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

Ask a Philosopher: Questions and Answers 36 (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 36/1.

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) Petros asked:

Has the activity of philosophy become so embedded in an academic and sometimes inaccessible environment that it is in danger of losing touch with its inherently universal roots? Has philosophy become philosophology ie the analytical study of people who love wisdom? I have always felt that if a particular aspect of wisdom is difficult to grasp intellectually or has some abstract complexity about it, then it is innately corrupt or false.

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

It is true that some philosophy has become inaccessible because it uses difficult technical terminology and often focuses on issues that are only of interest to those within relatively small academic circles. But we must be careful before we criticise it for this. After all, we don't all expect to all be able to read the latest research in chemistry, physics, maths, biology or any other subject and easily make sense of it. It is somewhat perverse to expect people who have studied philosophy for decades to ONLY write pieces that can be easily understood by non-professional philosophers.

Having said this, it is also worth pointing out that there are many more popular introductions to philosophy than ever before, often written by the same people who have authored the more technical journal articles.

Moreover, academic philosophy has NOT become the study of PEOPLE who love wisdom (there are a few biographies of philosophers but these are (a) not many and (b) fairly accessible) but, at closest, the study of the THOUGHTS of people who love wisdom. This does not seem to me to be such a bad thing for philosophy to be occupied with.

None of this is to say that there is not some philosophy does not get overtly technical with little good reason, but here we would need to look at specific examples. In my view, what is most wrong with modern academic philosophy is its attempt to resemble science at the cost of ignoring the multifarious ways in which we ordinarily use many terms. But this is not to say that if it did this it would become much easier for non-academic to follow it.

Constantine Sandis


(2) Maria asked:

Is racism inevitable?

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

The real question, I think, is why should anyone think it is inevitable (rather than, say, merely very probable). I cannot think of a good reason. Also, do you mean was its ORIGINAL occurrence HISTORICALLY inevitable, or whether it is inevitable that it will CONTINUE to exist?

Constantine Sandis


(3) Diana asked:

is there such thing as nothing?

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

To say there is nothing in Box A is to say that there is NO THING in box A (and NOT that there is SOME THING CALLED 'NOTHING' in it). So no, there is no thing such as nothing, which is not to say that we cannot correctly say that there are places where nothing exists (though even in such cases we typically do not mean that there is no air etc.).

Constantine Sandis


(4) Melissa asked:

I have a few questions. Other than at a university, where would I find a philosopher and what (professionally) would the philosopher be doing (i.e., what do you guys do)? Also, what are the largest areas of philosophy that people currently pursue? Finally, is the topic of whether or not God exists still as hotly debated among philosophers or is it something that is taught more for students?

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

We do a number of different things ranging from administration (organising conferences etc.) to teaching (either in seminars, lectures, or online), reading and writing, editing etc. But this is all typically done with the further aim of thinking about (or helping others to think about) philosophical questions and try to figure out how we might best go about answering them. Most of us do this in a school or university but this NEED NOT be the case. You can also study/practice philosophy alone, in reading groups, in the pub, or just about anywhere else. A number of academic philosophers choose to retire from university life and branch out into journalism and essay and book writing.

Modern academic philosophy is less concerned with the existence of God than it used to be (and also less than modern popular philosophy is), perhaps because many of us are atheists. However there are many good reasons why we still teach the topic of God's existence. For example, it is an excellent introduction to various forms of argument, and numerous fallacies to be avoided.

Constantine Sandis


(5) Nicole asked:

Who chooses what family we are born into? when I ask this I mean...who decide's we are who we are? forgetting about the scientific explanation of genetics and the sort but who decide's what parents we grow up with? I have the idea that we were given the family we have as the personalities within the family help to grow our own personality. Do they encourage our destiny by giving us strengths in different places so that we can then follow the path we have been given? e.g, a child born into a family full of drugs, alcohol abuse and physical abuse, does this teach the child a subliminal lesson to which it may need the strength of what it has learned growing up to pursue in their future career? for instance if a child has been badly beaten growing up, does this then almost 'set them up' for what's to happen within their lifetime? I am really interested to know what other explanations there could be.

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

Your question is interesting for a number of reasons. You ask what it is that determines that I am the person that I am, that is to say the person who was born of such-and-such parents, rather than having been born of different parents at a different time and place from the time and place where I was born.

This is a question that fascinates me. But more of that in a moment. Your question also raises what seems to me to be a crushing objection to the standard answer given by apologists for religion to the problem of evil. When one points out, for example, the suffering of all the children who were born to abusive parents or in poverty and live a short, pathetic, tortured lives without even the remotest alleviation of their suffering, the reply is that the greater good is somehow served by the suffering of a minority.

At this is such a patent injustice that I cannot see how it could possibly be justified for any end whatsoever. But that is something for others to discuss.

It seems clear, at any rate, that there can be no possible benefit to the children that I have described by being born in this situation and circumstances in which they were born. There is no explanation. We have to live with that fact.

However, there is another aspect to this question. Human beings feel an irresistible urge to make sense of their lives, even of the most senseless things that happen to them. Each of us writes the story of our life, and revises that story continually as circumstances change. For the abused child and survives past childhood, their suffering can serve a positive purpose by strengthening their character. 'What does not kill me makes me stronger,' says Nietzsche.

But what intrigues me most about your question, as I said before, is the dizzying thought that I might have been born a different person. The thought of the sheer contingency of my being born the person that I am drives one to search for explanations when no explanations are available.

Geoffrey Klempner


(6) David asked:

What do you think about the soul?

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

I think it is trivially true that we all have a soul.

Constantine Sandis


(7) David asked:

If evil had not existed don't you think it would have been necessary to invent it?

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

No. Why should one think so? And does it mean to 'invent evil' any way?

Constantine Sandis


(8) Linda asked:

How do we know that others exist when we cannot see them?

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

We typically rely on the testimony of others.

Constantine Sandis


(9) Lawrence asked:

What is it for an argument to be sound? Can arguments be valid but not sound or sound but not valid?

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

A valid argument is one where the conclusion follows from the premises. A sound argument is one that is both valid AND has a true conclusion. A valid argument may have a false conclusion if one or more of its premises are false. An unsound argument may be valid, but an invalid argument cannot be sound.

Constantine Sandis


(10) Nathan asked:

If it were punishable by death to eat a red apple, and you peeled the skin off one and then ate it, could you rightfully be punished?

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

At first sight, this question looks like a trivial riddle. But it isn't. You have in fact raised one of the central questions of the philosophy of law, or jurisprudence.

What is the law? Is it a sequence of words in a statute book? This is a hard position to defend. Because a sequence of words has to be interpreted by someone who understands the language, and then has to be applied to specific situations. Of course, you can always add more words. And this is in fact what we find. If a government somewhere wanted to to make the law that eating a red apple was punishable by death, it is extremely unlikely that the law makers would rest content with writing, 'Eating a red apple is punishable by death,' and leaving it at that.

Every law is made in the context and for a purpose. We can imagine a number of possible purposes for a law against eating red apples, leaving aside for one moment the stringency of the punishment.

Suppose, for example, that a particular species of apple in the United Kingdom has been found to harbour a worm which carries a disease which is fatal to human beings. As it is very difficult to tell by sight which species of red apple is a dangerous one, a law is passed prohibiting the sale or eating of all red apples.

Here's another example. This is a bit more fanciful, but you chose the example. Imagine that some human beings have been found to develop psychotic symptoms after eating red apples, and that experiments in the laboratory have shown that these symptoms are caused by the colour of the apple rather than by its chemical composition. Then, again, there would be a reason for prohibiting the sale and eating of red apples.

In the first case, peeling the skin off the apple does not protect the person eating it from catching the disease. The poison isn't in the skin but in the flesh of the apple. In the second case, by contrast, the danger arises from the experience of biting into a red apple. That is what triggers the mental symptoms. That danger can be completely avoided, however, by peeling the apple first.

As I explained above, the problem is not one that can be solved in principle by merely adding more words. There will always be different ways of interpreting a law. That is why, in the UK at least, such a great emphasis is placed on the law of Precedent. The meaning of a law is gradually refined, sometimes over a period of centuries, by judges deciding in a particular case what the intention and purpose of the law is, and whether in the light of that purpose the prosecution's case should be upheld or not.

Geoffrey Klempner


(11) Eden asked:

What is philosophical question?

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

Numerous kinds of questions will count as philosophical questions, and it is pointless to look for necessary and sufficient conditions for something's counting as a philosophical question. Nonetheless we can intuitively distinguish these from other questions e.g. scientific, historical, or mathematical ones, though if course one can ask philosophical questions ABOUT science, history, and maths etc.

Constantine Sandis


(12) Stephen asked:

I've noticed that you philosophers make the choice to not believe in any God.

You've said that there is no evidence, no proof.

I'd like to know the proof that God does NOT exist, or at least whatever it is that makes you choose to not believe in Him.

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

I cannot prove that 10 thousand years ago there did not exist a giant three-legged blue monkey floating in the sky. Do I believe there was such a thing? No! Therefore I am a non-believer (and not an agnostic) with regard to this possibility. This is a rational attitude to have as there is no evidence that such a monkey existed. One might adopt the same attitude with regard to the existence of God. Though of course things are here complicated by the further question of what one means by 'God'.

Constantine Sandis


(13) Someone asked:

I was brought up as a Catholic but as I get older and as I read the other side of the argument I wonder if the bible is just fiction as there is no solid proof and maybe its just there to make people feel better when in need. But if there is no ultimate being, something at the end of this life that we are in now, then what are we here for?!

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

Suppose there was an 'ultimate being'. What would it/ she/ he be 'there for'?

Constantine Sandis


(14) Stephen asked:

I would like for you to give me your thoughts on this topic (death), and also who do you think won this little argument?

Me 'Why is death (generally speaking) viewed as a negative thing?'

Friend of mine 'Why would it be a positive thing?

Me 'You don't understand. Positive does not have to come into play when negative is taken out, there is always neutral.

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

Your answer seems right, but perhaps your friend might reply 'Fine, but why would it be a neutral thing?'

Constantine Sandis


(15) Kelly asked:

What is the purpose of dreaming?

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

Why assume that it has a purpose?

Constantine Sandis


(16) Tariq asked:

To what extent is every servitude voluntary?

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

I think it was John Stuart Mill who raised the question whether it could ever be morally acceptable to sell oneself into slavery. However, that is not the question you are asking. What is meant by saying that servitude is voluntary, is that the person is not a slave, even though they may be enslaved and forced to do things against their will, so long as they do not mentally consent to their servitude.

