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  View the latest questions and answers at askaphilosopher.wordpress.com
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Ask a Philosopher: Questions and Answers 25 (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 25/1.

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) Naya asked:

Describe the differences between deontological ethical theories and teleological ethical theories

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The essential difference is whether an act is good in itself (deontological) or because of its results (teleological). The term deontology derives from dei, meaning must or should (deo actually means 'bound'), and takes as its starting point that some acts such as murder or lying are in and of themselves wrong, and we have a duty not to perform them. This is often, but not always, held because God has decreed them to be wrong. In the extreme, this implies that in deciding on a course of action one must attempt to avoid doing what is wrong, regardless of the consequences.

The teleological position, deriving from telos, or end/ conclusion, takes as its starting point that acts are not intrinsically good or evil, but are such only as regards their consequences. Utilitarianism would therefore be a teleological position, for it determines the worth of an act on how it affects the greatest number of people.

A good example could come from theories regarding punishment. A deontological stance on punishment could be that a crime was committed which was wrong, and hence the criminal should be punished. A teleological stance would say that the criminal should be punished in order to rehabilitate him or to keep him out of society and hence prevent him from committing any further crimes.

Kevin Macnish


(2) Stace asked:

I don't understand Sartre's views, maybe I'm just dumb. How could he have influenced Western Culture? And would he agree or disagree to people facing consequences for their actions?

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I don't think that you are dumb for not understanding Sartre — existentialism is not an easy philosophy, and much of Sartre's thought is clearer in his literature than his philosophy. To answer your second question first, I believe that yes he would agree to people facing the consequences of their actions. Indeed, that is the only thing that can give them or their actions significance. To me, the heart of existentialism is that people can derive meaning from life through the decisions that they make. Hence for Kierkegaard, the choice was between the religious life, the aesthetic life and the ethical life. For Heidegger, it was between living the life authentic (choosing to be who you want to be) or the life inauthentic (being who society tells you to be). For Sartre it was broader still. The choices presented in his book The Age of Reason include communism, hedonism, tradition or non-conformism, and this list is by no means exhaustive! Hence it is through making a decision and living with the consequences that provides meaning to life.

To return to your first question, I think that Sartre has to be seen in the light of Darwin, Nietzsche and Nazism. Darwin's work by no means destroyed religion, but it provided the last nail in the coffin for those who did not believe in God but had been struggling to come to terms with creation. Nietzsche then worked from this, and much of modern philosophy, to conclude famously that 'God is dead.' Nietzsche saw the consequences of this in his philosophy of nihilism, which is basically the claim that there is no meaning to anything. From this, and from certain other aspects of his philosophy, Nazism emerged and rent havoc on the world. To me, then, Sartre is attempting to create or at least justify an ethical system in the face of his belief that there was no meaning to life. His existentialism is as such an attempt at providing a godless ethic, or an ethical system in the absence of any metanarrative that could justify that system.

Incidentally, I would recommend The Age of Reason and Nausea as two good works to help you come to grips with Sartre.

Kevin Macnish


(3) Kiernon asked:

Could a robot suffer from emergent depression?

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Tell me what a robot is, exactly, and I'll answer you.

Steven Ravett Brown


(4) Colin asked:

Please excuse by ignoring this question if you already have a version of it. The question (1) is this — Can anyone (living or dead) make a statement/ proposition/ claim which is not in the 'modality' of a. Making a claim that some thing (predicate) is possible b. Making a claim that some thing is actually so c. Making a claim that some thing is necessarily so.

I am not talking about the 'truth'status of the claim — but merely how strongly it is stated (its assertion strength) The question (2) is — On the assumption that all statements — in terms of their assertion strength — are of one the kinds suggested above — Is it logically possible to reach a conclusion which claims that something is actually the case beginning from a premise which asserts something (plausible or implausible) as possible? — Is it logically valid to conclude that something is necessary having begun with a premise of which claims ( plausibly or implausibly) that some thing is necessary? — The question (3) — What use, if any could these observations have for 'doing philosophy'?

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1) Sure. Just make a claim that something is impossible. That's the one alternative you've left out. Alternatively, if you consider 'impossible' merely the negative of 'possible', so that you'd consider the two modally equivalent (and the same with the negatives of the others), then you might want to consider alternate universes... viz., that something might be possible in our universe and necessary in another. What's the modal status of that thing, considering all universes?

2) You want to go from possible to actual? Well, if possible is equivalent to probable, i.e., if you can assign probabilities to the possibilities, then you can say that something with a probability of 100% is both possible and actual, right? As for your next question, I think you mean to ask whether you can go from actual to necessary, right? Well, that would depend on your conception of the relationship between formal systems, in which you have necessary, logically derived truths, and inference, where you have empirical, inferred truths.

3) What's 'doing philosophy'?

Steven Ravett Brown


(5) Liz asked:

What is the neurophysiological counterpart of laughter? There's definitely something physical happening, yet laughter seems to be so 'meaning-oriented', like if you consider the nature of why things are funny, etc. What's going on here?

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A good, if not a philosophical, question. Look here:

Bachorowski, J., and Owren, M.J. 'Production and Perception of Affect-Related Vocal Acoustics.' Annals of the New York Academy of Science 1000 (2003): 244?65.

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

Darwin, C. The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. 3rd ed. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Ekman, P., and Rosenberg, E. L., eds. What the Face Reveals: Basic and Applied Studies of Spontaneous Expression Using the Facial Action Coding System (Facs). Edited by Davidson, R. J., Ekman, P. and Scherer, K.R., Series in Affective Science. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Lane, R.D., and Nadel, L., eds. Cognitive Neuroscience of Emotion. Edited by Davidson, R. J., Ekman, P. and Scherer, K.R., Series in Affective Science. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2000.

