free will, or merely some brand of morality independent of that issue, is not clear at this point... although I'm inclined to the latter alternative, myself... with the caveat that I really do not understand the term "free will" with any clarity, particularly as it is normally used.

Steven Ravett Brown


(16) Jaime asked:

are human beings basically good? If so, how do you account for the evil that is seemingly all around?

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

Why should I assume that human beings are basically good? If we've evolved from animals, etc... and we observe animal behavior, we see a great deal of cruelty and suffering. Why should we behave differently? So rather than having a problem accounting for evil, it's actually much more difficult to account for morality. However, there is a great deal of literature on that. Here's a bit of it:

Bergman, R. "Why Be Moral? A Conceptual Model from Developmental Psychology." Human Development 45 (2002): 104-24.

Dawson, T.L. "New Tools, New Insights: Kohlberg's Moral Judgement Stages Revisited." International Journal of Behavioral Development 26, no. 2 (2002): 154-66.

Edgerton, R. B. Sick Societies: Challenging the Myth of Primitive Harmony. 1st ed. New York: The Free Press, 1992.

Gintis, H., Bowles, S., Boyd, R., and Fehr, E. "Explaining Altruistic Behavior in Humans." Evolution and Human Behavior 24 (2003): 153-72.

Greene, J.D., Sommerville, R.B., Nystrom, L.E., Darley, J.M., and Cohen, J. D. "An Fmri Investigation of Emotional Engagement in Moral Judgment." Science 293, no. 5537 (2001): 2105-08.

Hardcastle, V.G. "Life at the Borders: Habits, Addictions and Self-Control." Journal of Experimental & Theoretical Artificial Intelligence 15 (2003): 243-53.

Harrison, L.E., and Huntington, S.P., eds. Culture Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2000.

Sinnott-Armstrong, W., and Timmons, M. Moral Knowledge? New Readings in Moral Epistemology. 1st ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Wendorf, C.A. "History of American Morality Research, 1894-1932." History of Psychology 4, no. 3 (2001): 272-88.

Steven Ravett Brown


(17) Eric asked:

How has Stonehenge changed over time?

Who really created Stonehenge?

How does your branch of science view Stonehenge?

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

1) It's fallen apart.

2) People.

3) Well, it's a pretty neato calendar, but a lot of effort for a rather crude result. The Mayans did better, I think.

Steven Ravett Brown


(18) Ki asked:

what fictional colour was invented by Goodman?

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

No, no... you don't get it. It isn't fictional, it wasn't "invented" by him, and the point is not "color", anyway. Go read:

Hetherington, S. "Why There Need Not Be Any Grue Problem About Inductive Inference as Such." Philosophy 76 (2001): 127-36.

And look at some of the references in the article.

Steven Ravett Brown


(19) Gerald asked:

I have found distressing news about some philosophers such as Heidegger and Jung sympathized with Nazism. Can you still find wisdom from someone who was involved at least in a belief structure with such evil as Nazism? Does wisdom/knowledge come from fools? Can one still benefit from such philosophers?

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

Yes, this has been both distressing to many people, and puzzling also. There's actually a book out on it:

Why Smart People Can Be So Stupid by Robert Sternberg (Editor)

Steven Ravett Brown


(20) Dave asked:

How many beans make 5?

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

Five what?

Steven Ravett Brown


(01) Daniel asked:

What's the reason for it all, life, the earth, waking up in the morning, besides the obvious...

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

I'll tell you what. Go see the Monty Python movie The Meaning of Life. They do a great job of answering this question.

Steven Ravett Brown


(22) Winn asked:

What is silence? Or what are your thoughts about silence? I'm doing a project on the word silence, and one of the requirements is to find out what philosophers think about silence. I would really appreciate an answer. Thanks!

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

An interesting question. I recommend you look at some of the Zen literature. Here's some:

Herrigel, E. Zen in the Art of Archery. Translated by Hull, R. F. C. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1971.

Okakura, K. The Book of Tea. New York, NY: Dover Publications, Inc., 1964.

Ross, N.W., ed. The World of Zen: An East-West Anthology. New York: Random House, 1960.

Tanizaki, J. In Praise of Shadows. Translated by Harper, T. J. New Haven, CT: Leete's Island Books, Inc., 1977.

Watts, A.W. The Way of Zen. New York, NY: Mentor Books, 1964.

---. This Is It: And Other Essays on Zen and Spiritual Experience. New York, NY: Collier Books, 1971.

You might also look at these:

Casati, R., and Varzi, A. C. Holes and Other Superficialities. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1995.

"Silent Communities: Foucault and Lingis on the End of Philosophy" in Encounters with Alphonso Lingis, Hooke, Alexander E; Fuchs, Wolfgang W (eds), 63-81

Speech, Silence, Song: Epistemology and Theodicy in a Teaching of R. Nahman of Breslav

Dao and Process, by Hoffman,-Frank-J. in Asian-Philosophy. N 02; 12(3): 197-212.

Immemorial Silence, by MacKendrick,-Karmen; SUNY-Pr: Albany, 2001

Temperance, Temptation, and Silence, by Lynch,-Tony; Philosophy-. Ap 01; 76(296): 251-269.

Steven Ravett Brown


(23) Latonya asked:

Can a person both a Christian and a philosopher at the same time simultaneously? Make a thesis.

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

A person can be both a Christian and a philosopher at the same time. The case is started, existentially, by the living fact that there have undeniably been persons who have been both Christians and philosophers. Near to our time, Jacques Maritian springs to my mind, his book The Degrees of Knowledge is an example of a text by a Christian and a philosopher, one and the same. Another example (they are many) might be Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century who privately had Aristotle translated so he could use it, and who is recognised by the Catholic Church as a teaching authority. He would be one of the greatest philosophical minds of the West. Paul, in the New Testament is philosophising the whole way through his letters; of course it is a Jewish philosophy in a Greek context that logical positivists would not like (but who are they anyway?), it is philosophy nonetheless. It can be argued that Paul has changed all the ideas in the world and if that is not philosophy, what is?

