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  View the latest questions and answers at askaphilosopher.wordpress.com
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Ask a Philosopher: Questions and Answers 37 (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 37/1.

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) Patrick asked:

Why have I never seen the use of 'vampires' in philosophical writings, I feel that they are interesting theoretical subjects for study. They appear in writings to be driven by emotion, have thoughts, ideas and beliefs they were also once alive but now are not. Although they appear driven by thirst they are also likely to show restraint and planning behaviour. In other words they are very similar to non vampires. How would a philosopher be able to tell the difference between a 'vampire' and a human? (the obvious conditions do not apply e.g. exposure to sunlight, garlic etc). Could they still be thought of as human? Could the distinction be made on behaviour alone? Hope you don't think I am too strange.

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

I am not sure of the exact point of your question, but one take would be this. Suppose you discovered that you were, or had become a vampire. Ought you to commit suicide — or allow yourself to die — rather than continue living by drinking the blood of unwilling victims and forcing them to become vampires?

By definition, a 'vampire' is not a human being. Physiologically they are different from human beings, even if every vampire was once a human being. However, the point of your question is whether we can, or should, view vampires as potential members of the moral community, responsible for their actions just as human beings are.

Now, you see the problem. Vampires cannot live as members of the moral community. Anyone who unwillingly becomes a vampire has only one morally acceptable choice: to die. Yet, despite that, many would wish to live. I think that is the secret of the appeal of vampires to writers of fiction. Vampires are beings who, despite any morally good characteristics that they may contingently possess, are condemned to do evil as a condition for remaining in existence.

Geoffrey Klempner


(2) Stephen asked:

I am antidisestablishmentarianistic. People say I'm ignorant for being this way (for my opinion), and arguing for prayer to be in school once again. Is taking 5 minutes out of each school day to read a verse from the Bible really so bad? After all, Christianity seems to give people morals and a positive perspective on life. Although many people are not Christian, does it really negatively effect them, or does it only positively effect a small percentage?

I'm basically asking for your opinion on this subject.

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

Many children in British schools are not Christians and they should not be forced to listen to compulsory Bible readings. Would you agree to your children having to listen to verses from the Koran every day? Why then should Muslim children be forced to listen to the Bible every day?

Many religions can be said to give people moral values. Non religious people also have moral values and would object to the idea that their children have to listen to compulsory Bible readings.

Prayer belongs in the home or the Church for those wish to belong to a religion. It does not belong in schools and should not be imposed on children by the government.

Shaun Williamson


(3) Delphin asked:

If God created us then who created God?

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

No-one created God. 'God' is not a name of some being, although in English it seems like it and people (including a lot of believers forget). The Jews write G-d to remind themselves God is not a thing among things a being among beings or even the 'ground of being' ie. 'Being itself'. Jews also write Hashem, meaning 'the Name' because God's name is not known or pronounceable (and there is a hidden meaning there).

So therefore 'who created God?' No-one by definition, God is 'uncreated'. There is an 'ontological difference' between Creator and creation.

Matthew Del Nevo


(4) Shaun asked:

What Egyptian text is the source for the Old Testament?

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

Shaun, there is no Egyptian text at the basis of the OT, the Torah is original in its thinking, in its implicit logic and in its implicit principles. The word for this originality is 'revelation'. There are resonances with other near eastern texts of the period, because of course the revelation is spoken into a time and place. But the OT needs to be read (as Jews have always read it) in its difference and otherness from other contemporary near eastern literature. In the nineteenth century Christian scholars and others read the OT 'in terms of' culture and history, which they thought was being 'more scientific'. There was implicit anti-Jewish sentiment in their 'science' rather than the 'neutrality' science calls for, and Christianity has historically been anti-Jewish.

But to read the OT and not get its 'otherness' is not to read the OT at all.

Matthew Del Nevo


(5) Omar asked:

How can democracy help underdeveloped/poor nations where majority is uneducated (intellectually deprived) and poor; who are also easily manipulated by corrupt politicians due to their vulnerable economic condition?

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

If a man has tuberculosis and HIV, curing the tuberculosis will not ensure long life and happiness. It would be the right thing to do, all the same.

By which I mean that democracy will not cure all ills. It is, nevertheless, a cure for one important and dangerous ill, which is the idea that what the majority think ought not to matter. It is perfectly true that the decisions arrived at through democracy are, by and large, only as good as the understanding and courage of the electorate allows for — and some philosophers have taken it that this makes democracy an inevitably second rate system of government, compared to the ideal of right action by a government with full knowledge of all the facts and perfect moral character. But it is wrong, I think, to condemn a human system by comparison with something divine, and as a matter of fact there are worse systems of government than democracy, as is currently being discovered in Zimbabwe. They have the general malaise of the human condition, there, right enough, but they now also have an additional disease of tyranny.

David Robjant


(6) Omar asked:

If Humans are evolved from nature (Darwin's theory) then how and why they acts in many unnatural ways? like we see humans as Gays and Lesbians, having a destructive approach toward natural environment, being greedy, etc

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

In reverse order:

1) I cannot see why you would think that being greedy is not a feature of any animals in nature besides humans. Foxes may catch and kill many more chickens than they can possibly eat, and the natural and obvious way of describing this is to say that they are greedy, just so with many other predators whose eyes may be bigger than their mouths. Determinist evolutionary explanations of such animal behaviour may sometimes be offered as if they displaced the possibility of any moral quality like greed — but if we go that way, what are we to say about humans? The consistent options are to allow determinist vocabulary to displace moral vocabulary in application to all creatures, that is including humans, or to allow that animals can sometimes display moral vices. I favour the latter course.

2) Lots of animals destroy natural environments. Notably, the grazing patterns of goats sheep and deer tend to prevent the natural regeneration of deciduous forests (sheep and deer being the chief culprits for the barren appearance of many a british 'wilderness', and goats being an important agent of total desertification in areas of lower rainfall). I suppose you will say that humans are responsible for the the sheep and goats being there, which is true, up to a point, but your implied claim was that only humans have a destructive approach towards their environment, which is patently false.

3) Sexuality of every kind has been observed amongst animals. If, aware of this, you persist in calling some sexuality 'unnatural', your claim will not be one based on any observed evidence.

I take it that you intend your argument to be this: 'If Darwin was right, humans would be like other animals in nature. Other animals in nature are 1) without greed, 2) environmentally benign, and 3) heterosexual. But humans are none of the above. Therefore humans are not like of the animals in nature. Therefore Darwin was wrong'. I have pointed out that your three claims about other animals are factually incorrect. I must now point out:

4) If Darwin is right, and Human beings have evolved through natural selection, it in no way follows that human animals must resemble other animals in either moral qualities, effect on environment, or sexual behaviour.

David Robjant


(7) Troy asked:

Hey there,

I'm sorry. I'm kinda new to philosophy. I just have a question that has been bothering me quite a bit for some time now, and I can't find an answer to it. I was just wondering about the possibilities of their being an afterlife and what would exist after death if there was not an afterlife. My problem with approaching the subject of there not being an afterlife is that I cannot imagine what it would be like to be unable to consciously (or unconsciously through dreams etc.) react to anything around you, or process information like you would normally be able to if you were alive but in an unconscious state. Obviously, when you are alive and you sleep, you have dreams in which you are often able to relive images from the previous day. Upon waking up from your dreams, you are able to recall everything that happened the day before and if you are lucky, recall your dreams. However, if you were dead, theoretically you wouldn't be able to dream because your brain would essentially be dead and have no subconscious functions whatsoever. i guess what I am trying to say (sorry this is probably so confusing for you to read) is what would it be like to be dead and be infinitely unconscious and unresponsive? Would it be like a never ending dream or would you simply be in infinite darkness? Also, would you be able to realize that you are in fact dead? I have a really hard time of imagining a state of infinite unrealization and what that would be like. Please help me answer these questions. This has been bugging me for a looooong time. Thank you.

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

The error you are making here is your assumption that 'being dead' is an attribute of a person, like 'being asleep', or 'being hungry', or 'being intelligent'.

Assuming that there will be a time in the future when Troy is dead, what that means is, at that time Troy no longer exists. There is nothing 'it is like' to not exist.

Geoffrey Klempner


(8) Kobe asked:

'All knowledge starts with axioms. Axioms are based on beliefs.

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

Helier Robinson answered:

'...Not all knowledge starts with axioms. For example, you know that you exist, and there is no axiom from which this knowledge is derived...'.

But the assumption that your rational mind is reliable is the very first axiom. Scepticism can not be disproved, therefore, all knowledge starts from the axiom that knowledge is possible.

Or do you have another definition of axioms?

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

Here are two quotations from Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations 1. Philosophical problems arise when language goes on holiday. 2. Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of our own language.

I think that you are very much bewitched by language so that to you it really seems possible that knowledge and belief might be the same thing. This is only really possible if you start with a defective (philosophical) idea of what knowledge is.

Suppose you take off your philosopher's hat for a moment and let us go for a walk. Suppose I say to you 'Do you know what time it is?'. You look at your watch and say 'Its ten o'clock'.

Here you have no problem with the idea that you KNOW what time it is. You are not really tempted in ordinary life to say 'I don't know what time it is because there is no such thing as knowledge but I have looked at my watch and I BELIEVE that it is ten o'clock.

Suppose you have no watch and you haven't seen a clock then you might look at the sky and say 'I don't know what the time is but I believe its about ten o'clock'. Here we have some different characteristic uses of words like 'knowledge' and 'belief'. We claim to know something when we can back up that claim with evidence i.e. I've looked at my watch and my watch is usually correct. Of course we all know that your watch might be wrong or faulty but that is not what we are interested in here. We are interested in whether you are merely guessing what time it is (with nothing to back up your claim) or whether you are claiming to know and are ready to back up your claim with i.e 'I looked at my watch and my watch has always been reliable before. I had a new battery put in it last week etc.'.

It is natural to humans when they want to know the time to ask someone with a watch who will claim to know the time rather than to ask someone with no watch who can only tell us what they believe the time is. If knowledge and belief are the same thing, why do we wear watches?

Here's another example. I might say 'I know penicillin is a good cure for certain infections and by this I mean that there are lots of medical studies that show that it works. On the other hand I might say 'I believe that homeopathic medicine works but I don't know for sure' and here I might mean that there are no medical trials or studies that prove that homeopathic medicine works.

In our non-philosophical life we find this distinction between claiming to know something and claiming to merely believe something a useful one. Philosophers may try to make us give it up but they will never convince us to do so because nothing would be gained by dropping our use of the work 'know' and substituting the word 'believe' instead.

Of course we can't refute scepticism because the sceptic has a defective idea of what knowledge is, an idea based on a philosophical fantasy. He thinks that we should only claim to know what the time is if we can logically guarantee that our watch cannot be wrong. So it is not surprising that for him nothing counts as knowledge. Once you are in the grip of this fantasy it can be very difficult to free yourself from it.

Shaun Williamson


(9) Michelle asked:

Are there many similarities and differences between Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas? If so what might they be. I find myself lost in translation when I am reading Nicomachean Ethics and Summa Theologica. I am just having a hard time understanding the way it was written. Thank you

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

Michelle you have asked a question that demands a long and detailed answer. In fact to answer it adequately I would have to write a whole book and that isn't really possible. At the same time trying to read Aquinas and Aristotle on your own and understand them is not likely to be fruitful. You need to look around for books such as commentaries on Aquinas that will compare the two.

The background to all this is that before Aquinas, Christian philosophers and theologians had usually based their work on the philosophy of Plato and in fact knowledge of Aristotle was lost to western thought. However Aquinas came to know the works of Aristotle through the translations of his works preserved by Islamic scholars and Aquinas based his philosophy on Aristotle rather than Plato. So Aquinas accepted many of the views of Aristotle, such as his views about the nature of the forms and he rejected the quite different Platonic ideas about the same thing.

However Aquinas was a Christian philosopher and Aristotle wasn't so there are also many differences between them. I don't know what you already know about philosophy but neither of these two writers are easy to understand without some prior knowledge.

You could start by doing an Internet search for Thomas Aquinas to help you find articles and books that are appropriate to the level at which you wish to study this topic.

Shaun Williamson


(10) Omar asked:

If Humans are evolved from nature (Darwin's theory) then how and why they acts in many unnatural ways? like we see humans as Gays and Lesbians, having a destructive approach toward natural environment, being greedy, etc

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

You have your own definition of what is 'natural' behaviour. I think by natural you mean good or moral but this is not the only possible meaning of that word.

All human behaviour is natural is the ordinary sense of that word (that includes war, murder etc.). There is no reason to say that the existence of homosexual humans is in any sense unnatural since we have good evidence that other animals also display this sort of behaviour. Other animals also destroy the natural environment and are greedy etc. They kill each other and fight wars.

However humans are also very different from other animals and evolution is not meant to be a total explanation of everything in our world.

I think you need to study the details of the theory of evolution by natural selection before you attempt to criticise it. No one has so far suggested a serious scientific alternative to evolution that fits the available evidence.

Shaun Williamson


(11) Fatima asked:

I have a very simple question what is the English term that means 'definition by example'? I have lost the word and I have been trying to remember/search for it for years!

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

Your question is ambiguous. If 'by example' means 'by pointing to examples' then the word you are looking for is ostensive. So teaching someone the meaning of the word red by pointing to red things would be an example of ostensive definition.

Shaun Williamson


(12) Troy asked:

Hey there,

I'm sorry. I'm kinda new to philosophy. I just have a question that has been bothering me quite a bit for some time now, and I can't find an answer to it. I was just wondering about the possibilities of their being an afterlife and what would exist after death if there was not an afterlife. My problem with approaching the subject of there not being an afterlife is that I cannot imagine what it would be like to be unable to consciously (or unconsciously through dreams etc.) react to anything around you, or process information like you would normally be able to if you were alive but in an unconscious state. Obviously, when you are alive and you sleep, you have dreams in which you are often able to relive images from the previous day. Upon waking up from your dreams, you are able to recall everything that happened the day before and if you are lucky, recall your dreams. However, if you were dead, theoretically you wouldn't be able to dream because your brain would essentially be dead and have no subconscious functions whatsoever. I guess what I am trying to say (sorry this is probably so confusing for you to read) is what would it be like to be dead and be infinitely unconscious and unresponsive? Would it be like a never ending dream or would you simply be in infinite darkness? Also, would you be able to realize that you are in fact dead? I have a really hard time of imagining a state of infinite unrealization and what that would be like. Please help me answer these questions. This has been bugging me for a looooong time.