LeDoux, J.E. 'Emotion Circuits in the Brain.' Annual Review of Neuroscience 23 (2000): 155?84.

Murphy, S. T., and Zajonc, R. B. 'Affect, Cognition, and Awareness: Affective Priming with Optimal and Suboptimal Stimulus Exposures.' Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 64 (1993): 723?39.

Rosenberg, E. L., and Ekman, P. 'Coherence between Expressive and Experiential Systems in Emotion.' In What the Face Reveals: Basic and Applied Studies of Spontaneous Expression Using the Facial Action Coding System (Facs), edited by Ekman, P. and Rosenberg, E. L., 63?88. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1997.

van Rijn, S., Aleman, A., van Diessen, E., Berckmoes, C., Vingerhoets, G., and Kahn, R.S. 'What Is Said or How It Is Said Makes a Difference: Role of the Right Fronto-Parietal Operculum in Emotional Prosody as Revealed by Repetitive Tms.' European Journal of Neuroscience 21 (2005): 3195-200.

I particularly recommend LeDoux.

Steven Ravett Brown


(6) Vanessa asked:

'There are no universally binding moral truths. Thus, everyone ought to tolerate the practices of other cultures.' Is this argument valid?

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Given that in saying, 'everyone ought to...' you are expressing a universally binding moral truth, then these two propositions are contradictory. In the absence of universally binding moral truths, one is left with relative moral statements, which ultimately come down to little more than expressing an opinion or preference. That is, in the absence of such truths, one may prefer everyone to be tolerant, but another may prefer intolerance, and neither would be 'right' or 'wrong'.

Kevin Macnish


(7) Ally asked:

Is there any rock that God creates that he's unable to lift?

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In theory, yes. When God is described as omnipotent, this is generally taken to mean that he can do all things that are physically impossible for people, but not that he can do the logically impossible. Hence he is able to perform miracles, but not make a square circle. Similarly, he cannot make an unliftable rock that he is then able to lift (for if that were the case then the rock would not be unliftable). However he can, in theory, make an unliftable rock that he is unable to lift.

Kevin Macnish


(8) Behnaz asked:

I am studying philosophy and my thesis is Quine and the indeterminacy of translation for my postgraduate degree in Iran. Please help me in this case thanks.

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First read pages 37ff of Pursuit of Truth by Quine (1992 revised edition), Harvard University Press (Chapter 3 on Meaning). Then follow this with 'Ontological Relativity' in Ontological Relativity and Other Essays by Quine 1969, Columbia University Press. This is an easier way in than Word and Object or Roots of Reference. You could also try Hookway's Quine 1988, Polity Press, especially pages 125ff. The earlier chapters explain really well how Quine differs from Carnap.

Mick Parker


(9) Farzal asked:

Why some philosopher thinking that Islam is third word countries religion? is it true? if we see in the word richest country like UAE

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I don't know that philosophers do think this. However the population of the UAE which is rich because of its oil exports forms only a small part of the total number of Muslims in the world. Most Muslims are found in countries like Pakistan or African countries which can be described as third world in terms of their economic and industrial development. Other largely Muslim countries such as Turkey or Iran could be said to be neither third world or first world although compared to western countries their economies are small. Does it really matter?

I suppose that some sociologists would say that religion tends to be more important in poorer countries where there is no social security system and life is harder for most of the population. It seems to be true that in the Western world as people become richer they tend to lose interest in religion and church attendance declines.

Shaun Williamson


(10) Tal asked:

What is the point in philosophy if we don't know the answer to the basic most questions — like the reasons we are here, or what is this world?

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Well you BELIEVE that we don't know the answer to these questions but until you study philosophy you don't KNOW that that is true. The whole point of philosophy is to try and decide what humans can know by using reason. So for example there are some philosophers who claim that we can prove that God exists and other philosophers who claim that we cannot prove that God exists. You need to study philosophy yourself in order to decide which claim is true. However unless you have a real need to know what the answer is there is no reason for you to study philosophy. People who study philosophy don't do it for the money or for the fame because there is very little of that around in philosophy. They study it because they feel compelled to do so. People write poetry and create art for the same reason. Its not something we choose. It chooses us.

Shaun Williamson


(11) Duane asked:

I am writing to say simply that Gamma Ray Bursts are more frequent, far more powerful and less predictable than ever before believed. There is evidence now that a gravity pulse caused the Tsunami in December, and that a terrific spike in Gamma Rays followed shortly thereafter. If you examine the essence of radiometric dating of ANY material, it assumes a constant rate of cosmic [gamma] radiation. This has now been totally proven false. Please tell me your thoughts. Duane Martin engineer in NC

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All the good evidence shows that the tsunami was caused by an undersea volcanic eruption. Radiometric dating of materials is based upon a constant rate of atomic decay in radioactive materials and this is unlikely to have changed in the short time scales involved (i.e hundreds of millions of years). This idea has not been proven to be totally false. Over longer time scales it may be questionable. However in science it is best to keep an open mind since this is how science advances.

Shaun Williamson


(12) Liz asked:

Do you have any ideas or theories as to how psychics can know/ predict things? I'm not one to believe in the paranormal or supernatural, but I must say I've seen psychics do some remarkable things. There's a non-fictional show on Court TV (US) called Psychic Detectives, about criminal investigations aided by psychics. When first consulted, almost all of the psychics request that they be given no information whatsoever about the case. Some will ask to hold something that belonged to the victim, as it may channel some sort of 'psychic energy'. Sometimes they claim to be able to see what the victim experienced, they will get flashes of numbers/names/ colors and other details, etc., and all of their predictions will be accurate. How are they able to know these things? As far as I'm concerned, there cannot exist any sort of preternatural 'action-at-a-distance'. So then is it just miraculous coincidence and guesswork? I appreciate any thoughts on this matter.