The underlying question is: is there not some conflict between a person's faith in God and in Christ and in philosophy as it pertains to reason? The answer to this is that there are views on the subject. If 'philosophy' can be neutral (which is a faith of sorts that it can) or if 'reflection' can be acontextual (also a faith of sorts), or if reason is made into a God before the authority of which one submits (which would be beneath reason), then maybe it can be argued there is a conflict. But one needs ask: What are the limits of reason? Does reason set them? What is 'God' in which the Christian has 'faith' and what is this 'faith' — is it the best part of reason? the apoetheosis of reason perhaps (gentile philosophers would hate to think so!)?

Rosenweig (a Jewish philosopher) said: "About God we know nothing. But this not-knowing is a not-knowing about God." ie. about a matter which is thought-worthy — most thought-worthy if we are to follow our empirical instincts and observe how God stands with the world (over and above it). What is the meaning of transcendence and height in discourse about God? What do we lose from thinking when it is lacking? Rene Char said: "How one one live without the unknown before us?"

There is an historical debate about the conflict and/or confluence between faith and reason. The jury isn't out on it, they are still listening. The commentary is endless. That is why one comes back to the persons who have lived it, Christian and philosopher. Perhaps being a Christian one is more of a philosopher? Can you think of reasons why this might be so, and if not, why not?

Anyhow, I don't know why you were asking, but I hope some of these questions get you on the right track and that you don't settle for ready-wrapped recipes and easy answers.

Matthew Del Nevo


(24) Sarah asked:

Give me your views on the morality of capital punishment, do you feel that it is morally permissible, if not why not?

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

My personal view is that to kill another human being is morally wrong. This stems from my upbringing in a Christian society which stresses the commandment, "Thou shalt not kill!" Apart from this I feel genuine disgust in the idea of deliberately hanging, shooting, garrotting, beheading, electrically burning or poisoning people. I am aware that basing this moral view on a Bible Commandment is selective, because another view expressed in the same book is, "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth", the corollary of which is, I suppose, a life for a life.

Recent developments in society where ostensibly the crime rate seems to be escalating out of control, and where murder, which used to be sensational because of its rarity, is now commonplace, with daily shootings and stabbings, much associated with theft and drug problems, has certainly given me pause for thought. The anger stimulated by the vivid reports in the media of the horrendous murders of elderly people in order to steal a few ponds of savings, the attacks on children, drive-by shootings, hooded thugs assaulting people in their homes, etc., etc,, certainly undermines my moral stance, and raises the emotional feeling that I could willingly dispose of such people myself. Then I think of what it was like in the past, the lynching of innocent people, the miscarriages of justice, the posthumous pardons, the framing of innocent people; jury verdicts based on the ability of a barrister to dramatise circumstantial evidence, the guilt or innocence of the accused resting not on fact but strength of argument, little to do with justice. One law for the rich and one for the poor, the inability of the mentally backward to defend themselves, etc..

Each time I begin to weaken in my moral stance I think back to a case involving a family with which I had personal contact. It involved an ex R A F airgunner who, during the Second World War, completed two tours of duty in bombers, amounting to sixty or more trips over heavily protected enemy territory, in other words to Hell and back sixty or more times. He did well to survive as most gunners were killed after a few trips. Demobbed from the R A F with an outstanding service record, but as a nervous wreck, this formerly quiet, unassuming man, an electrician by trade, took a position as a church caretaker. One evening whilst he was cleaning a little girl began running in and out of the church screaming and making a general nuisance of herself, after refusing to go away and continuing to annoy him with her screaming, he eventually cracked and tried to stop her physically, resulting in her death. This man was sentenced to hang on the strength of the ability of a clever prosecuting barrister to paint a vivid picture of a child murderer, with little or no reference to the former airman's background, and twelve jurors who knew nothing about the man other than what they heard in court. From a moral point of view, I would be on the side of the parents in their distress and anger, after all, how would I feel as a parent in that position? But, objectively, there is another point of view for a man who has risked his life for his country at least sixty times, and which destroyed his health and his future. There was also his grieving widow, who had waited day after day over the years for the telegram which would tell her that her husband had been killed, only to see him come to such an end. That lady wore black for the rest of her life and rarely ever smiled. The ironical thing is that the airman risked his life over the war years to defend the system that eventually took his life!

No, as the case outlined indicates, and in view of the many miscarriages of justice, there is a strong moral argument against capital punishment. Let us not go back to all that. Let us not go back to someone losing their life on the whim of some Home Secretary. Let us give genuine murdering thugs the sort of prison sentence they deserve, the rest of their pathetic lives in prison on hard labour, and I mean real prison, not a home from home environment. This might at least deter other potential killers.

John Brandon


(25) Dave asked:

How many beans make 5?

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Five but then you already knew that. Didn't you?

Shaun Williamson


(26) Luca asked:

I think that if I were to be confronted with the choice of living a miserable life and be tortured or death, I would choose being tortured. I feel this because I feel life is a gift and I want to be here living it for whatever it has to offer me pain or pleasure. now my question... do I not choose death because I have never experienced true pain, weather it be physical or mental?

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Only someone experiencing torture can really answer this question and the answer will be different for different people. People who are being tortured are often being tortured in order to persuade them to betray their friends and some people would prefer to die rather than do this.

Shaun Williamson


(27) Luca asked:

Could insanity just be a different way of thinking? could it be that the people that have gone 'insane' have just tapped into a instinctual way of thinking?

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Insanity is a different way of thinking. But you must remember that insane people are not happy. They are suffering and experiencing great mental anguish and believe things that are not true. That is why we want to help them. Insanity is not a pleasant experience. It is not the same as just having a different view of reality.

Shaun Williamson


(28) Jaime asked:

Are human beings basically good? If so, how do you account for the evil that is seemingly all around?

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Both good and evil are part of human nature so there isn't really a problem. You could say that human beings are basically good and human beings are often tempted to do evil.

Shaun Williamson


(29) Neelu asked:

Should something be done only in a particular way?

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Some things such as plumbing should only be done in a particular way. Other things such as making bread can be done in may different ways i.e there are different recipes.

Shaun Williamson


(30) Jon asked:

Can we ever be sure that the "normal" reality we appear to possess is not drug induced. And that when we take drugs (alcohol, cannabis, ecstasy etc.) that is our way back to the "real" world.