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

If there is no life after death then there is nothing. Don't worry if you can't imagine what that is like because it is like nothing else you know and there is nothing for you to imagine. Try to imagine what is going through the head of someone who hasn't been born. Not really possible is it. In the same way nothing is going through the head of someone who is dead. In fact they may not even have a head any more.

Is there a life after death? I don't think there is.

Shaun Williamson


(13) Jamie asked:

Taking the premise that the psyche is to use one of your own overused terms 'rationally' real and that we live a dialectical existence between the physical and the mental (ie spiritual), can you indeed argue that you don't believe in God (as a supreme, universal arbiter)on the basis of reason? The only way to objectively discount a Godhead is by way of faith and belief, which, in turn, creates the antinomy of the point being discounted. To use semantical statements such as 'reason' and 'logic,' and at the same time discounting the term God (for it's many faceted meanings)seems to me contradictory. The very essence of the nature of logic and reason are that they are mental projections into a physical realm and are therefore technically nonpermissable in a spiritual sense. Just as I don't try to operate a computer with my mind, I don't use my finger to try to point to God. (No Cartesian duality easy way out answer, either, please.)

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

I don't agree with any of your premises since they seem to me to be just the result of wordplay i.e. I don't attach any meaning to the idea that the psyche is rationally real. I don't agree that we live a dialectical existence between the physical and the mental.

I don't agree that the essence of logic and reason is that they are mental projections into a physical realm.

So since I don't agree with any of your premises it will probably not surprise you to learn that I don't agree with any of your conclusions either.

Shaun Williamson


(14) Christopher asked:

Do laws make a difference? Do we not ultimately do what we want regardless of laws? If this is true, then are laws only there to give us the illusion of safety?

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

Laws do make a difference and it has been shown many times that if you make a law then the majority of people will follow it. For example if you paint double yellow lines at the side of the road then most people won't park there even though they would like to.

Shaun Williamson


(15) Christopher asked:

If it is true that \every action has an equal and opposite reaction,' then would it be true that there is (from a Bang Theorists' point of view) an alternate 'anti' universe created from antimatter constantly imploding in anti existence?

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

the law you quote applies to interactions between physical objects in our universe. You cannot therefore apply it to the big bang itself since the big bang is not a physical interaction between two physical objects.

You cannot do physics just by thinking about things. Physical observation is needed to back up any theory.

Shaun Williamson


(16) Christopher asked:

Are there any limitations to the human mind?

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

It all depends on what you mean by limitations. We cannot devise a method of trisecting a angle using only a straight edge and compasses. We also seem to be unable to stop wars etc.

Shaun Williamson


(17) Jonathan asked:

People always say that life is too short when in fact life is pretty long. Is life short because we can't remember every single detail of it or because we've grown used to living. Is life too short or too long?

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

I take this as a serious question, and not one that one would answer simply by saying that life is too short for some and too long for others. The Stoics taught that one should 'die at the right time' but what time is that?

It seems an utterly contingent fact that human beings have the life expectancy that they do. Why 70 or 80. Why not 20 or 200, or 2000?

I don't think it would make any essential difference whether you remember every single detail of your life or not. When you reach the end, and you are someone who enjoys life, it is reasonable to wish that it continue. But for how long?

There is an article by the British philosopher Bernard Williams ('Reflections on the Makropoulos Case' in the collection Problems of the Self) which makes a good case that anyone who seriously thought about it would not wish for immortality. Human beings as they are, with their finite resources for finding worthwhile projects to pursue, would despair of infinite time, in which every experience will be repeated ad nauseam.

But that still leaves the question whether we should be happy with the time that we have. Our social institutions are predicted on the natural span of a person's life and would be put under considerable strain if, say, a drug was discovered which enabled people to live for 200 years or more. However, social institutions are not inflexible. They could accommodate these developments in time. Why not wish to live to be 200?

It might be objected that however long a life you live, eventually you will get near the end. Adding years doesn't solve anything. However, the question we are asking is whether there is an ideal life span which is different from the normal life span of a human being. With advances in medicine, it is possible that this question will become a serious practical matter and not merely an item for philosophical speculation.

Geoffrey Klempner


(18)Tom asked:

Firstly consider the equation x2 + y2 = z2

because the variables are to the power of two, it is an equation that refers to area.

now consider xn + yn = zn. Fermat's last equation

because this is to the power of n, does it loosely refer to a mathematical equation that expresses everything in the universe?

solving x n + yn = zn as n = zero or infinity, could you apply it to the big bang?

i.e. Imagine when n equals 0. there is nothing and all of a sudden, n is infinite.

nothing suddenly becomes everything. an interesting flip.

now consider the big bang was a reaction of anti matter and matter. logically it should of been in equilibrium, but however this was not the case. there was more matter than anti matter.

does this flip of nothing becoming everything and the matter heavy explosion prove that this came about by the touch of god, or is it a solution of an equation that better defines the universe?

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

xn + yn = zn is not Fermat's last equation, it's part of his famous last theorem; namely, that the equation cannot be true for n2. So it cannot be true for n = infinity, except in the trivial sense that infinity plus infinity equals infinity. And if n =0 then the equation becomes 1+1=1 — again impossible. (If n=1 then it is x+y=z, which is possible.) So your speculations are based on impossibility. But don't stop thinking because of that.

Helier Robinson


(19) Petros asked:

Where are the giants of philosophy hiding today? Have all the philosophical questions been answered and so there are no new philosophical paradigms to uncover and challenge orthodoxy? Or are we currently living in a philosophical era void of fresh thinkers and ideas? Are there golden philosophical eras that emerge in history and sprout an environment of free thinking individuals that debate and feed off one another? (eg the Hellenic and German philosophical epochs that were spaced nearly 2000 years apart). Has the profession had difficulty attracting and holding disciples that will challenge and push the discipline into areas where it has not set foot before?

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

There are no giants of philosophy today, nor have there been any for the past century. I know of two explanations for this. One is that during the twentieth century the advances in mathematics and physics were so exciting that all the best brains went into these subjects, leaving none for philosophy. The other is the fact that for the past hundred years philosophers have believed that philosophy must be exclusively analytic; that is, no synthesis, or speculation, is allowed. That this position is a mistake is shown by the fact that a necessary condition for success in philosophy is that it must mesh with science: whenever philosophy denies something in science, it turns out to be wrong. (The most famous case was Hegel's denial of Ceres.) One of the feature of science is that there are two kinds of science, empirical and theoretical; and empirical science is analytic while theoretical science is synthetic — that is, speculative synthesis. This last point is shown by the fact that the entities of theoretical science are not empirical (although there is empirical evidence for them) but concepts invented in order to explain empirical data. By the way, three giants that you did not mention were Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz.

Helier Robinson


(20) Kobe asked:

'All knowledge starts with axioms. Axioms are based on believes.

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

Helier Robinson answered:

'...Not all knowledge starts with axioms. For example, you know that you exist, and there is no axiom from which this knowledge is derived...'

But the assumption that your rational mind is reliable is the very first axiom. Scepticism can not be disproved, therefore, all knowledge starts from the axiom that knowledge is possible...

Or do you have another definition of axioms?

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

The point is that not all knowledge is belief. You argue that all knowledge starts with axioms ... therefore all knowledge is belief. But knowledge of your own existence is not belief, it is knowledge; so, by denial of the consequent, not all knowledge is belief. The reliability of your rational mind is not an axiom, it is a fact of experience — like the certainty of your own existence. Scepticism can be disproved: it is self-refuting, in that consistent scepticism must be sceptical about scepticism.

Helier Robinson


(21) Omar Javaid asked:

If Humans are evolved from nature (Darwin's theory) then how and why they acts in many unnatural ways? like we see humans as Gays and Lesbians, having a destructive approach toward natural environment, being greedy, etc.

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

What you call unnatural is in fact natural. Homosexuality supposedly arises as a result of overcrowding, a natural way of reducing the population (and the world is grossly overcrowded with humans right now) Destruction of the environment goes on all over the place, but it's only called destructive when it's more that the environment can handle; for example, elephants tear up trees wantonly. And certainly being greedy is natural enough, as is shown by sea gulls fighting for food.

Helier Robinson


(22) Hayles asked:

What is your view on same sex marriage? do you think that the government in Australia should allow it?

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

The key point here is the principle that discrimination is wrong. Denial of marriage to same sex couples is discriminatory, and should therefore such marriage should be allowed — particularly in such a civilised country as Australia. If you consider recent advances in morality, you will find that most of them are based on the principle of denial of discrimination — women's lib, for example, and religious freedom.

Helier Robinson


(23) Ike asked:

What are the importances of Binary representation in computers?

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

The basic mechanism of a computer is an electrical switch. Such a switch has two (and only two) states: on and off. So if you are going to have a computer handle numbers and letters, it must begin with a number system that has only two numerals: 0 and 1, which is the binary system of numeration. Zero represents off and one represents on. (The binary system was discovered by Leibniz, a philosopher who was enchanted with it because he thought that 1 and 0 represented being and non-being.)

Helier Robinson


(24) Troy asked:

Hey there,

I'm sorry. I'm kinda new to philosophy. I just have a question that has been bothering me quite a bit for some time now, and I can't find an answer to it. I was just wondering about the possibilities of their being an afterlife and what would exist after death if there was not an afterlife. My problem with approaching the subject of there not being an afterlife is that I cannot imagine what it would be like to be unable to consciously (or unconsciously through dreams etc.) react to anything around you, or process information like you would normally be able to if you were alive but in an unconscious state. Obviously, when you are alive and you sleep, you have dreams in which you are often able to relive images from the previous day. Upon waking up from your dreams, you are able to recall everything that happened the day before and if you are lucky, recall your dreams. However, if you were dead, theoretically you wouldn't be able to dream because your brain would essentially be dead and have no subconscious functions whatsoever. I guess what I am trying to say (sorry this is probably so confusing for you to read) is what would it be like to be dead and be infinitely unconscious and unresponsive? Would it be like a never ending dream or would you simply be in infinite darkness? Also, would you be able to realize that you are in fact dead? I have a really hard time of imagining a state of infinite unrealization and what that would be like. Please help me answer these questions. This has been bugging me for a looooong time. Thank you.

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

A parallel may help. If you want to know what it would be like to be born blind, then it would not be like what you see with your eyes closed, it would be like what you see out of the back of your head. In other words, nothing. Equally, if there is no afterlife then there would be nothing: no realisation of being dead, no state of infinite unrealisation, nothing at all. And 'nothing' is not something: to say 'I see nothing' is not to mean that you see some thing called nothing. Whether there is or is not an afterlife is, course, another question entirely.

Helier Robinson


(25) Troy asked:

I have another question,

Do you think it is possible that there is a color that exists in our universe that we have not yet seen or visualized? Would ultraviolet be considered one of these?

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

Yes, there could be colours anywhere in the electro-magnetic spectrum — particularly in the ultra-violet and the infra-red. I'm told that white lilies have quite a range of colours in the ultra-violet, perceptible by certain moths. Not that it is important ot distinguish the three meaning of 'colour': atomic and molecular properties that radiate various frequencies of electromagnetic radiation, the radiation itself (such as infra-red and ultra-violet), and the sensations produced by this radiation in perceivers. Apart from their frequencies (and hence energies) ultra-violet and infra-red are no different from other parts of the spectrum; but what the sensations they produce in beings with suitably sensitive eyes — colour sensations — is something of which we can have no idea.

Helier Robinson


(26) Troy asked:

Why is it so hard for us to remember what was happening around us during our very early infantile stages? I don't mean what other might tell us about what happened to us when we were younger, I mean what we would recall 'ourselves'. Why do we possess such little memory of our infant years.

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

The most likely explanation is that memory requires an ego to do the remembering, and when very young the ego has not yet developed. This only helps a bit, of course, unless you what an ego is. You ask good questions, Troy.

Helier Robinson


(27) Nakia asked:

Compare and contrast Descartes' method of doubt, targeted toward the principles of beliefs, with Plato's ascent up the 'divided line'.

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Descartes' method of doubt was a technique to discover certainty: doubt everything that you possibly can, then what is left is indubitable, certain. What he discovered by this method was the certainty of his own existence. Plato's divided line is a metaphor for maturation of understanding: there is suprarational understanding as far above the rational as the rational is above the irrational. This suprarational understanding, or wisdom, was a knowledge of the Forms, particularly the Form of the Good.

Helier Robinson


(28) Hermione asked:

Why are we (humans) sensitive to beauty?

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It's not just beauty, it's also truth and goodness — all values. The sceptical answer is that appreciation of values is just an aberration of our sensory systems. Various theological answers are that our capacity to appreciate values is that, for various reasons, this capacity was given to us by God. Another explanation is that evolution is a progressive process, moving from simple life forms to more and more complex forms, and such complexity is what might be called the absolute value of a particular life form. Since we are a part of evolution we have an innate capacity to appreciate these values, but do so only through a glass darkly, due to subjectivity. However not everyone would agree to this last explanation, which is only my personal view.

Helier Robinson


(29) Christopher asked:

Are all possibilities possible, or are some impossible?

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An impossible possibility is a contradiction, hence all possibilities are possible. Compare the question 'Are all apples apples, or are some of them pears?'

Helier Robinson


(30) Christopher asked:

Do laws make a difference? Do we not ultimately do what we want regardless of laws? If this is true, then are laws only there to give us the illusion of safety?

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There are two views on why we obey laws: we do so because we are moral, or we do so for prudential reasons — to disobey them has unpleasant consequences. In either case laws do make a difference.

Helier Robinson


(31) Clay asked:

This is a question that has been discussed within a group of acquaintances, sometimes leading to some pretty hot arguments!

It is a business/ethics question, and one we deal with on a regular, real life basis.

You read an ad in the newspaper listing something for sale, and you realize it is worth much, much more than the asking price. You are elated at the prospect of a really good deal! You call the phone number and agree with the seller to go buy it, but when you arrive the seller informs you that he has had several other phone calls, some also showing great interest, and some calls simply letting him know that his item is worth ten times his original asking price. He has now raised his selling price.

