Pathways to PhilosophyKindle eBooks by G Klempner




on this page

Or send us an email




Application form




Pathways programs

Letters to my students

How-to-do-it guide

Essay archive

Ask a philosopher

Pathways e-journal

Features page

Downloads page

Pathways portal



Pathways to Philosophy
Home



Geoffrey Klempner CV
G Klempner



International Society for Philosophers
ISFP site






1st series [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18] [19] [20] [21] [22] [23] [24]  2nd series [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18] [19] [20] [21] [22] [23] [24] [25] [26] [27] [28] [29] [30] [31] [32] [33] [34] [35] [36] [37] [38] [39] [40] [41] [42] [43] [44] [45] [46] [47] [48] [49]

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

Ask a Philosopher: Questions and Answers 42 (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 42/1.

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) Ralph asked:

Is philosophy an occupation? My sibling has a degree in philosophy, and professes to be a fulltime philosopher. With no contract or hire, its a self serving occupation. No income is derived from the 'job' since no tasks are assigned or rewarded since the customer is their own mind. The results of the mind games are not recorded for any potential future use. I'm having a hard time understanding the reasoning applied to the type of philosophy being practiced because it doesn't appear build assumptions from a sound basis known understanding and logic. Frequently conclusions are derived from multiple assumptions that often are tinged with 'mystical' properties such as alien, witch power, chakra and qui and other stuff like that. The person is thoroughly convinced and feels and applies special powers (esp type). The family philosopher relies on generosity of family for financial and day to day practical support, as the person has problems coping with decisions. Is all this philosopher stuff relevant and have a point? I am trying not to take the wind from the sails that keep this person motivated in life, yet wanting to wake them up to the reasonable expectations of their participation that may allow them to thrive in the modern world.

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

I am torn between wanting to say that your sibling does need help, in finding some kind of adjustment or way of living in the world, and wanting to help you understand what they are about and what is worthwhile about what they do.

I won't comment on the mysticism and witchcraft aspect, although on a first impression this seems rather strange coming from a philosophy graduate. You haven't told me enough to make a judgement. Just because someone is interested in the occult or ESP, doesn't mean that they can't have a serious interest in philosophy. The Cambridge academic philosopher C.D. Broad published his Lectures on Psychical Research (1962). Colin Wilson, author of The Outsider (1955) has had a long-standing interest in the occult.

Philosophers need to live. Like any human beings, they need social contact and friends, they need to be able to provide for their own needs — even if they do not have their own family which they need to provide for — they need room to live and be themselves. I'm talking about the basic principles of tolerance argued for vehemently by John Stuart Mill in his essay On Liberty.

Mill argued that a person should be allowed to do what they like, provided that it does not cause harm to others. That is their right. The question, however, is how one defines 'harm'. If an individual prefers not to work, and relies instead on social security handouts paid by taxpayers money, then it could be argued that they are harming those taxpayers. The problem with that line of argument is that, as a general observation, it is simply not true that all persons who rely in social security handouts cause net harm. Some of those persons will produce work which will eventually be of great benefit.

In recent years in the UK, the requirement for receiving social security payments have become much demanding than they were in the heady days of the 60s and 70s. Even so, there is a considerable emphasis on training and education. If you are a trained philosopher with no other skills to offer, then you will be offered training in a suitable area where your intellectual abilities can be of use to society. Meanwhile, however, in your own free time, you are free to pursue your interests to your heart's content.

I am proud of the fact that for a considerable period of time, I was supported by the British social security system, and before that my own parents long after they had discharged any parental obligations recognized by law, which enabled me to get on my feet and eventually make a career doing what I love, and helping to instruct and encourage others who share my interests. You can run the same argument for all the products of human culture. In that respect, philosophy is no different.

Geoffrey Klempner


(2) Allan asked:

Here is my explanation as to why we exist eternally. I would appreciate any comments or criticisms of this explanation. Something can only claim to exist once it reaches a point sufficient to declare its awareness of being. At any 'time' prior to reaching this point, something which cannot make such a declaration of awareness of being can only indirectly exist as part of something which can make a declaration of awareness of being. This would be true in the case of the relationship between me and a rock (though a case can be made that the rock and myself are intricately connected and inseparable).

Prior to reaching as critical point of awareness of being, time does not exist. Gaps of time between self awareness of being do not exist. Because of this, the point of critical self awareness is continuous and eternal. It is eternal based on its ability to be reached once, i.e., now. If reached once the potential to be reached again always exists. Time is not a factor since it does not exist between critical points of self awareness.

A being moves from one period of critical self awareness to another in a seemingly instantaneous manner. It is like moving in and out of deep anaesthesia. For the being experiencing awareness of being, though there is no recollection of prior periods of awareness of being, the state of awareness of being is the only state ever experienced.

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

You assume that some being cannot be aware of its being unless it is able to declare that it is so aware, which implies that language is necessary for awareness of being. But can you prove that an intelligent dog cannot be aware of its being? Also, you claim that time does not exist prior to such declaration. But is language necessary for time to exist? Even if you did not mean this, but instead meant that time does not exist until one is able to make this declaration, this cannot be true: time has to exist in order for a being to develop its awareness up to this point. Or did you mean that consciousness of time does not exist until this point? And why do you claim that 'there is no recollection of prior periods of awareness of being, the state of awareness of being is the only state ever experienced.' — you give no reason for this. Please do not mind what might seem to be destructive criticism; you have the drive to think philosophically and you should cherish it, since it is not all that common.

Helier Robinson


(3) Fahad asked:

Does darkness exist? or it's just the absence of light that we presume as darkness?

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

In our experience, darkness exists. In reality, it does not.

Ontologically darkness does not exist, it has no essence. It can not be conceived by itself, without prior knowing what light is.

Scientifically, it is only possible to have a reduced amount of light. Darkness is the absence of light. Absolute darkness would mean that no photons exist. Absolutely dark body mean no photons are reflected from that body — this is scientifically impossible, since it would mean that light is absorbed without limit. But even black holes can not absorb all the light in the Universe. Light is energy and energy can not be created or destroyed. Darkness is not an energy, it is an idea. Also, absolute dark body would not be dark, but invisible.

Similar thing is with cold — it also does not exist in reality. Science has only units to measure light (candela, for luminous intensity) and heat (kelvin, for thermodynamic temperature), not for darkness and coldness. Darkness and coldness can be conceived only in regard to light and heat, and this tells us that they only exist in our experience. Some degree of light and heat we experience as pleasant and below that we call it dark or cold. Imagine a line which represent light or heat, that line is something that exist. Darkness or coldness would simple be a point on that line that we decide to declare significant, and we are making conventions like 'beyond this point it is dark' or 'this is cold'.

Miodrag Milosavljevic


(4) Dell asked:

What causes habitual lying? Is there a genetic influence?

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

This isn't a sensible question. There are many different sorts of lies and many reasons why people lie. What is a habitual liar?

It doesn't make sense to say that someone can inherit a tendency to lie. People can inherit general personality traits but they can't inherit a tendency to steal because the idea of theft presupposes a society where the idea of individual ownership exists. In a society with no tradition of storytelling a story could only be regarded as lies.

Young children lie all the time because they can't always distinguish between lies and truth. Older children will lie when put under pressure because they don't have the strength of character to resist. Many adults can be persuaded to confess to crimes they didn't commit when put under extreme psychological pressure.

Almost everyone can be persuaded to confess to anything under torture.

People who are insecure or unhappy will often lie about their lives in order to make themselves seem more interesting or lovable to others but their lies are not made for financial gain.

The criminal or the psychopath will lie easily in order to gain something for themselves.

So what sort of lies are you talking about and what sort of liar?

Shaun Williamson


(5) Yogbeni asked:

In the BCE era, time counted backwards, i.e. from.....10BC, then 9BC, then 8BC and so on.

In the Christian era (AD), time counted forward, i.e. 8AD then 9AD then 10AD... to 2008AD... and so on.

My questions are these.

1. If the BCE era counted backwards, how did humans know when to start counting, and what year, month and date to choose as the first date?

2. As the years counted backwards in the BCE era, did the dates and months also count backwards? Was December the first month and January the twelfth? Was 01/01/0001 BC the last day of the final year of the BCE? Or was it 31/12/0001BC?

3. Between 1 BC and 1 AD,was there another year in between? Or in other words, was the date after the last day in the BCE era 01/01/0001 or 01/01/0000?

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

1. They did not start counting backwards until after the Christian calendar was created.

2. The last date of the final year BC was 31/12/0001.

3. There was no concept of zero in the early days, so there was no calendar year in between 1BC and 1AD.

Helier Robinson


(6) Ken asked:

Is it important to have a philosophy in life?

What is the goal of philosophising?

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

Philosophy is not important for survival. Why do you live? If you live merely to survive, you do not need philosophy. If your life may have some meaning, you need philosophy. Philosophy is the quest for knowledge and meaning.

Miodrag Milosavljevic


(7) Brian asked:

I once heard a story about a philosopher who asked how one object or person that is moving faster than another object in front of it can possibly pass it since they are both moving. Who was this philosopher and what was his exact question?

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

The case concerns one of Zeno's Paradoxes of motion, namely Achilles and the Tortoise, which is mentioned by Aristotle in his Physics Book VI, 231a-241b, since none of Zeno's writings has survived. Zeno, pupil Parmenides, posed his paradoxes in order to show the absurdity of the views contrary to Parmenides' unchanging and continuous being.

The paradox is as follows: Achilles is to run a race against the tortoise who has a head start. Zeno argues that Achilles will never be able to catch up with the tortoise no matter how fast he runs. In order to overtake the tortoise he must first make up the distance that separated them at the start of the race. When he has accomplished this the tortoise will have moved ahead from his own starting point to a new point. Now Achilles will have to arrive at this new point by which time the tortoise will again have moved ahead to a new position and so on ad infinitum. Whenever Achilles arrives at a point where the tortoise was, the tortoise has already moved ahead. The gap can be narrowed but Achilles will never actually catch up with the tortoise. You can see also in Ask a Philosopher: Questions and Answers 41 (2nd series) Answer Nr. 35

As Aristotle argues, (233a, 20-30) if the length is infinite in divisibility, time is infinite also, and therefore you cannot touch an infinite number of points one by one in a finite time. Apart from this view, there is an interesting discussion in Wesley C. Salmon's Book, Zeno's Paradoxes, revised ed. Hackett Publishing (2001), where different solutions are proposed, and a critique of the proposed mathematical solutions by Alba Papa-Grimaldi in 'Why Mathematical Solutions of Zeno's Paradoxes Miss the Point: Zeno's One and Many Relation and Parmenides', The Review of Metaphysics. Volume: 50. Issue: 2 (1996). I hope my hints are helpful

Nikolaos Bakalis


(8) Sarah asked:

"I am wondering if Fichte's realm of objects, which the subject creates in order to realise the urge to act, is the same as Kant's noumena or equivalent to Kant's' phenomena?"

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

Neither. Fichte arguably overcame the dualism between phenomena and dualism encountered by Kant. Sceptics demanded an indubitable foundation for knowledge — a First Principle. Fichte maintained he had found such a principle.

A method he termed 'abstracting reflection' disclosed the empirical facts of consciousness to disclose in turn, the structure of the Ego or I. The structure of the I is the ultimate basis of and guarantor to all claims of certainty. Scepticism is thereby refuted.

I & Not-I

In the beginning is the I. This is not the individual I in the guise of a person; it is an Absolute I which Fichte later came to term 'Life'. The I is a product of its own infinite, positing activity. It posits itself like a line extending into infinity. The infinite positing is arrested and captured in the Not-I. This is the furniture of the world and its modalities as cognised in the 'abstracting reflection' of the thinker. Both I and Not-I are prevented from one-sided infinite positing by their mutual interaction creating a synthesis which is the 'everyday world' we perceive around us.

In The Science of Knowledge [1794], Fichte proffers the following example. Think of A. That A=A is unconditionally certain. It is not subject to the conditional nor is it a matter for debate. The connection [the =] between the terms is a necessary connection Fichte labels 'X'. The unconditional positing of X — the relation of necessity between A & A — implies the unconditional positing of A as existing. The relation of necessity is a judgement. The judgement is evidence of an I that makes such judgements. The acts of the I are recognised by abstracting reflection of the thinker. The acts of the I are recognised by the thinker, in the Not-I such as the relation between A&A [or other objects in the world], which we have just reflected upon. The recognition of the I in and through the Not-I creates the interaction of I and Not-I.

The I is unconditionally posited by itself for, it is aware of itself as manifested in judgements — this being realised by its manifestation in human beings. The I is a product of its own posting activity. This activity is a process whereby being so active, the I continuously posits its existence. As Fichte writes, the I:

is at the same time the activity and the product of the act, the active and that which is generated by the activity; act and deed are one and the same act.

The I is a 'Deed-Act' [Tathandlung]. For in positing itself, it posits its existence. Its existence is the all of that which exists in the world, universe — including the Categories that constitute it and by which we understand it. What you see, feel, hear is what you get. There is no Noumenal world beyond the Phenomenal. What is perceived by the I exists because posited by the I. The grounds for dualism are removed. Fichte offers a 'realist Idealism' so to speak. Reality is found in the very manner of the Deed-Act.

Martin Jenkins


(9) Rebecca asked:

I am writing a dissertation entitled, 'Freewill, autonomy, and mental illness', any suggestions? I have yet to begin it!

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

There are an astounding number of perspectives regarding your question. I'm going to offer you a bit of food for thought from this perspective.

There is no 'free-will/autonomy/choice'. These are the result of 'feelings' and ego.

One perspective that indicates this, is that to completely define anything (or anyone), would require the inclusion of the entire universe of/at the 'moment of definition'. The entire context! Think 'butterfly effect'. To have anything in the universe (of the moment) be 'different', everything in the entire universe must also be commensurately 'different', also (to one extent or another). Autonomy? Hardly...

Now, with our whims and fancy, to alter anything, to exert/display our 'free-will', would mean that by our own 'power' and 'choices/will' we can alter the entire universe because we 'choose' chocolate over vanilla. What a powerful ego booster! Look what 'I' can do, in effect recreate the entire universe by my 'will'! Again, autonomy? Hardly... no more than Mona Lisa's smile has autonomous existence from her face, from the background, from the canvas, etc...

There is no evidence, ever, that you could have done anything but 'pick the chocolate' (or whatever you find in the bowl before you at the moment). There is no evidence that we can do anything other than as we do.

Benjamin Libet's famous experiment found that among everyone tested, the brain initiates action a few moments before the individual's conscious decision to act. Close enough for the 'feeling' and the ego to support/validate a 'belief'.

Imagine, without 'free-will', our world-view will be quite different. I don't know what you mean by 'mental illness', but from the above context, I am inferring that you are not talking about physical malfunction or damage to the brain. Perhaps you refer to an 'emotional' content? Or a 'cognitive malfunction'? Either way, perhaps you can identify how much of what is commonly thought to be 'mental illness' might be affected if it were understood how 'free-will' is impossible, and the consequences thereof.

With no 'free-will' there can be no personal responsibility; no 'judgement', no 'guilt' (associated with how much of what is termed 'mental illness'??), no 'blame', no 'retribution', no 'punishment', etc... (so much pathology!) It is very far ranging. Maybe instead of packing more prisons, the dollars may be spent on possible methods of healing the individuals displaying the 'aberrant' behavior? Isn't that how 'mental illness' becomes known? Aberrant behavior? Healing rather than punishment?

Acceptance as 'selves' rather than 'judgement' as 'them'. After all, to fully define 'self' requires the inclusion of every 'other' self, too.

Maybe there will be less 'hate' as we will understand that we have no choice in what we do, and cannot hold people 'morally' responsible. Financially responsible, perhaps, but not 'morally'.

This is what is coming around the 'corner'. There will be an entirely different 'world-view' than has ever existed before. Try to imagine what it might be like.

Brad P


(10) Richard asked:

What is the ethical connection between abortion and the survivability of a foetus? If a foetus can survive after an induced birth at 20 weeks, that is of relevance to a decision about when to induce a birth for medical reasons, to ensure survival. It has nothing to do with an abortion designed to kill a foetus. The moral question there is surely the age at which a foetus acquires human attributes, particularly in mental terms of feeling and some self identity. The moral question after that is the medical condition of the mother and danger to her life. In any question about saving mother or foetus, presumably a developed adult must be given priority to an undeveloped foetus?

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

The initial moral question is not 'the age at which a foetus acquires human attributes'. It is instead — the age at which a foetus acquires moral significance. And the answer to that question will depend on one's moral/ethical standards. At one extreme, some argue that the foetus (zygote actually) acquires moral significance at the moment the egg is fertilized by the sperm — in virtue of its human potential. At the other extreme, a few have argued that even a birthed child has no moral significance until they have reached the developmental age of reason. Where along that continuum you place yourself will depend on your ethical premises. Various legal jurisdictions have drawn the line at different point along that continuum, reflecting the current consensus of presumed opinion of their respective societies.

The same can be said for your 'presumably a developed adult must be given priority to an undeveloped foetus'. This also is a matter of ethical premises. Some would argue yes. Some would argue no. Which way you choose to argue is reflective of your own ethical premises. Consider, for example, the religious doctrine that maintains that abortion is prohibited by God. In that event, regardless of the threat to the health and welfare of the mother, the ethical priority of the foetus is unquestioned.

Your suggestion that 'presumably a developed adult must be given priority to an undeveloped foetus' gives us a clue to your own ethical premises. Why do you presume that?

Stuart Burns


(11) Alfonso asked:

I thank you in advance for your assistance. I had a discussion with some of my colleagues regarding a problem that I identified. Basically, I got two different and contradictory results of the same problem (i.e.; a paradox) using different but equally valid methodologies and rationales in our area of research. I propose to resolve this paradox by making some adjustments to the methodologies in order to make them consistent. As you know, when paradoxes are found, solutions have to be advanced in order to resolve the inconsistencies, and this in turn strengthens the whole methodology.

The problem is that I identified the aforementioned paradox by means of a simulated, laboratory-type of study, in which ideal conditions are assumed and simulated. Since my area of research is business studies, my colleagues allege that the paradox I found is not valid, because it is not based on data from real firms. They added that for the paradox to be valid, real data would have to be used. I argue that on the contrary, the problems raised by the paradoxical situation I found are very likely to get worse, so to speak, in studies with real firms, since the data and conditions under which those studies are run are going to be far from the ideal situation I simulated. In short, my argument is that if it is bad under ideal situations and conditions (i.e.; lab study), it can only get worse when less than ideal situations and conditions are expected (i.e.; studies with real firms), thus the paradox I found is even more relevant in studies with real data.

The last sentence in the above paragraph is based on my own logic and intuition. It makes so much sense to me, that I am surprised that my colleagues do not see it that way. Therefore, I would like to know if there is any theorem or law or argument in the philosophy and/or logics fields that would back up my rationale. Since my area of research is an empirical field mainly, I thought that maybe there is a logical or philosophical argument, theorem or law that would assert something along the lines of if the results obtained by a lab study (i.e.; ideal conditions) are inconsistent, an empirical study with real firms (i.e.; less than ideal conditions) are expected to be also inconsistent.

I apologise for perhaps not using the appropriate terminology and concepts, and also for the lengthy question.

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

I like your question a lot because it emphasizes the difference between scientific (or inductive) reasoning and logical (or deductive) reasoning. Inductive reasoning is drawing general conclusions from specific observations; deductive reasoning is drawing specific conclusions from general premises. Philosophers prefer deductive reasoning when possible, because inductive reasoning is always able to be contradicted by future events. Inductive reasoning is fallible, regardless of how 'good' it is; proper deductive reasoning is infallible. I am not making a value statement, this is just a fact. Since I don't know the specifics of your argument, it sounds like you may have created a 'thought experiment': that is what philosophers would call it. That doesn't necessarily mean you're wrong or right, but it sounds like your colleagues are wrong. You don't need to run an experiment with data to know something is right. All this being said, there are some disciplines (such as business or medicine) where theoretical arguments are not as powerful as data, due to the result-oriented nature of the discipline. Conclusions drawn in an ideal lab setting might be considered irrelevant since they never exist in real life.

Eric Zwickler


(12) Krishnan asked:

I would like to forgive someone who is doing wrong to me. But is it asking for too much if I wanted to make sure that the person knows that I am forgiving them? In other words, they may not even know that they have offended me. I feel that if I just forgive and forget such incidents, since the other person does not know that (a) something they did offended me (b) I choose to forgive them, then I think it is meaningless to forgive. In reality, there is no forgiving taking place in such cases, if it is not 'preannounced'. Am I thinking it right? Or is it taking a higher path to just forgive never bother about whether the 'forgivee' understands it or not?

On the other hand, is it real forgiveness if it is preannounced and credits are taken?

