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

Ask a Philosopher: Questions and Answers 24 (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 24/1.

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) Mireille asked:

I Have 3 questions.......please help me.

1. Should we be scared of death?

2. Is philosophy necessary to the human?

3. Is a life with no exams worth living?

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

1) No. We should regret it, be sorry, angry... but fear, the most common feeling toward it, does not seem appropriate. Take a look at Socrates' response to his accusers at the end of the dialogue called the Apology to see why.

2) Necessary in what way?

3) Absolutely not.

Steven Ravett Brown


(2) Gerry asked:

Do you have the impression that a philosopher really does not have to write so long and so much to tell us a message which when stripped of his own invented terminology is a common sense idea? — that is when it is said in the common language of ordinary people.

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

That's pretty much what Wittgenstein thought. Read his Philosophical Investigations; or, if this is too much work, get Avrum Strolls book on Wittgenstein. He explains what this is all about, and if you find yourself getting an appetite for it, you might be on the way to become a plain language philosopher yourself.

Jurgen Lawrenz


(3) Santos asked:

There was a philosopher who liked looking up at the sun. A king came to ask him if he would teach son but his only reply was,you're blocking my view from the sun. I am just paraphrasing. Thank you.

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

His name was Diogenes and the fellow obscuring his view of the sun was Alexander the Great. Personally, I believe the story is a put up. Whoever invented it must have thought we're all idiots.

Jurgen Lawrenz


(4) Kamran asked:

Please tell me about Leibniz's ontological argument.

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

The arguments (four of them) are pretty much the same as you'll find in other sources, like Anselm or Descartes. E.g. I can imagine a greatest totally perfect being , or all existing things must have a designer or if you use reductive arguments, the chain of causes must stop somewhere. In all these you finish up with the conclusion that some being must have started the whole shebang or we wouldn't be here. What Leibniz added is something pretty obvious: so obvious, in fact, that everyone before him missed it. Namely: before you can accept the arguments that there must be a God at the end of each of these chains of arguments, you also have to prove that such a thing as God is actually possible. In other words, you must go beyond just assuming that God exists, you must show that this is possible without contradiction. Free of contradiction means, for example, that this God, in whatever form you imagine him to exist, does not by his existence make it impossible for some other thing to exist that you know exists. Or that (like Aristotle) you finish up needing 55 original causes to account for every kind of existing thing. And so on. Once you look at it this way, you'll see its not easy to create a contradiction free model. Anyway, that's what Leibniz accomplished.

Jurgen Lawrenz


(5) Anthony asked:

Can someone use their "brain, energy, power etc.." to move things and how can someone develop that energy?

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

Dear Anthony, I think you used your brain power to write this letter. Now it seems to me that in writing it, you used this power to get your fingers to push the keys on your keyboard and operate the mouse, and before that to move your body around etc etc. I suspect that's not what you're really asking; and therefore you might think of re-phrasing your question. For example, if you want to know if you can use this brain power to move things outside of your own body, that's more difficult. We can, in a roundabout way, by building machines. But I suspect that this is also not what you wanted to know. Perhaps you are trying to figure out if the power generated by our brains is enough to move things without machines, just by concentrating. If that's the case, then the answer has to be no. After all, the voltage in your body is pretty small. You might as well ask, can my CD player run an electric train? Or: if I focus a lens on a piece of paper in the sunlight, it will burn the paper, so why cant my concentrated brain waves burn it? Well, try! The point is, I think, that you're asking the wrong question. You think of brain power as physical energy in the same light as electric power or steam power etc. Well, thinking power isn't the same kind of power. The source of confusion here is that we use the same word for totally different things. Okay?

Jurgen Lawrenz


(6) Ashley asked:

How did the famous philosopher Aristotle die?

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

Of shortage of breath. The same as most people do.

Jurgen Lawrenz


(7) Jason asked:

If a person is born with no senses (i.e. no sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing, etc) Can that person have rational thoughts and if so how/ why?

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

Im trying to read between the lines to find out what it is you're really asking. Because if I take your question as it stands, it makes no sense whatever. No person (or any animal) can be born without senses. Its no even a hypothetical possibility. A person without senses is no person its IMPOSSIBLE. You need to find another word for such an entity: but in the end you'll find you're talking about a man made machine. And then, surely, you can answer it for yourself!?

Jurgen Lawrenz


(8) EJG asked:

What sort of defense could you mount against the attacks on common sense put forth by rationalists such as Parmenides and Zeno? Is there something you could do to show that the world of our sense experiences, after all, the real world?

I wish you guys would think of some really hard questions once in a while!!

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

Seeing that this is a Q & A forum and I cant write a book, I have one short answer for you. Many others are possible. But here goes:

Parmenides divided the world into real facts and phenomenal facts. The real he defined as uncreated and unchanging: it is the world of the gods, who do not die, who don't keep time and who are not made of matter. Their world is, of course, the same as ours, but with this difference. Because we are mortal, we have a sense of the passing of time. We are born and we age. We are made of matter. Now all these aspects cannot be real in the sense that Parmenides uses the idea of real. If something is always changing, then whatever its present state may be, is only ephemeral. When you look at a table, you see a certain amount of matter that has temporarily collected in one spot, but is eventually going to change. Therefore, when you look, you see only its momentary appearance, which is the meaning of the word phenomenon.

One way to get around this problem, the difference between real and phenomenal, is to think of time not as something that flows, but as a geometrical curve. For God or the gods, time does not exist because to them all time is one moment. Now you can have a similar experience by watching an ant moving around and tracing out the track of its wanderings. The ant might very well think that its world is infinite and that time is associated with how long it takes for it to run from the nest to your garden and back again. But when you look at the completed track, no matter how much zigzagging the ant did, you can look at it as one, because to your eyes, it is not infinite at all. Its just a squiggly line which you can see in an instant, all of it. So you can get around Parmenides by arguing that EVERYTHING is phenomena.

Now in logic, you can assert: What does not change cannot exist. Existence itself is predicated on difference. In other words, if there is only ONE THING in the whole universe, then the term existence has no meaning. The thing (even if it was God himself) could not know it exists. Therefore at least one other thing must co-exist so that the difference between existence and non-existence can acquire a meaning. Remember from the Cartesian cogito that I cannot say, truthfully: I don't exist. I exist because I think, but then I must be able to think of SOMETHING.

If everything, then, is phenomena, you can still agree with Parmenides on this: that there can be one thing that underlies all phenomena. For example, you might say (with Democritus) that real things are atoms, and that all the worlds furniture comes into existence because they combine to make them. Or you can say with Heraclitus that the worlds ultimate substance is energy, which is infinitely changeable and solid, fluid, gaseous etc etc in turn. In both these situations, you can argue that real and phenomenal are not at loggerheads, but essentially different ways of talking about the same thing.

Hope that helps. Otherwise you are going to have to study!

About Zeno, I wouldn't worry too much about his riddles. Life and existence come before logic. With logical arguments you can prove what you like. For example the riddle of Achilles and the turtle can be solved by adding a time parameter. You cant put an actual number to the point where the three lines intersect, but they will. Or you can show that both Achilles and the turtle, as they run, make two converging series of fractions that add up to a limit of 2, and that's where Achilles overtakes. Zeno didn't know this. But the view to take on logical puzzles is that logic is a tool for making arguments consistent. If problems arise, the fault is not with reality but usually with the premises on which the logical exercise is proposed. Altogether the universe doesn't care a hoot about our wonderful logic. If you study physics or biology or anthropology etc, you wont find much logic there. And if you do find it, you'll find that humans put it in there.

Jurgen Lawrenz


(9) Jason asked:

If a person is born with no senses (i.e. no sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing, etc) Can that person have rational thoughts and if so how/ why?

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

If you're literally born with no senses, then you won't be able to have rational thoughts, as far as we know, because most of your cortex simply won't develop. Cortical development necessitates input, and with no input, the neurons won't fire, and if they don't fire, they don't grow or interconnect properly. To assume that there is a "rational thinking" part of the brain which is separate from the sensory parts of the brain is, as far as is known, incorrect. Neural development is dependent on neural stimulation: if you don't use it, you lose it (this, by the way, is true throughout adult life as well, just more slowly). You might look up the case of Helen Keller for about the nearest we have to someone like this who *did* develop rational thinking... but she actually wasn't born without sensory input; she was born normal, and lost hearing and sight as an infant through disease, retaining touch, smell, and taste (and the other senses, such as balance and kinesthetic feeling). She learned to communicate through touch.

Steven Ravett Brown


(10) Colin asked:

Firstly, I must stress that I'm not trying to poo-poo your discipline (or, perhaps, its disciples) but I was wondering, in the context of seeing philosophy as a means of trying to derive 'The Answer' (and I know I'm being vague to the point of ridiculous but I also think that you'll intuitively know where I'm coming from so I will continue), if there can be any merit in studying *any* philosophical text written before 1859 and Darwin. Before I get slated, let me qualify this — clearly all knowledge is relevant to someone or something and to look at, say, Leibniz as a literary text, or perhaps in the context of a psychological/historical study, will no doubt be, erm, nice. But, as the old wives saying goes, if you build a house on ropey foundations... Or, to put it another way; could, say, a 21st century scientist examining different ways of proving the world is flat really be considered a scientist by anything other than the most irritatingly literal of definitions?

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

One of the good things about philosophy is that you are entitled to poo-poo it as much as you want to. Philosophy isn't like science. The subject matter of philosophy isn't clearly defined and neither are the aims of philosophy or philosophers. There is no agreement on which questions we are trying to answer. So it is not really true that philosophers are trying to derive 'The Answer'. They are still trying to decide what 'The Question' is. So studying Leibniz cannot really be compared to joining the flat earth society.

Darwin was a scientist not a philosopher so his ideas have no relevance to philosophy although it is true that early philosophers and early scientists didn't have a clear idea of the distinction between science and philosophy. Given the peculiar nature of philosophy many philosophers still find some of the ideas of Plato, Leibniz and Aristotle relevant today.

Having said all the above I must confess that I am only really interested in 20th Century philosophy and when I was at university I found it irritating that so much of the course was devoted to people like Kant etc.. However at the same time my introduction to philosophy was through the ideas of Plato, Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas. So I still think that it is important for philosophy students to have knowledge of the whole of the history of Western philosophy.

Shaun Williamson


(11) Philippe asked:

Which (if any) philosophers have worked on defining existence? The ones I have read take existence as a given and ask whether things exist within themselves or not etc., but don't explain what they mean by 'to be'.

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

Well there are some things we can define and some things that we cannot define. Suppose you try to define the colour 'red' or 'the sound of a clarinet'. Wittgenstein pointed out that there is no easy definition of 'a game' or 'time' but that doesn't mean that we don't know what these things are. Asking for a definition isn't always a sensible activity. Don't you already understand what 'to be or not to be' means? What is it that you are puzzled about that a definition or existence would make clear?

Shaun Williamson


(12) Rebecca asked:

I would really like to start taking up photography firstly as a hobby, possibly professionally later on if possible. I need to buy a camera; which would you recommend out of a Fujifilm s5500 which is around 200 and what I've heard is called a bridge camera from amateur to professional models or a Nikon D70 which is around 650 — obviously a better model — lenses and body come separately but is such a camera necessary for a beginner?

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

This is a website for asking questions about philosophy not photography but since I am interested in photography I will try to answer your question. If you are interested in learning about photography then I think you are right to buy a digital camera since it makes learning a much faster process than older film cameras would do.

