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  View the latest questions and answers at askaphilosopher.wordpress.com
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Ask a Philosopher: Questions and Answers 33 (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 33/1.

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) Ralphoy asked:

I have done some reading in philosophy and have come across one interesting conversation called virtue ethics. Alasdair MacIntyre in his book 'After Virtue' notices an interesting state of contemporary morality. Namely that there is a removal of the concept of higher purpose from moral decision making. So now having understood this, to some extent at least, how is one to make decisions about ones life?

If there is no end purpose to any decision I make, and all my decisions are just an expression of my emotive individualist self, how do I even decide what becomes the basis for what I choose to do in life. If I choose to do whatever makes me happy in life, and then find out it doesn't make me happy and do something else, what I thought made me happy turns out not to. This scenario could play out for the rest of my life, I could never know what really made me happy. I could waste my whole life searching and never be truly happy. The more I observe others and question them about their happiness or the moral fiber of their decisions the more apparent this becomes to me. What should I do, why should I do it? How do I know when I have chosen the right thing for me when all my basis for decision making is emotive and that very basis is subject to change from time to time?

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

MacIntyre, in both his books (MacIntyre, A. After Virtue. 2nd ed. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984., and: Macintyre, A. Whose Justice? Which Rationality? 1st ed. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1988.) is basically arguing that we need to believe in some sort of god in order to have a basis for morality. The first book works up to it very subtly, without quite getting there, while the second just plunges in, pretty much. Many many people argue that morality needs a big daddy to give us 'purpose' or 'meaning'; MacIntyre does it with great sophistication. If you want my thinking about this, go look at some of my past answers on this subject on this website.

Basically, all this does is push the questions you're asking back a level, to a 'god'. You can easily reframe the above questions. For example: 'How do I know when I have chosen the right thing for me when all my basis for decision making is emotive and that very basis is subject to change from time to time?' becomes, 'How do I know when gods (or superior aliens, or whatever) have chosen the right thing for themselves when all their basis for decision making is emotive and that very basis is subject to change from time to time?' You see what I mean? To put it another way, how is the basis of ethics different for different beings, no matter what your level of intelligence, insight, wisdom — or whatever characteristic you think is important there — is? All of us, from some hypothetical god on down, are floating in space in an enormous universe, and have to create the basis for decisions as best they can.

Now, all that aside, what gives you the idea that the basis for decisions is emotions? Why should that be the case, in general, even if it is in your case? Being 'happy' is not the basis of ethical decisions for all people, and there are quite a few philosophers, less theistic than MacIntyre, who provide other choices than 'believe' versus 'emote'. You need to read more broadly in the vast area of ethics. I'm not going to give you citations; libraries are full of introductory books on ethics, which you need to read before you read any one person, to get a broader picture, a context, in which to place people like MacIntyre.

Steven Ravett Brown


(2) Mark asked:

What does 'ontic vagueness' mean?

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

I believe the phrase is intended to convey the idea that the world itself is vague, so that not all vagueness amounts merely to a lack of precision in a description. (The 'ontic' bit derives from the greek for what is, from which we also get 'ontology', the study of what is)

However, I think this idea which the phrase is intended to convey is daft. Firstly it is a stretching of the word 'vague', which has always been used about persons and the things they say, to the inanimate — in a way which, were we to treat 'vague' as meaning the same thing in the new use as in the old, would imply that the world is a person and is unable to describe itself, or is evading our description by camouflage, or is lacking in intellect. Secondly, it contains a mistaken assumption that in order for a thing to be completely and definitely what it is, there must be some possible complete and definite description of it. The world is not itself vague simply in in virtue of the lack of any complete and definite description, any more than the ineffable blue flash of a dragonfly fails to be that ineffable blue flash simply because no words can do it justice. Again, if a fishing net does not catch the river, this is in no way a problem with the river. Descriptions and their limitations are most definitely our problem, not the worlds.

As well as being daft, the 'ontic vagueness' idea is also deeply unhealthy, in that where accepted it will be used as an excuse not to seek ever better descriptions and scientific theories (why bother to think better if the world itself is stupid? Why bother with accuracy if the world itself is inaccurate?). The thought that the world may on occasion escape our descriptive resources (the ineffability thesis) does not excuse a failure to even try, since ineffability is thought of as a kind of extreme case at the edges of a moveable linguistic realm. The ineffability thesis allows that descriptions and their perfection ought to be our concern — ontic vagueness blames the world.

David Robjant


(3) Rhyse asked:

Can a 10 year old be an Australian detective?

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

Yes, if and only if that 10 year old is an Australian, and that 10 year old is a detective.

David Robjant


(4) Kevin asked:

Can a computer/ android feel emotion? which ones?

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

The beings which paradigmatically experience emotions (us lot) differ from computers in important ways. It would be trivial to point out that computers do not drink, fart, or bunk off work, since in the fullness of time they will doubtless reach all these great summits of human achievement. However, it is not in the least bit trivial to point out that what goes in, in the case of a computer, is data, whereas in the case of human beings it is something altogether more amorphous called 'experience'. This is not trivial because it means that in the case of human beings what we call emotions — and these are the things which are emotions if any things are — occur in the context of a human being grappling with a huge quantity of continuous flowing non-data, ie, life. The fact that given the definition of computer this contact with non-data could never occur in a computer, means that anything anyone might be tempted to call an 'emotion' in a computer can only be a simulacrum. I believe I've made the point before.

Now, those who prefer computers to human beings will try to tell you that the human encounter with the non-binary ought not to privilege the human perspective in any way — one might call this the 'minority rights for 'droids' argument. However, said argument is a case of the 'straw man' fallacy, since if you were listening carefully you will have noted that no-one said that the human encounter with the non-binary privileged the human perspective. Rather, what was argued was that the word 'emotion' having arisen and having it's primary application in the occasionally data-less experience of human beings was what privileged the human perspective. It is not simply because non-binary experience is part of the human that computers can only mimic emotions, but rather because that non-binary experience is part of the home of the word 'emotion'.

At this point the usual continuation of the 'minority rights for 'droids' argument is to say that we should not insist on a 'narrow' or 'old fashioned' understanding of the word 'emotion'. This is rhetorically attractive rubbish (thou shalt give anyone or anything designated as 'oppressed' everything that the designating speechmakers call for!), but rubbish all the same. It is precisely by insisting on the narrow and old fashioned understanding of '2' that we can continue to say that 2+2=4. Perhaps if 'droid fans wish to invent a new language in which computers have 'emotions(NEW)', that is, up to a point, entirely up to them. My reservation is that this is only alright so long as the rest of us remain alert to the orwellian possibilities that open here, and remember that 'truth(NEW)' may be much the same as 'lies(OLD)', and 'wisedom(NEW)' much the same as complete twaddle.