This is a very difficult question to answer. Because we are looking at decisions made by individuals under great stress and duress. We praise a person who acts with courage and rebukes someone who is cowardly, on the assumption that courage or cowardice is a free choice which an individual makes faced with the situation in which his or her life is on the line.

Every person has their breaking point. That is a proposition believed by slave masters and torturers. So what we're really talking about is the nature of free will. If you 'break' a slave and force them to consent to their servitude, was that consent voluntary or not?

In answer to your question, I would say that servitude can, in certain circumstances, be voluntary in the sense that I have described, but it is not always so. As slave does not need to have a slave mentality. By the same token, as the biblical story of Moses and the Israelites shows, slaves can be liberated but it takes more than physical liberty to get rid of the mantle of servitude. That is the reason traditionally given for the Israelites' 40 years in the wilderness. It took that long to change their outlook from that of slaves to that of free men and women.

Geoffrey Klempner


(17) Tony asked:

What is ethical action ?

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

Any action performed for an ethical reason where 'ethical' might be defined narrowly as (a) relating to moral considerations (viz. 'what we we to each other, and other creatures') or more widely as (b) relating to well-being (viz. 'what we owe to each other, other creatures, and ourselves')

Constantine Sandis


(18) Joseph asked:

What is the origin of the phrase, 'the true, the beautiful, and the good'? Why does it seem so difficult to pin down?

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

The phrase is found in Plato's 'Republic'.

Constantine Sandis


(19) Ben asked:

I was wondering if you were to cut off both of your hands and switch them with one another, would the hand that was previously on your left arm and now resided on your right be your left or your right hand?

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

Perhaps the situation calls for a linguistic DECISION about how to extend our use of these terms in such a context (there is no reason to suppose that an answer is already contained in our current rules of grammar).

Constantine Sandis


(20) Millie asked:

Who decided what was good and what was evil? why is killing a human so bad, obviously by todays standards it is, but who decided that it was bad? Why is suppressing our natural instincts as animals to kill of the weaker members of the group seen as good?

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

No one person decided this, let alone decided it for all of us (there will have been a first who believed it it, but we have no record of who that would be). Arguably many people come to believe this (rightly or wrongly) every day. The moment our reason tells us that others have feelings just like us it also tells us that we (all other things being equal) ought to care about and respect those feelings. Some of the other higher animals may be said to have reason too, but to a far lesser degree than the average adult.

Constantine Sandis


(21) Anwar asked:

My question is what is the importance of gaining knowledge, without any materialistic interest, and just for the sake of gaining knowledge. If a very knowledge able person has no wealth, fame, power and any other materialistic plus point, still can he say that I m successful just and just because I have knowledge?. For Example if a person Mr.A led all his life in the pursuit of knowledge, just because of his curiosity, and earn no money, fame, power, neither he conveyed all his learnings to anyone by writing or any other mean.Neither he got self satisfaction, by knowing that he has become a great scholar, because to him there are tooooo many things he don't know even then, and in this pursuit he died. Can we say that Mr. A led a successful life.

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

I don't think that knowledge that the sake of knowledge has any value at all. So far as I can see, there is no point or value in knowing how many yellow Volkswagen cars there are in Sheffield, or what my next door neighbour ate for breakfast, or the number of stars in the galaxy, or the square root of 5,392,444.

Why pursue knowledge? Plato and Aristotle asked that question and all they could come up with is the truism that human beings are naturally curious, or as Aristotle put it succinctly, 'Philosophy begins with wonder.' But wonder at what?

No argument will convince you to be wondered at the things that I am wondered by. Either you are gripped or you're not gripped. That's all one can say.

Bird watchers obsessively pursue reports of sightings of rare birds and for some reason feel the need to see the birds for themselves. I'm not saying there's anything weird or peculiar about bird-watching. The obsession with philosophy is ultimately in at the same boat. I don't want to be told that someone has found a solution to the trading paradox or the problem of vagueness. I want to see the solution for myself. If you ask me why I want to see the solution for myself all I can say is, 'I just do'. That's the kind of thing that interests me.

Some knowledge can be put to practical use. That's a pretty concrete interest. Other kinds of knowledge satisfy a personal craving, as I have described. However, it is significant that the interest human beings take in particular subject matters is far from idiosyncratic. It is inconceivable that they could have only been one bird watcher or one philosopher in the history of the human race. The kinds of knowledge we crave says something about human nature. But what exactly that is I'm not sure.

Geoffrey Klempner


(22) David asked:

You answered once in a question that God 'does not exist'...If so, then why is it important to act morally in life instead of doing anything you want to do. There is no hell anyway. I mean I could potentially kill you now without any hesitation considering that I know where you live and that I have enough knowledge to kill you cleanly without having any traces left behind therefore leaving me to frolic about taking more and more lives as I go, fearing nothing.

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

The moment our reason tells us that others have feelings just like us it also tells us that we (all other things being equal)ought to care about and respect those feelings. Some of the other higher animals may be said to have reason too, but to a far lesser degree than the average adult.

Constantine Sandis


(23) Akbar asked:

I am a 2nd year philosophy student writing a paper on sartre's being for itself and in itself, and their relation. What journals or books would you recommend?

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

Joseph Catalano's commentary to 'Being and Nothingness'.

Constantine Sandis


(24) Melissa asked:

What does a philosopher do? What is your real job?

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

We do a number of different things ranging from administration (organising conferences etc.) to teaching (either in seminars, lectures, or online), reading and writing, editing etc. But this is all typically done with the further aim of thinking about (or helping others to think about) philosophical questions and try to figure out how we might best go about answering them. Most of us do this in a school or university but this NEED NOT be the case. You can also study/practice philosophy alone, in reading groups, in the pub, or just about anywhere else. A number of academic philosophers choose to retire from university life and branch out into journalism and essay and book writing.

Constantine Sandis


(25) Ann asked:

Is there such a thing as nothing?

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

To say there is nothing in Box A is to say that there is NO THING in box A (and NOT that there is SOME THING CALLED 'NOTHING' in it). So no, there is no thing such as nothing, which is not to say that we cannot correctly say that there are places where nothing exists (though even in such cases we typically do not mean that there is no air etc.).

Constantine Sandis


(26) Alejandro asked:

I am trying to become a philosopher. In doing so, I am not aiming at 'discovering the truth', but satisfying my need to 'play' with ideas (I really love abstract thinking done in a precise and rigorous way). There is also an element of a need of being recognised as an intellectual, a search for fame (but not 'popularity'), but not at all cost.

My question is: Do you think my motives are honest? Am I self-deceiving, or trying to 'prostitute' or to instrumentalize philosophy? Thank you for your time.

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

There is a novel by Herman Hesse called 'The Glass Bead Game' in which the intellectual elite play a sophisticated board game which engages all their intellectual faculties, their logic and creativity, reason and imagination, to the highest degree possible. Where exactly does truth figure in this?

Thousands and thousands of books have been written about chess and the 'truth' of particular theories of chess discussed at great length, for example Nimzowitch's theory of the blockade. To say that one is 'pursuing truth' gives very little information about what one's interest is.

Philosophers seek a particular kind of truth which is special to that discipline. The question you have to ask yourself is whether it is that kind of truth that interests you. If not, maybe you would gain more satisfaction from chess.

By asking your question you have demonstrated your desire for honesty and to avoid self-deception. One way to answer your question which no doubt you have already tried is to pick up great works of philosophy and read them; not in the way the one reads a novel for the sake of being entertained or stimulated with ideas but in order to engage with the arguments of the author, trying to find loopholes in a theory, looking for a more satisfying theory or answer to the questions that the author has proposed.

If you do all these things, and gain enjoyment from doing so, then I would say that your motivation to study philosophy is genuine and definitely worth pursuing.

Geoffrey Klempner


(27) Kit asked:

Does showing that the body changes the mind disprove dualism?

(The dualism I am talking is about is from the mind and body problem) if not a small explanation would be appreciated.

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

Not at all. Indeed most dualists (including Descartes) believe in mind-body interaction. Of course how mental causation occurs remains a topic of heated debate. Ultimately, these issues will depend on one's theory of causation (e.g. whether only physical things can cause physical occurrences or whether there are other causal candidates such as, for example, facts.

Constantine Sandis


(28) Knakyia asked:

I am writing a paper on the second formulation of the categorical imperative. I need some examples of situations in which people are treated only as a means to an end.I'm drawing blanks. Help!

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

Treating someone as a means to an end is another way to say that you are using somebody. If you pretend to like a rich person so that he or she will give you money you are treating that person as a means to an end.

Eric Zwickler


(29) Brent asked:

What Egyptian text is the source for the Old Testament? Thanks

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

I forget since my source for this was a lecture at Oxford University which I attended in the 1970s and I didn't make notes.

However try this link http://www.bible.org/page.php?page_id=2966 It will take you to a paper entitled 'Genesis 1-2 in Light of Ancient Egyptian Creation Myths'. This looks like a good place to start.

Shaun Williamson


(30) Roberta asked:

Who was Gertha?

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

I will tell you who Gertha was if you can tell me who Frank was. The problem, Roberta, is that Gertha like Frank is a fairly common name. So how are we supposed to know which Gertha you are talking about?

You need to give lots more information if you really want an answer to your question.

Shaun Williamson


(31) Kevin asked:

Me and my friends have just finished reading the book, 'Lord Of The Flies', and we have come up with a philosophical question, is humanity naturally flawed? Is evil an inborn trait of mankind and that people are prone to descend into violence and chaos?

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

William Golding's 'Lord of the Flies' should be on every school reading list. The story that it tells of schoolboys stranded on a desert island losing the veneer of civilisation and descending into barbarity is horribly convincing.

At the beginning of the book, these are all kids that we would recognise. Indeed, these are not children from the streets but well mannered, well-brought-up boys who go to a good school. By the end of the book, when the lad 'Piggy' has been chased to his death, the reader is fully convinced by the strength of Golding's case that a potential for barbarity is not far below the surface.

There is more than one way to read this. Each human being is born without any of the attributes that human beings have acquired through thousands of years of history and culture. In a few short years, that human being is expected to have imbibed a sufficient portion of that culture to be able to behave a decent and civilised manner. Or so we think. Is William Golding's point merely that in the case of children and young people that process is incomplete? In that case, the same story could not have been told of a group of adults stranded on a desert island. Or could it?

Well, that may be. What is so shocking about the story is the rapidity at which the veneer is stripped off. Does that mean that our innate nature is to be barbaric? do we have an innate lust for murder and mayhem which civilisation represses but has not removed entirely? Evolution has designed human beings to be capable of killing when killing is required. That is the brutal truth.