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

You can forgive someone who has died. You can make the decision, in your heart, not to harbour resentment for what they did to you. This is a kind of forgiveness. There may be very good reasons why you can't tell someone who is still alive that they have hurt you but that you forgive them: for example, an aged parent whose heart would be broken if they knew. Forgiveness 'in your heart' is still forgiveness, even though it is not the most satisfying kind.

Geoffrey Klempner


(13) Bernard asked:

Among philosophers, how many are atheists? Is there any way to come up with an answer, plus or minus a few.

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

You would have to do a survey to find out. If one has been done, I have no knowledge of it.

Helier Robinson


(14) RVN asked:

Initiation of force is immoral... do you have any opinion on this?

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

What is moral? Crime is immoral because it goes against the interest of community. Humans are weak animals and depend on each other to survive. What is good for all should also be good for the individual. Gandhi said something like 'I am not helping others, I am doing it for myself, there is no difference.' Helping each other (or: moral behavior) is a natural necessity, a matter of survival, not necessarily a divine command. So stealing, for example, is weakening the community and thus immoral. But from the egoistic perspective it is very convenient and is present even among the animals.

Practically, there is always egoism and it conflicts the interest of community. Thus force must be there to check the immoral behavior.

Miodrag Milosavljevic


(15) Yogbeni asked:

In the BCE era, time counted backwards, i.e. from.....10BC, then 9BC, then 8BC and so on.

In the Christian era (AD), time counted forward, i.e. 8AD then 9AD then 10AD.......to 2008AD....and so on.

My questions are these.

1. If the BCE era counted backwards, how did humans know when to start counting, and what year, month and date to choose as the first date?

2. As the years counted backwards in the BCE era, did the dates and months also count backwards? Was December the first month and January the twelfth? Was 01/01/0001 BC the last day of the final year of the BCE? Or was it 31/12/0001BC?

3. Between 1 BC and 1 AD,was there another year in between? Or in other words, was the date after the last day in the BCE era 01/01/0001 or 01/01/0000?

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

Nobody counted backwards. All great civilisations had their own system for counting the years and they all counted forwards.

When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire the system of counting years was changed to start with the birth of Christ. Then to talk about years before that they had to count them backwards. The system was only devised in 525 ad and spread slowly. It only became common in the eighth century and some countries only adopted it in the fourteenth century. Many preferred to count the years by using Roman history and the reigns of the various Roman emperors.

However this system was originally peculiar to the west. It has also been adopted by the rest of the world because it is useful to have a standard calendar and time system.

Shaun Williamson


(16) Wayne asked:

Postmodernism.

To this point, trying to find a concise definition of postmodernism is as productive as trying to nail Jello to a tree. Can you help?

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

In my opinion you are quite right. Post modernism is a name given to the start of a new era in human thought by some extraordinarily arrogant non-thinkers who believe that their work launches this era. (Previous eras were the ancient, the medieval, and the modern; we are still in the modern.) Nailing Jello to a tree is far more profitable that studying people like Derrida.

Helier Robinson


(17) Brian asked:

Why should the law insist we wear seat belts (or crash helmets)? After all isn't this a matter of mature choice, and we (potentially) hurt only ourselves.

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

Your life is not valuable to you only, but to society too.

Miodrag Milosavljevic


(18) John asked:

Could it be possible for consciousness to exist outside time?

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

I don't know whether it is possible or not for consciousness to exist outside time. But let's start with an easier question: what ideas or conceptions do we have of what it would mean for a consciousness to exist outside time?

There are two ways in which one might try to conceive this. The first starts with the observation that sometimes we experience periods of time where nothing apparently happens. You are staring out of the window, up at a clear blue sky. There are no sounds, not even the ticking of a clock. Let's say that you have been attached to a machine which relieves you of the necessity for breathing, and that are not moving a muscle, or maybe you can't move. You are not thinking of anything, your mind is a complete blank, apart from the constant vivid experience of blueness. If that is possible, even for a relatively short period of time, can we not also stretch our conception just a little bit more and imagine a possible world where a conscious being lives out there entire life span, sitting at that window, thinking of nothing?

An alternative approach would be via the notion of 'the present'. As St Augustine noted in his discussion of the nature of time in his 'Confessions', there is no precise way to define how long the present moment lasts. Does that mean that the true 'present' is just a knife edge between the past and the future? Not necessarily. Just because you can't define something precisely, doesn't mean that it doesn't exist. So let us say that the present has some breath, which can perhaps vary in different cases. If not much is going on, maybe 'the present' gets a bit wider, if a lot is happening it gets more narrow. Perhaps you can see where this is going. Maybe there are beings whose 'present' is much wider than ours. Following Plato and Parmenides, the traditional view of God is of a being who sees all of reality, including the entire history of the world, in a 'timeless present'.

Well, these are just two pictures or models. I suspect that they are ultimately incoherent, but I can't prove that they are. The best description of what it would be like for a conscious subject to exist outside of time is one I found in a discussion of Bradley, or it could be McTaggart. Imagine the sun pouring in through a beautiful stained glass window. Then imagine that you are one of the figures in that window.

Geoffrey Klempner


(19) Sam asked:

I became interested in evolution. But it makes me confused. The religious are claiming that the scientific establishment suppresses truth. Scientists claim that the religious folks are lying. So whom should I believe?

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

Evolution is a theory, and like any theory it cannot be proven to be absolutely true — only to be more or less probable, according to the evidence for it. Fundamentalist denials fo evolution are based on the Bible being literally true; this also is a theory that cannot be proved, only shown to be more or less probable, according to the evidence for it. those with a scientific education know that there is a huge amount of evidence for evolution, and very little for fundamentalism. Also, scientific theories are rational beliefs and fundamentalism is irrational belief — if that means anything to you.

Helier Robinson


(20) Michelle asked:

Do we have a right to die and why?

Should euthanasia and/or physician assisted suicide be legalized and why?

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

There is no particular right to die. Free will is your right. You can do anything and you will face consequences. Euthanasia is a specific case which involves legal, moral, spiritual and other issues. It is one of the cases where one is required to make a decision and to live with it. It is not a simple is it good or is it bad dilemma, but it depends on the circumstances.

Miodrag Milosavljevic


(21) Alfred asked:

What is the 'dominant' philosophy in America in all areas political, economical and militarily. I believe it to be Existentialism.

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

While the study of Existentialism is popular in the U.S. the most important and influential American philosopher is Willard van Orman Quine. He was an analytic philosopher and logician who died in 2000. There is a web site devoted to him.

Because of the large number of philosophy departments in the U.S. his ideas probably dominate western philosophy. I have always found his ideas to be inconsistent and uninteresting.

Shaun Williamson


(22) Hadi asked:

Is it possible for us to do something that harm others because it will give us a pleasure? Like torturing other people will give me a pleasure and pleasure is good for me?

Did I just give the right question?

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

Buddhism says that our ignorance is so tragic that we suffer the most when we think we are enjoying the most. So philosophically, it is possible that you suffer all the time without even realizing that. It is possible that you enjoy harming others. That would be not only ignorance, but sickness. I guess you want to know if it can be justified to harm others for the sake of pleasure. Answer is: only if that gives them pleasure too and they ask you to do it.

Miodrag Milosavljevic


(23) Richard asked:

Would you not agree that what is right or wrong, good or evil, is an opinion about ethical values. Right and wrong are not ethical values in themselves. Therefore the primary difference between ethical values, in relation to each other, is some factor to do with their effect on society, and individuals. Not that this value is positively good and its opposite positively bad. A value that denotes a definable condition of society, a positive value, stands opposed to a value that denotes an ambivalent condition of society, a neutral value, or incomplete statement about society.

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

While I would agree that what is right or wrong, good or evil, is an opinion about ethical values, I would not agree that the necessary consequence is that the primary difference between ethical values, in relation to each other, is some factor to do with their effect on society, and individuals. Your suggestion about the nature of the primary difference between ethical values indicates a particular suite of ethical premises. In particular, it would appear that you maintain that some form of social welfare is the standard or your system of ethics. There are, however, many systems of ethics that would not evaluate 'good' and 'evil' on the basis of social welfare. Religious ethics, for example, maintain that 'good' and 'evil' are defined by God, and are hence independent of any concept of social welfare. In such a case, a value would denote a command by God, and stands opposed to that which is prohibit by God. Utilitarianism and Evolutionary Ethics would also disagree with your suggestion that 'a value...denotes a definable condition of society'.

Your assertion bout the nature of good and bad values is applicable only within a particular suite of ethical premises, premises that result in 'good' and 'bad' being measurable relative to some definable condition of society. Social welfare ethics is not a popular position, so I don't think too many people would agree with you. I, for one, believe in Evolutionary Ethics, so I don't agree with you either.

Stuart Burns


(24) Dani asked:

I came across this site and read it with interest (and some bemusement). I would like to pick up a thread from a previous question, if I may. Mr Williamson, in [his] answer to Niall's question write[s]... 'there is nothing wrong with being happy unless your happiness is simply based on ignorance' I was considering this is there something wrong with being happy even if a person's ignorance is the reason he or she is happy? Doesn't happiness serve its own purpose no matter what the reason for the happiness is? Or should we begin to judge the merit on which others are happy, and make assessments about the suitability or justification of their happiness?

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

This is a question that Aristotle considered. In Aristotle's view, if people are laughing at you behind your back, or if unknown to you your best friend has betrayed you, then any subjective feeling of happiness that you feel is not true happiness.

As my gloss on Aristotle suggests, your proposal would amount to distinguishing two concepts of happiness, 'subjective happiness' and 'objective happiness'. The Greeks used a term, eudaimonia, which we translate as happiness but which for them had a broader meaning. So maybe our notion of happiness is closer to the subjective conception.

However, this makes it look as if there is no philosophical depth in the question at all. 'It all depends on what you mean by 'happiness'.' And I don't think that's right. The question we should be asking is which form of happiness is desirable. Obviously we desire objective happiness, if possible, but wouldn't subjective happiness do just as well? John Stuart Mill in his book 'Utilitarianism' poses the question whether you would prefer to be Socrates dissatisfied or a pig satisfied. Clearly, in Mill's view, anyone who thinks clearly about this would prefer to be Socrates. It is better to know he truth, even if it makes you unhappy.

Much more recently, the question is raised in a brilliant way by the dialogue between Neo and Morpheus in The Matrix, where Neo is given the choice between the red pill and the blue pill. This one scene has spawned thousands of forum postings. Arguably, the film makers make things easy for Neo. The truth is not that bad. After all, he has the lovely Trinity. But we can tweak the example, so that the truth is gut-wrenchingly awful, and you know this in advance. Then which pill would you take?

Geoffrey Klempner


(25) Chris asked:

hello, I am interested in philosophy and have been for a while. the only job I know of that someone with a philosophy major can get is teaching at university or community college as a professor however I would like to know what other types of jobs someone can get majoring in philosophy and how much does each job pay? does this major require any math and if so how much math would I need to take? is this job very competitive(I hope it's not)

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

To become a professor usually requires a PhD, which is not easy to get. However a BA in philosophy is quite helpful in getting a number of jobs. Many employers do not seek people trained in their expertise, only people who can learn this expertise — and having a BA is proof of ability to learn. Many philosophers — Plato, most notably — claimed that you cannot do philosophy without a good grasp of mathematics; and I agree with this. However, these days few philosophers know any mathematics.

Helier Robinson


(26) Chris asked:

How and why did philosophy begin in Greece?

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

It did not. But it flourished in Greece for many reasons. One important reason may be a geography. Good location gives good chances to trade and prosper, to learn from other cultures. Prosperity means we do not have to work so hard and a class of people may emerge who can spare time to think. Greek society was organized in polises, cities-states (hence: politics) and also there are many islands in Greek. Since these parts were independent or isolated, there were many different opinions, without a central government or central ideology. So people would disagree and discuss. And it proved to be good. It went so far that the Greek law-maker Solon even declared a crime if someone had an opposing opinion but restrained to announce it.

Miodrag Milosavljevic


(27) Richard asked:

Would you agree that morality is based on ethics as a whole, and ethics on fundamental ethical values. Morality can only be based on 'religion' or 'god' in so far as those things are defined in ethical terms. Such as God is love (altruism, God is arbitrary law, and religion is bigotry, for instance. IE fundamental ethical values must form the definition of 'God' from which morality is derived.

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

I have always thought that an independent morality or ethics is presupposed by any religious belief. If you are going to worship God then you must believe that your God is good and worthy of worship. Of course if you are a Devil worshipper then you must believe the opposite.

So morality cannot be dependent upon religious belief since it must be used to pass judgement on religious beliefs.

It makes no sense to say 'God is good' if you also say 'Things that are good are good only because God says they are good' If the latter were true then saying 'God is good' would be the same as saying 'God is good because God says that God is good'. So yes, I agree with you.

Unfortunately most religious fundamentalists are incapable of making these distinctions.

Shaun Williamson


(28) Graham asked:

Philosophical maxim discouraging needless assumptions.

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

It's called Occam's Razor: do not multiply entities beyond necessity. The entities here are theoretical entities, invented in order to explain empirical facts, and the necessity is the necessity to explain these facts. This is also sometimes called the Principle of Parsimony of Hypothesis. There is also a counterclaim to Occam: do not reduce entities beyond necessity.

Helier Robinson


(29) Catrina asked:

Do you think that physical pleasures and material drives are sinful and evil?

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

Is it sinful to kill? Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't. Depends on the circumstances. Same goes for material activities.

What is sin? Since sin is a religious concept, here is what some Church Fathers said. It is not recommended that we emphasize mortal sins. Any sin is a tragedy. The point is that we have our goal and sin is a deviation from that goal. Sin is missing a point. Sin is straying away from our path. So even if you turn back a little or you turn back big time, turning back itself is tragic. Big sin or small sin — this only tells how much redemption it would take to get back on the track. You should not turn back from your well-being. So the issue is if your physical pleasures and material drives truly promote your well-being.

Miodrag Milosavljevic


(30) Priyanka asked:

Should we help those who don't help us?

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

There are two ways of understanding the notion of 'those who don't help us': those who can't help us because it is not in their power to do so, and those who can help us but refuse to do so.

I don't think any case could be made for refusing to help those who are unable to help us, unless your premise is pure egoism. There are at least some occasions where the morally right thing to do is to offer help. Whether we should always help, in any circumstance, or sacrifice all to help others is a different question. My view would be that the demands of self-interest and ethics have to be balanced and that self-sacrifice of the kind practiced by the Mother Theresas of this world, though praiseworthy in itself, is not required in order to be a moral person.

Is there ever a reason for helping someone who has shown by their actions that they would not help us in similar circumstances, even though they could if they wanted to? Ethics is not a trade. It is understandable that you might be less disposed to help in some circumstances, but the question we are asking is whether there could ever be a reason to help, if someone needs it, even if we know that they would not return the favour. In some circumstances, there could be. You would not let someone starve, if you had food, even though you know or believe they would let you starve.

Geoffrey Klempner


(31) Deanna asked:

What is real?

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

There are two usual definitions of reality in philosophy. One is that the real is all that exists independently of perception: that is, it exists regardless of whether it is being perceived or not. The other is that the real is all that we perceive around us that is not illusory. Common sense believes that these tow definitions are equivalent; however, this cannot be proved, and a case can be made for saying that they are not

Helier Robinson


(32) Paul asked:

Recent feelings of deja vu have got me thinking about a theory of mine and subsequent questions. If the universe was circular and so was time (or that the universe recollapsed into a big crunch and the big bang then occurred over and over) then everything should occur exactly the same way that it did every time. (asteroids, planets all fly the same direction at the same velocity at the same time) Once life began, would it also act the same way every time? More specifically, would intelligent life choose a different path given exactly the same information?

Why would it? If the answer is no, then you would do the exact same thing as every other time, as the information given to your brain to make the decision would be the same. If this is the case then: Do we really have any control of our own destiny or our actions? Are we really any different from a rather slow computer which has a huge mass of software?

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

'Everything should occur exactly the same way that it did every time' is a false claim. Often a meticulous care should be taken to provide exactly the same circumstances for laboratory experiments. This means a significant effort should be made for the same universe to outcome. Exactly the same — that would mean there is a keeper of the order of things and there is no chance or probability. There must be a totalitarian intelligence to keep everything under the strict control. But even a tiny variation in the way some particle moves in the beginning may result in a unique universe.

Life is even more difficult to control, since it involves not only chance, but free will also. If we stick with your idea of the same universe, same physical laws, same life forms, same circumstances, basically the same psychology etc. then maybe life would take the same 'path' every time. But 'path' in a general sense, not as a strict scenario.

Another problem is your 'then you would do the exact same thing'. Who is this 'you'? You mean there must be a reincarnation and even if the whole universe is destroyed, 'you' would somehow survive and have another life? And that 'you' would not be able to learn, but would make the same mistakes over and over?

My answer is that we have limited control, free will and full responsibility.

Miodrag Milosavljevic


(33) Torsten asked:

I'm racking my brain about asking questions in broader sense. Why do people ask questions? Are we the only living beings who do that? Or can some animals ask questions as well?

I don't know if there is an answer, but I d be thankful for any input about that.

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

Asking and answering questions is a linguistic activity i.e. you need to speak a language in order to do these things. No other animal has a language so they can't ask questions or answer them.

Shaun Williamson


(34) Lyn asked:

What are the premises?

Some of the gurus are wise. Since most Indians are wise, we can conclude that some gurus are Indians.

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

The premises are 'Some of the gurus are wise' and 'most Indians are wise'. You can see this because there are only three statements and since one of them is a conclusion, the other two must be premises. Also, words like since and because indicate premises.

Helier Robinson


(35) Marty asked:

There is a philosophy espoused by some educators and parents that goes like this: If you believe it or can conceive it, you can achieve it. I believe this is misleading and sometimes even cruel or impossible. For instance, a child who is physically handicapped (or to be politically correct, 'physically challenged') should not strive to become a star athlete except in the Special Olympics, and one whose IQ is less than stellar will not become a brain surgeon. Encouraging young people to reach their full potential is good; offering false hope is not. I think this falls under the realm of concept vs. precept and that some children's and adults' egos are so overly inflated that they are unable to remain objective about themselves and the world around them. What do you think?

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

There is a saying 'Love conquers all'. Yeah, right... It may be true that love can top all other emotions and resolve all conflicts. But can we take it literally, that love can conquer everything? It would be a poor strategy to introduce love on a battlefield. Your example tells about a great truth in life — that it is very difficult to achieve something accidentally. Almost nothing happens by itself. Good things should be invited in our lives. One of the best ways to do it is believing. 'To conceive' could be also understood as visualization, which is another excellent aid to make things happen. It is common sense to be realistic; it would not help much visualizing that you will grow wings.

Miodrag Milosavljevic


(36) Charlotte asked:

Can you prove that a drogulus does not exist?

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

A.J. Ayer defined a 'drogulus' as a creature which has no detectable physical effects. So if a drogulus is in this room, there is no way, in principle, that we could discover this. The example illustrates Ayer's 'verification principle', according to which a proposition is meaningful only if there are circumstances in which, in principle if not in practice, it could be verified. So, according to Ayer's theory, 'There is a drogulus in this room' is a meaningless statement, because it is unverifiable in principle.

On Ayer's view, there is no need to prove that a drogulus does not exist, any more than there is a need to prove that colourless green ideas do not sleep furiously. We simply do not know what it is that we are setting out to 'prove', there is no intelligible content to the statement in question.

But isn't there? Let's look at the definition of 'drogulus' a bit more closely. The first point to make is that you can't simply define an entity into existence. If I define a 'hubschkub' to be an entity which is a spherical cube which is red and green all over, then challenge you to prove that a hubschkub does not exist, what you should say is that a hubschkub cannot exist because its properties are self-contradictory.

So what is a 'drogulus'? Does it occupy a position in space? Presumably it must do, if we can talk of there being a drogulus in this room or not. As a matter of logic, only spatio-temporal particulars occupy positions in space. It would take a bit more argument to show that only physical objects are spatio-temporal particulars. Perhaps the Spiritualists are right and the soul is made of non-physical 'ectoplasm'. Spiritualists believe that you can detect souls by their effects, using weegee boards and the like. In the early days of photography people even claimed to have photographed ectoplasm (it looks suspiciously like crumpled linen sheets).

Ok, well imagine that you are a more philosophical kind of Spiritualist, who rejects weegee boards and ectoplasmic photography. You just know, or believe, that souls who fail to make the journey to heaven wander around the world, even though they don't tap tables or show up on film, even though they don't do anything that we can detect. The thing is, we know, or think we know, what it would be like to be such a lost soul, drifting around the world, unable to communicate with anyone. Isn't that enough to give content to the statement, 'There is a non-physical soul lurking in this room'? Couldn't a drogulus be a non-physical soul?

I don't think that the notion I have just described is coherent. However, it takes some work to show this. The verification principle makes things too easy for the philosopher.