David Robjant


(5) Thomas asked:

Can someone tell me the source of the quotation that is something like this? 'We are likely to make the greatest progress by questioning the longest held beliefs.' Is it in the work of Whitehead? Or someone else. Many thanks.

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

I can't identify your quote but here a Whitehead quotation that seems to have the same meaning. 'Fundamental progress has to do with the reinterpretation of basic ideas.' Quoted in W H Auden and L Kronenberger The Viking Book of Aphorisms (New York 1966).

Shaun Williamson


(6) Madeline asked:

What do you think of the wrecking ball that David Hume applies to science? Does he really show that necessary connections are merely based on psychological conditioning or constant conjunctions of similar events? What should be the impact of Hume and empiricism in this era of great scientific and technological advances?

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

Well science hasn't been effected by Hume's wrecking ball. Of course Hume didn't intend to wreck science but only some metaphysical beliefs about science. What he failed to notice was that his own beliefs were equally metaphysical.

Hume's Empiricism and it's offshoots such as Logical Positivism are philosophies that have always been very attractive to scientists possibly because of their apparent simplicity. However the fact is that you can be a scientist without any knowledge of, or interest in, the philosophy of science.

Shaun Williamson


(7) Charlie asked:

Is it right to act in one's own interest or is it better to obey the state? Was Socrates right in obeying orders to end his life or should he have done more to protect his life?

Are there any other philosophers who would have agreed with his choice to drink the hemlock?

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

You have got the wrong idea about this. Socrates never thought of this as a conflict between his own interest and the interest of the state. He was always concerned to do what was good in any situation even if it wasn't in his own interest.

Socrates had a choice, he could escape or he could stay and be executed. He chose to stay and kill himself.

If you want to research a more modern form of this dilemma then research the life of Alan Turing, a British logician and mathematician, who was also put in an impossible situation by the state and also chose to end his life by taking poison.

What Socrates and Turing have in common is a refusal to deny the truth and a refusal to run away from from the truth. Although many people may have heard of Socrates but have not heard of Turing, he is as important a thinker as Socrates.

Shaun Williamson


(8) Khizar asked:

Greetings again... I am asking this question again because I just read the directions for making my question more suitable for an answer.

I asked about Kant. He is said to have admired Rousseau. Did he read his works in French? I'm asking this question to know whether it's important to read a philosopher in his own language. I often read about philosophers who are said to have been 'blown away' by this or that thinker but I am surprised to learn that they read translations. Don't you lose something important in translations?

Question 2: I've read in few introductory books on philosophy '...serious thinkers seem to be of the opinion that the existence of God can't be proven through reason...',

What makes a thinker serious or nonserious? Isn't this quite a nonserious statement?

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

I don't know if Kant read Rousseau in translation. However my thoughts on this are that it is easier to translate philosophy than it is to translate novels or poetry.

Of course there are bad translations and good translations so you may need to do some research. Reading a work in the original language may not help because if it is your second language you may not understand it as well as your first language.

As to the idea of there being 'serious' or 'non serious' philosophers I would just forget about that. It isn't a useful distinction.

Shaun Williamson


(9) Kate asked:

What is art? Can anything become or be art? Is it Possible for everything to actually be Art in itself? please give me a decent answer I'm desperate... and maybe you can help me with my philosophical essay on Gay rights? what kinds of issues can I use?

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

There is a big jump between the nature of art and essays on Gay rights but I will try to answer your questions.

Art is something that is presented by someone, who calls themselves an artist, as art. They may be a good or bad artist. Nothing is art in itself. All art must be presented to us by someone as art. Of course we can become artists ourselves if we want to.

Although anyone can become an artist if they wish to do so. This doesn't make them a good artist. Most artists are bad artists.

With regard to Gay rights try this as an essay topic. Are Gay lives the same as heterosexual lives. Should they have the same rights or different rights. Do Gay people strive for equality with heterosexuals for the wrong reasons i.e a desire to be accepted.

Shaun Williamson


(10) Khizar asked:

Khizar asked:

Greetings again... I am asking this question again because I just read the directions for making my question more suitable for an answer.

I asked about Kant. He is said to have admired Rousseau. Did he read his works in French? I'm asking this question to know whether it's important to read a philosopher in his own language. I often read about philosophers who are said to have been 'blown away' by this or that thinker but I am surprised to learn that they read translations. Don't you lose something important in translations?

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

This is a nasty issue. Here's the way I see it... if you're raised as a native speaker, or you have very good second-language fluency in a language, then, yes, it's best to read something in the original. However, if the original is in a language in which you're not fluent, you have two choices: take the time to become fluent, which could entail years of study, or use the translation of someone who has taken that time. I favor the latter, for the simple reason that one's time is finite. But that does mean that you have to take care in choosing translators and their translations. Given a good translation, however, I really don't see how it could be worse than the results of a comparable effort on your part, and in fact, since translators, the good ones, are usually experts in the field, probably better, since they are going to be professionally sensitive to nuances in that field, and probably without the biases that you will inevitably bring to translation (although they will have their own biases, which one should be aware of).

Steven Ravett Brown


(11) Khizar (pirkhizar@hotmail.com) asked:

When I discuss the practice of Sati with other law students I get 'burning can never be right'. I understand that; but that's not the point here. 'You' think it can never be right but there were hundreds of millions who 'did' think it. How can we claim to be right and be sure that they are not? How do we know? Please don't start thinking I'm a Hindu fundamentalist. I'm really concerned I'll get emotional responses.

I'll go even further. Even if it was done by force, if the majority was doing it, what would justify us to stop it since all the laws in the world are made by the majority for the majority. Who decides what degree of personal freedom should be allowed and what not and I'm really confused why even the most (as one of my anti-philosophy friend puts it) 'cold bloodied' philosophers get emotional over this and start thinking I'm some kind of a maniac. I'm only trying to reason here. 'You' could think all you want and 'You' think you're right but the 'tyrant majority' (Mill's quote, not mine) that you're dealing with has a totally different world view.

Please also keep in mind that the Hindus have elaborate reasonings to justify Sati which may look stupid to me but I know it doesn't look so to them; it is sacred for them! Please also keep in mind that to me, the Moghuls were a lot more reasonable (the statement of Napier looks pretty primitive to me); Emperor Tughlaq (before the Moghuls 14th century, banned it but then lifted the ban and demanded that permits be issued and the practice discouraged); the Mughal emperor Humayun banned it, then lifted the ban; Akbar didn't ban it but directed his officials to make sure that they make the paperwork such that considerable time elapsed before the practice was carried out because he was of the opinion (a wise one I think) that when the heat of the moment was past, the widow would be much less likely to choose to die for her dead mate. Only a religious zealot of an emperor, the Moghul Auranzeb banned it unconditionally and instantly upon ascending the throne. He is known as extreme religious fundamentalist.