However, the most important moral of the story is the mechanism by means of which the descent into barbarity takes place. As Golding shows, the major part is played by a group dynamics and peer pressure. As individuals left to themselves the boys would not have behaved in the way that they did. The history of the twentieth-century shows the same process happening to entire nations. And perhaps William Golding had this in mind when he wrote his book.

Geoffrey Klempner


(32) Kit asked:

Does showing that the body changes the mind disprove dualism?

(The dualism I am talking is about is from the mind and body problem) if not a small explanation would be appreciated.

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

No. Two distinct entities can influence each other causally and still be two, as in drugs affecting the mind and faith-healing affecting the body. If you want to disprove dualism, try the approach that mind is emergent out of body (brain) much as the working order of a machine is emergent out of the parts of the machine, or as a melody is emergent out of the notes that compose it, or as a knot is emergent out of a piece of string. With such emergence the question of whether the basis and its emergent are one entity or two is merely verbal.

Helier Robinson


(33) Blackheart asked:

I am a philosophy major about to complete my first year and I would like to take an introductory level class on symbolic logic at my uni but I have 1 major concern . Although the topic seems interesting I have a weak background in math. So my question is would I be putting myself through torture by taking that class? Thus far, I've taken an ethics class where we learned the informal fallacies and I was very good at that (if that helps to answer the question). thank you in advance for your reply!

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

Symbolic logic includes a bit of math in that truth-tables are based on Boolean algebra. But this is not difficult math. The secret in being good at logic is to do lots of exercises, and, second, teaching it to other students who are behind you. Do not be afraid of strange symbolism: it is only strange until you do the exercises, much like the symbolism of sheet music. From a purely practical point of view, one of the advantages of a logic class is that in most of them it is possible to get a final grade of 100%

Helier Robinson


(34) Graham asked:

What makes me the same person I was yesterday?

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

Probably the best answer is that you are not the same (identical) person that you were yesterday: the feeling that you have in this regard is an illusion! Although common sense takes it for granted that one thing (including a person) can change with time and remain one, this is logically impossible. For the details of this, download my book Belief Shock from http://www.sharebooks.ca.

Helier Robinson


(35) Michael asked:

Hello I am a philosopher myself and am wondering how you would take this idea to be true false or possible , is it not true that we are all philosophers we all have are own ideas? We all have belief systems unique to our own personalities, so is it not logical to say we are all philosophers? If I am correct socrates said that philosophy is the pursuit of wisdom, so is this not correct to think this way ?

ps. thanks for providing this site.

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

No, not everyone is a philosopher. Being a philosopher requires being rigorously rational about your beliefs, and not everyone is so.

Helier Robinson


(36) Medie asked:

Given that metaphysical claims are empirically untestable, it follows that they are immune from critical evaluation; that is, they are untestable in any sense of the word.

Is it true or false? Please explain why and provide some examples.

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

The statement, 'metaphysical claims are empirically untestable, therefore they are immune from critical evaluation,' is an example of a plain non-sequitur. It assumes, falsely, that the only way to evaluate a metaphysical claim is empirically.

In general, metaphysical claims are evaluated and tested and by means of philosophical argument. Any attempt at a wholesale rejection of metaphysics which does not engage with such argument merely begs the question.

Actually, it is not altogether true that a metaphysical claims are never empirical. The assertion that the universe possesses an ultimately teleological structure, is arguably both a metaphysical and empirical claim which is sensitive to evidence. If I point to a phenomenon, say, the evolution of the eye, and claim that such a structure could not have arisen through a purely mechanical process, I am making a claim which is empirically testable, at least in principle.

How are metaphysical claims established? Take the claim that time is unreal. This is actually one of the favourite targets of opponents of metaphysics. Even if time is unreal, I still run to catch the 8 o'clock train or set my alarm clock in the morning. It makes absolutely no difference to our experience whether we accept or reject the metaphysical proposition that time is unreal.

However, a question is still being begged here. We may talk about time, but it doesn't follow that we really understand what we are saying. The concept of time is elusive and intrinsically perplexing. A metaphysical theory that says that time is unreal, suitably defended by philosophical argument, is an attempt to grapple with that perplexity.

You can pursue this question further, in the particular example of the metaphysics of time, by looking up McTaggart's 'proof of the unreality of time' on Google.

Geoffrey Klempner


(37) Cecily asked:

What is reductionism?

Is it really true that consciousness constitutes knowledge of existence?

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

There are two kinds of reductionism. Reductionism in physics is simplifying a problem as much as possible, in order to be able to solve it; such as assuming a frictionless surface or a perfect heat insulator. Reductionism in explanation is trying to explain higher level phenomena in terms of lower ones, such as claiming that life is merely chemistry or mind is merely brain. It is trivially true that consciousness constitutes knowledge of existence, in that everything that you are conscious of exists: it has to exist in order for you to be conscious of it. And if you reflect on what you know, and come to conclusion about it, these reflections and conclusions thereby exist. But this is trivially true because there is much more to consciousness than existence. Consider just the world around you: everything in it exists, but to suppose that this is all there is to it is to ignore the wonderful variety of it. Also, you are not merely conscious of existence, but of different kinds of existence: waking existence and dream existence, for example, or concrete existence and abstract existence.

Helier Robinson


(38) Karren asked:

Is it true that philosophising is the kind of activity that common people are doing when they give their opinion over an issue? if not..why?

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Philosophising is essentially rational, the opinions of some people are rational and so philosophical. But other opinions are irrational and so not philosophical.

Helier Robinson


(39) Talim asked:

Lately I have been feeling as if my ideas have stopped evolving. I fear this is a result of the constant company I endure. I enjoy my friends, though I feel they no longer help me grow, because I know them too well. I live in a small town, and attend a small high school. As a result of this its difficult to find groups of people willing to delve into higher processes of knowledge, beyond the day to day drama of simplistic homework and sweaty teenage boys. I know I have tons of room to grow I am only 15, but I am having trouble finding the door to which I could access this knowledge. Any suggestions to what I may be able to do, to help myself?

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Yes, read books and explore the internet. Much of what you find will not help you, but some of it will. Then tell your friends about it, which may not help them to grow but will help you.

Helier Robinson


(40) Richard asked:

Please explain the epistemological difference between 'real' and 'true'.

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The real is usually defined as all that exists independently of being perceived, or, sometimes, independently of mind. The true is thought or speech about reality which describes it correctly. In other words, reality is what makes thought or speech true.

Helier Robinson


(41) Roberta asked:

Who was Gertha?

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

Goethe.

Geoffrey Klempner


(42) James asked:

Most people seem to agree that it is not possible to imagine a square circle. If square circles are unimaginable, what else is unimaginable, and what does this limit to imagination tell us about the mind and the world?

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Among everything speakable some things are unimaginable (such as square circles) and among everything thinkable some things are unimaginable (such as four dimensional space). You can understand this best by considering that the imagination deals with the concrete (such as colours and sounds) and thought deals with the abstract (such as logic and mathematics). So the imagination is really quite limited, but this does not matter so long as we can think.

Helier Robinson


(43) Kobe asked:

All knowledge starts with axioms.

Axioms are based on believes.

Therefore, all derived 'knowledge' is nothing more than a believe.

Is this correct?

Thank you very much,

Kobe

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

I don't agree that all knowledge starts with axioms.

Even in subjects that are often based on axioms such as mathematics, we know that there is no complete and consistent set of axioms from which all mathematical truths can be derived.

Axioms are not based on belief, for example the axioms of logic are not based on belief.

So all derived knowledge is not just based on belief. It wouldn't be called knowledge if that were true.

If you start with statements that you know to be true, then any statements you logically derive from these will also be true.

Shaun Williamson


(44) Tony asked:

How would you answer someone who claimed that metaphysics is an outmoded philosophical notion in the modern world

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Your use of the word 'outmoded' suggests 'unfashionable' or 'not trendy' or 'unexciting'. The truth of the matter is that the latest metaphysic is often trendy, exciting and fashionable.

I do not believe that there are any significant metaphysical truths. However most philosophers believe in some sort of metaphysical truth even if it is of a minimal sort such as empiricism or positivism.

I agree completely with Wittgenstein's idea that 'Philosophy is a struggle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of our own language'.

Unfortunately there is a difference between believing that metaphysics is a waste of time and knowing that metaphysics is a waste of time.

Shaun Williamson


(45) Mark asked:

Is color absolute? In other words, we all agree that red is red. But how do we that we aren't actually seeing different colors, YET we agree to call it red simply because we were taught to.

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

Well suppose we agree with you, although you owe us an account of what you mean by 'actually seeing different colors'. Let agree that in future we will only call something red if we are sure that we are both having the same 'actual red experience'.

Of course we can never find a way to establish this so all that will happen is that we will stop using words like red, blue, black etc. We can't even find a way to establish if your experience of red on Monday is the same as your experience of red on Tuesday. So what will we have gained here. Let us also apply this procedure to sounds and experiences such as pain or sadness, soon we will cease to use any language.

Wittgenstein wrote that philosophical problems arise when language goes on holiday. What he meant by this was that when we start to imagine that words like 'red' could or should be the name of a particular inexpressible 'inner mental experience' then we are engaged in idle speculation about what we imagine the function of words should be rather than paying attention to how they are really used in our language.

We all agree on our use of the word red because that is how the word is supposed to be used in English and this agreement in use is necessary so that others can understand us. This agreement is not merely a lazy mental habit, it is needed in order for language to work.

When I ask someone to hand me the book with the red cover, I don't care about whether his inner experience of red is the same as my inner experience of red. I just want him to hand me a correct book. Of course when we are philosophising this practical use of words seems so coarse and impure we start to fantasise about how an ideal language should be used. But once we take off our philosophers hats we are reduced to using language in the same way as everyone else.

Shaun Williamson


(46) Sean asked:

How does Aristotle deal with the aggregate nature of physical being?

What I mean is that most people today could probably be described as atomists in some sense. I, for one, tend to believe that material objects can be broken down into constituent elements; ultimately being reducible to particles of some sort.

I have a cursory, introductory knowledge of Aristotelian metaphysics and my impression is that the objects of sense perception are conceived of first and foremost as unified, individual entities. I am sure that Aristotle would have no problem with the assertion that while a sandwich is distinctly a sandwich, it can be broken up into various parts (meat, cheese, bread, mayo, etc.), but there is still a concrete, individuated and distinct existent that we call a sandwich.