Geoffrey Klempner


(37) Karen asked:

What happens after death? And, unless it can be proven that a deceased person has returned to life, how would we ever definitively know?

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

If you are a philosopher, there are only few things you will know definitely. And they are like 'I am definitely starving'. Regarding reincarnation, Ian Stevenson did some research and Journal of the American Medical Association published that there are no other explanations except reincarnation for some of the cases. Philosophically, that only means we can not think of other explanation, although there may be one. You can not know that definitely. Unless you reincarnate and remember the whole process.

Miodrag Milosavljevic


(38) Mardi asked:

I would like to know what can a person that sings for a living eat or drink to prevent horseness before and after singing please help me this is very important to me thank you.

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

This is a question that only a good singing teacher can answer. Most philosophers aren't singing teachers. However hoarseness could be a sign of bad technique e.g. singing from the throat and not from the diaphragm. You need to consult a teacher of singing.

Shaun Williamson


(39) Christian asked:

When wondering whether a phenomenon A causes a phenomenon B, people often ask whether phenomenon A is necessary and sufficient to produce the phenomenon B. That got me thinking whether a phenomenon A can ever be proven to be a necessary condition for phenomenon B.

According to modal logic, a proposition 'p' is necessary if, and only if, not 'p' is not possible. So, if we can demonstrate that in the absence of A, B is not possible, we would be demonstrating that A is necessary for the occurrence of B. My question is: Can it ever be proven that something is not possible? How?

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

Phenomenon B, being a phenomenon, exists; and anything that exists is possible — since if it were not possible it could not exist. Certainly it can be proved that something is not possible: it is not possible if it is self-contradictory or else implies a contradiction.

Helier Robinson


(40) John asked:

Time travel proof that time travel backwards is and will be impossible, assuming an infinite future of beings.

Assumption The future is infinite. Therefore if in the future time travel backwards is possible then would we not have by now stumbled across at least one of an infinite number of beings who came back in time? We have seen noone. Would every single being from an infinite future who travelled back in time have been so careful? I think not. Thereby proving either time travel backwards is impossible or, sadly, the future of all beings is finite!!!!

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

'The future is infinite' — providing that future exist. But it does not. At least not as a thing or an event. You can not assume that future is a process and that it will last. It is not like Sun shining and that process lasts for some time. Future is not an action. It is our anticipation, our psychological matter, internal, not an external process happening out there in the real world. Your own mind is tricking you that something that does not exist does exist, simply because of the ability to think in advance.

Some events happened, some are happening now and some will happen in future. All we can change are the events that are happening now. Events that are finished, in the past, are nowhere to be altered. You can not change them, since they does not last anymore. Otherwise, cause and effect system would collapse and we would not be able to discriminate among cause and effect, it would be a mess. There is nowhere to go, to affect past or future — they simply do not exist. If you say that event exist in future, well, future is only in your mind. There is no time travel.

Miodrag Milosavljevic


(41) Richard asked:

What is the ethical difference between these three.

One who imagines he obeys the will of God by being a suicide bomber.

A second who imagines he obeys the will of God by giving his money away to the poor.

A third who does not consider anyone's will but gives medical aid to the needy because he sympathises with them.

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

(1) One who imagines he obeys the will of God by being a suicide bomber, interprets the Will of God as saying that it is OK to commit suicide, and OK to kill innocent bystanders (who are probably also 'believers'), as well as being OK to kill the non-believing infidels. A believer in such an interpretation of God's will maintains that it is ethically mandatory that one's personal welfare, and the welfare of any other individuals impacted by the act, be sacrificed in the interests of defeating the infidels. (What better way for a War Lord — a tyrant — to defeat an otherwise undefeatable challenge to his prerogatives and privileges, than to convince the gullible that being a suicide bomber is the Will of God? You can't find a cheaper guided missile on any arms market.)

(2) One who imagines he obeys the will of God by giving his money away to the poor, interprets the Will of God as saying that the needs of the less well off have moral precedence over the welfare of one's self and one's family and friends. (This is the ethical philosophy of Altruism. It has been a corner stone of all religious preaching since the first Shaman because Shamans produce nothing, and must survive on the 'gifts' of others. What better way to increase the standard of living of a Shaman than to make such 'gifts' a command of God? Some of the most spectacular architectural edifices on the planet were funded for no other reason than that the local Gods commanded the necessary gifts. Unfortunately for Shamans, the collapse of the communist states has dramatically demonstrated that Altruism does not work well as the organizational principle for society. It works well for the relatively few who are the recipients of the 'gifts', but does not work well on a wholesale basis.)

(3) One who does not consider anyone's will [but his own] but gives medical aid to the needy because he sympathises with them, is operating on the basis of ethical egoism. That which is of benefit to the self (when viewed intelligently, and over the ong run), is the ethically proper thing to do. If he sympathizes, he will feel better for the gift. The motivation, and the return on the investment, is the 'feeling better'. (The ethical principle of intelligent egoism has done more to better the living standards of more people in the history of Man, than any other ethical system ever encountered.)

Stuart Burns


(42) Susan asked:

Interpret this paradox, 'There was a teacher in a certain village whose rule was to teach all those and only those who did not teach themselves. Did he teach himself? if he did, he did not.because he did not teach those who taught themselves.but if he did not, then he did because he taught all those who did not teach themselves.'

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

This is not a 'true' paradox because it has a simple solution: The statement, 'There was a teacher in a certain village who...' is false. We know it is false, because the assumption that the statement in question is true leads to a contradiction.

In a true or genuine paradox, there is no assignment of truth values which avoids the contradictory conclusion. Whatever you say, you end up contradicting yourself. Here, the solution is just to say, 'There was no such teacher.'

Geoffrey Klempner


(43) Sahara asked:

how would I know if such statement is VALID or NOT?

I don't get how you discuss these matter.

Is knowledge and or our perceptions, senses enough to say an argument or a statement is VALID?

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

In ordinary language the words 'true' and 'valid' are often used interchangeably, but technically they have quite different meanings. A statement is either true or false, while an argument is either valid or invalid. An argument is a series of statements, beginning with one or more premises, and ending with a conclusion. The argument is valid only if the truth of the premises requires the truth of the conclusion: that is, if the premises are true and the conclusion is false, then the argument is invalid. Furthermore, an argument is said to be sound if both it is valid and the premises are in fact true.

Helier Robinson


(44) Helen asked:

How do you know when you found your true partner?

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

When your partner helps you to become a better person.

Miodrag Milosavljevic


(45) Richard asked:

What is the ethical connection between abortion and the survivability of a foetus? If a foetus can survive after an induced birth at 20 weeks, that is of relevance to a decision about when to induce a birth for medical reasons, to ensure survival.

It has nothing to do with an abortion designed to kill a foetus. The moral question there is surely the age at which a foetus acquires human attributes, particularly in mental terms of feeling and some self identity. The moral question after that is the medical condition of the mother and danger to her life. In any question about saving mother or foetus, presumably a developed adult must be given priority to an undeveloped foetus?

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

There is no evidence that the foetus has any mental life in terms of feelings or ideas of self identity. These things only develop after birth. To have ideas you need to have a language.

Catholics, for example, do not believe that a developed adult must be given priority over a foetus. They have always believed that both must be treated equally when it comes to saving lives.

People who are prepared to allow abortion have generally recognised that there must be some time limit and have generally followed the idea that a foetus which could survive on its own outside of its mother's body should not be killed. However advances in medical science have changed our idea of the age at which a foetus can survive.

I don't think there are any easy answers to these questions. In the U.K. at present the time limit for abortion is 24 weeks (reduced from the earlier 28 weeks). Catholics and other religious groups continue to try and reduce this limit (in this they are being insincere since their ultimate goal is to totally ban abortion, their pretence that there are good arguments for reducing the limit seems to me to be dishonest and reprehensible).

Shaun Williamson


(46) Richard asked:

What is wrong with the common assertion by politicians that our modern democracy is or should be about freedom as opposed to particular, or qualified freedom.

Why do not philosophers come down from their ivory towers and tell politicians when they are talking facile nonsense.

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

Absolute freedom would include the freedom for me to kill or torture whomever I wanted. Obviously that is not the 'freedom' that governments are trying to grant to citizens. I am not sure that politicians are talking nonsense (in this case). I have never heard any US politician say that (s)he wanted to grant absolute or complete freedom. Does anyone really think that this is what politicians are talking about? If a philosopher had an audience with a politician, I think this would be the least of their concerns.

Eric Zwickler


(47) Parag asked:

In 'Methods of obtaining knowledge' on Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methods_of_obtaining_knowledge

there is no mention of 'corroboration' as a way to obtain knowledge.

My question:

If I have a hypothesis which proves itself true by corroborating all its possibilities with the happenings in real world, which again is partly driven by testing it on the basis of corroborating with the real world factors, can't I call it a method of obtaining knowledge? Chiefly because eventually it gives me not only the confidence, but the direction in which I should further my research?

Please forgive me as I am an illiterate amateur :)

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

If you have a hypothesis, H, which requires consequence C, and you test it and get C, this does not prove the hypothesis true because it involves the logical fallacy of affirmation of the consequent. For example, 'If Pat is a wife then Pat is a woman, and Pat is a woman therefore Pat is a wife.' which is invalid because Pat may be unmarried. (Compare the valid argument form called affirmation of the antecedent: 'If Pat is a wife then Pat is a woman, and Pat is a wife therefore Pat is a woman.')

The trouble in science is that 'proving' theories with experimental evidence has the logical form of affirmation of the consequent. If I have a theory, T, which explains experimental evidence, E, then the logic of it is that because of E, T is true — and this is affirmation of the consequent — no matter how many times you get E. So scientists say that E corroborates T, and the more often you get E the more T is corroborated. The same is true for an empirical law: 'If L then E, E, therefore L.' This is generally known as the problem of induction, which arose with Aristotle. His example was 'All men are mortal,' or 'If he is a man then he is mortal.' No matter how many deaths you witness, and hear of, it does not prove that a man cannot live forever.

Scientists usually get around the problem by invoking 'The principle of uniformity of nature' — nature has regularities, which if discovered, are described by empirical laws and/or theories. Philosophically this is no use, since the only way we can know that the principle of uniformity of nature is true is by citing the evidence for it. However, science does work, extremely well when compared with other forms of human enquiry, so people go with 'corroboration' as the best they can do with this problem.

Helier Robinson


(48) Sandra asked:

Why have humans not evolved more... we are still doing the same thing we have always done! Now, it is just with more advanced technology and toys!

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

There are some basic activities, common to animals and humans: eating, sleeping, mating, defending... As time goes by, humans may perform them in a more and more sophisticated way. You may sleep in a royal bedroom or in a zero gravity space station, you are still only sleeping. What could evolution possibly do about that? You can change the standard of sleeping, but you will not do anything new. Humans do not need to change, unless there is a change in the environment. Then evolution will adapt us to a new circumstances. But even evolution could not do anything if you do not want to do something new, but to be something new. From your question it seems like if the above four activities are not enough for you. Then maybe you should seek spirituality. Not biological, but spiritual evolution.

Miodrag Milosavljevic


(49) Elvira asked:

Please could you give me any suggestions for my philosophy paper at school in Holland.

I need to explain in about 2000 words what I think about the feelings off being a Hotdog?

I don't have any idea what to write about it??

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

This is a bit of a trick question, because it suggests all sorts of things which are in fact irrelevant to the philosophical point (although I'm sure you could write a very nice poem about the feelings of being a hotdog).

What kinds of things have feelings? Well, people have. So do animals. That is because of the kinds of things that they are. There is something 'it is like' to be a human being, or a dog, or a bat — to quote Thomas Nagel's controversial example — even though in the latter case, we may find it difficult or impossible to conceive of exactly what it is like.

Well, if there is something it is like to be a bat — even if we are not sure what that is — why can't there be something it is like to be a hotdog?

The short answer is that physical objects of any kind which are not living organisms simply are not the kinds of thing which can have an interior perspective. There isn't anything that things are 'like' for them.

Obviously, you are now going to come back to me and ask how I know. That's the philosophical question. You think that you can imagine, for example, what it would be like to be boiled in salty water, then stuffed in a roll with mustard squirted all over you, then bitten by a hungry football fan, but what you are actually imagining is what it would be like for you to be boiled, sandwiched and eaten. As you are inserted into the boiling water, you feel the pain first in your feet, then your legs and thighs etc.

If a hotdog can feel similar things, then it must, similarly, have a body image. It must 'know' its top from its bottom, so to speak. But how does it know this?

You might reply, 'I can imagine a wicked witch turning me into a hotdog.' But where are you, where is your consciousness, after the spell is cast? Everything blacks out, there is no sights, no sounds, no sense of gravity, just this terrible scalding pain. Now all you're imagining is being made deaf, blind etc. and feeling these things. You are not imagining being a hotdog feeling this.

Geoffrey Klempner


(50) Rob asked:

Is it possible to for me to suffer a misfortune or a harm of which I am completely unaware? At first sight the idea seem ridiculous. It's like someone telling you they were suffering a toothache yesterday but were quite unaware of it at the time! If I am harmed surely I must undergo a disagreeable experience of some kind? On the other hand if I lose the chance of promotion in my job due to some malicious gossip put about by a colleague surely I have been harmed as I have been deprived of a benefit I would otherwise have enjoyed. This must be true even if I never know about it.

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

Certainly it is possible to for you to suffer a misfortune or a harm of which you are completely unaware — you give a possible example yourself. Your error is in the assumption that harm to you must enter you awareness: an assumption which is false.

Helier Robinson


(51) Roxanne asked:

What is happiness?

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

Happiness is when you do not desire anything and you have nothing to lament for.

Miodrag Milosavljevic


(52) Richard asked:

Would you not agree that what is right or wrong, good or evil, is an opinion about ethical values. Right and wrong are not ethical values in themselves. Therefore the primary difference between ethical values, in relation to each other, is some factor to do with their effect on society, and individuals. Not that this value is positively good and its opposite positively bad. A value that denotes a definable condition of society, a positive value, stands opposed to a value that denotes an ambivalent condition of society, a neutral value, or incomplete statement about society.

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

What is right and wrong e.g. that 'X is right' and 'Y is wrong' are expressions of ethical values. Of course the reasons why we think that something is right or wrong is what is important. However I don't think that the effect of ethical values on society is what is important. I think that the effect of ethical values on the life of the individual is more important. I don't agree that moral values can be defined in social terms and I don't really understand what you are saying here about the connection between values and society.

Shaun Williamson


(53) Claudia asked:

I have a PhD in linguistic semantics so I'm embarrassed to ask this question: How, if at all, does the philosophical distinction between narcissism and solipsism play out in the common use definitions of the two terms? I just looked them up in Dictionary.com. I suspect that the common usage definitions are just sloppy or incomplete since they don't relate in what I'd consider to be a straightforward way to the technical uses of the terms. But it doesn't seem to me that the philosophical notion of solipsism has anything in particular to do with self-love, vanity, etc.,it's a more directly existential question whereas the philosophical notion of narcissism does seem more easily related to a notion of excessive or unhealthy self-love as the common usage def. explicates.

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

The most rigourous definition of solipsism is: only that of which I am conscious now exists. So anything I am not conscious of now does not exist. 'I' refers to the person considering this, and 'now' to the time they do so. If this 'I' is defined as the totality of consciousness, now, then only I exist, now. From this you can infer that time does not exist (although the illusion of time passing exists) so all memories and expectations are false; all your beliefs are false; all explanations are false; and everything you perceive is unreal. Narcissism, or excessive self-love, has nothing to do with this: narcissism is neither necessary nor sufficient for solipsism.

Helier Robinson


(54) Richard asked:

Is there such a thing as a more enjoyable life? Or do all lives (of humans and animals) contain the same amount of pain and pleasure.

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

In almost all niches of life there are some basic activities: eating, sleeping, mating, defending. Almost, if viruses are alive, if all creatures do mate etc. But we can take these four as the basic material activities. If enjoyable life depends on living standard, then there are more and less sophisticated ways to live. Bob Dylan has a song Gotta Serve Somebody: 'You might like to eat caviar, you might like to eat bread, you may be sleeping on the floor, sleeping in a king-sized bed.' Different standards. Pain and pleasure are not equally distributed, some plants and animals are taken care of, they are nourished and protected, other struggle to survive. In all these niches, creatures share the same scope of pleasure and pain. But what about the Buddhist claim that all material existence is pain? Humans can derive pain and pleasure not only from material activities. We can also enjoy art, philosophy, discovery... So pain and pleasure may not depend only on the living standard. Some poor people are very happy. For humans, the answer depends on what each individual regard as enjoyment. Generally, it is possible to enjoy more, so some more enjoyable life is out there, waiting.

Miodrag Milosavljevic


(55) Madubaduba asked:

Who should rule?

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

YOU should rule.

The corollary is that the only person who should rule you is YOU.

The kicker is that the only person you should rule is YOURSELF.

Stuart Burns


(56) Peter asked:

I am beginning to become interested in philosophy and was thinking on trying my hand on a paper.

My question is this, why can some people make others laugh? What makes a comedian?

My theory is that funny people learn to make people laugh by observation, and more importantly, they learn to make people laugh because they are insecure, with low self-esteem, and no self confidence. By making people laugh they're true motive is to make themself feel good, possible accepted.

I would like to hear your thoughts on this. Perhaps tell me if it's worth my while to think on it further.

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

What you have offered here are psychological observations — which might or might not be true — about the kinds of people who make good comedians. However, the question you should be asking as a philosopher is why human beings find some things 'funny', why it is that some things make us 'laugh'.

In other words, what is humour? Is it just a peculiar attribute of human life — so that there might be intelligent Martians who were totally unable to appreciate why some things make human beings laugh — or is the potential, or the capacity for humour somehow part of what it is to be an intelligent being?

Maybe that's too big a question. I would be confident in arguing that the idea of intelligent beings who did not feel any emotions, not even to the slightest extent, is incoherent. Reason and emotion cannot be separated in that way. However, I would be less confident in arguing that any rational being ought, in principle, to be capable of seeing a joke.

This is a question that philosophers have tried, with various degrees of success, to tackle. One notable example is Henri Bergson, in his essay on Laughter published in 1900.

Can you define what makes something a joke? I mean in the Socratic way, not simply giving examples of jokes? What is it that all jokes have 'in common'? Is there, in fact, anything, an essence of 'the humorous' which all jokes or comic routines share? Sure, the end result is laughter which suggests something common, at some level of description, but what exactly?

Over to you.

Geoffrey Klempner


(57) Angela asked:

I lost my beloved daughter to cancer 18 months ago and I have struggled with a question ever since. I would like to know if anyone can tell me: What it is in the human psyche that allows one to becomes so attached to another person? What is that strong bond? Love and grief are very strong emotions.

I hope someone can help me with this. I would certainly appreciate it. Thank you very much.

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

No one knows the specific answer to this, but there is a metaphorical explanation. When loving, lover and beloved metaphorically become one, so that to lose the beloved is to lose part of oneself; the pain of this is grieving — it is like an amputation. It is often said that grieving takes two years to pass; if this is true you may soon stop grieving, even though you will never stop regretting. Is also often said that suffering, such as grieving, is necessary for maturation; so there may be a little recompense. In the meantime, lots of sympathy.

Helier Robinson


(58) Richard asked:

A news report says that an recent experiment has the result that subjects were subconsciously 'deciding' which of two buttons to press before they knew it consciously. Thus we have no free will!

Perhaps this only proves Ockham's Razor. The efficiency of our minds in keeping conscious decisions for matters of consequence.

If there is no consequence, for the subject, which button he presses, the mind can decide by autopilot.

That is to say, if we are playing a tennis match, our decision to win is made prior to the match. During the match our actions can mostly be subconscious reactions.

If there was a consequence of significance to the subject, which button was pressed, it would have to be made by the conscious mind.

Even then, if the alternatives were equal, or appeared to be, only a mental throw of the dice would be needed.

If consequences, moral so to say, were positive for one button, then the subject would decide accordingly by virtue of his moral prejudices, or for mere survival perhaps.

Is that not the real answer to the experiment?

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

If there is deciding, there is a free will. Subconscious mind may be faster then the conscious. Issues of no consequence may be dealt with the subconscious mind, also the issues that are resolved or mastered. There are stories about samurai, like: one samurai comes to a duel and then wakes up to see that he won. And then he examines tracks in the snow to see how exactly he did it.

Miodrag Milosavljevic


(59) Mriga asked:

My question is to what extent is 'historical study' a legitimate mode of deducing perhaps patterns that describe the nature/ behavior of humans and human institutions?

I am interested in intuition and in my review of intuitionists, I have found Miranda Fricker who in her reading of Kuhn's 'The Structure of Scientific Revolutions' makes the argument for the role of intuition in paradigm shift in scientific circles.