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

That's what all the stuff comes down to, isn't it. You present the example of Suttee, but of course there are thousands of possible examples. And of course there are no clear and absolute solutions to this problem, the basic problem of the field termed 'meta-ethics'.

Here's one possible answer: the behaviors that work most directly and unambiguously to enhance life are the best, because those are the ones that will last longest and be most useful (for the simple reason that people using them will be more likely to survive, over the long haul, than those not). That's what's termed a 'naturalist' ethical position, and it's the one I like.

Here's another possible answer: give the deepest and broadest education to the population, in all possible variants of ethics, science, etc., etc... and see what people choose. I believe that recent experiments in educating women in India, for example, demonstrate that customs like Suttee will not be followed if people are both aware of choices as possible choices, and able to make the choices, without penalty.

Both of those answers involve an awareness of alternatives, where the various choices are initially presented without bias, (and an awareness that they can be chosen, without penalties) and the ability to follow them. This is the 'liberal', 'enlightened', Kantian type of approach to meta-ethics. The other approach takes the point of view that people are not capable of rational or reasonably choice no matter how educated, etc., and that they must be told what to do (by government or religious bodies), or deceived as to their possible choices. The argument against the latter point of view is not obvious... because we cannot start with a blank slate; people are not well-educated, on the whole, nor unbiased, nor aware of choices. Nonetheless I think that the lesson, by and large, of modern educational systems and democracies tends to support the former point of view.

You might also look at these:

Edgerton, R. B. Sick Societies: Challenging the Myth of Primitive Harmony. 1st ed. New York: The Free Press, 1992.

Lopez, S. R., and P. J. Guarnaccia. 'Cultural Psychopathology: Uncovering the Social World of Mental Illness.' Annual Review of Psychology 51 (2000): 571-98.

Harrison, L.E., and S.P. Huntington, eds. Culture Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2000.

Giovannoli, J. The Biology of Belief: How Our Biology Biases Our Beliefs and Perceptions: Rosetta Press, Inc., 2000.

Gintis, H. 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to Altruism: Genes, Culture, and the Internalization of Norms.' Journal of Theoretical Biology 220, no. 4 (2003): 407-18.

Kohlberg, L., and R.H. Hersh. 'Moral Development: A Review of the Theory.' Theory Into Practice 16, no. 2 (1977): 53-59.

Schmitt, D.P. 'Sociosexuality from Argentina to Zimbabwe: A 48-Nation Study of Sex, Culture, and Strategies of Human Mating.' Behavioral and Brain Sciences In Press (2004): 1-114.

Lawson, E.T., and R.N. McCauley. Rethinking Religion: Connecting Cognition and Culture. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Koestler, A. The Lotus and the Robot. London, England: Hutchinson, 1966.

and these:

Sommers, C., and F. Sommers. Vice & Virtue in Everyday Life; Introductory Readings in Ethics. 4th ed. Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1985.

Rachels, J. The Elements of Moral Philosophy. 1st ed. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1986.

Nussbaum, M.C. 'Recoiling from Reason.' The New York Review, no. December, 7, 1989 (1989): 36-41.

Sinnott-Armstrong, W., and M. Timmons. Moral Knowledge?: New Readings in Moral Epistemology. 1st ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

BonJour, L. The Structure of Empirical Knowledge. 1st ed. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985.

Gintis, H., S. Bowles, R. Boyd, and E. Fehr. 'Explaining Altruistic Behavior in Humans.' Evolution and Human Behavior 24 (2003): 153-72.

Solomon, R.C., and C.W. Martin. Morality and the Good Life: An Introduction to Ethics through Classical Sources. Fourth ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2004.

Dawson, T.L. 'New Tools, New Insights: Kohlberg's Moral Judgement Stages Revisited.' International Journal of Behavioral Development 26, no. 2 (2002): 154-66.

Bergman, R. 'Why Be Moral? A Conceptual Model from Developmental Psychology.' Human Development 45 (2002): 104-24.

Pettit, P. 'Consequentialism and Moral Psychology.' international Journal of Philosophical Studies 2, no. 1 (1994): 1-17.

Doebeli, M., C. Hauert, and T. Killinback. 'The Evolutionary Origin of Cooperators and Defectors.' Science 306 (2004): 859-62.

Hamilton, I.M., and M. Taborsky. 'Contingent Movement and Cooperation Evolve under Generalized Reciprocity.' Proceedings of the Royal Society B 272 (2005): 2259-67.

Haselhuhn, M.P., and B.A. Mellers. 'Emotions and Cooperation in Economic Games.' Cognitive Brain Research 23 (2005): 24-33.

Steven Ravett Brown


(12) Khizar asked:

As a law student, it seems to me (and many would agree) that quite paradoxically (when looking at what the purported aims of secularism are) minorities even as old as thousands of years ago had more freedom than they have today. When Cirus conquered Babylon and invited the Jews back to their homeland, he allowed them to practice their own laws without any interference and without making any 'judgments' about their laws. I'm only citing instances which I've come across during my own study so historically you may find it goes back further than that. Then, we know that generally a lot of minorities of even the Roman World Order were allowed to practice their own laws including sometimes even their own criminal laws. Then, when Muslims came upon the scene, we know that the Jews were allowed to practice their law to the fullest extent so that the Jews had their own judges to deal with laws relating to Jews only and while there certainly was discrimination against the Jews, they were allowed to carry on their own legal systems. Jewish communities today even laud the earlier Muslim rulers but maintain that it was beneficial to them also since it decreased the workload of Muslim jurists!

My question is: Why are judgments passed today if a religious minority demands that it be given 'the basic human right' of conducting their personal laws by themselves. We've studied some cases of where the Muslim minority in Europe have demanded that right and they've been refused because 'we can't imagine applying primitive laws today' or because they're quite obviously 'cruel laws'. Firstly, Muslims are not demanding the application of state criminal laws but only personal laws; and secondly, even if they are doing just that, how do we know these laws are cruel? To 'you' they might be cruel but not to the minority demanding it. Every religious system has it's own reasoning and many Muslim jurists argue that only by looking at the facts we can tell that these supposedly cruel laws are more effective and humane. But I think even 'defending' that is quite irrelevant.. Either we accept that minorities in the past had more freedoms or we allow for any law that a minority community would want.