I suppose then that my question pertains to what exactly Aristotle is talking about? What is an essence and it what sense does it exist and if it does exist how does it differ from our idea of it? If a person today were to attempt to describe the ultimate nature of a sandwich they would likely seek to describe the structure of the sandwich all the way down to the molecular level and possibly document the properties and behaviors of the sandwich in its natural milieu.

My point is that one would probably seek to understand the sandwich by taking it apart and seeing it as a aggregate thing. I also suppose that the type of questioning toward the sandwich would involve discovering some chain of efficient causality that could explain the existence and structure of the sandwich.

In any case we'd ultimately be talking about 'the motion of atoms in the void', as Democritus might say.

Can Aristotle be accused of bestowing a kind of Parmenidean being onto particulars? How does matter-form metaphysics relate to and mesh with atomism?

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Here's one take on Aristotle's theory. Atomism is an empirical theory which might have been false. That is to say, it is logically conceivable that we could have the experience of existing in a world of objects which move and change — just like the world we now inhabit on a macro level — but whose movements and changes were not explained by something going on at the microstructural level because there simply is no such level.

Apart from his criticisms of the metaphysical assumptions behind Greek atomism — which is very different in inspiration from modern physics — Aristotle did believe, seemingly as a matter of faith, that human reason, aided by careful observation, is in principle sufficient for understanding nature. At that time, there was not the slightest hint of a possibility of techniques which would enable us to examine the microscopic structure of matter.

So, for example, a sufficient Aristotelian 'explanation' of the phenomenon of ice melting, would be that water is a substance whose essence is such that it has the power to freeze or melt, boil or condense. These are just brute, unanalysable aspects of what water is, the essence of water.

A model for an Aristotelian universe would be the virtual reality of computer games. In a particular computer game, the powers of objects are written into the program. The objects ARE essentially what the program says that they DO in various situations. The objects are, literally, nothing apart from the rules which describe their behaviour.

Aristotelianism can be taken down to the atomic level, however. Fritjof Capra's description, in his book 'Tao of Physics', of the 'dance' of energy that takes place at the subatomic level, although it rejects the reality of 'substance', is nevertheless Aristotelian in spirit, in that we give up the search for the 'ultimate entities' which compose all matter and concentrate instead simply on describing the varieties of dance. Here, at last, we come to the Aristotelian substrate of all being, the entities or patterns which do what they do simply because that is their essence.

Geoffrey Klempner


(47) Charlotte asked:

Does religious experience provide knowledge of god?

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No it cannot do so, although a believer in religious experience might think the opposite. Suppose I have a religious experience and as part of this experience I hear the voice of God telling me to kill all unbelievers. Would that experience provide knowledge of God or knowledge of the Devil? How can I tell the difference? People afflicted with mental illness are often sure that they are hearing the voice of God.

Religious experience must be subjected to the same moral criticism as any other experience.

Shaun Williamson


(48) Pal asked:

Can you explain in simple terms, the difference between Ontic and Ontology please?

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The terms Ontic and Ontological can be found in Martin Heidegger's Being and Time [1927]. 'Ontic' refers to beings and Ontological refers to 'Being'. The Ontic describes the structures, acts, events of beings in their being, how they are, literally how they 'be'- living and being in the structures and circumstances of a definite social, economic, cultural and historical context; while at the same time, subjects of observation. Whilst the Ontic is subject to quantitative scientific analyses by the observer, the Ontic is also 'lived' by the observer being-there [Dasein] in, by and through, the existential structures of everyday life or Being-In-The-World. For instance, whilst ontically giving flowers is explicable as factual, observable act, what the flowers and the act can mean is very distinct. This meaning is an issue and the asking of such questions is unique to Dasein. In questioning the way opens up for the Ontological.

Dasein has the determinate character of existing and this existence [and all it entails] is an issue for it and it alone. Dasein is ontically distinct because it raises the question, the issue of the Ontological: What is it to be? What is Being and how does it manifest itself? The being of Dasein is Dasein's being-in-the-world. The Ontological refers to the being of beings. Heidegger examines what it is and means to be in-the-world in the existential analytic that is Division One and Two, both contained in Part One of Being and Time. He hoped such a preparatory analyses of Dasein's Being-In-the-World would disclose pointers toward answering the question 'What is Being?'

Martin Jenkins


(49) Lea asked:

Does it make sense to say that a statement or belief is true for a particular person. Is truth simple subjective?

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No truth isn't simply subjective if it were then everything that I believe to be true would be true. In fact I know that many of the things I have held to be true in the past have turned out to be false.

It certainly makes sense to say that a particular person believes that statement X is true however statement X can be true even if everyone believes that it is false.

Shaun Williamson


(50) Mark asked:

Is color absolute? In other words, we all agree that red is red. But how do we [know] that we aren't actually seeing different colors, YET we agree to call it red simply because we were taught to.

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We don't know, and we cannot possibly know for certain. Colours, as sensations, are private: we each have our own, and cannot share or compare them. However, we can claim that our eyes grow from similar genes, so probably we experience colours the same way. I not sure what you mean by colours being absolute, but if you distinguish between (1) atomic and molecular properties that emit electromagnetic radiation in the so-called visible spectrum, (2) this electromagnetic radiation itself, and (3) the sensations of colour that the electromagnetic radiation causes in a perceiver when it lands on their retinas, and read your 'absolute' as 'real' (in the sense of existing independently of anyone's perception) then (1) and (2) are real and (3) is unreal. (3) is unreal because colour sensations exist only as long as you perceive them.

Helier Robinson


(51) Grandad asked:

If it was possible to dig into the earth, what would happen when you got to the centre? To continue on, would you then be digging up?

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This is a question William James would have liked. In his book on 'Pragmatism' he told a similar story about a man chasing a squirrel round a tree. Was the man going round the squirrel or was the squirrel going round the man?

There are two possible definitions of, 'digging down'. If I maintain my present orientation, bend over and dig a spade into the ground and keep digging, then at no point do I cease 'digging down', even after I pass the centre of the earth (forgetting for the sake of the question the fact that it is pretty hard to dig through molten rock).

However, another sense of 'digging down' is 'digging in the direction of the centre of the earth'. In this sense, after you pass the centre point, you are 'digging up'.

That's your answer.

Geoffrey Klempner


(52) Kobe asked:

All knowledge starts with axioms.

Axioms are based on believes.

Therefore, all derived 'knowledge' is nothing more than a belief.

Is this correct?

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

No, it is not correct. Not all knowledge starts with axioms. For example, you know that you exist, and there is no axiom from which this knowledge is derived. However, much 'knowledge' is derived from beliefs or is simply belief. You can apply Descartes' hyperbolical doubt to all that you know: doubt whatever you can, and whatever is left cannot be doubted — and is thereby knowledge, not belief.

Helier Robinson


(53) Scott asked:

According to Locke, what is the difference between primary and secondary qualities?

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Primary qualities exist in real objects and are thereby real; secondary qualities are in the mind of the beholder and thereby unreal. There is an interesting problem arising out of this: secondary qualities (i.e. sensations) are in the brain of the perceiver, yet when you experience them they are outside in the world. So where are they: inside your head or outside your head?

Helier Robinson


(54) Garry asked:

Is universal causation even possible?

If everything has a cause this would lead to an infinite series of prior causes. This can only take two forms, linear and looping.

If looping and everything has a cause then what caused the loop? I mean does the entire looping series just appear uncaused or does the loop itself have a cause?

If linear then you have an infinite series. But if caused things can not exist before their causes then all caused things have a beginning. The resulting infinite linear series does not have a beginning and so could not be caused.

As far as I am able to reason universal causation is logically impossible. You either end up with a closed looping system that is uncaused or an infinite linear series that has no beginning and therefore no cause.

It appears to me that the universe at some fundamental level is not comprehensible. That while most things are governed by causality, there is room for things like free will and God that are themselves not caused but can cause.

Also, given that science is so completely dependent on causality, there is no way to prove things like free will or God because they are uncaused and therefore beyond scientific comprehension.

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

One way out of your difficulty is to ask why the actual world exists, rather than any other possible world. (By 'world', understand totality of existents.) It could be that one among all possible worlds has the property of 'necessary existence', in which case that world must exist. That is, the concept 'necessary existence' is not self-contradictory, hence it is possible, hence at least one possible world must have it as a property, and so exist. (And not more than one may have it, since only one possible world may be actual.) In this world everything could have a cause yet the world itself is not caused. This does not settle the question of whether it is looping or linear.

Helier Robinson


(55) Drew asked:

I'm familiar with syllogistic arguments, but hardly an expert. In a recent debate about logical fallacies, I made the following points.

So called logical fallacies do not apply to inherently sound arguments (much as, for example, libel isn't libel if the statement is true). Therefore, it is logically sound to 'appeal' to numbers or to authorities IF the majority or the authority being cited: (1) has legitimate expertise on the topic (e.g., a doctor, not a mechanic on a medical matter); (2) is cited only in the area of its expertise (e.g., don't cite computer programmers on a biological question); and (3) the subject matter experts generally agree on the statement (as, for instance, most oncologists agree that smoking is a cause of lung cancer). In other words, it is perfectly logical to accept as valid the consensus of lung cancer researchers that smoking is a leading cause of lung cancer.

I may have phrased my case ineptly, but I wonder if my argument is correct, or at least on the right track.

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

You are confusing validity and truth. An argument is valid if the truth of its premises guarantees the truth of its conclusion, and it is invalid otherwise. Various common forms of invalidity are named and called fallacies, such as the fallacy of undistributed middle. The best way of getting truth on a particular matter is to ask the experts on that subject, but this is a matter of truth, not validity.

Helier Robinson


(56) Omar asked:

Can any one tell me that how the level of dimensional accuracy has been increased through the history and today we see machines capable of producing parts up to an accuracy of 0.001 (gauge blocks) and even more.

My point is that a machine can only produce an accuracy slightly lesser then that at which its own components are designed and manufactured. in order to produce components of a CNC milling (for example with an accuracy of 0.01) one must have a machine whose accuracy must be higher (for example 0.005) then the accuracy of the CNC milling components (being produced). in simple words you cannot produce accuracy higher then at which you are already standing?

But if we see in the history of engineering development, the accuracy of products has been increasing gradually with time. at the starting point of development i.e. in the stone age there were hand made devices, gradually with time we see that after the stone age there was an agriculture age and then industrial age, the level of complexity, accuracy and quality of the products has been increasing (whether its a machine or a end user product) through out this time. it means that machines with lower accuracy has been producing products of higher accuracy, for example it seems that a CNC machine with components with an accuracy of 0.1 mm has been producing an accuracy of 0.05 mm. that's what's happening in reality but that's seems totally against the laws of physics.