In Kuhn's work I found this little gem: 'Though revolutions have had a vital role in the evolution of political institutions, that role depends upon their being partially extrapolitical or extrainstitutional events... the historical study of paradigm change reveals very similar characteristics in the evolution of the sciences'. It is this extraneous to the system idea that Fricker elaborates upon as being 'intuitive knowledge' that triggers scientific revolutions i.e. paradigm shift.........Something is going very wrong here, and the ending conclusion is almost insulting to those that 'do science'. It seems like an attempt to make the model for a system work for a different (different enough) system. In any case, it all begins with an interpretation of history...

Intuition is one of those phenomena cosmologists would label as 'exotic'. It is not well understood, and I am always amazed at how pervasive the tendency is to hang any old(convenient) hat on it. There are some who even want to attribute the source of morality to it, wow! (Humour). Anyway, back to my question, can a 'historical study' not support any desirable model? And if history does have valuable insight into our nature and that of our institutions, then how can we evaluate the accuracy of our model? Or is there no 'modeling' at all because no two periods in time have identical variables?

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

The problem I have with your question is that I think the word 'intuition' is one of the most overused words in human history. What does it mean, Can't we ban its use for the next 50 years. If it is not well understood this probably because it is hopelessly vague.

Having said that onto history. It is natural for humans to be fascinated by history and most humans are. History can never be a science although it should use scientific methods. History is a struggle, the attempt to understand the past through the fog of the present. However it is a struggle that we can't give up because the past always illuminates the present. I don't think the idea of intuition is useful here. It is used as an explanation when we can't think of a real explanation for something. If we are tempted to use this word then it is a sign that we need to do some hard work to find the real explanation for a historical change.

Shaun Williamson


(60) Stephanie asked:

I'm not a philosopher at all but here goes: Does love exist as a thing or merely a feeling that we create in our need to feel loved? Are there soulmates? Or is it all simply a figment of our imagination?

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

Love is not a thing, but it is a feeling; and it is not merely a feeling that we create in our need to feel loved. Nor is it all simply a figment of our imagination To love is, amongst other things, a willingness to give, unconditionally, to the beloved, and this willingness, this loving is a genuine feeling. So if it is mutual then the two concerned are soul mates. And yes, this does happen.

Helier Robinson


(61) Jenny asked:

Can you have knowledge of God from experience?

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

Yes, you may have a relationship with God and that relationship is an experience.

Miodrag Milosavljevic


(62) Peter asked:

First off all I hope this is not a trivial question answered many times previous. I have tried to find the answer, but with no luck.

On reading Rene Descartes First and Second Meditation I have 2 questions:

1) 'But let us for the present refrain from opposing this opinion, and grant that all which is here said of a Deity is fabulous: nevertheless, in whatever way it be supposed that I reach the state in which I exist, whether by fate, or chance, or by an endless series of antecedents and consequents, or by any other means, it is clear (since to be deceived and to err is a certain defect) that the probability of my being so imperfect as to be the constant victim of deception, will be increased exactly in proportion as the power possessed by the cause, to which they assign my origin, is lessened'

Does this mean that the stronger the cause that a deity wants him (Rene Descartes) to be deceived, the more likely is it that he is deceived? If that is so, I do not understand the 'is lessened' at the end of the sentence.

2) 'I am, I exist, is necessarily true each time it is expressed by me, or conceived in my mind'

This is the essential sentence which seem to be the foundation for all logic and reasoning in his meditations. But why could this thought not be planted by a deity? Why could it not be another persons dream? Surely dreaming that you are a person in search for reality and then dreaming that you doubt your own existence must be possible. Why then does he see all other thoughts as possible of being planted in his mind by a deity, except this one?

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

1) The thought that Descartes is considering is that my existence was not planned or intended but is rather the result of a cosmic accident. A cosmic accident can be consistent with the laws of nature. For example, according to thermodynamics there is a tiny probability that all the air could rush out of this room in the next second.

Descartes has raised the question how confident he can be that his beliefs are true. If he was 'designed' by a God, then this might be one good reason for believing that when things are working correctly, one naturally forms true beliefs when subjected to experience. On the other hand, if his body just came together as a result of a cosmic accident, in other words, if he is not the product of design, then there is no more reason to believe that his beliefs are true than that they are false.

Evolutionary theory today provides one reason for thinking that, whether or not God exists, human beings have a 'design' which does its job reasonably well. We are so 'constructed' as to be capable of gaining knowledge which is necessary for our survival. When Descartes talks about the 'power' possessed by a cause, he is thinking, not simply in terms of brute cause and effect but rather in terms of teleology.

2) Your objections don't really succeed in undermining Descartes' assertion that if it is true that 'I am deceived' then it follows that 'I exist'. The idea that I might be a character in a novel (a line of thought suggested by Jostein Gaarder's novel 'Sophie's World') is difficult because we haven't yet established what is required for 'existence'.

The question is what is 'I', what does this term refer to? As you will see from Descartes' formulation in the Meditations (which is more careful than the much-quoted 'Cogito ergo sum' in his 'Discourse on Method'), 'I think' or 'I exist' are statements which cannot be false whenever I assert them. What is so special about these statements? 'I walk', 'I swim' are statements which can be false. I can think or assert that I am walking or swimming, when I am not. What exactly is the difference, and what follows from that?

Generations of critics have pointed out that the one thing that does not follow is what Descartes held: that 'I' refers to an entity which persists through time. Every time I assert, 'I think' or 'I exist' it could be a new 'I', which has only come into existence in that very moment, and it (or I) would never know the difference. That's a very thin, some would argue vanishingly thin, concept of 'existence'.

Geoffrey Klempner


(63) Tracey asked:

What is the difference between subjective and objective knowledge? And can objective knowledge exist even though we need to rely on our own senses to subjectively interpret data before we can gain further knowledge?

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

The best definitions I know of are: subjectivity is attention to the private and objectivity is attention to the public. The private includes selfish desires, vanity, prejudice, etc. The public, provided that it is properly public — that is, potentially universally public — is most likely to be true. We certainly have to interpret our sense data, but this can be objective as well as subjective. So, yes, given objective interpretation, we can have objective knowledge.

Helier Robinson


(64) Jenny asked:

Can you have knowledge of God from intuition?

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

No. If you have knowledge, you do not have intuition any more. But, if question is can you feel that God exists, then yes. You may not be very learned, or experienced, but yet there may be clues in your life pointing to a conclusion that God exist. Only, you may not be able to articulate these clues, but they are buried in your subconscious. That may be the source of your intuition.

Miodrag Milosavljevic


(65) Dinesh asked:

Is eternity a notion? I am confused about concept of eternity a lot, during a recent discussions this new idea popped up, other person did elucidate it but I couldn't understand.... can you please help me out with this

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

Well eternity is an English word, it has a meaning so it is a notion. It means something that goes on forever. What is confusing about that? You might say that you can't imagine eternity or infinity but you don't have to. It is enough that you know how people use these words.

Shaun Williamson


(66) Matthew asked:

Is it moral to bring a child into the world? In other words, is it wrong to give birth to a human being who does not have a say in THE most important decision of her life? Of course, a person that does not exist cannot be asked whether he would like to come into existence, but this is precisely the dilemma.

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

The fundamental question here is: is it better to have lived and died, or not to have lived at all? From an evolutionary point of view it is better to have lived and died. Indeed, from an evolutionary point of view it is better to have live and been eaten, than not to have lived at all. In evolution almost every living thing ends up being eaten; we lose sight of this because we like to preserve our bodies after death — but before we instituted burial, embalming, and cremation, the only living things not eaten were those buried in volcanic eruptions and mud slides, or destroyed in forest fires. So yes, from this point of view it is moral to bring a child into the world. However right now the world is over-populated with human beings: seriously over-populated, with dire environmental problems as a result. So it is not moral, right now, to bring too many children into the world.

Helier Robinson


(67) Dath asked:

How can we get knowledge?

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

Two ways: upwards and downwards. Upwards is when you investigate and learn, downwards is when you receive knowledge from the authority. The later is the original meaning of the word dogma. Dogma is today a pejorative word, but originally it meant the truth revealed by God.

Miodrag Milosavljevic


(68) Obani asked:

Can science ever have a full understanding of the purpose of the universe?

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

Well Now! You asked this question in a Philosophy forum, rather than a science forum. So the response you are getting here is a philosophical one, rather than a scientific one. From the philosophical perspective, your question is interesting and not trivial. But it is not one that I can answer as it stands. There is too much background information missing on just exactly what you mean.

First of all — You seem to think that the Universe has a purpose. That is not a foregone conclusion, and is hotly debated in some circles. What makes you think that the Universe has a purpose? Do you have any information on what that purpose is? Even if, as you indicate, you don't have a 'full understanding' of that purpose, perhaps you have some indication as to what it might be? Or perhaps some criteria by which we might recognize such a purpose if we encounter one? (If you are hunting for a snark, it is useful to have criteria by which to recognize snarks if and when you encounter one.)

Secondly — You seem to think that science studies such things as would include the purpose of the Universe. Science is a thoroughly materialist and realist endeavour (regardless of the metaphysical premises of the people involved). Whatever it is that science studies must be, at the very least, measurable. If we can't measure it, science can't study it. And if science can't study it, then it obviously can't understand it. For example, science can neither study nor understand 'God', because whatever 'God' is, it (He/She) is not measurable. Therefore, you must think that the purpose of the Universe is something that is in some manner measurable. So I will refer you back to the series of questions I asked in the first paragraph above.

Thirdly — Science is a methodology, not a sentient being. Hence, and obviously, 'science' per se can't understand anything. Understanding is a cognitive activity of sentient minds. So your question is more properly phrased as whether scientists (people) can ever have a full understanding of the purpose of the Universe. And even at that it is ambiguous. There is a difference between (a) the possibility of one person gaining a full understanding of the matter, and (b) a collection of people each gaining a full understanding of part of the matter.

If you mean the former interpretation (a) of your question, you are also asking whether the purpose of the Universe might be sufficiently simple that it could be fully understood by some one individual. Whether or not a full understanding the purpose of the Universe (if there be such) is within the cognitive capacities of one individual. On the other hand, if you mean the latter interpretation (b), it raises the question of just what you mean by a 'full understanding'. Consider, for example, whether 'science' has a 'full understanding' of the computer and network you are using to read this response. Presumably, each component part is fully understood by the people who designed that part. But it is doubtful whether any one person has (or even could have) a full understanding of the combination of every part and their interactions.

Perhaps you might like to contemplate the questions and issues I have raised here, and re-submit your question with more background material? That way, perhaps we can provide an answer more closely approximating a 'Yes/No' response.

Stuart Burns


(69) Grant asked:

What would it mean if qualia were physical?

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

For the purposes of this discussion, I will take 'quale' (plural 'qualia') to refer to an item given in experience which, in principle, is accessible only to the subject whose experience it is. As such, the subject is in some sense incorrigibly aware of the quale when it is presented, unable (as Descartes argued in his 2nd Meditation) to deny its existence at the time when it is presented.

Qualia are undoubtedly strange objects. But do they even meet the criteria for objecthood? Wittgenstein's against the possibility of a private language presents a powerful case for requiring, of any entity or object, that it be capable of being judged about by potentially more than one individual. Following a rule is a 'practice' which depends in some sense on 'agreement in judgements', the possibility of giving any linguistic term a 'public' meaning. That doesn't rule out that there may be things that only I know about but keep secret to myself. The point is that, in principle, I can convey information to others who are fully in a position to grasp what I am talking about.

To take a concrete example: the property of blue is a property which we learn to ascribe, for example, to a blue sky. The question (which I remember asking as a pre-teenager) 'how do I know that you and I see blue as the same colour?', assumes an 'object', my subjective impression or quale of blue which has a special colour just for me, a colour whose hue I cannot communicate to anyone else. All that I can convey to others is, for example, 'the colour of the sky on a sunny day', which we all call 'blue'. But I don't really know what colour your 'blue' is and you don't know mine.

The 'blue in my mind' or 'my subjective impression of blue' looks like an example of the kind of thing that Wittgenstein was rejecting in rejecting the idea of a 'private object' or a 'private language'. However, I do think that there is a kind of loophole for the believer in qualia, if, as you suggest, we think of qualia as physical.

I don't mean, as a number of philosophers working on the mind-body problem have suggested, that qualia exist simply by virtue of the fact that they are physical states of the brain. Because the question still remains why we need to insist on their 'incorrigible' aspect, the idea that my qualia exist only for me, and do not form part of the world presented to an objective view. After all, a brain state is as objective as anything.

In my article, 'Truth and subjective knowledge' I came to the conclusion that there is a sense in which my experiences can legitimately be described as 'subjective objects', and therefore possess at least some of the properties attributed to qualia. I leave you to judge whether this would suffice for you:

Let me suggest a more realistic picture. In the amazing complexity of a human brain, information is encoded, encrypted in a way that is, in principle, accessible only to the person whose brain it is. My experience of chocolate, as caused by processes in my brain, is there in the world, not just there for me. It is objective, and not merely subjective. But it is not there for objective knowledge. It slips invisibly through the net of science, however finely that net is cast.

What about language and behaviour? The logical behaviourist reading of Wittgenstein according to which my experiences are capable, in principle of being fully brought to light in what I say and do has long been discredited. Experience is massively undetermined by speech and behaviour. It is undetermined by the totality of possible scenarios that you could put a subject in, that would reveal things about their mental states that are not revealed in the actual world. Inside the black box, things could be different in all sorts of ways, and it would not necessarily show up on the outside.

So there is a very real sense in which knowledge of my subjective experiences is available to me in a way that it is impossible in principle to communicate to others. Not because my subjective experiences are private objects in the sense attacked by Wittgenstein. But because the only adequate way to access what is in a brain, is to be the owner of that brain.

http://klempner.freeshell.org/articles/shap.html

Geoffrey Klempner


(70) Soban asked:

Do we have a fundamental right to have children?

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

Most people assume so. But his assumption has led to the world being grossly over-populated with people — a state of affairs that will eventually be corrected with famine, and/or disease and/or war — and probably the end of civilisation as a result. There are a couple of simple demographic thought-experiments that you can do. First imagine that the human population of the world doubles and all else remains equal; then we would have double the pollution, twice the shortage of fresh water and clean air, double the consumption of raw materials, double the rate of global warming, and so on. Second, imagine that the human population of the world halves and all else remains equal; we would have half the pollution, half the consumption, half the global warming, etc. During the last century the human population doubled twice, from one and a half billion to six billion — so naturally we now have serious problems. So where is that fundamental right now?

Helier Robinson


(71) Gabriel asked:

My question has two parts. 1) How is it that humans can make mistakes, and in general would any finite being be fallible? For a simple example, doing a sum wrong or typing a wrong letter. Or, it always puzzled me in high school that even people who studied hard could rarely get a 100 score on math tests, since mathematics and logic facts are knowable with rigorous certainty. A friend told me that Plato would say you can't ever 'really' make a mistake like getting a wrong sum because your internal intention was to get the right sum, but that sounds wrong.

2) Traditionally in computer programming people seem to have thought that you should design a program carefully by writing down everything it's supposed to do and then meticulously crafting it, like making a chair or a house, and the result would then be good. Yet in practice most of computer programming seems to involve 'debugging', the process of identifying and fixing mistakes. I don't have an exact number, but it's something like spend 10 minutes crafting the program then spend 2 hours tinkering with it to ascertain why it won't work correctly. Given that this is how things really are, why is it so tempting to believe the traditional view that programs, like a chair or house, can be crafted with care and certainty to 'just work'?

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

Humans have many faults, like imperfect senses, tendency to cheat, tendency to be cheated etc. Any finite being would be fallible because even with super mind, super senses and immaculate character, mistakes can be made in relationship with other beings. Others may have a different understanding of favorable behavior and one can not be sure if all one's actions are right, because other person may take them as wrong. So mistakes are in the service of learning. Only an unlimited being would not make mistakes.

Miodrag Milosavljevic


(72) Marqui asked:

What are the similarities and the differences existing between a philosopher's definition of 'reality' and the contemporary definition of 'virtual reality?'

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

As a philosopher, I don't think there are any valid philosophical definitions of anything, nor do we need special philosophical definitions of things.

So I am happy with the ordinary English definitions of reality and virtual reality and the differences are clear. You don't have to pay taxes to the virtual tax man and you can't eat virtual food.

Shaun Williamson


(37) Jeremy asked:

I am looking for work on the question 'why does life exist?'

When I ask this question I usually get referred to books on evolutionary biology...However, as far as I can tell these sources can only explain the conditions under which life arises and the forces that drive it, not why it is.

I'll try my hand at an analogy: If you are driving a car and see a red light you stop...A red light is the condition under which (the 'when') you stop. You stop by pressing the brake. Pressing the brake is the 'how' you stop. By knowing the when and the how of stopping your car does not give you the 'why' we stop our cars (it's the law, we don't want to hit pedestrians, etc...)

I realize that this assumes that there is a why and that life is not more like, say, a rock falling down a hill. in which case, the how and when would be the why.

Anyway, any references would be appreciated.

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

First of all, the best definition of life was given by the famous physicist Erwin Schrodinger: he said that life is very high negative entropy in dynamic equilibrium. Entropy is a concept in thermodynamics, and is usually put into ordinary words as a measure of disorder — so negative entropy is a measure of order. And living things are very highly ordered. The second law of thermodynamics says that entropy may increase by itself, to a maximum, but not decrease by itself. Dynamic equilibrium, as opposed to static equilibrium, is equilibrium resulting from movement or change. In the case of life the change is loss of negative entropy, in accordance with the second law, and its replacement by breathing, eating and drinking. The frailties of old age are losses of negative entropy that cannot be replaced. Death is the collapse of the dynamic equilibrium.

So a possible answer to your 'why' is that the biosphere must increase negative entropy. This could be because the second law is true only in so far as entropy can be measured, but that in the Universe as a whole entropy is conserved (and so negative entropy is conserved), so that all the decreases in negative entropy brought about by the second law are counteracted by equal and opposite increases elsewhere in the Universe — and the start of life and its evolution are therefore necessary. For references, try 'What is Life' by Schrodinger or my 'Belief Shock' available from www.sharebooks.ca.

Helier Robinson


(74) Saj asked:

I've recently become very interested in Philosophy. I'm not in a position to buy any books or anything though :(

I was attracted by existentialism at first, but I don't know what the best way to get into it is. Could you recommend anything for me please?

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

I am not sure where you are located, but the public libraries near me have more philosophy books than I could ever get to. You could also go to a university library and just read a book in there. Also, there are tons of classic philosophy texts for free online in ebook form.

Eric Zwickler


(75) Alan asked:

I have seen people starving in Africa. Should I sell everything I own to help save some people from starvation?

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

And become another starving person? Be a part of the solution, not of the problem.

Miodrag Milosavljevic


(76) Rocky asked:

I maintain that 'atheism' is not rational and as such can logically be ignored as viable. Here's my rationale and I would like your comments on them.

One has two options. atheism or theism. There are no other choices. There are either supreme beings worth of worship or there are not. So one can either choose or ignore thinking about the question. The choice is simple if you look at it rationally. I base it on choosing the 'worst possible outcome'. Therefore if you are choosing between dying and going into eternal nonconsciousness or burning in hell for eternity, then it is only logical to choose the one that has the worst outcome for nonbelief. If you are wrong you receive a lesser outcome. If you are right you receive the best outcome. This makes it more likely that you will avoid the worst outcomes.

So atheism is illogical and can forever be tossed away as a viable belief.

Next you would have to choose between the theisms. Here again you choose the belief that has the worst outcome for nonbelief. That, I believe, is fundamental christianity where if you don't accept Christ you will burn in hell. I know of no belief system that offers a worse outcome for nonbelief. Therefore it is most logical to believe fundamental christianity.

Has anyone ever heard of the argument before? Has it been proposed by a renown philosopher or is this a fresh idea?

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

Your argument has been proposed before. It is known as 'Pascal's Wager' after the philosopher and mathematician Pascal, who first formulated it.

In your elaboration of the argument, you yourself suggest the most promising line of attack against the argument. Let's say that having been persuaded, or scared into, embracing theism, we now have to choose between a religion which threatens eternal damnation and a religion which does not.

OK, that's pretty scary. However, I propose a religion which is even more scary than Christianity. In my new religion, Superchristianity, whatever suffering non-believers face in Christian hell, is doubled in Superchristian hell.

According to the rules and precepts of Superchristianity, you can eat onions on Mondays but never any other day of the week. All men must dye their hair purple and keep it dyed at all times, not the slightest root of natural hair can be shown. If your first born child is born on any day in December, it must be roasted alive and fed to the poor.

This is a pretty nasty religion by any criterion. However, it has one over-riding benefit. If you foolishly choose Christianity over Superchristianity, you risk double the suffering you would have risked in Christian hell.