If you want to find out more about the two cameras you are interested in then I recommend that if you have Internet access you go to http://www.dpreview.com and look at the reviews of the cameras on that website.

The Nikon D70 is much closer to being a professional camera than the fuji s5500 but on the other hand this means that it is much larger and much heavier and of course much more expensive. For professional cameras the Canon D850 is around the same price as the Nikon but has a better specification. Also there are more recent compact cameras both by Fuji and other makers that are better than the s5500.

My own recommendation is that you should start with a cheaper camera such as the s5500 and find out what you can do with that and see where you interest leads you. It will also be helpful to read books about photography and go to photographic exhibitions if you can. Good luck.

Shaun Williamson


(13) Colin asked:

Firstly, I must stress that I'm not trying to poo-poo your discipline (or, perhaps, its disciples) but I was wondering, in the context of seeing philosophy as a means of trying to derive 'The Answer' (and I know I'm being vague to the point of ridiculous but I also think that you'll intuitively know where I'm coming from so I will continue), if there can be any merit in studying *any* philosophical text written before 1859 and Darwin. Before I get slated, let me qualify this — clearly all knowledge is relevant to someone or something and to look at, say, Leibniz as a literary text, or perhaps in the context of a psychological/historical study, will no doubt be, erm, nice. But, as the old wives saying goes, if you build a house on ropey foundations...

Or, to put it another way; could, say, a 21st century scientist examining different ways of proving the world is flat really be considered a scientist by anything other than the most irritatingly literal of definitions?

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

But what you're forgetting is that in order to be, e.g., a physicist, one must first learn the basics of a) geometry, and b) Newtonian mechanics. The first goes back to Pythagoras, the second goes back roughly 300 years. Biology is a new science, really, but the conceptions of "acids" and "bases" in chemistry, or Avogadro's Number, are very old, and the latter is still used virtually unchanged, and the former is now much more sophisticated, but still derived from a conception of chemistry dating back... I don't recall... 200 years? At least?

It's all "sedimented", as the phenomenologists like to say... To really understand where Heidegger, for example, is coming from, you have to have read Aristotle (and the Scholastics, for that matter). The debate on Cartesianism still goes on, yes in more sophisticated forms, but to understand it you have to have read the Meditations. And on and on. You can't simply jump in to this field without knowing something about what underlies the current ideas and debates. Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics is the direct basis of several modern approaches to ethics and meta-ethics. Plato's Dialogues are a bit of history, never mind the accuracy of the reasoning, which give us very explicit ideas of what philosophy actually is, as praxis. And as far as the Forms go, there are many mathematically-oriented philosophers who are Platonists today. What you're doing is mistaking the trees for the forest, and saying that because there are issues that *are* settled, there are no issues contemporary to them that are worth thinking about... and that is simply incorrect.

Steven Ravett Brown


(14) Philippe asked:

Which (if any) philosophers have worked on defining existence? The ones I have read take existence as a given and ask whether things exist within themselves or not etc., but don't explain what they mean by 'to be'.

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

Well the most obvious examples are:

Heidegger, M. Being and Time. Translated by Macquarrie, J. and Robinson, E. San Francisco, CA: HarperCollins Publishers, 1962. and

Sartre, J.P. Being and Nothingness: A Phenomenological Essay on Ontology. New York, NY: Washington Square Press, 1972.

But neither of these above are exactly what you'd call an easy read. The fact that you don't know of them makes me think that you're going to have a rather awful time attempting to read them; they're not meant for beginners. You need maybe 5 years just to be able to approach Heidegger without tearing out your hair, and it's an open question as to whether it's really worth it in the end anyway. Same with Sartre. To really get where both of those pupils of Husserl are coming from (running away from, actually), you have to read Husserl. And that's something you have to approach through a number of subfields... The other way to go, which I'd strongly advise, is start at the beginning, with Plato. In the Dialogues you will find the theory of the Forms, which *is* an attempt to answer that question... which most people (not all, haha) disagree with at this point. And Husserl had a really bizarre love/hate relationship with Platonism, filtered through Aristotle, the Medieval Scholastics (and Leibniz), Descartes, Kant, and then some of his contemporaries in what we now call (although he wouldn't have agreed with me) "cognitive science". And if you don't have all that under your belt, you're just not going to fully understand what Husserl, Heidegger, and Sartre, to name merely those three, are attempting with their analyses of "being" (and their analyses of being).

Steven Ravett Brown


(15) Des asked:

"Why did Kant believe that time and space are part of the phenomenal world but not the noumenal? What was his line of reasoning?

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

Kant argues we do not acquire concepts of Space and Time from empirical experience. They are a-priori structures which provide the conditions for the possibility of having experience of objects; these conditions facilitate a phenomenal world distinct from the world, as it is in-itself. This is Kant's 'line of reasoning' — that Forms of Sensibility [i.e. Time & Space] and the Transcendental Categories [such as quantity, quality, relation, modality] structure our perception, understanding of the world. What is 'in our heads' create the world 'beyond our heads'.

Accordingly, we do not derive space and time from experience and abstract their concepts but we do experience in space and time. Empirical observation of Space and Time would not provide the Universality [applying to all human beings] and Apodeictic basis [where consciousness is aware of the necessity and certainty involved] for human knowledge. They would exist only on the basis of having been experienced as such in the past they would be contingent and precarious. Further, abstracting space and time from experience presupposes already perceiving in Space and Time. Perception and knowledge of the world around us is only possible by means of the Forms of Sensibility and the Transcendental Categories.

Martin Jenkins


(16) Reinhart asked:

"What do you think about Heidegger's words:

'To think is to confine oneself to a single thought that one day stands still like a star in the worlds sky'.

What does it mean?"

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

I think this quote is from 'Poetry, Language, Thought'. To think is to dwell, meditate on the question of Being. What is Being? Why are there beings and not instead Nothing? It is to ask the seinfrage — the question of Being. This is the most important if not the only question of Philosophy. It is a question that has been lost in Philosophy subsequent to the Greeks and Heidegger seeks to restore this single most important Thought by genuine thinking so that it will stand like a star before the world. Thought has become locked in metaphysical categories [Subject-Object, Essence-Attribute], which has led to our mathematical, instrumentalist and linear thinking today. In his many writings Heidegger seeks various approaches to recovering the single thought about the question of Being.

In Being and Time, he performs and existential analyses of the structures of Dasein's being-in-the-world; this is in the hope of highlighting the being of Beings against the horizon of Time.

In What Is Metaphysics? Heidegger contrasts Nothing with Being in order to orientate thought toward Being. In On the Essence of Truth the disclosedness [Aletheia] of Beings occurs through the presentative statements by which Dasein comports itself towards them. Aletheia is the clearing [Lichtung] by which Being discloses itself. In The End of Philosophy and the Task of Thinking, the task of thinking is to be receptive to the clearing. In Building, Dwelling, Thinking, he cites the historical practices of dwelling on the earth under the Fourfold [Earth, Sky, Gods, Mortals]. This is to highlight the historical being of Beings being in their Being.

There are many pathways [Holswege] to think the single though of Being.

Martin Jenkins


(17) Heather asked:

"What is the ongoing philosophical debate between those in the positivist camp and those in the post-modernist camp regarding the nature of truth and reality?

What is the essential position of each camp on the subject of Truth and reality?"

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

I take positivism to be the correspondence of Theory, Hypothesis with 'reality' to create Truth. Theory is a 'mirror of nature'; it tells human beings how it is with reality. Post-modernism [Pm] is taken to be the contrary of this. It has 'incredulity towards grand narratives' as Lyotard famously wrote.

Post-Modernism is a broad term linking many themes and writers. What links them is the emphasis on what is 'other' [Otherness], different [difference], anomalous to [alterity] and resistive of totalising accounts of 'reality' [grand narrative, theory, text, structure]. In totalising, they exclude or incorporate what is other etc. Positivism excludes that which is not 'factual', 'logical', subject to scientific verification. What is other to this, is not valued as 'knowledge'. Pm would argue that 'otherness', 'difference' are inherent to human experience.

J.F. Lyotard, Todd May and Richard Rorty would argue that the 'reality' a human being experiences is immanent to the genres/ idioms, discursivity [basically Wittgenstein's Language games] by and in which human beings live. Within these genres are found 'truths' and a 'reality'. Now Pm has been criticised as fragmenting 'reality' whereby such genres etc become isolate monads. PM's retort that they do not advocate monadism for social reality is in communicative flux. The genre's, discursivity, interact with each other. In this interaction, difference, otherness must be recognised and not buried.

Martin Jenkins


(18) Kate asked:

What are some of the intellectual and historical factors that might account for Beckett's view of existence as "meaningless" or "absurd"?

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

Look at Sartre, especially Being and Nothingness. He views consciousness as "nothingness"... but that's a tricky term, because "neant" actually refers to his teacher, Husserl's, position on the "transcendental ego", which in turn relates to Husserl's ideas on essences. Sartre wanted consciousness to be without essence, since that would lead, in his view, to absolute freedom. But then you have to create your *own* meaningfulness from that freedom, right? And so you start with something which is in a sense "meaningless". And from there you can go in whatever direction your own inclinations take you... it's all meaningless and absurd, *or*... we are the ones (who should be) in charge of our lives. Sartre mostly preferred the latter, Beckett the former (I mean... have you ever seen a picture of Beckett? Talk about depressed-looking...).

Steven Ravett Brown


(19) Samantha asked:

Is there any way to deal with existential depression easily?

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

In a word, no. Wouldn't it be great to have the control over your feelings that one has over one's movements? But we don't. You need friends, maybe counseling, maybe some meditation (without the religious baggage). Think of it this way: this angst is an indication of your ability to question everything, which is the beginning of a healthy skepticism, if you don't let it run away with you. You might look at Michael Shermer's stuff... there's a lot on the web, for a mature skeptic's position.

Steven Ravett Brown


(20) Cressida asked:

Does the brain create our sense of self?

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

The simple answer to this very short and vague question is yes, it does. But that leaves open all sorts of questions having to do with learning, genetics, nature vs. nurture, etc. Not to mention that tricky word, "create". Well, really, you need some reading here...

Blakemore, S.-J., Oakley, D.A., and Frith, C. "Delusions of Alien Control in the Normal Brain." Neuropsychologia 41 (2003): 1058-67.

Blanke, O., and Arzy, S. "The out-of-Body Experience: Disturbed Self-Processing at the Temporo-Parietal Junction." The Neuroscientist 11, no. 1 (2005): 16-24.

D'Argembeau, A., Collette, F., Van der Linden, M., Laureys, S., Del Fiore, G., Deguildre, C., Luxen, A., and Salmon, E. "Self-Referential Reflective Activity and Its Relationship with Rest: A Pet Study." NeuroImage 25 (2005): 616-24.

Damasio, A.R. The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness. New York, NY: Harcourt Brace, 1999.

Goffman, E. "The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life." In Down to Earth Sociology: Introductory Readings, edited by Henslin, J.M., 113-23: Free Press, 2001.

Johnson, S.C., Baxter, L.C., Wilder, L.S., Pipe, J.G., Heiserman, J.E., and Prigatano, G.P. "Neural Correlates of Self-Reflection." Brain 125 (2002): 1808-14.

McGeer, V. "Is "Self-Knowledge" an Empirical Problem? Renegotiating the Space of Philosophical Explanation." The Journal of Philosophy 93, no. 10 (1996): 483-515.