Now 'you' may raise issues as whether the majority of the minority wants it or the 'whole' of minority. I'd be happy for the answer putting the condition 'the whole minority wants it' in this case even though the question isn't justified since we ourselves make our laws by looking at the majority. I'm really, quite honestly, confused by what I see as this modern judgmental stance on everything. It's like there is this modern secularist extremist who jeers and mocks at anything and everything opposed to his own outlook and passes sweeping judgments.

Now, please don't get charged up and don't try to guess whether I'm a Muslim, a Hindu or a minority community member and please, be a philosopher!

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

I'm not a historian, but even I can come up with many counterexamples to your few examples of tolerance. As for Jews, yes, there was a brief period when they were tolerated. They were definitely second-class in the Muslim world, but tolerated. And what about the next 1000 or so years in ghettos? And why focus on Jews here? Have you read the history of the Mongol conquests of Europe and Asia, where cities were decimated and pyramids of skulls were left? What about slavery, throughout history, all over the world, and continuing (yes, despite international laws) today? What about the intolerance in Asia? In India? In Tibet, where wars were fought between Buddhist sects? In the Americas, where the natives were systematically exterminated? I could write volumes about intolerance, and so argue, using your logic, that in fact we should be intolerant, since that's what's been the norm.

To argue that because some religious sects were tolerated at some periods of history, therefore some other religious sect should be tolerated in other periods or cultures, is simply bad logic, which you as a lawyer should be sensitive to. This is merely argument from analogy, a rhetorical tactic.

What your question amounts to, in general, is the same as the previous question, which I have commented on. To answer a little more specifically is fairly simple: all people who are citizens of a society, who permanently reside there, have implicitly or explicitly agreed to live by it's laws and customs, obey them, etc. The way around that is to change those laws and/or customs from within. If there is a minority who wants to live in particular ways which are now illegal, then they need to become legislators and attempt to change the laws. If they cannot do that, then they must obey them, as all in the society are obligated to, whether they agree with them or not, or emigrate. If that minority finds customs in their culture abhorrent, then they can live in isolation, as many groups do, or leave that culture through emigration. This is the policy not only in 'secularist extremist' cultures, but in all cultures that I am aware of, secular or religious. Again, you, as a lawyer, should be aware of this.

Steven Ravett Brown


(13) Khizar asked:

Everything has a cause; God. But who or what caused God. I read somewhere on this site that contrary to what many people say there is no logical fallacy (or illogical or something heavy like that; I haven't studied logic so I may mix up everything here, I hope you understand my argument) in believing that there can be an infinite regress of causes. I think what that means is that this 'a' had a cause b, which had a cause c, which had a cause d and so on and so forth to infinity. My problem is I can understand infinite progress of causes like 'a' causes b which causes c etc but I just can't figure out why it's not 'illogical' to believe that it can go backwards into infinity as well. I mean, for the infinite progress, we're taking about things that are to happen. But for the infinite regress, we're talking about history; i.e. things that have already happened. How can things that have already happened go back infinitely; they must surely have a first cause since they've already occurred. I know the philosophical position on this and a philosophy student I asked said to me he thought it perfectly logical to believe so but I couldn't understand his reasoning. Could you somehow make it easy or break it down for me in easier steps so that I might understand. Am I making any sense at all? Going back in infinity is impossible since we're talking about things that already have happened. Now I am all confused myself. Please help.

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

'Everything has a cause; God.'.... 'Going back in infinity is impossible since we're talking about things that already have happened. '

Well, I don't agree with either of these assertions. I see no reason to postulate any sort of god, particularly as a creator; that's as speculative as postulating a race of aliens from another dimension who created our universe. What's to choose between these? And of course there are any number of other possibilities.

As for an infinite sequence... what's your problem here? Just because it's already occurred doesn't eliminate the possibility that the events which have occurred are not countable. This argument, which, in the form of an attempt to prove the existence of the Catholic God, goes back at least as far as Aquinas (and much further, in other forms), assumes in part that the universe is like a clock, and that there must therefore be a clockmaker. But that in turn assumes many many things about physical reality, about causation, about temporality, and on and on. In addition, there are so many assumptions behind, and critiques of, the view that a sequence of causes itself must have a cause that I simply won't go further; it would take a book (and there are many already written).

Here's a concrete example of an infinity which has already happened: look around you. You see objects. Magnify any object as far as you want... there is no subdivision of matter so small that there are spaces, intervals, gaps, between things. No matter how far down you go, there's always a smaller part waiting for you (and to be technical for a moment: no, quantum theory does not contradict this; Schroedinger's equations assume an underlying continuity: they are not Diophantine). And so you can keep going infinitely within what you see right in front of you. Here's an example of a conceptual infinity: look up what's termed the 'Mandelbrot set' on the web. You'll find a pretty picture of a set of equations which can again be magnified infinitely, and which keeps varying no matter how deep you go.

If you really want to understand infinity, you might read these:

Cantor, G. Contributions to the Founding of the Theory of Transfinite Numbers. Translated by P.E.B. Jourdain. New York, NY: Dover Publications, 1915.

Kretzmann, N., ed. Infinity and Continuity in Ancient and Medieval Thought. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1982.

and I've already given you a list of readings in meta-ethics. The history and legal theory I leave to others.

Steven Ravett Brown


(14) Pete asked:

What's with solipsism? I have a friend who believes that the world well and truly revolves around him. He is the creator and that's that. It seems logically impossible to overcome that kind of thinking since it's non-falsifiable. Is there anyway to reason around solipsism?

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

The only thing I can be certain of, is my own existence: Solo ipsi — 'I, alone'. Everything I perceive and experience is my experience and I cannot be certain of it's independent existence. It might exist independently but this is beyond my certain, indubitable knowing. Moving from the claim that I can be certain only of my own existence to the stronger claim I create all I perceive; does creating implies a matter of control on the part of the creator? If yes, ask your friend if he can stop the earth from rotating or to change the 'laws' of gravity. Let him create a new, private language to communicate with his creations. If being a creator entails no element of control then 'I' can't control things, they are independent. Being independent does not imply I did not create them. I could have created them without knowing — a hidden part of me created them hence they appear independent.

Can I though, still speak of things being my creation if they arise from a part of me I am not aware of? Not being aware is an absence of certainty. Solipsism cannot follow upon uncertainty only the strictest application of certainty. So your friend can't claim to create things by means of a faculty he is not aware of. If your friend backtracks to say he is not the creator but still claims he is certain only his own existence well that's a moot philosophical point. Well, only as a consequence of Cartesian thinking. Beginning with the thinking, subjective self and seeking to ground knowing in it and from it arguably leads to the cul-de-sac of solipsism. Before the 'I' can be thought, the 'We' has to be encountered; the 'We' precedes the 'I' and not the other way round as with solipsism. To pursue this line of thought, recommend you read some:

Karl Marx The German Ideology.

