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Ask a Philosopher: Questions and Answers 8 (2nd series)

This is the eighth answers page to appear in the new format.

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 8/1.

The latest questions are distributed weekly to members of the Ask a Philosopher panel. If you would like to join the panel, please email, including a brief CV and statement of your academic qualifications.

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(1) Larry asked:

I'm a very partisan Liberal, and hate everything Bush, my problem is that therefore I want the terrible misadventure in Iraq to fail, so what do I feel about GI deaths there, etc.?

I'm an anti-Bush patriot (even now hate that word now!), so what do I do/feel, as I know that prevailing in the Mideast-terrorist struggle is best for the U.S. VERY CONFUSED


One way to lessen your confusion is to lessen your emotions, especially the hate-Bush emotion. That an American (I assume you are an American) wants this country to fail (and that he hates the word "patriot") shows just how far his emotions have prevented him from thinking clearly and objectively. Yet, your more rational self is struggling with your irrational emotions, because you say that you "feel as I know" that winning in the war on terrorism is best for the U.S. (and you might well have added, best for the whole world) The confusion brought on by your feelings is shown in the very language you use when you write that you "feel as you know." Knowledge should have nothing much to do with feelings. Feelings are not a way of knowing.

The idea is to try to analyse the situation rationally, and try to stop becoming overwhelmed by your feelings which, I suppose, come from a steady diet of anti-Bush propaganda, such as the recent film by Michael Moore.

Kenneth Stern

(2) Isotta asked:

"Why do some people believe that Heraclitus' and Parmenides' thoughts are essentially equal?"


Klempner responded (7/26):

"On the face of it, the views of these two Presocratic philosophers could not be more different:

According to Parmenides, the only thing that can be truly said about reality is that "It is". All change, plurality, differentiation is illusory because if there were any distinction in quality between one part of reality and another, that would imply that something is not. For example, to say that the background of this page is white implies that it is not black. But there is no 'not' in reality. Everything just is."

The short comment: I take it, and In my reading of the Sophist I think Plato took it, that Parmenides has an informatively unsound but nevertheless valid and forceful argument as to why as GK puts it "there is no 'not' in reality", from which real philosophical progress might be made in the philosophy of language. IE, Parmenides didn't simply assert that there is no 'not', as one might possibly be read to be claiming if one sums up the Parmenidean thought as "Everything just is."

The informatively unsound but nevertheless valid and forceful argument as to why "there is no 'not' in reality"? Well, something like:

For a word to be meaningful is for it to refer to some real thing.

'Not ... (black etc)' refers to no real thing.


'Not ... ' is meaningless.

Thus, Parmenidean Monism is the upshot of an injunction against 'not' that results from an interesting argument about meaning, according to my reading of Plato. The fact that the conclusion (monism) is absurd ought to alert us to seeing Parmenides' valid argument as a reductio ad absurdum with some faulty premise, but this still gives us options. Do we reject the premise 1 link between meaning and reference? Or challenge the premise 2 account of 'not...' statements? Plato, I think, and revealingly, follows option 2 in the Sophist.

David Robjant

(3) Larry asked:

I'm a very partisan Liberal, and hate everything Bush, my problem is that therefore I want the terrible misadventure in Iraq to fail, so what do I feel about GI deaths there, etc.?

I'm an anti-Bush patriot (even now hate that word now!), so what do I do/feel, as I know that prevailing in the Mideast-terrorist struggle is best for the U.S. VERY CONFUSED


It may aid your confusion if you see that your first "therefore" is a non-sequitur. I would argue that disliking Bush need not entail that you want everything to turn out so as to thwart him. If it were true that hating x did entail wanting the frustration of all of x's projects, then hating Bush might entail, for instance, wanting tablespoons to levitate so as to prevent Bush eating breakfast. The example is intentionally absurd — the point being: hating Bush need not entail desiring every situation that would frustrate him.

Now, in point of fact your hating Bush and your desire to frustrate some of his projects must in some way be linked. But my argument above shows that they are not linked as you pretended to link them above: it is not the case that you hate Bush therefore you want Iraq to turn into an intractable murderous anarchy.

Taking a wild guess, your thought here is probably more of the form: I hate the invasion of Iraq, therefore I hate george bush.