Zelazo, P.D. "Language, Levels of Consciousness, and the Development of Intentional Action." In Developing Theories of Intention: Social Understanding and Self-Control, edited by Zelazo, P.D., Ostington, J.W. and Olson, D.R., 95-117, 1999.

------. "Self-Reflection and the Development of Consciously Controlled Processing." In Children's Reasoning and the Mind, edited by Mitchell, P. and Riggs, K., 169-89. Hove, England: Psychology Press, Ltd., 2000.

Steven Ravett Brown


(21) Nicolai asked:

What is a rule? I mean to pose the question in a "physical sense" (is that called "ontological"?)

It is not a physical object, that much seems clear.

It could some form of statement. But not a statement that is either true or false. It also seems to me that a rule cannot be defined merely as a form of statement because many statements can be made in the form of a rule without actually being a rule. It seems to me that something outside the statement determines whether it is a rule or not, e.g. whether people obey the rule (statement) or not.

Can you direct me to literature on this subject?

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

This is a very good and interesting question, which is still, after a couple of millennia, being hotly debated. It actually *isn't* clear that rules are not physical objects; for example, do not computer chips instantiate rules in silicon? What about the brain? But I think that Wittgenstein might agree with at least part of what you're saying. There is an absolutely *enormous* literature on this, some of the more cognitively-oriented of which I will merely indicate to you below. But really, since you do not seem to have much of a background in philosophy (given your question on "ontological"), then you should start with courses in logic and linguistics as well as basic courses in philosophy of language and of logic. Then you can move to studies of cognition and more contemporary treatments of rules. You are attempting to plunge into an ocean here, not an easy task.

Apolloni, B., Malchiodi, D., Orovas, C., and Palmas, G. "From Synapses to Rules." Cognitive Systems Research 3 (2002): 167-201.

Giurfa, M., Zhang, S., Jenett, A., Menzel, R., and Srinivasan, M.V. "The Concepts of `Sameness' and `Difference' in an Insect." Nature 410 (2001): 930-32.

Law, S. "Five Private Language Arguments." international Journal of Philosophical Studies 12, no. 2 (2004): 159-76.

Marcus, G. F., Vijayan, S., Bandi Rao, S., and Vishton, P. M. "Rule Learning by Seven-Month-Old Infants." Science 283, no. 5398 (1999): 77-80.

Peirce, C.S. "The First Rule of Logic." In The Essential Peirce, edited by Houser, N., De Tienne, A., Clark, C. L., Davis, D. B., Eller, J. R. and Lewis, A. C. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1998.

Smith, E.E., and Sloman, S.A. "Similarity Versus Rule-Based Categorization." Memory & Cognition 22 (1994): 377-86.

Van Gelder, T. "What Might Cognition Be, If Not Computation?" The Journal of Philosophy 92, no. 7 (1995): 345-81.

Voltolini, A. "Why the Computational Account of Rule-Following Cannot Rule out the Grammatical Account." European Journal of Philosophy 9, no. 1 (2001): 82-104.

Steven Ravett Brown


(22) Kelly asked:

what is the philosophy behind estate management?

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

This isn't a question that a philosopher can answer. You would really have to ask someone who teaches estate management, probably at an agricultural college. Sometimes the word 'philosophy' is used to mean 'the fundamental principles'. So your question is really asking 'What are the fundamental principles or aims of estate management?'.

Philosophers don't manage estates and know nothing about this sort of thing and it has no relationship to the philosophy studied in university philosophy departments. Sorry I can't be more help.

Shaun Williamson


(23) Kate asked:

Why do people fall in love?

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Love is one of the fundamental facts of our life. Children fall in love with their parents. Parents fall in love with their children. Then when we grow into adults we repeat the pattern again. Although many people pretend not to care about love, secretly everyone longs to be loved and to be able to love others. Love is at the heart of all our basic moral values.

The scientific explanation for of all this would be to say that love has a survival value for the human species.

Shaun Williamson


(24) Rich asked:

Wittgenstein purportedly believed in the Judgement Day but not the afterlife. So I guess this gives you an infinitely small amount of time to know how well you did. That appeared in a semi-fictionalized biography of Wittgenstein, so it may not be true. However, I personally know a real life philosopher of outstanding analytic skills. He calls himself a "materialist" when it comes to matters of consciousness. He does not believe that anything of anybody survives death, and he is against all manner of mind/body dualisms. Yet under cross examination he admits to having been Aristotle. He says he remembers sitting out under the stars on the Acropolis. How can you explain this?

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

I don't have to explain this but I can tell you the following.

1. Avoid fictionalised biographies of Wittgenstein or any other famous person. They are just some authors attempts to make money by riding on the coat tails of famous people.

2. Its strange how people who claim to remember previous lives always remember such interesting lives where they are much more famous and interesting then they are in their real life.

3. In my previous life I remember being a clerk in the 19th century screw factory of Walter Rowley and Sons. My life was really boring, nothing ever happened and we didn't even have holidays or television or computers so I don't even bother to think about it.

Shaun Williamson


(25) Audrey asked:

What makes a philosopher a philosopher? What separates the street corner "fanatic" from the accepted philosopher, and do we as a society generally wait until someone is dead to access whether s/he was a credible philosopher?

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If you want to be taken seriously as a philosopher then you should undertake a systematic study of philosophy. The easiest way to do this is to study at a recognised university and obtain a degree in philosophy. You can study philosophy on your own by reading but this makes it difficult to be sure that you have not missed important ideas.

It really doesn't matter what society recognises as credible in philosophy and you should never base your life on what society thinks about you. Remember that Van Gogh could never make a living as a painter and relied on support from his brother. Some poets achieve fame during their lifetime others only long after they are dead. If you think too much about that then you will never become a real poet. Its easier to be famous philosopher than it is to be a great philosopher.

Shaun Williamson


(26) Francis asked:

1.The financial statements are prepared and owned by the management of the company. Later those statements are presented to shareholders in the annual general meeting. Why the Board chairman of the Company is required to sign the financial statements before being Audited?. Is it proper?

2. Why Auditors are (sometimes)required to audit the DRAFT of the Final Financial Statements?. By auditing draft, it is like they are also helping to prepare the accounts; and later they audit the same accounts.where is Independence?

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This isn't a philosophical question. Philosophers don't know anything about accountancy and so they wouldn't be able to understand or answer your question. The standards for auditors are laid down by the financial regulatory bodies in each country and by the professional bodies of accountants. However the definition of independence is a theoretical one and does not mean that auditors cannot suggest revisions to accounts before they approve them. There are real dangers to the independence of auditors as shown by some of the recent financial scandals in the U.S (Enron etc.).

Shaun Williamson


(27) Maria-Anna asked:

What are the epistemological problems in using pictures as historical evidence?

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Well pictures can be forged and have been almost from the beginning of photography. However the most important point is that a picture requires an interpretation. As Wittgenstein pointed out we can interpret a picture of a man walking uphill equally well as a picture of a man sliding backwards down a hill, a picture of two men facing each other with fists raised as a picture of anger and conflict or a picture of a playful pretend fight. A picture doesn't carry its interpretation with it.

Shaun Williamson


(28) Colin asked:

Last year I asked ( have been somewhat occupied since then) Can anyone make a statement that is not either a statement of what is possible or what is actual or one that states what is necessary?

The answer that I got was:

a. You mean like 'triangles have four sides'?

b. Or do you want something like 'Unicorns weigh 250 lbs'?

c. Or 'This statement is false'?

As you can see ( the response added), there are many statements that meet your criteria. The above are three examples of types of such statements.

It is evident that I failed to make myself clear. What I am asking about is not the TRUTH of the statement but its FORM. So, answer one, it seems to me is made in the form of ACTUALITY — i.e. no violence is done to the statement if I say 'Triangles actually have four sides'. Likewise the second and third responses are in the form of ACTUALITY. So again I ask can anyone make a statement which in terms of its form (or assertion strength) does not fall into one of these three categories? (I include in these statements which assert something and statements which deny something).

I have been thinking about this issue for some time and believe that there are immediate implications for assessing arguments in terms of their FORM. For example if someone begins with a premise of possibility and thereafter proceeds to draw a conclusion of actuality it seems to me that their argument is not valid even if the conclusion is judged to be true. The same kind of argument would apply for movements from premises of actuality to conclusions which assert necessity. Last year I also asked another question — the reply to which again reveals that I need to express myself somewhat more clearly — However I will wait until this question is responded to before I make myself clear about what I mean by 'structure' — 'function' and 'origins' in terms of the constituent responses to questions of the general form 'What is x?'

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

You need to study Modal Logic which deals with statements such as 'It is possible that X', 'It is necessary that X' and the relationship with statements such as 'X is true'. You are correct in thinking that you cannot move from statements of possibility to statement of actuality.

Try reading 'An Introduction to Modal Logic' by G.E. Hughes and M.J. Cresswell (Publisher Methuen, London 1968). However if you have no previous knowledge of logic this will be a difficult read. You might have to study for a degree in philosophy in order to understand it.

Shaun Williamson


(29) Vid asked:

Hello, I want to know whether our reasoning ability can go beyond the limits imposed by our language? Does language puts a Limit on philosophy?

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I would love to answer this question but I have no idea what it means. I suspect that the answer is that there are no limits imposed by our language so we will never need to go beyond them.

Shaun Williamson


(30) Beverley asked:

In Nietzsche's On the Genealogy of Morality', Nietzsche gives the 'bird of prey' example. I don't understand if he is advocating murder. What does Nietzsche think should be done to someone who commits crimes such as murder or theft? Does he believe in laws?

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In On Genealogy of Morality [GM] first essay, section 13, Nietzsche uses the analogy of eagles and lambs to point out that power [which is constitutive of all living things] cannot be anything other than power, it is what it most fully is at every moment. Here, at its crudest life it is a matter of power over the less powerful. Directed power appears to 'will' more power and Nietzsche famously terms this the 'will to power'.

Will to Power is actualised in drives [triebe]. A plurality existing in hierarchical order make an organism — be it birds, lambs and the more complex human beings which possess 'consciousness' [see the second essay of GM for an account of how this is forged]. One drive may be more powerful than others and thus inhibit the expression of drives towards murder. This is due to the influence of social texts [a people's table of values] including moral systems upon the expression of drives morphing them into a definite way of behaving / not behaving. Nietzsche does not advocate murder nor a moral nihilism. He does recognise the importance of Laws and the constraints of morality [see Beyond Good and Evil #188, 198, 199 for instance]. His concern is to evaluate the value of values, particularly the European inheritance of Judeo-Christian morality/metaphysics and how values, morality is constructed in the shadow of the death of God — the keystone of the Western morality/ metaphysical worldview.

Martin Jenkins


(31) Colin asked:

Last year I asked ( have been somewhat occupied since then) Can anyone make a statement that is not either a statement of what is possible or what is actual or one that states what is necessary?

The answer that I got was

a. You mean like 'triangles have four sides'?

b. Or do you want something like 'Unicorns weigh 250 lbs'?

c. Or 'This statement is false'?

As you can see ( the response added), there are many statements that meet your criteria. The above are three examples of types of such statements.