So the question simply is that how the accuracy of products being manufactured has been increased through out the history?

Can any one please explain!

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This is a fascinating question. From the way you have set up the problem, it does indeed seem that it would be impossible to produce components to increasingly fine limits of tolerance, given that the tools do we use must themselves have been made to the same limits of tolerance.

The first thing that I would do is distinguish between accuracy of measurement and accuracy of manufacture. It is possible to make very small changes to an object using relatively primitive tools. An example would be a lens grinder using a cloth and grinding compound to make a mirror for a reflector telescope. Sensitivity of touch is all that is needed.

But that still leaves us with the problem of measurement. How do you measure the curvature of a reflective lens without the use of measuring instruments that are at least as accurate as the result that you wish to achieve? The answer, as every telescope maker knows, is to focus light using the lens and visually check for distortions in the projected image.

I don't know in detail how this problem is tackled in general in engineering. But your question was not technological but philosophical. What the example of the reflector telescope shows is that accuracy in manufacture and accuracy in measurement can be achieved indirectly and do not require, as your question assumes, the application of a tool or a measuring instrument manufactured to an equivalent or higher degree of accuracy.

Geoffrey Klempner


(57) Jane asked:

I understand that genuine disputes involve disagreement about whether or not some specific proposition is true. Since people engaged in a genuine dispute agree on the meaning of the words by means of which they convey their respective positions, should they be allowed to propose and assess logical arguments that might eventually lead to a resolution of their differences? If yes or no, why?

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No. Some genuine disputes cannot be resolved by logic alone. Consider the dispute about abortion. The pro-choice side claim that it is a woman's right to choose whether she has a baby or not. The pro-life side claim that the fetus has a right to life, regardless of its mothers wishes. The dispute is essentially an opposition of two mutually contradicting rights, with no logical way of deciding between them.

Helier Robinson


(58) Benjamin asked:

If I remember correctly, Descartes said that by doubting every part of our accepted body of knowledge we would end up at a certainty that couldn't be challenged further and from that we could build true knowledge. For him, it this point of undoubtable knowledge was, I think therefore I am. (Is that a fair summing up of his thoughts behind his famous phrase??)

This first class of philosophy was as far as I got at university really, but it always stuck me as a strange (contrived) place to stop being a sceptic because it is very easy to doubt your ability to know that, I think therefore I am.

I am sure this is not an original thought and would be interested in knowing who has taken this approach further. If, after being inspired by this Pathways programme, I am going to start reading philosophy, I thought I would start there.

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

First of all, Descartes was not a sceptic. He called his method of doubting 'hyperbolical' (as opposed to sceptical) because it was only an exercise to discover all that cannot be doubted — the indubitable. And 'I think therefore I am' means 'I think therefore I exist' and, clearly, anyone who thinks has to exist in order to do so. Another way of putting this is that you have to exist in order to doubt your own existence, so you own existence is indubitable. By the way, Descartes' original phrase was in latin: cogito ergo sum; although 'cogito' literally means 'I think' a better translation that gets the spirit of Descartes is 'I am conscious.'

Helier Robinson


(59) Joseph asked:

What is death and how can I survive it, in whole or in part?

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

Death can only be defined in terms of life. The best definition of life that I know of is that given by the famous physicist Erwin Schroedinger. He said that life is very high negative entropy in dynamic equilibrium. Negative entropy is a measure of order, and living things are very highly ordered. Dynamic equilibrium of this is maintenance of the high order, in the face of loss due to the second law of thermodynamics, by constantly replacing lost order, with food. (The second law of thermodynamics requires negative entropy, left to itself, to decrease.) Death is then the collapse of this equilibrium, with the high negative entropy disappearing. If this is all that life is then there is no survival after death. You can avoid this conclusion if you believe that every human has a soul, which is an eternal substance that survives death; but modern science has no use for the philosophic, Aristotelian, concept of substance: there is no evidence for substances anywhere — including souls.

Helier Robinson


(60) Hassan asked:

What is the basic stuff of the universe?

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

Probably relations: spatial and temporal relations, causal relations, relations of similarity and difference; relations relating relations and being themselves related by other relations; relations forming structures and structures of structures, and patterns and patterns of patterns; relations emerging from structures, as life emerges from chemistry and mind emerges from brain. The reason for saying this is that the most successful branches of science are the mathematical ones — astronomy, physics, and chemistry — and mathematics generally describes relations, including functions, which describe causal relations. However, this is only my opinion and many contemporary philosophers would not agree with me.

Helier Robinson


(61) Diego asked:

Why live a life full of memories, accomplishments and meaning if in the end, we are all going to die?

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

In the Arnold Schwarzenegger film, 'Total Recall', people buy holiday memories as a cheaper alternative to actually going on holiday. For example, you can go in and buy the memory of a two-week holiday on Mars. The result is exactly the same as if you had actually gone on holiday so far as your memories are concerned, only your credit card balance will be significantly less in the red.

Total recall is based on a short story, 'We Can Remember It for You Wholesale' by Philip K Dick, a favourite science-fiction writer of philosophers. Dick loves to pose a philosophical questions. I hope you can see the relevance of his question to your case.

At the end of your life, all that remains are your memories. What would be the difference if you came into existence one minute before the time of your death with a full set of apparent memories of a life full of meaning and accomplishment?

The answer to this riddle it has got to be that we should live life in the present and not in the past. We don't strive to accomplish things just in order to be able to enjoy the memory afterwards. Of course memories can be a comfort and also a joy, especially for older people who have lived satisfying lives. But to think that we do things just in order to having the memory of doing them is like going on holiday just for the sake of the holiday photos.

From this perspective it is simply irrelevant whether we go on living forever or die at some point. I'm not arguing (as other philosophers have argued) that no-one would really wish for eternal life if they knew what this meant. I honestly don't know. It all depends on the how one defines the limits of personal identity, doesn't it?

As long as life presents enjoyable challenges, a predominance of pleasures over pains — or however one evaluates the quality of life at any given moment — so long one has a reason to wish for life to continue. That wish is not negated or rendered pointless by the mere fact that life does not go on forever. The moment has value in itself; it does not require some wider or detached perspective — or the vantage point of retrospect — to render it valuable.

Geoffrey Klempner


(62) Lea asked:

Does it make sense to say that a statement or belief is true for a particular person. Is truth simply subjective?

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

No, truth is independent of whether anyone believes it or not. Consider the statement 'All truth is subjective.' Is it subjectively true, or not? If it is subjectively true then not all truth is subjective, in which case the statement is false; and if it is not subjectively true then it must be absolutely true, in which case the statement is false. Either way it is false, and so self-refuting.

Helier Robinson


(63) Tony asked:

How would you answer someone who claimed that metaphysics is an outmoded philosophical notion in the modern world?

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

The answer to this question depends on whether what we perceive around us is reality, or only images of reality. If we perceive reality (as common sense takes for granted) then we can know all about reality by simply perceiving it; this is the empiricist point of view. If we only perceive images of reality then we never can perceive reality itself, and so can only speculate rationally about it; such speculation is metaphysics. If we perceive reality then we have no use for metaphysics, and indeed that is the view of all empiricists. If we only perceive images of reality then we must engage in metaphysics in order to know anything about reality. There are seemingly good arguments for both sides. In favour of the empiricists, perception consists of real, material, objects, outside our heads, causing mental images of themselves inside our heads. All that we perceive is outside our heads, material, and therefore real — as opposed to images, which are inside our heads, and mental. Against this we may observe that all sensations (colours, feelings such as hard and soft, rough and smooth, and hot and cold, all kinds of sounds, tastes and smells) are manufactured in the brain as a result of neural signals arriving from our sense organs, and as such they are images of reality, and mental; but every empirical object that we perceive around us is a structure of sensations, and so an image of reality, not reality itself.

The clash between these two positions is resolved if you recognise that your own empirical body is also a structure of sensations and thereby an image of your real body. All your empirical world — the totality of your perceived objects — is outside your empirical head but inside your real brain. This view, due to Leibniz and Bertrand Russell, takes a lot of getting used to; you will find more on it in my 'Belief Shock' available in electronic format (pdf) at www.sharebooks.ca. Another approach to your question is that there are two kinds of science, empirical and theoretical. Empirical science deals with what we perceive around us and theoretical science tries to explain empirical science by describing the underlying causes of empirical science. (To describe causes is to explain their effects.) 'Underlying' here means imperceptible, or non-empirical — and indeed 'theoretical' means 'non-empirical.' If you stop to think about it, everything theoretical is imperceptible, although we do have perceptible evidence for it. For example, electricity is imperceptible, although we have empirical evidence for it in the form of electric shocks and all that it does for us around the home; and atoms and molecules are imperceptible, although we have images of them in electron and tunnelling microscopes. Thus theoretical science is rational speculation about imperceptible reality, and so a kind of metaphysics

Helier Robinson


(64) Melissa asked:

I have to write a paper on 1 philosopher of my choice in my philosophy class. The first 3 pages have to be the philosophers bibliography, the next 3 pages are the philosophy of the philosopher, and the last three pages I have to compare my philosophy with their philosophy. Could you recommend a philosopher for me to choose?

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

It would be more helpful if you said something about your interests. Since the only thing I know about you is that you are a women in an intro course I would suggest a feminist thinker. Mary Wo and Simone de Beauvoir are two great thinkers. If you like radical, controversial thinkers try Camille Paglia.

Eric Zwickler


(65) Leira asked:

How is the God hypothesis incompatible with human freedom?

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The answer is not settled in any way, as people still argue about it. Here are the highlights: Most define god as a being who is omnipotent, omniscient, and good. This seems to have confusing implications on our understanding of the problem of evil and freedom. If god know what we are going to do and is able to intervene in the world how do humans still have freedom? Is this freedom different than we normally understand the term or is god unable to intervene or does god not exist? It seems that we must revise our understanding of at least one of these concepts.

Eric Zwickler


(66) Joseph asked:

What is death and how can I survive it, in whole or in part?

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

By definition, 'death' cannot be survived if we are talking about death as such, the end of me, my transition from existence to permanent non-existence.

Religions preach life after 'death' but all this means is that when our embodied life ends, some other life begins. I am not talking about this.

The trouble starts when one considers the proposition, 'At some time in the future there will be an event — the death of J — followed by J's permanent non-existence.'

Expanded logically, this becomes:

'At some time in the future there is an event e, such that, for all times t later than e, J does not exist at t.'