In which case there are dangers in forgetting about your originally motivating considerations (the fate of Iraq? world peace? what?) and thinking in this vitriolic way about this man Bush — because if you do, you could well end up with an argument with lots of non-sequiturs in it the form:

I want to preserve life in iraq
I oppose the invasion of iraq
I hate george bush
I want george bush to fail in everything
I want Iraq to be ungovernable
I want lots of people to die in iraq

The chain of reasoning is attractive to terrorists, and I'd want to point out that every 'therefore' in this argument is a false 'therefore' (none of them need directly follow), but all the same the really decisive turn in the line of reasoning is the personalisation of what was a moral consideration (the welfare of individual human beings) into political knockabout (Hating George Bush and arguing from there) — it is this move which leads to "I want lots of people to die in iraq".

In short, if your founding concern was for the welfare of Iraqis, you will not want the plan for the orderly transition of sovereignty to fail, however much you hate Bush.

David Robjant

(4) Claire asked:

Why does Socrates rank Democracy so low?


Socrates has no such views, as far as we know.

Plato ranks Democracy low because Plato loved Socrates and Socrates was judicially murdered as the result of an Athenian democratic vote.

There are other reasons.

Plato ranks democracy low compared to various alternatives. Since one of these alternatives — Plato's ideal state in which the wise rule with knowledge of the good — is acknowledged by Plato to be something only existing in heaven, there is room for some small degree of consilience between Plato's view and Churchill's quip that democracy is "the worst form of government, except for the alternatives." IE, Plato's ideal is, in a sense, an alternative that isn't really held out as an alternative. My answer here betrays the fact that I do not regard Plato's Republic as a political manifesto in the style of the Communist manifesto — in my view the Republic is intended first as an image of the soul, and second as an account of the corruptions in the state — in the case of democracy, the corruption is towards ignorant mob rule. See other answer on the soul/state parallel.

David Robjant

(5) Raphael asked:

In what ways does Iris Murdoch's views of the good life differ from that of John Paul Sartre's. Is morality an issue of contention?


Read Sartre — Romantic Rationalist by Iris Murdoch.

David Robjant

(6) Aaron asked:

In Plato's Republic: I do not fully understand the point Plato is trying to make with Glaucon's response.

Socrates: Moreover, Glaucon, I suppose we'll say that a man is just the same way as a city. Glaucon: That too is entirely necessary. (441 d, e)

My thoughts: 1) Is a man just, in the same ways that a city is justified? 2) is a city a man, in the same way that a man is a city?


The point being made here is that Plato proposes to use the city as an image of a man. Explicitly, Plato says that we will investigate justice in the city so as to see it "writ large", in larger and clearer letters. Thus, Plato's most import purpose in describing the city is to write, through an allegory, about the individual.

Thus, regarding "Is a man just, in the same ways that a city is just[...]", Plato might say that he is not writing a comparison here, but developing a metaphor. The difference is important. Thus for Plato the reason a just man is just in exactly the ways which Plato's ideal just city is just (rule of reason, harmony, etc) is: that the ideal city is Plato's picture of a just man. Plato is not conducting an observational study of our use of the word "just". Ie, he is not studying the use of the word "just" in connection with individuals, conducting in parallel a study of our use of the word "just" in connection with states, and then comparing the two usages to identify differences and parallels. No, he his not conducting a study of established usage at all, comparative or otherwise. On the contrary he is proposing a new usage for "just", and using allegory and metaphor to clarify his proposal. So it would be unfair to criticise Plato for an erroneous comparison between justice talk about individuals and about states. Plato isn't attempting to compare. He's proposing.

David Robjant

(7) Clarke asked:

"What is Descartes' version of the Ontological Argument for God's Existence?"


Descartes' version of the Ontological argument for the existence of God can be found in Meditation V. In examining his ideas of what he takes to be objects existing externally to him [such as the wax in Meditation II], there can be found certain ideas. Ideas such as length, breadth, diverse parts, size, shape, location, motion and, duration.

For instance, the idea of a Triangle has the properties of its three rights angles being equal to its two right angles, of its greatest side subtended by its greatest angle. The triangle has a determinate essence / nature / form not formed or invented or dependent on the mind of Descartes. His understanding can cognise the truth or logic of something. This truth exists independently of his understanding. For whether there are minds or not, the truth of a triangle will always be that its three angles equal two right angles and so on.

The truth of these ideas can be clearly and distinctly conceived. The truth of the ideas is not dependent upon abstraction from experience. The truth of an idea lies in its self-evident clarity and distinctness, elicited by the understanding. The understanding does not invent but understands. Another not unimportant idea is that of God.