It is evident that I failed to make myself clear. What I am asking about is not the TRUTH of the statement but its FORM. So, answer one, it seems to me is made in the form of ACTUALITY — ie no violence is done to the statement if I say 'Triangles actually have four sides'. Likewise the second and third responses are in the form of ACTUALITY. So again I ask can anyone make a statement which in terms of its form ( or assertion strength) does not fall into one of these three categories? ( I include in these statements which assert something and statements which deny something) I have been thinking about this issue for some time and believe that there are immediate implications for assessing arguments in terms of their FORM. For example if someone begins with a premise of possibility and thereafter proceeds to draw a conclusion of actuality it seems to me that their argument is not valid even if the conclusion is judged to be true. The same kind of argument would apply for movements from premises of actuality to conclusions which assert necessity. Last year I also asked another question — the reply to which again reveals that I need to express myself somewhat more clearly — However I will wait until this question is responded to before I make myself clear about what I mean by 'structure' — 'function' and 'origins' in terms of the constituent responses to questions of the general form 'What is x?'

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

Your question is still unclear. First, "actuality" is not "form". The word "form" refers to the *structure* of a statement, i.e., its grammar, in effect. "Actuality" refers to content. So your position is, on the face of it, incoherent. Next, your term "violence" is again unclear. If you say, "Triangles have 4 sides" you are indeed doing "violence" of some sort to the statement, since triangles are defined as having 3 sides. If that does not meet your definition of "violence", you need to define your terms.

And in fact the 3rd statement was one that I made *explicitly* to violate structural coherence. So you have misunderstood my answer. But if you want something extremely simple, try this: "A does not equal A". Is that simple enough for you? Structural enough? If you still have problems, then it is evident that you either do not understand the term "form", or you have a very idiosyncratic definition of it, which you must make **extremely** clear and explicit. I would highly recommend you go to a dictionary and look up "form", "structure", "function", and either employ those terms clearly and correctly, or if you wish to employ them idiosyncratically, do so explicitly.

If your question has to do with logic, then again you are being incoherent. You want an example of a true premise leading to a false conclusion? The reverse? Neither of these has to do with form, but with content. Nor does "possibility" vs. "actuality" have to do with form, but again, with content. It sounds as if you might possibly be asking about the process of inference, and if that's true, you may indeed be asking about form, but again, not clearly.

I recommend you read these, at least, before you proceed further:

Goodman, N. "A Query on Confirmation." The Journal of Philosophy 43, no. 14 (1946): 383-85.

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

Krzeszowski, T.P. "Contrastive Analysis in a New Dimension." Papers and studies in contrastive linguistics 6 (1977): 5-16.

Peirce, C.S. "Deduction, Induction, and Hypothesis." In The Essential Peirce: Selected Philosophical Writings, edited by Houser, N. and Kloesel, C., 186-99. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1992.

------. "Questions Concerning Certain Faculties Claimed for Man." In The Essential Peirce: Selected Philosophical Writings, edited by Houser, N. and Kloesel, C., 11-27. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1992.

------. "Some Consequences of Four Incapacities." In The Essential Peirce: Selected Philosophical Writings, edited by Houser, N. and Kloesel, C., 28-55. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1992.

------. "The First Rule of Logic." In The Essential Peirce, edited by Houser, N., De Tienne, A., Clark, C. L., Davis, D. B., Eller, J. R. and Lewis, A. C. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1998.

------. "What Makes a Reasoning Sound?" In The Essential Peirce: Selected Philosophical Writings, edited by Houser, N., De Tienne, A., Eller, J. R., Clark, C. L., Lewis, A. C. and Davis, D. B., 242-57. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1998.

Steven Ravett Brown


(32) Vid asked:

Why we perceive 3 dimensions?, 3 primary colors? Why all colors absorbed gives Blackness? Why all colours combined gives whiteness? Why is redness of red? Can we have perception without memory?

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

You don't want much, do you. Just an explanation of everything about sensation, thinking, and memory. Hey, no problem. In 10-20 years, you may get some answers, if you have a couple of PhDs under your belt. Go read these:

Gardner, H. The Mind's New Science. New York, NY: BasicBooks, 1985.

Kandel, E. R., and Squire, L. R. "Neuroscience: Breaking Down Scientific Barriers to the Study of Brain and Mind." Science 290, no. 5494 (2000): 1113-20.

Humphrey, G. Thinking: An Introduction to Its Experimental Psychology. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1951.

Reisberg, D. Cognition: Exploring the Science of the Mind. 1st ed. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1997.

Steven Ravett Brown


(33) Maria-Anna asked:

What are the epistemological problems in using pictures as historical evidence?

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

Have you read Susan Sontag? There's:

Sontag, S. Against Interpretation. New York, NY: Picador USA, 1990.

and her other book: On Photography. I think those will give you some nice insights into this.

Steven Ravett Brown


(34) Bob asked:

If clear communication flows from clear thinking, then what percentage of philosophy is clear? Does anyone else think that a large percentage of philosophy is self indulgent pseudo-intellectual gibberish?

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Clear communication is relative to the knowledge and mental capacity of the person you are communicating with.

So I know that no matter how clearly I explain Quantum mechanics, transfinite numbers, Godel's Proof, Wittgenstein's Tractatus, how a microprocessor works etc., etc.. Most of the people I know will never be able to understand these things. All of the major philosophers I can think of e.g. Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Kant were not pseudo-intellectuals. They did what they did not from any hope of reward but simply because they had to and all of them were trying to think clearly. In fact the ultimate goal of philosophy is clear thinking about some of the most difficult problems that there are.

You should remember that it was philosophers such as Frege, Russell, Wittgenstein and Godel who developed modern symbolic logic and it was symbolic logic that made the computer possible. None of these thinkers thought that philosophy was gibberish and they were well aware that they were building on the work of their predecessors such as Descartes (who was a major figure in the development of mathematics), Leibniz (the co-discoverer of calculus) and Pascal (who invented probability theory and the calculator).

Before you can dismiss a subject as gibberish, you have to understand it and I suspect that you don't understand philosophy and your dismissal is a defensive reaction. Don't confuse clear thinking with simplistic thinking. Some of the best things in life require real, painful mental effort.

Having said all that please don't think that I am trying to persuade you to study philosophy. My own beliefs about the nature of philosophy mean that I would always advise people to avoid it at all costs. Philosophy is only for people who feel compelled to philosophise.

Shaun Williamson


(35) Alex asked:

What would you do if you feared nothing today?

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I would do all the things I am already doing since I don't live in a situation where fear is present. I am not conscious of my actions being restricted by fear.

Shaun Williamson


(36) Paul asked:

Primordial evolution, biological evolution, mental evolution. The process of evolution is a single story. We know this because mental evolution with its human selection mirrors perfectly that of nature... If the original idea is taken on by mankind, it may be classed as the mutant that makes us advance. Each chapter in the process of evolution is more complex than the last. In the same way that biological evolution found a niche in this pocket of balance that is our solar system, mental evolution finds a niche in mankind. Although Charles Darwin's work for now is accepted in victorian slang terms, the process of evolution is far more than this, it should be recognised as a process that began with the big bang.

Would you agree?

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

No I'm sorry Paul but I don't agree. Your ideas are speculative and metaphysical but where is the evidence to back them up.

Darwin's theory of evolution by means of natural selection is a scientific theory and as such it is the best theory we have that fits the available evidence. It is a theory about the relationship between an organism and its environment. Darwin's theory does not contain the idea that evolution advances. In some environments simple single-celled animals may be best fitted to survive in other environments complex organisms such as man may be best fitted to survive. In the 19th Century philosophers were impressed by Darwin's ideas and tried to import them into philosophy. So Hegel had his ideas about the evolution of the mind and Marx had his ideas about political evolution leading to the final victory of the Proletariat. But all these philosophical speculations were distortions of Darwin's ideas. When Darwin talks about 'the survival of the fittest', he always meant 'the survival of the fittest relative to their environment'. If the climate changes then 'primitive organisms' may be more fitted to survive. If a large meteor hits the earth it could destroy mankind.

You should remember that mosquitoes developed resistance to DDT in about 10 years. Man cannot react so quickly. In fact often the more complex an organism the less easy it is for it to adapt to big environmental change. We have evidence that in the past sudden environmental changes almost made the human species extinct. It could still happen.

Shaun Williamson


(37) Bob asked:

Is one morally obligated to obey every law? I sure would like a clear answer. I am thinking of some stop signs which I intentionally drive through because (for years) traffic cannot physically approach this intersection, yet the sign remains. It may be a trivially example, but the same reasoning should apply.

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

You are right it is a really trivial example. In general you do not have to obey laws which are immoral. So no one had a duty to obey the laws of Nazi Germany for example. If you fail to obey a stop sign which no longer has a real function then no moral blame can be attached to you. However you are taking a chance since you could still be prosecuted by the police and it may not be an adequate defence in court to argue that the stop sign has no function. The traffic laws say that you must obey all road signs even if they are pointless. If there are stop signs that are pointless write to your local council and protest. Talk to your local councillor.

Shaun Williamson


(38) Michelle asked:

How can natural law be applied to a moral situation such as abortion?

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'Natural law' is a tricky notion. Lets presume you mean common sense intuition (meta ethics).

Lets take the hypothetical case that you have two almost identical societies. They are similar except that in society(1) some statement is considered true and in the other false. Then it seems that you have a problem, however this is not the case. Realize that splits in culture originate in language (inherently their local ethics is 'frozen' that way).

For instance something is called terrorism in one way of thought and in the other struggle for survival. This may result in proposition(1) saying that some conduct is terrorism (conduct = terrorism is true) and in proposition(2) that this conduct is struggle for survival (conduct = terrorism is false). Then it is clear you have to go back to the language used, to focus on the definition of the word terrorism. That was cause of the split because in society(1) terrorism is possibly seen as every brute force aimed at itself, while in society((2) one makes the distinction between force necessary for defending oneself and unnecessary force.

A similar exercise can be done using the word abortion. It as considered as murder in some cultures, and as a common sense action in others (after much thought). Such differences in thought can easily become very complex, especially if the two societies use very different languages. Mind conflicts can cause war.

Henk Tuten


(39) Michelle asked:

How can natural law be applied to a moral situation such as abortion?

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

First of all, we should explain what we consider "natural law" to be. Natural law is, in philosophy, considered as the expression of rationality in nature. Even if this rationality is analysed by the human intellect, there is a distinct difference between what is reason applied to nature and reason applied to man. You could say that nature has "it's own reason".

Abortion isn't always a moral situation. Abortion occurs "naturally", or it can be "induced" to happen, by human will. Very often, in nature, abortions occur, and these are not considered "moral situations" as such.

Is a "induced abortion" against "natural law"? I am inclined to say yes, because nature allows for abortions only if they are "necessary", according to nature's parameters of what "necessary" is. We, as animals, should obey natural law, but only to some extent. Because we think, and we build our own society, we also write our own laws, more specific than those of nature. Human laws apply to human situations. Even if it's true that abortions occur in nature, when it comes to humans, they must be analysed in a narrower frame of view. So you can apply natural law to them, but it is not the right perspective of analysis."

Nuno Hipolito


(40) Rebecca asked:

I would really like to start taking up photography firstly as a hobby, possibly professionally later on if possible. I need to buy a camera; which would you recommend out of a fujifilm s5500 which is around 200 and what I've heard is called a bridge camera from amateur to professional models or a nikon d70 which is around 650 — obviously a better model — lenses and body come separately but is such a camera necessary for a beginner?

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

"The Fuji s5500. Definitely. Take the extra money and invest in lessons."