The dilemma: (As argued by my friends and I!)

You, the buyer, are angry that the seller 'has no honor!!', and should have sold the item at the advertised price. My thoughts are that you were perfectly willing to take advantage of an uneducated seller, and thus you have no complaints if he realizes his mistake. Better luck next time. Since you were willing to take advantage of the seller, you're certainly on no moral high ground here.

The group's response is that the two issues are totally unrelated. The buyer has no obligation to educate or inform the seller as to his item's true value. The seller still should have honored his original price. A verbal agreement between both parties is just that, and should have been honored.

An additional issue would be to muddy the waters by including possible different reasons why the seller is selling the item.

If the seller was selling the item in order to raise money to buy medicines for a sick child, and you kept silent about the item's value and paid the original low selling price, then you're really going beyond simply taking advantage of an uneducated seller. On the other hand, the seller might just have wanted the old thing out of his basement, and no actual harm would have occurred. Or are these just questions of degree?

Does the buyer have an obligation to inform the seller of the true value of his item? If the buyer is a 'professional', then the answer, legally, is yes. If I take a painting with 'Rembrandt' barely legible in the corner to your art gallery, and you tell me it's worth 25 and buy it from me for that amount, you're in trouble. A buyer who is just an average person answering an ad in the local newspaper is a different situation. Sort of.

Does the seller have an obligation to honor his original price, even though he was completely ignorant of its true value when the price was set?

We really do wrestle with this, and would very much appreciate your thoughts if you find this question appropriate for your group.

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The question you and your friends have to resolve is what kind of activity 'buying and selling' is. When friends sell things to one another, it would be considered an abrogation of friendship to attempt to gain any advantage from the deal at the expense of the other person. Both parties to the exchange are concerned to ensure that the there will be no room for recrimination afterwards.

Of course, this doesn't always happen, and friends fall out. But I am talking about the typical case. In the typical case, neither of you holds anything back. You are not trying to gain any advantage. Both of you benefit from the exchange — a 'zero sum game'.

In the market place, it is understood that both parties, the buyer and the seller, are looking for a 'good' deal. The buyer wants to get the highest price that the item will realize, while the seller wants to pay the least he or she can. Again, this is an idealization because both value an atmosphere of amity. It is good policy to trade with someone on the assumption that they would be happy to trade with you in the future. This can be so even if on a particular occasion you got clearly the better deal. There's always next time. It is the market place which allows you to behave in this way. Even if the contest is friendly, it is still a contest.

There is good justification of a law which protects sellers from predatory professional buyers, because in this case the arena in which the deal takes place is not a level playing field. One of the basic principles of business ethics is that the competition to get the best deal should be a fair competition.

Your case appears difficult, because of the lack of context. You present this as a deal in the market place, between people who have never met one another before, and yet in real life people who meet through newspaper ads are not behaving simply as 'traders in the marketplace'. They are just people, who are concerned to do the right thing, not out of friendship or a concern for one's professional reputation but because it is the decent thing to do.

It is not decent to make a large profit out of such an exchange based on your superior knowledge. If you know more than you are letting on — I'm talking about something that makes a big difference, one that would cause serious consternation to the seller — then you should spill the beans. That would be my view.

For more on the rules of the market place and their relation to 'normal ethics' see my article 'The Business Arena' http://www.isfp.co.uk/businesspathways/issue5.html

Geoffrey Klempner


(32) Petros asked:

Ludwig Wittgenstein was criticised by his own philosophical community for saying 'there are no philosophical problems merely linguistic riddles'. Is there any truth to this statement within the philosophical community today? That is, are all the problems in philosophy just a word puzzle or a game? Is a philosophical paradox for example based on a 'real' contradiction or just a clash of linguistic terminology and definitions? Solve the riddle or put the puzzle pieces in the right spots and the problem was never there in the first place.

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I don't know where you got the quote from since you don't say but Wittgenstein never said 'there are no philosophical problems merely linguistic riddles'. He didn't have this simplistic view of philosophical problems and he certainly didn't believe that there was just a clash of terminology and definitions.

What he did think was that philosophical problems are deep puzzles the most difficult puzzles devised by man. They are 'as deep as the roots of our language'. They may not be real problems but 'solving the riddle or putting the puzzle pieces in the right spots' is much more difficult than your words suggest.

Try reading 'Philosophical Investigations' if you want to get some idea of how complex Wittgenstein's thoughts are. I haven't read any criticisms of Wittgenstein that show any real understanding of his work.

Shaun Williamson


(33) Mike asked:

I'm wrestling with the idea of being a philosopher and trying to find a decent career. My question is what are some career paths for philosophy?

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Philosophy degrees are usually arts degrees and in this respect they are as good as any other arts degree such as English Literature, History etc. The only specific career a philosophy degree will suit you for are in teaching philosophy. This pays the same as any other university job. However this is a fairly competitive field since there are generally more people wanting to teach philosophy than there are jobs available. So you would need to be thinking about getting a PhD (doctorate) and writing and publishing books etc.

In many philosophy departments you can also study symbolic logic if you have the aptitude for it. This can give you a pathway into careers in computing etc. You may find sometimes that people in the outside world confuse philosophy with theology or even astrology, that is something you learn to accept. In the same way that you learn to accept people saying 'Oh philosophy, well everyone's got their own philosophy haven't they?'.

Just as there is a surplus of musicians, artists and actors so there is generally a surplus of philosophers. However musicians, actors, artists, poets and philosophers have more interesting lives even if they never make much money out it.

Shaun Williamson


(34) Sekerto asked:

Is man's life pre determined? is there such thing as pre-destination

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The only answer I can give is to say 'No'. I have never seen any arguments that would convince me otherwise. Obviously if our lives are pre determined then none of us are responsible for ours actions and we cannot blame others for their actions (although we might be able to blame God).

People who believe in pre destination are often strangely reluctant to stop blaming other people for the things they do. However the belief that people's lives are pre determined or a belief in pre destination which are usually religious beliefs, should not be confused with the philosophical theory of determinism. This is a theory that is equally wrong in my view.

Shaun Williamson


(35) Kevin asked:

I'm teaching the Beats. The Beats jabber a lot about time. I'm wondering what philosophical debates were in the public consciousness in the late forties and early fifties that these writers might have been aware of, conversant with, especially with regard to the concept of time.

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The Beats (i.e. the writers and the poets) were probably aware of and influenced by existentialism and by eastern philosophies such as Buddhism. They were also influenced by earlier writers such as Aldous Huxley ('The Doors of Perception').

I wasn't aware that they 'jabbered' very much except that your use of the word suggests that you don't really have much empathy with them and regard them as lunatics. So why are you teaching them? Has someone forced you to do this?

Shaun Williamson


(36) Christopher asked:

I think that the reason that we 'hate' is because we FIRST 'love.' White supremacists hate African Americans because they first love their own ethnicity. We hate terrorists because we love our country. Would you agree or disagree? Is there any validity to my statement?

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No I am sure you are not right. I have never met a white supremacist who was really capable of loving anyone and that includes themselves. People with an exaggerated love of their country are usually incapable of really loving any of the people in their country.

I don't hate terrorists but I want them caught and locked up as soon as possible because they might kill the people I love. There is no difference between a white supremacist and a terrorist they are both fuelled by hate.

Samuel Johnson who was an arch conservative (he wrote the first English Dictionary) defined Patriotism as the last refuge of a scoundrel and I think that he was probably right.

Hate breeds hate, love creates love.

Shaun Williamson


(37) Jason asked:

I'm writing a paper and it's a simple question but I think that's what my problem is Im thinking of it too simply and I only have a half a page so far and it has to be a full page at least... the question is:'can everyone be a polymath'. Can someone give me some ideas or anything to help me out

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This is really a question for psychology rather than philosophy. I think the answer is no, not everyone can be a polymath (a Leonardo Da Vinci). Some people have a great talent for one thing only and this seems to be the most common sort of talent. Many people have no particular talent that the world would judge as important but this doesn't mean that they don't make a valuable contribution to the world. Being a good parent is worth much more than being a polymath and is at least as difficult a thing to achieve.

I have noticed that many of the talented musicians, I know, have a poor visual sense and are not very interested in films or art. Many of the scientists I have met have no interest in poetry or fiction unless it is science fiction. The polymath is a rare individual in the same way that great mathematicians and great writers are rare individuals.

There is evidence that talent and interests are inherited in the same way that physical characteristics such as eye colour are inherited. Individuals who are interested both in the arts and sciences are few in number.

However its not a simple question and you would need much more than one page to do it justice.

Shaun Williamson


(38) Will asked:

Who is in control?

Why am I here?

What does our survival depend on?

How do we make a choice when someone has made that choice for us already?

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1. Nobody is in control.

2. I don't know, you will have to work that out for yourself.

3. It depends on you thinking about your life, that is why humans have such large brains.

4. You make your own choices. If someone else wants to control your life then walk away from them and lead your own life.

Shaun Williamson


(39) Jenny asked:

I wanted to find out if there is anyway you could write me an essay of who is similar to Socrates today and why? please get back to me at my email.

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Jenny we could all write that sort of essay for you and if you offer us enough money then you will probably find a corrupt philosopher who will do the job.

You may not have noticed but this is a website for people who are INTERESTED in philosophy and want to ask questions about philosophy.

So Jenny how much money are you prepared to offer and what level of essay are you asking for e.g. high school, degree level or Phd level? Please let us know. Please give as much detail as possible.

Its always NICE to meet people like yourself who know the PRICE of everything and the VALUE of nothing. Have a NICE life! Cheat your way to success if that is what you think success is.

Shaun Williamson


(40) Gilbert asked:

Do you think the first western philosophers misinterpreted the bible especially when it comes to the mystery of death. How did we come to the conclusion that the greatest gift of God which is eternal life is to be achieved after death which is the curse?

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Gilbert philosophy and theology are two completely different subjects and the first philosophers (in ancient Greece) had no knowledge of the Bible and did not even think about it. Most philosophers have no opinion about eternal life and couldn't care less about this topic. Christian philosophers are the people you should be researching.

Shaun Williamson


(41) Gilbert asked:

If it has been proven that the first man originated in Africa/ Ethiopia, then wouldn't it be fair to say that if there is a GOD on earth then he would be situated in Africa/ Ethiopia as well?

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Gilbert, God exists outside of space and time and he doesn't do vacations or foreign travel and he doesn't buy holiday homes. So it is unlikely that you will find him anywhere where the tourists go.

Shaun Williamson


(42) Vanessa asked:

halow! it's me again. :)

truth is i'm having a hard time with philosophy now,

as a discipline. i'm a philosophy major. but I haven't got

the hang of appreciating (for a lack of a better term...)

its meaningfulness or the lack of it.

hm. I need some sweet tongue. help me get back.

i do love philosophy. very much.

but the capitalist trend kills philosophy. can't pull the strings.

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Vanessa, You are completely lost so I am puzzled as to why you decided to make philosophy your major in the first place. You may have to reconsider this decision quickly.

Academic Philosophy is really a very difficult subject, it does have a relationship with the meaning of life but that relationship is a very oblique one.

The only advice I can offer you is that you should read this book, A History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell. If it still doesn't make any sense when you re-read it, then change your major as quickly as possible.

Forget about capitalism! Nothing lasts forever. The meaning or lack of meaningfulness of philosophy is a major philosophical question. You will have to learn to deal with that as well.

Shaun Williamson


(43) Sue asked:

What does the following mean... I have hardly ever known a mathematician who was capable of reasoning.

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Well Sue who knows what it means? Mathematicians are skilled in mathematical reasoning. They may not be skilled in the sorts of ordinary reasoning that we need to do in everyday life.

Mathematics is a very abstract subject and concentrating on it may detach you from ordinary human concerns.

Shaun Williamson


(44) Roshni asked:

How powerful are the scientific arguments against accepting cartesian dualism?

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Cartesian Dualism is not a scientific (or factual claim). It is a metaphysical doctrine, so it can neither be supported nor refuted by scientific arguments.

Shaun Williamson


(45) Dan asked:

Is high school mathematics, e.g. calculus and geometry, essential for studying logic/ philosophy at university?

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

No, it's not essentially for the study of philosophy but if you want to study logic to more than an elementary level then it would be very helpful to have a good level of mathematical knowledge.

Shaun Williamson


(46) Terry asked:

Under what conditions are you accountable for your actions?

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If you are of sound mind and body i.e you are not suffering from a mental illness. If you are aware of the consequences of your actions and know the difference between right and wrong. If you are not under any form of duress.

Of course deciding these questions is not easy and depends on the circumstances of the individual case. For example a mental illness may not necessarily impair your knowledge of right and wrong.

Shaun Williamson


(47) Chukwunweike asked:

Why do you think that experimental or empirical science has not rubbished the study of metaphysics?

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Early philosophers did not know the difference between science and philosophy but this is no longer true. If you study metaphysics then you will realise that it can neither be confirmed or disproved by scientific means. In the same way mathematics and logic can neither be confirmed or disproved by scientific means. Nobody does a scientific experiment to prove a theorem of logic.

Shaun Williamson


(48) Scott asked:

What do most scientists think about the demotion of Pluto's planetary status? I still consider it a planet in my classes after all dwarf people are people too

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On the whole, philosophers have followed the debate over whether Pluto is a 'planet' with some amusement. As you point out, the compromise which they eventually reached has unfortunate consequences, to say the least.

Why do we need a scientific classification which states, for any heavenly object, whether that object is a 'planet' or not? The purpose of a scientific classification is to enable the formulation of predictive laws — for example the classification of the elements, or subatomic particles — but in the case of planets or non-planets, nothing follows other than how a particular object will be referred to in text books. Whatever was true of Pluto while astronomers and ordinary folks called it a 'planet' is still true now.

On the other hand, to put this in a historical context, the 'discovery' of Pluto was hailed as a great scientific event. Now that we know that there are more than a few objects out there of similar size, the event in question is seen in a truer perspective. To put things in their proper perspective can be a contribution to human knowledge.

Geoffrey Klempner


(49) Mike asked:

I'm wrestling with the idea of being a philosopher and trying to find a decent career. My question is what are some career paths for philosophy?