Geoffrey Klempner


(77) Mark asked:

About 5 years ago I awoke from a nightmare with a strange revelation. It occurred to me that what had just happened to me was impossible! Something inside of me was crafting a scenario, a story. The suspense of the story depended on me not knowing what was about to happen next. Indeed, I was terrified by the events in the story I was, supposedly, mixed up in. But the part of my mind that was crafting the story could not have been terrified too. One part of my mind was amusing itself by scaring another part of my mind. This would seem to suggest that 'my' mind has elements that have an ability to imagine and construct while 'I' am not consciously imagining or constructing.

It seems to me that I am not suffering from a psychosis, but that this experience is an ordinary feature of dreaming, common to all or most of us.

Philosophically speaking does it mean that I have two wills within my mind?

I am not interested in this question from the point of view of psychology, I am curious to know what philosophers think about it, whether they find it interesting or not, and whether there are any relevant (philosophy) books and articles so that I can read further about this.

Thank you for reading this.

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

You are probably quite correct in supposing two wills in one mind. If you define an agent as anything that has awareness of its situation, one or more goals in that situation, and some control over that situation, then we can explain conflict by saying that it requires to or more agents, in a common situation, with mutually exclusive goals. For example, a game of chess or a soccer game. If now we consider internal conflict, such as an inclination/ duty conflict or a neurotic conflict — that is, conflicts within one mind — then there must be two agents in that one mind. So the you in the nightmare might be called an ego, and the creator of the nightmare an anti-ego. When if comes to inclination/ duty conflict, the ego is being selfish and the anti-ego is being moral. Twinges of conscience are messages from the anti-ego. Most people dislike this kind of analysis because they like to believe that they are in sole control of their body and mind. But this is only vanity: a good example of subjective reasoning in philosophy. If you want read more on this try my 'Belief Shock', available at www.sharebooks.ca.

Helier Robinson


(78) Eric asked:

I have a dilemma. I am a reasonably attractive, middle aged man who has had many successful relationships, including marital, with the opposite sex. I am also very good company for myself and have coped without problem (for long periods) with celibacy.

I am now trying internet dating and have found the results to be disappointing. It is becoming a bit like a treadmill.

What are the merits of 'kissing as many frogs as I can in the hope of finding my princess' over giving up on trying too hard and trusting to fate to drop my ideal mate into my lap (or indeed of living out my time in a reasonably stable single life)?

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

The merit of kissing frogs may be an experience, an insight of what exactly is that you do not want. Or you may become fed up with all that and go to Tibet.

In giving up or trusting, merit may be a readiness to change, to accommodate yourself. If you 'surrender', something inside of you may change. This may lead to discovery that maybe one of the frogs was the right one. The outcome does not depend on you only, so it is an adventure, nothing is certain whatever you do, and you can only keep trying.

Miodrag Milosavljevic


(79) Brian asked:

What is real?? Individuals think they are the most important thing because they are themselves, they see things from their own point of view and what they do not know is not real to them.

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

I don't agree with you. Of course people see things from their own point of view but an important human characteristic is empathy or the ability to see and feel other peoples point of view. Also we accept many things as being real, for example science, that are not just based on our point of view. When we do mathematics we accept a shared point of view. We are not allowed to decide what the answer is, just for ourselves. Using a language is also a shared activity. We do not decide what the meaning of a word is, we have to use the word in the way that all speakers of the language use it in order to make ourselves understood.

Humans are to an extreme degree the co-operative animal. It is this ability to understand what other people think and to co-operate with them that has made us so successful.

When we are ill we go to the doctor because we accept that he might know something that we don't know.

Shaun Williamson


(80) Tony asked:

If something existed that was in the realm of the supernatural, wouldn't part of it have to have a physical component in order to interface with the natural world? And if it has a physical component, can it truly be said to be supernatural? Does it even make sense to talk of something supernatural as 'existing'?

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

The natural and existence are not co-extensive: some things may in principle exist outside of nature (the natural) and as such would be supernatural, or non-natural, or extra-natural — whatever you want to call it.

Helier Robinson


(81) Andy asked:

I am keen to know what freedom actually is. Well, I've heard many definitions and theories but actually none of them could and can convince me. As I have come to understand Freedom is just a state of being, conceptualized. When we say freedom what do we actually come to experience? The truth is that we actually don't experience, we only try to put to practice what we conceptualize. If we have studied that freedom is what we ought to do we try to ought to do. If we studied that freedom is doing what I feel when and where and how I wish, then we try to make the wish come true. In attempt or even in completion of putting to practice, do I get to experience what freedom truly is?

There was once a man in quest for freedom. He specialized in all branches of knowledge and science for the true understanding of freedom, but never found a satisfying answer. One day it so happened that as he was crossing the street he was struck by a passing automobile. He suffered no major physical injury, except to his brain. He lost all memory and all rationality. He became an animal in all aspects, except for his physique. He stopped living and only existed. Everyone pitied him. Little did everyone realize that he began living the freedom he was seeking.

Look at the birds of the air, look at the fish in the sea, look at the animals on land. how free they all are. Look at man, he thinks he is free and tries to justify it with countless definitions, but is he really free?

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

Freedom means choice. It is an experience. Another approach is that freedom is when there are no limits. More specific answer would require a clarification: freedom to do what? You do not have freedom to play golf on the Moon (yet!). Or: you have no freedom to jump into your own mouth. There are limits. Being a brain dead does not mean one is free. Animals have responsibilities towards their offspring, they are also not free. Everybody is bound by desire. And everybody is free to choose. Only, choices of animals are made by basic instincts, but there are exceptions here, too. If humans provide animals with their basic needs, animals can now make choices about some less practical and trivial issues.

Miodrag Milosavljevic


(82) Enn asked:

What is a real life example of using reason in a sound and valid manner and coming up with a false statement on reality? In other words, I'm trying to prove that reason is not always a reliable way of knowing?

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

The adjectives 'sound' and 'valid' in the context of reasoning are applicable only to deductive arguments. Unfortunately for your effort, you will not able in principle to come up with an example of using a sound and valid deductive argument with a false statement on reality as its conclusion.

A deductive argument is sound if and only if it is both valid, and all of its premises are actually true. A deductive argument is said to be valid when the inference from premises to conclusion is perfect — when it is impossible for the conclusion of a valid deductive argument to be false while its premises are true. (Equivalently, if the premises of a valid argument are true, then its conclusion must also be true.)

You can always, therefore, use a deductive argument example where at least on e of the premises is false. But that would not be 'sound' argument, even if it is valid.

If you are seeking an example where the premises are true but the conclusion is false, then your best bet is to look for an inductive argument.

An inductive argument is an argument in which it is thought that the premises provide reasons supporting the probable truth of the conclusion. In an inductive argument, the premises are intended only to be so strong that, if they are true, then it is unlikely that the conclusion is false. An inductive argument 'succeeds' whenever its premises provide sufficiently legitimate evidence or support for the truth of its conclusion. Although it is therefore reasonable to accept the truth of that conclusion on these grounds, it would not be completely inconsistent to withhold judgment or even to deny it outright. Because an inductive argument, unlike a sound deductive argument, does not guarantee the truth of the conclusion.

But I am curious as to why you are trying to prove that reason is not always a reliable way of knowing. Of all the ways of knowing, it is unquestionably the most reliable way of knowing — even if it is not always infallible. Do you wish to propose an alternative?

Stuart Burns


(83) Dipti asked:

Like most people who have walked on this planet, I fell in love too.. I made my inexplicable choice only to realise it wasn't meant to be...At the end of the whole fiasco I was naturally heartbroken..I set my mind to 'get over' my love...

But, something struck me today about the whole'getting over ' process... Sir, why s it that we can get over our feelings and emotions? Aren't they real?? Today I am asked to get over my lover, tomorrow it might by my dead mother... what exactly does 'getting over ' mean?? Are our emotions and feelings and relations false and illusionary??

Are we all just creatures who suit our survival and try to find meaning in otherwise meaning less things??

Please resolve my mind boggle.

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

There is some evidence that the best way to deal with some very bad experiences is to forget them, put them out of one's mind. If your lover betrayed you or was very cruel to you, to the extent that you have lost confidence in making contact with people with a view to forming close relationships, then the best advice might be to not mull over the past, close the book, go forward.

On the other hand, there are losses which we don't want to 'forget' or 'get over' because that would involve a denial of something real, a denial of part of ourself that we do not want to lose or give up. Even if the love affair broke up in a bad way, the love was real at the time. You don't have to sneer that it was 'just infatuation'. Be honest with yourself.

In this sense, to 'get over' is not to deny or diminish. Your emotions were and are not illusory. Yet you have to find a way to carry the burden of memory in a way which leaves you sufficient freedom to make fresh choices, to make a life for yourself. The experience has deepened you. You will never be quite so happy and carefree as you once were. Yet you still can hope for happiness. There is no need to be burdened with grief and regret. That's what the advice to 'get over' really means.

Geoffrey Klempner


(84) Dylan asked:

As a young and up and coming naturalistic pantheist, I find some contradictions in my beliefs. basically a pantheist will state that god is nature/ the universe/reality/ whatever. and the naturalistic ideas tend towards the belief of an unconcerned god not caring of our actions. this is where I stop. if we are a result of nature (god) wouldn't our actions, dialogue with others, have some mathematical role in the way the universe rolls along? (its evident that there is some amount of order in the universe, but only because things are reacting from past events constructively or destructively then, I ask myself, what would differentiate my core beliefs with that of the bible, quran, and other creation stories that I've been making an effort to avoid the past few years.

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

For a philosopher, the discovery of contradictions within his or her belief system is very valuable: because it proves that at least one of the beliefs in that system is FALSE. We all like to believe that all of our beliefs are true: an irrational complacency ruinous to good thought. So try to find out where your falsity is, and so gain a more mature philosophy.

Helier Robinson


(85) Jesse asked:

Is there such a thing as nothing?

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

There is no such a thing. There is an idea of nothing.

Miodrag Milosavljevic


(86) Sam asked:

I became interested in evolution. But it makes me confused. The religious are claiming that the scientific establishment suppresses truth. Scientists claim that the religious folks are lying. So whom should I believe?

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

The first thing you need to be clear about is that the majority of Christians and Christian Churches have no quarrel with science and the theory of evolution. The major denominations e.g. the Catholics and the Episcopalians long ago decided that the theory of evolution did not contradict their interpretation of the Bible. It is the smaller Christian denominations generally known as Fundamentalists who insist that the Bible must be interpreted literally.

The theory of evolution is a scientific theory and it was not designed to contradict or to agree with the Bible. Like all scientific theories it was designed to explain the evidence found on earth. The evidence, in particular the fossil record and the physics of carbon dating tell us that the earth is at about 4 billion years old and that the different living things we see have evolved over a long period of time from earlier species. Some earlier species such as dinosaurs came into existence and then became extinct. You need to study a book on evolution to see the exact details.

Scientists themselves disagree about the details of evolution but they are agreed that the broad theory is in agreement with the available evidence and that there is no competing theory that can offer as good an explanation of the evidence.

The Christian fundamentalists do not have any alternative scientific theory to explain the variety of life on earth. However they claim that the theory cannot be true because it does not agree with the Bible which is the revealed truth given to us by God.

Christian Fundamentalists are perfectly entitled to believe that the theory of evolution cannot be true but what they should not do is to claim that the theory of evolution is not a good scientific theory or that the Bible provides an alternative scientific theory, it doesn't.

In schools in science classes we teach science and it is wrong of fundamentalists to try to substitute the Bible for science classes. The Bible may provide an alternative explanation of how life arose on earth but it does not provide an alternative scientific theory of how life arose on earth.

Also you should be clear that you cannot just disbelieve the theory of evolution and still accept the rest of science. The theory of evolution depends upon and uses physics and chemistry. If evolution is false then so is the rest of science.

I don't see any evidence that some scientific establishment is conspiring to suppress the truth. Like the scientific theories of physics and chemistry the theory of evolution is a good scientific theory that is in accordance with all the evidence we have discovered so far. Anyone can study the theory and the evidence for it and make up their own mind.

However it seems to me that the Christian Fundamentalists have decided in advance that evolution cannot possibly be true, even though they have no alternative scientific theory to offer. The fossil evidence simply doesn't support the idea that the earth is only 4000 years old or that all species of living things were created at the same time. There is no evidence to suggest that men and the dinosaurs existed on earth at the same time.

Shaun Williamson


(87) Mike asked:

I do not believe that I do not exist, but in terms of solipsism I know I can't prove I exist. Descartes' axiom doesn't go far enough in the sense 'I am what?'. it's probably an old saw but the butterfly that dreams it is a human awakes and dreams it is a butterfly et al. I know that people hear voices that don't exist (allegedly); I know from personal experience that things that don't seem real seem real. joan d'arc was guided by voices. what can philosophy actually say about reality?

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

The usual definition of reality is that it is all that exists independently of mind. For example, dreams exist only in a mind and so are unreal, while anything that exists but has never been perceived is real. There is considerable dispute as to what is real and what is not. Your first sentence is wrong about proof of your own existence, and about solipsism. Solipsism is that belief that 'I alone exist' — nothing exists outside of my present consciousness. And you can prove that you exist, simply because you have to exist in order to ask whether you can prove your own existence.

Helier Robinson


(88) Tilly asked:

I was wondering... Is my live more worth than a live from someone else? I was thinking to put it in a dialectic altruism/ egoism

P.S.: I'm from Belgium, so sorry if my English is not so good.

Thank you for thinking about my question...

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

If lives of many persons depend on your life, then your life may be more worthy. But, more worthy then... who? How to compare life? By quantity? Or practically — whose life will bring more benefit to society? It is a personal opinion. Only you can tell if you would sacrifice yourself for someone else. And reasons may not be practical at all. There is another personal opinion: what do you consider worthy? If altruism is a virtue and egoism is not, then altruistic life is more worthy etc.

Miodrag Milosavljevic


(89) Dylan asked:

As a young and up and coming naturalistic pantheist, I find some contradictions in my beliefs. basically a pantheist will state that god is nature/ the universe/ reality/ whatever and the naturalistic ideas tend towards the belief of an unconcerned god not caring of our actions. this is where I stop. if we are a result of nature (god) wouldn't our actions, dialogue with others, have some mathematical role in the way the universe rolls along? (its evident that there is some amount of order in the universe, but only because things are reacting from past events constructively or destructively then, I ask myself, what would differentiate my core beliefs with that of the bible, quran, and other creation stories that I've been making an effort to avoid the past few years.

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

If the pantheist deity has a plan, for the world or for man, it can only be in the sense of a general teleological principle not 'design' in the traditional theological sense. The universe does not just 'roll along' in any direction. It is moving towards a goal or end state which is conceived at some abstract level as desirable, even though there is no individual as such (like the traditional deity) who desires it.

There is no room in this picture for a 'caring' God (caring parent) who expects to do well, make the best of your gifts or help others, is disappointed when you deviate from the chosen path, offers rewards or threatens punishment. On the contrary, every integral part of the whole fulfils its function at every moment, fully and without reserve. In this sense, Hitler is on the same level as Mother Theresa.

Your question, however, is what should you do. There is a philosopher who held a view which some would describe as 'pantheistic': Spinoza. Spinoza's ethics and metaphysics follows closely the model of Stoic philosophy, where it is recognized from the start that every human action is an effect of prior causes, and reason and knowledge are the only 'virtues'. In other words, it is knowledge of what you truly are, your place in the universe, which will show you how to act. The difference between the Bible or Quran is that in this picture, there is nothing ultimately driving you other than your own self-interest.

Geoffrey Klempner


(90) Tracey asked:

What is the difference between understanding and knowledge?

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

One way of putting it is to say that knowledge is of facts and understanding is relationships between items of knowledge. Another is to say that knowledge is about what and understanding is about why. (These are probably equivalent.) For example, you can know that sky is blue without knowing why it is blue, and know that sunrises and sunsets are red, without understanding why. But if you are familiar with the perpendicular scattering of blue photons by the atmosphere, as opposed to the non-scattering of red photons, then you can understand both of these phenomena. One definition of philosophy is that is the search for maximum understanding.

Helier Robinson


(91) Nikki asked:

What's the easiest way to lose weight?

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

Lift weight, then lose it.

Miodrag Milosavljevic


(92) Chris asked:

I am interested in philosophy and have been for a while. the only job I know of that someone with a philosophy major can get is teaching at university or community college as a professor however I would like to know what other types of jobs someone can get majoring in philosophy and how much does each job pay? does this major require any math and if so how much math would I need to take? is this job very competitive(I hope it's not)

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

You are unlikely to get a job as a philosophy professor with just a philosophy major. You need at least a PhD postgraduate degree and to write and publish a few philosophy books before you get to be a professor or even a lecturer.

A philosophy major is just like any other general arts major e.g. English, History, French etc. It doesn't fit you for any particular job, unless you become a philosophy teacher. However it is just as good as any other arts major.

You don't need any great maths knowledge in order to study philosophy. Many people have arts majors so any job you can get will involve competition with others.

Shaun Williamson


(93) Matt asked:

I admittedly know very little about even the most rudimentary themes of philosophy, but I do have a question about ethics and how it relates to our welfare system. Speaking from an ethical standpoint, do you think that the redistribution of wealth via welfare is morally justifiable? I understand that there are many competing schools of thought on this issue, with John Rawls and his subscribers on one side and Ayn Rand and other deontologists on the other, but as far as I understand, this debate is one between a Utilitarian framework and an objective moral framework (ie, that welfare is compulsory, 'positive rights' involve the nonconsensual negation of liberties, etc), but I was wondering if there is any philosophical justification in giving the government the authority to mandate that the rich be taxed higher to help the poor. Also, is there a strong 'philosophical consensus' either way on this debate?

This is a vexing and complicated question for me to answer, and I feel like my political position mandates an answer, so any response would be appreciated!

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

Morality is concerned with the good of society. It can be argued that society is better if there is no abject poverty in it, so that welfare is good for society — just as the health of individuals and their education matter to the good of society. These things all have to be paid for, and this is done, as always, by taxation. To think of welfare exclusively as taking from the rich to give to the poor is to be somewhat blinkered; we do not think of medicare as taking from the rich to give to the unhealthy, nor of universal education as taking from the rich to give to the illiterate.

Helier Robinson


(94) Raquel asked:

Why do birds suddenly appear every time you are near?

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

I carry a ton of bird seed.

Miodrag Milosavljevic


(95) Rachelle asked:

1. A building is on fire, you are sure to die whether you jump or not. Would you jump? Why?

2. A tree fell in the Philippines, no one is there. Did it make a sound?

3. A lion is not in this room. It is true, but where is the lion?

4. God knows everything. Therefore, He/ she/ it knows what will happen next. Does that mean that we are not free?

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

(1) Sure I would jump. But not until the last possible moment. The sudden death by impact would be preferable to the slow death by asphyxiation or flame, I would think.

(2) It depends on just what you mean by 'sound'. When the tree falls, it will create the waves of pressure change in the air which, when heard, we call sound. Is it the changing pressure of the air that is the 'sound', or is 'sound' what is experienced when those pressure waves stimulate the cochlear hairs in the ear. If the former, then the falling tree will make a sound. If the latter, then the falling tree will not make a sound. And if the latter, then what do you call the changing pressure waves in the air that the tree creates when falling?

(3) What makes you expect there to be a lion anywhere? The word 'lion' denotes a particular concept. This particular concept happens to refer to existent entities. But that is not a necessary feature of concepts. The word 'fairy' also denotes a particular concept, but this concept does not refer to any existent entities. So the sentence 'a lion is not in this room' is saying that there is no example of the entities referred to by the concept 'lion' in this room. Thinking that by referring to a lion in the sentence 'a lion is not in this room', there must somewhere be the lion referred to, results from the error of thinking that words refer directly to entities. That is wrong. Words denote concepts, which in turn may (or may not) refer to entities that exist somewhere (or somewhen). One can employ the concept without a commitment to the current existence of the entities referred to.

(4) There are a couple of different ways of dealing with this one.

(4a) What do you mean by 'everything'? The future has not happened yet. So there are no facts of the matter that God could know. Hence you are free to create the future as you will. God may know everything that you know (at least), and hence be able to reasonably predict how you are going to choose. But then so can your friends much of the time. And that does not restrict your freedom, does it?

(4b) What do you mean by 'free'? You mean that you are free to choose one out of a number of alternatives. You surely don't mean that you make your choices randomly, or without cause. You mean that given all the various things you know about the alternatives, and the things you've learned about yourself and your wants and needs, and such things as your character, your history, your personality, and so forth, you choose which alternative you consider the 'best' under the circumstances. But the kicker is, if the circumstances were exactly the same tomorrow, you would choose exactly the same alternative. Your choices are not uncaused, merely complexly caused. So it turns out that being free to choose is not at all incompatible with your choices being caused in a manner that God can know.

Stuart Burns


(96) Carlos asked:

Does attending a graduate philosophy program tend to make one a better philosopher?

