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  View the latest questions and answers at askaphilosopher.wordpress.com
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Ask a Philosopher: Questions and Answers 31 (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 31/1.

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) Howard asked:

I'm a non philosopher, but very interested in the subject.

I'd like to get a sense of how much regard/ respect there is for the ideas of Jacques Derrida.

From what I've seen, he seems to be a crackpot. His work is incomprehensible to me, at times contradictory. At least one friend of mine who is a philosopher told me "we don't refer much to his ideas, which are considered outmoded." Is there a general consensus among philosophers?

Thank you in advance for the answer, and for providing such an interesting, useful site!

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

I don't know if there is a consensus or not. I think that he had some interesting ideas early on in his career which were mostly applicable to literary criticism.

However he was a lazy and pretentious thinker who talked nonsense most of the time and would always pretend to have a good knowledge of books that he had never read.

I don't regard him as a philosopher. He was more of a confidence trickster and a liar. His career is a monument to the gullibility of the academic world. There are still many fanatical supporters around and many joke websites which challenge thinkers to identify genuine or false Derrida quotes.

Shaun Williamson


(2) Aga asked:

I would like to know who C. Matter was? I think he was connected with philosophy, Calvinism or something like that but I cannot find any information about him. Please help.Thank you.

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

Look up the preacher named Cotton Mather on Google.

Steven Ravett Brown


(3) Lawrence asked:

Is abortion ever right?

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

Well, let's put it this way... suppose you were happily married, to a woman you loved dearly, but who is physically frail. She becomes pregnant, and the doctors say 1) the baby will be born severely retarded and physically deformed, so that if it lives, which is not certain given the deformities, it will have to be in an institution for its whole life, unable to care for itself, talk, or recognize you. 2) In addition, your wife has a greater than 90% chance of dying giving birth to it (after all, nothing is certain, right?) because of the deformities and her frail physical condition. Now what? Your wife or your potential child... choose. Cases like these are rare, but not unheard of. It's extreme, yes. But it illustrates the danger of all-or-none, black or white, thinking. The next issue is this: who should choose? The Pope? Your local priest, rabbi, or imam? The police? Your government? You? After all, she's frail... Your wife? After all, it's her body... Both? And what if it was the same situation, but you weren't married? Should you have a voice in the choice? How much voice? You believe that life is sacred, perhaps? Well, there's no winner in this one.... What now?

Steven Ravett Brown


(4) Brendan asked:

I am a theology student who came to theology through Stoic moral philosophy.

I was sitting in my lecture recently when the following question occurred to me:

Given that the present human species (homo sapiens) will eventually become extinct whether because we evolve into a different species of human or we otherwise destroy ourselves what claim can there be that "humans" (given that people tend to think of "humans" exclusively in their present for of homo sapiens) have a particular and especial relationship with God?

I appreciate that some may argue that this is a theological, not philosophical, question, but I would appreciate a philosophical perspective on this matter.

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

I argue in "The Process of the Cosmos" that the only motive God could have to create anything is the production of another entity that is creative, loving and good. Such an entity would be similar to God.

God can do anything that is not self-contradictory, so God cannot create another self-existent entity like God. But God can establish a process that can produce an entity with sufficient intelligence to enable it to begin the process of making itself similar to God.

God therefore initiates the process we know as the Big Bang, providing the Time, the Energy and the Information necessary to enable a process of self-organisation to begin which will eventually give rise to a sufficiently intelligent entity. The Information is in a mathematical form, including the numbers identified by Martin Rees in his "Just Six Numbers".

Matter is Energy plus Information. Life is Matter plus Information. Both develop by self-organisation. Life's self-organisation is called Evolution.

With the production of Homo sapiens a life form with sufficient intelligence evolves. Homo sapiens begin the long process of self-creation — no longer self-organisation — gradually changing from an animal in a habitat to a person in a community. Culture is the process of self-creation. Humans make cultures and cultures make the humans of the culture. Not all cultures are equal. Some produce more human people than others.

We have the task of making ourselves more creative, loving and good until we become similar to God. The Jewish culture focussed on moral goodness for 1,000 years, eventually producing at least one God-like human — Jesus. Had that culture not been destroyed by the Romans, who knows?

Open minded Theology is Philosophy. "Revelation" is human insight. God is necessarily "hands-off" the world because God cannot interfere in the process without stopping the essential self-creating nature of the process.

Dr. Tony Kelly


(5) Liz asked:

Daniel Dennett says the following in his book Brainchildren (MIT Press, 1998):

Since the frame problem, whatever it is, is certainly not solved yet (and may be, in its current guises, insoluble), the ideological foes of AI such as Hubert Dreyfus and John Searle are tempted to compose obituaries for the field, citing the frame problem as the cause of death (Ch. 11).

Can you tell me what Dennett means by this assertion in reference to Searle? Where does Searle talk about the frame problem? (any citation would be greatly appreciated) and what does he say?

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

This is not a simple issue, unlike what you might expect from Dennett's rather sarcastic remark. What you have to remember in this kind of thing is that there is a very emotional debate between people who think a) that digital computers model the brain and mind, like Dennett, and people who think that, at the very least, b) some other kind of material realization generates mind (than digital computers)... or, more traditionally, c) that mind is intrinsically unable to be generated by matter. Dennett and AI people are in camp a), Dreyfus, Searle, and some others (including me) are in camp b), and people who believe in various religions and other immaterial "explanations" for mind are in camp c). Among scientists, probably a) is the vast majority, and among non-scientists, probably c)... which unfortunately (as far as I'm concerned) leaves b) mostly in the margins.

Now, the "frame problem" has to do with the meaning of symbols, like words... but also with the meaning of pretty much anything. If you like formal logic, computers, and that sort of thing, then you think that the meaning of a symbol is something like a finite list of, well, whatever: "properties", "characteristics", etc... and you don't think too much about the problem of what a property is aside from the words (or whatever) in the list which symbolize it. In other words, in this view, the meaning of, say, "firehouse" is a list comprised in part of "building", "fire engines", "dalmatian", etc., etc,... including, perhaps, a list of the relations between them. Very nice, except then we have to ask just what a "list" is. In a computer, a list is, well, a set of labels which refer, maybe, to yet other labels; or perhaps in some few cases to outputs like drawing something on a screen (which actually consists of instructions themselves consisting of symbols which are sent to an output device and interpreted there by hard-wired circuitry). So... where do the labels stop and meaning start? Um... never. Not in a computer, except maybe for that hard-wired output device. This is the "symbol grounding" problem of Harnad, which is part of the "frame problem". See:

Harnad, S. "Connecting Object to Symbol in Modeling Cognition." edited by A. Clark and R. Lutz. London: Springer Verlag, 1992.

------. "The Symbol Grounding Problem." Physica D 42 (1990): 335-46. Goldstone, R.L., and B.J. Rogosky. "Using Relations within Conceptual Systems to Translate across Conceptual Systems." Cognition 84 (2002): 295-320.

Another part of the frame problem is this: suppose that you do manage to get around the above symbol grounding problem... maybe that output device will do it somehow. Ok... but now you're faced with another problem: that list you made just doesn't cut it, as far as meanings in the real world go. It's fine for formal logic, and for very restricted contexts like chess games, where the world doesn't impinge, and all you have is a nice small set of rules, and a little board on which to carry them out. But what about a real chess piece, which can, for example, break if you drop it? How do you move it after it's broken? Um... that isn't on the list, is it. So you have to expand the "frame" of the problem to include replacing chess pieces that break. Well, fine, but now what if your kid eats one? What if the piece is too strange-looking? What if it gets chewing gum on the bottom, and you can't lift it? And on and on... and I haven't even covered things like what if you want to, horror of horrors, change the rules (gasp). You're out of the ballpark on that one, aren't you... into a radically different "frame". And you can keep this sort of thing up... well, pretty much indefinitely... which is precisely what Dreyfus and Searle claim. The AI people say things like Dennett says above, where if you can't even define this problem, then, hey, "whatever it is", we can just sweep it under the rug. Of course, defining is just the issue. If you can define it, then you're back to a nice clean formal system, aren't you. And so it goes, around and around.

As for Searle, the first (I think) mention in his works of the frame problem is here: Searle, John R., Minds, Brains, and Programs, The Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3, 1980: 417--424. You might also go here for an extremely simplified summary of this very nasty problem: http://www.consciousentities.com/whole.htm. See also:

Waskan, J.A. "Intrinsic Cognitive Models." Cognitive Science 27 (2003): 259-83.

Fauconnier, G., and M. Turner. "Conceptual Integration Networks." Cognitive Science 22, no. 2 (1998): 133-87.

Langacker, R. W. "Discourse in Cognitive Grammar." Cognitive Linguistics 12, no. 2 (2001): 143-88.

Sloman, S.A., D. Over, L. Slovak, and J.M. Stibel. " Frequency Illusions and Other Fallacies." Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 91, no. 2 (2003): 296-309.

and

Clausner, T.C., and W. Croft. "Domains and Image Schemas." Cognitive Linguistics 10, no. 1 (1999): 1-31.

Grush, R. "The Emulation Theory of Representation: Motor Control, Imagery, and Perception." Behavioral and Brain Sciences In Press (2003).

Humphreys, G.W., C.J. Price, and M.J. Riddoch. "From Objects to Names: A Cognitive Neuroscience Approach." Psychological Research 62 (1999): 118-30.

Jack, A.I., and T. Shallice. "Introspective Physicalism as an Approach to the Science of Consciousness." Cognition 79 (2001): 161-96.

Keane, M. T., T. Ledgeway, and S. Duff. "Constraints on Analogical Mapping: A Comparison of Three Models." Cognitive Science 18, no. 3 (1994): 387-438.

Perruchet, P. "Statistical Approaches to Language Acquisition and the Self-Organizing Consciousness: A Reversal of Perspective." Psychological Research 69 (2005): 316-29.

Reddy, M. "The Conduit Metaphor: A Case of Frame Conflict in Our Language About Language." In Metaphor and Thought, edited by A. Ortony, 164-201. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1993.


(6) James asked:

Why do I believe that I am at the center of a conspiracy? Why do I see images of people I know on t.v. sometimes?

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

James we don't know why you believe these things, you have to tell us why you believe them. Do you have good evidence for thinking that people are conspiring against you. If not then it is possible that you are suffering from a mental disturbance called paranoia and you need to get some professional help.

With regard to seeing people on t.v. that you know, what are their names? Are these people t.v. actors or is this just something else that you are imagining?

Shaun Williamson


(7) Olivia asked:

Can you explain to me how meta ethics is different from normative ethics?

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

Ethics is usually divided into meta-ethics, normative ethics, and applied ethics. Applied ethics consists of many subfields such as medical ethics and environmental ethics. Normative ethics consists of studying moral concepts. For example, consequentialism is a normative theory that weighs the consequences of our actions in determining the moral worth of our actions. Meta-ethics examines the important concepts used by Ethicists. Meta-ethics asks the big questions: Is there such a thing as Good? Is it God? Is the Good absolute?

Here is how I think of it: Ethics is the study of morality; metaphysics is the study of ethics.