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

Teaching philosophy is the only career for a philosopher — and a difficult one to achieve. But thinking of philosophy as a career is the wrong attitude: think of philosophising as a luxury, of which you have the good fortune to possess.

Helier Robinson


(50) Ashley asked:

Why did God Put the Tree in the Garden?

And my next question is, In light of your view of human nature what do you think about the possibility or likelihood of moral progress for humans in the future?

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Presumably you mean your question to be: why did God allow humans to be tempted to evil (for which the story of the Tree is a metaphor)? There is no satisfactory answer, although many have been proposed. One is that temptation is sent to try us, so that God van find out which of us is worthy; But why should an omniscient God need to do that, when, being omniscient He already knows? Another is that evil exists for the sake of a greater good, in that free will is a very great good — better than all the evil we might freely choose; but it is possible to have freedom of the will and never choose evil, and whatever is possible an omnipotent God could create. (Indeed, the angels in heaven supposedly have free will and never choose evil.) A third is that the possibility of us choosing evil is mystery, beyond our capacity to understand: a totally unsatisfactory explanation in that it explains nothing. A fourth is that evil is an illusion, and that in a greater understanding we would see it to be such; but then why do we have this illusion? A fifth is that there is no God, hence no problem. Sorry that I cannot help you more.

Helier Robinson


(51) Frank asked:

Do are ideas come entirely from our experience?

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No one knows for sure. Plato claimed that we have innate ideas of the Forms. John Locke, in antipathy to Plato, denied this and said that the mind at birth is a tabula rasa — a clean tablet. It seems to me to be reasonable to claim that we do have some instincts (inherited behaviour patterns) and that these require inherited ideas. The dispute here is really between those philosophers who say that speculation about what might exist, but cannot be perceived, is disallowed; and those who are willing to speculate about such things (such as innate ideas). My own view is that such speculation is permissible provided that it is strictly disciplined. I take this view because theoretical science (as opposed to empirical science) is speculative. Theorists speculate about things which cannot be perceived, such as electrons, black holes, DNA molecules, and electromagnetic radiation; but their speculation is disciplined by the empirical evidence for these things. To perceive the evidence for something is not to perceive that thing itself. For example, to perceive a DNA molecule 'through' a tunnelling microscope is not to perceive that molecule, it is only to perceive an image of it. In the same way, to perceive a photograph of Hitler is not to perceive Hitler, it is only to perceive an image of him — and it might be a fake, at that.

Helier Robinson


(52) Gilbert asked:

If it has been proven that the first man originated in Africa/ Ethiopia, then wouldn't it be fair to say that if there is a GOD on earth then he would be situated in Africa/ Ethiopia as well?

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

No. God does not have to be situated at the place of His creation — why should he be? More to the point is that the origination of man in Africa is part of the theory of evolution, which is an explanation of our presence of Earth that is quite distinct and separate from the creation explanation .

Helier Robinson


(53) Dan asked:

Is high school mathematics, e.g. calculus and geometry, essential for studying logic/philosophy at university?

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

No. The only similarity between high school math and university logic is that both are symbolic. Some people have trouble with symbols, so that if you have been OK with calculus you should have no trouble with logic. This is a bit like saying that if you can walk then you can run. If you don't know how good you are with symbols then try a logic course and find out. Logic is in fact much easier than calculus; the secret of mastering it is to do lots of exercises — as in learning to ride a bicycle. Also, tutoring other students in the course who are behind you will make you an expert.

Helier Robinson


(54) DW asked:

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

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The real is usually defined as all that exists regardless of whether it is perceived or not, or, sometimes as all that exists independently of human consciousness. Truth applies to memories, beliefs, propositions, etc: if they correctly describe part of the real then they are true, and otherwise false. Another definition of the real is that it is all that we perceive around us that is not illusory, and that this reality is part of the other in that non-illusory perceptions continue to exist when unperceived. But this is not very satisfactory because illusions my be defined as false perceptions; and can you point to something perceived that is entirely free of illusion? And if you can, can you say how you know it to be so?

Helier Robinson


(55) Onyinye asked:

Why do you think that experimental or empirical science has not rubbished the study of metaphysics?

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Experimental science is only half of science, the other half being theoretical science; and theoretical science, like metaphysics, requires speculation about non-empirical things: about non-empirical reality. Theoretical science is metaphysical right at the start, in that it assumes that non-empirical reality is rational: it contains no contradictions, and it does contain logical necessities, in the form of causal necessities. The main difference between theoretical science and metaphysics is that theorists are specialists (they know more and more about less and less until they know everything about nothing) and metaphysicians are generalists (they know less and less about more and more until they nothing about everything). Also, in the past metaphysics gained a bad reputation because of being insufficiently disciplined — compared with theoretical science, which is disciplined by empirical science. So, no, empirical science has not rubbished metaphysics.

Helier Robinson


(56) Ian asked:

Is it credible that witnesses of events such as the parting of the Red Sea and the 7 plagues on Egypt remained unconvinced that God existed?

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Assume for the sake of argument that the Red Sea did part (in a sufficiently spectacular way) and similarly that the seven plagues really occurred, as described in the Old Testament.

Moses believed that the unnameable entity which spoke to him from the burning bush was extremely powerful, and this is borne out by the events which subsequently occurred.

So powerful indeed was this entity, that it was inconceivable that there could be more than one of its kind. Hence, the First Commandment. The reasoning behind the principle of 'one God' was also developed (possibly independently) by the Presocratic philosopher Xenophanes.

However — putting aside the question whether the idea of a 'necessarily unique, extremely powerful entity' is equivalent to the theologians' notion of God as omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent — the events in question do not show this. All they show is that the god or gods of Moses were more powerful than the gods of Egypt.

There is a general lesson here about the ultimate basis for religious belief, which was noted by the philosopher Kierkegaard in his 'Concluding Unscientific Postscript', that no mere historical account, however well-attested, can be a sufficient basis for theism.

Geoffrey Klempner


(57) Judith asked:

'the forerunners of Socrates did not conceive of Nature as teleological and, moreover, without such a conception (Aristotle's final cause) there is no room in the world for ethical distinction'

William Chase Green (1936) in Fate, Good and Evil in PreSocratic Philosophy.

The way I understand this is: values arise from the relationship between actions and purposes or The Purpose. No purpose, no actions can be said to be good (for the purpose) or bad (subverting the purpose).

Is this what they meant? WCG doesn't explain or comment further.

What do you think about the possibility of ethics in the absence of teleological thought?

(Questions arose from reading subsequent to an existentialism course.)

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

The idea that human beings before Socrates did not make ethical distinctions or were incapable of doing so, seems to me to be nonsense. To humans who have language, making value judgements is as natural as making jokes and I'm sure that the joke existed long before Socrates. They may not have philosophised about these things but they are both fundamental to human nature. WCG had strange ideas which I suspect were not informed by any real historical investigations.

Shaun Williamson


(58) Margaret asked:

People have basic human rights (under the law) one of which is the right to lead as independent a life as they are able. If I know an elderly person is prone to falling over and injuring themselves and, after I have explained the risks to them, they want to take the risk of walking alone outside on uneven paving slabs is it kind or cruel to leave them alone to do so?

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

Margaret this really is a difficult question. My wife works as a carer and often has to face similar problems e.g. the 90 year old who still wants to smoke in bed etc.

To some extent it depends upon your relationship to the elderly person and your assessment of them. If they are of sound mind then you are right to say that they have a right to an independent life and no one has the right to interfere with this. You have explained the risks to them and that is all you can do. If they have a family or are getting help from the social services then you might mention the matter to them.

In any case cruelty is not involved since you have no cruel intentions towards them. You have already been as kind as you could be by pointing out the dangers to them.

Shaun Williamson


(59) KB asked:

What makes something a work of art and what is not?

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

I think the thing that makes something a work of art is just that someone who knows, as most of us do, what the word art means seriously presents that something as a work of art. If anyone is prepared to offer a more precise definition than this then I would argue that they are mistaken. In other words I don't think that we need any philosophical theories of what art is or isn't.

Of course that doesn't mean that the something that is presented as art is good art or interesting art!

It is easy to get confused by words here. So some people will say for example that Tracy Emin's 'Bed' is not art. There is nothing wrong with that as long as you are aware that by these words they are really mean to convey is their opinion that it is very bad art, shouldn't be exhibited etc.

In some sense it clearly is art since it is a work made by a qualified artist and exhibited at an art exhibition for our consideration as a work of art.

Shaun Williamson


(60) Douglas asked:

Let me begin with a little preamble. I am a postal worker in a Mail Centre and day in and day out I am subjected to the outpourings of a commercial radio station with all its inane chatter and repetitive music. This is inescapable and unwanted and I feel this is unethical/immoral. From a philosophical perspective do I and the minority who share my views have a right to acoustic privacy and should this take precedence over the desire of the majority to listen to broadcasted music?

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

What is a right? Rights are considerations which we regard as non-negotiable, not up for discussion.

In the work place, you have a right not to have to listen to deafeningly loud music. Even if your workmates want to be deafened, they have no right to deafen you. However, you do not have the right not to be forced to listen to inane chatter or pop music from the radio, if that's what the majority like.

Taking a majority vote is the simplest, but necessarily the fairest way of making decisions. Even those who are fully in support of democracy and democratic institutions would not say that in every the majority have a 'right' to have things their own way. There is a serious point here about political philosophy and our concept of democracy: this is as much about giving individuals a voice, not just a vote.

It would therefore not be unreasonable of you to ask for a meeting, with the management and the other workers with a view to discussing whether the minority preference might be catered for. Say, an hour of classical music a day, or silence. You have a good case, and if the others are reasonable then they ought to grant your request. But a 'good case' is not a right.

Geoffrey Klempner


(61) Robert asked:

I've just started reading some of Nietzsche and was curious as to what he meant when he said: 'He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby becomes a monster. And if you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss gazes long into you.

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Nietzsche's writings can be read on one level as an answer to the question 'How ought I to live my life?' Regarding section 146 from Beyond Good and Evil, if you have difficulties in life [monsters] and fight with them Nietzsche says the person ought not to allow themselves to be negatively affected by them. If you allow them to deeply affect you [staring long into the abyss] you will become negatively affected by them [the abyss stares into you] and become a monster. One will be motivated to view life and others with resentment and rancour. Nietzsche maintained that Western values, particularly Christian ones, have been poisoned with resentment leading to institutionalised intolerance and unnecessary hindrances to the development and flourishing of humanity.

One ought to digest all ones experiences, even the tough ones as one digests a meal — even when there are tough morsels to swallow. [Genealogy of Morality III, 16] For what does not kill makes stronger [Twilight of the Idols. Arrows and Epigrams 8] Life's experiences should be incorporated into one's existence so that one positively grows from them, learns from them and thereby experiences existence at a greater depth. It is not about saying 'No' to this life but living it fully, embracing it so much that one can say one did not want life differently. If Nietzsche had a difficult life with physiological problems, illness and emotional failure, perhaps his writings can be seen as saying to readers 'This is how I perceived and valued my life and its issues. Do you agree or are you going to perceive and value differently?'

Martin Jenkins


(62) Seyilux asked:

In not more than three pages, how do you think St Thomas Aquinas proof of efficient causality affects the existence of God and Human Freedom?

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In his Summa Theologiae Aquinas famously enunciates 'The Five Ways'. The arguments seek to prove the existence of God by citing Aristotelian metaphysics.

First Way — Motion

The world is in motion. What is in motion is moved by something prior which itself must have been in motion. For just as fire/heat makes a potentially hot stick actually hot; so only something in motion can make what potentially can be in motion actually in motion. A stick cannot be both potentially hot and actually hot at the same time. Likewise, at the same time, it is impossible that one thing be both potentially in motion and actually in motion. So everything that is in motion must have had the potential to be in motion but received its motion from an antecedent actually in motion. This antecedent must in turn have received its motion from some prior motion and so on. This does not entail an infinite regress for this cannot encompass a first mover. If no first mover there would be no secondary moved and no motion — contrary to the evidence of the senses. So there has to be a first mover, which is not moved by anything and this, is God.

Second Way — Efficient Cause

From the perception of the senses is discovered an ordering of efficient causes. There cannot be an infinite regress of such causes because this rules out any beginning — any first cause. Without a first cause there would not be a subsequent effect and this, being the cause of another effect and so on to the present. This is false. So there must have been a first efficient cause and this is God.

Third Way — Possibility — Impossibility

For some things both existing and not existing are possible. Things come into being and are destroyed or die — exist and not exist. If all things are like this then all things do not have to exist, not existing is possible and at some time there was nothing really existing. If nothing existed then nothing exists now — which is absurd. So not all things are possible of not existing; there must be something that is necessary. Necessary things are caused by prior necessary things [if not they would not be necessary]. There cannot be an infinite regress as yet again, this rules out a first cause. So something must be posited which is both necessary in its existence and which is not caused be a prior cause [or we encounter the infinite regress] and which causes necessary things to be — this is God.

Fourth Way — Gradation and Degrees of things

The degree of a things existence, reality, goodness is greater insofar as it nears to what is the maximum and lesser insofar as it departs from it. A thing is more hot when it comes closer to what is maximally hot. This applies to beings for a maximum in beings is the cause of everything in those beings. So there is something which is the cause of existence, reality, goodness and every perfection — this is God.

Fifth Way -Directedness in things

Non-cognitive things evince directedness in their behaviour. That is, they act for a purpose or end. They function in a definite way and act to achieve what is best. This is not achieved by chance and as non-cognitive, the things must be directed by something else with knowledge and intelligence. For just as the archer gives the arrow direction, there is some intelligent being who directs all things toward their end — and this is God.

God and Human Freedom

If God is the first efficient cause then is he merely the first domino to fall, passing motion to subsequent dominoes but taking no part in the series after initiating it? If he is the efficient first cause and he cannot intervene in the subsequent series that is the creation, we cannot think of Him/Her/It as a personal God who is loving, kind and listens to our prayers and worship. Efficient cause makes it into a merely cold, causal relation. If the universe is characterised by efficient causality initiated by the First cause that was God but who subsequently takes no active part in the series he initiated; every act is an effect of a previous cause. If every act is the effect of a prior cause and this cause the effect of a prior cause then there does not appear to be a role of deviation from this process in the form of free will. If no free will there can be no responsibility. If no responsibility this again impacts on the 'personal' God. Without responsibility for what we do, we cannot be praised or blamed, seek repentance or forgiveness or Salvation from God. Salvation or damnation is an effect of a previous cause which is the effect of a previous cause ultimately caused by God. Predeterminism and all its associated issues is the conclusion here.