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

If being a 'better philosopher' means being more proficient at philosophical argumentation and being more knowledgeable about philosophy, then it seems to go without saying that attending a good graduate program will develop both these traits.

However, I take the implication of your question to be that there is some reason for thinking that attending a graduate philosophy program might make one a worse philosopher — in terms of these two criteria — or, if not worse, then there might be no real improvement apart from an added superficial gloss of academic cleverness.

I don't happen to believe this (at least with regard to the 'good' graduate programs!) but it is worth considering whether there might be another side to the argument.

In my experience, there are processes at work, even in a good philosophy department, which can have a negative impact on a young philosopher's intellectual growth. Perhaps the main reason is political, in the sense of the young philosopher's growing realization of what is necessary to achieve success in the academic world. Some, not all, are tempted to a somewhat cynical view where brown nosing and churning out a large volume of mediocre work is seen as a better strategy for success than ruthless intellectual honesty, the philosopher's most treasured trait.

Perhaps.

The world of academic philosophy seems to me like a lush and variegated garden, which also has areas of land choked by weeds or rendered barren by over-use of pesticides. It is healthy and thriving, and corrupt and decadent all at the same time. What I would say to any young philosopher with a good BA degree looking for a graduate program is that you have a sporting chance to become a good philosopher, so don't squander that chance, or your talent.

Geoffrey Klempner


(97) Josh asked:

Is it true that Plato invented and defined the concept of Hell or a Hell and it was later adopted by Christians and put in the Bible?

Thank you for your time.

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

Yes, very likely. At least, Plato may not have invented that concept but he did suppose it in his Republic. Early Christian theology was very Platonic, and there is no mention of hell in the gospels.

Helier Robinson


(98) Karen asked:

What happens after death?

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

Usually, your body is recycled.

Miodrag Milosavljevic


(99) Mark asked:

Please comment on the validity of the following argument and any obvious objections to the truth of the premises:

Premise 1: A newborn baby is entitled to the same moral status as an adult, such that its unexcused killing would be justly punished as murder.

Premise 2: If a fetus enjoys a lesser moral status than a newborn, this fact must be attributable to some difference, not arbitrary from the moral point of view, between the two life forms.

Premise 3: The only defensible candidate for such an attribute or characteristic is the absence on the part of the fetus of higher order (cortical) brain activity.

Therefore: At the point in gestation at which the fetus exhibits cortical brain activity, it is entitled to the same moral status as newly born humans.

Thank you very much for your help.

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

The problem with your argument is Premise 3. Existing abortion law in the U.K. is not based on measurements of foetal brain activity since we don't have any equipment that could easily be used to monitor such activity. Instead in the U.K. the argument has been based around the age at which the foetus becomes capable of an independent existence if it were to be born prematurely. At present the upper time limit is set at 24 weeks (reduced from an earlier 28 weeks).

I have never seen anyone suggest that cortical activity could be used and I imagine this is because we do not have the techniques to measure such activity. You can't strap electrodes to the skull of a foetus while it is in its mother's womb.

A newborn child does not have the same moral status as an adult, it cannot be held responsible for its actions for example. Also its parents are entitled to prevent the child from carrying out any action that they think would be harmful to it.

Shaun Williamson


(100) Bill asked:

People are always talking about the biases and prejudices that are generated by belief.

Is it not possible that there are prejudices and biases also generated by scepticism and unbelief.

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

Yes. Biases and prejudices are beliefs, rather than generated by beliefs, and this includes disbeliefs. Scepticism and credulity, like optimism and pessimism are attitudes of mind, rather than specific beliefs, but probably are a constellation of appropriate beliefs.

Helier Robinson


(101) Emma asked:

How and why do ships float in water

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

It takes a lot of practice.

Miodrag Milosavljevic


(102) Matthew asked:

Is it moral to bring a child into the world? In other words, is it wrong to give birth to a human being who does not have a say in THE most important decision of her life? Of course, a person that does not exist cannot be asked whether he would like to come into existence, but this is precisely the dilemma.

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

'I didn't ask to be born,' is a question which most parents hear at some time or other, and as a father of three daughters I have had to contend with this challenge on more than one occasion.

We can make some headway with this question by considering what we would say if the human situation had been different in certain ways. For example, let us suppose that life on earth is unrelieved torment, and every child born faces certain misery. Then, even if the prospect of bringing children into the world is some comfort or consolation to potential parents, it is wrong and selfish for human beings to have children.

Now suppose things weren't as bad as that, but still pretty bad. Let's say that the Nazis won World War II and now the entire globe is a Nazi empire, with every prospect of a thousand year Reich. Assuming that you do not agree with the principles of National Socialism, could you countenance having children who did not choose to live their entire lives under oppression? The difference here is that choosing not to have children for these reasons would be, in effect, choosing that the last human beings on earth will be Nazis. Children are our hope for the future, even if it is a relatively forlorn hope. That surely counts for something.

A third scenario leading to a similar conclusion would be a world devastated by ecological catastrophe, where human beings must labour and suffer for many generations before any improvement is likely to come.

On the assumption that things aren't as bad as that, I think I have done enough to show that, a fortiori, there is at least a reason not to avoid having children, although I have not tried to prove the converse, that we have a positive moral duty to procreate.

I realize, of course, that there is an assumption in my answer: that we must be prepared to see children as a means to a better world. According to Kant's Categorical Imperative, one must always treat human beings as 'ends in themselves'. However, Kant says that human beings should not be treated merely as means. I leave you to judge whether that is a sufficient loophole, in relation to scenarios two and three.

Geoffrey Klempner


(103) George asked:

It has long seemed to me that many (or most) questions addressed by philosophy are not valid, i.e., have no basis, and that all of the so-called 'reasoning' about them is specious. For example, what does it MEAN to ask if I exist? 'Exist' MEANS that which we observe and take part in. The only alternative that I can think of is illusion or delusion. But even these require that someone is deluded. We can't delude something that is only imagined. It seems to me that the success of much philosophy is based on our ignorance and naivete and gullibility and inability to discern grounded from groundless and therefore invalid questions and that much philosophy is merely fanciful metaphor. I have worried over this for decades.

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

First of all, there is excellent philosophy and appalling philosophy, and everything in between. Perhaps you have been unfortunate in your choice of readings. As an example of non-specious philosophy, consider the question of whether the objects that we perceive around us are real objects or just images of real objects. For common sense they are real, because they are outside our heads, material, and public — while images are inside our heads, mental, and private. On the other hand, every such object is somewhat illusory and illusions cannot be real; and every such object is a structure of sensations, which are manufactured in the brain. How do you choose between these?

Helier Robinson


(104) Isabel asked:

Why does toast always fall on the buttered side?

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

Because you buttered them both.

Miodrag Milosavljevic


(105) Deanna asked:

What is real?

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

Since you know how to use the word real correctly you already know enough to answer your own question.

Compare these two uses of the word real.

'It isn't real, its only a dream'.

'The first dream I told you about was one that I really had, the second was just one that I made up'.

The tax man is real and so are credit card bills.

Shaun Williamson


(106) John asked:

The verificationist principle says, in effect, that a statement is meaningful only if you know what would verify it and what would falsify it. If correct, this principle would classify as meaningless many statements in metaphysics. Give some examples of statements that would have trouble passing the verificationist criterion. Explain why they would not pass, and defend them if possible

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

One example is the verificationist principle itself, which cannot be either verified or falsified. Another is the assumption by theoretical scientists that the reality described by theoretical science is rational — at least to the extent that it does not contain contradictions and that it does contain causal necessities corresponding to the logical necessities in the theory. A third is the Principle of Uniformity of Nature, assumed in order to justify induction in empirical science. None of these would pass the verificationist principle because they cannot be either verified or falsified. The second and third can best be defended by arguing that the verificationist principle is simply false.

Helier Robinson


(107) Duncan asked:

Is hell getting larger?

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

No, they pack it more tightly.

Miodrag Milosavljevic


(108) Stephanie asked:

I'm not a philosopher at all but here goes: Does love exist as a thing or merely a feeling that we create in our need to feel loved? Are there soulmates? Or is it all simply a figment of our imagination?

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

It is a legitimate question whether the popular concept of a 'soul mate' survives philosophical scrutiny.

The idea originally derives from a myth described by Plato, and before Plato the Presocratic philosopher Empedocles, of a process whereby beings with four arms and four legs and two heads are split apart and then spend the rest of their lives searching for the lost half. The non-metaphorical meaning of this myth would be that there is intrinsic in nature which blesses certain partnerships as being more than just the result of subjective choices or contingent circumstances, as something 'meant to be'.

The idea of something that is 'meant to be' suggests purpose and design. If that inference is correct, then true 'love' can only exist if the universe has an ultimately teleological or purposive structure, a structure in which the pairing of soul mates plays a key role.

On the other hand, from a purely naturalistic point of view, pair bonding is more or less successful, depending on the physical and psychological compatibility of the partners. There is no perfect partner. There are, somewhere in this wide world, probably hundreds of human beings who would be 'perfect' for you. But even hundreds out of billions requires quite a long search. Given the precariousness and difficulty of such a quest, the idea of 'searching for one's soul mate' is not without significant emotive or poetic meaning.

Geoffrey Klempner


(109) Anonym asked:

Irrespective of the ethics or morality of retributive justice, I want to know its rational value in the form described as follows:

typical retributive justice systems say that 'if A kills B, A should be killed' (assume that it is an unlawful killing in that justice system)

but when A kills B and B is a loved one of C, A committed two crimes:

absolute physical harm to B (the kill)

significant mental/psychological harm to C (the grief)

then the retributive justice should be:

if there is D that is a loved one of A, he should be killed first

then A should be left to endure that equivalent grief and then A should be killed

assume the designation of loved ones (B and D) is flawless (or at least out of scope of this question). also assume quantifying equivalence of grief is not a problem.

does this rationally make sense? or there any more rational alternatives?

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

No, it doesn't. Assume that you are D, and the police have come to tell you that you are about to be killed just because A will grieve about your death: would that seem just to you?

Helier Robinson


(110) Mark asked:

If I go to a forest I can see trees. If I close my eyes, how do I know if the forest is still there?

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

Make a few steps.

Miodrag Milosavljevic


(111) Christian asked:

When wondering whether a phenomenon A causes a phenomenon B, people often ask whether phenomenon A is necessary and sufficient to produce the phenomenon B. That got me thinking whether a phenomenon A can ever be proven to be a necessary condition for phenomenon B.

According to modal logic, a proposition 'p' is necessary if, and only if, not 'p' is not possible. So, if we can demonstrate that in the absence of A, B is not possible, we would be demonstrating that A is necessary for the occurrence of B. My question is: Can it ever be proven that something is not possible? How?

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

Yes we can and any mathematical proof is an example of this. For example we can easily prove that there is no greatest prime number which is the same as proving that the statement 'x is the greatest prime number' is not only false, it is necessarily false. In the same way any proposition which has the form of a logically valid argument is necessarily true and its negation is necessarily false. For example (((if A implies B) and A) implies B) is necessarily true and its negation is necessarily false.

Shaun Williamson


(112) Kirby asked:

I was wondering about Kant's distinction between phenomena and noumena with respect to his distinction between a priori analytic truths and a priori synthetic truths.

When he says we can never experience the world without concepts like space and time, but they might not hold in the noumena, I think I get that. But are a priori analytic truths possible in the world of the noumena? Is it possible that a married bachelor actually exists, we just can't know it? Or can we say that even in the noumena a married bachelor is impossible.

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

The main point about the noumenal world for Kant is that we cannot know anything about it at all — absolutely nothing. So we cannot know whether a priori synthetic concepts apply to it or not, or whether it can or cannot contain contradictions.

The reason Kant brought the noumenal world into his philosophy is that he needed it to account for illusions. The only satisfactory explanation for illusions is that they are misrepresentations of reality, as in the case of the half-immersed spoon in a glass of water: it appears to be bent at the surface of the water but we know it to be really straight, so we say that the fact of being bent is a misrepresentation of it being really straight. The trouble for Kant is that a representational theory of perception is a causal theory of perception, and he has confined causation the a priori synthetic categories of the understanding, so that he cannot say that the noumenal object noumenally causes the phenomenal object. Again, visible space — phenomenal space — is illusory with respect to perspective: visible objects appear smaller with distance. We want to say that this is an illusion, hence a misrepresentation of noumenal space, but Kant has made space an a priori synthetic condition of outer intuition so he cannot say that there is a noumenal space that is misrepresented as a visible phenomenon.

If Kant really wanted to explain illusions he would have to allow space, time, causation (and all the other categories of the understanding) to the noumenal world, thereby wreaking his a priori synthetic approach. You may gather from this that I do not greatly approve of Kant's philosophy, so I'll give you one more nail in his coffin. The way he develops a person's phenomenal world requires that there be one, numerically distinct, phenomenal world per person. How then can he make the move, as he does, to talking about the phenomenal world, one world common to all perceivers?

Helier Robinson


(113) Erin asked:

What are the primary differences between a caste system and class based society?

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

One aspect of the caste is that it was something like a guild. A community which protected the rights and status of it's members. It is integral part of Indian tradition, since God in Bhagavad-gita says that four castes emanate from Him and one belongs to a certain caste according to one's qualities and actions. This always reminds me to Nietzsche's call to become aristocrats not by birth but by decision. Theoretically, it would be possible to shift from one caste to another, by developing certain qualities and acting accordingly. Members of each caste could identify themselves with the different parts of God's body, knowing that society could not function properly if one of the parts does not act properly. That was giving everyone a position to ask for their rights to be protected. Since it was usual that people born in a certain family share the same qualities as the rest of the family, caste assignment was practically hereditary. Most usually it is so, children mostly do have qualities of their parents, but it is not necessarily so.

Today, caste system lost the original purpose of protection, and maybe it should better be abolished. Indian tradition also suggests that castes are immanent to the human society, wherever there it is a society, there are castes, more or less visible. Society could not function without a caste system. Classes are also important for social stability. Person can change a social status without changing personal character, but changing a caste would require a personal transformation. For example, Jesus was associating and recruiting people who would fall in the lower caste and by dramatic personal transformation they became apostles, the highest caste. Switching to a different class is primarily a change in economic status, not in personal behavior.

Miodrag Milosavljevic


(114) Sam asked:

I became interested in evolution. But it makes me confused. The religious are claiming that the scientific establishment suppresses truth. Scientists claim that the religious folks are lying. So whom should I believe?

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

There are a couple of ways of trying to resolve this question.

One way is to look and see who else lines up on either side of the question. It is not a guarantee, of course, since it is quite possible for an awful lot of people to be quite wrong on any question. If you look at those who claim that the scientific establishment is suppressing the truth, you will find a lot of people who share a particular interpretation of the Bible. They are generally referred to as 'Fundamentalist Christians'. And they include on their side a number of rather well known personages (President Bush is probably one of them, although he has not specifically said so). On the other side of the issue, you will find a lot of people who do not claim that the other side is actually lying, but do claim that the other side is mistaken in some fashion — in other words, they claim that the scientific establishment does not in fact suppress the truth. The people on this side of the issue are in much greater numbers than those on the other side. They span the spectrum from devoutly religious to openly atheist. They come from most religious communities. And include a large number of rather famous people (the Pope among them, according to statements published by the Vatican in Nov, 2005). And for obvious reasons, they include most of the scientific establishment — a rather large community in itself. If you think that the truth is indicated by popular opinion, then science wins hands down.

The other way of trying to resolve the question is to actually look and see who is lying. And the way to do that is the way that any TV detective does it — find out what they say, and see if the evidence supports their claims. You will, of course, face a number of serious difficulties if you choose this approach. Firstly, if the scientific community is in fact suppressing the truth, you are not likely to find out about it unless you are a seriously competent investigator. And secondly, just what you are going to consider 'evidence' will depend on your pre-conceptions on a number of topics intimately related to the issue at hand. For example, if you have a preconceived notion that evolution is bunk, then you are not going to accept as 'evidence' the results that could be presented by any of the biological sciences. And if you have a preconceived notion that religion is bunk, then you are not going to accept as 'evidence' any quotes from the Bible, or claims for Godly miracles. It is going to be difficult to find a middle ground that would accept 'evidence' from both sides of the issue.

But once you figure out just what might constitute 'evidence' here, you can look at the rest of what each side to the disagreement says on other topics, to see if either side has an established track record of telling the truth or telling tales.

One the one side, you have a large group of people who maintain that the Bible is the revealed word of God, and is to be taken more or less literally. On the other side you have a large group of people who maintain that science is the best way to understand the Universe and how it works, and that the Bible, if it is the revealed word of God, is to be interpreted as allegory and literature, rather than absolute truth. On the Fundamentalist Christian side, none of the statements and claims being made will make any difference to your earthly welfare. Religious truths do not allow you to manipulate the world around you, do not allow you to predict how the world is going to react to the ways that you poke it, and do not form a basis from which to choose earthly courses of action that might improve your earthly welfare. Of course, 'earthly welfare' is not the concern of religious truths, despite the fact that claims to earthly truths are also made (e.g. the status of evolution).

On the science side, all of the statements and claims will make meaningful differences to your earthly welfare. Scientific truths do allow you to manipulate the world around you, do allow you to predict how the world is going to react to the ways that you poke it, and do form a basis from which to choose earthly courses of action that will likely improve your earthly welfare. The claims and statements of the science side of the dispute can be shown to have been more true than not, by the very technological miracles that make it possible for you to read this reply. The truths of religion have nothing comparable to offer, of course, since their 'realm' is the spiritual rather than the earthly. Unfortunately for those religious claims, there is a remarkable dearth of supporting evidence. So on the basis of track record, it would seem that the scientific side of the dispute again wins hands down.

Of course, as you can no doubt see, neither method I have suggested of judging the 'winner' is any guarantee that the judgment is correct. You are going to have to consider the consequences on your own, and make up your own mind. Just make sure that it is you that is making up your mind for you, and do not let others do it for you.

Stuart Burns


(115) Robert asked:

I'm a writer of novels. One of the writing groups to which I belong has ask me to speak about 'doubt.' They're referring to the doubt in their abilities that keeps many writers from writing their first novel, or established writers from changing genres and writing a novel that they feel is beyond their capabilities (frozen by doubt). Of course, such doubts are experienced by everyone who isn't a supreme egotist. And how do you separate doubt from procrastination? What are your thoughts upon how to overcome such doubts? Robert L. Hecker

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

Speaking as a writer, albeit a writer mainly of non-fiction, there seems to me something brutal, or even callous about the creative process. Doubt is important, because it is a necessary condition for effective self-criticism, and writers who are incapable of self-criticism are generally incapable of good writing. However, the experience of doubt as such is not simply comparable to listening to a critic whose judgement you respect. It is dark and formless. To write well you have to be prepared to push forward — brutally if necessary — against the resistance of your fear and doubt.

The philosopher Nietzsche, who more than any other major philosopher aspired to be an 'artist' and not merely an intellectual truth seeker — as shown in the literary extravagance of his Thus Spake Zarathustra — understood well the psychological meaning of 'overcoming', the process whereby one vanquishes one's former self for the sake of a self which is yet to be. The writer's experience is one of a series of overcomings in the Nietzschean sense; which explains why so many painters and novelists admire Nietzsche.

If you put these two observations together, you will see that creative writing is not just an intellectual process but an emotional challenge which demands a quality of character which includes the traditional ethical virtues, like courage, temperance and forbearance. It is not a cliche but a truth that an artist should be prepared to suffer for their art, if their art is any good.

Geoffrey Klempner


(116) Rocky asked:

I maintain that 'atheism' is not rational and as such can logically be ignored as viable. Here's my rationale and I would like your comments on them.

One has two options. atheism or theism. There are no other choices. There are either supreme beings worth of worship or there are not. So one can either choose or ignore thinking about the question. The choice is simple if you look at it rationally. I base it on choosing the 'worst possible outcome'. Therefore if you are choosing between dying and going into eternal nonconsciousness or burning in hell for eternity, then it is only logical to choose the one that has the worst outcome for nonbelief. If you are wrong you receive a lesser outcome. If you are right you receive the best outcome. This makes it more likely that you will avoid the worst outcomes.

So atheism is illogical and can forever be tossed away as a viable belief.

Next you would have to choose between the theisms. Here again you choose the belief that has the worst outcome for nonbelief. That, I believe, is fundamental christianity where if you don't accept Christ you will burn in hell. I know of no belief system that offers a worse outcome for nonbelief. Therefore it is most logical to believe fundamental christianity.

Has anyone ever heard of the argument before? Has it been proposed by a renown philosopher or is this a fresh idea?

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

This argument has been proposed before: it is known as Pascal's Wager. He confined himself to Christianity and argued that if you behaved as if you believed in God than you would go to Heaven, whereas if you behaved as if there were no God then you would either not survive death or else go to Hell. So the first choice is more reasonable. The main objection to this is that our beliefs are not within our voluntary control, so we cannot reasonably change them at will; and to pretend otherwise is hypocritical.