Jean-Paul Sartre Existentialism and Humanism. Martin Heidegger Being and Time.

Martin Jenkins


(15) Gail asked:

The Idealist claims that consciousness and the presence of the object occur together and that therefore they are dependent. Do you agree with the realist that this is a tautology mistaken for an axiom? The idealist rests his case on the correspondence of consciousness and object. The real issue however, is one of dependence or independence according to the realist. How would an Idealist answer this question?

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The realist might say it is a tautology but for an Idealist, having the idea is all there ontologically is. It is not a matter of dependency but one of Identity. There is nothing beyond, beneath or above the experience; nothing exists independently of it. If, as realism maintains, there was something existing independently of my experience of it, then what am I experiencing? The experience will be distinct from the object. In fact, I will never experience the object as all I will have, are experiences supposedly 'of' it. If I don't have the object but only experiences of it, how can I know the experiences reflect or depend on the object, or that they represent it or, that experiences are causally dependent by this mysterious object? The object becomes so independent it effaces itself further and further away from experience. Realism arrives at a position completely opposite to what it pertains to be. To further answer your question, read Sections 1-35 of:

George Berkeley Principles of Human Knowledge.

Berkeley breaks down the distinctions of independence and dependence in furtherance of his Immaterialist doctrine. This would further answer your question.

Martin Jenkins


(16) Coin asked:

Is it self contradictory to claim that everything is relative ?

I have read in many places talk of 'explanation' (e.g. in psychology, sociology physics and philosophy) But in every single case, there has been offered no explicit statement of what is involved in 'explanation' It seems to me that all the talk which pays no attention to this concept is just as likely to be nonsense.

What do you think ? What is an 'explanation'?

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It isn't necessarily self contradictory to claim that everything is relative. It is just very unclear what someone could mean by saying that. So anyone who is going to make that sort of claim should be prepared to explain in great detail what they mean by it.

With regard to 'explanation' there are many different sorts of things that are called explanations and trying to find a simple formula that covers all uses of the term is just likely to lead to confusion. It is a common misapprehension in philosophy to think that we need to start by precisely defining our terms. Often this is the worst thing you can do.

You need to remind yourself of the many different sorts of things that we call explanation. Consider for example explaining how to tie a shoelace, explaining the structure of a symphony, explaining how a mathematical proof is constructed, explaining your views on politics, explaining your feelings to someone else, explaining the concept of transcendental numbers, explaining how to get to the airport, explaining the Theory of Evolution, explaining how to play chess.

Then ask yourself if all these different things can be summed up in one simple formula. Certainly there is room for discussion about what is regarded as an adequate explanation in a particular subject and you can contrast and compare it to explanations in other subjects but you need to be careful not to jump to the conclusion that one sort of explanation is superior to all others.

In physics we are often dealing with the behaviour of elementary particles. Trying to explain how to tie a shoelace in terms of the behaviour of elementary particles is not likely to be productive.

Shaun Williamson


(17) Khizar asked:

As a law student, it seems to me (and many would agree) that quite paradoxically (when looking at what the purported aims of secularism are) minorities even as old as thousands of years ago had more freedom than they have today. When Cirus conquered Babylon and invited the Jews back to their homeland, he allowed them to practice their own laws without any interference and without making any 'judgments' about their laws. I'm only citing instances which I've come across during my own study so historically you may find it goes back further than that. Then, we know that generally a lot of minorities of even the Roman World Order were allowed to practice their own laws including sometimes even their own criminal laws. Then, when Muslims came upon the scene, we know that the Jews were allowed to practice their law to the fullest extent so that the Jews had their own judges to deal with laws relating to Jews only and while there certainly was discrimination against the Jews, they were allowed to carry on their own legal systems. Jewish communities today even laud the earlier Muslim rulers but maintain that it was beneficial to them also since it decreased the workload of Muslim jurists!

My question is: Why are judgments passed today if a religious minority demands that it be given 'the basic human right' of conducting their personal laws by themselves. We've studied some cases of where the Muslim minority in Europe have demanded that right and they've been refused because 'we can't imagine applying primitive laws today' or because they're quite obviously 'cruel laws'. Firstly, Muslims are not demanding the application of state criminal laws but only personal laws; and secondly, even if they are doing just that, how do we know these laws are cruel? To 'you' they might be cruel but not to the minority demanding it. Every religious system has it's own reasoning and many Muslim jurists argue that only by looking at the facts we can tell that these supposedly cruel laws are more effective and humane. But I think even 'defending' that is quite irrelevant.. Either we accept that minorities in the past had more freedoms or we allow for any law that a minority community would want.

Now 'you' may raise issues as whether the majority of the minority wants it or the 'whole' of minority. I'd be happy for the answer putting the condition 'the whole minority wants it' in this case even though the question isn't justified since we ourselves make our laws by looking at the majority. I'm really, quite honestly, confused by what I see as this modern judgmental stance on everything. It's like there is this modern secularist extremist who jeers and mocks at anything and everything opposed to his own outlook and passes sweeping judgments.

Now, please don't get charged up and don't try to guess whether I'm a Muslim, a Hindu or a minority community member and please, be a philosopher!

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

I come from the UK, I am not religious and at present I am studying Bob Dylan's 'Chronicles — volume one'.

Most of the Muslim minorities in Europe and North America suffer from the problems caused by racial discrimination. This reduces their employment opportunities and causes alienation amongst the young people from these minorities. In this situation people tend to identify more strongly with their parents culture and to look for beliefs which make them feel strong.

Of course in the past sensible rulers often showed a toleration of different religious groups in countries that they had conquered. In Spain when it was ruled by the moors, Jews and Christians were allowed to practice their religion if they paid a tax. The tax wasn't expensive so this was a good situation. When the Christians took over in Spain they slaughtered everyone who would not convert to Christianity and afterwards they killed the converts also.

I believe that at present in Europe, including the UK, and in North America that there is a freedom to practise your religion that exists nowhere else in the world. This I think is a simple matter of statistics. Being a Jew or a Christian in a Muslim country is a much more difficult situation. So I don't believe that minorities 1000 years ago had much more freedom since their freedom depended upon the arbitrary whim of some absolute ruler. I wouldn't like to be a Jew or a Christian in any modern Islamic country since all these countries seem to be fascist dictatorships.

However freedom in the West is a situation and an idea that many people have died to achieve and that many people are still willing to die to defend. So while we allow as much freedom to others to practise their beliefs that freedom isn't absolute. Let me give you some examples of this.

In Iran a 16 year old girl is hung in public because she had sex with a 41 year old man. The man goes unpunished. In India a woman is raped by her father in law. The local Muslim court decides that her husband can divorce her and she will never be allowed to see her children again. The father in law goes unpunished.