The difficulty with this proposition is that it refers to or 'quantifies over' all future time, a domain which is infinite. A trillion years may pass during which J, or the consciousness of J, was not around; yet it remains logically possible that in a trillion and one years J will 'wake up' to realize that he didn't 'die' after all.

This looks like it could make quite a useful argument for immortality. 'Mortality' cannot be coherently defined because it refers to an actual infinity of future time. Therefore immortality — the only possible alternative — wins by default. You can never truly say that someone has 'died'.

Geoffrey Klempner


(67) Lyndsey asked:

Why does Augustine discuss mathematical and practical truth?

I believe it may be to show how similar they are. In doing so he shows how practical truths are just as valid as mathematical truths.

A true answer would be greatly appreciated.

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

You are partially right. I appreciate you taking a stab at this difficult question.

It is important to know that mathematical truth is the exact opposite of practical truth. This is not Augustine's idea; it is actually Plato's. Every philosopher must address this problem at some time. They all use slightly different language, but the idea is the same. There are things we can know for certain such as logic, math and forms. For example, I know that every circle is round. That is a mathematical truth. While it is trivial, it is something I know for certain nonetheless.

Practical truths are things that I cannot prove because they come from sense experience. Sense experience is unreliable, yet we live our life trusting most of our observations. I do not cower in fear as I walk down the street fearing my senses may be tricking me into believing that there is a road ahead. I just walk. Augustine believes that this is an important observation. While I can be skeptical about my perceptions when I am philosophizing, I still live my life accepting many practical truths. So you are right in a sense: Augustine does believe that practical truth and mathematical truths are similar in a way. Just make sure you understand that he is not simply saying they are the same thing.

Eric Zwickler


(68) Lucy asked:

I was wondering if you knew of a website which has a glossary of terms used frequently in philosophical papers. I studied Latin at school and I have a passing interest in Greek, so I can at least make a stab at attempting to make sense of some of the terminology, but it would be so helpful if there were some source I and some of my OU student contemporaries could use as a reference when reading some papers which make heavy use of the old languages, and of rarely used terms.

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

Any of the Philosophy Encyclopedias are essential for a philosopher. I think the best online one is http://plato.stanford.edu. The one I use at home is the latest Cambridge version and it is under $50. I think Routledge has a 10+ volume collection which will certainly have everything you'd ever need to know, and I am sure OU has it is the library.

Eric Zwickler


(69) Charity asked:

Is there any purpose that could justify violence, especially state sponsored violence?

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I think you are asking, Is violence ever justified? The answer is yes.

Even people who despise violence recognize the need to defend the innocent. If I am walking down the street and someone attacks me, I would be justified in defending myself. Likewise, a peaceful state is justified in defending itself from an aggressor.

Eric Zwickler


(70) Angela asked:

Can metaphysical questions be solved through logic? If not, through science? If neither, then how? Religion? Isn't that appeal to authority?

What about knowledge through mystical experience?

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I do not agree that you can obtain knowledge through mystical experience. You may obtain beliefs. To say that you know something generally means that you are sure it is true and have good evidence for it.

If mystical experience can give us knowledge then why can't it enable us to learn another language or learn higher mathematics. Would you trust a doctor who said he had obtained his medical knowledge through mystical experience?

Most philosophers think that metaphysical questions can only be solved by doing more metaphysics. There is as far as I know only one philosopher who had a different view of things, Ludwig Wittgenstein. In his early work he thought that he could solve philosophical problems by doing more philosophy. In his later work he put forward the view that there are no solutions to metaphysical problems because there are no real metaphysical problems. He wrote 'Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of our own language'.

For him it is philosophical ways of thinking that are defective and we need to free ourselves from them. However Wittgenstein is a very difficult philosopher to understand, although his writings look deceptively simple. You need to have a very good knowledge of western philosophy and western philosophical problems before you even start to read his works.

Shaun Williamson


(71) Justine asked:

Is the sale of human organs ethical? moral?

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The first proposition we need to establish is whether there are any cases where we would object on ethical grounds to a person selling something which is within his or her power to sell, not under threat or duress but of his or her own volition.

Here's an example. A is badly in need of money to support his starving family and having exhausted every other opportunity agrees to be murdered in a snuff video. On the assumption that you have no intrinsic ethical objections to suicide or euthanasia — everyone has the moral right to take their own life, or to enlist the help of others in taking their own life — what arguments would you give that it is unethical to make a deal with the snuff video producer?

Most persons have the very strong intuition that it is wrong. It is wrong because your life should not be traded for money.

Yet lives are given for other reasons, which are not considered wrong. For example, a soldier courageously leading an assault in which it is a virtual certainty that he will be killed, or a captured spy choosing death rather than revealing the place where his comrades are hiding.

Suppose that the money from the snuff video could be used for an impeccably good purpose, such as saving the lives of a hundred cancer victims? Why would it still be wrong then?

If you can answer that question, then you can make a start on the question of selling an organ. To remove a healthy organ (and I am assuming it is a vital organ, not something we can easily do without) is to have an action performed on you which significantly increases your chances of death, with no benefit to yourself.

(P.S. It has been pointed out to me that this leaves open the question about making a contract to have your organs sold when you die. I leave that for someone else to answer.)

Geoffrey Klempner


(72) Angela asked:

Can metaphysical questions be solved through logic? If not, through science? If neither, then how? Religion? Isn't that appeal to authority?

What about knowledge through mystical experience?

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Not through logic alone; but yes, through science. As science solves such questions they become a part of science and no longer metaphysical. For example, it used to be a metaphysical question as to how the Universe began, but it is now part of astronomical physics that it started with a Big Bang. Notice also that science presupposes a certain amount of metaphysics, such as the assumptions that reality cannot be self-contradictory and that it does include causal necessities. And yes, religious answers to metaphysical questions are appeal to authority.

Helier Robinson


(73) Joey asked:

Is the problem of evil a problem for the traditional view of God?

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Yes. Traditionally God is all-loving, all-powerful, and all knowing. Also, evil exists. Being all-knowing, God must know that evil exists; being all-loving, God must want to abolish evil; being all-powerful, God is able to abolish evil. But evil still exists, so God is one or more of: not all-loving, not all-powerful, and not all-knowing.

Helier Robinson


(74) Douglas asked:

Can abstracts be rational? Or completely understood rationally?

If so then, can all abstracts?

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It is not clear what you mean by an abstract. If you mean abstract ideas, such as the meanings of words like 'logarithm,' 'vector,' 'number' and other mathematical words, then yes, they are rational; they are arrived at rationally and understood rationally. However the meanings of other abstract words may not be arrived at rationally: some universals, like 'red,' 'female,' and 'moral' refer to classes (or sets) which have extensions but do not have intensions. The extension of a class is the totality of its members, while its intension (if it has one) is that property that all and only its members have. An intension is an abstract idea, and rational; an extension is not an abstract idea, and not arrived at rationally — it is arrived at by classification, which is something that irrational animals do. However, these are my personal views and not all philosophers will agree with them

Helier Robinson


(75) Dave asked:

What is love? How does one know that they are in love? Is it never ending? It isn't something you can actually see but you can feel it.

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Being in love is not the same as loving. Loving is a willingness to give unconditionally. Being in love is state of euphoria, a capacity for which we have as a result of the evolutionary need to reproduce. And it is not never ending: if it was there would be no divorce.

Helier Robinson


(76) Daga asked:

I need to know every thing about two things: Aristotle and logic.

Can you help me please???

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

No. It requires a lifetime of study to now everything about either.

Helier Robinson


(77) Grandad asked:

If it was possible to dig into the earth, what would happen when you got to the centre? To continue on, would you then be digging up?

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Yes, you would be digging up: what you dug loose would be falling down to the centre.

Helier Robinson


(78) Drew asked:

Im familiar with syllogistic arguments, but hardly an expert. In a recent debate about logical fallacies, I made the following points.

So-called logical fallacies do not apply to inherently sound arguments (much as, for example, libel isn't libel if the statement is true). Therefore, it is logically sound to 'appeal' to numbers or to authorities IF the majority or the authority being cited: (1) has legitimate expertise on the topic (e.g., a doctor, not a mechanic on a medical matter); (2) is cited only in the area of its expertise (e.g., don't cite computer programmers on a biological question); and (3) the subject matter experts generally agree on the statement (as, for instance, most oncologists agree that smoking is a cause of lung cancer). In other words, it is perfectly logical to accept as valid the consensus of lung cancer researchers that smoking is a leading cause of lung cancer.

I may have phrased my case ineptly, but I wonder if my argument is correct, or at least on the right track.

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

The idea of 'a logically valid argument' is a very precise and very narrow one which must not be confused with ordinary notions such as 'a good argument' or a 'relevant argument'.

So for example the following argument is logically valid 'All rabbits wear white gloves. Fred is a white rabbit. Therefore Fred wears white gloves'. Of course this tells you nothing about rabbits or the clothes they wear.

'All leading oncologists believe that smoking causes cancer therefore smoking must cause cancer' is not in itself a logically valid argument.

You must remember that up until ten years ago all the leading ulcer specialists would tell you that stomach ulcers could not be caused by a virus. However an Australian doctor showed them that they were all wrong and now most stomach ulcers are cured by a simple course of antibiotics.

However there is a lot of statistical evidence that leads most oncologists to believe that smoking causes cancers and I agree with them. It might be reasonable to accept the opinion of experts but this is not a question of logic.

Nor is it a logical fallacy to say 'All the experts agree that X is true but I don't agree with them'.

Shaun Williamson


(79) Chris asked:

Do nice guys really finish last?

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Well in some contexts 'nice' can seem to be a very insipid or even insincere quality so lets substitute 'good' for 'nice' and ask if good guys finish last.

Of course (as Professor Joad would have said) it all depends on what you mean by finishing last. Does it mean not getting the girl, the money, the job, the fame etc.? If someone cheats and take drugs to win an athletics race do we really regard them as finishing first, not once we know they have cheated.

Deciding what is really being first and what is being last is part of the moral quest. If there were simple definite answers to these questions then maybe morality would lose its importance and its point. You have to remember that even the cheat,liar and fraud wants to be loved. But the cheat,liar and fraud gives us so many reasons not to love him, so how can he expect to be loved?

All this reminds me of a song I have heard which contains the line 'Good guys don't cut the mustard' or was it 'Nice guys don't cut the mustard' which is maybe far more ambiguous.

Shaun Williamson


(80) Tim asked:

What should quiet, curious, and nihilistic boy say to withdrawn, disillusioned, and exhausted girl? there's not much conversation going on.