Helier Robinson


(117) Rhea asked:

Please answer my question! I really need the answer right now. Why do we need to philosophize?

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

There will always be people who will at some point have enough of just struggling for existence. No matter how intensely occupied with existence, at some point, even if they have enough time only to catch another breath, they will ask themselves 'Why this?'. And if they have more time, they will ask more questions. Whenever we are not satisfied, we are asking why. We may feel fine about our career and never ask ourselves any philosophical question. But some people end up with frustration after so much work and no real reward, no satisfaction or self-accomplishment. Something is missing. Merely working and surviving is not enough any more. Then they sit down and think. Next step is to do something about it, to change.

Miodrag Milosavljevic


(118) Stephen asked:

In Shaun Williamson's answer to question 41/11, he says 'There is nothing wrong with being happy unless your happiness is simply based on ignorance.'

What exactly is 'wrong' with ignorance based happiness?

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

Happiness which is based on ignorance is unlikely to last. The truth has a nasty habit of kicking people in the teeth when they least expect it. However that is a lesson that only life can teach you. There is also a difference between happiness and contentment. Again only experience can teach you the difference between these two things.

Shaun Williamson


(119) Sam asked:

What is Deja vu?

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

It is the feeling that what one is now experiencing is something that one has experienced before. This does not apply to something simple, like that taste of a tomato, but to an entire complex situation and action within it.

Helier Robinson


(120) Jose asked:

What exactly is love, or to love, how is it produced, and why is it produced. How can I know if I'm in love, or if someone is in love with me. Is it a simple word that describes a feeling. Or a feeling that cannot be described with words. Is it the key to happiness?

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

Love is one of the relationships between persons. It takes one person to love and another to be loved. Love appears to be uplifting, desirable, etc. but that is one side of the coin. When there is separation, love can be devastating. The word 'love' is not exactly precise. When we say 'I love this movie', that does not agree with my first sentence.

Liking, loving and being in love are not the same. So it is not easy to say if you are in love, what does it mean? Being in love usually causes that we do not see the faults of the beloved person. 'True love' may see all the faults, yet can not help but love that imperfect person. I would say that being in love means passion, and passion is different from love. Greeks had several words for love, like filia (liking or friendship) eros (passion) agape, (altruistic love) storge (family love) etc. And there are more interesting Greek words, like mania, which shares some aspects with love, but is considered to be a deviation. There are different symptoms of love, like when someone else is as dear to you as your own self, or even more dear.

Words from Sanskrit may also shed some light. There is no word 'love' in Sanskrit, since, as we saw, our word love may mean different things. And Sanskrit tends to be precise. There are two key words: kama and prema. Kama is known to us from 'Kama-sutra' which means a tractate about passion, desire. So kama means passion. Prema means devotion, it is a unique aspect of love that can not be experienced with any other person but God. It is a matchless, divine love. Between these two terms there are other Sanskrit words, describing their different levels or aspects.

It may be helpful to visualize these two key words as more or less the same thing, but leading to opposite directions. Like if kama means 'towards me' or 'I want to be served' and prema means 'from me' or 'I want to serve'. In between there are other aspects of love, like parental, fraternal, conjugal, friendly etc. So, two parameters could be considered, one showing direction and another showing the object of love.

Love may not be produced, but immanent to personality, as a capability to love. Regarding happiness, love may be the key. In religious context, in Hinduism, word prema is tied with salvation, a concept that can be regarded as the ultimate happiness.

Miodrag Milosavljevic


(121) Gavin asked:

God and choice. I used to ask my mother why there were evil people in the world and she said 'because god gave people the right to choose to be good or evil'. That concept has never say comfortably with me and I'd like to propose this question.

If god created everybody knowing that some would be good and some would be bad, then is he not responsible for the harm that bad people do. Would you give a loaded gun to a 3 year old knowing full well, that it might happen to shoot a complete stranger with it? I doubt it. When god created people and animals, he surely had some idea that sharks would bite people in half and bears would maul random hill walkers, do the victims of these acts deserve this brutal death? Why did he not create a world full of peace loving vegetarians and no food chain what so ever? Either because he doesn't exist, or because he must have a very evil streak and take pleasure in the pain caused by the suffering that is endured as a direct result of his grand designs. For religious people that say, 'but god gave us the right to choose', it doesn't add up. Our choices are very limited. A human can walk and swim poorly, a fish can breath underwater, and a comorant can fly, walk and dive beneath the ocean. So we all have very different and limited choices. I guess I just can't figure out how anybody can rationally believe in god when there are so many glaring faults with the world and those that inhabit it.

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

As an atheist who likes to base his beliefs on good arguments, I would like to challenge what you say here.

The first proposition that one needs to accept is that whatever world God creates must be a logically possible world. I know that some people would challenge this, and argue that if God is all-powerful then he is not bound by the laws of logic, but frankly that idea seems to lead very quickly to a dead end.

The second proposition, which might meet with more resistance, is that there is a very important value in human choices having the capacity to make rational choices between courses of action which they have the power to do. It is irrelevant that there are many things which are physically beyond our power. God didn't have to make human beings, but any world in which there are human beings — or intelligent creatures capable of asking the question where they came from — is better than any world in which there are no such beings.

The third proposition is that in any world in which there are creatures capable of making rational choices, some will make choices which are imprudent or unethical. There are very good reasons, or so philosophers believe, why we should be prudent and ethical, but in a real life situation these have to compete with other motivations leading us in a different direction. Being limited human beings and not gods, we can't all be wise all of the time.

It follows that any world which God creates will be one in which some human beings do bad things.

Geoffrey Klempner


(122) Tania asked:

Is there a difference between justification and rationalization?

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

Yes. Justification may be either true or false, but rationalisation is always false. Naturally, whenever we rationalise we believe that we are justifying, truly.

Helier Robinson


(123) Stephen asked:

Does love always require an object?

Several religious traditions teach that 'God is love', and that humans should 'love God'. This seems to be commanding people to love love itself..! I am having a little difficulty understanding the logic and/or psychology of such a notion.

Similarly, such religions also may command people to 'hate evil', evil (or the devil, etc.) being the opposite of God (as God is good). But surely, evil must have connotations with hatred, as the opposite of love (since love, God and goodness are intimately related in the theology of such religions.) Therefore, this teaching seems to imply that we should also hate hatred itself.

So the implication seems to be that we should love love, and hate hate. Does this 'emotional duality' further imply that we should fear fear itself, trust trust itself, hope for hope itself, be angry at anger itself, and so on, or does it only apply to love and hatred? (I doubt very much that the theology implies that we should 'lust after lust itself', so this strange 'duality' does not seem to apply universally to emotions. Maybe it only applies to 'natural' emotions?)

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

Love always requires a person to be loved and we may call that person an object of love.

God is love like: love personified. It would be better to say that religions teach that loving God is our natural position, rather than loving God is an imperative. Loving love is meaningless, since we have no person as an object of love there.

Hating evil is something religions may advocate, but we should beware of religions which try to achieve something positive based on the negative connotations, like hatred. Hatred is not the opposite of love. Love means to serve, and hatred does not mean 'not to serve'. Opposite from love is indifference. Good rule is not to be against anything. Do not be against the war, be for peace. Think positive, that is what religions should teach.

You were juggling with words hoping to find a meaningful message.

Miodrag Milosavljevic


(124) George asked:

It has long seemed to me that many (or most) questions addressed by philosophy are not valid, i.e., have no basis, and that all of the so-called 'reasoning' about them is specious. For example, what does it MEAN to ask if I exist? 'Exist' MEANS that which we observe and take part in. The only alternative that I can think of is illusion or delusion. But even these require that someone is deluded. We can't delude something that is only imagined. It seems to me that the success of much philosophy is based on our ignorance and naivete and gullibility and inability to discern grounded from groundless and therefore invalid questions and that much philosophy is merely fanciful metaphor. I have worried over this for decades.

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

I am not sure what question you are asking or what sort of answer you expect. There are philosophers who think that there are no valid philosophical questions and no philosophical truths but there are also other philosophers who still think that both these things exist.

You suspect that philosophy has no real content. However there is a great difference between thinking that something might be true and knowing that it is true. You could only resolve your suspicions by studying philosophy. Otherwise you are condemned to continue wondering and worrying.

Wittgenstein wrote 'Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of our own language'. Your wondering about the meaning of the word 'exists' shows a tendency to fall into the same philosophical bewitchment that causes all the trouble in the first place.

Shaun Williamson


(125) Krishna asked:

I would like to forgive someone who is doing wrong to me. But is it asking for too much if I wanted to make sure that the person knows that I am forgiving them? In other words, they may not even know that they have offended me. I feel that if I just forgive and forget such incidents, since the other person does not know that a) something they did offended me b) I choose to forgive them, then I think it is meaningless to forgive. In reality, there is no forgiving taking place in such cases, if it is not 'preannounced'. Am I thinking it right? Or is it taking a higher path to just forgive never bother about whether the 'forgivee' understands it or not?

On the other hand, is it real forgiveness if it is preannounced and credits are taken?

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

Forgiving is essentially unselfish, but wanting it 'preannounced' is selfish and as such diminishes the unselfishness of the forgiving. So your 'other hand' is correct.

Helier Robinson


(126) Ryan asked:

In the Gita, does virtue mean obeying the Hindu deities, or do I have my information mixed up?

Ryan also asked:

I was wondering if you could explain the Eastern concept of Atman/ Brahman. Also, could you tell me if this is correct, Eastern philosophy believes all reality is an illusion?

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

Gita says that deities are representatives of God, Krishna. So serving Krishna would automatically satisfy deities, just like watering the root satisfies the whole tree. But serving deities is usually egoistically motivated and has little to do with God, so it is compared with watering the leaves, which is less intelligent.

Atman and Brahman have different meanings, depending on the context and there are different schools of Hindu thought with different understandings of these meanings. Maybe you should try Wikipedia? Useful links:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brahman

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atman_(Hinduism)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atman_(Buddhism)

In short, atman may mean body, mind or soul. It may also stand for the individual soul, and for God as well. To differentiate between the two, in English texts soul is usually written as atma or atman, while God or divine principle is capitalized — Atman. Similar thing is with Brahman, it may mean many things. There is a caste of priests, brahmanas or brahmins; then there is Brahman or the Absolute, meaning God, or more precisely His impersonal aspect; then there is a demigod Brahma... Generally, brahman means spiritual. It takes guidance from the expert to read Hindu scriptures, but there are different commentaries by different experts on these scriptures. And they differ due to a different understanding of these principal terms.

Regarding reality and illusion, situation in Eastern philosophy is just like anywhere else, there are different angles on illusion. The way you put it, nobody thinks they are the same, since reality is the opposite from illusion. There are different opinions if this material world is an illusion and only the spiritual may be real. From the perspective of salvation, it may be argued that this world is an illusion. But practically, it is very real and it really exists. It only may not be the ultimate reality, but only a shadow, a perverted image of The Reality.

Miodrag Milosavljevic


(127) Deanna asked:

What is real?

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

The key to the answer is the recognition that the two opposite concepts 'real' and 'unreal' refer to two distinctly different modes of experience. By the very nature of these two concepts, they cannot refer to the same thing. Therefore, whatever is 'Real', it cannot also be 'Un-Real' (and vice versa, of course) without seriously abusing the meaning of the English words. Poets, of course, are granted license to abuse the language for artistic purposes. But philosophers must take greater care.

We each experience 'the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune' in two distinctly different modes. When experiencing life in one mode, we notice that things perceived are constant, persistent, consistent, and coherent. When experiencing life in the other mode, we notice that things perceived are dramatically less constant in form and character, often transient in existence, frequently mutually inconsistent both from thing to thing and across time, and far more frequently quite incoherent. One mode of experience draws the focus of our attention, is amenable to inquiry, and responsive to our reactions. The other mode of experience often drifts uncontrollably past our attention, is rarely subject to inquiry, and is often unresponsive to our reactions. On any scale of measure, the difference between the two modes of experience is dramatic and unmistakable whenever noticed. One of these modes of experience we call 'reality' and what is experienced we call the 'real', the other mode of experience we call 'non-reality' — or dreams, imagination, hallucinations, or illusions — and what is experienced we call 'un-real'.

Most of us spend most of our time experiencing life in the 'real world' mode. Episodes spent in the 'non-real world', while they may seem quite real at the time, almost always end with a transition back to the 'real world' mode of experience. Some people, for reasons as diverse as drugs to organic brain damage, spend more of their time in the 'non-real world'. Some people, again for diverse reasons, lose the ability to notice the distinctly different character of two modes of experience, and are unable to distinguish their 'real' experiences from their 'non-real' experiences.

The bottom line is that 'reality' obeys rules, that's why our experiences of it display an unmistakably greater degree of constancy, consistency, and coherence. In the real world, elephants are huge, grey and don't fly. That remains true across time, and is consistent with all other information we have about the real world mode of experience. Non-reality violates any rules. In the un-real world, pink elephants can buzz around your head, and turn into green mice stomping on the roof of your house. Or Dr. House saves the day. Or prayer can cure cancer. Or astrology can predict your future. Or crystals have some special kind of power. Or UFOs, piloted by aliens are visiting Earth.

The fact that sometimes the un-real appears so real you can't tell, does not alter the fact that most people usually wake up and smell the coffee. Wishful thinking does not reality make — no matter how comfortable it might make you feel.

Stuart Burns


(128) Mardi asked:

I would like to know what can a person that sings for a living eat or drink to prevent horseness before and after singing please help me this is very important to me thank you.

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

Have a good but not too heavy meal before your gig, but nothing with cheese or milk products. When you are singing, don't drink alcohol, just sip plain water.

Geoffrey Klempner


(129) Dani asked:

I came across this site and read it with interest (and some bemusement). I would like to pick up a thread from a previous question, if I may. Mr Williamson, in your answer to Niall's question you write that in your mind, 'there is nothing wrong with being happy unless your happiness is simply based on ignorance' I was considering this is there something wrong with being happy even if a person's ignorance is the reason he or she is happy? Doesn't happiness serve its own purpose no matter what the reason for the happiness is? Or should we begin to judge the merit on which others are happy, and make assessments about the suitability or justification of their happiness?

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

Dani I will try to answer your question as best as I can. I can't remember the original question but it was something like 'Is there anything wrong with being happy?'

Really the questioner was asking if there was a moral dimension to happiness. My answer to this will always be that there is a moral dimension to everything. There is a moral dimension to happiness, politics, economics, love and anything you care to mention.

Life is a fairytale, that is why we have fairy tales and the only real question is 'Do you want to be the hero or the villain?'. Of course life is complex so we can't always tell who is the hero and who is the villain but the initial choice is clear enough.

So here is a fairytale. Imagine that you are married to a man that you love and he loves you. You have three children whom you love and, although they sometimes drive you insane, you know that they love you. You like listening to classical music, Beethoven is your favourite composer and you love his ninth symphony. Life is good and you are happy.

Your husband is a captain in the political police and his job is to organise the torture of political prisoners. He is good at his job and get lots of signed confessions. This is what his superiors want so he has recently been promoted and has had an increase in salary.

Today he has to torture some nuns from a local convent, an informer has suggested that they may have provided medical aid to the rebels. Now you know what your husband does for a living but you don't care to think about such unpleasant things. You never discuss his job and life is good, ignorance is good, you are happy listening to Beethoven's Ode to Joy,

So does this happiness serve its own purpose? Should anyone dare to criticise or make judgements about your happiness?

Or what about this scenario. You live in a town near the Gulf of Mexico. A violent storm is forecast to hit the town and the mayor has advised everyone to evacuate. However you decide to stay. You are a happy committed Christian and you are sure that God knowing how much you love him will protect you and your family. God won't let anything bad happen to you.

However if you just opened your eyes and looked around, you would see that God doesn't make this sort of special deal. Floods, earthquakes and tidal waves don't distinguish between the righteous and the sinner. Your happiness is about be be washed away with your house and your family because of your failure to see the world as it is.

Shaun Williamson


(130) Emma asked:

I submitted a question on this site and no one bothered to answer it. WHY? have you cease to exist???

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

No, we still exist. Some questions submitted are not philosophical questions; some are presented in incomprehensible English; some are not questions at all. I suggest you repeat your protest but include your question, or, if it is long, give the date of it. Then someone can tell you why you have had no reply so far, and even perhaps reply to it.

Helier Robinson


(131) Reyes asked:

In the second Matrix movie, here is a conversation where one of the bad guys states, 'There are no choices, just illusions of choices'. what do you think?

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

There are choices. 'Which flavor, vanilla or chocolate' — whenever there are multiple options, there is a choice. One may argue that we have personal preferences that will make us always choose vanilla, so we really do not have a choice. But no, there is still a choice, only we are making the same choice again and again. Another interesting point is something said by Krishnamurti (I think): Intelligent person does not have a choice — intelligent person will always choose what is good. Not much options for high IQ's. But the above remark also applies here, choice is there, only intelligent person prefers one choice over another.

Matrix is a special case, the idea may be that everyone is in the prison, so the really free choice can not be made. There are only limited choices within a prison, or a restricted set of choices. And these choices are pre-programmed, never leaving a possibility to chose for real. Something like if you would come to the doors labeled 'thieves enter here', 'fools enter here'... Not real choices, but options set by a wicked overseer.

Miodrag Milosavljevic


(132) James asked:

Science has recently revealed that our constitution, formally believe to be predetermined by our genes at birth, is in fact control by our perception and beliefs about the environment/world. These beliefs are said to be the lens through which we continue to view the world and though this process we rewrite our genes thus changing our constitution, our physiology. The scientist I heard deliver this information in a lecture stated that, to change your beliefs about the nature of the world was simple and could be done in short order. I find this hard to believe, is there a way, to find out what ones beliefs are about the world and then change them if they are not conducive to life.

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

The main problem here is with your first sentence 'Science has recently...' Science has not recently revealed anything like this. If you think it has then please quote the names of the scientific papers and the recognised scientific journals in which these papers were published.

It is well known that your state of mind can have an effect upon your health and we still have a lot to learn about such things. However anyone who claims that your health is determined mainly by your state of mind is peddling dangerous unscientific nonsense. You cannot rewrite your genes, there is no scientific evidence to support such a ridiculous idea.

Beware of people trying to sell simple solutions to something that is very complex and beware of people trying to sell false science.

Shaun Williamson


(133) Ralph asked:

Is philosophy an occupation? My sibling has a degree in philosophy, and professes to be a fulltime philosopher. With no contract or hire, its a self serving occupation. No income is derived from the 'job' since no tasks are assigned or rewarded since the customer is their own mind. The results of the mind games are not recorded for any potential future use. I'm having a hard time understanding the reasoning applied to the type of philosophy being practiced because it doesn't appear build assumptions from a sound basis known understanding and logic. Frequently conclusions are derived from multiple assumptions that often are tinged with 'mystical' properties such as alien, witch power, chakra and qui and other stuff like that. The person is thoroughly convinced and feels and applies special powers (esp type). The family philosopher relies on generosity of family for financial and day to day practical support, as the person has problems coping with decisions. Is all this philosopher stuff relevant and have a point? I am trying not to take the wind from the sails that keep this person motivated in life, yet wanting to wake them up to the reasonable expectations of their participation that may allow them to thrive in the modern world.

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

Not everyone who has a degree if philosophy is a philosopher. Indeed, I know of one or two who have three degrees in philosophy — BA, MA, PhD — and are not philosophers. Your references to alien, witch power, etc make clear that your sibling is not a philosopher. But you will never convince him of that: there is nothing so invincible as the vanity of a fool.

Helier Robinson


(134) Keith asked:

Like most really hard questions this starts as a tale.

I learned in the army years ago that you can go along time with out doing laundry or washing yourself. BUT, eventually you can't stand the smell of your clothes or yourself and simply MUST cleanse the clothes or yourself.

So my question is, when do you wash your mind? Cleanse it of that funk that others 'smell' on your psyche. Yet for some reason you didn't. But now, now you to can 'smell' it. How in the world do you clean up that mental mess?

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

Mind can be stilled or emptied. Try meditation. Yogascittavrtinirodhah — the first aphorism of Patanjali Yoga-sutra: 'Yoga is when whirling (vrtti) of the consciousness (citta) is stilled (nirodha).

Miodrag Milosavljevic


(135) Mark asked:

Please comment on the validity of the following argument and any obvious objections to the truth of the premises:

Premise 1: A newborn baby is entitled to the same moral status as an adult, such that its unexcused killing would be justly punished as murder.

Premise 2: If a fetus enjoys a lesser moral status than a newborn, this fact must be attributable to some difference, not arbitrary from the moral point of view, between the two life forms.

Premise 3: The only defensible candidate for such an attribute or characteristic is the absence on the part of the fetus of higher order (cortical) brain activity.

Therefore: At the point in gestation at which the fetus exhibits cortical brain activity, it is entitled to the same moral status as newly born humans.