God is the first efficient cause of a causal universe. Although the First cause, he cannot be caused. If caused he would be contingent — dependent on something else, i.e. a prior cause. But if the universe is characterised by causality then God, as the first instant of the universe must be subject to causality. If not, then it is false to say the universe is characterised by efficient causality. If it is not false to declare the universe is characterised by causality then God is exempt from the Universe and the relation between him and the creation must be as problematic as it is mysterious.

Martin Jenkins


(63) Binu asked:

Do you know the shape of my heart

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Unless your heart is faulty in some way it will be heart shaped, most hearts are.

Shaun Williamson


(64) Daniel asked:

Before asking my question let me briefly state:

After 40 years of metaphysical thinking and 10 years of writing I have finished a three volume set, 1700 pages, and 2000 diagrams outlining a synthesis to the Cartesian and nonCartesian views of reality.

The synthesis: The nonCartesian powered by the Cartesian by means of the process separation through inclusions versus separation through exclusion.

The metaphysical system incorporates not one first truth but three namely, The whole/ nondiscrete exists, The physical universe exists, and the individual/ discrete exists (you exist versus I exist).

The system whose generic name is symbiotic panentheism explains:

1. The existence and functionality of nothingness

2. Turns Heidegger's question Why is there something rather than nothing? into Why is there something and nothing?

3. Proposes a solution to sixteen philosophical errors including: The error of Russell, Zeno, Kant, Boethius, Leibniz, Heidegger, Hegel.

My question: As a group of philosophers what would you suggest I do with this material?

DJ Shepard

Metaphysicist 50 years

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First of all some clarification of your ideas is needed. What do you mean by the non-Cartesian view of reality? What do you mean by 'The existence... of nothingness'? And, what is perhaps the same question, what do you mean by 'Why is there something and nothing'? Also, paragraph 3, what are these errors, specifically?

Second, how much formal training have you had in philosophy? Your writing suggests that you have not had much. Most of the philosophers in para. 3 are easily misunderstood if read without guidance and tuition. If you have only had little or no formal training then you should get some, in order to discover how much, if any, of your material is original, or naive, or erroneous.

Third, how would you feel if you had to read 1700 pages written by a total stranger of unknown ability? No one would undertake such a task lightly. So you are certainly going to have difficulty getting a qualified referee to read it, and comment on it.

Fourth, what you should do with this material is not the best way of looking at it. The most valuable feature of the material is what it has done for you, over the past 50 years: it has taught you to think, to organise your ideas, to solve problems, to mature intellectually — and you probably had a great deal of fun doing it. This sort of adventure is very much the kind of thing of which one says that it is better to journey than to arrive. I know that this must sound discouraging, in the face of hopes of publishing it and getting recognition for it; but in fact your chances of publishing are slim to non-existent, as are the chances of it being read if it were published.

Helier Robinson


(65) Christine asked:

I feel really overwhelmed with the thought of MORALITY being based on man made ideas. How do you even begin to think about it in real life terms? Even more so, the knowing that ethics of people completely change from culture to culture. Where do you even begin?

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Why do you think that morality is based on man made ideas? It is more plausible that there are absolute values, which we can only apprehend through a glass darkly. Because of this different people apprehend differently, to some extent, and thereby disagree. But they also agree, to some extent. Note that it is wrong to say that 'ethics of people completely change from culture to culture' because no two cultures have completely different ethics. Also, if morality is based on man made ideas then relativism would be true; that is, all truth (including ethical truth) is relative to the believer (i.e. not absolute). Relativism is seen to fail when you ask if relativism is true: if it is absolutely true then this is an absolute truth that falsifies the claim that all truth is relative; and if it is not absolutely then not all truth is relative, in which case some truth is absolute.

Helier Robinson


(66) Patrick asked:

Hello. What English word denotes intellectual gibberish, particularly academic writing that makes no sense?

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Bafflegab, psychobabble, rodomontade, claptrap, balderdash, sophistry.

Helier Robinson


(67) Daniel asked:

I am reading a book on philosophy at the moment and I am finding it difficult to absorb a lot of the topics. The topics I am mostly concerned with are knowledge and mind. In the knowledge topic it goes on to talk about trying to separate appearance from reality and if we are living in some sort of dream world which Descartes talks about. Also the association with the mind and the physical is hard to understand and cartesian dualism. If you could explain these things to me it would be really appreciated.

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The problem of appearance and reality arises because of illusions. Illusions are contradictions between different senses, as in the spoon in a glass of water being bent to the sight and straight to the touch; or between what is perceived and well established belief, as in visible objects appearing smaller with distance. Illusions have to be false, and thereby unreal — since reality is our basis of truth — and therefore some kind of dream. Indeed, it can be argued that everything we perceive is compounded out of sensations, such as colour and tactile sensations, and thereby unreal — in which case the world we perceive around us is unreal and so some kind of a dream world.

This flies in the face of common sense, of course, but is difficult to refute. Cartesian dualism is the claim that reality consists of two kinds of substance, thought and extension — or, as we would say today, mind and matter. A human being consists of both: a material body and a mind, or soul. In my opinion Descartes made this dichotomy because he was a devout Catholic and also very keen on the rising new science; but the Church was opposed to the science — particularly Copernicus and Galileo — so the dichotomy resolved the problem. For Descartes there was no interaction between the two substances, hence no basis for cognitive dissonance. But this led to the problem of how soul and body can interact, as in the mind willing the body to move and in drugs in the body affecting the mind. This problem was solved by Spinoza, who claimed there is only one substance, and by Leibniz, who claimed an infinity of them. However all three of these philosophers are out of fashion these days, partly because modern science has no use for the philosophic concept of substance.

Helier Robinson


(68) John asked:

I would like to ask a question regarding multiple minds.

Lets suppose that two individuals are sat in a room, both with their eyes shut and both are focusing on a single conscious mental image, which for the sake of argument is a red dot. Assuming that both people are focusing intently on the image, the contents of their consciousness is identical. Lets also assume that the red dot imagined is exactly the same for both individuals, and no other thoughts creep into their minds.

In this instance, the individuals are effectively 'thinking the same thought'.

When this occurs, and the experienced contents of both minds are identical, would it be accurate to say that there are not two minds, but only one.

Leibnitz law would apply here equally is my thought, i.e. if two minds are alike in every single way, then there are not two minds, but just one. This obviously applies for any number of minds.

Following on from this (if this were accepted), it could also be suggested that if any person ever held the same thought as myself , then for that instance there is only one mind, i.e. this would be true across time boundaries as well. If Napoleon and I thought exclusively of the same red dot, even 200 years apart, then our minds would be one mind, as long as the thought persisted.

Does this make sense? Or what is the logical flaw?

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What you have discovered (or rediscovered) is a crushing objection to the theory that mental events and processes occur in a non-physical 'mind stuff' or soul.

Suppose it were true that there is such a thing as a soul. I have a soul, you have a different soul. What is it that makes a soul, one soul rather than two souls? The only properties of a soul are mental properties (by definition). As you point out, one perception of red and another perception of the same shade of red are indistinguishable.

So let's take two souls which are identical in all their mental contents, not only now but at all times. (For this argument it is not enough that the mental contents are identical now, as in your thought experiment, because a soul is conceived as existing over time.) In what sense are we dealing with two souls, rather than one?

Leibniz thought about this problem and came to the conclusion that it would follow that in this case there is only one soul. The general principle he formulated is known as the 'Identity of Indiscernibles': If, for all properties F, A has F if and only if B has F, then A=B.

You can see that the Identity of Indiscernibles is false for physical objects, which are located in space. There is no contradiction in the hypothesis that two objects A and B, differ only in their spatial position but are otherwise physically indistinguishable.

The British philosopher P.F. Strawson has an argument against the coherence of the soul hypothesis based on the question of identity. How do I know that I have one soul, rather than a hundred souls all thinking the same thoughts? Or, how do I know that what I refer to as my 'soul' is not, in reality, a succession of momentarily existing soul-like entities each passing its states on to the next one like a line of colliding billiard balls?

Strawson's point is not to raise the problem of scepticism but rather to show that we don't have a valid concept of the 'identity' of a soul, as conceived as a necessarily non-physical 'object'. There is 'no entity without identity.'

However, if we define the self as a subject of both physical and mental properties, then there is no difficulty in admitting the possibility that two different selves, located at two different positions in space, could have quantitively identical mental states now and forever more, for example, me and my doppelganger on Twin Earth.

(As a footnote, Strawson's objection to the idea of a 'soul' is not crushing if you subscribe to Leibniz's metaphysics, but that is rather a high price to pay. According to Leibniz, every existing object is a soul-like entity, or 'monad', while space is merely constructed from the perceptions of monads.)

Geoffrey Klempner


(69) Joann asked:

In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Zarathustra claims that the world revolves around creators of values. Who are the creators of values and why does Zarathustra believe the world revolves around them?

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In 'Of The Bestowing Virtue', Zarathustra talks to his disciples prior to leaving them. He tells them of the highest virtue — 'the bestowing virtue'. This is a virtue insatiable in wanting to give. Gold is uncommon, useless, shining, yet gleams like the glance of the giver thus bestowing itself. The highest virtue is the bestowing virtue.

Zarathustra's disciples aspire to the bestowing virtue. Thirsting to become sacrifices and gift givers they heap all riches in their soul, Insatiably aspiring after treasures as their virtue is insatiable in wanting to give. This is healthy and holy selfishness and is a thief of all values, as we shall later read. The other type of selfishness is a poor, hungry one that wants to steal, it is the selfishness of the sick — sick selfishness. They skulk around the table of the givers. Sickness speaks from this craving, from the hidden degeneration of the body. This degeneration underpins the absence of a bestowing soul. Degeneration is defined by Nietzsche as the inability to withstand a stimuli, as as the anarchy of the instincts. Healthy selfishness of the givers wants to go upward from species to over species. The upwardness of mind with its advance and elevation is an image of the body. Images are virtues — signs, semiotics, a sign language of the emotions, the affects, the drives that constitute the body. It is in the signs etc that virtues speak. In so ascending, such as body is the source of creation, evaluation, lover and benefactor of all things. As Zarathustra says:

'When you are exalted above praise and blame, and your will wants to command all things as the will of a lover: that is when your virtue has its origin and its beginning.'

In section 33 of Expeditions of an Untimely Man, Twilight of the Idols, and elsewhere, Nietzsche speaks of healthy and unhealthy egoism. Egoism has value insofar as it represents the healthy and ascending life. It is harmful if it represents the descending life. Healthy life is that which exudes love of this world and this life from a plenitude of physiological energy [macht]. Life evaluates through such a being. Perhaps similar to joie de vie and expressed in valuations of the many different types of human beings and the celebration of so many different types and the saying of 'Yes' to all human experience, pain as well as pleasure.

This giving is the opposite of the No saying to life symptomatic of the sick and degenerate. Lacking vitality and health, they are fuelled by resentment against the world and others. Instead of encouraging a plurality of human types, the person of resentment grasps to a monopoly of evaluation, calls it the truth and is intolerant of any one who does not recognise the 'truth'. This has constituted the cultural and intellectual history of Europe. Nietzsche argued that this 'truth' perpetuated by the weak and resentful has been undermined. He sums this up in the phrase 'God is Dead'. In the absence of one single, source of values — they will be created by human beings, especially the creative, the curious, those most real beings made so as life or macht lifts them over other human beings; or as Nietzsche's calls them — the over man, the man of tomorrow, the Ubermensch. The Ubermensch will positively give and bestow to human beings from out of itself.

Martin Jenkins


(70) Delfin asked:

'If God created us, who created God?'

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This question implies a causality. It can be argued that causality does not apply to God. As he is almighty, omnipotent he cannot be subordinate to, or rely for his existence outside of himself. This rules out an external cause to himself. So there cannot be an external creation of God. Also, external creation doesn't apply as God is sui generis — he creates and maintains himself in being. Again, this follows from his being omnipotent. I recommend you read [if not already] Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologiae especially the 'Five Ways' for further information to your question.

Martin Jenkins


(71) Debz asked:

I am currently studying Mill and Utilitarianism and am unsure how exactly does one judge what the higher pleasure's are?

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Utilitarianism is the social — political philosophy which holds that the good society is the one which promotes the greatest happiness of the greatest number for the greatest possible time. John Stuart Mill [1806-73] was brought up by his father James Stuart Mill to follow the Utilitarian philosophy. Mill later qualified Utilitarianism recognising that its critics make the point that if achieving the maximum pleasure or happiness is all that really matters then this makes human beings no different from swine or beasts.

Philosophy of Swine

If the promotion of pleasure were all that matters as the sole end for the good life then gratifying the sensual pleasures [food, sex, sleep] would be the most immediate and popular way to achieve this. This approach would create the greatest happiness of the greatest number. As this is the priority for utilitarianism remark the critics, it degenerates human beings into sensuous creatures little different — if at all — from beasts of the field that eat, sleep, procreate and defecate. It is a philosophy worthy of swine.

Human beings do differ from beasts Mill says, in that the latter do not possess the mental faculties and capacities possessed in the former. Humans possess reason, reflection, knowledge and therefore the ability to reflect upon existing practices, knowledge and to develop them. Once aware of these mental faculties there can be no going back and a pretending they don't exist.

Quantitative Pleasures and Qualitative pleasures

Utilitarianism prior to Mill sought to indiscriminately maximise the quantity of pleasure enjoyed by human beings whether of mind or body. If the mental pleasures were valued as different from the bodily ones, it was only on the grounds that they secured 'a greater permanency, safety, uncostliness...'. In other words, reading poetry is a less harmful instrumental means toward greater pleasures in a way getting drunk incurring a fight and hangover, is not. Mill disagrees that all pleasures are equal so that any pleasure [whether reading physics, poetry or a tabloid newspaper] is an equal factor in the promotion of the sum of happiness; all pleasures are not equal, some are worth more than others.