Eric Zwickler


(8) Alex asked:

Hello there, I'm at a crossroads in my life and am trying hard to turn it around and get at least a decent self education. So naturally philosophy is my first choice as a basis of everything else. It attracts me because of a variety of reasons; the opportunities to train critical thinking skills, the ability to analyze evaluate and synthesize complex ideas and also the skills to express yourself cogently. And I have and still do, like many others, engage in pop philosophy, speculating about perennial questions; whether god exists, what the meaning of life is, what it is we can and cannot know, etc...

I do realize that especially at my level, teaching myself philosophy will be extremely difficult but I have a good idea of what it entails. I'm not concerned with the history of it, but doing it competently instead. I must write multiple types of essays on primary texts as opposed to studying the secondary texts (Else I'll become too dependent on other peoples' interpretations of philosophers arguments). Of course, I need someone competent to evaluate them, but perhaps objectively arguing with myself will make my thinking more independent, at the expense of speed.

My problem is that I have a 10th grade education if that. I'm a very poor reader and have practically no math skills. When I read I become bored, drowsy, heavy minded and I quickly forget the paragraph/chapter I've just read. So I've been searching the internet for helpful study tips and have discovered that questioning is the basis of all learning. Without thinking about meaning, you will not understand nor retain the information and questioning seems to be the activity most associated to thinking. But I still have difficulty. I'm only just beginning and changing my habits and lifestyle is a painfully slow process. So how can I enjoy philosophy and reading NOW? I ask questions, but this doesn't seem to engage my all my attention. I don't think I can just wait for inspiration to hit me. What can I do? Believe me, I would like nothing more in life than to make reading, studying and philosophy into a game of endless joy and addiction!

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

Perhaps reading is over-rated. Why not ask a friend what their opinion on such and such is? That is a tried and true way to start a conversation. Some philosophers have stated that the best way to study philosophy is by engaging others verbally. You could always sit in on a philosophy lecture or talk to a philosopher. Most of us would be amazed that anyone wanted to talk about philosophy 'for fun'. (The usual response is a roll of the eyes.)

The other thing I might suggest is to make sure you are reading something you are genuinely interested in. Questions about 'the meaning of life' make me drowsy too. How about Philosophy of Sex and Love, or aesthetics, or game theory? Good Luck.

Eric Zwickler


(9) Mark asked:

How come Hume never mentions abductive inference? I understand that it wasn't really 'coined' back then, but it still should have been acknowledged and in the awareness of philosophers. It seems abduction would justify the principle of the uniformity of nature (PUN), and so PUN, being independently justified, is free to legitimately justify induction. I understand saying "PUN is the best explanation for constant conjunction" just shifts the problem from induction to abduction, but maybe it is a valid step. Any thoughts?

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

Probably he never mentioned it because he never thought of it. Here's the best explanation of it I know:

Several important issues raised by the above argument concern the nature of formalizability, of manipulations of symbols, and of the various types of formal logic. Peirce wrote voluminously on these subjects. Roughly speaking, according to Peirce (e.g., Peirce, 1992a), there are three basic types of logic, derived from the three-part syllogism. This syllogism consists of

R, a rule: (the beans in this bag are white),

C, a case of the rule: (these beans are from the bag),

E, a result: (these beans are white)

(Peirce, 1992a, p. 188).

By altering the order of the elements in this expression, Peirce realized that one could symbolize entirely different types of thinking. Thus, deduction consists of statements in the above order: (1) R, C, E; induction in the order (2) C, E, R; and hypothesis construction (also termed "abduction" (e.g., Houser & Kloesel, 1991, p. xxxviii; also Peirce, 1998b, p. 95), the order (3) R, E, C (Peirce, 1992a, pp. 188-189).

See:

Houser, N., & Kloesel, C. (1991). The essential Peirce: selected philosophical writings (Vol. 1). Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Peirce, C. S. (1992a). Deduction, induction, and hypothesis. In N. Houser & C. Kloesel (Eds.), The essential Peirce: selected philosophical writings (Vol. I, pp. 186-199). Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Peirce, C. S. (1992b). A guess at the riddle. In N. Houser & C. Kloesel (Eds.), The essential Peirce: selected philosophical writings (Vol. I, pp. 245-279). Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Peirce, C. S. (1992c). Questions concerning certain faculties claimed for man. In N. Houser & C. Kloesel (Eds.), The essential Peirce: selected philosophical writings (Vol. I, pp. 11-27). Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Peirce, C. S. (1992d). Some consequences of four incapacities. In N. Houser & C. Kloesel (Eds.), The essential Peirce: selected philosophical writings (Vol. I, pp. 28-55). Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Peirce, C. S. (1998a). The basis of pragmaticism in the normative sciences. In N. Houser & A. De Tienne & J. R. Eller & C. L. Clark & A. C. Lewis & D. B. Davis (Eds.), The essential Peirce: selected philosophical writings (Vol. II, pp. 360-371). Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Peirce, C. S. (1998b). On the logic of drawing history from ancient documents, especially from testimonies. In N. Houser & A. De Tienne & J. R. Eller & C. L. Clark & A. C. Lewis & D. B. Davis (Eds.), The essential Peirce: selected philosophical writings (Vol. II, pp. 75-114). Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Peirce, C. S. (1998c). What makes a reasoning sound? In N. Houser & A. De Tienne & J. R. Eller & C. L. Clark & A. C. Lewis & D. B. Davis (Eds.), The essential Peirce: selected philosophical writings (Vol. II, pp. 242-257). Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

As for abduction justifying anything more than induction justifies, why should that be the case? Abduction is, if anything, more uncertain than induction, as you can see from the above.

See also:

Ketner, K. L. Peirce and Contemporary Thought: Philosophical Inquiries. Edited by V. M. Colapietro and V. G. Potter. 1st ed. Vol. 1, American Philosophy Series. New York, NY: Fordham University Press, 1995.

Forstater, M. "Policy Innovation as a Discovery Procedure: Exploring the Tacit Fringes of the Policy Formulation Process." 1-22. Gettysburg, PA: The Jerome Levy Economics Institute, Gettysburg College, 1997.

Kleiner, S.A. "Explanatory Coherence and Empirical Adequacy: The Problem of Abduction, and the Justification of Evolutionary Models." Biology and Philosophy 18 (2003): 513-27.

Minnameier, G. "Peirce-Suit of Truth — Why Inference to the Best Explanation and Abduction Ought Not to Be Confused." Erkenntnis 60 (2004): 75-105.

Redding, P. "Hegel and Piercean Abduction." European Journal of Philosophy 11, no. 3 (2004): 295-313.

Shanahan, M. "Perception as Abduction: Turning Sensor Data into Meaningful Representation." Cognitive Science 29 (2005): 103-34.

and

Hanson, N. R. Patterns of Discovery; an Inquiry into the Conceptual Foundations of Science. Cambridge [Eng.]: Cambridge University Press, 1965.

------. "Notes toward a Logic of Discovery." In Perspectives on Peirce, edited by R.J. Bernstein, 42-65. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1965.

Toulmin, S. The Philosophy of Science: An Introduction. New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1960.

Steven Ravett Brown


(10) Alex asked:

Hello there, I'm at a crossroads in my life and am trying hard to turn it around and get at least a decent self education. So naturally philosophy is my first choice as a basis of everything else. It attracts me because of a variety of reasons; the opportunities to train critical thinking skills, the ability to analyze evaluate and synthesize complex ideas and also the skills to express yourself cogently. And I have and still do, like many others, engage in pop philosophy, speculating about perennial questions; whether god exists, what the meaning of life is, what it is we can and cannot know, etc...

I do realize that especially at my level, teaching myself philosophy will be extremely difficult but I have a good idea of what it entails. I'm not concerned with the history of it, but doing it competently instead. I must write multiple types of essays on primary texts as opposed to studying the secondary texts (Else I'll become too dependent on other peoples' interpretations of philosophers arguments). Of course, I need someone competent to evaluate them, but perhaps objectively arguing with myself will make my thinking more independent, at the expense of speed.

My problem is that I have a 10th grade education if that. I'm a very poor reader and have practically no math skills. When I read I become bored, drowsy, heavy minded and I quickly forget the paragraph/chapter I've just read. So I've been searching the internet for helpful study tips and have discovered that questioning is the basis of all learning. Without thinking about meaning, you will not understand nor retain the information and questioning seems to be the activity most associated to thinking. But I still have difficulty. I'm only just beginning and changing my habits and lifestyle is a painfully slow process. So how can I enjoy philosophy and reading NOW? I ask questions, but this doesn't seem to engage my all my attention. I don't think I can just wait for inspiration to hit me. What can I do? Believe me, I would like nothing more in life than to make reading, studying and philosophy into a game of endless joy and addiction!

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

Well, ok... try this. There are several philosophy "cafes" on the internet, and actually, physical cafes that sponsor talks, discussions, etc. Go look for them. You might start here:

http://www.philosopher.org

http://socratescafe.meetup.com

http://philos.org/anglais.html

http://humansciences.com.au/philosophy/philosophy.html

That should get you started.

Steven Ravett Brown


(11) Mary asked:

What is Dr Johnson's metaphysics, why did he kick the stone and how does Berkeley feel about that?

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

Dr Johnson was, like most people, a naive realist. He believed that the objects we see around us are 'real' and solid. His metaphysics would be based on what was known as 'materialism', what is 'out there' is a substance called 'matter', its different constructions making up the trees, houses, mountains, rivers, clouds, etc., with which we are familiar in our daily lives.

Berkeley on the other hand was an 'empirical idealist' who accepted the reality of things around us in a different way. He was also a Bishop powerfully influenced by his religion. Hence, his world was God centred and open to mysterious elements. Basically, the world was God's creation and he had created it in such a way that matter as understood in the naive sense is an illusion. The world is a world of 'ideas'; these are ideas stimulated in the mind by our senses (hence the term 'empirical'). These ideas are perceived within the mind and constitute the objects and activities of our everyday lives. Consequently there is no need to invent the notion of a material world external to the mind and to which we have no direct access. The general notion was that only data provided by the senses was available to us and this had been generated by some directly unavailable 'real' substance. Berkeley simply said why invent this substance to explain our sense data? If what is produced by the senses is the only 'reality' we can know then we ought to accept it as such. This is what Dr Johnson was unable, like most of his contemporaries,to understand. Berkeley would not be in the least impressed by his antics of kicking a stone, as this was also something to be found in the Berkeleian world. No doubt he would advise Dr Johnson not to do it in case he hurt his toe.

John Brandon


(12) Justin asked:

In the Phaedrus, Socrates gives two speeches about love. The first argues that love should be avoided, the second his Great Speech that it should be welcomed. Is he working with the same definition of love? How is his argument in the Great Speech supposed to trump the argument of the first?

Justin also asked:

Can love lead us to knowledge of reality? Does the Great Speech of the Phaedrus give us good reason to believe that love can make us better philosophers? Illustrate your answer with the case of Socrates; he claims to be an expert on love. Has his capacity for love helped him towards knowledge?

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

Plato in his introduction to love in the 'Symposium' defines it as a desire for beauty and strife for immortality and self-completion in a form of creativity (children, works of art and crafts etc.), and above all creativity of the mind in a form of love of wisdom. Therefore he states:

'But the lover is turned to the great sea of beauty and gazing upon this, he gives birth to many gloriously beautiful Ideas and thoughts, in unstinting Love of wisdom, until, having grown and been strengthened there, he catches sight of Knowledge, and it is the Knowledge of such Beauty.' (Plato Symposium 210 d).