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I have never seen any good evidence for the existence of psychic abilities nor have I seen any good evidence that they can really be of help in criminal investigations. For every psychic who makes a half right guess there will be 20 who are completely wrong. Whenever any real testing has been done on people claiming to have these gifts their guesses are no better than chance guesses. But because humans are superstitious we continue to believe that such abilities exist. You must remember that the TV show only shows you the psychics who guessed right they don't show you all the cases were they guess wrong and just waste police time. Any real psychic should be able to predict which shares will rise on the stock market and therefore they should all be wealthy but they can't do this either. If I tell you that I have psychic abilities and can tell you what your age is and I tell you that you are X years old. If I get it wrong you will simply think that I don't have any psychic abilities. If I get is right you will start to think that this is uncanny and I must have some special ability. But in both cases it is just a guess, nothing more. In general psychics are people who decide that they have psychic abilities. In the small number of cases where the police have been tempted to use psychics how do they choose who to use? Do they ask for evidence of past accurate provable predictions or do they just choose someone from the yellow pages. Belief in psychic abilities is just a confidence trick that we play on ourselves. We overemphasise the positive evidence and completely ignore the negative.

Shaun Williamson


(13) Paul John asked

Our teacher in Philosophy tried us to give a tricky question, we keep on thinking the exact answer, but we can't, can you help me? Here's the question.... Imagine that you are killed by someone, then you died, you were going to choose if where you want to go. There are two doors with angels each... they have the same in everything, except one of this doors is the way to heaven, and the way going hell. You have to ask something, just to know if where is the right way to heaven, with just only one question. The angel whose guarding the door way to heaven will say the truth, but the angel whose guarding the door way to hell will deceive you, he will never say the truth... example you will ask, where is god? the two angel will both say 'he's inside here' Question is, what will you ask, just to locate the right way to heaven. I'm from Philippines. Thank You

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Well here is the answer. Just don't try to pretend to your teacher that you worked it out all by yourself unless you can explain why it it the right answer. Let's call the angels angel A and angel B and lets call the doors door 1 and door 2. You ask angel A this question: 'If I ask angel B which door leads to God what answer would he give?' If the answer is, 'He would say door 1' then go through door 2. If the answer is He would say door 2' then go through door 1.

Shaun Williamson


(14) Gerry asked:

How does one understand abstruse and dense philosophy writers like Hegel and Derrida?

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Obviously it is difficult. You could try reading other peoples explanations of what they are saying. At the same time you will also have to keep in mind that they might just be talking nonsense. I think that both of them are talking nonsense so I don't have your problem.

Shaun Williamson


(15) Duane asked:

I am writing to say simply that Gamma Ray Bursts are more frequent, far more powerful and less predictable than ever before believed. There is evidence now that a gravity pulse caused the Tsunami in December, and that a terrific spike in Gamma Rays followed shortly thereafter. If you examine the essence of radiometric dating of ANY material, it assumes a constant rate of cosmic [gamma] radiation. This has now been totally proven false. Please tell me your thoughts. Duane Martin engineer in NC

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

My thoughts are, first, that you're reading too much into correlation. Correlation is not causation, remember? I'm sure you could correlate pulses from distant neutron stars to the tsunami also, and so what? Second, so what, generally? Let's suppose that somehow, against all expectation, there was a 'gravity pulse' from somewhere which caused the earth to bulge, and a wave to ripple out. Um... yes... and...? Sure, I see no theoretical objections... just empirical ones, viz., where did this come from? No, not 'gamma rays', which are teeny itsy bitsy particles, right? Then what? Long-range gravitational lensing? I mean, come on. Go look up Occam's Razor, ok? Plate tectonics is how many orders of magnitude more likely as an explanation? But again... ok, a gravitational wave, and... yes...? Little green men? What's the point?

Steven Ravett Brown


(16) F. Day asked:

Are there any certain grounds for stating that each and every day of our lives are not merely part of a dream?

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No there are no certain grounds but neither do we lack them. Wittgenstein said that '..philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of out intelligence by means of language' and this is a good example of that. We learn a language such as English and we learn to say things like 'Last night I dreamt..'. But saying things in a language presupposes that a language exists and speakers of a language exist. If everything is a dream then English does not exist, English speakers do not exist. There is no one to understand me when I say 'Last night I dreamt..' and I am not really speaking. If everything is a dream then you are a dream and you have said nothing. I am a dream and this is not an answer to your question since the idea that there are questions is only part of a dream dreamt by someone who themselves is only part of a dream not a real person. Another quotation from Wittgenstein, 'See how high the seas of language rise, lets get back to dry land'. Perhaps it only makes sense to say that you are sure of something where there is room for doubt. However when I say 'I doubt that I exist' it seems to conjure up a very clear picture. We feel that there must be some sense that corresponds to these words. Some pictures lead us nowhere however interesting the picture may seem to be.

Shaun Williamson


(17) Nicole asked:

Why does the computer go straight to Barbie when i want to search for polar bears?

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When I do a search for polar bears on my computer it doesn't go straight to Barbie. I don't know your computer so I have no idea what is wrong with it. Try using a different search engine.

Shaun Williamson


(18) Elaine asked:

How can you relate Emmanuel Levinas' philosophy to education? Is Levinas' Philosophy on ethics significant to education?

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The representational structures of metaphysics are totalising. They pre-suppose, pre-judge phenomena to make it identical with the pre-existing ethical discourses. This does not allow the 'other' — what overflows or transcends the Identitarian structures of representation — to be. We must be open to the alterity of the Other to allow an ethical response.