There is no way that I would allow this situation to ever arise in the UK so as far as I am concerned Muslim courts would exist over my dead body. It is not a basic human right to impose your own ignorant, inhuman, cruel, and primitive laws on other people.

Of course I would apply the same rules to Christian fundamentalists and any other religious fundamentalists. The aims of secularism are to allow everyone the same freedoms not to put them into some narrow religious group and abandon them to their fate.

On a personal note I remember when I was a teacher, the Muslim girls who were dragged out of college by their brothers and beaten because they would not agree to forced marriages and wanted an education.

Of course their are lots of good Muslims, good Christians, good Hindus but their are also a lot of really evil ones as well. You should think about that.

Shaun Williamson


(18) Brian asked:

What's wrong with hypocrisy?

Nobody likes it, but why?

Does it indicate that in practice we view ourselves in terms of agency, of what we do and how we act (maybe akin to heideggerian 'being in/with') rather than some cartesian subject can we relate the question of hypocrisy to a theory of truth?

Also does any one know some references for the discussion of hypocrisy in the literature.

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Au contraire, everybody loves hypocrisy, which accounts for their going on about it so much. Granted, hypocrisy is most loved in others, where it offers an opportunity for sensations of moral rectitude in the onlooker. But that's all right, because most of the people in the world are, as it happens, other people.

Hypocrisy in oneself, saying or doing things contrary to other things one does or says, by contrast, is not much loved — but that is due, of course, to it's not existing. In our own cases, any accusation of hypocrisy by another would be the stumbling of a lesser mind, blind to our fathomlessly deep consistency.

Second — and this second point is so fathomlessly deep in it's consistency with the first point that even I will not fathom it for you entirely — I should point out that when hypocrisy does exist in my own case, this amount's to the entirely proper tribute paid by myself, and my vices, to virtue. It is perfectly stupid of these self-righteous hypocrisy-detectors to go around pointing out that such and such an imperfect/fallen/vicious/evil person was inconsistent in their imperfection/degradation/vice/evil in virtue of the kind and just things that they did or said on other occasions. It is as if they would find someone who was consistently vicious and evil more praiseworthy — which is perfectly absurd.

If there is any justice in the many attacks upon hypocrisy, this resides entirely in the justice of a specific attack upon some specific evil, not in the absurd charge of inconsistency in that evil. For instance, if a priest has been thieving silver we are entirely right in responding angrily to this. Where we might be on dodgy ground, however, is in entertaining the thought essential to the accusation of hypocrisy, namely that if the offender had been a leader of some satanic cult, the theft would have been somehow less a theft. Several different angers may be getting mixed up here. We have a right to be angry about any misplaced trust — but the proper target of this anger ought to include systems and institutions which have permitted the trust to be misplaced. Worryingly, this might include being angry at ourselves, and anyway impersonal things are difficult targets for anger to hit — so it is much easier to be angry at the personal other. So it often happens that already feeling great anger at the offender for the specific offence, we also throw onto him, willy-nilly, this additional floating anger about the failure of our misplaced confidence in him. Much of this confusion is expressed in the angry cheated-trust cry of 'hypocrite!', with it's utterly perverse implication that a consistently evil man would have been more praiseworthy.

David Robjant


(19) Christophe asked:

Regarding representational systems, Dretske writes (explaining behavior):

'What we are after is the power of a system to say, mean, or represent (or, indeed take) things as P whether or not P is the case. That is the power of words, of beliefs, of thought the power that minds have and that, therefore, is the power we are seeking in representational systems.'... 'That is why it is important to stress a system's capacity for misrepresentation. For only if a system has this capacity does it have, in it's power to get things right, something approximating meaning.'

I understand that such an approach to representational systems (based on misrepresentations) applies to us humans as we have access to words, beliefs and thought. But I do not see how such representational systems can be used for animals and robots who do not have access to words, beliefs and thoughts.

Could you tell if such approach on representations applies to animals and robots?

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

Well I don't know Dretske's work so I can't comment on it in detail. However there is some evidence that chimpanzees can practice visual deception i.e. they have an internal idea of what another chimpanzee can see and use this to their advantage.

Shaun Williamson


(20) Khizar asked:

As a law student, it seems to me (and many would agree) that quite paradoxically (when looking at what the purported aims of secularism are) minorities even as old as thousands of years ago had more freedom than they have today. When Cirus conquered Babylon and invited the Jews back to their homeland, he allowed them to practice their own laws without any interference and without making any 'judgments' about their laws. I'm only citing instances which I've come across during my own study so historically you may find it goes back further than that. Then, we know that generally a lot of minorities of even the Roman World Order were allowed to practice their own laws including sometimes even their own criminal laws. Then, when Muslims came upon the scene, we know that the Jews were allowed to practice their law to the fullest extent so that the Jews had their own judges to deal with laws relating to Jews only and while there certainly was discrimination against the Jews, they were allowed to carry on their own legal systems. Jewish communities today even laud the earlier Muslim rulers but maintain that it was beneficial to them also since it decreased the workload of Muslim jurists!

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

This is a second post to your question to explain some of the things in my previous post. Freedom and tolerance are not the highest moral values. Leaving other people free to do evil or tolerating the evil that they do, may be convenient for a politician at a certain point in history but it is in the end an evil thing to do.

We cannot afford to wait around and see how many 16 year old girls have to be hoisted aloft by portable cranes and left swinging and kicking in the air until they are dead before we decide that Sharia law is barbaric and we must never allow it to exist in our country In the same way we must never allow the Christian Inquisition to exist in our country.

Shaun Williamson


(21) Khizar asked:

You're an Englishman of the 19th century and you've recently conquered India. You come across the ritual of Sati (I'm sure you're all aware: husband dead, wife will burn; always voluntary but not really so because of societal pressures). What would you do? Do you believe the Hindus of India should be allowed to carry on with their religious practices and religious law? Or would you put an end to what you may think (I'm sure, like me you all do) is surely a cruel, unreasonable religious ritual. Please keep in mind that not the majority but ALL the Hindus at the time believed in Sati. Also keep in mind that Sati was a voluntary practice and the widow in 90 of the cases WANTED to die for her husband (for whatever 'higher' reasons). Yes, there was societal pressure to consider and I'll get to that in a moment but presuming there isn't one, would you end the practice? If you decide to end the practice, keep in mind that it 'would end': since Sati was abolished by force by the British government and the decision was maintained by the newly (albeit a very different secular Indian government) liberated India of 1947. I'm not writing all this to bore you but just to tell you where I stand so you don't answer by saying something that won't be of help to me.