Nuno Hipolito


(41) Colin asked:

Firstly, I must stress that I'm not trying to poo-poo your discipline (or, perhaps, its disciples) but I was wondering, in the context of seeing philosophy as a means of trying to derive 'The Answer' (and I know Im being vague to the point of ridiculous but I also think that you'll intuitively know where I'm coming from so I will continue), if there can be any merit in studying *any* philosophical text written before 1859 and Darwin. Before I get slated, let me qualify this — clearly all knowledge is relevant to someone or something and to look at, say, Leibniz as a literary text, or perhaps in the context of a psychological/historical study, will no doubt be, erm, nice. But, as the old wives saying goes, if you build a house on ropey foundations.

Or, to put it another way; could, say, a 21st century scientist examining different ways of proving the world is flat really be considered a scientist by anything other than the most irritatingly literal of definitions?

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

You're making a major mistake thinking that philosophy is a science as, say, astronomy or physics. It is not.

You would be amazed to know that many people today consider themselves epicureans (a theory started around 306 b.C.) or follow the theories of renowned "old school philosophers" such as Hegel (1770-1831). This is because the ideas in philosophy don't die as they do in other "sciences". Often there is a cycle of going back to older concepts and theories, such as idealism and rationalism. Idealism is mainly a "Platonic idea", but we still use it today. Everything is alive in philosophy. Those ideas that are dead in philosophy are ideas that didn't belong in philosophy in the first place, such as the notions of nature that Aristotle had, or the physics that Descartes wrote about. Everything else is useful, is in motion and can be used to further analyse human conscience and life. Who told you Leibniz was wrong about his psychological ideas? Do you know the truth about the human psyche? Is Freud outdated? Is Jung?

Nuno Hipolito


(42) Tobias asked:

I like to consider myself a pacifist, but I also strongly supported the war against Saddam Hussein's regime, because USA is so militarily superior that it could be done quickly, and because I am convinced that in the long run the world will be more peaceful without dictatorships. Am I a hypocrite if I both admire leaders like Ghandi and Bush?

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

I think there is some confusion is your words. You can't be a pacifist and defend military action because "it would be quick". That's hypocritical. It would be like being against hunting, unless the birds didn't feel anything and died quickly. It's still shooting birds with a gun and seeing them explode.

Is it wrong to overthrow a dictatorship with a full scale war against that country? In my opinion it's overkill pacifism, and that means it isn't pacifism at all, it is violence. You could defend Bush, just don't call it pacifism, or "the right thing to do". If you do, yes, you are being hypocritical.

I'm not saying that Bush did the wrong thing, the immoral thing. That analysis is to be made by us, as individuals. I'm just saying that you should be honest when analysing facts.

Nuno Hipolito


(43) Cressida asked:

Does the brain create our sense of self?

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The brain creates everything you perceive, in the way you perceive it. Without the brain you would not be. So yes, the brain is the source of our sense of self. The source, and not the origin, because your self is built up of several elements, that your brains allows you to collect and analyse.

Nuno Hipolito


(44) Maria-Anna asked:

What are the epistemological problems in using pictures as historical evidence?

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

The problems once called epistemological are nowadays addressed as problems of methodology. In simple terms, we now like to know what are the limits of the investigating tools and of language itself, to know how far we can go in answering the questions that are posed by our questions.

You pose a question that relates to knowledge. You ask what you could know about history by using pictures. The problems posed by your question, in my view are these: 1) how do the pictures limit your view of a particular historical event? 2) Are the pictures, or what they represent, an adequate language for what you expect can be communicated by them. 3) in a classical epistemological viewpoint, can the pictures help you filter things that are not identified to that particular historical event.

Nuno Hipolito


(45) Kate asked:

Why do people fall in love?

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One would say: because they must. If you are socially active, i.e. you talk to other people; you are bound to feel the need to be closer to them. Actually this might be as a way to validate yourself, your ambitions and insecurities. But this is a cynical view. I prefer the Platonic idea that you fall in love because you want something that you lack in yourself, and you need to feel complete. If the person you are with gives you things you need, things you can't give to yourself, that makes you desire his/her presence near you, in your life. That is love.

Nuno Hipolito


(46) Yale asked:

What is the first philosophical question provided by Thales?

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Aristotle said that Thales of Miletus considered all things to be made of water. You can read more following this link: http://www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/Mathematicians/Thales.html.

Nuno Hipolito


(47) Vid asked:

I want to know whether our reasoning ability can go beyond the limits imposed by our language? Does language puts a Limit on philosophy?

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

Language definitely puts a limit on philosophy. Not a limit on what we can think about, but a limit on the way we say or reach our conclusions.

Most think that philosophy of language killed metaphysics. I, for one, think that it gave it new life. We never knew that our "normal language" was wrong to address a number of key issues. Only when that was pointed out, could we progress to find new forms of language, more appropriate to address certain issues, as god, or conscience. We don't need to be pragmatic or sceptic, just because certain things are "harder" to write about. Philosophy of language, putting limits on the way language is used in reaching philosophical conclusions, helps us find new ways of saying things, and making things make sense in language.

Nuno Hipolito


(48) Michael asked:

Compare and contrast Kant's and Nietzsche's views of metaphysics.

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

Kant considers metaphysics to be the "first philosophy". He has a gnoseological view of metaphysics. This is because Kant, in science, considered principles more important that objects themselves. Metaphysics, for Kant, is the study of the principles that underline all other human knowledge. It's a "science of pure concepts".

Nietzsche was not a big fan of metaphysics. His view of a man freed from god made him repudiate Plato's forms, and Plato's idealism altogether. Idealism believes that ideas exist in an ideal world, opposite to the real world, the world of phenomena. That world, Kant's world of principles, is also the world of metaphysics.

Nuno Hipolito


(49) Bob asked:

Is one morally obligated to obey every law? I sure would like a clear answer. I am thinking of some stop signs which I intentionally drive through because (for years) traffic cannot physically approach this intersection, yet the sign remains. It may be a trivially example, but the same reasoning should apply.

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

You are not obligated to obey every law. There are illegal laws, and immoral laws. The prime example came from the laws put in place during the Nazi regime. Those laws were approved by a freely elected parliament (yes, people actually elected Adolph Hitler), but they were, in essence, immoral laws, because they did not respect higher "natural law" principles. You can find these issues of immoral laws in many textbooks of philosophy of law.

When it comes to your stop sign you should think about this: laws are made for humans to obey, but also to facilitate their life. Laws are supposed to make sense, to help you live a better, more productive life. Order helps you live a better life, as does discipline, in the right amounts of course. That stop sign stopped making sense a while ago and you should not be forced to respect it any more. But, in a strict sense interpretation of the law, a stop sign is a stop sign. You could argue that the sign does not make sense, and in essence that rule is without foundation, but a cop in a bad day could still give you a ticket.

Nuno Hipolito


(50) Dhiraj asked:

There are no criteria to evaluate beauty. Disagreements about what is beautiful and why are most common. Agreements, whenever present, are always explained away as being due to cultural uniformity. Why is the question of sensibility ignored almost always? I am aware that Kant believed in "subjective universality" and that Hume thought that someone with perfect sensibility can arrive at a "correct" evaluation of beaut. A tone deaf person will not be able to appreciate music no more than a blind person can enjoy a painting. This is, of course, not an all or nothing phenomenon. Many just fail to notice a certain instrument or a certain change in pitch etc. and arrive at judgements about the composition.

How can disagreements that arise due to these factors be used to justify a relativistic notion of aesthetic judgement? Can we say that certain necessary, however not sufficient, conditions of perception be met before any evaluation is attempted?

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

Are you saying that only someone that is a conaisseur of opera can evaluate if an opera is beautiful or not? Only someone that knows modern art can evaluate a modern art piece?

I am aware that this a vast issue, but I usually have a criteria for classifying something as beautiful or not. If it's something I could do myself, it's not beautiful.

Beauty, as a concept, is exterior to you, an in that aspect universal.

Nuno Hipolito


(51) Tim asked:

When I think about how you can further dissect something infinitely, it seems to me that this suggests there is no such thing as more than one thing occurring at once (though the lines in which we divide "things", I believe, are only imagined, though necessarily so). Assuming all the above, would it make more sense to see that every incomprehensible but imagined finite "moment" imaginedly contains imagined finite thoughts (that are frozen in time since this is a "moment") OR to see that every "moment" contains only one imagined finite thought? I feel like I don't have the mental foundation right now necessary to think about this further.

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On the first "suggests":

It might seem otherwise to many readers, for whom something's being infinitely divisible is not in the least contradictory with it's being distinct from other things. Indeed, there is no such contradiction. However, I think you may be on to something profound, if you can precisify *why* you think infinite divisibility is connected with definite thinghood being "only imagined". There are philosophical forebears here. Zeno and Parmenides come to mind, and various indian thoughts too (particularly Buddhist), some of which may or may not be historically related to the greeks by diffusion in either or both directions.

In my view, Zeno's paradoxes are an attempt to show that the thought that continua are *made up of* a series of units leads to a contradictory account of motion. Such an argument, if cogent (it is, in my own reconstruction of it), would justify a conclusion that the experience of time is not made up of a series of distinct events, and that the experience of other sensory continua is not constituted by experience of a series of distinct qualities, and that experience altogether is not made up of distinct spatio-temporal things with qualities. However, it does not follow directly from the thought that things/events are not constitutive of the spatial and temporal continua on which they arranged that things/events are "only imagined". I suppose it is "suggested", right enough What is the nature and power of the suggestion?

This discussion is really about language-reality isomorphism, or the idea that words map onto things. One way of putting the (wrong) idea that the world is made up of things and qualities which language users *then* come along and pick out (report), is to assume that the world is made up of little bits and pieces (quanta, in modern parlance). On the assumption of quanta there would be no problem about the possibility of a (scientific) language fitting the world, since language relies on there being things and on this conception the world is fundamentally thingy in the sense of being literally made up of little bits. Zeno, I think, aims at showing that this conception of the world's fundamental thingyness which has continua made up of quanta involves contradiction (specifically in the account of motion), and therefore must be false.

Note that a disproof of one explanation for language-reality isomorphism has important but limited consequences. That language fits the world doesn't thereby become impossible (ie it doesn't follow that the linguistic distinctness of things is "only imagined"), but given that one account of how language can fit the world has been refuted, the supposed fit between language and world does become more mysterious and suspect. Thus the suggestion that the distinctness of things is only imagined gains some weight as a simpler more economical account of the status of linguistic distinctions. However, there are a large range of views in the philosophy of language, and choices about the best account ought to be based on a wide awareness of the available variety.

I hasten to acknowledge that a Physicist called Peter Lynds has a very similar account of Zeno's paradoxes to mine, in that we both take it to be the general moral of Zeno's paradoxes that time is not made up of a series of 'nows'. You might profitably consult Lynds' account, just as you might profitably consult my web-published Mphil chapter on Zeno. They resemble, and I am always pleased to see people agreeing with me. Lynds published in print and on the internet sometime after myself, and did at one time direct objectors to his account towards my account from his website, but without citing me in his papers, I recall. The vast fuss that Lynds' account (postdating and resembling and referring to mine) has kicked up in the physics and pop-sci world (and even, for that matter, in the Guardian and Financial Times) might be one example of the relevance of obscure exegetical work in the history of Philosophy to really important things like journalistic discussions of abstract theoretical physics, except that one wouldn't expect any such putative relevance to be reflected in funding decisions, or recognition, or the like.

David Robjant


(52) Samantha asked:

Is there any way to deal with existential depression easily?

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Swimming.

David Robjant


(53) Ashley asked:

What is an example of true justified belief which does not qualify as knowledge?