If education is the inculcation of structures of knowledge, of being and of acting into young beings then this is irreconcilable with being hospitably open to the other. If we reject educating other beings they will remain feral and ignorant. Perhaps beings could be educated to view the structures by which they view themselves, others and the world as contingent. That is, structures that permit openness to the possibility of otherness as opposed to the violence and oppressiveness of Identitarianism.

Martin Jenkins


(19) Michael asked:

Compare and contrast Kant and Nietzsche's views on Metaphysics.

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Kant

Kant drew the demarcation lines between the possibility of human knowledge and metaphysics. Metaphysics has provided nothing but a testament to the ingenuity of human creativity concerning complex, intricate schemes. These however, have not advanced human knowledge one bit. Kant's philosophical project — Transcendental Idealism — puts metaphysics outside the categories of human knowledge? of what we can know. Whilst concepts such as God and teleology might in some cases, provide regulative ideals to guide human activity, they are not and cannot be objects of human knowledge. Whilst for Kant metaphysics results from human reasoning, for Nietzsche metaphysics has a physiological origin.

Nietzsche

Nietzsche asks what the value of moralities and philosophies are. He viewed metaphysics as the cumulation of a philosophical projection initiated by disempowered, physiologically disabled priest-aristocrats. Priestly aristocrats engaged in practices which made them physiologically sick, physically unhealthy and weaker than their Knightly aristocrat counterparts. Priests denied themselves sexual relations, certain foods and worldly pleasures adopting an anti-naturalist attitude toward life. Life was viewed as a bridge to the transcendental, to be subordinated even denied but certainly de-valued. Unable to physically compete for supremacy with their healthier aristocratic counterparts, a hatred, a desire for revenge develops in the Priests in proportion as they are physically unable to deliver it.

The anti-worldly, anti-natural attitude of the Priests chimes with the 'sick animal man'. The mass of humanity is made weary by the suffering necessary to survive. They seek escape from the suffering and this is found in resentment [ressentiment]: someone is to blame for the suffering and in the blaming, the suffering is temporarily forgotten.

The priests re-direct the resentment of the masses toward the strong, healthy, active and vitalistic noble, knightly aristocratic masters; their values are re-valued as evil and the priests' as good. Nobles are the targets of resentment — they are to blame. This slave revolt of the priest and his literal flock re-evaluates and replaces the Master morality. The re-evaluation is also ontological.

Weak, impotent physicality elevates the superiority of reflective speculation over vitalistic activity; abstraction replaces the starting point of the mundane, natural world. Reason can elucidate the nature of what is Real. The reflective self detaches itself from the world. What Is, is that which does not change. This is deduced from the hypostasis of everything lesser which does change, decay, die into something posited as higher, as origin. Nietzsche remarks that this is the tendency of metaphysical thinkers to reverse first principles with the last. [Reason I Philosophy, Twilight of the Idols]. Everyday objects now understood as representations, emanations from what Is. The ultimate reality is the source of what is. What is, has been created by something higher. Plato's forms become the Christian God [Christianity is Platonism for the people]. Superlative Being cannot be related to a lower cause so it is causa-sui, the highest and the first principle — God. That which does not change, that which is real, is found behind appearances — it is substance. In humans it is called the soul. The soul affords free will by which humans can choose to recognise the Good and Evil of Christian ethics [derivative of the slave revolt], keep themselves under surveillance [conscience] and make themselves accountable for their actions [to the priest, to God, to the herd of modernity].

Metaphysics inscribed the Western world and the peoples of Europe. Nietzsche viewed it as harmful to life as it interpreted the text of homo natura [in instances such as sexuality, procreation, vitalistic activity, affirmation of life] as something to be regretted, denied, and atoned for. Metaphysics downgraded and devalued natural life. Nietzsche favours overcoming this lie of millennia with a naturalistic morality born of and supportive of health, natural vitality or power [macht].

Both Kant and Nietzsche reject metaphysics for different reasons and they have different accounts of it origins. Nietzsche might describe Kant as advocating a halfway house of German Idealism whereby we can?t know of God's existence but it still may be possible, [inherent in the ding-an-sich or thing-in-itself] thus making room for faith.

Martin Jenkins


(20) Vanessa asked:

What are some of Aristotle's influences on the world and why is he important to us today?

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Aristotle introduced systematically methods of reasoning in philosophy (induction, deduction, syllogism etc.), which most of the modern philosophers used in order to create their own philosophical system. His main methods of reasoning can be found in the 'Categories', 'Analytics' and 'Metaphysics'. Thomas Aquinas, Leibniz, Kant and many others used these methods of argument to invent their own philosophical concepts. His ethical work 'Nicomachean Ethics' and the 'Politics' have influence upon many modern moral, law and political systems. Apart from that, his scientific essays and his method of approaching gave an impulse to the development of the exact sciences (Physics, Biology, Astronomy etc.). Finally, his 'Poetics' contributed to the evaluation of the Arts and the development of Aesthetics.

Nikolaos Bakalis


(21) Stase asked:

What is the message of the Oracle of Delphi to Chaerephon about Socrates?

What is Socrates' response and how does he go about trying to disprove the oracle?

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As Plato mentions in 'Apology' 21a the message from Pythia of Delphi is that no one is wiser than Socrates. The answer of Socrates is:

'I know that I am no wise at all. What then does the God mean by saying I am wisest? Surely he does not speak falsehood, it is not permitted to him.' (Apology 21b)

Socrates went on examining what the oracle meant by testing everyone with the reputation of knowledge. He finally concluded that the God is who is wise and by his oracle he meant to say that 'human wisdom is little worth or nothing' and when he says this man Socrates, he is using his name as an example as if he said 'This man among you mortals is wisest who, like Socrates, realizes that his wisdom is worthless'. Therefore Socrates on behalf of the God goes about searching and inquiring among citizens and strangers whom he thinks is wise in order to help the God and prove that no one is wise. (Apology 23a, b).