Can this ever be answered definitively?

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If drunk drivers were better drivers than sober ones then this might be true. So obviously the drunk driver's gasp of reality is lacking. He thinks he is a really good driver but he isn't.

Shaun Williamson


(31) Natasha asked:

Can I have a pepsi, 8 chicken nuggets and a side order of fries please?

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Yes but you will have to go and buy them yourself.

Shaun Williamson


(32) Eric asked:

How has Stonehenge changed over time?

Who really created Stonehenge?

How does your branch of science view Stonehenge?

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This is a historical question not a philosophical one.

Shaun Williamson


(33) Jose asked:

How can I write a consequence chain with this ending,"I'll be the happiest person in this world"?

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You can't. There is no way of deciding if you are the happiest person in the world. However happy people are people who have a worthwhile goal in life and work towards it. When you achieve your goal then you will be happy. However this feeling of happiness which goes with achievement will not last forever. Then you will have to set yourself a new goal and work towards that.

Shaun Williamson


(34) Ki asked:

What fictional colour was invented by Goodman?

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The colour was 'grue'. An object was grue if it was green before the year 2000 and blue after the year 2000. This was part of the so called Goodman paradox about inductive arguments e.g any evidence that supports the proposition that 'all emeralds are green' also supports the proposition that 'all emeralds are grue'. My own view is that Goodman's arguments are weak and his paradox is not a real paradox.

Shaun Williamson


(35) Mary asked:

Socrates argument in the Euthyphro deals "Divine Command Theory" what many feel to be a moral blow. Do you agree or disagree? is moral behavior necessarily dependent on religious conviction and/or understanding or not? Do moral injunctions originate from a God external to us or from some sort of autonomous inner reasoning process?

I need help!!

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To believe that you should do what God commands you must first believe that God is good and that the things he commands you to do are good. So you have to make a moral judgement about God and his commands. This shows that morality is logically prior to the idea of God and following Gods commands i.e. things cannot be good just because they are commanded by God unless I already believe that God is good and the things he commands are good.

Shaun Williamson


(36) Sarah asked:

Give me your views on the morality of capital punishment. Do you feel that it is morally permissible? if not why and if so why?

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History shows that human laws are imperfect and subject to all sorts of corruption and prejudice. If we allow capital punishment then we know that many people who are innocent will be unjustly executed. Since I don't believe in an afterlife it seems to me that our life here is the most valuable thing we have so I can't agree with capital punishment under any circumstances.

Shaun Williamson


(37) Adepoju asked:

Please, I need a definite answer and a full explanation on this question, 'Are human actions free or determined?'

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I can give you a definite answer to this question and a full explanation but it would take you at least five years hard work to understand the answer. Do you really understand what 'free' or 'determined' means?

Shaun Williamson


(38) Gerald asked:

I have found distressing news about some philosophers such as Heidegger and Jung sympathized with Nazism. Can you still find wisdom from someone who was involved at least in a belief structure with such evil as Nazism? Does wisdom/knowledge come from fools? Can one still benefit from such philosophers?

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This is an interesting question but very difficult to answer. I don't have any great regard for the work of either of these two thinkers and I can see that some of their ideas would have made it very easy for them to collaborate with the Nazis. At the same time you have to remember that all men no matter how wise can also be fools. If we had been living in Germany at the time how would we have reacted to Hitler? Keeping quiet was often not an option and speaking out meant you were risking your life. What is true is that the people who refused to collaborate such as Karl Jaspers and Dietrich Bonhoffer took a more heroic course so maybe the thoughts that inspired them are more worthwhile since they enabled them to see evil clearly and to resist it.

Shaun Williamson


(39) Jason asked:

Maybe this isn't much of a philosophy question, but how much does one who studies philosophy for a daily living make a year? And what does one who considers themself a doctor of philosophy do on a daily basis? This is asked as a genuine inquiry.

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No one pays you for studying philosophy. Someone who is a philosophy teacher will have a job at a university of college and will be paid as much as a teacher of any other subject i.e it depends on the country, university or college. It is not enough to consider yourself to be a doctor of philosophy. To be a doctor of philosophy you have to obtain a PhD from a recognised university. But once you have this no one will give you any money just because you have a PhD nor is it a guarantee of a job as a philosophy teacher. What does a philosopher do? Well they wake up, wash, shave, eat breakfast and if they have any spare time they think about philosophy.

Shaun Williamson


(40) Pedro asked:

Everyday I see around me troubled youth who seem to be "finding happiness" in the least honourable things; ie, buying things they don't need, caring first and foremost about image and popularity, and engaging in extremely promiscuous relationships.

My question then is: What distinguishes the happiness of a person who is trying to gain knowledge through intellectual pursuits, art and culture, from people whose only pursuits of happiness are through things that give them instant pleasures, such as sex and material possessions? Is my happiness at all more honourable or more worthy than theirs? But if happiness is just a state of mind, then who is to say that if these trivial things make a person happy, that is just as good as what makes me happy? Is happiness purely subjective? If so, why am I bothering trying to find a higher truth and knowledge if I could be extremely happy by enjoying material and physical things and being ignorant about everything else?

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

Ostensibly your question appears to be concerned with utilitarianism: "The rightness of an action is to be judged by the contribution it makes to the increase of human happiness or the decrease of human misery."

Broken down into its relevant propositions and conclusion your question becomes clearer.

Proposition 1. Troubled youth finds happiness in buying not-needed things, caring about image and popularity, engaging in extremely promiscuous relationships.

Proposition 2. Some people pursue happiness through things that give them instant pleasure, such as sex and material possessions.

Proposition 3. There are those that find happiness in trying to gain knowledge through intellectual pursuits, art and culture.

Proposition 4. There seems to be no difference between happiness obtained via the least honourable and trivial things of propositions 1 & 2 and the honourable things of proposition 3.

Conclusion. If happiness is purely subjective there is no point bothering to find a higher truth and knowledge. It is easier to to obtain happiness through enjoying material and physical things and being ignorant about everything else.