To the idea of God [i.e. His essence], belongs his existence. Understanding of his nature necessitates the conclusion that He must necessarily exist. This truth is known clearly and distinctly.

However, reasons Descartes, existence can be disjoined from essence. For it is possible to conceive of God not actually existing. No it isn't, for it is no more possible that the existence of God is separable from his essence than it is to conceive the equality of angles in a triangle not adding up to two right angles; or to conceive of a mountain without a valley.

Yet, thinking of a mountain and valley does not entail that such an actual mountain and valley actually exists. In the same manner, conceiving of a winged horse does not necessitate its existence. But this is not the issue. The issue is that conceiving of a mountain leads to the thought of a valley and vice versa. Likewise, the thought of God as God, [God qua God], entails that he cannot be thought of as not existing. As Descartes writes:

".....the necessity which lies in the thing itself,

that is, the necessity of Gods existence, determines

me to think in this way."

In understanding the concept or essence of God, the understanding is compelled to conclude that He exists. Clear and distinct analyses of the terms involved leads inexorably to this conclusion.

In other words, Descartes is using a-priori reasoning when he writes of clear and distinct ideas. Understand the ideas through analyses of what they mean and the conclusion that God must exist follows. If it doesn't, then one is failing to think clearly and distinctly. As infinite and omnipotent then God must exist. It is a contradiction to deny this.

Martin Jenkins

(8) Bettie asked:

"Does Rousseau think that a return to savagery is the solution to our miseries? Why or why not?"


In the state of nature prior to political society, Rousseau painted a picture radically different from the rather pessimistic one held by Thomas Hobbes. For Hobbes, the state of nature was a state of war where life was a battle of each against each. This arose primarily as human beings sought felicity or the satisfaction of their desires. Despite holding that human beings were motivated by self-preservation, Rousseau held that humans were motivated by pity and compassion. The noble savage was not burdened or corrupted by commitments, property, morality or culture.

The fault of political thinkers like Hobbes is that they project the corrupt nature of contemporary humanity back onto the 'primitive', savage human. In confusing the primitive with the modern, they do an injustice to the so-called primitive and, pinpoint the problems with the human condition as lying in this pre-social state. For Rousseau, the opposite is the case. The problems of the human condition lie with social and not 'primitive' humanity. Society as it is organised is the source of humanities problems.

However, I don't believe Rousseau advocates a return to this state of nature. I believe Rousseau offered a revolutionary reorganisation of society based on democracy. This would or at least go along way, to addressing the source of 'our miseries'.

The General Will

Subordinating their individual interests, wills to the formulation of the general interest or Will of society, persons are lifted from private individual to the role of universal citizen. Sovereignty lies with the citizens. Their concern becomes the welfare of the Republic. Their deliberations instantiated as the General Will become laws. Citizens then become subjects to the laws they create.

Or in other words, the particular individual as citizen enters a common political association. By means of this, the person and goods of each citizen are defended and protected by the common force. Although each unites himself with all, he still obeys himself alone and remains free by participating in the construction of the General Will. In obeying it, I am merely obeying myself.

On pain of the dissolution of the body politic, subjects must obey the laws in the same way they participate in their formulation. Their individual preferences must be suppressed, overcome. This is freedom. Those who fail to achieve this level of maturity of their faculties will 'be forced to be free'. For with them lies the threat to the good functioning of the body politic and, to good government. If it fails to function, citizens will be governed by sectional and partial interests. This will lead to conflict, misery and ultimately, to social breakdown. So I do not believe Rousseau advocated a return to savagery. Although he may wax lyrical about it, the remedy for our miseries is social and political — to change society.

Martin Jenkins

(9) Lorka asked:

What is the philosophical difference between being an atheist an being non-religious?


An interesting question, which I've never been sure how to answer. Logically, of course, there's no way to refute the claim that some sort of god exists. But does that make me an agnostic? Well, look at it this way: I can't refute the existence of goblins under the earth; I can't refute the existence of fairies at the bottom of my garden; I can't refute the possibility of the existence of Thor, or indeed of pretty much any of the various gods and mythological creatures that humankind has, um... experienced, let us say. After all, just because you and I have never seen a goblin, nor have any miners, etc., doesn't mean that they don't hide themselves in their mines under the earth, turn invisible, or whatever, right? So then I must be a goblin agnostic, yes? Well... no. Sorry, but I just simply don't believe in goblins, even though I must admit that I can't refute their existence in any absolute or logical sense. The same goes for the fairies in my garden. And so forth.