Nikolaos Bakalis


(22) Roland asked:

Can you give me the reaction or feedback of philosophy of Anaximander?

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Anaximander was a kinsman and pupil of Thales, and was the first philosopher who introduced the philosophical term 'principle' (arche), referring to the originative substance, which causes the coming to be and the destruction in the universe.

'Of those who say that it is one moving and infinite, Anaximander, son of Praxiades, a Milesian, the successor and pupil of Thales said that the principle and element of existing things was the apeiron (infinite) being the first to introduce this name of the material principle.' (Fr. 9. Simplicius, In Phys. 24, 13).

As Anaximander tried to go deep into the matter of coming to be and passing away of all things in the universe by reasoning, he concluded that the first principle (primary substance) of all existing things is the infinite (apeiron). The coming to be and the passing away is eternal, since the motion is for an infinite time. First time in philosophy Anaximander introduces the concept 'infinite' or else 'indefinite', as infinite time, infinite worlds, eternal motion etc.

'For those who supposed the worlds to be infinite in number like the associates of Anaximander and Leucippus and Democritus and afterwards those of Epicurus, supposed them to be coming-to-be and passing away for an infinite time, with some of them always coming-to-be and others passing away; and they said that motion was eternal.' (Simplicius, In phys. 1121, 5).

This 'infinite' is considered to be a matter (according to some interpreters of Anaximander), or an immaterial 'primary principle' and the matter is considered to be the subject receptive to this principle (immortal cause), according to Aristotle's interpretation of Anaximander.

The only one original fragment of Anaximander himself is the following:

'... Some other indefinite (apeiron) nature, from which come into being all the heavens and the worlds in them. And the source of coming-to-be for existing things, is that into which destruction, too, happens, according to necessity; for they pay penalty and retribution to each other for their injustice, according to the assessment of time.' (Fr. 1 Simplicius In Phys. 24, 17).

The a\m informations are parts from my book 'Handbook of Greek Philosophy'

Some more informations about the interpretation of Anaximander you can find in Aristotle's 'Physics' book III, 201a-205.

Apart from that, in the following books about Presocratics:

The Presocratic Philosophers by G. S. Kirk, Raven and Schofield

The Presocratic Philosophers (Arguments of the Philosophers) by Jonathan Barnes

I hope my hints are helpful

Nikolaos Bakalis


(23) Miguel asked:

What does Thrasymachus means when he said in the Republic that 'justice is nothing but the advantage of the stronger.'

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The meaning of Thrasymachus in 'Republic' 338c is since the stronger has power and political influence can do injustice without having to face the consequences of his unjust actions, while the weak and just man in the end he will end up in failure (Republic 343-344). Therefore is useless for a man to be just in his life. Then Socrates by the use of the analogue of the republic proves that the unjust man is a split personality who is unable to do anything just like a disorderly state in a state of civil war(Republic 351-353). Afterwards Socrates proceeds further and examines the virtue of justice not only as advantageous for the man, but the justice in itself.

Nikolaos Bakalis


(24) Nessa asked:

Does anyone have an essay on Ancient Roman and Greek women?

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A significant essay on women in Ancient Greece is the following:

Women in Ancient Greece by Sue Blundell

However, you can find much information about the women in Ancient Greece, in the following list of Greek tragedies and comedies:

Antigone, Oedipus the King, Electra (Oxford World's Classics) by Sophocles

Medea, Hippolytus, Electra, Helen (Oxford World's Classics) by Euripides

Medea, Hecuba, Andromache, the Bacchae (Penn Greek Drama Series) by Euripides

Trojan Women. Iphigenia among the Taurians. Ion (Loeb Classical Library No. 10) by Euripides

Aristophanes : Volume III. Birds. Lysistrata. Women at the Thesmophoria. (Loeb Classical Library, No 179) by Aristophanes

Apart from that, you can read the precious works of Sappho:

Sappho: A New Translation by Mary Barnard

The Love Songs of Sappho (Literary Classics) by Sappho

As well as the story of Penelope and Aspasia:

Waiting for Odysseus by Clemence McLaren

Prisoner of History: Aspasia of Miletus and Her Biographical Tradition by Madeleine M. Henry

Or the life of Amazons:

On the Trail of the Women Warriors: The Amazons in Myth and History by Lyn Webster Wilde

Nikolaos Bakalis


(25) Monica asked:

Proof that God exists.

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There are too many proofs that have been suggested over the years attempting to prove that God exists, from personal experience of God to metaphysical arguments of the medieval period. I have one book that lists 17 different proofs!

The most common proofs given, though, are the cosmological, teleological, ontological and moral. Briefly, they run as follows:

The cosmological argues that: 1. Everything that comes into being has a cause (principle of causality) 2. The universe came into being (big bang theory) 3. Therefore the universe has a cause (God) This is most commonly associated with Thomas Aquinas.

The teleological argues that: 1. That which is designed has a designer 2. The universe demonstrates design 3. Therefore the universe had a designer (God) This is most commonly associated with William Paley.

The ontological argues that: 1. God is a being that, by definition, is perfect in every way 2. Existence is a perfection (it is better to exist than not) 3. Therefore God exists This is most commonly associated with Anselm of Canterbury.

The moral argues that: 1. There is a universal moral law 2. A moral law requires a law giver 3. Therefore there is a universal moral law giver This is most commonly associated with C.S. Lewis.

One further argument that I like for it's simplicity is as follows: 1. Something cannot come from nothing 2. Something exists 3. Therefore something must always have existed (God) This is most commonly associated with John Locke.

Kevin Macnish


(26) Nikki asked:

What is the difference between thinking and reasoning.