The difference is based on Mill's contention that pleasures are not just quantitative [i.e. maximization of the highest number of pleasures no matter what they are] but are qualitative [i.e. different pleasures are of a different type, a qualitative difference]. It is 'those who are competently acquainted with both' who decide the criteria between quantitative pleasure and quality. For example, if Socrates decides that a debate on the nature of justice is preferable to playing a game of pool then a debate on justice is the higher, qualitatively superior pleasure and not playing pool.

This can appear quite arbitrary. Just because Socrates says debate is preferable to playing pool it doesn't follow that it is — it is just Socrates' opinion. Well, no, for the following reasons.

Higher Pleasures, Higher Faculties

Those who are capable of appreciating both lower and higher pleasures — such as Socrates, give preference to that pleasure which employs the higher faculties. A being of higher faculties requires more to make him happy than a being of lower faculties. Whilst 'The Sun' reader is easily satisfied by simple pleasures, the philosopher is not. The reader of 'The Sun' may be intellectually satisfied and exhausted after reading about the latest soap opera sex scandal; the philosopher puts this in context in comparison with a reading of for instance, Plato's 'Symposium'.

Possessing knowledge and experience of 'The Symposium' puts the 'The Sun' reader in context. Reading 'The Symposium' involves higher faculties than reading 'The Sun'. As reading 'The Symposium' involves intrinsically more effort, more difficulty and can instrumentally yield greater benefits [edification of intellect, knowledge concerning the nature of love, awareness of problems involved, sophistication of feelings, sensitive awareness to issues, creates a greater curiosity for more learning] it is a superior pleasure to the simple one of reading 'The Sun'. The appetites of the philosopher require more to be satisfied than that of 'The Sun' reader. It is qualitatively different and cannot be reduced to just another pleasure on a quantitative basis of equality. As written, all pleasures are not equal — some are more than others. This is the meaning of the following quote from Mill's 'Utilitarianism'.

'It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, is of a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question. The other party to the comparison knows both sides.'

Martin Jenkins


(72) Alice asked:

In reference to Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics does Book One refer to practical virtue achieved through various activities which is inferior to intellectual virtue achieved through dominant intellectual activities in Book Ten?

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In Book Ten Aristotle defines the life according to intellect as the happiest life, since it is according to the human nature, for the intellect (nous) is the divine element in us, therefore life according to intellect is divine.

'If pure intellect is divine, then in comparison with man, life according to it is divine in comparison with human life.' (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics X, 1177 b, 30).

'And what we said before will apply now; that which is proper to each being is by nature best and most pleasant for each one; for man, therefore, the life according to intellect is best and pleasantest, since intellect more than anything else is man. This life therefore is the happiest.' (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics X, 1178 a, 5-9).

However, since our nature is composed by both divine and human element, both elements must have its proper pleasure. The divine element in us, is happy through the speculative activity of the pure intellect, but our human element in a secondary degree, is happy through the activities which are in accordance with moral virtue. In that way theory harmonizes with facts, the intellect with deeds, otherwise this knowledge — that the wise man possesses and does not apply — is only meaningless words about the good. So, the wise man since he lives with other people, he acts in accordance with virtue, by choosing noble and great deeds. Therefore he needs prudence, which helps him to choose the right acts and the means to be accomplished.

To sum up, on the one hand the activity in accordance with virtue of the 'mean' (mesotes) through prudence, leads a happy life, for a man is a social being. On the other hand life according to intellect, through the speculative activity of the pure intellect, leads to the highest pleasure, which is distinguished from all the others in power and worth. Thus according to Aristotle, the composite nature of a man then, needs both activities in order to achieve happiness.

'Being connected to the feelings also, the moral virtue must belong to our composite nature; and the virtues of our composite nature are human; so, therefore are the life and the happiness which correspond to these. But the virtue of the pure intellect is separate and distinct.' (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics X, 1178 a, 20-23).

Nikolaos Bakalis


(73) Coral asked:

I was damaged badly as a child as were many other people I have tried very hard to overcome this. my question is why can I not live my life to its full potential and what is the purpose of my life otherwise?

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Coral I can't really answer your question because I don't know you own particular circumstances. All I can do is offer some general observations. People who are successful and happy in life are people who set themselves realistic goals and work towards achieving them. Having recognised that you have been damaged by your past you must now forget that and work on your future. If you are continually reliving your past then you will never have a life of your own. If you always define yourself as a damaged person then you will never become anything else. Think about what you would like to be and how you can become that. Move on, you can if you really want to (i.e. if you are desperate enough to give up your past).

Shaun Williamson


(74) Petros asked:

Where are the giants of philosophy hiding today? Have all the philosophical questions been answered and so there are no new philosophical paradigms to uncover and challenge orthodoxy? Or are we currently living in a philosophical era void of fresh thinkers and ideas? Are there golden philosophical eras that emerge in history and sprout an environment of free thinking individuals that debate and feed off one another? (eg the Hellenic and German philosophical epochs that were spaced nearly 2000 years apart). Has the profession had difficulty attracting and holding disciples that will challenge and push the discipline into areas where it has not set foot before?

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It is the nature of philosophical query to become acquainted with all that makes the earth (Nietzsche, Zarathustra). There are no states of affairs exempt from the scrutiny of the philosophical instinct. Once a subject (matter) comes under investigation, the examiner holds a position for transvaluing all communalized and commercialized values, thus making his examination a practice in which to exercise creativity and logic over the dataset.

One can say that the philosopher is a sick animal pregnant with a future unlike any of his brethren.

'A subject for a great poet would be God's boredom after the seventh day of creation.' Friedrich Nietzsche.

Nietzsche's statement might well be re- read as:

A subject for a great philosopher would be God's boredom after the seventh day of creation.

Vittorio Lestat


(75) Kobe asked:

'All knowledge starts with axioms.Axioms are based on believes. Therefore, all derived 'knowledge' is nothing more than a belief.'

Helier Robinson answered:

'...Not all knowledge starts with axioms. For example, you know that you exist, and there is no axiom from which this knowledge is derived...'

But the assumption that your rational mind is reliable is the very first axiom. Scepticism can not be disproved, therefore, all knowledge starts from the axiom that knowledge is possible... Or do you have another definition of axioms?

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(i) At first, I must disagree with Helier, that the knowledge of one's existence is not derived from an axiom. The knowledge of ones existence can be questioned. As such, we stand to re-evaluate a position, which opens for a speculation into tenets (or axioms) on which to base a theorem of (our) existence. As Wittgenstein would have it: a possibility is a place-something can exist in it. Nothing that exists, exists contrary to the laws of logic (Tractatus, 3.031); therefore, an axiom-when it exists, is accordingly a product of these laws. Everything extrapolated from this base-its extensionality-becomes available in the form of knowledge.

(ii) Inasmuch as symbolic syntax (of formal systems) does not have the retrograde strength to provide proof for its basic tenets, the axiom(s) can become sustained under a doctrine of intentionality (Husserl), whereby our experience is meaningful; an experience of something as something, An axiom's intelligibility can thus be held to be transcendental in the sense of being normative (intended), rather than being a product of causality.

(iii) If an axiom is the result of intention, what is intention the product of? The constituents of intention we can call ideas. Ideas are states of affairs we have in our minds and can be products of decision theory (normative, prescriptive). The way we view the world are different, and this distance (or proximity) is the result of there being a different physical (neurological) pattern in each individual brain; ex. In your view, or ways of thinking, this makes sense. In my ways... it does not, and so on.

Our brain patterns we can say are facts, and being that facts in logical space are the world (Tractatus, 1.13), we make up the world in a manner that is not accidental. The province of logic deals with every possibility, and all possibilities are its facts. If an axiom is possible, it cannot be illogical.

Following this line of thought, will lead to the observation that there are no axioms per se — they have all become derivatives of something; from the perspective of a retroactive logical procession into atomic facts.

Vittorio Lestat


(76) Anita asked:

Doesn't 'expect the unexpected' make the unexpected expected?

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No, for to expect the unexpected leaves you with an open dataset: anticipation of ambiguation — the possibility of all states of affairs remains possible — as such, this approach can be considered open-ended. Whereas to make the unexpected expected, suggests that all the variables are anticipated (dis-ambiguation); the possibility of all states of affairs is no longer possible, and your dataset can be regarded as closed.

Vittorio Lestat


(77) Ike asked:

What are the importances of Binary representation in computers?

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Digital computers process information based on a binary (meaning: two) number system; input on a keyboard generates a binary number like 01000001, and sends it to the computer's memory as a series of pulses with different voltages. The importance of binary logic is to singularly regulate the flow of impulses (information) in the most effective manner; there are no maybes, the possibility of confusion is reduced to the lowest denominator of multiples-the number 2; the first prime.

English mathematician George Boole in the mid-19th century, developed a model whose rules govern logical functions (true/ false) and are the foundation of all electronic circuits in the computer-Boolean Logic.

Add, subtract, multiply and divide are the primary operations of arithmetic, AND, OR and NOT are the primary operations of Boolean logic.

In Pythagorean number theory, 2 is named the Dyad, and was represented geometrically as a line. It symbolized diversity, a loss of unity, the number of excess and defect, and became characterized as the first feminine number.

To close with the words of Shakespeare, the question is to be or not to be.

Vittorio Lestat


(78) Susan asked:

What is the nature of philosophical questions with special focus on how philosophical questions differ from question of a scientific or factual nature?

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A philosophical approach is generally not governed by a symbolic syntax, and this attribute allows it to easily draw concepts together from an eclectic approach in analyzing a problem.

Vittorio Lestat


(79) Hermione asked:

Why are we (humans) sensitive to beauty?

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You are undoubtedly familiar with the age-old adage that Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This observation is valid in more than one sense, so to speak. It is a rule of geometry that governs our appreciation of beauty, and this rule consists in a special proportion; the Fibonacci sequence. When graphed, the golden proportion emerges in the form of a spiral. This ratio is present in the human body — just have a look at your fingers. By extension, your brains visual cortex also contains this ratio, and a pleasurable response is instigated (neurological), when you are exposed to this ratio in your environment, and can observe it.

Sensitivity to beauty can therefore be understood as pattern recognition — and simulacrum; a harmonious (beautiful) pattern is recognized, and corresponds to a pattern in the subject, for there exists a copy of this proportion in the brain-build, and being that our individual brain-patterns (micro-cosmic architecture) are different, this accounts for differences in what is perceived as beautiful.

Vittorio Lestat


(80) Dian asked:

My question involves this, 'What came first, philosophy or religion?'

My thinking goes like this, If philosophy is reasoning about the ultimate questions of life & religion is the desire to comprehend the incomprehensible then by being religious one is philosophizing first.

My Sociologist friend argues that religion is innate. He explains, by innateness he means that a concept of incomprehensible & the concept of a perfect being, & any other concept that is naturally of a religious nature is built into the human psyche(?) therefore religion is first & philosophy is the second process.

But isn't it our philosophical nature first that compels us to develop & explore concepts?

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This is a good question, but it is more about our concept of religious experience than it is about human history.

In a way, you and your friend are both right: the impulse to philosophize is invoked whenever we wonder about thee nature of existence as such, or form the idea of the 'incomprehensible'.

But, equally, there is a way of relating to the world which comes before concepts and ideas, before the idea of a 'world', a kind of religious experience which focuses more on human powerlessness in the face of the elements, a need to make sense of the contingency of everyday existence rather than the urge to understand ultimate things.

Suppose one accepts that an impulse towards religion is built into the very structure of the human mind. This would make religion predate philosophy. But that does not contradict the view that all the great world religions were philosophical achievements and not just expressions of a primitive tendency of the human psyche.

Geoffrey Klempner


(81) Patrick asked:

Why have I never seen the use of 'vampires' in philosophical writings, I feel that they are interesting theoretical subjects for study. They appear in writings to be driven by emotion, have thoughts, ideas and beliefs they were also once alive but now are not. Although they appear driven by thirst they are also likely to show restraint and planning behaviour. In other words they are very similar to non vampires. How would a philosopher be able to tell the difference between a 'vampire' and a human? (the obvious conditions do not apply e.g. exposure to sunlight, garlic etc.). Could they still be thought of as human? Could the distinction be made on behaviour alone? Hope you don't think I am too strange.

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Philosophers don't waste much time thinking about vampires because there are no vampires, there never have been any vampires and there never will be any vampires. Vampires are fictional creatures invented by novelists.

We can easily tell vampires from real people because real people exist and vampires don't.

Shaun Williamson


(82) David asked:

How would it be possible to create something out of nothing, as you choose not to believe in God how would u explain the beginning of the life?

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I don't know how it is possible to create something out of nothing. I don't know if God exists. I don't know why the world is here. When it comes to explaining the beginning of life on earth then this is a historical scientific question i.e. how and when did life begin on earth and it is only by scientific means that we can answer such a question.

We don't have the answer yet but that doesn't mean that we won't find it.

Shaun Williamson


(83) Chloe asked:

How much do you love someone if you dream about them?

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Unfortunately Chloe, it doesn't mean anything. You can also dream about people you hate or people you don't know or people you have no feelings for. The interpretation of dreams is a complex subject. Freud had some good ideas about this and some bad ideas as well. It's best to decide how much you love someone when you are awake.

Shaun Williamson


(84) Bobyyyyy asked:

yeah, you seem like a smart person:)

so do you believe in Allah?

to believe in Allah makes sense:)

a smart person like you I think must believe in Allah:)

have you read the Qur'an?

if not do it:)

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Yes I have read the Qur'an and no I don't believe in Allah. It makes no sense to me. Everyone who reads the Qur'an seems to take from it whatever they want. In Iran it allows the Immans to hang sixteen year old girls in public in the town square. In London it allows some people to hate all the non-Muslims in this country and think that they are entitled to kill them and that that is the will of Allah.

Again in Iran it leads to the torturing and killing of Bahai because they are 'heretics'. It allows philosophers to be imprisoned and tortured. In Iraq it allows Sunnis to hate and kill Shias and Shias to hate and kill Sunnis.

So can you tell me just what is so wonderful about the Qur'an?

Shaun Williamson


(85) Reginald asked:

How do you know that you know that you are a human being?