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All that general Napier had to do was introduce a law that said that when an Indian wife died her husband was also expected to leap on the funeral pyre. If such a law had been introduced then the practice of leaping on funeral pyres would have died out overnight. You make wild statements like all the Hindus believed in Sati but you have no evidence for this. Did anyone ask all the Hindu women what they thought about this or offer them any alternative.

A moral law is a law that applies to every (moral subject) person equally. It make no distinction between age, sex or social status. To tolerate evil is to become evil.

Your fundamental mistake is to confuse what people do with what people should do.

Shaun Williamson


(22) Tricia asked:

What is the meaning/ message of the song 'Tears and Rain' by James Blunt?

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Having read the words I have no idea what the meaning/ message of the song is. If the songwriter doesn't make this clear why should we expect that anyone knows the answer except the songwriter. You might like to know that the repeated mentions in the song of 'Dorian Gray' relate to the novel 'A portrait of Dorian Gray' by Oscar Wilde. So you should start your investigations by buying a copy of this novel and reading it.

Shaun Williamson


(23) Caitlin asked:

I am taking a Theory of Knowledge class this semester, and have a few questions:

Can anyone talk meaningfully of a historical fact? How can anyone speak with certainty about anything in the past?

Does knowledge always require some rational base?

People say a machine can 'know', can a machine think?

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Yes I think we can talk meaningfully of historical facts. So for example we know that the battle of Waterloo was fought on a certain day at a certain place. Of course other historical facts are much more difficult. They depend upon an interpretation of the evidence which may be scarce or unreliable.

The same difficulties present themselves in law courts when a jury is trying to decide upon the guilt or innocence of a defendant. Many things in life are a matter of interpretation but some things are not. For example the date when all of Jane Austen's books were published is known for certain, the exact dates when Shakespeare's plays were first staged are not known for certain.

The greatest problem with regard to historical fact is which facts do we regard as important and what is historical knowledge. Is history the story of kings and queens or should it be concerned with what life was like for ordinary people. So there is also a political or ideological dimension to the study of history.

With regard to your second question 'Does knowledge always require a rational base', I don't understand it so I can't help.

With regard to machines knowing or thinking then in general people don't apply these terms to machines, they apply them primarily to people. For example we say 'Fred knows that...', we don't say 'Fred's brain knows that.. or Fred's computer knows that.. '. It is the same with thinking, only a person can think. Maybe at sometime in the future we will come to believe that some computers are persons but at present we are a long way from that.

However words such as 'know' and 'think' have primary senses and secondary and metaphorical senses. So for example we might say of a computer program that it 'plays a good game of chess'. The fact is that computers know nothing about games or chess or playing. Games are part of our culture. Computers don't have a culture and they don't really play games or understand games.

Shaun Williamson


(24) Navin asked:

I am a guy and have a very close friend whom I love a lot. I know he also loves me a lot. Sometimes I become very possessive for him which he does not like, he likes to mix with everyone and enjoy life where as I only want him to be with me. Recently we have been arguing over things and I feel very bad. Please suggest me a way out... I don't want to lose him.

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Possessiveness comes from insecurity, the feeling that you as a person are not worthy of love and friendship. A common response to this is a wish to imprison the other person. If you can remove them from other people then you can avoid the painful situations which stir up your feelings of insecurity. However in the end possessive behaviour drives other people away.

You have to allow your friend the freedom to be himself. How any relationship will work out cannot be determined in advance but your aim in life should be to only like people who return your regard and affection.

Shaun Williamson


(25) Claudia asked:

How far back in history does the concept of right and wrong go? Did cavemen believe in a right or wrong?

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The concept of right and wrong is a complex one; what is right for one person may be deemed wrong by another. Perceptions of right and wrong are arbitrary and in the main based upon the structures of different societies. Perceptions of right and wrong are very different in capitalist societies to those in socialist societies. This also applies to police states and dictatorships. In personal situations motivation may be greed, feelings of injustice, insecurity, religious views, etc.. In the modern world the perceived increasing gap between the rich and the poor is probably the most quoted example of the manifestation of right and wrong.

There is no reason to assume that the same perceptions of right and wrong do not go back to the beginnings of time, whatever that means! I cannot find any reason to believe that so-called cavemen did not harbour feelings of right and wrong. To believe that members of early primitive societies were somehow deprived of human attributes is to fall headlong into the blind acceptance of the unproven Darwinian theory of evolution.

John Brandon


(26) John asked:

Why 32?

Every single day, 32 (the number) seems to come up in some form or another, whether I'll just notice a page number to be 32, or if I count something, It will be 32, for some reason 32 just comes up every day, so much so that it has passed the 'coincidence' stage. Is there any deep meaning to this? (For the record, I am under 32 years old so I don't think it is memories or something playing on my mind.)

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

If you toss a coin 1000 times and look to see if it has landed heads or tails then you might expect that if the coin was unbiased that it would be heads 500 times and tails 500 time. If it came up heads every time then you might think that this was evidence that the coin was biased or part of an incredible and meaningful coincidence. However neither need be true. It is perfectly in accord with the laws of chance that a coin could be unbiased and come up heads 100, 000 times in succession.

I don't see anything special in someone seeing the numbers 32 or 44 everyday nor does it need a special explanation or mean anything.

Shaun Williamson


(27) Lindy asked:

What makes a question philosophical?

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Generally it is the fact that it is not another type of question e.g. not a scientific, mathematical, historical, economic, musical or theological question.

Shaun Williamson


(28) Riley asked:

What is the purpose to life? I don't agree with Aristotle that it is to be happy.

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The purpose of life should be to do good and to avoid doing evil.

Shaun Williamson


(29) Someone asked:

Is it okay to torture terrorists? What if thousands of lives can be saved?

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In my opinion it is not okay to torture terrorists under any conditions; even if a million lives can be saved. The reason is that there is simply no way of determining (measuring) what situations warrant torturing terrorists. Firstly, I'm really fascinated by why the word terrorist has been specifically used. The question might as easily have been Can anyone be tortured if we think lives may be saved by doing so? Surely torturing spies also saves lives. One might object by saying that the question is about civilians and not combatants. Well, torturing spies may actually save civilian lives. If you've a Nazi spy in your custody and you knew that if you torture him enough it might contribute .0001 percent towards the demise of Hitler. Knowing Hitler to have been a genocidal maniac, we know that, if we were to take out numeric proportions, probably thousands of lives would have been saved for torturing every single German spy.

The movie Terms of Engagement shows an American sergeant in Vietnam, who, while under heavy attack from the Vietnamese Freedom Fighters, gets his hands on a Vietnamese telephone operator (if I remember correctly) and some soldiers. He starts shooting the prisoners one by one at the same time threatening and screaming at the operator to call his forces off (which he does after witnessing two deaths). The movie vindicates Samuel Jackson's (the actor) actions, and what's more, even the Vietnamese operator is shown to approve of the method. I don't see any difference between shooting prisoners while under attack and shooting them while you're at war but not under immediate attack; both situation saves lives (civilian as well as non-civilian); though Jackson did it to save non-civilian lives.