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The difference is that in reasoning one uses the premises in order to draw reasonable and consistent conclusions according to certain rules (inductive, deductive etc.). By the use of these conclusions he can reach to reasonable hypotheses and create intelligible concepts of understanding. Thinking does not necessarily follow this way. One can think about different things, which are not consistent with one another.

Nikolaos Bakalis


(27) Tal asked:

What is the point in philosophy if we don't know the answer to the basic most questions — like the reasons we are here, or what is this world?

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This is exactly the point, to try to answer these questions. In exact sciences we can prove the true or the false assumptions. However in matters of your questions we can only suppose through hypotheses. Apart from that, we cannot ignore these questions because we cannot prove their falsity or truth. What remains then is to proceed through reasonable assumptions. All these hypotheses must be consistent with one another so as to reach reasonable conclusions. Furthermore, these concepts must include and explain all the phenomena. So each philosopher, by following this method tries to answer these questions by creating his own consistent concepts and hypotheses.

Nikolaos Bakalis


(28) Joey asked:

Question 1: What metaphysical developments occurred during the time period and thinkers discussed in Chaps 10-12? Plato and Aristotle are considered 2 of the top 3 philosophers in the history of philosophy. All other philosophies until the 1800's are thought to have either Platonic or Aristotelian elements in them. It is extremely important for understanding the history of ideas/civilization that you understand the Platonic/Aristotelian distinction. Focus mostly on how Plato & Aristotle differ, but look for commonalities too. How can you relate to any of these thoughts today? Can you give a concrete example of how you have seen the Platonic/Aristotelian distinction in your life.

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Joey much as we would love to answer questions about Chaps 10-12 of your book we can't because you forgot to say which book it is. I suggest you make an effort and read Chaps 10-12 of the book yourself and then tell us what the answer is. We will tell you if you are thinking along the right lines. I hope that having to do some reading yourself won't be too tiring for you. By the way this isn't a free essay writing service for tired students.

Shaun Williamson


(29) Fernando asked:

I would like to know do you think the stars looks at us the same way we look at ants?

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The stars have no eyes and are not conscious beings so they don't look at anything.

Shaun Williamson


(30) Alexis asked:

Do you agreed that Abortion is really Moral?

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I have thought about this a lot and I can't decide what is right or wrong here. I think everyone will have to decide what the right answer is for them.

Shaun Williamson


(31) Jonathan asked:

When you are travelling in a Blue Chevy Vega or Pontiac Astre in Hamilton Ontario and you meet a railway crossing where a train may be bearing down on an unguarded intersection should you risk trying to beat the train or wait until the train has passed before proceeding to cross the railway tracks?

Sincerely, A Philosophy Comrade

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I think it would be best if you stop the car and get out. Then think about whether you really prefer a Chevy or a Pontiac and is blue really your colour and do you really want to be in Hamilton and is it possible that a flying saucer may be bearing down on the same level crossing and even if the train missed you would the flying saucer still hit. Of course you could just go and look but don't forget to look up as well in case you miss the flying saucer.

Shaun Williamson


(32) Kate asked:

Is the mean point of view the most valuable? E.g. One person says; 'If I walk on grass I will hurt my feet.', another says 'Grass will not hurt my feet', or 'Grass will only hurt sensitive feet', or 'It depends on the type of grass', or 'It depends on the mindset of the person walking on the grass' etc. The mean = 'Grass sometimes hurts my feet'. This seems to be the most correct. Can this framework apply outside of this simplistic example? If so, is this valuable — the statement 'Grass sometimes hurts my feet' says little, but still seems the most valid point of view.

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No sorry this is a silly and artificial example that can only lead you to the wrong conclusions. Consider for example: 1. Murder is always wrong 2. Murder is sometimes wrong 3. Murder is never wrong. If you think the mean is the most valid point of view then you will have to go for 2. Consider these opinions expressed by leading bankers 1. The interest rate next year will be 3.5% 2. The interest rate next year will be 7% 3. the interest rate next year will be 15% If either 1 or 3 are correct then going for 2 is likely to be a big mistake. Sometimes only the truth will do and going for a half truth really doesn't help.

Shaun Williamson


(33) John asked:

Good day, What existed before existence? Regards, John

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Nothing.

Shaun Williamson


(34) Luke asked:

Is it morally acceptable for employers to read employee's e-mail?

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Yes, any email sent at work using the employers computer and computer time legally belongs to the employer. It is not a private communication and the employer has the right to forbid employees to send personal emails while at work. If you take your own computer to work and use that together with your own phone connection during the lunch hour to send your own private emails then the employer has no legal or moral right to read it.

Shaun Williamson


(35) Phil asked:

If a train were traveling at the speed of light and I walk forward on the train, am I then travelling faster then the speed of light?

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According to the theory of Relativity the answer is no since matter cannot travel at a speed faster than the speed of light. The theory is puzzling but is the best one we have at the moment.

Shaun Williamson


(36) Paul asked:

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

Would you agree?

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If we understand the term evolution in a broadly construed sense, then there seems to be something meaningful in your comments. It does seem that the universe is constructed in such a way that the unfolding of reality leads to increased complexity. The formation of stars and planets, under the congealing force of gravity is an example. The formation and survival of Earth is an example of natural selection, but not within a genetic paradigm (e.g. out of all the planetesimals that survived to a certain stage, Earth survived long enough to become a full fledged planet, due to the conditions around it, such as protection from Jupiter).

If we understand life as a (relatively) advanced form of complexity, then there is no fundamental difference between the complexity of an iron atom being forged in a star, a rock crystallizing out of magma, a protein replicating itself, or cortical functioning. Thoughts may indeed be the highest forms of complexity in this solar system — indeed their neurological substrates are dizzyingly complex.