Well, the same holds for me and the Christian God, the Muslim God, the... etc. No, I can't refute their existence; one can simply keep hypothesizing them in such a way that they are beyond empiricism... but you can do the same with goblins, fairies, Krisna, and so forth. Am I an agnostic, then? Well, formally, I have no choice, do I. But actually, no, I'm an atheist, just as I'm a goblin and a fairy atheist.

Steven Ravett Brown

(10) Lauri asked:

Hindus see life as constant suffering caused by person's craving for things he/she can`t have. Should those desires be suppressed? Would that kind of person be alive at all, and if not, would that be a good or a bad thing, considering life as total agony? P.s. excuse my stumbling language, I`m not native.


Here's my take on this, for what it's worth... and I cannot claim to be an expert on Hinduism, so this is probably not too well-grounded. But... first, look at the culture in which this viewpoint arose. Extremely high population density, low technology; a rigid class structure, with no possibility of bettering one's position in the world. Combine that with a religion claiming endless rebirth, with the odds being in favor of being born in a lower social class than where one dies, even reborn as an animal. It's no wonder that most Hindus saw this as constant and hopeless suffering, is it.

How then can one escape the wheel of Karma? Well, Prince Siddartha Gautama came along and, in my opinion, advocated a kind of mental suicide. First, cultivate indifference to your surroundings, and follow that by eliminating, as much as possible, one's memories and one's emotions. Then when you die, you can't be put back into the rebirth cycle, since there's nothing much left of you, and you just float off to join a universal mind, as a bit of non-specific consciousness.

Given the social and religious situation, it doesn't really seem a bad solution, actually. If you can't kill yourself physically to escape because you'll just be reborn in a lower form, then, hey, kill yourself mentally, so you don't care anyway. Seems reasonable to me.

But the question is, do the conditions giving rise to this solution still exist? Well, perhaps if you're a believing Hindu, born lower-caste in India, they still do. I'm not sure; India has made a lot of progress in the last century. But if you're an Indian in, say, Britain, then clearly you're not in that social prison; you can better yourself, with effort, and most have. So then, I'd say that Hindus who still see life as constant suffering are wrong, and thus that classical Hinduism (and the resulting Buddhism) needs to be altered to fit the world's changing social situations.

Steven Ravett Brown

(11) Reggie asked:

David Lewis argues that we are committed to possible worlds by dint of our accepting that there are ways things could have been. Is he correct about this? I'm not sure. Are possible worlds as he says they are concrete particulars which exist in logical space? Modal realism is a concept I'm having trouble understanding.


Klempner responded (7/25):

"[...] Lewis has a strong argument for his view. When we talk about the way things might have been, we make statements which we regard as true or false. For example, 'If Bush had lost the election to Gore, the US would not have invaded Iraq'. Some people regard that statement as true, others think that the statement is false. A true statement corresponds to the way things are. But the way things are in our world is that Gore lost. So we can't be talking about our world. We must be talking about another world, or range of worlds, where Gore won."

I wonder if Lewis goes wrong because of a hidden attachment to a correspondence theory of truth and a dangerous ambiguity in claims like

"A true statement corresponds to the way things are".

Read one way, this states that truths and facts correspond. Read another way, it not only states but also explains. I suggest that Lewis associates the modest stating claim "A true statement corresponds to the way things are" with the more ambitious stating and explaining claim that truths are truths because they correspond to the way things are in the world. It is from this ambitious reading of "A true statement corresponds to the way things are" as a explanation (or theory) of truth that we get the the necessity of a way of things in world existing in some sense 'out there' so as to support each and every truth. If a truth is true because the world is thus and so, true counterfactuals require real possible worlds.

If, on the other hand we make an opposite explanatory claim about the relation of truths to the world is the way it is, the Lewis argument as you presented it above doesn't go through. If we say that things are the way they are because certain statements are true, then the set of counterfactual truths will make what is and was possible very much part of the current world: a conclusion fitting with our intuitions I would think.

I imagine that this divergence according to the two explanatory readings of or additions to "A true statement corresponds to the way things are" ought to show that, were we to read this simply as a report without any hidden element of explanation of theory, the Lewis argument could not go through.

David Robjant

(12) Drew asked:

What must something posses to be considered a person?