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I believe there is a blue ford parked outside my house. There is, so the belief is true. And I am justified in believing this, because I parked my blue ford there ten minutes ago. So the belief is true and justified. However, unknown to me, someone stole my blue ford and parked another blue ford outside my house. Consequently the link between my justification (I parked one) and my true belief (there is a blue ford outside my house) is broken, or accidental. But someone who is right accidentally doesn't know anything at all. In this situation, where the justification and true belief can be pulled apart, I cannot be said to know the fact that there is a blue ford outside my house, even though I believe something that is true and I am justified in believing it. Therefore the definition of knowledge as justified true belief is false (or wildly inadequate, if you prefer). This kind of counter-example to the aforesaid definition of knowledge is called a Gettier counter-example in honour of the chap who (quite incredibly) seems to have been the first modern academic to notice it. As I recall, though, Gettier talked about tennis. It is a very famous paper. Worth looking up.

David Robjant


(54) Tobias asked:

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I like to consider myself a pacifist, but I also strongly supported the war against Saddam Hussein's regime, because USA is so militarily superior that it could be done quickly, and because I am convinced that in the long run the world will be more peaceful without dictatorships. Am I a hypocrite if I both admire leaders like Ghandi and Bush?

Yes you are. However, Bush and Ghandi are themselves hypocrites, and this side of heaven you are never going to find anyone who is consistently good or consistently evil. Hitler was kind to his dog. Ghandi paused his pacifist struggle with racist imperialism in order to assist the british war effort against fascism. Bush acts so as realise democracy in the middle east whilst standing at the top of a system where the money appears to buy election successes. And so on. But this is no grounds for outrage or despair or suicide bombing. It is the necessary way of a world poised between heaven and hell. Hypocrisy is vice's tribute to virtue. Hypocrisy is when you do good despite yourself, and whenever you chastise yourself, as you ought to, for good you have not done. Nowadays, people who object to hypocrisy want human beings to be *consistently* rotten. Well, to hell with them.

What you might usefully wonder is not whether you are being hypocritical (self-critical) in admiring both Bush and Ghandi, but whether you have a consistent picture of good. This is a different matter, and here consistency is of definite value, it is not the 'hobgoblin of small minds'. You will have to act on your picture: so better not let it be a contradictory picture suggesting opposite actions. What is it, then, that you see as common between Bush and Gandhi? That's an interesting question. I could imagine some answers, but you need to think about yours.

David Robjant


(55) Annie asked:

It has been said that America is an idea, not really a place; in other words, that anyone who adopts the American Constitution and its ideas can be living "in" America.

Osama bin Laden is a leader of many people who violently hate America.

Discuss how you think Plato might explain bin Laden's hatred for America; and why he is a leader of his people. How might you try to persuade Mr. bin Laden to a different opinion about America? Can you help me answer this?

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Plato would say that Bin Laden is a tyrannical soul. What this amounts to is that Bin Laden is obsessed by unrealities, or, which comes to the same thing, that he is on an ego-trip. The reason why lots of people follow him? There is a vast amount of ignorance and stupidity in the world. It happens that this ignorance and stupidity feeds off a collection of facts (eg Palestine) for which American foreign policy is at least partially responsible, but it does not follow that if American foreign policy was different this ignorance and stupidity would find no fuel for its irrationalist propaganda. Indeed the alteration of American middle east Policy from one of strategic support for tyranny towards active promotion of democracy has simply resulted in America being anathematised for two contradictory evils at once (Thus, America is evil for having once co-operated with the house of Saud, and also for actively supporting democracy in Iraq and Lebanon). Likewise, in it's irrational version of history according to which 'the west' has it in for the muslim faith, the fact that we recently went to war specifically in order to defend Muslim Kosovars is simply forgotten, as is the fact that in the name of conciliation we are letting the oil rich Sudanese islamist regime get away with murder in Darfur.

One may reasonably infer that any policy which did not fit the 'infidel crusader' account will be forgotten, and that the reality of US policy plays little if any role in the functioning of the the Islamist's fantasy. It is the fantasy of struggle itself which attracts those after glory and personal raison d'etre, and not the collection of facts made selective use of in that fantasy. Since we cannot, at this point, unsign the Sykes Picot treaty of world war one or hand back el Andalus to the Moors, efforts to alter our policy so as to falsify their propaganda are never going to be successful. A better plan would be to try to do what is right.

How might you try to persuade Mr. bin Laden to a different opinion about America?

Only an American could be so idealistic, and so silly, as to ask this. What you need to do to enemies is to defeat them. Yes, many of these enemies do need to go to school, but it's no use trying to teach someone with explosives wrapped about their midriff. Likewise inviting them round for tea will not help. Invite them for tea *after* you have defeated and disarmed them.

David Robjant


(56) Colin asked:

Firstly, I must stress that I'm not trying to poo-poo your discipline (or, perhaps, its disciples) but I was wondering, in the context of seeing philosophy as a means of trying to derive 'The Answer' (and I know I'm being vague to the point of ridiculous but I also think that you'll intuitively know where I'm coming from so I will continue), if there can be any merit in studying *any* philosophical text written before 1859 and Darwin. Before I get slated, let me qualify this — clearly all knowledge is relevant to someone or something and to look at, say, Leibniz as a literary text, or perhaps in the context of a psychological/historical study, will no doubt be, erm, nice. But, as the old wives saying goes, if you build a house on ropey foundations...

Or, to put it another way; could, say, a 21st century scientist examining different ways of proving the world is flat really be considered a scientist by anything other than the most irritatingly literal of definitions?

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I'm finding it hard to discover the sense in which your second paragraph has "put ... another way" what you said in the first. The only common idea, which is a bit thin, seems to be a preference for the scientific enquiry, although I am none too sure about even this, since you do not bother to tell us what you regard as constitutive of this preferred method, and aren't sure about who to count as a scientist.

I note that you begin by declaring a preference for science over philosophy, and end by having to ask a philosopher what science is. Isn't there something a bit odd about this arrangement of ideas?

To answer you directly:

Can be any [non-historical] merit in studying *any* philosophical text written before 1859 and Darwin [?]

Yes.

Could, say, a 21st century scientist examining different ways of proving the world is flat really be considered a scientist [?]

No.

Hope this helps.

David Robjant


(57) Julie asked:

Please could you tell me the opposite word to exaggerate.

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It is 'understate'. As in:

"With the understatement characteristic of the English race, Professor Worplestone remarked 'not nice, diphtheria, not nice at all'. His donnish blow was soft, but the nail well hit. None of those there assembled could find the wherewithal to demur. Mercifully, after a painful pause, cake arrived. A most satisfactory social intercourse intervened. It was not to last. 'How's the new Thesaurus coming along Professor?' Johnny asked, brightly."

David Robjant


(58) Bob asked:

If clear communication flows from clear thinking, then what percentage of philosophy is clear? Does anyone else think that a large percentage of philosophy is self indulgent pseudo-intellectual gibberish?

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1. 13.5%.

2. Yes (see previous question).

David Robjant


(59) Aamir asked:

Salaam, I am 23 year old BS student and I want to know the Philosophy of the AL-FARABI? What he actually want to taught us?

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Al-Farabi was an early Islamic philosopher born in 870 a.d. He was influenced by both Plato and Aristotle the, two major Greek philosophers, and helped to preserve their work and pass it on to Western European thinkers. The major influence on his thought was Plato so he is called a neo-platonist. It would take to long to give you an account of his thought and you would have to have some knowledge of Aristotle and Plato in order to fully understand it.

If you do a web search for Al-Farabi you will find lots of articles which give accounts of his thoughts on philosophy, logic and music and many other things.

Shaun Williamson


(60) Jacyglass asked:

Is everyone a philosopher?

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No. To be a philosopher you have to study philosophy. Not everyone is a poet, not everyone is a musician, not everyone is a mathematician or a doctor. Philosophy is a complex subject with a history and needs to be studied just like any other subject. Thinking about life doesn't make you a philosopher, banging on a tin drum doesn't make you a musician.

Shaun Williamson


(61) Tim asked:

When I think about how you can further dissect something infinitely, it seems to me that this suggests there is no such thing as more than one thing occurring at once (though the lines in which we divide "things", I believe, are only imagined, though necessarily so). Assuming all the above, would it make more sense to see that every incomprehensible but imagined finite "moment" imaginedly contains imagined finite thoughts (that are frozen in time since this is a "moment") OR to see that every "moment" contains only one imagined finite thought? I feel like I don't have the mental foundation right now necessary to think about this further.

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It may surprise you to learn that the topic you have touched on in your question is not altogether new. Ever since Augustine about 1400 years ago began musing on what time is, there have been thinkers lured down this track: What actually is? If I cant analyse to my complete satisfaction how long the present moment lasts — which seems to decide what is — then how can anything be? And how long? But this brings up the issue of How long is the present? If it is infinitely divisible, then as you said the items that share our present moment must be equally so. And since time, seen in this light, is different for everyone who experiences it, there is surely also an infinite variation in the past and future peering into the peering. However, its an enormously complicated issue, and the best I can do for you now is to recommend that you stick your nose into a book, The End of Time by Julian Barbour. Although it is in the main a scientific theory, what he gives you is an explanation of how to understand time and space and the reality which they give us in the light of so many instantaneous slices of experience.

Jurgen Lawrenz


(62) Colin asked:

Firstly, I must stress that I'm not trying to poo-poo your discipline (or, perhaps, its disciples) but I was wondering, in the context of seeing philosophy as a means of trying to derive 'The Answer' (and I know I'm being vague to the point of ridiculous but I also think that you'll intuitively know where I'm coming from so I will continue), if there can be any merit in studying *any* philosophical text written before 1859 and Darwin. Before I get slated, let me qualify this — clearly all knowledge is relevant to someone or something and to look at, say, Leibniz as a literary text, or perhaps in the context of a psychological/historical study, will no doubt be, erm, nice. But, as the old wives saying goes, if you build a house on ropey foundations. Or, to put it another way; could, say, a 21st century scientist examining different ways of proving the world is flat really be considered a scientist by anything other than the most irritatingly literal of definitions?

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Im not really sure what you're asking; but my guess is that you are using 1859 as an arbitrary dividing line between eras of knowledge and of belief. You could have said 1637 (Descartes) or 1905 (Einstein) or 1980 (Internet) etc. These are all arbitrary dates when knowledge changed. Now the important word in this is "changed". I could have written "increased", but in part I want to convince you that these constantly shifting date lines give away the relativity of all knowledge and therefore throw a reflection on your question that you may not have considered.

But to stick with 1859, it is true that we have learnt a lot about the world and ourselves since that date, knowledge which was never on the agenda before.

Now I need to add right away that there is a dividing line between facts as we know them and facts as they may actually pertain to the world. Scientific discovery is in essence a way of peeling off one layer after another of the onion that you might call the world of knowable facts. So quantitatively we know more than our ancestors did. Agreed. But — and a big but! — what is a knowable fact?

This I take to be the essence of your question. Do facts destroy philosophy?

To answer this we have to understand what we are talking about. What is a fact? According to the dictionary, something that has actually happened (naturally this includes objects). But here you need to face the problem that "what has happened" is never a naked sort of fact — it is a fact in virtue of what we understand to have happened. Our understanding, however, does not guarantee that objectively the fact transpired as we believe, nor that the object we have studied is precisely as we have established by testing and measurement. Take as an example of what I mean the case that a Martian might land here: if he looked at the same facts, would it necessarily and ineluctably be the case that he and we agree on identical criteria? Would our perceptions and our experiences be exactly the same, without possibility of disagreement?