In his later Dialogue 'Phaedrus' Plato develops further the concept of Eros and distinguishes the two sorts of love. The first one, to which he refers in the first part of the dialogue, and concerns the erotic love, he defines it as a kind of sickness, craving for the pleasures of the body. Furthermore, its possessor is trying to dominate and enslave the beloved one physically and mentally, and deprive him from philosophy. Therefore, he distinguishes four kinds of divine madness (theia mania), namely erotic love, madness of divination, madness underlying the mystic purifications and the madness of poetic inspiration.

However, in the second part of the 'Phaedrus' he defines love in a symbolical and metaphorical way and by the use of the self-mover and three-part soul mentioned in the 'Politeia'. The soul resembles a charioteer with a team of two winged horses, a white one which is obedient and good, and a black one that is wicked. The soul travels through the heaven where learns the understanding of the language of the Forms. Therefore he states:

'A human being must understand speech in terms of general Forms, proceeding to bring many perceptions together into a reasoned unit' (Phaedrus 249b-c).

This ability of 'deduction' is the condition for the reincarnation of the soul, therefore this heavenly adventure is nothing but a down to earth training in dialectic, by the use of division and collection. For the best souls, which get a glimpse of true being, are those who have access to the Forms (247c-e). This comes also as a conclusion when Socrates describes it as 'systematic art':

'To see together things that are scattered about everywhere and to collect them into one kind (mia idea)' as well as 'to cut the unity up again according to its species along its natural joints, and to try not to splinter any part, as a bad butcher might do' (Phaedrus 265e).

The searching then for the good and the beautiful, which completes the soul in this second part, is no longer a lonely enterprise like in the 'Symposium' but a joint journey of two friends with the help of the method of dialectic, namely collection and division, which can lead to 'likening to god'. This method was further developed and demonstrated in the later dialogues 'Sophist' and "Statesman', and lead to the knowledge of the five great entities (being, motion, rest, sameness and difference).

However, this knowledge was proved not sufficient enough in the 'Philebus', therefore in order to determine what is good, we need also to understand the internal unity and plurality of the things.

Nikolaos Bakalis


(13) Robin asked:

If you try to fail, but succeed which have you done?

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

Haha, well, I guess it depends on whether you're a 'the glass is half empty' or 'the glass is half full' type of person...

Steven Ravett Brown


(14) Billy asked:

This is a question related to an online soccer management game, and it is causing some heated debate in the chat forums.

The question is "What's the difference between "If Losing and If 1+ goals down".

These are two choices related to choosing when to alter tactics at certain times in the game. Some people in the forum argue that there is no difference between the two, whilst others believe that there is a difference related to the degree of specificity.

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

I suppose this is really a question specific to soccer. Is there ever a difference between 'losing' and 'being one or more goals down'? In terms of one soccer game the answer is no, but there are real-life scenarios where a team can be losing even though the score is tied. For example, imagine that US and Mexico are playing the final game of round robin in bracket A: the winner of the division advances to the next round to face the winner of bracket B. The tiebreakers are such that if either team wins, they will automatically advance to the next round. However, should the game end in a tie, Mexico holds the tie-breaker, and would advance to the next round. In this situation, Mexico needs to 'win or tie' to advance. Since advancing in the tournament is the ultimate goal, the US might alter tactics near the end of the game if the score was tied. They are 'losing', but not 'one or more goals down'. There may be other specific scenarios for soccer (or any other sport), but this is an example that came to mind.

Eric Zwickler


(15) Babur asked:

Babies language depends on parents. All human comes from only Adams and Eve. Why so many languages in the world?

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

In Genesis 11, when the world was young, many nations got together and began to build a great tower to show off their power and intellect. This building was known as the 'Tower of Babel'. At the time, everyone on earth spoke the same language.

Yahweh takes this as a challenge to his personhood and creates many languages so the builders can no longer communicate with each other. The people are forced to discontinue their project.

Eric Zwickler


(16) Sagar asked:

I am a undergrad student, studying philosophy and wanted to ask what's the best avenue is for deciding your dissertation title. I've always wanted to research into how the politics of ancient greece has influenced the political life we live today. I struggle at it but I enjoy the learning.

But I have been told by a post grad student that it is better to pick a subject which you know you can get a good mark rather than one which you will enjoy doing but not necessarily get a good mark in.

I'm confused as to how to approach the dissertation title.

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

My answer is: you decide what do you want to enjoy more, getting good numbers or doing something which you passionately need. If the answer is first one then go for your friend's advice and if the answer is second then listen to your intuition. But in both the cases you will be responsible for your choice. There is a compromise formula also. If you want to have cake in both hands then go for first option and at the same time keep in mind that you will follow the second option later in your life. You have enough time in your hands . You can go for dissertation work on Greek political life after finishing your undergraduate. Life is not going to finish after your graduation.

Madhu Kapoor


(17) Lu asked this question:

What is the difference between having knowledge and KNOWING?

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Knowing is an activity which involves a process. Knowledge is a kind of product, which you have received through this process. For example, If I say 'I see a bird there on the tree', the process of knowing is perception through eyes and the piece of knowledge which I obtained is 'there is a bird on the tree', which is the product of knowing process , i.e. perception.

If the knowing process is defective the knowledge will be erroneous and if the process is correct then the knowledge is true. For example, if my eyes are weak I may not see birds there or I may see something else because of the distance. If there is dark I may not perceive clearly what is there This leads to wrong knowledge which is a product.

There is a difference between knowing how and knowing that. Sometimes knowledge is stated as propositional. It is a fact stating affairs. For example 'the sky is blue' states a fact of reality. It is called knowing that. At other times I use the expression 'Knowing how' For instance, I know how to swim. knowing a fact is not enough you must know how to perform the swimming activity. Read Gilbert Ryle.

Madhu Kapoor


(18) Matt asked:

I would like to know your thoughts on happiness. Everyone is looking for happiness, presumably because it is our instinct to do so, and the things that aid survival make us happy (until we started making things full of sugar and what not). Do you think that people ever reach a state of happiness, or could it be that happiness is a sort of instinctive idea to make us continually strive,

And do you think that all lives have the same happiness/ sadness ratio (for want of a better word), because we get used to our situation over time? Also, would continual happiness be possible, or would it be hampered by a lack of comparative sadness? As you can probably this is something I've been thinking about and it has confused me quite a bit!

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

You are right that seeking happiness is basic instinct of all living beings. Happiness lies in self preservation. We are all struggling to preserve our genes through our children, our culture through propagation, our identity and every thing that we love to preserve because that brings happiness to us. There is a saying of Upanishads, EKO aham BAHUSYAM, before this creation of the world, Brahma was alone and desires to be many. It is the desire to propagate oneself vis-a-vis self-preservation.

When we understand our limitation we feel comfortable with ourselves that brings happiness. If I try to do something that I cannot, it brings frustration and sadness. Thus sadness in turn help to realise our potential what I can do and what I cannot. So indirectly it helps to bring happiness.

Madhu Kapoor


(19) Paula asked:

Ii would like the answer to the meaning of 'what goes up must must come down'.

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

If you watch nature carefully you will see everything is in orderly way coming and going. The leaves are there on the tree but then after few months it goes away, the new ones arrive. Men are born and then they die. It is a natural principle of cyclic order.

Madhu Kapoor


(20) John asked:

'After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley's ingenious sophistry to prove the nonexistence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it, "I refute it thus".'

How do you think Berkeley will answer to this statement?

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

The very striking of the stone by Johnson proves that Berkeley is right. Without having contact with the sense faculty you cannot even strike. The force of the tactual perception is there in order to prove that the stone has been hit. Berkeley wants to prove only this much that existence of the stone is inseparable from the perception of it. And he did it.

Madhu Kapoor


(21) Gregg asked:

Is life a dream?

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Yes life is a beautiful dream, try to fulfill it.

Madhu Kapoor


(22) Aigerim asked:

"Why be Moral?"

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Very, very complex question. Firstly, try not being moral. You'll be unpopular, maybe thrown into prison. Imagine driving on a road where there are no traffic rules. Anarchy would exist with drivers doing anything they want. Travel from A to B would be dangerous if not impossible. So, my first and glib answer is that socially created, observed and disputed rules, values make travelling the road of life possible.

Second, the methodology of this question is similar to the subjective doubting of the objective world as undertaken by Rene Descartes for epistemological purposes. Without the invocation of God, Descartes is stuck with solipsism and the doubtful existence of an external, objective world. The moral sceptic who from a subjective position asks why s/he ought to follow objective moral prescriptions follows the same approach. Here, s/he can, like Hume after him, leave all the philosophical questioning in the study and engage with everyday life before returning to question it. Or, one can become truly dualistic and engage with the everyday world whilst simultaneously questioning it and doubting everything. There seems to be something 'not quite right' with this position. Martin Heidegger picks this up when he criticises the Cartesian worldview in Being and Time. Bernard Williams also makes germane points in his Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy when he points out that even the moral nihilist follows the morality s/he doubts.

Thirdly, one could reply that morality is essentially emotive. [A.J.Ayer Language, Truth and Logic]. They are not subject to empirical verification like observing a cat on the mat. I may have sympathetic other regard for persons whereas you may not. I try to implore you to agree with me but this carries no prescriptive weight. It is as if I have gone 'ergh yuk!' at something and hoped you'd agree with me. But why do so many human beings concur in moral matters?

Finally, following on from Heidegger's insights, human beings are already in the world before reflecting upon it. Norms [ethos is Greek for custom] are immanently followed, as they are our being in the world. Norms or the structures, values of what might be called morality are followed insofar as they further interests, feelings — being in the world in particular socio-economic-cultural contexts. They are altered insofar as they fail this. See the works of Richard Rorty, Michel Foucault and Heidegger's Being and Time to pursue these insights. Difficult question Aigerim.

Martin Jenkins


(23) John asked:

"After we came out of Church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley's ingenious sophistry to prove the non-existence of matter and that everything in the universe is merely ideal. I observed that though we agree his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I shall never forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it "I refute it thus".

How do you think Berkeley will answer this statement?'

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

Berkeley would, I think, answer that Johnson has not refuted his theory. When kicking the stone, Johnson would have experienced sensations and only sensations. The stone is nothing more than its sensations. There is no substance, matter underlying the sensations — only the collection of sensations: this is the essence of Immaterialism. The stone is real and what is real is immaterial.


(24) Danny asked

Philosophically has the existence of God been proved conclusively one way or the other?

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

The blunt answer is no. Philosophers are divided into those who believe that God is a necessary being, and those who find no reason to entertain such a notion. There are those who see order and design in nature as proof of God's existence, others believe that if there is order in nature it is somehow self-generated. Whichever way we look at it we seem forced to recognise a non-causal situation, either God is self-generated from nothing or matter is self-generated from nothing.

The most common view in the sciences is that life has no purpose except physical survival, and that we live in a purposeless universe. The opposed view asserts that if this were true all art and science would be meaningless and a total waste of effort. There are those who believe that since life's purposes and meanings seem inaccessible to present-day science, they can only hope to find them in religion, metaphysics, art, literature, poetry and music. Scientists may look upon creationism as a simple primitive attempt to explain the world, however, they seem to conveniently overlook the fact that the so called Big Bang and Darwinian evolution are also nothing more than unproven theories that try to explain the world.