From proposition 1, possibly most people would agree that we live in a secular world with material interests to the fore, and that the youth of today are greatly influenced by the sort of society which seems to have developed through the 1960's and continued to the present day. Probably most people would also support the sentiments expressed in proposition 2. However, these are interests to which humans have devoted themselves from as far back in the past as we can confirm. Proposition 3 would, I dare say, find little opposition. There would be some agreement with proposition 4, where we must claim that happiness is happiness from wherever it is derived. Can there be degrees of happiness?!

The conclusion is, I am afraid, a non sequitur; it does not support the premises of the argument. Why should subjective happiness deny the search for truth and knowledge? Also, if happiness is subjective then it can be obtained according to the desires of each individual, and the way in which one person finds happiness has no influence whatsoever on the way another person finds it. Can it be that you are claiming that the only real value in life is happiness, and that we should all seek it by searching for truth and knowledge? Perhaps there are many people who have sought truth and knowledge but have not been very happy! I know a few miserable scientists and philosophers! I also know a few who have sought happiness through wealth and the 'good' life who wish they had found another path through life.

John Brandon


(41) Vimlesh asked:

When I do a lot of sexual intercourse, I feel that it is the very boredom act, why?

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The logical answer is that our brains get bored with very repetitive actions, even if pleasurable ones, because in essence we are creative beings. But if you say that you 'do a lot of sexual intercourse', just like that, seems to me that maybe you get bored because sex does not signify much to you, in terms of a meaningful emotional relationship. Sure sex could be fun, as it is fun to not be tied down to a monogamous relationship, but that fun goes away eventually. So my advice would be for you to restrain from having sex just for the fun of it, because you probably are now more mature, and you don't just want sex, you need a meaningful emotional relationship with someone that is more than just your sexual partner.

Nuno Hipolito


(42) Natasha asked:

Can I have a pepsi, 8 chicken nuggets and a side order of fries please?

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At first I thought I would answer you by saying: it's $8,95 please.

Then again, it would be more interesting to ask you in return why do you pose such a question in this forum? I think most of us have a sense of humor (at least I have one, I think) so we are not just here to discuss serious issues, or deep intellectual ones. I do think that you are afraid, and your humour serves as a weapon in this case. You seem to feel threatened by us, and maybe you should ask yourself why. Oh, and cut on the fried chicken, it's bad for your arteries.

Nuno Hipolito


(43) Selaima asked:

I am a business major and taking Philosophy as a non-elective. I am having difficulties in writing a Text based Argumentative Essay in Proving that The Cosmological Argument does not prove the Existence of God; please help.

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The Cosmological Argument, written by Descartes in his Meditations and also in A Discourse on Method, consists of two proofs. Both of them are causality related proofs. I'm sure you are familiar with both proofs, so I will only talk about the critics made to both of them. The first criticism came from Descartes himself. In letters written by Descartes to fathers Mersenne and Vatier, in the years of 1637/38, they discussed that Descartes had not proved beyond any doubt that the soul was made of a different substance of that of the body. This was a major problem, as was the problem of explaining how the soul was connected to the body. This criticism is very important relating to the first proof. In regards to the second cosmological proof, the criticism is different. This proof is based on a logical reasoning that puts God as the first and causal effect of the universe. Later on, Kant, refuted that an ideal concept (as God) could be simultaneously a material cause of anything, in his forth antinomy of reason.

Nuno Hipolito


(44) Jaime asked:

Are human beings basically good? If so, how do you account for the evil that is seemingly all around?

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There are two views on this: 1) humans act based on genetic information, passed down from their fathers and mothers, so their behaviour is always conditioned by their genetic heritage. 2) humans act based on their education, so they can grow up good or bad accordingly to their environment.

I think maybe it's a bit of both. We probably are born good, but socially we evolve to accept evil as a part of our lives. A bigger or smaller part, it depends on the way we grow up and our genetic information.

Nuno Hipolito


(45) John asked:

Can we ever be sure that the "normal" reality we appear to possess is not drug induced. And that when we take drugs (alcohol, cannabis, ecstasy etc.) that is our way back to the "real" world.

Can this ever be answered definitively?

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

This can surprise you Jon, but we all take drugs on a daily bases, even those who never did drugs, or even had a smoke or a drink in their lives. Our body is a full fledged Bogot-like chem. Lab. We use adrenaline to feel stronger and act in emergency situations, endorphin is released to make us feel pleasure and to alleviate pain, hormones make us feel desire and search to mate so you see that we are chemical beings. All our reactions have associated chemical effects. So we already don't know what reality is the true reality. Would the world make more sense if we didn't have chemical bodies? We don't know. I think that taking drugs just enhances the feeling of a 'chemical reality' that we already live in, although most of us don't know about the details.

Nuno Hipolito


(46) Tabitha asked:

I really need help with this question:

Analyze "Love" according to Plato's Simile of the Line. And give an example.

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In Plato's Symposium, Socrates talks of love as Plato would talk about truth and beauty. Socrates puts love on the same level as 'goodness'. Humans search for love as they search for 'goodness'. One who searches for 'goodness' wants happiness, so the search for love is the search for happiness. Love is also, says Socrates, the will to achieve immortality. The object of love is not beauty, but immortality. There are different forms of love, that start from the love for the material, rising to higher forms, ending with the love for wisdom. In his Simile of the Line in the Republic, Plato talks about how humans should exit a 'state of opinion' to enter a state of 'true knowledge'. This relates to love, as the search for the superior forms relates to the search for love, or happiness. If you decide to search for love, if you chose to chase happiness, you leave the state of opinion and enter a state of seeking true knowledge.

Nuno Hipolito


(47) Kathurima asked:

I am very grateful for the services that you are providing to the society. I am a university student in kenya who is so much interested in philosophy but the nature can't allow me to pursue some courses in philosophy due to inequality of justice in kenya. Now my question is:

1. Is there existence of God?

2. And if he is there how can we prove?

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First let me say to you that I myself fell a deep love with philosophy, and I believe that love can be pursued outside of university. In regards to your questions, I would tell you to browse our database of answers to find the ones related to this very discussed subjects. But be sure to know that there is no way a definitive proof of the existence or existence of god can be demonstrated. This is because God, as a metaphysical concept, a concept beyond the physical, cannot be 'tested' using the same method as other exact sciences use.

Nuno Hipolito


(48) Robert asked:

If the police arrest a mime, do they tell him he has the right to remain silent?