A living breathing human body is enough to legally make them a person and that is all they need. Being conscious, being able to talk and having a good lawyer is an extra advantage which will help in most situations.

Shaun Williamson

(13) Geoffrey asked:

What is the difference between the following two (alleged) possibilities?

1. There might have existed someone physically just like me, who did not possess consciousness.

2. There might have existed someone physically just like me who possessed a consciousness just like mine WHO WAS NOT ME.


If they are just like you but do not posses consciousness then they are not like you and they are dead so the idea doesn't make sense.

The walking, talking human being is our standard of what consciousness is.

If they possess a consciousness like yours but are not you then that applies to the other 6 billion people on earth who are not you, depending on what you mean by 'like yours'. The idea that a human being might be able to talk like you, walk like you etc. etc. and still not be conscious is nonsense.

If someone exists who is physically like you and does not occupy the same space as you and is conscious, then by definition they are not you. If they have the same name and same bank account as you then you might have a problem.

On second thoughts

The first possibility is nonsense the second is a grammatical truth.

Further thoughts

The problem with email philosophy is that it is by no means clear what question is being asked. For example by 1. Do you mean someone who merely has the same physical appearance as you. In which case the answer would be yes if this other person was unconscious or dead. But maybe you mean someone who is a walking talking human being like you who does not possess consciousness. Now what strikes me here is that the philosopher always uses phrases like 'does not possess consciousness' rather than the more natural 'unconscious' as though you could fail to be unconscious and yet somehow 'fail to possess consciousness'.

Of course recently I listened to a lecture by a philosophy professor who believed that he could know that he was conscious but couldn't be sure that anyone else possessed consciousness (complete with lots of references to Brentano etc.) The lecture was coherent, logical etc. but I didn't agree with a single word of it. This experience is only possible in philosophy i.e that you can listen to someone talking coherently for an hour and conclude that they are talking nonsense.

With regard to 2. consider the following. Your father dies and in his will he leaves all his money to you. Someone who is physically just like you claims the inheritance instead on the basis that they have the same consciousness as you. How would he establish in court that he has the same consciousness as you and would the court care about that or would they be more interested in birth certificates, dna tests etc? Having the same consciousness is not a criteria of personal identity nor is being physically identical although it might allow someone to pretend to be you.

Of course the philosopher may argue that our contingent, provisional real world ways of identifying individuals are imperfect but they are not, they are the real thing and philosophical notions of identity are phantasy and never enable us to identify anyone.

As Wittgenstein said the only people who can sensibly ask 'Who am I?' are the people suffering from amnesia. Everyone else already knows who they are.

Yet more thoughts

Sorry Geoffrey. I keep coming back to this question because I love it so much but only part 1. Lets imagine there is a walking talking man just like you who is not conscious but thinks he is.

Lets imagine there is a man who is conscious on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays but not the rest of the week. Could I be conscious but then lose consciousness without knowing it? So I imagine that I am still conscious but I'm not. The possibilities are endless.

How do we know you are conscious? We only have your word for it. Of course you might want to say but I know that I have consciousness at the same time pointing inside your head. But how do you know that what you have is consciousness? Where did you learn this? I know that you know what a telephone book is and if I ask you, you will be able to show me one. But how will you show me what consciousness is. How can I know that you really understand what the word means.

I once worked with a guy called Roger. He had been blind since birth. One when we were having a coffee a co-worker, a young woman called Valerie, said to Roger "What's it like being blind?". He said "I don't know". Discuss the accuracy of this answer.

As Wittgenstein once said "How high the seas of language run. Lets get back to dry land.".

Shaun Williamson

(14) Val asked:

What is your opinion of Capitalism?


I think it's crap. Is this good enough?

History teaches us that everything is temporary. Yesterday's universal truth is today's nonsense.

Capitalism preaches the gospel of competition. Capitalists everywhere try to avoid competition and by bribery they usually manage to do this.

Shaun Williamson

(15) Grace asked:

Cheating in school work is sometimes justified.


Oh no it isn't. You become what you do. If you cheat then you just become a cheat, a a liar. Is that how you would like to be remembered as Grace the cheat. There is no disgrace in trying and failing. At least that is honest. Cheat and you become a nobody.

Not everybody is good at academic schoolwork. Find something you love and be good at that.

Shaun Williamson

(16) David asked:

Because causal laws of nature are descriptions of past events, on what basis should we assume that past events must be the same in the future?"