I think by mental evolution you mean 'memetic evolution'. That is, the selection and reproduction of memes, although it is unclear whether the quantitative methods used in genetic theory would be appropriate for an analysis of the evolution of memes.

If we understand evolution as a process that by definition 'moves forward' — that is, to evolve forward in time means to improve — then by definition each subsequent chapter is more complex than the last.

However, as has been mentioned by someone else responding to your question, it is unclear whether the unfolding of reality necessarily leads to higher degrees in complexity. If we are to be truly broad and universal in our thinking, we should recognize that while there may be (spatiotemporal) 'pockets' of increased complexity, there may be pockets of decreased complexity — supernovae tend to destroy the 'neat' structures and processes of stars, but then again the energies involved in these explosions may forge more complex elements which can then contribute to more complex systems, like planets and organic materials. So, there may a limit to how broadly we can construe the definition of 'evolution', if we want to keep the constant progress of complexity as part of its essence.

You might find ideas that jive well with you if you do a search for 'prebiotic evolution'

Robert Wright's http://www.meaningoflife.tv has some fantastic full length video interviews with some remarkable thinkers (Dennett, Pinker, Dyson, etc). One of the themes is the idea of a 'directionality' in evolution.

Marwan Daar


(37) Elizabeth asked:

I am trying to find the source of this quote, ' In the web, all our beliefs are justified by all our other beliefs, they are connected by an explanatory network, and changes in one place can require changes elsewhere. Thus all belief is connected to observation in the world' which may be attributed to the philosopher, W. V. O. Quine.

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Go here: http://www.wvquine.org and you will find a lot on Quine, including:

TB asks (August 22, 2005 — question #334 in WVQ guestbook): Where does Quine say, '... the Web, all our beliefs are justified by all our beliefs, they are connected by an explanatory network....'? Two other people were seeking the same answer through Google more than a year ago. The broader context appears to be: In the web, all our beliefs are justified by all our other beliefs, they are connected by an explanatory network, and changes in one place can require changes elsewhere. Thus all belief is connected to observation in the world. Are any beliefs immune from this process? Some beliefs do not depend on observation for their justification, in fact no observation whatever could show them to be wrong. Beliefs of this type are said to count as a-priori knowledge: Their justification is independent of experience, a priori knowledge is contrasted with empirical knowledge which does depend on observation for its justification.

Steven Ravett Brown


(38) Luke asked:

Is it morally acceptable for employers to read employee's e-mail?

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A much-discussed question. The consensus on the answer seems to be that it is. I'm not sure I agree, completely... That is, if one does agree with this, then surely an employer, likewise, has the right to listen to employees' telephone conversations, and indeed to all conversations they have at work. I think that as long as one is a) using one's employer's computer (and telephone), and b) using them 'on company time', namely while you are supposed to be working, and not before or after, nor on breaks, then the answer is that it is moral for an employer to listen in, read email (which by the way is never private anyway, since all email can be intercepted and/or read off intermediate servers), since those communication devices belong to the employer and are supposed to be used for work purposes. Unless the employee is on some sort of break, and that there is a policy that employees on breaks can use company equipment for private purposes, I see no problem with this. On breaks, the employer, then, should not listen in. Otherwise one could claim that one's desk, chair, etc., etc., at work are also one's private desk, etc., and that the employees' rights to them override the company's. But this is not the situation.

Steven Ravett Brown


(39) Tammy asked:

My mother goes to a psychic and swears by her gifts of knowing things that she could not possibly know. Is it possible to have ESP? And if you believe that someone knows personal things about your life and future does listening to them make you change your actions to make it come true? Self fulfilled prophecy? Mind over matter.

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In a word, no. There are many many ways that 'psychics' lead people to believe that they have 'powers'. Go look here:

Alper, M. The 'God' Part of the Brain: A Scientific Interpretation of Human Spirituality and God. Brooklyn, NY: Rogue Press, 2001.

Hines, T. Pseudoscience and the Paranormal: A Critical Examination of the Evidence. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1988.

Sagan, C. The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. New York, NY: Random House, Inc., 1996.

Schick, T., Jr., and L. Vaughn. How to Think About Weird Things: Critical Thinking for a New Age. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company, 1995.

Shermer, M. Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time. New York: W. H. Freeman and Co., 1997.

Young, A.W. 'Wondrous Strange: The Neuropsychology of Abnormal Beliefs.' Mind & Language 15, no. 1 (2000): 47?73.

and here: http://www.csicop.org

Steven Ravett Brown


(40) Mehdi asked:

Hi, I would like to know if Plato's Dialogues are still available in its original form. I don't mean the papyrus themselves, but the content in its original language without translation or interpretation, which I am assuming was Greek. If not then how long back is it possible to date back in history from which time his writings have been preserved? Thanks.

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Fairly original, yes. Go here:

http://www.perseus.tufts.edu

Steven Ravett Brown


(41) Sarah asked:

how did socrates defend a philosophical life in the apology?

LaToya asked:

What risks are involved in being honest?

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Well, Sarah, think about LaToya's question. LaToya, go read the dialogue, The Apology, by Plato.

Steven Ravett Brown


(42) Jonathan asked:

When you are travelling in a Blue Chevy Vega or Pontiac Astre in Hamilton Ontario and you meet a railway crossing where a train may be bearing down on an unguarded intersection should you risk trying to beat the train or wait until the train has passed before proceeding to cross the railway tracks?

Sincerely, A Philosophy Comrade

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Well gee gosh anyone who'd drive cars like that should try to beat the train.

Steven Ravett Brown


(43) Phil asked:

If a train were traveling at the speed of light and I walk forward on the train, am I then travelling faster then the speed of light?