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This appears to be a paradox. Do the police tell a mute to be quiet? Yes, because in the United States, that is a right that was designed to be applied to the majority of the population. As a legal design, it was conceived having the majority of the population in mind. Of course that for some, that principle should not apply, mutes for example, but the police should always enforce it, by the higher principle of equality.

Nuno Hipolito


(49) Gerald asked:

I have found distressing news about some philosophers such as Heidegger and Jung sympathized with Nazism. Can you still find wisdom from someone who was involved at least in a belief structure with such evil as Nazism? Does wisdom/knowledge come from fools? Can one still benefit from such philosophers?

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Nietzsche had a famous expression that puzzled me when I was younger. He said something like: 'my writings are one thing, I am another'. I took some time to understand this fully, and at first I thought he was just being hypocritical. But I now found this to be true in most cases. Many thinkers are respected intellectuals, but they take controversial options, political and otherwise. If Einstein was a drunk would you still respect his ideas? I think you would. In the case of German thinkers during the II World War, there was a distinct effort from the Nazis to gather philosophical and technical ideas to reinforce their own. They used scientists, philosophers, film makers and other smart people, and used their talents for their own evil purposes. Nietzsche himself, died before his ideas were taken as a philosophical confirmation of the Nazi idea of a superior German, a superman. In fact Nietzsche never intended to talk about Germans and Jews, his ideas were much more broad minded. But they still were manipulated by the regime. We can benefit much from Heidegger and Jung. They had tremendous ideas, ideas not at all related to Nazism.

Nuno Hipolito


(50) Jean asked:

Is it morally justified that some are born rich and others are born poor? If not, should we do something about it and if so, what?

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I believe an American president once said "all men are born equal". Whether rich or poor depends on the circumstances into which a person is born, some are fortunate enough to be born into rich families, some are unfortunate enough to be born into poor families. Morality enters the equation when we consider the political system that creates what is really an unjust situation. Blatant discrepancies occur where the system is geared to a situation where those that 'have' find it easier to get more, and those that 'have not' get progressively less. All capitalist systems are constructed in this way. The explanation is simple, the ones with the wealth also hold the power, and as man makes laws to suit himself, it is obvious that laws will always be biased in favour of benefitting the rich. Delving beneath the pretences of the politicians, there is no doubt that a capitalist system can only survive when there are enough so-called 'working class people' to do the work. A well-off working class person is still poor relative to the truly rich. Getting the working class to 'accept their lot' has always been the clever ploy of the wealth owning class. Within a stratified society the stratum of poor is not accidental but deliberate, sweat shops, minimum wages, means tests, aid for the poor, are all part of the set-up. Everyone knows that the redistribution of wealth would eliminate poverty, but capitalism, which now has a universal grip, will ensure that this will never happen.

Your second question, referring to doing something about it is concerned with justice. Well there is plenty of justice in the system for those who can afford it. Within this unjust world the rich make their own decisions, the poor have decisions made for them.

John Brandon


(51) Afrodita asked:

I am very puzzled by one question, I didn't find the answer yet, people are born evil or they become in they're life time?

and Jaime asked:

Are human beings basically good? If so, how do you account for the evil that is seemingly all around?

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Some biologists and psychologists climbed aboard the the genetic bandwagon and proposed the notion that there may be such a thing as an evil gene, which generates criminal tendencies. However, not everyone is convinced by this, they reject the idea that every human condition is somehow genetic. The genetic code exists for the specific purpose of manufacturing proteins. Many of these proteins are enzymes, necessary for metabolism and the production of hormones, from which the great influences on the body arise. Variation or deficiency in hormone production can produce devastating effects both physically and mentally. If genes can dispose a person towards evil, then environmental conditions may be suitable for providing the trigger.

Taking an environmental point of view, many conditions or events could be responsible for contributing to a propensity for evil. We could list the results of many views and feelings generated by conditions in a person's immediate environment, such as resentment, jealousy, basic hatred, a sense of rejection, the urge for power, deprivation, a superiority complex, an aggressive disposition, political ambition, disregard for others, personal gain, mental instability, etc. etc..

The notion that people are basically good arises from religious influence within societies, there is no scientific evidence to suggest that people are basically good, that is not to say that there are no such people. Usually good people have to devote themselves to being good, stress and fluctuations within societies sometimes make it difficult to remain good. Very few people could claim that they have lived a 'pure' life without some slip along the way.

John Brandon


(52) Jon asked:

Can we ever be sure that the "normal" reality we appear to possess is not drug induced. And that when we take drugs (alcohol, cannabis, ecstasy etc.) that is our way back to the "real" world.

Can this ever be answered definitively?

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

The brain and body are all chemicals. Drugs are chemicals. The brain uses *thousands* of chemicals in its normal metabolism, and at least *hundreds* in neurotransmission alone. So what's a "drug"?

Here's a question for you: *why* is it that we're sensitive to drugs? Think about it. Why should we be? They're all around us; we eat them; we're *made* of them. So why do some chemicals affect us so strongly?

Well... the answer, in part, is that they do so because they're *similar* to the chemicals we use all the time in our brains. So our brains *mistake* them for the chemicals naturally present. This is why cannabis and opium, for example, not to mention nicotine, are so active. Because we have a class of neurotransmitters that we *make*, "cannabinoids", which are *chemically similar* to the stuff found in marijuana. We have a class of "opiod" chemicals similar to heroin and morphine. And so, when we eat or smoke or shoot up those chemicals, our brains *mistake* them for a jolt of our own neurotransmitters, and the whole chemical balance goes off for a while. Hopefully only for a short time, until various processes can compensate.So is "normal reality" drug induced? Yes, if you call the enormously complex chemical cocktail our brains produce and are continuously soaking in, modifying, etc.,etc., "drugs".

Steven Ravett Brown


(53) Heather asked:

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

How does Plato's Theory Of Forms relate to empiricism? How does it relate to Kent's theory?

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Just as Clark Kent thought that it was necessary to keep his identity as Superman a secret in order to be able to continue his work to save the human race, Plato was aware of the disastrous consequences for genuine understanding that can follow if a teacher openly declares his opinions on empirical knowledge to students with a variety of ad-hominem attitudes towards that teacher, therefore preferring to hide behind dramatic personae and to write dialogues, so as to force students to think things out for themselves.