Discover a way to open up a path to common ground and you'll be my favorite philosopher =)

If this is a bad question think of it as a riddle that needs a clever answer.

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There are no clever or smart answers to a question like this. What you say is 'Hello'. Then if you are patient, persistent and really interested in the other person you may eventually get a response and get a conversation going. The key word here is patience. In general men aren't very patient.

Shaun Williamson


(81) Richard asked:

Nobody imagines that a word Is an ethical value. But we are not sapient creatures able to communicate at all if we have no words that represent ethical values. Somebody is talking nonsense!

I know of nothing, apart from the mechanics of living, that can be said about people that is not about ethical values in the widest sense.

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

Richard the problem is that you haven't asked a question. So how are we supposed to answer you. Of course ethical values are fundamental to our language. No one can accuse you of telling the truth although they can accuse you of being a liar. Value judgements are as fundamental to our language as factual judgements although it has often been difficult for philosophers to see this.

Shaun Williamson


(82) Richard asked:

In Christianity the Trinity may be described as a quandary fixed by philosophical wit.

If Jesus of Nazareth was human and also God or of GodI think I am correct in saying Christians assume therefore he was perfectly virtuous. Can it be assumed he also had free will? If he did then presumably, being perfect, he chose to do only what was virtuous although the Gospels may indicate less than perfect virtue

If that is the logic, then if God invested all humans in the same way, we would all have free will but only do what is virtuous according to the Christian ethic.

Are Christians to assume God has made us imperfect, so that we are likely to 'sin', with all that may follow.

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

The trinity is a tough problem, and I am not certain what you're particularly struggling with. Few Christians would agree with your statement that Jesus demonstrated, Less than perfect virtue [in the New Testament]. Jesus was perfectly human and divine; maybe a Christian might argue that while Jesus took human form he had freewill (without the typical philosophical problems that are associated with God having freewill).

In the beginning, God created Adam in His own image and he (adam) was good. Adam made the decision to sin on his own freewill. Thus, it is not proper to say that just because Adam was imperfect he was destined to eat the apple. That is twisted logic. Today, Christians disagree about the theological ramifications of tale of Adam and Eve. Some believe that we are now born with Original Sin and are sinners until we are baptized. Some Christians take a more practical view and believe that Adam and Eve is a story meant to convey that men and women need God to be good (amongst many other themes). I have the perfect essay for you. It is called, Why I am not a Christian, by Bertrand Russell. And read the New Testament, of course.

Eric Zwickler


(83) Courtney asked:

Explain why Hume would have more trouble justifying the claim 'killing people is wrong' than the claim 'murdering people is wrong'

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This is just a poorly worded way to ask, Is there any moral difference between killing and murder? The definition of murder is to wrongly kill another person, or to kill an innocent person. In some cases killing is morally acceptable, such as in the case of self-defense. Thus, murder is never acceptable, while killing is acceptable in some extreme cases.

Eric Zwickler


(84) Maria asked:

is racism inevitable?

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Xenophobia, discrimination and bias by physical appearance are probably too much part of how our brains work to hope it will ever disappear. But real racism — the conviction that every member of a race is fundamentally inferior to every member of another race — is silly enough to become very rare, eventually.

Rhonald Blommestijn


(85) Chuck asked:

What is the main point about Plato's example of the divided line including both the objects and modes of thought?

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Plato in his middle Dialogue Republic, analyzes his epistemological notions by the use of the example of the divided line, which refers to the level of knowledge achieved in the 'visible' and the 'intelligible' realm. The faculty of knowledge, both of the 'intelligible' and 'visible' realm can be graphically represented by a straight line, divided in four sections, as follows:

Visible // Intelligible world

Opinion (doxa) // Knowledge (episteme)/

/B--------/D--------//C--------/E--------/A

Imagination/ Belief // Thought / Understanding /

(eikasia) / (pistis) // (dianoia) / (noesis) /

BD/DC = BC/CA and CE/EA = BC/CA, and BD/DC = CE/EA.

The section of the straight line BC refers to the perception of the visible world, and the part CA refers to the perception of the intelligible world. The section BC of the visible world is divided in two subsections BD and DC. The first one BD, refers to the sense-impressions, which Socrates calls images, or shadows or reflections, since through the senses we perceive the reflections (impressions) of the objects and not the objects themselves. The section DC corresponds to the objects themselves of the visible world, namely the originals of these images that we perceive. Since our perception of the visible is based upon the reflections and not upon the real objects (originals), it is called imagination (eikasia) and corresponds to the section BD. Our perception of the whole of the objects which compose the visible world (section DC), he calls it belief (pistis), since we simply believe that the reality of the visible world is the one that we perceive through these images (impressions), without being sure and without any reasoning, for we base this perception only upon the images of the objects and not upon the objects themselves (originals). The total line section BC corresponds to the so-called opinion (doxa), namely the perception of the visible world as a whole, of which the highest capability for us is to have a clear picture of the visible world, namely true opinion (doxa alethes), as we have seen.

'It is like a line divided in two unequal sections. Then divide each section — namely that of the visible and that of the intelligible — in the same ratio as the line. In terms now of relative clarity and opacity, one subsection of the visible consists of images. And by images I mean, first shadows, then reflections in water and in all close-packed, smooth and shiny materials, and everything of that sort, if you understand.

In the other subsection of the visible, put the originals of these images, namely the animals around us, all the plants and the whole class of manufactured things.

Would you be willing to say that, as regards truth and untruth, the division is in this proportion. As the opinable is to knowable, so the likeness is to the thing that is like.' (Plato, Republic VI 509 e, 510 a).

As for the section of the intelligible that corresponds to CA, namely knowledge (episteme), it is also divided in two subsections CE and EA. The section CE corresponds to thought (dianoia), namely conception by the use of intelligible entities. The images of the first section BD are used as a basis to form the first hypotheses, the first conclusions, after intellectual interpretation of these images. In other words, by using these sense-data (images) and through the intellectual interpretation of them, one proceeds, starting first with hypotheses and then he draws conclusions, which means laws and principles, which determine the appearances. On this process, some assumptions must be rejected, and some other, the confirmed ones, must be accepted. The whole procedure is intelligible by using the images as a basis for the assumptions. This section CE, corresponds to the nowadays scientific inquiry, the searching out of the laws, which determine the phenomena.

' — Consider now how the section of the intelligible is to be divided. — How? — As follows: In one subsection the soul, using as images the things that were imitated before, is forced to investigate from hypotheses, proceeding not to a first principle, but to a conclusion.' (Plato Republic VI 511 a).

'This then, is the kind of thing that, on the one hand, I said is intelligible, and on the other, is such that the soul is forced to use hypotheses in the investigation of it, not travelling up to a first principle, since it cannot reach beyond its hypotheses, but using as images those very things of which images were made in the section below, and which, by comparison to their images, were thought to be cleared (enargesin) and to be valued as such.' (Plato, Republic VI 511 a).

The last section of the perception of the intelligible realm EA, corresponds to the understanding (noesis), and is considered to be the highest level of knowledge, since it refers to the knowledge and comprehension of the first principle (tou pantos archen), which determines all things in the universe. These laws and principles that we concluded in the previous stage of thought (CE), we must consider now as hypotheses, in order to reach the first principle, which means the 'Being itself'. Because all the previous principles are consistent with one another, therefore they can be deduced in one first principle, from which derive all the others and whose they are part. So, the laws and the principles of mathematics, physics, astronomy etc. can be abstracted to one principle, of which they are the various forms of manifestation. The method that one must follow to approach that first principle is dialectic, which consists in knowing and understanding the intelligible Forms (Ideai), therefore through dialectic one can reach the first principle, the Good itself, the Being. After having grasped the first principle, then by deductive one can apply this knowledge of the first principle on each subject of knowledge and everyday life. The whole procedure is also here (EA) completely intelligible, excluding the use of any image as in the previous stage (thought), and including only the use of intelligible Forms (Ideas). When one fathoms these Forms by reason, can reach the first principle and achieve understanding and true knowledge of the Good.

'In the other subsection, however, it makes its way to a first principle, that is not a hypothesis, proceeding from hypothesis but without the images used in the previous subsection, using forms themselves and making its investigation through them.' (Plato Republic VI 510 b).

'Then also understand that, by the other subsection of the intelligible, I mean that which reason itself grasps by the power of dialectic. It does not consider these hypotheses as first principles but truly as hypotheses — but as stepping stones to take off from, enabling it to reach the unhypothetical first principle of everything. Having grasped this principle, it reverses itself and keeping hold of what follows from it, comes down to a conclusion without making use of anything visible at all, but only of forms themselves, moving on from forms to forms and ending in forms.' (Plato, Republic VI 511 b).

'Thus there are four conditions of the soul, corresponding to the four subsections of our line. Understanding for the highest, thought for the second, belief for the third and imaging for the last.' (Plato, Republic VI 511 d).

(Excerpts are from my book 'Handbook of Greek Philosophy' http://www.philosophypathways.com/index2.html#bakalis)

However, Plato in his later Dialogues Theaetetus and Sophist changes his definition of knowledge. Knowledge: true belief with an account was proved not sufficient enough in the Theaetetus, while in the Sophist dialectic is the understanding of the five Great Kinds (Being, Rest, Change, Sameness and Difference) and of their capability of blending.

Nikolaos Bakalis


(86) Powerspike asked:

1) discuss the view that truth is warranted assertion

2) expound the coherentist theory of justification .can it be used 2 justify random beliefs?

3) evaluate the thesis that justified true beliefs are produced by a reliable person?

4) examine whether traditional epistemology can be replaced by sociology knowledge?

5) elucidate skepticism as an inquiry into indubitable knowledge claim?

6) answer any 4 out of 5 each answer carries 25 marks

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

Yes, very amusing powerspike. This isn't a question about philosophy. It is obviously a test or exam paper and you want us to do it for you. The whole point of a test or exam is that you are supposed to do some work, read some books and answer the questions yourself. If you wanted help with some aspects of the questions then that might be a different matter.

Don't be so lazy. Do some studying yourself.

Shaun Williamson


(87) Neil asked:

How can you answer philosophy questions with one answer?

Isn't philosophy meant to be discussed?

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

You can study philosophy in different ways. You can also discuss philosophy with other people but there is nothing about philosophy that makes discussion essential.

This part of the website is intended for people who have not studied philosophy formally. It allows them to ask questions and get answers from people who have studied philosophy. It is not intended to provide a way of studying philosophy.

If you look at other parts of this website you will see that it offers you other ways of studying philosophy formally (and this includes discussions with other philosophers).