Perhaps you will agree with me that this is at least open to doubt. But now, staying here on earth, would a Buddhist, a Christian, an Australian Aborigine, an Eskimo always see and interpret identically the same facts? Surely in this global village of our's we do not entertain these notions any more. We know for certain that skygazers from these cultures see quite disparate things up there in the heavens. If we maintain that telescopes confirm what we Westerners see, they might respond that our telescopes are just bigger and better eyes, but that the presuppositions by which we gather our knowledge are unchanged.

Okay: let's assume for a moment this is a case for saying they just don't want to progress to an objective point of view. After all, there are members of their cultures who come to work and learn in the West and then they see things in our way, adding confirmation that we are right.

But what about the way we see things? Do you think that scientists, say biologists, looking at the same fact, would always and necessarily agree on what they saw? I can tell you they certainly do not. There are "schools of thought", and members from each school, looking through a microscope at the same fact, might well disagree on what they are seeing.

The more you pursue this line of thinking, the more you will realise that facts are what we make of them. Only God knows what they "really" are! And, speaking of scientists, what they see and interpret is inevitably loaded with theoretical presuppositions which make them expect to see or experience what they are looking for. And once a fact has been incorporated into a theory, you don't need the facts anymore. They become theory. — As a great scientist of the 20th century said, justly: "Theories destroy facts".

Perhaps you can see now that facts and experiences are not as cool and detached from humans as you might think. Facts reflect prejudices. So you need to be aware of the source of prejudice when you read accounts of what a particular facts or a collection of facts purports to be. The only reason why we don't do this all the same is because we (society) operate under a kind of tacit consensus of understanding facts relevant to us in a certain light that is relevant to us.

And so to philosophy. You think that Leibniz can only be read as "literature". I suppose you mean "all philosophy before a certain date" by this example. And, in particular, all philosophy which is clearly obsolete in the sense that its problem have been solved definitively. Well, you could have a problem here. There are very few philosophical problems that have been "definitively" solved. You might possibly have mistaken what philosophy is all about. For example, you might have read somewhere that one of the great philosophical issues is the underlying substance of all matter in the universe; and now you might point out that atoms were discovered as chemical elements around 1807 and that this question is, surely, old hat? Well, this is really the kind of cruncher we might be talking about. All scientific issues begin as philosophical problems. Atomism is a philosophical problem; accordingly the solution by science is a solution based on a preconceived notion. Therefore it is intrinsically constrained by research criteria and methodologies. But the discovery of atoms did not close off the problem forever. In fact (seeing you mentioned his name) Leibniz held that the idea of a fundamental particle is a logical contradiction. So it is. But where does that leave our facts? Essentially as interim solution based on current theories. The theory of atoms could be overturned at a moment's notice. And so with all other facts. And thus all knowledge that we possess is indeterminate. The universe offers no guarantees that we are interpreting its facts in the one and only correct way.

I hope you will now see that Darwin and his theory changed nothing whatever as regards either theory or philosophy. In a sense he put up a new philosophy, a new way of looking at the human phenomenon. It is not, and cannot be, the final and only true way of looking. And it hardly qualifies as a theory. Ernst Mayr, the greatest evolutionist of the century, wrote that Darwinism is in essence the History of Life on Earth. It is not a scientific theory because it does not give you the tools for making predictions. But that's okay. We have leant a lot of useful and interesting facts about life and human beings in the process. But Darwin's theory (or philosophy) is also deficient in that it tells us nothing about values. But if there is one thing that distinguishes philosophy from science, it is that philosophy is about human concerns and human values. None of these have ever been solved by science. They are still on the agenda, and will continue to stay there until we acquire the perfection of God.

So, to end: scientists do science and philosophers do philosophy. It is a gross error to think that because you can drive a car today where your ancestors rode on horses, that this indicates progress or superior knowledge. All it shows is that we have been looking for ways of acquiring knowledge to make life more comfortable. Other cultures were more interested in their souls and spent their spare time on teasing out this particular mystery of life. In a word, a final word: philosophical problems are those that, when they are asked, will not go away. They will not disappear because of a scientific handwave. They stay around because we humans ultimately want more than just a few material comforts: we want knowledge, beauty, justice, love, trust, adventure, achievement, maybe even a meaning of life. Philosophy is a way of thinking about these matters — the matters that we might embrace as the value systems by which we explain to ourselves what is important in life.

Jurgen Lawrenz


(63) Drew asked:

In the Anglo Saxon world, a corporation is a legal fiction that has all of the legal capacities of an individual. By law a corporation is required to prefer its interests (not, to be clear, its shareholders') over all others, unless there is a specific law that creates an exemption from this rule. It is absolutely self-interested. In light of this, how is corporate social responsibility to be understood? Specifically, if my characterization of the law is accurate, is not corporate social responsibility illegal? And if ethics is the study of the right organization of desires, can we judge corporate conduct as either ethical or unethical? It has no desires, only interests. Or am I wrong in saying this: if it has interests, must it have desires?

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Coincidentally I've had a corporate lawyer addressing students in one of my courses recently, so I can tell you at least three or four important things that you should understand and that will, hopefully, remove some misunderstandings I perceive in your line of questioning. The legal status of a corporation is one issue in which this lawyer is particularly interested, since he is lobbying (in the US) for a new definition of their social responsibilities. But you should be clear in your mind that corporations, even if their are treated under some provisions as "persons", they are person only de jure, not de facto. An important difference.

It means that they have no desires, interests etc., not even in principle. What you are trying to unravel here is, I think, a collateral effect of the way corporations are set up: why they exist and what is the basis for their operations.

Now the reason there are corporations is because people want to make money. To do so is, in certain situations, only possible if many of them team up. These are the shareholders (others may join them as investors). Therefore the one and only business criterion "known' to a corporation is the intention to make a profit and return benefits to the shareholders. The means to do this are pretty simple: maximise profitability, minimise overheads. This being the sole operating principle, the means to achieve this provide on the one hand opportunities for employment, on the other for exploiting local resources. When a corporation grows, it stands to reason that employment is beneficial for society, exploitation deleterious. The benefits for society are often so significant that corporations attract generous concessions; and the community where they operate must weigh the disadvantages against these expected benefits. Quite often communities are blinded by the benefits and then regret (when it's too late) the concessions made. But you can see from this simple scenario that corporations don't grow up in a vacuum. Without society accommodating them, they could not exist.

The issue pursued by my legal friend is that a corporation cannot be held accountable for (say) damage to the environment that results from its operations. In many situations of this kind there is no one directly responsible. The big problem with big corporations is that they damage things in a big way once they get started. The laws being what they are, this has to be intentional in order to make possible a suit for damages. Therefore, at present, suing a corporation is pretty hopeless because the courts need to be convinced "beyond reasonable doubt" that some person or persons are responsible because they went ahead in full knowledge of the unlawfulness of their actions or directives, which means prosecuting the directors or staff. But firstly it is difficult to prove deliberately harmful intentions (unless there is an insider ready to blow the whistle and knows his facts), and secondly corporations delegate huge loads of work so that malpractice is also difficult to nail down to them.

There is the other problem, of course, that if a community reacts by banning them or curtailing their operations they will just pack up and move elsewhere.

Thus, although we like to hate corporations today, the reason is not because they are evil, but because (a) in order to make money, they often wreak social damage inadvertently and (b) when they make a lot of money they become more powerful than the local authorities in the places where they operate. This, however, is a by-product of the money economy. Corporations are not alone in chasing money. If we, society as a whole, were not so obsessed with money, then corporations would not be so powerful! A vicious circle, but of our (society's) own making.

To understand where this all comes from, here is a short historical note. The rise of corporations dates back to the 12th century, when Church and Crown dominated society totally. Corporations or corporate bodies (e.g. universities, guilds, professional associations) were formed under special legal provisions of the Justinian Law to protect the members of a group from individual prosecution. The principle is that a member of an association should not be held culpable for teaching or working under the code approved by that association just because some cardinal or duke disliked this individual. E.g. if you were teaching Aristotle and the university had such a curriculum, then under the law you could not personally be apprehended for offending against a state or church decree: they would have to apprehend the whole university. So you can see that originally incorporation was a way of protecting yourself against the powers that ran the land and had the nasty habit of ruining and/or murdering little people on a whim.

To conclude: Corporations, that is people working together at a common goal, do not go out of their way to offend; but it is in the nature of society, the law and their interaction with (large) corporations that deleterious outcomes can result. But I think it is fair to say that you cannot just blame corporations for what they do wrong. The law and the structure of society play their part. After all, don't forget that all public utilities are also corporations, it's just that in this case we, the public, are the "shareholders".

Jurgen Lawrenz


(64) Dhiraj asked:

There are no criteria to evaluate beauty. Disagreements about what is beautiful and why are most common. Agreements, whenever present, are always explained away as being due to cultural uniformity. Why is the question of sensibility ignored almost always? I am aware that Kant believed in "subjective universality" and that Hume thought that someone with perfect sensibility can arrive at a "correct" evaluation of beaut. A tone deaf person will not be able to appreciate music no more than a blind person can enjoy a painting. This is, of course, not an all or nothing phenomenon. Many just fail to notice a certain instrument or a certain change in pitch etc. and arrive at judgements about the composition. How can disagreements that arise due to these factors be used to justify a relativistic notion of aesthetic judgement? Can we say that certain necessary, however not sufficient, conditions of perception be met before any evaluation is attempted?

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I am in agreement with you that aesthetic criteria are in a dreadful muddle. And it is true that your last sentence points to an irreducible factor. But to my mind, the crucial dilemma is not the sensible sufficiency of the subject — after all, the vast majority of people have the same sensitive equipment. Therefore cultural relativity is often pushed forward as an "explanation" for the appreciation of beauty, but as you rightly point out again, this is just a non-explanation. What practically all philosophies of art disregard is that we humans do not create Art (maybe you'll forgive me the capital A, which I put there to distinguish it from craft and embellishment) for the purpose of indulging our senses, but in order to speak from one soul to another. Once you look at it under those auspices, you might find yourself realising that the human mind is the agent behind the creation of art; but since a mind cannot address another mind immediately, it "hijacked" the sensory apparatus as a mediate faculty. This is too big a point to deal with in this forum, and I'm afraid that I can't think of a single book in which this point of view is developed to any sort of comprehensiveness. But if you're interested, some of the issues are discussed in an article in Pathways to Philosophy under the title of Art and the Object Mentality, so let me commend this to you as a sort of starting point.

Jurgen Lawrenz


(65) Ethel asked:

Is justice for all Possible?

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Yes it is possible but it is unlikely that we will ever achieve it. Human judicial systems are fallible, open to corruption and limited by the time and the money we are prepared to spend on them. Some lawyers are better than others, some are more expensive than others. 'Justice for all' expresses an ideal that everyone in a democratic society should strive to achieve.

Shaun Williamson


(66) Seamusin asked:

How come John Paul Two said in 'Fides et Ration' that philosophy and religion went hand in hand like love and marriage and horse and carriage? Your definition of religion as being the acceptance of dogma unquestioningly is obviously a straw man. Religion without philosophy is bigotry and philosophy without religion is idolatry. Beannacht gan meas.

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Well I wouldn't define religion as being the acceptance of dogma unquestionably since there are many different religions and churches. However when I consider organised religions then most of them have some form of excommunication if you deviate too far from the approved dogmas.