Kent: American philosopher of German extraction known for the clock-setting regularity of his daily walk to some newspaper offices, and for wearing glasses.

David Robjant


(54) Jean asked:

Is it morally justified that some are born rich and others are born poor? If not, should we do something about it and if so, what?

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Yes we should do something about poverty, and to rescue both children and adults from poverty is a moral imperative, it is *just*. I hope we both agree on this conclusion. What concerns me about your question is the route it suggests by which we might arrive at that proper conclusion. For it is not automatically a comment on the justice of something to say that it is unjustified or unjustifiable. The way you put your question about inequality suggests that you take there to be a natural and necessary connection between the *justice* of something on the one hand, and whether it can be *justified* on the other. This thought is dangerously confused.

Consider. If someone was to ask for instance whether it was *justice* that the speed of light was so many meters per second, we should think that person was off his head. If someone were to ask for it to be *defended and justified in argument* that there are differences between the sexes, we should likewise stand before them in open mouthed amazement — all we can do here is state the facts. The question of justification simply doesn't enter into it.

Consider the childhood conversation 'it's not fair!' with adult's answer 'life's not fair!'. My point is that the child's appeal for fairness, for reason, for justification, will have it's place in certain contexts, but not in others. This is something a child may take a long time to learn, and I dare say that there are precious few fully developed adults in the world. An adult can see that it's useless, and in fact quite mad, to complain as you drown in the rising tide 'it's not fair!' or 'it's not morally justified!'. What would be more in order would be either (a) not siting your deck chair/throne in the middle of the estuary, or (b) learning to swim. This limit to the area in which questions of rightness and justification are in place was the sort of point King Canute was trying to demonstrate to his courtiers: there is no commanding the tides, and no debating the *justice* of them either. There are facts beyond the sovereignty of both kings and of morals. Irrational, indefensible facts. And it is *not* a comment on the *justice* of the rising and falling of the tides to say that the rising and falling of the tides is *unjustifiable*. I am not saying that poverty is an irresistible tide, but merely pointing to the tides as an example of the gap between something's not being *justified* and it's not being *just*. This kind of example — of which you can give yourself dozens — is enough to show that there is not the connection between being right and being justifiable which the question may appear to suppose.

No justification is required for the facts: the facts are the facts. Consequently no necessary implication exists between whether something can be *justified* (morally or otherwise) and whether something is or is not *just*. There are all kinds of facts that cannot be *justified*. It does not follow from this that they are *unjust*.

Again, all kinds of unpleasantness are unjust, however they may be justified. And all kinds of kindnesses are just, without them requiring any kind of justification.

So to return to your question:

'Is it morally justified that some are born rich and others are born poor?'

Well, no:

(i) this inequality cannot be justified.

And we can also add the normative moral claim:

(ii) that in an ideally just world there would be no poverty.

But my argument above has been that there is *no* kind of connection between (i) and (ii). To make myself perfectly clear: the lack of justification for something need not have anything to do with whether that thing resembles or differs from the ideal.

The thought that there is such a connection leads to all kinds of confusion and error. I had a totally *unjustified* breakfast of porridge this morning. If I were in the grip of a popular confusion of justification with justice, I would now be in the grip of guilt about a terrible act of *injustice*, my eating of porridge!

Again, sometimes when people are looking for the moral right course of action they find themselves looking for a *rational* line of behaviour, meaning, one for which a series of arguments and further *justifications* may be offered. This can very often be disastrous, particularly in cases where the whole idea of a moral value must have to do with a place, a human place, where further justification and argument both need not and cannot be sought. Justification has to come to an end somewhere, as the old man said. Better that it come to an end with human beings and our love for them rather than, say, numerically expressible claims about particles or cash flows or racial purity or Honour or whatever.

I suspect that part of what's going on here is a form or vocabulary slip, much like the BBC confusion of 'refute' and 'reject'. What people are really hoping to commit themselves to when they claim that such and such a state of affairs is *unjustified* or *unjustifiable* is not the bizarre and dangerous thesis that there is a fundamental requirement on every worthwhile moral claim that there be some further justification for it, but rather that they cannot or will not accept this a state of affairs. But there is a simpler and more accurate vocabulary for expressing such an assessment. What we should say is that poverty is *wrong*.

David Robjant


(55) Natasha asked:

Can I have a pepsi, 8 chicken nuggets and a side order of fries please?

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You can, unless your jaw is wired. The 'please' is otiose since you have asked a question about the limits of your capacities, and not made a polite request.

Also: Ha Ha.

David Robjant


(56) Vid asked:

Do all objects have perception? Heisenberg in his uncertainty principle has stated that every measuring system has uncertainty because it cannot measure its own part that forms a part of measured system.This Intersection set is required for any measurements to make,including human perception! Does it mean all objects do have perception?

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Heisenberg was a physicist not a philosopher. His uncertainty principle is meant to apply to the sorts of measurements we make when we measure the position in space of physical objects especially atoms and sub atomic particles. It is not meant to apply of every sort of thing that could be called a measurement. You are trying to extend the principle in a way that Heisenberg never intended. I think it is nonsense to say that all objects have perception. Stones and rocks don't for example nor do television sets or lumps of cheese.

Shaun Williamson


(57) Bill asked:

I occasionally read that solipsism leads to some kind of dead end or black hole, and that you would probably be insane if you really did believe it. Does solipsism have psychological benefits? I find that by imagining that I am truly the only person that really exists, I am able to approach more people without anxiety. I experience less shyness during the day, and also make myself less frustrated/angry if somebody behaves in a way that I don't like. Do you have any opinion on this? I think it's irrational to truly believe that you are the only one who exists, but if you just use it as an image or visualization (even just for fun), do you think it can be psychologically beneficial?

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Philosophy really has nothing to say about the psychological benefits of pretending that other people don't really exist. You would have to ask a psychologist or therapist. All that philosophy can deal with is the question of whether solipsism is true or false.