Shaun Williamson


(88) Irene asked:

I am a complete novice to philosophy, and I am intrigued to learn why it would seem that all the groundbreaking philosophers are male. Indeed, having scoured the shelves of the philosophy sections in numerous bookshops, I have failed to identify a single publication written by a female. My question is from a male perspective, do you consider that women lack a certain aptitude for philosophy and secondly, could you explain the difference between someone who is perhaps a deep thinker and someone who is a philosopher? I spend hours asking myself questions on the meaning of things. Please excuse my ignorance and naivety on these matters.

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

There are reasons why women have been under-represented in philosophy in the past which have nothing to do with what we're talking about. I am only talking about the significantly lower number of women in professional philosophy in, say, the last 50 years.

The same story is repeated, I'm sad to say, in Pathways. We currently have nine male mentors and one female mentor. The number of male members on the Ask a Philosopher panel vastly exceeds the number of female panel members. Why is that?

It has absolutely nothing to do with intelligence or philosophical aptitude. My female students are just as good as my male students. In fact, I am not aware of any significant difference between the way my male students respond to questions or write essays and away my female students do.

However, I have a theory. Anyone who puts forward a theory in this contentious area is risking getting their head shot off. But in my view the reason has to do with the peculiarly combative nature of philosophy. For the idea of proving yourself in dialectical combat, crossing swords up in the seminar room or the online forum, appeals more to men and women. This is because of the way philosophy has historically developed. Things might have been otherwise. Indeed, there is evidence that the way philosophy is done is subtly changing as a result of the increasing influence of feminist thought.

My advice to you would be to pursue your interest in philosophy and not be put off by the fact that if you make it to the ranks of professional philosophers you will still, probably, find yourself in a minority.

Geoffrey Klempner


(89) Josie asked:

What makes a question a philosophical question? Why is it philosophical?

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

This is a very difficult question to answer. A philosophical question isn't a scientific question, it isn't a theological question or a sociological question. It isn't a political question or a medical question. A philosophical question is one that can be answered just by thinking about the question and without having any extraneous knowledge e.g you don't need to be a mathematician to answer questions about the philosophy of mathematics.

I don't think there are any real philosophical questions but I recognise that humans will always think that there are such questions.

Shaun Williamson


(90) Dodge asked:

What's outside the universe?

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

If by the universe you mean everything that exists then by definition there is nothing outside the universe.

Shaun Williamson


(91) Judy asked:

do philosophers ever come up with a definite answer on anything at all? What's been proved?

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

Many philosophers come up with definite answers, the problem is that they disagree about what these definite answers are. Philosophy isn't a science or like mathematics so the idea that there are proofs of anything in philosophy may not be the right idea.

I think that it is possible to reach the truth about philosophy but I think that this truth is that there are no answers to philosophical questions. However the good news is that there are no real philosophical questions so we don't need any answers to them.

Of course all the other philosophers would disagree with this.

Shaun Williamson


(92) Nina asked:

What role does emotion play in the critical thinking process?

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

If the thinking is objective, none.

Helier Robinson


(93) Frog asked:

What is art?

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

Well art is things like painting, drawing, sculpture, music, drama, poetry etc. Then there is good art and there is bad art. Of course you already know all this, don't you? Its not clear to me what you want to know. Perhaps you want some simple formula that will sum up the essence of art. I don't believe such a formula exists.

Shaun Williamson


(94) Nettia asked:

Compare the dualism of Renee Descartes and African dualism. What is the relationship of the physical and spiritual and how they interact?

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

Descartes proposition of dualism is differs notably from the African understanding of body and soul relationship in a couple of ways: 1) Cartesian dualism is limited to humans only whereas African dualism may not necessarily make the distinction between human and animal 2) Cartesian dualism is linked to epistemology i.e. determining what is real knowledge, thus he maintained that the mind controls the body but can be influenced by the body hence implying the need for rational thought to interpret senses in order to arrive at knowledge. In traditional African thought the senses, rational thought and spiritual e.g. an Olaibon or seer, all are plausible sources of true knowledge. Thus a fundamental difference in worldviews and individual goals makes the question a comparison of oranges and apples. However, looking at it from the point of view of 'causal-effect' relationship, the perception of mind/spirit-body interaction in traditional African thought is equivalent if not superior to physical-physical cause and effect. Case in point is the widespread belief in witchcraft whereby a witch doctor is able to bring harm or even death to someone without any direct physical contact. This is altogether improbable within Descartes's form of dualism. With regards,

Robert M. Karanja


(95) Medie asked:

Given that metaphysical claims are empirically untestable, it follows that they are immune from critical evaluation; that is, they are untestable in any sense of the word. Is it true or false? Please explain why and provide some examples.

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

Well let us start by considering the following claim. 'Given that metaphysical claims are empirically untestable, it follows that they are immune from critical evaluation'. Is the above claim empirically testable or is it just an example of another metaphysical claim. Think about it!

Shaun Williamson


(96) Irene asked:

I am a complete novice to philosophy, and I am intrigued to learn why it would seem that all the groundbreaking philosophers are male. Indeed, having scoured the shelves of the philosophy sections in numerous bookshops, I have failed to identify a single publication written by a female. My question is from a male perspective, do you consider that women lack a certain aptitude for philosophy and secondly, could you explain the difference between someone who is perhaps a deep thinker and someone who is a philosopher? I spend hours asking myself questions on the meaning of things. Please excuse my ignorance and naivety on these matters.

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

Before the end of the 19th Century it was difficult or even impossible for women to obtain an adequate education. If they did show some interest in philosophy then in general no one would care nor would their thoughts be published. After all they were just women and the world was controlled by men who were sure that women were not capable of abstract thought.

Given all these obstacles it is impossible to make any judgements about whether women are less interested in philosophy than men are. There is no reason to think that they are any less capable of philosophical thought than men are.

Perhaps you could ask your question again in two hundred years time.

I don't know what the difference between a deep thinker and a philosopher is but I would expect a philosopher to have made an extensive study of philosophy before they call themselves a philosopher. I think it is a mistake to think that you can just philosophise by yourself without knowing anything about the history of philosophy.

Shaun Williamson


(97) Omar asked:

Can any one tell me that how the level of dimensional accuracy has been increased through the history and today we see machines capable of producing parts up to an accuracy of 0.001 (gauge blocks) and even more.

My point is that a machine can only produce an accuracy slightly lesser then that at which its own components are designed and manufactured. in order to produce components of a CNC milling (for example with an accuracy of 0.01) one must have a machine whose accuracy must be higher (for example 0.005) then the accuracy of the CNC milling components (being produced). in simple words you cannot produce accuracy higher then at which you are already standing?

but if we see in the history of engineering development, the accuracy of products has been increasing gradually with time. at the starting point of development i.e. in the stone age there were hand made devices, gradually with time we see that after the stone age there was an agriculture age and then industrial age, the level of complexity, accuracy and quality of the products has been increasing (whether its a machine or a end user product) through out this time. it means that machines with lower accuracy has been producing products of higher accuracy, for example it seems that a CNC machine with components with an accuracy of 0.1 mm has been producing an accuracy of 0.05 mm. that's what's happening in reality but that's seems totally against the laws of physics.

So the question simply is that how the accuracy of products being manufactured has been increased through out the history?

Can any one please explain!

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

Omar I afraid your question show the danger of abstract thought without any regard to practical knowledge and in particular your second paragraph is just a wrong assumption on your part.

It should be obvious that we have been able to use less accurate machines to produce the parts for more accurate machines. So what you need to do is to study the history of engineering if you want to see how this was done and why it isn't against the laws of physics.

Suppose you need some steel rods with a diameter of 20mm accurate to within 0.0000001mm but you only have a milling machine with an accuracy of 01mm. Can you use this to produce the rods you need? Yes you can and all you need is an accurate way of measuring the diameter of the rods produced by your low specification milling machine.

Many of the rods produced by your low specification milling machine will not meet your requirements but if you mill enough of them then some will and all you have to do is select these ones and use them to build your more accurate machine. There is nothing here that violates the rules of physics.

Shaun Williamson


(98) Irene asked:

I am a complete novice to philosophy, and I am intrigued to learn why it would seem that all the groundbreaking philosophers are male. Indeed, having scoured the shelves of the philosophy sections in numerous bookshops, I have failed to identify a single publication written by a female. My question is from a male perspective, do you consider that women lack a certain aptitude for philosophy and secondly, could you explain the difference between someone who is perhaps a deep thinker and someone who is a philosopher? I spend hours asking myself questions on the meaning of things. Please excuse my ignorance and naivety on these matters.

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Historically, more men than women were formally educated due to social prejudices. In the last couple of centuries, the womens movement have made major advancements to the point where todays philosophers are just as likely to be women as men. Some famous women thinkers that you may want to check out are Mary Wo, Hannah Arendt, Simone de Beauvoir, Andrea Dworkin, Judith Butler, Camille Paglia, Martha Nussbaum, Luce Irigaray, and Carol Gilligan. Each of these women has made significant contributions to philosophy. I personally do not think men have a greater aptitude to philosophize. I believe that gender is basically an irrelevant social construct, no more important than the differences between green-eyed people and blue-eyed people.

The difference between a deep thinker and a philosopher might be nothing. However, philosophers tend to think about the traditional philosophical topics whereas others might be thinking deeply about gardening (which is not philosophy).

Eric Zwickler


(99) Malcolm asked:

I am undergraduate seriously considering a career as a Professor in collegiate Philosophy, and I had a few questions.

Do you know of any notable Philosophy programs in any institutions at all?

I understand that seeking a profession as a Philosophy Professor is extremely difficult. Do different demographics affect marketability (is there any demand for minorities, per se?)

In reality, how flexible is a Philosophy degree?

I would really appreciate some incite from you guys, for I have scoured the internet to no avail.

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Please see the Leiter report at http://www.philosophicalgourmet.com. This is a must read for all potential philosophy students. It is the only authority I know of.

Eric Zwickler


(100) Nathan asked:

If it were punishable by death to eat a red apple, and you peeled the skin off one and then ate it, could you rightfully be punished?

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Good question. To understand the answer you have to understand the difference between the letter of the law and the intent of the law. You can interpret law exactly as it is written or in the spirit that the laws are written. Some judges interpret laws exactly as they are written. Since, you are not eating a red apple, you would have a good case with these judges. Other judges interpret laws by the intent of the law. This judge may realize that while the apple is not technically red, it is just because of a small alteration made by you to bend the rules. With this judge, you might be in trouble.

Eric Zwickler