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Because everything speaks for it and nothing speaks against it. You need a reason to doubt something so I can conceive of circumstances in which I might come to doubt that I was a human being but non of these circumstances exist. If I ever did come to doubt that I was human then I would have to doubt everything I know at present and I would need a very good reason to do that.

Shaun Williamson


(86) Michael asked:

Please inform me with the best way you know how to start to understand the subject of philosophy. I would like some info or suggestions on the best books to start to understand it at a higher level.

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Perhaps the best way to understand the subject of Philosophy is to understand that it's not a subject. A favorite professor of mine, Dr. James Lowry, said that, 'these days, there is a philosophy of everything, but no more philosophy'. I found that to be a very insightful remark. The post modern era has been characterized largely by pragmatic tendencies, whereas the first noted philosophers (in the western tradition) were the presocratics, who asked for the sake of asking — it was a movement of being from an incomplete sense to a more complete sense. The movement then was largely one from mythology — greek mythological deities and religion — to a more critical understanding of our world. This is not to destroy those things utterly, but rather to understand them and our relation to them better.

I would characterize philosophy then as an activity. It's something that is natural to us. For instance, Immanuel Kant wrote in the Critique of Pure Reason,

'Human reason has a peculiar fate in one kind of its cognitions: It is troubled by questions that it cannot dismiss, because they are posed to it by nature of reason itself, but that it also cannot answer, because they surpass human reason's every ability.'

It's part of who we are, and the doing of philosophy is an activity. It's something that is personal, yet objective as you will find out as you read more.

I wouldn't be so bold as to say that there is a certain author that is best to start with, or a certain philosophical school or system to begin with. If you read any philosopher, more questions will be raised in your mind, taking you in turn to other philosophers. The journey can be lifelong, and eventually will lead you into a comprehensive understanding of the seasons of thought throughout the ages. Start from where you are. For those with a sincere desire for philosophy per se — for personal interest, I enjoy Plato. Any of his works should be fine to start with. His Republic — book 7 — has the popular cave analogy of knowledge — a path of enlightenment. Give that a read, and read the Socratic dialogues — it's enjoyable reading and will get the wheels turning as it were. All the best in your journey.

Nate Dempsey


(87) Petros asked:

Where are the giants of philosophy hiding today? Have all the philosophical questions been answered and so there are no new philosophical paradigms to uncover and challenge orthodoxy? Or are we currently living in a philosophical era void of fresh thinkers and ideas? Are there golden philosophical eras that emerge in history and sprout an environment of free thinking individuals that debate and feed off one another? (eg the Hellenic and German philosophical epochs that were spaced nearly 2000 years apart). Has the profession had difficulty attracting and holding disciples that will challenge and push the discipline into areas where it has not set foot before?

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I believe we live in a very exciting time for Philosophers. We can look back over the centuries and imbibe the rich philosophical traditions that have come and past, and ask ourselves — where are we headed now? What have we learned as a human race? You point to 'golden philosophical epochs', that have produced amazing volumes in the western philosophical tradition — from Aristotle to the neo-platonists, to the german idealists like Kant and Hegel. At times we can be tempted to pay too close attention to these with perhaps placing less emphasis on many key, lesser known authors who have made signal contributions. I've also found that there are many excellent philosophers who have taken roles traditionally seen as commentators — for instance, Ernst Cassirer wrote amazing texts on the enlightenment, and pulled many wonderful insights out of Kant's texts which truly expound our knowledge, not to mention many of his own insights.

All philosophers — the great and the lesser known, play a role in enhancing our collective understanding as philosophers. Any epoch is a great epoch — there has never been a time since the presocratic philosophers where there hasn't been some sort of new development, twist, critique, or modification on what has gone before. I highly recommend studying philosophy from a historical perspective — either through coursework or reading some survey texts to get started. One such series is by Frederick Copleston — 'A History of Philosophy' — it comes in several volumes and is a respected series. It's not a bad start to get to know some of the lesser known authors and some lesser known philosophical epochs.

One final point — be mindful to avoid a possible ad-hominem fallacy in 'challenging orthodoxy'. What is orthodoxy? Is it our job to simply 'beat the system'? Yes — do question and challenge of course. But, is that the goal? To simply create something new? Perhaps the existing better discovered is a worthy path, perhaps not. You'll have philosophers like Richard Rorty who forward an agenda;

'Ever since Hegel, however, historicist thinkers have tried to get beyond this familiar standoff. They have denied that there is such a thing as human nature, or the deepest level of the self. Their strategy has been to insist that socialization, and thus historical circumstance, goes all the way down — that there is nothing beneath socialization or prior to history which is definatory of the human being. Such writers tell us that the question 'What is it to be a human being?' should be replaced by questions like 'What is it to inhabit a rich twentieth-century democratic society?' and 'How can an inhabitant of such a society be more than the enactor if a role in a previously written script?'. This historicist turn has helped free us, gradually but steadily, from theology and metaphysics — from the temptation to look for an escape from time and chance. It has helped us substitute freedom for truth as the goal of thinking and of social progress.' (Richard Rorty Contingency, Irony, Solidarity xiii)

See, the goal is to move forward. Others will take a different approach, stating that we must ascribe to things of objective value and go from there — such as Schultz when he comments on Kant.

'The final goal to which all speculation of reason ultimately leads concerns three objects: the freedom of the will, the immortality of the soul, and the existence of God. With regard to all three however, the mere speculative interest of reason is very slight, since we can make no use of them in this explanation of natural events. Thus, these three cardinal propositions are not at all needed for knowing. Nevertheless, since they are so emphatically recommended by our reason, their importance must actually have to do only with the practical.' (Schultz Exposition of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, 97).

That's the beauty of doing philosophy — take a look at all the angles, and attempt to get to the root of things. In that way, perhaps one will breach the orthodoxy you speak of.

Nate Dempsey


(88) Medie asked:

How does Pierce's pragmatic theory of inquiry and his fallibilism view of human knowledge offer a fruitful way to overcome the limitations of knowledge as personal experience (i.e. of testimonial evidence)?

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The 'Methodeutic' or else method of science by Charles S. Peirce consists of two parts: observation and reasoning. Since brute experience alone is not enough to guide us to the fixation of belief; therefore, although doubts are sparked by experience through observation, we need to make inference with regard to these experiences so as to achieve the fixation of belief. According to Peirce's account of truth and inquiry, the aim of inquiry is to get beliefs, which result in a 'maximum of expectation' and a 'minimum of surprise', namely secure beliefs. Thus the aim of reasoning in scientific inquiry is to fix beliefs, which cohere with experience.

'It is those facts I want to know, so that I may avoid disappointments and disasters. This... is my whole motive of reasoning. Plainly, then, I wish to reason in such a way that the facts shall not and cannot disappoint the promise of my reasoning' (Pierce 'Collected Papers' 2.172 1902)

Reasoning is the means to achieve the goal of inquiry, therefore is deliberately and self-controlled, for if a rational inference is unconsciously, there is a great danger of error. It presupposes both a voluntary act — since approval or disapproval requires an act of volition — and self-controlled thought, so as to be able to give an account how one came to the conclusion.

The self-corrective aspect of scientific inquiry, namely to reach a final opinion which represents the truth, presupposes careful use of reliable scientific methods. Each one carries in his mind patterns of good and bad reasoning, which are called norms or habits according to Peirce, therefore, since all inferences are governed by habit, we ought to seek good habits. In order to increase the probability of reaching a true conclusion we have to reason according to the more developed logic. Given the doctrine of fallibilism, we cannot know when we have true premises and conclusions, but we can know when we have premises and conclusions, which cohere with the data, and therefore are reliable. Those methods, which are reliable and increase the possibility of reaching a true conclusion, are the methods of abduction, deduction and induction.

Deduction is 'explicative' inference, while abduction and induction are 'ampliative'. As Peirce argues, ampliative inference is the only kind that can introduce new ideas into our body of beliefs (4), however he sometimes says that is only abduction that can introduce new ideas 'for induction does nothing but determines a value' (CP 5.171. 1903).

C. S. Peirce explains that the method of abduction (which he also called retroduction or hypothesis) is an inversion of a deductive syllogism BARBARA (AAA), A: affirmative proposition, for example:

1. All the beans in this bag are white (rule or major premise)

2. These beans are from this bag (case or minor premise)

3. These beans are white (result or conclusion)

While deduction goes the way from 1 to 3 and induction from 2, 3 to 1, abduction uses a hypothesis in the form of a question (nr 2) to explain observed facts (nr 3) by supposing it to be a case of a general rule (nr 1), as follows:

All the beans in this bag are white (rule or prior proposition)

These beans are white (result or conclusion)

Are these beans from this bag? (case or minor proposition)

Or in another form:

All S is P (rule)

M is P (result)

M is S (case)

In other words the hypothesis does not aim at discovering a new class of things but rather to find whether the observed event is a member of a certain known class. So to say abduction begins with a surprising fact and turns to hypothesis as follows:

Let's suppose we found some white beans among ten bags of beans mostly brown (nr 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10):

The surprising fact (C) is observed (these beans are white).

But suppose 'all the beans in the bag Nr. 3 are white' were true. Then there is a reason to suspect that 'these beans are from the bag Nr. 3' (hypothesis).

Peirce thinks that, whenever any observation C obtains, there will be some hypotheses, which entail C or make C probable. As he considers consequence to be a relation between the antecedent and the consequent, therefore whenever a consequent is observed; it is justified to search for the antecedent in a form of hypothesis. The hypothetical inference infers antecedence from a consequence that is presented to us in experience because it is determined by something without the mind. This realistic interpretation implies that the antecedence-consequence relation exists independently of its representation.

He adds that this hypothesis may render the observed facts necessary or highly probable. Other characteristics of the hypothesis are: it must be capable of being tested but not necessarily directly verified, therefore can deal with unobserved facts but could be resulted from observed facts. It must be broad and inclusive, and when one has to choose between two hypotheses he begins with testing the one that is most readily refuted or verified.

With regard to the verifiability of hypotheses, Peirce does not adopt the extreme positivist position that only the empirically verified hypotheses have the higher status of reliability. He insists that is only the premises, not the conclusions must be directly observable, for the premises consist of empirical data, but the explanation of the data need not to be empirical hypotheses. This allows us to infer hypotheses about the past (e.g. archaeology), about unobservable entities (e.g. molecules, electrons etc.) and metaphysical hypotheses.

In this phase of scientific inquiry (generation of a hypothesis), Peirce claims that the inquirers' imagination, experience and skill allow them to form the most fruitful hypotheses. Although there can be innumerable hypotheses, the skilful instinct of the scientists will allow them in some finite number of verifications to find out the true explanation. The human mind being developed through evolution has affinity to the 'real', for this affinity enabled him to survive .

The verification process of the hypothesis is consisted of the deductive and the inductive phase of the research. In the deductive phase the hypothesis must be tested by reason by drawing experiential consequences, which would follow, that is to say the inquirer draws virtual prediction of possible experiments from his hypothesis, which is the so-called 'purpose' of deduction. This sort of deduction is distinguished from the theoretical deduction, where the consequences that follow a hypothesis are pure theoretical, since the 'pragmatic' meaning of an idea is its practical consideration, namely its practical consequences. For example: If this solid thing is a glass (nr 2), (belong to class of glasses), then it should have the observable characteristics x, y, z etc. (nr 3) of the class (nr 1). For example:

All glasses are hard (x) and breakable (y) (rule)

If this thing is a glass (case)

Then it should be hard (x) and breakable (y) (result)

The inductive phase is the experimental testing of the hypothesis, so to say the inquirer tests the observable characteristics of the event x, y, z, etc. and compares it with observed characteristics of the class (quantitative induction). Peirce suggests that the verification process of a hypothesis must consist of a large number of random samples, due to the probabilistic justification of induction. If the hypothesis is refuted then the inquirer has to proceed with more experience to making a new abduction and modify the hypothesis. Afterwards the same process has to be repeated again, namely by drawing deductive experimental consequence of the new hypothesis and inductively testing.

With regard to the induction Peirce holds that there are two types of it, namely the 'crude' and the 'quantitative' induction. Crude form of induction is what Hume characterizes as induction, which is very weak sort of inference according to Peirce for similar reasons given by Hume. However, the 'quantitative' induction with statistical syllogisms and direct inference serve as the testing grounds for hypotheses. Crude induction is as follows:

M is S (case)

M is P (result)

All S is P (rule)

While quantitative induction deals with statistical ratios, as follows:

M1, M2, M3, etc. are a numerous set taken at random from among the Ss

A certain proportion r/n of these Ms are Ps

Therefore the same proportion r/n of the Ss are Ps

Or else:

These beans have been taken at random from this bag (case)

3/4 of these beans are white (result)

Therefore 3/4 of the beans in the bag are white (conclusion).

Here one concludes from an observed relative frequency (f= r/n) in a randomly drawn sample a hypothesis about the relative frequency in the population (f: hypothetical limit of relative frequency) . Therefore, the inquirer in the inductive phase of verification has to test a large number of samples. This means that induction does not lead to the truth, but rather lends a probability to its conclusion.

Peirce in his earlier papers treated induction and abduction as independent forms of inference, since induction is 'reasoning from particulars to a general law, while abduction is reasoning from effect to cause' or else from consequent to antecedent. However, in his later papers after 1900 induction deduction and abduction become closely interlinked: 'Induction consists in starting from a theory previously recommended by abduction, deducing from it a number of consequences, and then observing whether the predicted consequences are substantiated by experimental tests.' (CP 5.170) or else 'It (abduction) suggests the theories, which induction subsequently verifies by reference to a large number of random samples' (CP 6100).

In these last writings becomes clear the development Peirce's method of scientific inference, which shows the interconnection between abduction, deduction and induction, as well as the probabilistic aspect of induction in the verification process. As we have seen abduction generates the hypothesis, deduction draws the practical consequences of the hypothesis and induction refutes of verifies statistically the hypothesis.

The whole process (abduction, hypothesis, deduction, verification through quantitative induction), according to Peirce, helps the forward progress of science by pointing to more future fruitful hypotheses, by closing off certain useless ways previously open, by furnishing new observations and by increasing the experience and the skill of the scientist.