John Brandon


(25) Paul asked,

How does chemistry (of the human body) give rise to consciousness?

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

This is rather taking things for granted, from whence comes the notion that consciousness is dependent on chemical reactions? I find it difficult to accept the idea that chemical molecules can somehow make decisions. I have always held the belief that the chemistry of the body is responsive to some over-riding influence. Turning sensations into behaviour seems to be the reverse of what the question implies, i. e. something causes reactions which are dependent on chemical activity, but what is the 'something' which sets it all in motion. When I carry out a chemical experiment in the lab. the reaction is dependent on my decisions, the chemicals do not decide what they are going to do. Transferring this to biological activity, when I decide to raise my arm chemical activity is set in motion which enables me to do just that. When I decide to go shopping the decision sets in motion all the chemical activity which enables me to do that: but what is meant in this case by the 'I' and the 'me'? I decide to kick a football, the brain by mechanically setting the movements in motion enables me to carry out 'my' desire.

We are dealing with the question of 'will', what do we mean by talking about the will to do something? Daily we are subject to our will and its decision making, fortunately we have the chemistry to respond, scientifically we can describe the chemistry of nerve impulses, hormones, the genetic code, enzymes, etc., but we are no nearer describing consciousness than was Plato or Aristotle. From whence comes the will?!

John Brandon


(26) Mike asked:

Although I am not an educated person in ANY regard, I have a couple of questions I thought I'd ask of someone else that may have the answers I'm looking for.

Why is it the BIG BANG THEORY, has been modified from the original beginning of the universe theory, to the newest recycling bang theory?

What is the universe? I mean, if it's in a vacuous state, and no life as we know it can exist in the vacuum of space, what is space? Nothing? Well then where did the particles come from that began the BIG BANG THEORY in the first place? How did those particles get created and where'd they come from? Did the BIG BANG create our galaxy or supposedly the entire universe? If so, new galaxies are being created even today, so how can the universe collapse to restart the recycling theory all over again? What's the boundaries of the universe? or are there any? Will the new galaxies being created collapse as well? How far out do the new galaxies go? Did the BIG BANG create our universe as we know it? or all the universe assuming there are more we don't have knowledge of? I mean, if there's no end to the universe, how could it in 1 trillion years collapse on itself if there are no boundaries to it? This would imply it to have a boundary. What if the BIG BANG as we think of it, only created our known universe, where other similar BIG BANG's are still happening in trillions of light years away galaxies or universes? The effects of such an event dissipating by the time it reached our universe.

What's above or below the Earth? Why is it when we look into space through telescopes and the like, we always look horizontally, and never vertically? And why is it we always say "in" space? By saying this, it assumes space is in something. If you go into space, what's on the outside of space? Nothing? Then how is it there's something? Where did the particles come from that created the BIG BANG? After it happened, where did the dust particles and "matter" come from that began to form planets and stars? Why is there so much debris out there, when there is supposedly nothing in the universe when it began? If it all began from a gas reaction when the BIG BANG occurred, where'd the gas come from, how did it cause matter? And if the gas created was from the two atoms colliding to create the BIG BANG, how did it multiply so vastly? Were these two atoms or particles so enormous, there was plenty to go around and it all scattered?

I think we're just an ant factory of something or someone larger than our universe, kinda like the proverbial fishing bowl theory... E.T... LOL.

A couple of answers would be good to put my wandering mind at ease.......Thanks.

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

Science is about trying to form the best theory possible that fits the evidence we have. In Cosmology the evidence has changed a lot in the past 50 years. In the 1950s there were two different theories about the origin of the universe, the Steady State theory and the Big Bang Theory. The evidence available at that time was not good enough to decide between them. After a while all the evidence favoured the Big Bang Theory. However some of the evidence that supported the big bang theory was evidence that the universe was expanding and this raised the question would the universe expand forever, would it reach a steady state or would it stop expanding and start to contract (many big bangs).

Answering these questions is not easy since it depends upon calculations about the rate of expansion, the strength of gravity and whether gravity has always been a constant. As more evidence becomes available we may be able to decide on answers to these questions or it is possible that we may never have enough evidence to decide between them. At the time of the big bang the universe was composed of a single infinitely dense point of matter. It makes no sense to ask what this was composed of i.e. there were no atoms. Science doesn't always give us answers that we can form into convenient pictures.

Shaun Williamson


(27) Stacy asked:

What are some applicable theories to explain the sense of deja vu?

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First, those theories are mostly cognitive, not philosophical. Second, there are not too many, unless you're a Freudian or you believe in reincarnation. The cognitive theories are fairly complex, but the ones I like have to do with neural nets and the evocation of what might be termed "secondary" traces. Look here:

Brown, A.S. "A Review of the DeJa` Vu Experience." Psychological Bulletin 129, no. 3 (2003): 394-413.

These are not quite as closely related, but they might help:

Anderson, M. C., and B. A. Spellman. "On the Status of Inhibitory Mechanisms in Cognition: Memory Retrieval as a Model Case." Psychological Review 102, no. 1 (1995): 68-100.

Anderson, M. C., and C. Green. "Suppressing Unwanted Memories by Executive Control." Nature 410 (2001): 366 — 69.

Connor, L.T., D.A. Balota, and J.H. Neely. "On the Relation between Feeling of Knowing and Lexical Decision: Persistent Subthreshold Activation or Topic Familiarity?" Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition 18, no. 3 (1992): 544-54.

Koriat, A., and R. Levy-Sadot. "The Combined Contributions of the Cue-Familiarity and Accessibility Heuristics to Feelings of Knowing." Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition 27, no. 1 (2001): 34-53.

Metcalfe, J., B.L. Schwartz, and S.G. Joaquim. "The Cue-Familiarity Heuristic in Metacognition." Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition 19, no. 4 (1993): 851-61.

Rhodes, M.G., and C.M. Kelley. "The Ring of Familiarity: False Familiarity Due to Rhyming Primes in Item and Associative Recognition." Journal of Memory and Language 48 (2003): 581-95.

Schacter, D. L., N.M. Alpert, C.R. Savage, S.L. Rauch, and M.S. Albert. "Conscious Recollection and the Human Hippocampal Formation: Evidence from Positron Emission Tomography." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 93 (1996): 321-25.

Schwartz, B.L., A.S. Benjamin, and R.A. Bjork. "The Inferential and Experiential Bases of Metamemory." Current Directions in Psychological Science 6, no. 5 (1997): 132-37.

Thomas, A.K., and E.F. Loftus. "Creating Bizarre False Memories through Imagination." Memory & Cognition 30, no. 3 (2002): 423-31.

Whittlesea, B.W.A., and L.D. Williams. "The Source of Feelings of Familiarity: The Discrepancy-Attribution Hypothesis." Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition 26, no. 3 (2000): 547-65.

------. "The Discrepancy-Attribution Hypothesis: Ii. Expectation, Uncertainty, Surprise, and Feelings of Familiarity." Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition 27, no. 1 (2001): 14-33.

Steven Ravett Brown


(28) Paul asked,

In my opinion the existence or otherwise of God cannot be proven. It is a matter of faith. It is also a comment on the state of Western society that the absence of categorical scientific proof tends to discredit the possibility for many people. Validity of a viewpoint hinges on scientific support for the argument. Yet science is only right for as long as it takes for someone else to come along with the evidence that disproves an earlier theory. Newton was right until he was shown to be wrong. More recently scientists have had to recast their theory of how comets are formed following the successful colliding of a satellite with a comet . Given that science is fallible should scientists not issue a health warning alongside their theories so that people can retain an open mind and not close it with the view that a scientist said it so it must be right?

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

Perhaps we should re-phrase your opening sentence and say that 'the existence or otherwise of God has not as yet been proven. I believe that both philosophers and scientists would be wary of making the categorical claim that something would never be proven. In my younger days it was considered ridiculous to think of anyone ever walking on the moon. It was also once thought ridiculous that a heavy machine could lift itself off the ground and fly through the air. Fatal diseases were acts of God for which there were no cures. The important point here is that the natural laws to enable these things were already there waiting for man to discover them. How many more natural laws are waiting to be discovered?

Much of what you say about science and the scientific approach to solving the world's outstanding problems and mysteries, would generate some support. However, it would not be very wise to ignore the debt owed to science by mankind, science covers a huge ground, its problems arise when it enters the world of speculative philosophy on subjects like the existence of God, the origin of man, the origin of the universe, quantum theory and metaphysics. Problems arise in these areas when theories are presented as facts, like, for instance, evolution and the Big Bang; the desperate search for tiny pieces of evidence to support the theory leads to exaggeration and invention, evidence of this is found in artist's drawings of early man, designed to show an evolutionary development from apes, for which there is no proof. Hissing in the universe is conveniently attached to the Big Bang. All this is pseudo science as there is no way an experiment could be carried out to attempt to disprove the theories.

Another very important aspect to be considered is the fact that whereas the scope of philosophy is extensive and, in a way, knows no limits, science is restricted to a materialist or physical world view as its basis for 'reality', the only valid evidence acceptable within this scientific aspect is empirical, proof by way of the senses. Philosophy on the other hand is willing to seek out other forms of reality, hence many philosophers can tolerate the notion of a non-material reality, this is seen within the various Idealistic structures proposed down the ages since ancient times.

Scientists are, in the main, reductionists, and confined as they are to the 'matter myth' their search for reality lies in reducing matter to its basic structure of atomic particles, which after behaving in unpredictable ways, eventually disappear in photons of light, leaving science with even bigger problems than it started with. Again, owing to its materialist restrictions, science is confined to regarding nature as a series of accidents, including the fortuitous accidents of alleged evolution, and the mysterious appearance of a primeval atom to produce a big bang.

However, generalisation is a dangerous thing and we have got to acknowledge the fact that some scientists hold religious beliefs, and many are of the opinion that there is more to the world than meets the eye. It does seem though that the scientific approach is more likely to indicate the absence of a god rather than to offer proof of the existence of such a being. On the other hand, the less restrictive approach of philosophy has come no nearer to success than has science. Though from a philosophical point of view it can be shown to be just as ridiculous to say there is no God as it is to say there is one.

John Brandon


(29) Felicity asked:

Are qualia distinct from phenomenal states or a subset of them?

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

Good question, and it really depends on where you're coming from. Qualia are usually taken to be sensory experiences, i.e., one speaks of "sensory qualia" like redness, etc. So the question becomes whether there are "non-sensory" experiences. There's actually a moderate literature on this, and the usual conclusion is that there are... for example, is the feeling that we know or recognize something a sensory experience? Well... it depends on what you consider sensory, and so forth... but usually the "feeling of knowing" or the "feeling of recognition" or the "feeling of judgment", and many more such, are not so considered (and I'm not sure I agree with this, myself... but that's a long argument). So if you think that, then clearly qualia are a subset of phenomenal states. Look here for a bit on this:

Clark, A. Sensory Qualities. Oxford University press: New York, NY, 1996.

Cunningham, B. "Capturing Qualia: Higher-Order Concepts and Connectionism." Philosophical Psychology 14, no. 1 (2001): 29-41.

Dennett, D. C. "Quining Qualia." In Consciousness in Contemporary Science, edited by A. J. Marcel and E. Bisiach, 42-77. New York, NY: Oxford University Press Inc., 1994.