This is called the "problem of induction", and it's one of the oldest and nastiest in philosophy. I can't even begin to give you a reference list on this one; there's just too much. Just go look it up. While you're at it, you might also look up Nelson Goodman's "new problem of induction".

Basically, you can't simply assume that the sun will rise tomorrow. But you can get a nice likelihood for it if you use Bayesian statistics and reasonable "priors". Yet another area for you to read. Really, you've dipped a toe into an ocean here.

Steven Ravett Brown

(17) Lorka asked:

What is the philosophical difference between an atheist and being non-religious?


The two positions which stand as atheist on the one hand and non-religious on the other are closely related, so closely related that that some would deny any difference in the two concepts. My interpretation is rather loose and obviously open to debate. Here it is for what it is worth.

Atheism stands on the proposition that there is no God. A conclusion derived from premises that assert the extent of disorder, chance and evil in the universe, revealed by science and experience, and the impossibility of knowing anything beyond space and time, such as God. The failure of believers' attempts to claim that God has been revealed and can be spoken about reasonably.

Non-religious people could be described as those who show no interest in God, gods, the supernatural, or the 'mystery of life'. The basic patterns of worship, belief, and group behaviour associated with the celebration of faith are regarded as meaningless. The basic understanding of non-believers in general is regarded as secular. More than any previous age, the 20th., and so far the 21st., Centuries has been an age of secularization.

We could also claim that agnostics who wait for proof of God before accepting His existence are also, in a way, non-religious, but on the basis of the above definition could not be designated as atheist.

John Brandon

(18) Claire asked:

Why does Socrates rank Democracy so low?


Perhaps because Plato put words in his mouth. Our accounts of what Socrates thought come from Plato and Plato was a bit of a fascist who thought the state should be ruled by wise people like himself. But also you have to keep in mind that Greek city states were slave economies and their idea of democracy was not like ours. The slaves didn't get a vote.

Shaun Williamson

(19) Lorka asked:

What is the philosophical difference between being an atheist an being non-religious?


An atheist is someone who doesn't believe in god. A non religious person may believe in God but doesn't think that he needs to be worshiped or that we need to have an organized religion etc. Deists are an example of people who have a belief in God but not a personal God etc.

Shaun Williamson

(20) David asked:

Because causal laws of nature are descriptions of past events, on what basis should we assume that past events must be the same in the future?"


I don't agree that causal laws are descriptions of past events. They are laws which past, present and future events may or may not obey. Causal laws do not assume that past events MUST be the same in the future. Human beings prefer to think that material things behave in predictable ways and science is about trying to discover the laws which best describe the the material world.

Good science always regards causal laws as provisional. They may need to be altered or completely changed in the light of experience. Suppose we make the opposite assumption and choose to believe that the world is essentially unpredictable. Where does that lead us? Nowhere! When you go into a dark room you always reach for the light switch. Of course the light switch may not work but that doesn't stop you trying it. Human beings prefer to calculate. If it turned out that our calculations where always wrong then maybe be would lose interest in calculating eventually but I suspect this would take a long time.

Shaun Williamson

(21) Larry asked:

I'm a very partisan Liberal, and hate everything Bush, my problem is that therefore I want the terrible misadventure in Iraq to fail, so what do I feel about GI deaths there, etc.?

I'm an anti bush patriot (even now hate that word now!), so what do I do/feel, as I know that prevailing in the Mideast-terrorist struggle is best for the U.S. VERY CONFUSED.


Larry it is always terrible being a liberal. Do yourself a favour and be an extremist for a change.

Saddam was a criminal psychopath. In deeply divided societies, such people often rise to the top of the heap and Iraq is a deeply divided society. This is not surprising, the whole country was invented by the British drawing arbitrary line on a map.

Were the Americans and British entitled to invade Iraq? I think they were. Both the U.S. and the U.K. have had to enforce 'No fly zones' over Iraq for many years to prevent Saddam attacking his own people. This costs money. I don't remember the UN or the French offering to help with this or suggesting that the U.S. should stop doing it. So I think the U.S. and the U.K. were entitled to decide that enough was enough and that they should get rid of Saddam. However given the divided and tribal nature of Iraqi society this is likely to be a costly decision. The Iraq situation really doesn't have any connection with the terrorist problem and it is naive to think that the two are connected. President Bush and the moral minority are naive and if they have any sense they will get out of Iraq as soon as possible.