On the other hand, taking into account fallibilism, the object of sciences (the real) is subject to subjective interpretation by one investigator, as well as subject to evolution and chance variations (tychism), therefore the investigator can never be certain of his knowledge of the 'real'. For this reason Peirce introduces the social aspect of scientific knowledge open to public verification. In other words, investigation is destined to reach a final settled opinion (true belief) agreed by the community of scientists, if the inquiry is carried out according to scientific method.

'The opinion which is destined to be finally agreed by all (scientists) is the truth. And the object presented in this opinion is the real' (Collected Papers of C. S. Peirce 5.407).

Nikolaos Bakalis


(89) Geoffrey asked:

Is now just like all other times?

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'Now' is like the phrase 'the top card in the pack'. Just as the latter in one way does not refer to a particular card since the top card can be different after every shuffle, at the same time the 'top card in the pack' does refer to a particular card i.e the one that is on the top at the instant the phrase is uttered. 'Now' can also be used to refer to a particular point in time and every point in time is different from every other point in time because no two distinct points in time have the same past or the same future.

However it is best to remember that the human concept of time is a complex one and just thinking about it is likely to lead us into confusion. It seems that there are at least two logics of time statements, the logic of discrete time and the logic of continuous time. Then there are the specialised uses of time concepts in physics. We need to keep in mind the particular language game in which we are using our words.

Shaun Williamson


(90) Scott asked:

What do most scientists think about the demotion of Pluto's planetary status? I still consider it a planet in my classes after all dwarf people are people too

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Short people like tall people still have all the essential qualifications to be recognised as people.

However we can not regard every rock or speck of dust that circles the sun as a planet. Who has the right to decide what a planet is? The only answer to this can be that it is up to the official astronomical organisations to make this decision. Philosophers are not scientists and they are certainly not astronomers. Like everyone else we have to follow the official definition. Pluto was only discovered in 1930 so the loss of its status of being a planet is no great loss to mankind.

Shaun Williamson


(91) John asked:

I would like to ask a question regarding multiple minds.

Let's suppose that two individuals are sat in a room, both with their eyes shut and both are focusing on a single conscious mental image, which for the sake of argument is a red dot. Assuming that both people are focusing intently on the image, the contents of their consciousness is identical. Lets also assume that the red dot imagined is exactly the same for both individuals, and no other thoughts creep into their minds.

In this instance, the individuals are effectively 'thinking the same thought'.

When this occurs, and the experienced contents of both minds are identical, would it be accurate to say that there are not two minds, but only one.

Leibniz law would apply here equally is my thought, i.e. if two minds are alike in every single way, then there are not two minds, but just one. This obviously applies for any number of minds.

Following on from this (if this were accepted), it could also be suggested that if any person ever held the same thought as myself , then for that instance there is only one mind, i.e. this would be true across time boundaries as well. If Napoleon and I thought exclusively of the same red dot, even 200 years apart, then our minds would be one mind, as long as the thought persisted.

Does this make sense? Or what is the logical flaw?

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Well I think this is just the sort of idea that can arise when we are thinking philosophically i.e without any real context to guide our thoughts. Suppose we agree that you and Napoleon are the same mind. So what? Does that make you into a short Corsican who conquered Europe. Does it make him into somebody who poses philosophical questions on the Internet. What real consequences flow from this idea beyond the picture that it creates in our minds.

A mind is always attached to a body and your mind is always be by definition your mind and Napoleon's mind is Napoleon's mind and never the twain shall meet no matter how many thoughts they share in common. A mind isn't a physical thing and it isn't a ghostly spiritual thing either.

In fact a mind isn't a thing at all although it isn't a nothing either.

Shaun Williamson


(92) Peter asked:

If people are constructed through their interactions, are they the interpretation of said interactions and choices on other beings, and if so is the existence of people dependent on interactions, including those before and after death (If applicable) upon other life? Moreover, if existence is not dependent upon interaction with other life, directly or indirectly, is an existence (of this type) meaningful?

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The phrase 'people are constructed through their interactions' concerns the issue of personhood rather than the issue of existence. Imagine for a moment that it is true that we are constructed through our interaction with others. If we didn't interact with others, what would this mean? While it may be a less valuable form of existence it does not negate the fact that we exist. You could argue that life without human interaction is less meaningful.

Eric Zwickler


(93) John asked:

I would like to ask a question regarding multiple minds.

Let's suppose that two individuals are sat in a room, both with their eyes shut and both are focusing on a single conscious mental image, which for the sake of argument is a red dot. Assuming that both people are focusing intently on the image, the contents of their consciousness is identical. Lets also assume that the red dot imagined is exactly the same for both individuals, and no other thoughts creep into their minds.

In this instance, the individuals are effectively 'thinking the same thought'.

When this occurs, and the experienced contents of both minds are identical, would it be accurate to say that there are not two minds, but only one.

Leibniz law would apply here equally is my thought, i.e. if two minds are alike in every single way, then there are not two minds, but just one. This obviously applies for any number of minds.

Following on from this (if this were accepted), it could also be suggested that if any person ever held the same thought as myself , then for that instance there is only one mind, i.e. this would be true across time boundaries as well. If Napoleon and I thought exclusively of the same red dot, even 200 years apart, then our minds would be one mind, as long as the thought persisted.

Does this make sense? Or what is the logical flaw?

Thanks

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Your argument would be fine if we agreed that the mind consisted of only one property- conscious thought. Most people think that our minds are more complex. Minds contain memories, feelings, desires and probably several other properties. While I could image two people sharing the same thought, I could not imagine two people having the same mind unless you get into multiple world scenarios.

Eric Zwickler


(94) Clay asked:

This is a question that has been discussed within a group of acquaintances, sometimes leading to some pretty hot arguments! It is a business/ethics question, and one we deal with on a regular, real life basis.

You read an ad in the newspaper listing something for sale, and you realize it is worth much, much more than the asking price. You are elated at the prospect of a really good deal! You call the phone number and agree with the seller to go buy it, but when you arrive the seller informs you that he has had several other phone calls, some also showing great interest, and some calls simply letting him know that his item is worth ten times his original asking price. He has now raised his selling price.

The dilemma: (As argued by my friends and I!)

You, the buyer, are angry that the seller "has no honor!!", and should have sold the item at the advertised price. My thoughts are that you were perfectly willing to take advantage of an uneducated seller, and thus you have no complaints if he realizes his mistake. Better luck next time. Since you were willing to take advantage of the seller, you're certainly on no moral high ground here.

The group's response is that the two issues are totally unrelated. The buyer has no obligation to educate or inform the seller as to his item's true value. The seller still should have honored his original price. A verbal agreement between both parties is just that, and should have been honored.

An additional issue would be to muddy the waters by including possible different reasons why the seller is selling the item.

If the seller was selling the item in order to raise money to buy medicines for a sick child, and you kept silent about the item's value and paid the original low selling price, then you're really going beyond simply taking advantage of an uneducated seller. On the other hand, the seller might just have wanted the old thing out of his basement, and no actual harm would have occurred. Or are these just questions of degree?

Does the buyer have an obligation to inform the seller of the true value of his item? If the buyer is a "professional", then the answer, legally, is yes. If I take a painting with "Rembrandt" barely legible in the corner to your art gallery, and you tell me it's worth 25 and buy it from me for that amount, you're in trouble. A buyer who is just an average person answering an ad in the local newspaper is a different situation. Sort of.

Does the seller have an obligation to honor his original price, even though he was completely ignorant of its true value when the price was set?

We really do wrestle with this, and would very much appreciate your thoughts if you find this question appropriate for your group.

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It is funny that you mentioned counterfeit art, because that is a great example that throws a wrench in business ethics. Normally we think the 'true price' of something is whatever someone is willing to pay. In normal, day-to-day business, this seems to be a fine definition. There is some level of misrepresentation and deceit that is involved in selling a counterfeit. In a sense, the consumer is not getting what they believe they are paying for.

In your example I don't think the man has an obligation to sell the item at a lower cost. If he ran a business he might honor his quote of a lower price in an attempt to retain you as a customer, but we shouldn't confuse those two motives.

These issues are not black and white, and it is certainly open to debate. Continue to discuss with your friends.

Eric Zwickler


(95) Matthew asked:

I am reading a text which refers to both 'exegetical' and 'hermeneutical' analysis of scripture. My two dictionaries give overlapping definitions, but note (without explanation) that they are discrete approaches.

Can you help?

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Ninety percent of the time the words 'hermeneutical' and 'exegetical' are used synonymously. Technically, exegesis is the interpretation of the text based solely on the text whereas hermeneutics is interpretation of text using any relevant factors (e.g. history, authorship, and textual analysis).

Eric Zwickler


(96) Patrick asked:

Why have I never seen the use of 'vampires' in philosophical writings, I feel that they are interesting theoretical subjects for study. They appear in writings to be driven by emotion, have thoughts, ideas and beliefs they were also once alive but now are not. Although they appear driven by thirst they are also likely to show restraint and planning behaviour. In other words they are very similar to non vampires. How would a philosopher be able to tell the difference between a 'vampire' and a human? (the obvious conditions do not apply e.g. exposure to sunlight, garlic etc). Could they still be thought of as human? Could the distinction be made on behaviour alone? Hope you don't think I am too strange.

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I have read one published philosophical article on vampires. The article concerned the issue of immortality. If given the option, would you choose the option of the eternal life of the vampire or would you choose a life with natural death? This author argued that we would choose natural death. I imagine this had implications for religion but it has been a long time since I read the article. (On a related note- I did a quick search on vampires and philosophy on the internet and found a book on 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy', a TV show and movie in the US. Certainly that is a good start.)

Eric Zwickler


(97) Carl asked:

My Views on Life. Can you point out some problems/contradictions with it?

Questioning only leads to more questions. To me, life seems to be meaningless. But the human mind has its limits, and therefore I could be wrong that life is meaningless. But how do I know that human mind has its limits? How can I know for certain that anything is true or correct when I can only see things through the limits and perceptions of the human mind? Everything we learn and know, all our understanding, is based on empirical evidence. Everything we know to be true is based on life experiences, how we are genetically hardwired and things our senses can pick up. We can't see reality from an omniscient perspective. We can only see it from a subjective viewpoint, through the limitations of our body and mind. And therefore since we can only see reality and logic as we perceive it to be, we can't know what is truly real, and what is truly correct.

Logic is how our brains make sense of the world. We think that say.. the sky is blue and we believe that to be reality. But because our brains are limited we may not be seeing the true reality, only our own perception of reality. Bees can see ultraviolet light that we can't see, that is what they believe to be reality. Maybe there isn't even one ultimate reality that is true. But we can't know, because we can't see and know anything from an omniscient, objective viewpoint. That's because we're stuck inside this human body and mind.

The point is that our perception of reality is limited to our human senses and limited brain capacity. We can't know anything is right for sure. We can't even trust that our logic is right for sure because our 'logic' is only a mental process of our limited minds. Because we lack omniscience, we lack the ability to know things as they truly are. I can't even trust that what I'm writing is absolutely true.

A lot of people would believe that humans and human lives would be somehow more meaningful than say, a sentient robot. But I believe that all lifeforms are just like robots, only made out of organic/cellular materials and far more complex than any robot we have made at this point in time. We aren't sacred or special at all, we're merely a product of evolution designed to survive and reproduce. And I still can't be sure that any of this is absolutely true. Perhaps there are no absolute truths, I don't know.

Questioning only leads to more questions, and at the moment I think that the end result of them happens to lead to simply 'I don't know for sure', due to the limits of the human mind. But it's not necessarily important to know anyway. Nothing seems to have any intrinsic value or importance beyond what we give it. Which is partly why I see life as being pretty meaningless, with the only goal being to survive and reproduce. It's just a pointless cycle that doesn't lead to anything higher. And there is nothing that is truly higher, because nothing has any intrinsic value or importance beyond what we give it. It's all about perception.

I believe that we should just do whatever we do and be content with ignorance, and just follow our intuition, emotions and logic to live our lives without necessarily trying to think deeper about it. They say ignorance is bliss, but I believe that ignorance is contentment. Many cows just walk around in paddocks eating grass all day mooing to the other cows. I'd imagine that they feel pretty content since all their basic needs are met. (herd, food, water, sun, etc.) They don't need to think deeply, they just do what they were designed to do, blissfully unaware of more complex things. And we might as well do that too.

A teacher once told me that Socrates said 'An unexamined life is not worth living'. I disagree with that. I think that no life is necessarily worth living. Life is just something that's there. I say that because nothing seems to have any intrinsic worth.

I read about Plato's Cave recently. Forgot most of it but anyway... the prisoners chained facing the wall were content with their perception of reality. And if you're content why bother changing that and going outside the cave when things are perfectly good? As long as we're content we might as well accept the limitations put on us, because since our minds are limited and we are not omniscient I'm not sure that we even can go too far outside the cave(so to speak), and see things as they truly are.

Bloody hell, this is turning out to be a long question! Anyway, I'm only 15 and I hardly know anything about philosophy and other people's ideas. And I'm not saying my viewpoint is correct. It's merely what I believe at this point in time. Could you please point it out if you can see any contradictions or problems in my current view of life?

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This is an articulate piece of writing. However, I do think that there is a gap in the logic of your argument.

Let me put it in terms of Plato's Cave. Plato is wrong (you imply) in thinking that the philosopher has the mental capacity to attain knowledge of ultimate reality — or in Plato's terms, gain a vision of the Form of the Good which illuminates all the other Forms. It doesn't follow (here's the gap) that there is no point in attempting to escape the Cave. You may not get to see the Sun, but you might still get to see a lot more than if you remained chained up.

A similar non-sequitur (or implied non-sequitur) occurs when you respond to Socrates, 'The unexamined life is not worth living,' with, 'No life is necessarily worth living.' Why can't a life be contingently worth living — worth living if it is examined (and other unspecified conditions are satisfied) and not worth living if it is not examined?

The idea that the human mind is ultimately limited has been discussed by contemporary philosophers. According to Colin McGinn, we are incapable of solving the mind-body problem because of our conceptual incapacity. Thomas Nagel, in his book The View From Nowhere (which I strongly recommend) explores in detail the limits imposed by our less-than objective viewpoint and the extent to which it is possible, in philosophy, to form a conception of 'the view from nowhere.'

Geoffrey Klempner