Mangan, B. "Sensation's Ghost: The Non-Sensory "Fringe" Of Consciousness." Psyche 7, no. 18 (2001).

Nikolinakos, D.D. "Dennett on Qualia: The Case of Pain, Smell and Taste." Philosophical Psychology 13, no. 4 (2000): 505-22.

Norman, E. "Subcategories Of "Fringe Consciousness" And Their Related Nonconscious Contexts." Psyche 8, no. 15 (2002).

Stone, J. "What Is Is Like to Have an Unconscious Mental State?" Philosophical Studies 104, no. 2 (2001): 179-202.

Stubenberg, L. Consciousness and Qualia. Edited by M.I. Stamenov and G.G. Globus. Vol. 5, Advances in Consciousness Research. Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 1998.

and

Lovelace, E. "Attributes That Come to Mind in the Tot State." Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society 25, no. 5 (1987): 370-72.

Schwartz, B.L. "The Phenomenology of Naturally-Occurring Tip-of-the-Tongue States: A Diary Study." In Advances in Psychology Research, Volume 8, edited by S.P. Shohov, 73-84. Huntington, NY: Nova Science Publishers, 2002.

Smith, S. M., S.P. Balfour, and J.M. Brown. "Effects of Practice on Tip-of-the-Tongue States." Memory 2, no. 1 (1994): 31-49.

Widner, R.L., Jr., and S. M. Smith. "Feeling-of-Knowing Judgments from the Subject's Perspective." American Journal of Psychology 109, no. 3 (1996): 373-87.

Steven Ravett Brown


(30) Felicity asked:

I have been stuck on the grue problem for ages and am not getting anywhere...

Here is the definition of grue:

All emeralds are grue, that is, green before time t, otherwise blue.

I think the problem is supposed to be this:

The normal inductive principle should lead us to think the next emerald will be green. But all our observations support the idea that all emeralds are grue, since every emerald seen so far is indisputably grue. We are therefore equally justified in making the prediction that any emerald examined after time t is also grue that is, blue.

How can this be? Certainly the next emerald after t is going to be blue. There's no contradiction here. This problem can't be about what our intuitions are. Intuitions give way before the facts of the matter and the facts here are that emeralds before t are green and afterwards blue. This is also the definition of grue, the relevance of which additional piece of information I don't appreciate. I just don't see a problem.

I must be missing something but I don't know what it is. What is it that I'm not seeing?

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

You might take a look at Goodman's original article... I think that going to the source really clarifies what it's about, which is actually more limited than usually taken. More generally, I think that Norton's comments really do the trick in showing its limitations (e.g., p. 198), and you can go from there, if you want, into the enormous literature on this.

Goodman, N. "A Query on Confirmation." The Journal of Philosophy 43, no. 14 (1946): 383-85.

Hetherington, S. "Why There Need Not Be Any Grue Problem About Inductive Inference as Such." Philosophy 76 (2001): 127-36.

Norton, J.D. "How the Formal Equivalence of Grue and Green Defeats What Is New in the New Riddle of Induction." Synthese 150 (2006): 185-207.

Steven Ravett Brown


(31) Dick asked:

Could you suggest terminology to distinguish named instances of beings (i.e. specific individuals as opposed to generic classes)? I'm working on the broadest context of a schema and would like to distinguish humans from nonhumans (e.g. Koko or General Grant Tree) without just using the negative.

It also occurs to me that should aliens with names arrive and with named pets, there would be difficulty of fitting them into a general classification. Fictional names fit into a category 'special' to avoid religious or cultural disagreements.

The idea is to be inclusive, concise and practical while attempting to avoid controversies. Each group needs to be sufficiently discrete to allow different people to apply the classification consistently just based on the term/brief definition.

(Impossible?) Thanx, Dick.

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

I'm a little puzzled about this project. First, what's the point? You think aliens are going to land and we won't be able to tell them from us? Second, the terminology which distinguishes "instances" is just precisely what you're calling "names", i.e., proper names. If you want more abstract classifications than that, they are quite common and available. Go look up the "taxonomies" of animals, plants, etc., etc. People have spent the last couple of centuries creating just exactly what you seem to want to start from scratch. Animal taxonomies are now starting to be based on genetic differences rather than appearance, as they have been for the last century or so. I'm sorry, but you're not going to get anything better than what's been evolving in this field for a long time.

Here are some resources:

http://www.searchtools.com/info/classifiers.html

http://www.taxonomywarehouse.com

http://www.personality-project.org/perproj/readings-taxonomies.html

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

http://www.newschool.edu/centers/socres/vol62/issue623.htm

and so forth...

Steven Ravett Brown


(32) Andrew asked:

I have a theory that free will is an illusion, but I don't think it is predestined by god or anything like that.

If all we are is a combination of our genes, experience and current circumstance. Then maybe our reaction to events are determined by these three variables, and we are always going to react in a certain way. e.g. Tom calls Fred a bad name, Fred will react in a way that is the sum of all these events.

On a larger scale pick out any moment in time, if everyone in the world are all going to do something based on the unescapable programming in their personality, and they had no choice, or had no choice but to make the choice they did at that moment then the following moment everyone has no choice but to react in a certain way based on the three variables and so on...

Or maybe there is something I am not accounting for.

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

Yes, there are some small problems. If we are not free to make our own decisions then we are not free to decide if determinism is true or false. We cannot praise or blame people for the things they do since they had no choice except to do what they did.

All the things that we rely on in our everyday life assumes that humans can to some extent choose rationally between alternative actions and beliefs. Determinism seems to imply that this is impossible. If you are really going to be a determinist then you must be prepared to apply your belief to your everyday life. If someone lies to you or steals from you then there is no point in blaming them since they could not have acted in any other way.

It is a characteristic of a real philosophical problem that it poses a real dilemma. It shows us something which must be true but at the same time can't be true. You haven't yet understood this with regard to free will v determinism. To really understand philosophical problems you need start by understanding their dual nature and why there are no easy answers to them.

Shaun Williamson


(33) Felicity asked:

I have been stuck on the grue problem for ages and am not getting anywhere...

Here is the definition of grue:

All emeralds are grue, that is, green before time t, otherwise blue.

I think the problem is supposed to be this:

The normal inductive principle should lead us to think the next emerald will be green. But all our observations support the idea that all emeralds are grue, since every emerald seen so far is indisputably grue. We are therefore equally justified in making the prediction that any emerald examined after time t is also grue that is, blue.

How can this be? Certainly the next emerald after t is going to be blue. There's no contradiction here. This problem can't be about what our intuitions are. Intuitions give way before the facts of the matter and the facts here are that emeralds before t are green and afterwards blue. This is also the definition of grue, the relevance of which additional piece of information I don't appreciate. I just don't see a problem.

I must be missing something but I don't know what it is. What is it that I'm not seeing?

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

This is known as Goodman's paradox since he devised it and it is meant to show that our ordinary ideas about scientific induction cannot possibly be true. Emeralds aren't a good example since part of the definition of an emerald is that it is a green gemstone so let's forget about grue.

Suppose all the crows you have seen so far are black then it might seem reasonable to adopt the theory 'All crows are black' since all you know seems to be in support of this.

Of course anyone with a sophisticated knowledge of genetics and evolution would know that an albino crow is a possibility. However before such knowledge was available it would seem to be reasonable to believe that all crows are black.

What Goodman's paradox claims to show is that this belief was never reasonable. If we define 'whack' as white before time t and black after time t, then all the crows observed so far have been black, they have also been whack. So we have just as much evidence for 'All crows are whack' as we have for 'all crows are black'.

Now I am no fan of simplistic ideas about scientific induction especially if they confuse induction with logic but I have doubts about Goodman's paradox. Is Goodman's paradox a good paradox? Does it achieve its aim? I don't think so. Goodman relies upon a fatal ambiguity in his definition of terms like 'grue' and 'whack'. Here are some alternative definitions of grue. All of them could be said to fit Goodman's ambiguous definition. 1. Before time t 'grue' means 'green' after time t 'grue' means 'blue'. 2. 'Grue' means 'blue before time t OR green after time t'. 3. 'Grue' means 'blue before time t AND green after time t'.

None of these alternatives lead to the sort of conclusions that Goodman wants us to adopt and all of them are perfectly consistent with his definition of grue.

Shaun Williamson


(34) Richard asked:

We often hear of women having abortions of a foetus that could survive, after agonising consideration of what they should do. Those who support abortion often quote this as if it is a moral justification in itself. The specific problem with the foetus or mother is not mentioned. In other words the basic moral decision has already been made before the women ever became pregnant. Which is that moral justification is based on any values that a mother may have, without involving society at large, or accepted universal values, or rather it assumes an anarchist society. ANY comments.

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I am finding it difficult to make sense of your post. It doesn't matter what people in favour of abortion say or what people against abortion say.

The fact is that decisions about abortions are not made lightly and are not made without cost. From all the testimony we have, it seems that deciding to have an abortion can often be deeply distressing for the women who have to make such a decision. We all get our moral values from our family and the society of which we are a part. The difficulties and distress that many women suffer when having to make decisions about abortions show that the value of life is universally recognised.

You seem to think that the word 'anarchist' is a dirty word. It isn't, you need to study anarchist ideas to appreciate that they are like moral decisions i.e. not every thing is black or white.

Shaun Williamson


(35) Gary asked:

My friends daughter was sick and she went to sleep then in her sleep she was visited by an angel that was holding her daughter on the shoulder standing beside her bed saying it was time to go. My friend was crying and saying no that it wasn't true and then she woke up what do you think this means?

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I think that it means that in her dream your friend was considering the possibility that her daughter might die and she was saying that no this couldn't be true. Dreams are often an attempt to work out fears and problems.

Shaun Williamson


(36) Jessica asked:

A man asks another man if a dog has buddha nature the second man turns to the first man and says mu? what is mu?

My friend asked me this question and won't go into to it at all I don't even know if he knows. but it is bothering me, what is mu?

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

Your friend sounds weird. Hopefully he has told you about mu by now. If not, here is a good explanation:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mu_(negative)

Eric Zwickler


(37) Richard asked:

We often hear of women having abortions of a foetus that could survive, after agonising consideration of what they should do. THose who support abortion often quote this as if it is a moral justification in itself. The specific problem with the foetus or mother is not mentioned. In other words the basic moral decision has already been made before the women ever became pregnant. Which is that moral justification is based on any values that a mother may have, without involving society at large, or accepted universal values, or rather it assumes an anarchist society. ANY comments.

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

So what is the scenario exactly?

1) Woman 'A' has no stance on abortion. She gets pregnant and has to face the reality of raising a child, and (after agonizing over the decision) decides it is better to have an abortion.

2) Woman 'B' has a definitive stance on abortion: she believes in a woman's right to choose. Upon finding out she is pregnant she agonizes over the situation and then has an abortion. In this scenario, I do not think that the women's prior opinions on abortion affect the moral worth of her action. We usually make moral judgments based upon people's actions, not upon their (past) thoughts and beliefs. There is something to be said for an individual deliberating about an important decision. Perhaps when someone agonizes over a difficult decision it shows they have heart, character or integrity.

Eric Zwickler


(38) Krissy asked:

Lets say that we have mastered brain transplant and some guy gets hit by a bus that day, and his body is totaled but his mind survives... and another guy has a stroke and his brain dies but his body is fine... so they take the brain from the first guy and puts it in the body of the other man so one can live.... this new person is it the FIRST guy? Or is it the SECOND guy?