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Well, first, a train can't travel at the speed of light. Nothing but light (or, more accurately, only things with zero rest mass) can travel at the speed of light. But hey, let's say that you were close, and you started walking. Could you go faster? This is a question that was first asked probably, let's see, in the 1920s, when Einstein first formulated the theory of relativity. It's an oooold question. So I could just say, 'go look it up, it's been answered umpteen times already'.

Go look up the answer, it's been answered umpteen times already. I'd suggest reading something like George Gamow's old books: 'Mr. Tompkins in Wonderland' or 'One, two, three... infinity' or 'Matter, Earth, and Sky'.

Steven Ravett Brown


(44) David asked:

If human behavior and the basis for human desires could be explained in an evolutionary context, would you be out of a job?

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No. Do you think that's the sole scope of philosophy? What about, to give just one example, learning a praxis (go look it up)?

Steven Ravett Brown


(45) Billy asked:

Regarding Religion and Law--- What's the difference? I mean once in the past Religion USED to be the Law, now there is a separation of state and church. They still believe in certain set of rules, enforced by group of designated people, with punishment for breaking set rules, as chosen by a representative. So, does this makes Laws of a state/country (government) the most powerful religion? And the police, lawyers, judges and so on are all just different levels of priesthood?

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There's actually a rather important difference: religion is supposedly inspired by some god or gods, and is thus unable to be questioned or altered. Law, secular law, is written by human beings, is changeable, and can be questioned and modified. You might also notice that while priests, etc., are selected by the religious authorities, lawgivers are not, at least in democracies.

Steven Ravett Brown


(46) Chad asked:

Would you say we are the sum of our nature/ nurture variables? If not please explain how we aren't. And if you agree then, a reasonable of said statement implies determinism is real, yes? So I can do whatever I want but what I want to do is already predetermined by my previous variables not a sense of free will, right?

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Of course we're not the 'sum' of our '... variables', for the simple reason that whatever 'variables' are, they certainly don't 'sum' to anything. We do not know how we and our environments interact, nor of what they're comprised, nor where the boundaries are, assuming that conception is even viable. But let's say, for the sake of continuing, that we've agreed on something here... whatever that might be... and go to 'determinism'. You can 'do whatever you want' now, right? Except that whatever you want is predetermined. Look, this is just too simplistic for me to even start answering. This general debate has gone on for over 3000 years now, and do you really think that the questions asked at this point reduce to these? You need some background reading before you can even ask questions that vaguely resemble these. Also, you might go look at the hundreds of questions on file on this site for many many types of answers to this and related questions, and lists of readings for people who are really serious about them.

Steven Ravett Brown


(47) Phil asked:

I love my wife, soccer, and photography. Is that enough? Are things more complicated than they appear or simpler than they appear?

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Things are simpler than they appear but you can only come to know this if at first things appear impossibly complex to you. If the world always appeared to be simple to us then we would have no impulse to try and understand it. You have to decide what is enough for you.

Shaun Williamson


(48) Lakeysha asked:

Write a grammatically correct sentence which could be shown to be true based on evidence (but not false) and which is currently not either true or false.

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Try this one. 'At some time in the future we will be able to travel to other galaxies'.

Shaun Williamson


(49) Ivan asked:

I believe it was Wittgenstein's idea that problems in philosophy may be due largely to language inadequacies or errors; that language, being sort of an abbreviated fuzzy convenience — a pared-down 'token' of experience, cannot and doesn't really even try to accurately represent either the depth or the complexity of experienced reality. The depth and complexity of experience seem almost infinitely complex and nuanced, more so than the weather, and language only approximates it at best. Does Wittgenstein's (if I have it correct) notion act as a sort of philosophical 'uncertainty principle', and what does it imply about the goals of philosophy if philosophy itself stands on on a problematically unstable base of necessarily fuzzy semantics and definitions?

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No, I think you have completely misunderstood what Wittgenstein was saying. Language always achieves its aims perfectly because the aims of language are whatever language achieves. There is nothing fuzzy about language, it is as precise for our purposes as we want it to be. So as Wittgenstein said 'Everything is in order just as it is'. Philosophical problems arise 'When language goes on holiday' i.e. when we think about things without any idea of the practical uses of language. Language is as precise or as fuzzy as humans want it to be. Philosophical problems are mostly the result of philosophers thinking that language is trying to achieve something that it never tries to achieve and never could achieve. There is no uncertainty principle for language.

Shaun Williamson


(50) Melody and Clara asked:

Why is it that medieval philosophy is called the period of perfection?

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Much of the early medieval period involved a struggle between intellectual thought carried over from Greek philosophy and Christian thought. An attempt at synthesising the two had been made by St. Augustine's use of Platonism, but this became less satisfactory as more translations of the Greek philosophers (which few of the early medievals could read in the original) were made into Latin. This is particularly true of Aristotle, the majority of whose works were unknown to the medieval philosophers prior to the thirteenth century. There was also an increasing influence in European thought from Arabic and Jewish philosophers, many of whom could and did read the Greek philosophers, and were already synthesising these works with their own theistic beliefs.

These conflicts and influences resulted in considerable syntheses in the thirteenth century, notably under Saints Thomas Aquinas (who, in broad terms, attempted a synthesis of Aristotle and Christianity) and Bonaventure (who, in similarly broad terms, attempted to synthesise Plato and Christianity, in line with Augustine). Also worth bearing in mind is Roger Bacon, who made strides in inductive science through pioneering experimentation and observation as a methodology. Overall the period is one of excitement, progress and tension in philosophy, a state that was not really to re-emerge until the reformation in the seventeenth century.

There is a good overview of medieval philosophy at the Jacques Maritain Center of the University of Notre Dame, available at this website: http://www.nd.edu/Departments/Maritain/etext/hop37.htm

Kevin Macnish