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

A valid deductive argument is one in which it is impossible for the conclusion to be true if the premises are true. Given that your premises are true, the conclusion properly follows. Hence your argument is valid.

A sound deductive argument is one in which the reasoning is valid and the premises are (all) true. Unfortunately for your argument, none of the three premises is obviously and unobjectionably true. Each premise would be hotly disputed by some people. So I don't think that your argument would be considered sound by most people.

Premise 1: On what basis do you assert that a newborn baby is entitled to the same moral status as an adult? I am assuming that you have some sort of moral system in mind that entails this bald assertion. There are many possible moral systems one can imagine that would deny this premise. For example, I might maintain that moral behavior depends on an ability to reason (and make moral judgements). And therefore, no thing that cannot reason is due the same moral status as a thing that can reason. Hence a newborn baby would not be entitled to the same moral status as an adult. (I could maintain, further, that the newborn is entitled to some moral status in virtue of its potential to become a reasoning moral agent, but is not entitled to the same moral status as a reasoning adult.)

Premise 2: Why not permit an arbitrary difference? There is no obvious reason for prohibiting arbitrary distinctions. How tall is a 'tall' man? Suppose you agree that a basketball player who is 214 centimetres (7 ft.) is 'tall'. What happens then when you subtract 1 cm from his height — is he still 'tall'? And if you keep on subtracting 1 cm, and re-asking the question? At what point do you now agree that he is no longer 'tall'? Where is the line drawn? Is not the line an arbitrary distinction between being 'tall' and not being 'tall'? What is it about your moral system that would prohibit some such arbitrary distinction between the moral status of a foetus and a newborn. Perhaps a foetus is due lesser moral status because it is not as 'tall' (as 'old', as 'likely to survive', etc., etc.) as a newborn.

Premise 3: Higher order (cortical) brain activity is certainly not the only, or even the most obvious candidate for distinguishing the moral status of the foetus and the newborn. The most obvious choice (and most easily defensible from some moral perspectives) is the simple fact that the newborn is born, and the foetus is not. What makes brain activity so special? And why 'brain activity' and not 'reasoning ability'?

Your seemingly simple premises hide an awful lot of moral philosophy underneath them. Perhaps you might want to consider the foundations that underlie your premises, and reframe your argument on the basis of those foundations?

Stuart Burns


(136) Chris asked:

This question has been floating in my mind for years. Im 15 and I'm the only one who sees it. Ignorance seems to be taking over the world! Everybody I talk to in school and adults and seniors alike, they all show signs of unbelievable ignorance. People in my area seem to be racist and homophobic, they respect nobody but their own kind, they hate everybody else. Now, I come from a Greek blood line and I'm glad for that, for Socrates is floating in my blood, but my skin tone attracts a lot of hate in this world. Please in all that is good, tell me why the population is so ignorant. Anybody's answer would be greatly appreciated.

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

Since philosophers seek wisdom, and the world is so ignorant, it must be that philosophy is not very popular today. You are not the only one who sees ignorance, let's see what religion has to say.

The whole world is ignorant, by default — Buddhism may say something like this. Ignorance is the reason why we are here, otherwise we would be in some other reality, where we would be eternal (sat) full of knowledge (cit) and blissful (ananda). That would be the platform of satcitananda. Gross form of ignorance is identification with a material body. That attitude, bodily platform, is the reason for discrimination. Realizing that there is a spiritual platform naturally makes one more humble, tolerant and altruistic. On the spiritual platform one sees similarities rather then differences, one seeks connection and relationship. Spiritual life alleviates fear, so there is no xenophobia either and alienation also becomes meaningless. So it may be argued that spiritual is the opposite of ignorance.

Miodrag Milosavljevic


(137) Emma asked:

I submitted a question on this site and no one bothered to answer it. WHY? have you cease to exist???

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

No we haven't ceased to exist but there are many reasons why questions can't always be answered.

Some questions are just silly, for example 'Who is Frank Smith?' Answer — How would we know, there are hundreds of thousands of Frank Smiths.

Some questions are just attempts to get us to write a school essay, for example 'Discuss Descartes theory of knowledge'. Answer — no thanks, you discuss it. That's what the teacher asked you to do.

Some questions are too large, for example 'What is the world really like?'. Answer — If you have ten years to spare, I could tell you.

Some questions are impossible, for example 'What does a clarinet sound like?' Answer — This can't really be explained in words.

Some questions are unintelligible because of bad spelling and grammar.

Some questions are too general, for example 'How do we know what we know?' Answer — What sort of knowledge are you talking about, there is no one simple answer to this question and you can't expect us to write a whole book about something.

So maybe your question was like one of the above question and you need to think about asking a more precise question that requires a shorter answer.

Shaun Williamson


(138) Ivonne asked:

'Who are you?' Every time that I ask this question, nobody can tell me a good answer! I imagine that someone who is more than 25 years old, should have a good answer to this question. Then I think that almost everybody doesn't know who are they are. I would like to know, how a philosopher would answer this question,'Who are you?'

I think that I am someone different to someone else. (I don't know if what I think is wrong or right.) And if I know who I am? I think that is something that I have to discover every day! (Am I right with that?)

Why is this question so difficult?

Does knowing who we are have any effect? Will it be better if we know who we are? I am 16 years old, I think that I am young to know who I am. Am I right?

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

It is difficult to answer, since knowing of the self is personal. It is difficult to put it in words. Even God said 'I am who I am' — and that is not really very helpful. I agree that a person with basic schooling should have some answers to basic questions.

Answering the 'Who are you' question depends on one's identification. Some person would say 'I am John'. He did not understood that question was not 'What is your name' and that name is a label which can be removed and new one attached. Another may say 'I am my parent's child', not understanding that parents could have more then one child and that parenthood may not be based only on biology, but on relationship also. Meaning, father may not be only the one who passed the genes, but also the one who behaves like the father. Someone may say 'I am the unique sum of all biochemical and electrical processes in my brain'. Here the religion may step in and say that any material concept of self is wrong, and that there is a spirit that we should identify with. So the question of the self depends on the concept that we identify with. Maybe you should try with multiple choices, the next time you ask.

Knowing who we are may have a significant effect on our lives. It sets the pathway of our life, what do we want to accomplish, what are we living for and why we are here. It is always good to have a clue about these issues, otherwise we are in the animal kingdom.

You are not too young to know who you are. Even in the most challenging option, religion with it's spiritual identity, there are examples of saintly persons of your age who knew who they were.

Miodrag Milosavljevic


(139) Joe asked:

would [it] be logically right to do something wrong to gain [the] power of doing something right that is of greater value than the wrong you have done?...like killing a man to save a nation! or robbing a bank to sponsor resistance against tyranny?

=====

That would, of course, depend on the system of ethics that you choose to apply. And, in some cases, on the meaning of the terms that you are employing?

If, for example, you choose to adopt as your own any of the various 'religious' systems of ethics, then the answer to your question would be a clear and resounding No!. All of the various 'religious' systems of ethics are based on commandments dictated by some kind of 'Authority' to the effect that particular behaviours are wrong in and of themselves. Hence, according the Ten Commandments of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic religious tradition, it is wrong to lie, steal, or commit murder — regardless of the reasons why you might be tempted to so sin. All of the other 'religious' traditions have similar dictates, so the general conclusion would stand.

On the other hand, if you choose to adopt a Utilitarian notion of ethics, then what is ethically recommended is whatever will result in the greatest 'utility' to the greatest number. And one can interpret that to mean — over the longer term. The problem with Utilitarianism (and similar sorts of ethical systems) is determining just exactly how much positive and negative 'utility' (or happiness, or welfare, or whatever) a particular potential course of action will generate in the long term. Will the overall negative 'utility' generated by killing a man be outweighed by the positive overall 'utility' of saving the nation — when you have to consider all the consequences, to all impacted persons, over all time horizons? And along the way you have to also address such concerns as whether the various kinds of 'utility' involved are in fact commensurable and cumulative, rather than possibly incommensurable or non-cumulative. Oh yes, and the question of just what you mean by 'utility', and how you propose to measure it? And of course, you have to address such additional, yet very relevant, questions as just exactly what you mean by 'saving a nation' or 'resisting tyranny'. You have to address the very real consideration that one person's 'salvation' is another person's 'tyranny'.

On the third hand, you can choose to adopt one of the variations of Ethical Egoism. In which case, what is ethically recommended is whatever you judge to be in your own long term best interests (or, in some variants, the long term best interests of you and your family, or you and your local social grouping). The advantage here is that questions of measuring 'utility', or understanding just what you mean by salvation and tyranny, do not matter. What matters is your own judgement of the situation, the alternatives available to you, and the probable consequences of your actions. Of course, on this basis, you are going to have to be prepared to deal with the very real probability that at least some people are going to disagree with your judgement, and your choices may invoke retaliatory consequences. The disadvantage of Ethical Egoism is that the course of action that you judge is the 'best' for you under the circumstances, may not be what other people are willing to let you proceed with unimpeded. They may judge that it is not in their best interests to let you get away with such things. So if you judge that killing the man is the 'best' means of saving the nation, or robbing the bank is the 'best' means of fighting tyranny, then you must factor into your judging process the very real probability that you are going to jail! (If you don't factor in all the potential (known?) consequences of your actions, then you are being just as unethical — morally wrong — as if you choose to pursue an alternative that you judge is not the 'best' under the circumstances.)

So take your pick of the ethical systems available to you, and do the proper calculations as stipulated by the system you adopt. You will reach your own conclusions. Or, you can take the lazy route and simply rely on other peoples exclamations that they do not want you killing people or robbing banks. That wouldn't make your choices 'right' or 'wrong' — merely easy!

Stuart Burns


(140) Jane asked:

Is science a supreme knowledge compared to other areas of knowledge? How do you justify your answer?

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

Science is not a supreme knowledge. But this depends on what we consider by science. If we take the common modern understanding of science, that it is the most objective corpus of knowledge about the world and is the best approximation of the reality available, then — no, it is not the supreme. Because to be objective and reliable, science had to descend down to the platform similar to what is known as the highest common factor in mathematics. The most common factor for all. And that basic common factor are senses. We agree that senses are trustworthy enough, and when one person sees the result of an experiment, then other person would not object. Sensual level is the common ground that we share and we consider sensually gathered information as reliable. Then mental platform followed suit, declaring science to be reliable, based on gathered reliable information.

But all that scientific corpus of knowledge is more about 'how' then 'why'. It is all about material, and there may be more then material. Science does not offer answers to the basic facts of life. We go beyond senses, and on that higher ground we can not establish the common place where we all would agree. Here comes belief. Although religions may have the method similar to scientific method, for example: observation, then theory (theology or spiritual explanation) and experiment (or demonstration, when this spiritual knowledge is applied and can be reproduced by others) still it should be not be named as 'science' since there will be a confusion with the 'material' science we already had a lot of trouble establishing. So it is a great advantage to have science like the modern one is, not to believe that the Earth is flat anymore. But that can not be the supreme knowledge, since the referential point of that science is placed very low. Imagine reducing all the art and philosophy to what a five years old could understand. It would be very understandable, but is far from supreme.

Miodrag Milosavljevic


(141) Ralph asked:

Is philosophy an occupation? My sibling has a degree in philosophy, and professes to be a fulltime philosopher. With no contract or hire, its a self serving occupation. No income is derived from the 'job' since no tasks are assigned or rewarded since the customer is their own mind. The results of the mind games are not recorded for any potential future use. I'm having a hard time understanding the reasoning applied to the type of philosophy being practiced because it doesn't appear build assumptions from a sound basis known understanding and logic. Frequently conclusions are derived from multiple assumptions that often are tinged with 'mystical' properties such as alien, witch power, chakra and qui and other stuff like that. The person is thoroughly convinced and feels and applies special powers (esp type). The family philosopher relies on generosity of family for financial and day to day practical support, as the person has problems coping with decisions. Is all this philosopher stuff relevant and have a point? I am trying not to take the wind from the sails that keep this person motivated in life, yet wanting to wake them up to the reasonable expectations of their participation that may allow them to thrive in the modern world.

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

I'm not completely sure what question you are asking. Philosophy can be an occupation if you have a job teaching philosophy. In another sense of the word it can be an occupation if it occupies your time. Anyone can call themselves a philosopher, but that doesn't mean that they are one. It sounds like the sort of philosophy practised by your sibling is very far from what I would regard as philosophy.

However from what you say it seems as though your sibling may have some emotional problems and perhaps you should talk to other members of your family about this matter since telling your sibling that they are not really a philosopher is unlikely to help either them or you.

Shaun Williamson


(142) Brandon asked:

Should we value the knowledge that we gain from logical thinking and empirical evidence more than what we receive from culture and tradition or from intuition?

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

No. Culture and tradition may have information that you could never conceive or experience yourself. Starting from there, you can then use logic and science to sift through information that you have.

Miodrag Milosavljevic


(143) Valerie asked:

Are we as a society today working or is society as we know it today just a failed experiment?

=====

Before I can provide any sort of informative response to your question, I would have to understand just whom you include within 'we' in this case. Do you mean globally? Or do you mean a particular nation-state? Or do you mean something more local than that?

I would also have to understand what you mean by 'working'. Clearly, all the extant societies are working in the sense that they are functioning. If you mean 'functioning well', then I would inquire what the standards are that you apply when you judge that some society 'works well'.

Stuart Burns


(144) Candy asked:

compare 'Atman is Brahman' to 'the Logos became flesh and dwelt among us.'

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

Different schools of thought have different explanations of 'Atman is Brahman'. But, if you are asking me, it simply means that 'soul is spiritual', with the purport that individual soul has the same quality as God. Logos and flesh are about something completely different — that God became human to do something humans could not do by themselves.

Miodrag Milosavljevic


(145) Chase asked:

If a child is raised and taught that lying and cheating and harming people is an acceptable way of being and then when the child gets out on his or her own at 19 and cheats, lies, steals and harms others on a regular bases, Who Do we punish as a society? I know they are legally responsible But If that is all they were taught How Can they be responsible?

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

When you reach an age where you are capable of telling the difference between right and wrong, you become responsible for your own actions. The thief doesn't want other people to steal from him. The liar doesn't want other people to lie to him and the violent thug doesn't want others to violently attack him for no reason. In other words he knows that what he is doing is wrong.

You should not assume that children are empty vessels who just absorb what their parents teach them. Its more complicated than that, not all the children of persistent criminals become criminals themselves.

Having said all that I'm not a big fan of punishment for criminals since it rarely achieves its aims. However having seen the havoc that criminal behaviour can cause to other peoples lives, I think preventative detention is often necessary.

There are two problems here.

1. We don't know how to reform adult criminals 2. We are unwilling to spend the money to find out how this could be done or to find out what punishments could be more effective. Many of the persistent criminals I have known have come from such obviously deprived circumstances (e.g. they were unable to read or write and could not understand what was going on around them) that it seems incredible that no help to remedy these problems was ever made available to them in prison.

Shaun Williamson


(146) Dana asked:

An elderly lady of 99 years of age as recently been diagnosed with cancer. She lives in a residential home for the elderly and her cognitive abilities are fully intact. Her doctor does not wish the elderly lady to know about her illness. Should this lady be informed about her illness, or would her knowing cause more harm than good?

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

Theoretically, she should know. Maybe that lady has a certain attitude about death and wants to act accordingly when the time comes. Maybe she wants to write the last will. Maybe she will seek another opinion. Or another doctor, now we have cases of patients with incurable cancers, cured by alternative methods, like macrobiotics. Maybe she wants to pray for health and that would make the difference for her, spiritually, or even physically. But, practically, her doctor may know something we don't, like the medical history of her family, and he made a decision he thinks is the best for her.

Miodrag Milosavljevic


(147) Soban asked:

Do we have a fundamental right to have children?

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

The answer depends primarily on just what you mean by a 'right'. Secondarily, it depends on just what you mean by 'fundamental'.

If by a 'right' you mean a liberty or privilege enshrined within the jurisprudence of some legal jurisdiction, then the answer would further depend on just which legal jurisprudence you are referring to. Your e-mail address suggests you might be referring to the United Kingdom. In which case the answer is that there are no laws or legal precedents within the jurisprudence of the UK to suggest that the average person is not permitted to have children. There are restrictions implied under certain conditions. But the legal foundation of British common law is that whatever is not prohibited is permitted. Hence, unless you fit within those few specified special categories, you do have a right to have children. Now whether this is to be regarded as a 'fundamental' right depends on just what you mean by 'fundamental'. The legal right to have children, or the legal right to do whatever is not prohibited, not encoded within any foundational legal documents (it is encoded within a constitution or a bill of rights, for example). So I would suppose that such a right might not be regarded as 'fundamental'.

Of course, other legal jurisdictions might provide different answers.

On the other hand, if by a 'right' you mean a liberty or privilege protected by some form of moral/ethical code, then the answer would further depend on which moral/ethical code you choose to apply. There are many different moral/ethical codes to choose from — each would provide their own unique answer to your question.

If, for example, you choose to apply the Judeo-Christian-Islamic religious code of ethics, then the answer would have to be 'Yes!'. In Genesis 9:7, God commands Noah to 'go forth and multiply' ('And you, be ye fruitful, and multiply; bring forth abundantly in the earth, and multiply therein.' King James Version). Since within a religious ethical code whatever God commands is a moral imperative, this would clearly imply that one would have a fundamental right to have children.

If instead you choose to apply a Utilitarian code of ethics, then the answer would have to be 'No!'. Utilitarianism would demand that you consider all of the consequences of your proposed action of having children, and project the total net 'utility' that would ensue to all potentially impacted persons. Having children would be morally recommended only if the total net 'utility' is projected to be greater for having children than for not having children. (Of course, one would have to determine just what is to be meant by 'utility', and how it is to be calculated and summed.) Such an ethical view of the option could not reasonably be considered a 'right', and certainly could not be considered a 'fundamental' right.

If you would like to be a little more specific as to just what you mean by your question, perhaps someone here can provide a more focussed answer.

Stuart Burns


(148) Cedric asked:

if you bought a car and replaced everything in it and on it some years after you bought it, would it still be the same car?

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

Suppose when you first buy the car you get some parking tickets but you don't pay them. Suppose the police finally track you down and come to arrest you. You tell them your car is no longer the car that was given the parking tickets because all its parts have been replaced. They just laugh, arrest you and impound the car.

Suppose your car is involved in a collision and you have to claim from your insurance company. They refuse to pay out because they claim that the car mentioned in the insurance policy no longer exists, all its parts have been replaced at some time.

Human beings generally replace all their body cells over a seven year period. If I've been in jail for seven years can I get out by claiming that I'm not the person who was sentenced by the court since all my parts have since been replaced?

Shaun Williamson


(149) Dan asked:

I am a third year undergrad philosophy student. Much as I enjoy the subject I can't help but feel that sometimes it is too theoretical. I am also a zen buddhist. Zen is a philosophy of action. One of the key elements of zen is that the only way one can know reality is through directly experiencing reality by sitting in zazen (zen meditation — google it if you want). Zen emphasises that words alone will never make us any happier or wiser and it seems to me that western analytic philosophy revels in words at the cost of the philosopher losing site about what she should actually do to make herself happier and wiser (I am assuming that those are two near universal and closely linked goals — happiness and wisdom).

What defense can be made of the western analytic philosophical tradition's preoccupation with words at the cost of losing sight in what we should actually DO? Of course we need words to learn what we should do but words alone will get us nowhere. We also need to do it!

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

Words are good for thinking. If a philosophers start to act, he upgrades to a mystic. So you are placing two different things in a same pot: thinking — just wandering about the world and acting to realize the world. As far as I know, the message of all Zen answers is 'You are silly to ask'. So Zen is bypassing thinking. But it requires the knowledge of the concept of thinking, in order to know what to bypass. A mystic should know something about philosophy, at least to know what to avoid :-) Knowing or speculating vs. realizing. Jnana and vijnana.

Miodrag Milosavljevic


(150) Khusboo asked:

Darwin proposed survival of the fittest but does anyone have the right to kill anyone? Where do we draw a line?

What is ethical and what is not?

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

You have misunderstood the theory of evolution and the idea of the survival of the fittest. The fittest does not mean the most violent and ruthless. The Nazis interpreted it in this wrong way and they failed to survive.

In nature animals generally only kill for food or to defend themselves, males may fight other males for supremacy but they rarely kill each other except by accident. In all human societies murder is prohibited and punished.

At the same time most societies recognise a right to self defence if someone else attacks you. Then of course there is the question of war and when a society can defend itself against another. These are all complex questions and I can't tell you where to draw the line. You will have to study the matter and draw your own line.

Most people die because of illness or accident. Death because of human against human violence is rarer than you think, even allowing for wars.

Shaun Williamson


(151) Jesse asked:

Is there such a thing as nothing?

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






Martin Jenkins