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A parallel problem is: an individual egg and an individual sperm, both alive, combine at conception to form a new human being; is this human being the egg, or the sperm?

This is the problem of identity and change. One argument and a definition are needed to clarify it.

The first is that qualitative change requires quantitative change. This is easily proved: Whatever A and B may be, if there is a qualitative difference between them then there is some quality, Q, such that one of them is Q and the other is not-Q. If A and B are identical — one and the same — then one thing is both Q and not-Q, which is impossible. Therefore A and B must be two, they cannot be one.

Second, a satisfactory definition of change is: change is some degree of dissimilarity in parallel with a duration. If A is in any way qualitatively different before time t to what it is after time t, then it has changed; and if there is no qualitatively difference then it has not changed. In other words, a change is qualitative difference over time.

So now if we ask whether one thing can change over time and remain one, the answer is no. The thing before time t is qualitatively different from the thing after time t, and so they must be two, they cannot be one. Conversely, if it remains one over time then it cannot have changed.

The trouble is that we all have a sensation of being one person, travelling through time and changing as we go. But there is an analogy that can help here. Imagine that you are a two-dimensional person living in Flatland, and that your entire life has been filmed by a three-dimensional being. The film consists of a long series of stills, each qualitatively different from the next. Now imagine these stills being stacked, in chronological order, to make a three-dimensional whole. Between each still there is a change, so there is no individuality over time; but the stack, as a whole, is unchanging and so has individuality. Now think of yourself as a four-dimensional stack of temporally separated, and qualitatively different, momentarily three-dimensional persons, and you have individuality as a stack and you change over time. It follows that your sensation of travelling through time is an illusion.

So your first guy, your second guy, and the new person are three.

Helier Robinson


(39) Andrew Asked:

I have a theory that free will is an illusion, but I don't think it is predestined by god or anything like that.

If all we are is a combination of our genes, experience and current circumstance. Then maybe our reaction to events are determined by these three variables, and we are always going to react in a certain way. e.g. Tom calls Fred a bad name, Fred will react in a way that is the sum of all these events.

On a larger scale pick out any moment in time, if everyone in the world are all going to do something based on the unescapable programming in their personality, and they had no choice, or had no choice but to make the choice they did at that moment then the following moment everyone has no choice but to react in a certain way based on the three variables and so on.....

Or maybe there is something I am not accounting for.

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

The problem of freedom and determination is a very controversial one. Determinism is the view that nothing is uncaused, everything is an effect of an earlier cause or causes. Human freedom is the belief that human acts are not all determined by prior causes: some are freely chosen by the person concerned. The reason for this belief is that we all have a feeling of being free. If determinism is true then this feeling of freedom must be an illusion. However, if it is not an illusion that determinism must be false, and some events must be uncaused. These are free acts of people and random events: both are beginnings of causal chains in the complex tangle of causal chains that join and branch — processes in the world, in other words. Is a so-called free choice a random event, as if it was decided by a coin toss in the brain, or is it rationally decided? If it was rationally decide then it was determined, and so not free; if it was random then the person concerned is not responsible for it, which makes morality pointless — and we all make moral judgments.

A second point is that explanation is causal: to describe causes is to explain their effects. If determinism is false then there are things which cannot be explained because they are uncaused. Scientists and philosophers tend to accept determinism because they believe everything to be explicable.

A third point is theological. It is said that God gave humans free will, even though this allowed some of them to commit evil acts, because freedom is a much greater good than the total evil produced by people. However, if God is all-powerful then he could have created people with free will who in fact never committed evil acts — like the angels in Heaven, for example. Also, it is sometimes claimed that God gave us free will in order to test us. But if God is all-knowing, why should he need to test us — he would know in advance the results of the tests.

Spinoza gave an interesting analysis of freedom. He was a determinist, and said that if the cause of what we did was inside us that it was an action, making us an agent thereby; but if the cause was from outside then what we did was a passion, making us a patient thereby. Actions are free and passions are unfree. To control the passions is to escaped human bondage and move towards ultimate understanding, or wisdom. And therein is perhaps the answer to your question: in everyday living we behave more or less morally, as if we had free will, but in ultimate understanding (such a Plato's escape from the Cave) freedom becomes an illusion, along with many, many other features of everyday living.

Helier Robinson


(40) Justin asked:

I have been hearing a lot of people, fellow students at university and in the media, making the claim that emotions are chosen. This claim is made to support other claims such as 'You should not be angry', 'Don't get depressed', 'Stop being so jealous' etc. I fail to understand how anyone can claim that emotions are chosen. When I am angry, did I have choice? Recently on TV an 'expert' told parent off for getting angry in front of children they were driving in heavy traffic. They should have chosen a better time and place to get angry. The interviewer asked if they should have suppressed their anger. The expert replied, no. They should not have chosen to get angry. This sounds completely bizarre to me. My question is, are emotions chosen? I have no trouble understanding that after the emotion is experienced one can chose to do many things, but surely one cannot help the occurrence of an emotion. I also understand that one can shape circumstances to cause an emotion, but this is not the point either. Any ideas?

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I think you are quite correct: we cannot choose our emotions: they are reflex responses to what we perceive and to what happens to us. If this were not so we could choose to be happy all the time, or someone who was depressed could end the depression by choice, or we could be courageous by simply denying fear. But we cannot do these things.

Helier Robinson


(41) Gary asked:

Everything to your brain you feel see smell hear is a dream to your brain. essentially how can you prove that you exist if everything you know is a dream coming from little pieces of nerves telling you what you see?

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Your problem is not whether you exist, it is whether your dream is meaningful or not. If you are dreaming then you exist: you have to exist in order to dream. But if everything you perceive around you is a dream and no reality exists then only you and your dream exist and solipsism (I alone exist) is true; and then your dream is not meaningful. But if solipsism is false and reality (all that exists independently of, or outside, your dream) exists, then you dream may be meaningful, in the sense that it is a reasonably accurate image of reality. To prove it to be meaningful is very, very difficult, but not impossible. Most people simply assume that the dream IS reality — a view sometimes called naive realism. By the way, if your dream is meaningless, how do you know about little pieces of nerves?

Helier Robinson


(42) Henry asked:

Where can I find,or better still, what are the different views on the following question, from different cultures?

Some experts (athletes,dancers,musicians,lab technicians,surgeons) may have acquired knowledge that is difficult to describe in words. Does this mean that other ways of knowing play a more important role than knowledge in knowing how to do something?

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You're talking about thinking with non-verbal symbols and/or structures. There's a fairly extensive literature on this that you need to look at if you want to go further. See these:

Bermudez, J.L. Thinking without Words. Edited by D. J. Chalmers, Philosophy of Mind. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Coulson, M. "Attributing Emotion to Static Body Postures: Recognition Accuracy, Confusions, and Viewpoint Dependence." Journal of Nonverbal Behavior 28, no. 2 (2004): 117-39.

Ekman, P., and E. L. Rosenberg, eds. What the Face Reveals: Basic and Applied Studies of Spontaneous Expression Using the Facial Action Coding System (Facs). Edited by R. J. Davidson, P.

Ekman and K.R. Scherer, Series in Affective Science. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Ellgring, H. "Nonverbal Expression of Psychological States in Psychiatric Patients." In What the Face Reveals: Basic and Applied Studies of Spontaneous Expression Using the Facial Action Coding System (Facs), edited by P. Ekman and E.L. Rosenberg, 386-97. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Mattson, M.E., and B. J. Baars. "Laboratory Induction of Nonspeech Action Errors." In Experimental Slips and Human Error: Exploring the Architecture of Volition, edited by B. J. Baars, 151-93. New York, NY: Plenum Press, 1992.

Midgley, M. Beast and Man: The Roots of Human Nature. New York, NY: Routledge, 1995. Washburn, D.A., and R.S. Astur. "Nonverbal Working Memory of Humans and Monkeys: Rehearsal in the Sketchpad?" Memory & Cognition 26, no. 2 (1998): 277-86.

and these:

Armstrong, D. F., W. C. Stokoe, and S. E. Wilcox. Gesture and the Nature of Language. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Arnheim, R. Art and Visual Perception: A Psychology of the Creative Eye. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1974.

Beattie, G., and J. Coughlan. "An Experimental Investigation of the Role of Iconic Gesture in Lexical Access Using the Tip-of-the-Tongue Phenomenon." British Journal of Psychology 90 (1999): 35-56.

Brand, R.J., D.A. Baldwin, and L.A. Ashburn. "Evidence for 'Motionese': Modifications in Mothers' Infant-Directed Action." Developmental Science 5, no. 1 (2002): 72-83.

Gattis, M. "Mapping Relational Structure in Spatial Reasoning." Cognitive Science 28 (2004): 589-610.

Gogate, L.J., L.E. Bahrick, and J.D. Watson. "A Study of Multimodal Motherese: The Role of Temporal Synchrony between Verbal Labels and Gestures." Child Development 71, no. 4 (2000): 878-94.

Hickok, G., B. Buchsbaum, C. Humphries, and T. Muftuler. "Auditory-Motor Interaction Revealed by Fmri: Speech, Music, and Working Memory in Area Spt." Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 15, no. 5 (2003): 673-82.

Kandel, S., J-P. Orliaguet, and L-J. Boe. "Detecting Anticipatory Events in Handwriting Movements." Perception 29 (2000): 953-64.

Rizzolatti, G., L. Fadiga, V. Gallese, and L. Fogassi. "Premotor Cortex and the Recognition of Motor Actions." Cognitive Brain Research 3 (1996): 131-41.

Roth, W-M. "From Action to Discourse: The Bridging Function of Gestures." Cognitive Systems Research 3 (2002): 535-54.

Zheng, M., and S. Goldin-Meadow. "Thought before Language: How Deaf and Hearing Children Express Motion Events across Cultures." Cognition 85 (2002): 145-75.

and these:

Cariani, P. "On the Design of Devices with Emergent Semantic Functions." State University of New York, 1989.

Lakoff, G. "The Invariance Hypothesis: Is Abstract Reason Based on Image-Schemas?" Cognitive Linguistics 1, no. 1 (1990): 39-74.

Lazar, R.M., R.S. Marshall, G.D. Prell, and J. Pile-Spellman. "The Experience of Wernicke's Aphasia." Neurology 55 (2000): 1222-24.

Li, P., and L. Gleitman. "Turning the Tables: Language and Spatial Reasoning." Cognition 83 (2002): 265-94.

Mecklinger, A., C. Gruenewald, N. Weiskopf, and C.F. Doeller. "Motor Affordance and Its Role for Visual Working Memory: Evidence from Fmri Studies ." Experimental Psychology 51, no. 4 (2004): 258-69.

Wallentin, M., S. Ostergaard, T.E. Lund, L. Ostergaard, and A. Roepstorff. "Concrete Spatial Language: See What I Mean?" Brain and Language 92 (2005): 221-33.

These should get you started, anyway.

Steven Ravett Brown


(43) Jessica asked:

A man asks another man if a dog has buddha nature the second man turns to the first man and say mu? what is mu?

my friend asked me this question and won't go into to it at all I don't even know if he knows. but it is bothering me, what is mu?