Since you have raised the issue of the Catholic church in particular then I would say that it is all right to be a Catholic and a philosopher as long as you are following an approved philosophy. Lets not forget that St. Thomas Aquinas was banned from teaching for a long time because his philosophy had not been approved by the Church. More recently liberal thinkers such as Hans Kung have found the Church an unfriendly place to be if you want to think for yourself. I suppose I shouldn't mention Galileo but I will.

It is easy for Popes to make fine pronouncements but how these work out in practice is more important. I have known priests who were harassed and driven out of the church because they dissented from the official line on contraception for example.

When I think of Popes I admire, then I think of John 23rd. Since then I can't think of one who was as inspirational.

Shaun Williamson


(67) Lisa asked:

People often say "Everyone is a Philosopher" explain what this means?

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I have never heard anyone say that. However I imagine that it means something like 'everyone has their own ideas about what life means' and that this somehow makes them a philosopher. This is nonsense. Just because you do addition that doesn't make you a mathematician. Everyone has their own ideas about medicine and health but that doesn't make them a doctor. Everyone can try to draw a picture but that doesn't make them an artist.

Shaun Williamson


(68) Liz asked:

Is Moore's paradox ("It's raining outside but I don't believe it is") problematic in languages other than English?

How is it reconciled? (in English, that is.)

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1) yes, it will be problematic in any language capable of making statements of both belief and fact about the same things, as far as I can see. An interesting question... as I went through some of the literature on this, I didn't see any explicit discussion of this particular linguistic issue. However, there are several papers on general logical formulations of this paradox, which implies that any language capable of making such formulations will have the paradox. Given that, the question is interesting but resolvable.

2) It hasn't been, to everyone's satisfaction. There are many papers on this, continuing to the present. For example:

De-Almeida,-Claudio 'What Moore's Paradox Is About' Philosophy-and-Phenomenological-Research. Ja 01; 62(1): 33-58

"On the basis of arguments showing that none of the most influential analyses of Moore's paradox yields a successful resolution of the problem, a new analysis of it is offered. It is argued that, in attempting to render verdicts of either inconsistency or self-contradiction or self -refutation, those analyses have all failed to satisfactorily explain why a Moore-paradoxical proposition is such that it cannot be rationally believed. According to the proposed solution put forward here, a Moore -paradoxical proposition is one for which the believer can have no non-overridden evidence. (edited)"

As you can see, it's still being debated.

Steven Ravett Brown


(69) Snajor asked:

What is the term for the belief that you are the only one that actually exists.

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Solipsism, n. The view or theory that the self is all that can be known to exist.

Derivatives: solipsist, n., solipsistic, adj., solipsistically, adv.

Origin: late 19th cent.: from Latin solus 'alone' + ipse 'self' + -ism .

Steven Ravett Brown


(70) Jess asked:

Is the Law of Identity an affirmation that Reality is non contra se, or does it only apply to singular objects/ concepts without regard to the whole?

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Well one problem here is just what a "singular object" would be... a red patch? An electron? I can't actually conceive of anything I'd term unambiguously singular. On the other hand, since I like modern variants of gestalt theory, I can't really say that there *aren't* wholes, can I. Another problem I have understanding your question is what you mean by "without regard". Isn't a "singular object", assuming there can be one, a "whole", in itself? In that case, how can you speak of applying the principle of non-self-contradiction, without regard to the object you're applying it to? If by "whole" you're referring to what you term "Reality", then I'm not sure what you mean by "apply", if you want to "apply" it, in the case of singular objects, to the whole... your question leaves that possibility (although I'm not sure what it would mean) open, it seems to me. In addition, this ("non contra se") is a religiously-based term, having to do with the putative unity of a particular version of the Christian god... in which case I'm also not sure how to give a secular answer; and that's the only type of answer I'm interested in.

But ignoring all that, offhand I'd agree with your latter formulation and not your former... with the proviso that I take "whole" above to mean "all reality" or what you term "Reality", and "singular object" to refer to some sort of epistemological, rather than metaphysical, conception of objects. To put it another way, I see no way, outside of a very restricted theological perspective, to claim "non contra se" about Reality (I mean, yes, if everything is in the mind of a god, then hey, why not, but otherwise...), whereas I can readily see claiming it about a) formal logical concepts in a restricted context (viz., the particular formal system), and less readily, but provisionally, about b) some objects, particularly some theoretical constructs (e.g., "force", "momentum", and so forth), in the context of objective reality as we know it.

Steven Ravett Brown


(71) Edward asked:

Can there be laws of war?

I think this can be interpreted in two ways. It could mean, "Are there any patterns in war?" Or, "Should there be guidelines dictating both whether it is valid to enter a war and how a war should be waged?" I have chosen to assume it is asking the latter. This is what I have done so far:

I have dipped into Thomas Nagel's Mortal Questions which has a fascinating essay on War. Whilst listening to BBC Radio 4's 'Today' Programme, I heard that a philosopher called 'Grontius' had some thoughts on this although I have not been able to find out what he wrote. Would Aquinas be relevant?

I might start with a synopsis of how wars begin (with the help of A.J.P. Taylor's How Wars Begin). This would bring me on to the point that they begin from a breakdown of diplomacy or of laws. Thus it would seem ridiculous to suggest that laws can dictate whether a war should be and how it should be waged.

The next paragraphs would discuss the different standpoints: absolutist and utilitarian. I would need to back them up with original and convincing historical examples. I could bring in the Christian standpoint on war and the criteria that would need to be fulfilled for it to be valid.

Any source suggestions, ideas, comments on structure would be greatly appreciated.

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Yes, Aquinas would be very relevant, as would Augustine, as two of the early philosophers to thrash out just principles of war. The just war theorist you heard on Radio 4 was almost certainly Hugo Grotius, who fine-tuned the theory in the sixteenth century. You can read most of his "On the Law of War and Peace" at http://www.constitution.org/gro/djbp.htm(there are a few chapters omitted). More sources can be found at http://www.justwartheory.com/.

Personally, I think that one of the most significant contributions of just war theory is to distinguish the means from the ends of any war. Hence, while a war might be just in its end (such as defeating Nazism) it may be prosecuted unjustly (i.e. by targeting civilians). Interestingly, this often allows both sides to claim that they are fighting a just war. This may help towards the structure of your paper.

Your comments about the uselessness of rules in a situation of near-anarchy are fair, and there is a certain amount of truth to the notion that history is written by the victors. However, I think that most people would like to believe that their side does not engage in atrocities, nor go to war needlessly (i.e. when it is not the last resort), and so the theory can provide useful guidelines. If nothing else, when viewed historically either side can be shamed by its acting out-of-step with what is perceived as just prosecution (such as the controversies surrounding Arthur "Bomber" Harris in the UK, the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, the Katyn massacre in Poland, etc.). Yes, atrocities do happen in war, but by bringing condemnation upon them and the "war criminals" responsible,they can hopefully be limited.

Another aspect to bear in mind is that both Aquinas and Augustine (and, for that matter, most philosophers of international law prior to the 19th century) held to the theory of natural law, rather than positivism. That is, they believed that laws were written on the hearts of men by God, and were as such universal and recognizable. If this is true, and the just war theory is correct, then even in the breakdown of international diplomacy, all sides would still recognize what is right from what is wrong. If positivism is correct, however, that laws are simply those set by the sovereign, then in the international arena there clearly is no sovereign and hence no law. For more on this debate, take a look at Jurisprudence: Texts and Commentary by Davies and Holdcroft, (London: Butterworths,1991). This book also looks at utilitarian theories of law as well, which may be relevant to your interests.

Finally, I'm intrigued by your comment on "the Christian standpoint on war." You might want to be careful here, for as far as I am aware there are almost as many variations within Christian thought on war as there are in the secular realm, ranging from pacifism to outright war-mongering.

Best of luck with the paper!

Kevin Macnish


(72) Richard asked:

I'm very stuck on my homework, could you please help me?

"Outline the main features of the moral argument for the existence of God. You must comment on the view that, although the moral argument will strengthen the faith of a believer it can do nothing to convince an unbeliever."

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The moral argument for the existence of God looks something like this:

1. There is a universal moral law or else:

a) Moral disagreements would make no sense, yet we assume they do.

b) All moral criticisms would be meaningless (e.g., "Nazis/paedophiles are wrong.")

2. A universal moral law requires a universal Moral Law Giver, since the source of it gives moral commands (as lawgivers do — that is, moral laws are prescriptive (they tell you what to do)and not descriptive (as is the case with physical laws)).

3. Further, this universal Moral Law Giver must be absolutely good (otherwise all moral effort would be futile in the long run, since we could believing and potentially sacrificing our lives for what is not ultimately right).

4. Therefore, there must be an absolutely good Moral Law Giver.

Problems with the theory can stem from beliefs in the non-existence of morals (hence it is wasted breath — this would be the case, for example, with AJ Ayer's Logical Positivism), or theories that morality is merely herd instinct (an evolutionary adaptation, or nature,theory) or social convention (a nurture theory).

It can be put that no argument for the existence of God can convince an unbeliever because either a) their lack of belief is not based on argument alone; b) that the requirement for the universal moral law giver to be good is weak, and hence God could be evil and thus not worth following; or c) perhaps the strongest is the argument from the existence of evil: that if a good God exists then He would not allow the existence of evil, evil exists, therefore a good God does not exist. By contrast, for one who already believes in God, the argument can be seen as offering support to his/her position, and as such will strengthen his/her faith.

Finally, I can offer up one famous counter-example to the position that no moral argument for the existence of God can convince an unbeliever, which is found in C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity, where he writes: "Just how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust. . . . Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too--for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist--in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless--I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality--namely my idea of justice--was full of sense." Lewis also wrote The Abolition of Man, which is a defence of the concept of universal moral laws. By comparison, I'm sure that you won't have to look very hard to find plenty of people who have not been convinced by the argument!

Kevin Macnish


(73) Paul asked:

If the big bang kicked started the Universe then someone who has no religion may assume that that a chain of events brought us here, Page to page one event leading to the next. Common sense would then dictate that everything has ancestry. Is it possible that the process known as evolution (biological evolution) also has ancestry?

It seems to me that if you throw away the Victorian meaning of the word and take it to mean a process that started with the big bang and brought us to the present day then this whole new evolution must, and can be broken down so as to give an overview.

It seems to me that evolution may be broken down into three chapters of the same book. (All three chapters run simultaneously) That is primordial evolution, biological evolution, and the mankind's Intellectual or mental evolution. Is it possible that the process of evolution and the selection process (in its broadest terms) are also capable of advancement? Primordial evolution at its most advanced builds pockets of balance or solar systems. A niche may be created where this primordial evolution may be magnified and become more complex (the Earth) this give rise to life and biological evolution, and eventually intelligent life. If intelligent life has a selection process — and after much thought it seems to me that selection process in mankind's mental evolution is no more than the original idea and its adoption — Mankind's advancement is built on making the right decisions, the decision making process has been impregnated with a moral code born of religion. A case for God maybe. Your thoughts.

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Evolution is a scientific theory. You are using it as other philosophers (e.g. Hegel and Marx) have used it to fuel metaphysical speculation. I don't see the point in all this so I can't comment further except to say that I don't think the scientific theory of evolution has any philosophical implications.

Shaun Williamson


(74) Kiernon asked:

Could a robot suffer from emergent depression?

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Who knows? Which robot are you talking about. Please include a circuit diagram.

Shaun Williamson