You should always feel sorry for any loss of life including that of U.S. G.I.s in Iraq.

Shaun Williamson

(22) David asked:

Because causal laws of nature are descriptions of past events, on what basis should we assume that past events must be the same in the future?


The question seems to be concerned with the 'arrow of time'. The pattern of past events are seen to have an irreversible linear direction, which could be interpreted as a law of nature. These past events can also be seen to fit a causal pattern. If we are to believe that time and cause and effect are absolutes, then this provides a basis to assume that past events must be the same in the future.

However, the 18th.century philosopher, David Hume, firmly believed that the concept of 'cause' had no empirical foundation, all we can claim to know empirically is that one event follows another. As this seems to occur each time we perceive the repeat of two juxtaposed events, we establish the concept that the first event causes the second. If this is the case, then the causal concept is simply derived from habit. A simple example generally given concerns two billiard balls. Hume would claim that in the event of one billiard ball striking another, there is no observed causal relationship in the movement of the second ball. What we actually see is the first ball rolling up to the second, stopping, and the second ball then moving away. We do not observe a 'cause' . Whatever would a cause look like?!! An empiricist like Hume believes that all knowledge comes to us by way of the senses, cause does not fall into this category, hence the best claim we can make for it is to assert that its existence is metaphysical. Therefore, if Hume is correct, specific effects are not 'necessary' outcomes of alleged causal events. Hence, there is no basis from this point of view that past events must be the same in the future!

Those who do not agree with Hume may accept the view of Immanuel Kant, who rejected the idea that causal relation did not exist. Kant believed that our knowledge does not rely completely on empirical perception, but that the human mind was endowed with certain powers of understanding which could be contributed to the structure of the world. These a priori concepts include time, space and causality. Causality may not possess empirical proof, but, according to Kant, it is a necessary truth required to make sense of our daily lives. The same goes for space and time, though not absolute in the Newtonian sense, they are necessary a priori truths.

John Brandon

(23) William asked:

Could you please tell me what type of fallacy this is, "So what if I didn't claim all of the money I earned on my taxes? Lots of people under-report their income.


Well it doesn't have a particular name but it is a fallacy. It has the form.

"What wrong with committing murder? Lots of people commit murder."

The first thing is that the fact that lots of people do it, doesn't make it ethical. The truth is that the vast majority of people don't try to cheat on their taxes. Its only the criminal minority, like yourself. who do that. But even if most people did it that wouldn't make it right. Morality can't be decided on a majority vote. There may be reasons why you should try to cheat on your tax but leave other people out of it. Morality isn't a popularity pole.

Shaun Williamson

(24) Joey asked:

I first must quote from Answers 22/1 #82:

... " The fact that we don't really know how the universe started doesn't prove anything at all, it might have existed forever infinitely backwards in time for all we know. " ... " if all things have a cause, what was the cause of God? Another pre-God God? And what caused that God? "

And I would like to present the question that if as stated that it were possible for the universe to have existed infinitely backwards in time, then is it not possible for Pre gods that "cause" the current god to also have existed infinitely backwards? :)


Joey is right about this: If we are prepared to entertain the possibility that the universe has existed for an infinite time, then we should also be prepared to entertain the possibility of an infinite series of creators, each creating the next creator in the line.

However, the defender of the 'first cause' argument (or Cosmological argument) has an answer to this objection.

I first heard this answer years ago from my first year Philosophy tutorial students, and they got it from Steve Makin, a lecturer at Sheffield University. It takes a bit of imagination to get your mind around.

Imagine a glass chandelier on a chain suspended from the sky. We can suppose that the links are capable of bearing any load, however great, so that the length of the chain isn't a factor.

Someone asks, quite reasonably, "How far up does the chain go? What is it attached to?" Now, what would you say about the following answer:

"There is no final link in the chain. The chain extends infinitely upwards."

The links are capable of bearing any load, even an infinite load, so that is no objection. However, there is clearly something wrong about this. A chain which is not attached to anything is not capable of holding anything up.

The same applies to the explanation, "The universe exists because it was created by a creator, and that creator in turn was created by another creator and so on to infinity." That may be true, as we have allowed, but is not an explanation but merely an infinite postponement of an explanation.