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

You are bothered by the fact that your friend did not say 'yes' or 'no'. But what your friend was telling you was precisely this: do not to be bothered about that, it is not important. 'Mu' has various inter-connected uses many of which connect to a complex rival epistemology and metaphysics, but more accessibly, in one use it can be a buddhist equivalent of what, in the analytic tradition, would be put thus: 'I reject the question'. In answer to 'when did you stop beating your wife?' a blameless and pacifist married philosopher might reply 'I reject the question'. Any answer to the question 'when did you stop beating your wife?' would state a falsehood, therefore he rejects the question rather than answering it. So it may be, at least conceivably, with 'does a dog have buddha nature?'

Possibly the point is that one should behave compassionately to dogs as to all things, from which starting point the question 'does a dog have buddha nature?' cannot be in the least important. Answering it 'yes' would suggest that there is an important research topic here and so intellectualise a mistaken and invented problem about what features of a thing make compassionate behaviour towards it obligatory, how they can be signified and so on, and this would lead to various further problems such as whether one should behave compassionately to fish, whether they have buddha nature, whether all humans have it, and so on. So 'yes' is the wrong answer to the question, just as 'yesterday' is in our other case the wrong answer to 'when did you stop beating your wife?'. But 'no' is also the wrong answer, since again it gives a false importance to the question and also in the context of the question 'no' would seem to imply a licence for non-compassion towards dogs. In the analytic tradition this leaves option 3, reject the question. In some Buddhist thought it can leave option 3, 'Mu'.

David Robjant


(44) Richard asked:

In Europe today the prevailing ethic appears to be anything from pure hedonism to a weak form of utilitarianism, based on happiness as the arbiter of morality. Is this not pure self indulgence? This is what I like so I will make it the basis of moral judgment. WE cannot judge happiness to be prior, or superior to, other values, other than through constructing an ethic that is itself prior to ethical values which is absurd. If values are fundamental, as ethical values must be, then there is nothing to make one greater than another. It is the whole that matters, not any part we choose to select arbitrarily.

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I sympathise completely with your distaste for 'the prevailing ethic', but unless one counts "is this not pure self indulgence?", this didn't really seem to be a question, Richard. Yes, there is self evidently self indulgence involved in hedonism, indeed there isn't much else to hedonism, though I'd be hard pressed to think of a method for distinguishing the pure kind of self-indulgence from the impure (I stuff myself with cake — this was obviously self indulgence, but was it pure self indulgence?). And no, utilitarianism is in no way even slightly self-indulgent (have you misunderstood what utilitarianism is? It involves thinking that happiness counts, never mind that it's not your happiness, and may therefore be thought of as one of the more challenging and selfless moral outlooks on offer). Since it is patently obvious that various values conflict, I am afraid I cannot make any sense of 'there is nothing to make one [value] greater than another. It is the whole that matters'. That you doubt our qualifications to make ethical judgements as to the priority to accord to various conflicting values ('WE cannot judge...' ) suggests a desire to appoint someone else to do this. But you would not wish that we appoint that someone else 'arbitrarily', so I wonder, who else might you have in mind, and what was your preferred selection procedure?

David Robjant


(45) Gagan asked:

This is not a philosophical question in the literal sense of the phrase, but I want to know, as a student of philosophy, what areas of job are open to me after my postgraduation, besides of course teaching. can philosophy be made lucrative, and if so, then how.

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Further to your inquiry into the various openings, lucre and windows of opportunity currently available in the field of philosophy, I have pleasure in inserting the following a link our latest brochure, www.philosophersarenowkings.org.br. We at Kcufeehttahw Inc have the pleasure to represent in this matter the Kcufeehttahw and the Feccawii tribes of western Amazonia, whose long-disputed mineral extraction rights in that area have recently been recognised in the Brazilian high court. I am pleased to be able to tell you that the Feccawii have a high regard for the various academic traditions of Western Philosophy. They have commissioned us to institute a new 'University of the Rainforest' (working title), and to employ somewhere between six and eight hundred representative philosophers (depending on the standard of the applicants) on US 'ivy league' tenure equivalent wages, from whom on various criteria one will be selected each year to be King. Duties of the monarch are specified on the website, with pictures. The precise location of the university is to be determined at a later date, where the Feccawii will indicate. See www.philosophersarenowkings.org.br for further information and an application form.

Yours

D.R. President, Kcufeehttahw Incorporated www.philosophersarenowkings.org.br

(David Robjant)


(46) Jessica asked:

A man asks another man if a dog has buddha nature the second man turns to the first man and say mu? what is mu?

my friend asked me this question and won't go into to it at all I don't even know if he knows. but it is bothering me, what is mu?

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

You are bothered by the fact that your friend did not say 'yes' or 'no'. But what your friend was telling you was precisely this: do not to be bothered about that, it is not important. 'Mu' has various inter-connected uses many of which connect to a complex rival epistemology and metaphysics, but more accessibly, in one use it can be a buddhist equivalent of what, in the analytic tradition, would be put thus: 'I reject the question'. In answer to 'when did you stop beating your wife?' a blameless and pacifist married philosopher might reply 'I reject the question, I've never started beating my wife'. Any of the answers invited by the question 'when did you stop beating your wife?' (yesterday, last week, last year etc) would state a falsehood, therefore he rejects the question rather than answering it. So it may be, at least conceivably, with 'does a dog have buddha nature?'

Possibly the point is that one should behave compassionately to dogs as to all things, from which starting point the question 'does a dog have buddha nature?' cannot be in the least important. Answering it 'yes' would suggest that there is an important research topic here and so intellectualise a mistaken and invented problem about what features of a thing make compassionate behaviour towards it obligatory, how they can be signified and so on, and this would lead to various further problems such as whether one should behave compassionately to fish, whether they have buddha nature, whether all humans have it, and so on. So 'yes' is the wrong answer to the question, just as 'yesterday' is in our other case the wrong answer to 'when did you stop beating your wife?'. But 'no' is also the wrong answer, since again it gives a false importance to the question and also in the context of the question 'no' would seem to imply a licence for non-compassion towards dogs. In the analytic tradition this leaves option 3, reject the question. In some Buddhist thought it can leave option 3, 'Mu'.

David Robjant


(47) Tanveer asked:

If a people are being viciously repressed anywhere worldwide, including at the ballot box, in the courts and through the countries law what permissible method can be used to rebel?

Can Injustice justify Terrorism?

And what is the most appropriate way to define justice?

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The answer to your question is 'no', because setting out to kill civilians and then killing them is murder. If you were to ask more honestly 'can repression justify murder?' the answer to this question would also be 'no'. Further explanation at this point would seem to give the matter unwarranted contestability, but it seems fair to add that murder is wrong, and forbidden by every account of moral obligation both religious and philosophical with the possible exception of utilitarianism. In the specific case of which I fear you may be thinking, the spectacle of a man thinking of himself as defending an abrahamic faith while resorting to a crude ends-justifies-the-means utilitarianism as justification for Murder is both utterly appalling, and completely laughable.

In a further irony, I suspect that the source for this infection of this crude western utilitarianism amongst the faithful is the pernicious influence of socialist ideas on the fashion in which the notion of the Ummah, it's nature and obligations, is now coming to be understood by those who once fought against communism. What need have Marx or Lenin of tanks in the Hindu Kush, if they can have crude utilitarian socialism dressed up as Koranic scholarship by 'freedom fighters'?

There is also the background assumption, in what you say, that the cases where terrorism is promoted as morally legitimate are cases where "a people are being viciously repressed". Whilst it is usually perfectly clear what it is for a person to be 'viciously repressed' (e.g. Being murdered in the street for your opinions, being murdered for being of a certain race or nationality, being bullied in school etc), there are sound philosophical reasons for worrying about attaching moral adjectives to collectives or abstractions such as 'a people'. The problem here becomes one of ambiguity, or at least of violently various accounts, about what would count as 'a people' not being repressed. Honour, prestige, respect — all these words come out in such contexts, and to various confused purposes that lead in many cases to opposite political opinions (it is thought by some that nothing short of giving Andalucia to the moors would constitute a restoration of 'respect' for islam).

There is a case to be made that the passion and controversy raging in such debates has a lot to do with the peculiar nature of the thing that is being worried about, prestige. In the 1930's some philosophers and others attempted, fruitlessly but with good intentions, to point out that much of the political agitation that eventually lead to world war II involved conceptual mistakes, lazy thinking, and imaginary objects. The Logical Positivists of the Vienna circle refined their approach to the philosophy of meaning partly in order to point out the demagogery and stupidity of National Socialism (the nazis). Terms such as 'national prestige', while then used to justify murder, were at the same time largely without sense or reference. The focus then was often on the strangeness of terms such as 'prestige'. But a similar point may be made about 'nation', 'people' etc. Politics often has recourse to words that sound fine and attract listeners precisely because they are a welcome invitation to stop thinking — welcome to some tired of this duty. But if one does think about the matter, one may note that it is paradigmatically human beings that are good, bad, honourable or honoured, loved, bullied, repressed and so on, not flags, customs, habits, cultures and the like. We learn our moral vocabulary with reference to particular human beings, and that is where it is at home.

Speaking entirely in abstractions and generalities, it can come to seem quite natural that if abstraction A 'oppresses' abstraction B, abstraction B can be fully justified in 'retaliating' against abstraction A, where words like 'oppression' and 'retaliation' can mean anything from preferential legislation for certain language groups to racial murder. But if one abandons these abstractions, the situation strikes one with quite a new force and clarity. 'My people are oppressed' means, if it means anything, that particular persons such as my mother and my father and my brother are oppressed, and 'I will retaliate' very often means that particular people like your mother and father and brother will die. Abstractions 'A' and 'B' fight each other in a clean world of prestige and honour. Brought down to realities, on the other hand, one can see more clearly that killing your mother is an atrocious murder, and in any case not likely to lead to my mother coming back to life.

Further, there is the question as to whether, even where recognised as a representation of statistics collecting the facts about individual lives, a claim such as 'my people are being viciously repressed' happens to be anything like a fair description of the facts. How is one to begin to establish this? And here there is usually a disconnection between what are in fact the criterion for 'being viciously repressed' (namely that there be an effective and intentional campaign directed against some political or ethnic or faith group in virtue of it's political or ethnic or faith identity), and what usually gets presented as evidence in such a case — namely that a lot of people have suffered a great deal. This disconnection usually means that it appears, to both sides, as if the other were simply not listening.

To see this disconnection in a particularly obvious form, note the Salem Witch trials, in which it was thought by a large number of people that the Devil was engaged in a campaign of vicious repression against the people of Salem. In support of this thought it was for various reasons including the fact that he could not be considered a trustworthy witness impossible to call the Devil to give evidence as to his intentions and campaign, for which reason the court substituted other forms of evidence, namely 1) as to suffering (which considering the stupidity of that age was not in short supply) and 2) from various people whose lust for power and grudges against their neighbours made them anxious to testify that they had seen such and such perform witchcraft or engage in contracts with the Devil. In Salem it didn't take much before the cry went out 'we are being viciously repressed [by Satan]'. Human nature being what it is, little has changed about either the attractiveness of the thought that our sufferings are caused by malign outside influences, or the standard of evidence that is accepted in confirmation of this thought, i.e., not very high.

Regarding:

'And what is the most appropriate way to define justice?'