Shaun Williamson


(58) Andy asked:

I'm sorry if you have received a question of this type but could you help me? My question is a 2 parter, first, what, in your view, makes a philosopher a philosopher and the second is, through out history many of the greatest philo's have suggested that one man will ultimately resolve all issues, a kind of second christ kind of thing. Do you think such a man could ever exist? OH, lets make it 3 parter, if such a man came to light what would be the ultimate question/s (outside of religion), the question/s that would strike him out as the ONE? Has the academic society formulated such a list, just in case?

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In my view what makes a philosopher a philosopher is an interest in philosophy and a detailed and wide knowledge of the history of philosophy.

I don't think philosophers have ever suggested that one man will resolve all issues. This sounds like the sort of nonsense that some religions believe. Philosophers have to decide what the questions are and what the answers are for themselves. There is no list of ultimate questions and there never will be. Don't confuse philosophy and religion..

Shaun Williamson


(59) Gamba asked:

If I turn around is the stuff in my room still there?

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Who knows. Maybe a burglar will sneak in while your back is turned and steal all your stuff. Perhaps you should turn round again and check that it is still there. Next try this simple experiment. Set up a video camera in your room and set it to record. Then go out for an hour and walk around. When you get home look at your video recording and check if everything disappears as soon as you leave the room. The amazon river has existed in South America for tens of thousands of years. It goes on existing even though I have never seen it or turned my back on it.

Shaun Williamson


(60) Brian asked:

How would Derrida respond to the question,is it possible to read without translating the visual word into an auditory message? I cannot imagine reading without forming a sound in my mind. If it is impossible to read without a mental voice then it seems that Derrida's belief that the primacy of the spoken word over the written word is arbitrary is wrong. Am I right? Also, I have a question about Wittgenstein's private language argument. Wittgenstein seems to make the point that language cannot be based on reference to internal mental representations. It must have a social context. However, does this mean that when I am alone I lose my ability to speak? One can argue that the social context has been internalized but isn't that an internal mental representation? My argument seems so obvious that I must be missing something. What am I missing?

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Well I don't have any great regard for Derrida as a philosophical thinker so perhaps I will not even try to answer that part of your question. However with regard to Wittgenstein and his discussion of private language what you are missing is any understanding of what Wittgenstein said. To start with there is no private language argument in Philosophical Investigations. There is a discussion of the idea of a private language as part of a discussion of the problem of our knowledge of other minds. You cannot take individual remarks in this discussion out of context and still expect to understand them. Wittgenstein did not say that a language MUST have a social context. In fact Wittgenstein explicitly denies that in philosophy we are ever concerned with how things MUST be. Nor did he say that language cannot be based on reference to internal mental representations. What he did point out is that the things that we primarily call languages are things like French, English German etc. One of the features of these languages is that they are shared i.e. they are used to communicate shared public experiences and this includes our internal sensations etc. He then compares this with the sceptical philosophers idea of a private language which is based only on reference to PRIVATE internal mental representations. To understand what Wittgenstein is saying you need a good understanding of the problem of other minds and you need to keep in mind that Wittgenstein's discussion is limited to this problem. He is not trying to make any philosophical points about the nature of language. Wittgenstein is one of the most difficult thinkers to understand and one of the most misunderstood. Try reading 'Wittgenstein's Place in Twentieth Century Analytic Philosophy' by P.M.S. Hacker.

Shaun Williamson


(61) Kevin asked:

On the site the Greeks are generally referred to as the fount of all philosophy — this may be a false impression from a quick look around — but there does seem to be a lot of evidence for philosophy in other cultures, especially in India. The Indians were the victims of aggressive colonialism in ideas during the 19th and 20th Centuries, and their philosophy was rubbished by racist scholars who had to champion Greece as the source of our master-civilization.

My question would be whether the bias in favour of the Greeks — if indeed it is so — is justifiable any longer, in the face of evidence that philosophy was a much more broadly-based activity in the Pre-Socratic period. I'm reading at the moment, for example, Thomas McEvilley's book The Shape of Ancient Thought, and his conclusion seems to be that there were close links between the Pre-Socratic and Indian thinkers. The book is a series of essays looking at parallels between, say, Monism in the middle Upanishads and in Plato, or reincarnation in India, Greece and in Egypt. As well as going through the typological similarities, which are extensive, he also cites evidence that the two cultures knew of each other and were in communication throughout the period, often through the medium of Persia. There is also direct evidence, such as Upanishadic passages quoted by Greek writers. It seems that all of the substantial metaphysical concepts of the Greeks could have taken from earlier Indian sources. The Greek genius seems to have been not for inventing the substance of philosophy, but for giving it form and logic. There is logic in Indian thought, as well as other approaches such as atomism, in the Nyaya-Vaishikesha tradition, but it is not so extensive. According to McEvilley there was a later counter-movement where Greek post-Aristotelian thought was exported to India and taken up by the Madhyamika Buddhists and later by the Vedantins.

My own knowledge is more extensive on the Indian side, although I I have read some Plato, but McEvilley's arguments seem to be not only convincing, but enriching to our view of the history of philosophy. It also suggests that the 'ruin of metaphysics' that is referred to on the site might be addressed by a reconnection with it through the Indian tradition, which has not been conquered by science and modernity, although it might also be said by some to have failed to formulate a response. I know that Indian philosophy suffers from an image of being disguised religion, but it could equally well be said that it always emphasises the practical. The main stream of Indian thought is directed to finding a practical route to liberation (however one describes that), while the Western tradition espouses a disinterested search, as if the intellectual approach were the only possible one. An Indian parochial view would be that the main Western tradition of philosophy could be encompassed by the term Jnana Yoga (the Way of Knowledge), whereas the Indian tradition includes a number of options — Bhakti (devotionalism), Karma (activism) and Dhyana (meditation) each suited to a different kind of person. The problem with that view is that these other streams also exist in the West, albeit not thought of as philosophy. I am stimulated to ask this by the accessible tone of the site, suggesting that there might be a discussion to be had.