Geoffrey Klempner

(25) Denise asked:

Concerning a love relationship between a man and a woman, do you believe that we are supposed to live our lives and if we are meant to be with someone it will happen by itself without anyone doing any searching or do you believe that we make our own destiny happen, you know that saying, if you want something you have to go get it. Some people have the argument that going after what you want is manipulating people to do what you want them to do and that if you have to convince or trick someone into seeing the real you or to show them that you may be right for them, then the relationship wouldn't last anyways.

But some people say that if it was meant to be it will happen so people should just let the Universe do its job. I hope my question is not too confusing. In short, do you believe in faith or destiny and why do you say that. Thank you.


Your question confuses two completely separate issues.

1. The argument that we should 'let things be' and let fate take its course is a fallacy, which is sometimes confused with the philosophical theory of Fatalism, the idea that statements about the future have a determinate truth value, true or false.

What would you say if someone said, "There is no point in looking before you cross the road because if it was meant to be that you will get across safely then it will happen so you should just let the Universe do its job?"

Not a good idea, if you think about it. Especially if there is a heavy truck approaching at speed...

2. However, your statement, "Some people have the argument that going after what you want is manipulating people..." raises another quite different issue, which is important.

The question you are asking is this. Is trying get the attention of someone you are attracted to necessarily a case of manipulation? If it were, then how would any honest human interaction be possible?

What you need to do here is think carefully (I'm not going to do this for you) about the difference between a case where you interact with someone in a manipulative way, and when you interact with someone in an open and honest, or non-manipulative way.

If you like someone there is no harm in telling him/ her. Be honest about your feelings. That is the best possible start for a relationship.

Geoffrey Klempner

(26) Stephen asked:

How is the field of philosophy likely to alter (or progress?) during the 21st century?

Have any notable thinkers (especially those well-read in the history of philosophy, notably the last century or two) given any (credible) theories regarding this issue?

The reason I ask is that philosophy during the 20th century, in particular the Anglo-American analytic schools (which are prominent at universities in the UK and USA) has tended to become very abstract, emotionally detached, and consequently further detached from the human condition, in my opinion.

Is it likely that the prominence this form of philosophy now holds will decline in the coming century?

Especially with regard to the philosophical counseling movement, there may be a greater demand for more 'human' philosophy in the future, as opposed to abstract, self-referential, analytical theorizing, which may be fine for a mental activity among intellectuals, but offers little in the way of comfort or consolation, or wisdom readily applicable to everyday life.

Although existentialist philosophy is more concerned with the human condition than the analytic school (and has consequently had a big influence on psychotherapy, both with regards to Vitkor Frankl's Logotherapy, and the Humanistic approach pioneered by Rogers and Maslow, and perhaps later philosophical counseling too), the book Spirituality for the Skeptic by philosopher Robert C. Solomon criticises both the Continental and Analytic schools of philosophy, the former for its "often cynical obscurantism". He calls for a return to the (often passionate) spirit of Hegel and Nietzsche, as a way of "liberating the soul of Philosophy".

Outside of academia, although traditional religions are on the decline in the Western world, New Age religions are on the increase, perhaps pointing to a disillusionment with rationalism and a desire for a more passionate philosophy of life (much as happened with the rise of Romanticism following the Enlightenment).

Is it possible that such a (neo-Romantic?) trend will occur in academic philosophy during the 21st century?

"Between the well-healed spiritual pundits on the media circuit", said Solomon, "and the brilliant technocrats locked away in philosophy seminar rooms, the throngs of humanity who are searching for that big picture find themselves with a pretty poor choice".

Perhaps such a new trend in philosophy could provide the 'missing link' between these two unsatisfactory alternatives, and this return somewhat to its original Greek meaning, "the love of wisdom".

How likely is this to realistically happen during the upcoming century?


Sorry but I completely reject this idea of philosophy as a fashion accessory. Philosophy is not like a new age religion changing to fit new circumstances etc. Philosophy is about truth not about fashionable ideas. There is a very real connection between analytic and existentialist philosophy although it may not be obvious to the philosophical tourist. Philosophy is not about providing satisfying or passionate beliefs, at least not in the sense that you mean. Philosophy makes your brain hurt. It requires devotion and persistence and an extreme desire to reach a state of understanding and clarity. Any rejection of rationalism is a rejection of philosophy. Human beings need to think more not less.

Finally I would like to add the thought that philosophy does not exist and there are no philosophical truths but that is something you will only be able to discover for yourself if you spend many years studying philosophy and you may never reach this state of wisdom.

Shaun Williamson