I would suggest you read some Plato. There was a time before Marx or philology when the islamic world regarded Plato as 'their' philosopher. If you read the Republic, the reasons for this may become obvious to you.

David Robjant


(48) Holly asked:

What is life? There can be life in the living, the nonliving, and the dead.

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

The best definition of life was made by Erwin Schrodinger in his "What is Life?" (Cambridge U.P., 1944: life is very high negative entropy in dynamic equilibrium. Dynamic equilibrium is like the equilibrium of spinning top, which stays upright as long as it continues spinning. Negative entropy (so called — it should be negated entropy) is a physical measure of order. As is fairly obvious, living things are very highly ordered and they maintain that order, as it is lost according to the second law of thermodynamics — which requires negative entropy to decrease of its own accord — by feeding on negative entropy in the environment. This latter is either sunlight, used by plants, or any other life or recent life. Humans interfere with this process by having their corpses buried, embalmed, or created, making them useless for the world food chain. When you write that "There can be life in the living, the nonliving, and the dead" you are merely stating contradictions: the non-living are not living and the dead were living but are not any more.

Helier Robinson


(49) Howard asked::

why are optical illusions relevant to epistemology?

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Optical illusions are empirical contradictions, as in the half-immersed stick, which is bent to the sight and straight to the touch,, or else contradictions between empirical experience and well established belief, such as visible space diminishing with distance (in all three dimensions) when we know that it does not really diminish. The only explanation of illusions is that they are misrepresentations (false images) of reality, due to distortions in the process of perception. So if our perception is false it becomes necessary to investigate what the truth — reality — is. This is investigation of the process of gaining knowledge, which is epistemology.

Helier Robinson


(50) Meredith asked:

Is emptiness the absence of something, or the presence of nothing?

If it is the latter, then does true emptiness really follow the common perception of the word empty, if it is in fact a presence?

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

Emptiness is the absence of something. "Nothing" does not have a presence, except linguistically. It is important in philosophy not to let language rule thought.

Helier Robinson


(51) Jacquie asked:

This is a question that I have pondered since Kindergarten. Many people (including myself) believe that God has always existed. We also believe that God created Earth in "at the beginning of time". How is it that God was around at the beginning of time? Can there really be a forever before time exists? Also, how did God create time if it takes time to create anything? Is this a matter of philosophy or faith?

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To say that God is eternal properly means that God is outside of time, not that He always existed. That He always existed means that time had no beginning; it stretches infinitely into the past, whereas if God created time he could not have existed for infinite time. But if He is outside time He could have created it; and being all-powerful, could have created it instantaneously. There cannot be a forever before time exists, or any time at all before time exists. This is a matter of philosophy; faith often diverges widely from philosophy.

Helier Robinson


(52) Derek asked:

A moral dilemma?

If the murder of 6 million Jews was a crime against humanity and the people concerned taken to task, why not call a natural disaster a crime also and take the creator to task also?

Is there a blur of judgment here?

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No, no blur of judgment. This is a special case of the problem of evil: if God is all-powerful, all-loving, and all knowing, why does evil exist? Because if He is all-powerful He is able to abolish evil; if He is all-loving he would want to abolish evil; and if he is all-knowing He must know that evil exists. So since evil does exist He must be not all-powerful, or not all-loving, or not all-knowing; or two of these, or all three; or else there is no God. This problem is the biggest of all problems for theologians. A logical solution, not acceptable to faith, is that there is more than one god — one of them being all-loving but not all-powerful, another being all-powerful but not all-loving. Assuming that both know evil exists, the first would want to abolish it but would not be able to, while the second could abolish it but doesn't want to.

Helier Robinson


(53) Jake asked:

Why is easy easy but hard isn't hard?

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Some words apply to themselves and some do not. Short is short and long is not long. The ones that self-apply were called autological by Grelling, and the ones which do not were called heterological. A paradox arise from this: if autological is autological then it is heterological, and if heterological is heterological then it is autological. Because the paradox is confined to language it is not very important. Your question concerns a curiosity of language, but no more.

Helier Robinson


(54) Zeek asked:

Why are humans embarrassed by farting in front of others?

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Embarrassment is a reaction to the breaking of a taboo. There is a taboo against farting because of associated disgust. Disgust arose in the course of evolution as a survival value: a means of avoiding dangerously infectious things like vomit, spit and other excreta. Ben Johnson wrote a essay called "Fart Proudly," but was being provocative.

Helier Robinson


(55) Jack asked:

My family has scheduled a family reunion on the same day that I am having my son's first birthday. His party is at 4 pm the reunion is 6pm. I told my family in advance that I was not going to make it for the reunion due to the scheduling conflict, and the need to not neglect my son in any way. My family now calls me everyday and says that need to be there or they will be disappointed in me. I am not going to the reunion but am I just being stubborn or am I in the right?

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Conflicting rights and conflicting duties are always difficult to resolve, but some times a constructive compromise works. Could you not take your son to the reunion and celebrate his birthday there? Since a one year old does not really know what a birthday is, he would not be offended.

Helier Robinson


(56) Lee asked:

What is the 'immaterial' and the 'supernatural'.

If something exists then it has substance and properties. If something exists in the universe it is also 'natural'.

Are those words not just semantic nonsense? To say something is immaterial is to say it does not exist. To say that the immaterial exists is to say that the nonexistent exists!

As for 'supernatural', if angels, demons and God all exist then they are NATURAL. Super is just an adjective use to denote the grandiose. An airplane to a caveman is 'supernatural' but to us with knowledge of modern aviation it is quite natural.

It seems to me that theists are arguing for the MATERIAL existence of a NATURE that science has no proof of currently.

It seems to me that 'immaterial' and 'supernatural' just denote a type of material and type of nature that are drastically different than what we are aware of.

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You are a bit confused over the meanings of 'material,' 'natural ,' and 'existent.' The natural is what occurs in nature; the supernatural is what occurs outside nature. The material is what we perceive around us that has mass, (which we know by forces of weight and inertia) while the immaterial — such as the mental — does not. The material, the immaterial, the natural, and (perhaps) the supernatural all exist.

Helier Robinson


(57) Andrew asked:

Is this a question?

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Yes. Any grammatically correct sentence that ends with a question mark, '?' is a question. There is no reason why a question should not contain the word 'question'. Language can do strange things because it is only limited by rules of grammar. So I can describe the indescribable, classify something as unclassified, and know the unknowable. You can in fact have a lot of fun with language, but the fun is not really philosophy.

Helier Robinson


(58) Liz asked:

There are several questions being asked here, so please bear with me.

Would you say that first person ontology (a key feature of consciousness) ultimately necessitates being alive? I feel that when people talk about consciousness, they're talking about it in a vacuum, as if its only the brain that's involved. When talking about the brain, its necessary to talk about everything else without which the brain could not function (and therefore not experience consciousness). This is a long list, containing most of the vital organs, not to mention the tens of thousands of cellular functions. The brain implies all of these, if you will, so shouldn't they be thought of as involved in consciousness?

Can a computer be created that has first person ontology? (Do AI researchers see this as a possibility?)

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1) What does "being alive" mean?

2) There are many people who hold this. It certainly seems the case that consciousness would be different if we were, somehow, "just" brains... whatever that would mean. But this is a very complex issue. Consider this: what is the "brain", and what is the "body"? There are several areas in the brain that receive "signals", let us call them, from the body. What if these areas were stimulated internally, or by a machine? Would our "bodily" experience be the same? Look here:

Dreyfus, H. L. "The Current Relevance of Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology of Embodiment." Electronic Journal of Analytic Philosophy 4 (1996).

Gallese, V. "Embodied Simulation: From Neurons to Phenomenal Experience." Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 4 (2005): 23-48.

Johnson, M., and G. Lakoff. "Why Cognitive Linguistics Requires Embodied Realism." Cognitive Linguistics 13, no. 3 (2002): 245-63.

Lakoff, G., and M. Johnson. Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought. 1st ed. New York, NY: Basic Books, 1999.

Varela, F. J., E. Thompson, and E. Rosch. The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience. 5th ed. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1996.

Wilson, M. "Six Views of Embodied Cognition." Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 9, no. 4 (2002): 625-36.

Zahavi, D. "First-Person Thoughts and Embodied Self-Awareness: Some Reflections on the Relation between Recent Analytical Philosophy and Phenomenology." Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 1 (2002): 7-26.

3) No one knows. In my opinion, no digital computer will ever be conscious, but that's not the same thing as saying that we can't build a conscious machine. As for AI researchers, yes, they've seen this as immanent for about... um... 50 years now.

Steven Ravett Brown


(59) Liz asked:

I read this short book written for the layperson that explains the history and proof of Fermat's Last Theorem (Aczel, Amir D. "Fermat's Last Theorem". Delta/ Bantam: NY 1996.), and I feel like I have a grasp of Wiles's proof. However, his proof is over 200 pages of mostly infield and/ or very advanced graduate level math, none of which is remotely intelligible to me. Is it really possible for me to have a gist of what it means,like a conceptual picture, etc? Can something so complex and seemingly abstract be oversimplified, and to what extent?

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Well this isn't really a philosophical question. A simple answer is yes, you can "get" the gist of something. A complex answer is too much for this column... look at some of these:

Gentner, D., and A.B. Markman. "Structure Mapping in Analogy and Similarity." American Psychologist 52, no. 1 (1997): 45-56.

Hampton, J.A. "Testing the Prototype Theory of Concepts." Journal of Memory and Language 34 (1995): 686-708.

Klahr, D., and H. A. Simon. "What Have Psychologists (and Others) Discovered About the Process of Scientific Discovery?" Current Directions in Psychological Science 10, no. 3 (2001): 75-80.

Medin, D.L. "Concepts and Conceptual Structure." American Psychologist 44, no. 12 (1989): 1469-81.

Novick, L.R., and S.J. Sherman. "On the Nature of Insight Solutions: Evidence from Skill Differences in Anagram Solution." The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology 56A, no. 2 (2003): 341-82.

Zelazo, P.D., U. Muller, D. Frye, and S. Marcovitch. "The Development of Executive Function in Early Childhood." Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development 68, no. 3 (2003): vii-155.

Steven Ravett Brown


(60) Liz asked:

Why do you respond to certain questions and not to others? I'm curious, because I've posted several questions and they have not been answered. I wonder why you continue to respond to questions such as "what is the meaning of life?" and those of a similar nature and tone, and ignore more original ones. Some of my questions have referred to specific living philosophers whose writings and opinions I'm sure the panel knows incomparably better than I do. Shall I resubmit them or give up?

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I respond to questions that interest me and when I feel I have something useful to say. You shouldn't assume that everyone on the panel will have an encyclopaedic knowledge of every living philosopher. You could try posting again but you can't expect a panel member to read the work of some philosopher that they don't know in order to answer a question.

Shaun Williamson


(61) Ethel asked:

What is a synthetic statement?

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An analytic statement is one that is true just because of the form of the statement or the meanings of the words contained in it. For example 'A tall man is taller than a short man' or 'If it is raining and I am getting wet then I am getting wet' are both examples of analytic statements.

A synthetic statement is one that is not analytic. For example 'I am six feet tall' or 'It is raining' are both synthetic statements.

Shaun Williamson


(62) Jake asked:

How much is 'a lot'?

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It is more than a little and much more than a few. It all depends upon the circumstances.

Shaun Williamson