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Well of course the Indian tradition was influenced by the Greeks just as Indian sculpture was influenced by the Greeks. Alexander the Great whose tutor was Aristotle conquered much of northern India. But philosophy is not a nationalistic competition and real philosophers are not interested in 'Who invented philosophy?'. If the ancient Greeks are still important it is because they first formulated questions that are still important to philosophers today. As to the intellectual approach this is the approach that that defines philosophy and I make no apologies for it. Philosophy is about thinking about the world and about truth. It is not about meditation or worship. We can leave these to religion. Philosophy does not try to adapt itself to religion just as mathematics does not try to adapt itself to people who cannot understand mathematics. This is course doesn't mean that Indian thought (and Chinese thought) isn't interesting but if it isn't philosophy then don't try and pretend that it is.

Shaun Williamson


(62) David asked:

How does one know what is good and true? Yes I am told to read the Bible. It does have wisdom within. Specifically, I am unable to make decisions. I am trying to find a church. I like a lot churches for different attributes. I like some because of activities, others because it is very friendly. The pentecostal is very friendly and energetic. Some like the United Church of Christ are very progressive. (Unity Disciples and some others) Part of me likes it. It allows people to find their own interpretation of the Bible. I am also dealing with being gay. I have prayed to change. I want love and be loved. Even being gay. Sometimes when I hear someone make a derogatory comment about gays. I feel bad. What should I be spiritually .

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David philosophers are not really well equipped to advise you about religion and being gay. You would probably do better by approaching a counselling service. However you should be aware that many Christian churches regard being gay as a sin and something to be suppressed. In this respect the non evangelical Anglican church is at present the most accepting of gay people. If you really are gay then it is unlikely that you will be able to change and pretend that you are heterosexual. Doing so will only make you and other people very unhappy. That is why I think it is essential that you get advice from a qualified counsellor before making any decisions. I understand that it is very hurtful to hear other people making ignorant comments about gays but in life everybody has to learn to live with social prejudices. Fat people, small people, bald people, black people and lots of others have to learn to deal with the ignorance of others. There are gay organisations which can help you to feel less alone. So do yourself a favour and make contact with them and don't join any religion which hates the person that you are. Good luck.

Shaun Williamson


(63) Marisa asked:

Did A. Kim Campbell die?

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Who knows? Which A. Kim Campbell do you mean? If you mean the woman who was the Canadian PM then I can't find any record of her death so probably she is still alive and teaching at Harvard.

Shaun Williamson


(64) Max asked:

Simply put, how do we even know that we exist? I don't want to call myself a nihilist, both because I don't like the idea of being one, and also because I really don't think I am, but there seems to be no real way to know if all this, including myself, is real. I don't buy into the whole "I think, therefore I am" idea because I can't be sure that I really am thinking in the first place.

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It doesn't make any real sense to doubt your own existence or to be sure of it. How do you do this? Do you stand in front of the mirror and say 'I don't exist' or 'This isn't my reflection I'm looking at'. To say that you are sure that something is true is generally to claim that you have good evidence that it is true. But what evidence could you have for your own existence. Would your birth certificate or a passport help. At the same time you can often prove your existence to others (i.e. legally) but you can't prove it to yourself because you can't sensibly doubt it either. In any case if you don't exist you can't be a nihilist because only an existing person can do this. So you could say to yourself 'I exist because I am a nihilist' or 'I exist because I doubt my own existence'. All word games really because when you go to the supermarket to buy food you forget about all these philosophical doubts. A non existent person wouldn't need to eat or shop or sleep.

Shaun Williamson


(65) Shane asked:

I know this might not have anything to do with philosophy I'm only young!?, but... I was wondering what the deal with colour blindness? Like can you not see colours, or is you mind just adjusted to that colour in some way?, I am so lost!

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Colour blindness is a real physical condition caused by defects in the colour receptor cells in the eye and there are various different types of colour blindness. The result of this is that you cannot distinguish certain colours. So for example one of my friends was unable to distinguish clearly between green and brown. If you tested him by showing him a particular green for example, he would just have to guess if it was green or brown. But this has nothing to do with philosophy.

Shaun Williamson


(66) Will asked:

What are the arguments against Jerry Fodor's 'mentalese'? I read that Wittgenstein's 'private language' arguments are not applicable. Is this the accepted view, or is it a defence of Fodor to argue this?

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There is no 'private language' argument in Wittgenstein's work. This is a misinterpretation by ignorant commentators. There is a discussion of public and private languages in 'Philosophical Investigations' as part of a discussion of the 'Problem of other Minds'. Wittgenstein stated clearly that his remarks were not to be read out of context and could only be understood in the context of the particular discussion in which they appear.

Shaun Williamson


(67) Camilla asked:

Are beauty better than brains?

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This should be 'Is beauty better than brains' and the answer is no.

Shaun Williamson


(68) Jo asked:

How far into a pregnancy can you have an abortion?

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In Britain the time limit is 24 weeks

Shaun Williamson


(69) Barbara asked:

I would like to know where did Cain's wife came from? I have read the bible and it reads that God created Adam and Eve and they had two sons but it does not say where Cain's wife came from. So I was hoping maybe you could tell me.

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This is a religious question so it is not one that philosophers are qualified to answer. Ask a minister of religion or a theologian

Shaun Williamson


(70) Stephen asked:

Hello there, I have an exam next thursday..and I am pretty sure this question will arise compare and contrast any two philosophers? I will compare marx and hegel. would it be possible for you to send me the relevant information. a thousand thankyou's

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An exam is supposed to be a test of what you know and what you have learned. Don't be so lazy. Do some reading before its too late.

Shaun Williamson


(71) Eyal asked:

I'm looking for the avant guard philosophy of today or the leading idea in today philosophy. I will be happy to get names or websites that talk about it.

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Perhaps you will be happy, perhaps you won't. Philosophy is about truth and reason not about trends and the avant guard.

Shaun Williamson


(72) Yo asked:

Which came first dinosaurs or Adam and Eve?

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There were no humans on the earth during the time of the dinosaurs. So humans came later.

Shaun Williamson


(73) Ziaiz asked:

what is the real purpose of philosophy an why do we have to think?

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Philosophers will have different ideas about the real purpose of philosophy so I can only give you my own ideas on this. For me the real purpose of philosophy is to find a complete solution to philosophical problems. You don't have to think and you certainly don't have to think about philosophy. However it is difficult to avoid thought completely since every communication with another person is the expression of a thought.

Shaun Williamson