One of the answerers reasoned by saying that even imprisonment is a kind of torture; I totally disagree. Imprisonment is not torture since there is an obvious difference between torture and punishment. What differentiates torture from even the most gruesome punishment is the psychological terror of knowing that there is no fixed duration or amount to this inhuman treatment. That it will go on indefinitely until the victim breaks or dies. Surely, if a terrorist, or a spy, were told that he/she will be given 80 lashes if he does not cooperate, then, if the terrorist is aware of the fact that the interrogators will be true to their word, there is a good chance hell withstand the punishment. What would make the punishment torture is the omission of this knowledge. During imprisonment, the prisoner is aware of the fact that he is under the custody of human beings and is undergoing a predictable process which is not indefinite; this knowledge differentiates between that imprisonment being a torture or a punishment. Imprisonment without trial or without the knowledge of what's going to become of the prisoner is torture (much like what was done to hundreds of detainees, post 9/11).

The question remains of course, as to what is to be done to the terrorist. If you are a hundred percent sure that he/she actually knows where a bomb is hidden, for instance, then, in my opinion he'd quickly be given a choice between life and death and be executed immediately upon his/her refusal to cooperate. In my opinion, it is a fair punishment. Of course, that is only when you're a hundred percent that he/she has any real knowledge. Perhaps his mate will be willing to cooperate afterwards. That is the most I think should be done. Torturing is simply inhuman.

The Caliph Omar was once asked permission for torturing spies. He made the interrogators understand clearly that they could punish in a very limited sense (beating the feet with sticks) for a limited time (which they were sure to withstand) and then, if no information came out, the spies would be allowed to torture the interrogators in the same way! Of course, that never happened and no one was tortured.

Pir Khizar


(30) Rhea asked:

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

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

It is pretty simple to me why should you. Because there is nothing in your life that is not affected in one way or another by someone's philosophy! I'm surprised so many people ask this question: What is the use of philosophy? Don't you want to learn something which you know for sure benefits, exploits, moves, stops, creates, destroys the world, depending upon who is using it? Because people don't read philosophers directly, they are under the notion that nothing connects them with philosophy. There is a very strong connection. Have you ever wondered where does phrases like I want to be me, that's us, Follow your heart, don't deny yourself, Be true to yourself, Freedom, Terrorist, I'm a survivor, The American Dream, White Man's burden, Black Power, I have a dream, Big Brother is Watching come from? They are the direct or indirect creation of philosophers.

You don't get to know them directly but their ideas (good or bad, depending upon the philosopher) trickle down to you from secondary sources. There has been no good or notorious politician, writer, general, artist who's either not read some kind of philosophy directly or at least indirectly (novels etc). Do you think most of the songs that you swing or swoon to are anything but echoes of a philosophy? it's up to people to decide whether they just want to swing or at least try to understand why they swing. Nobody stays unaffected by philosophy; not even the most reason-hating religious fundamentalist; for he rests his decision of abandoning reason on some kind of reasoning which forms a subject matter for philosophy!

Pir Khizar


(31) David asked:

Once, many, many years ago a friend of mine and I were just passing the time of day. I was newly married and he not. It was really a single guy talking to married guy, both about the same age, 33 or 34.

We spoke of many things, lightly but politely, pondering one of my questions, he stopped, thought for a minute or two and said, Dave, let me ask you something, What the hell is it all about?

My immediate answer, right from the hip, was, Ever look in the mirror? what do you think of what you see?

I've thought of that question most every day for all these years, sometime I come up up with a hazy answer, most times nothing I can hang a solid answer on.

Somehow, with age and experience the answer becomes much less vague and I think there's an answer.

i wonder if there is a capsule for this statement — what do you think?

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

I hope I've understood what you're trying to say. There is a famous anecdote about Ghazali (Algazel, a famous thinker of the 12th century). The famous Ghazali was once passing through a bazaar, and the people, loving and respecting him, would pay him some kind of attention, probably either by greeting him or by some other token of respect; all, except a very old woman who didn't pay him any attention at all.

One of the onlookers said to the woman: Old woman! Do you know who this man is? This is the man who's presented no less than a thousand proofs for the existence of God. The old woman laughed out loud and said: He wouldn't come up with a thousand proofs if he didn't have a thousand doubts! Ghazali is said to have uttered: God, grant me the faith of old people!

it's easy being a nihilist or an agnostic or even being confused while being young; it gets a lot harder as you grow older. Statements start changing from There is no answer to There may be an answer but we can never know to There might be an answer to There is definitely something! Of course, I am against resting my reasoning on the insecurities of old age; though I admit that the older I get the more reasonable it looks to accept the view that all the billions of billions into billions of things that happen must have something underlying them... and I guess philosophy is about inspecting the different answers being posed to the is there an answer question.

Pir Khizar


(32) MoFar asked:

Reading philosophy has brought for me seduction and self love instead of intellectuality and wisdom!

After reading many philosophy books and thinking a lot about philosophy of life, Now I've lost all of my life!

I think that my friends' daily actions and their thoughts are useless and meaningless compared with philosophy thoughts.

But I have many problems in my daily life and in university, just because of thinking in this way.

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

Philosophers are usually very humble when responding to something like what you've said. They'll say things like, no, their thoughts are not useless and meaningless, which is true; for there is definitely something to any kind of action no matter how trivial it might seem to us. But I don't blame you for feeling what you're feeling because I've gone through a similar experience. I think anyone who thinks seriously about things and is exposed to philosophy for the first time, especially a late-starter is really blown away not necessarily by the depth of a philosophy (for he may only have read an introductory book) but by what possible depth there might be to human reasoning. Another factor that works is the inexplicable inattention that is given to philosophy, which, I'm sure, to someone like you, would look horrendous. I've seen the most intelligent believers devastated by philosophy. Actually, to give you my personal opinion, (and I count myself as a believer) only intelligent believers take a deep impression of philosophy. I guess that's why it really hasn't made much of an impact on me (I've somehow retained my beliefs).

The important thing is not to let the shock or experience destroy you. Don't sleep with your best friend's girlfriend (I'm assuming Mofar is a male name) or seduce your neighbor's wife because 'what does it matter since there really aren't any answers'! Don't just drop out of College or give up your job or become a junky! That is not what philosophy is about. Don't change your lifestyle or your plans just because of that limbo feeling that you might be having. Be what you are now and only change in steps, when you're convinced that every step you take is the right one. Your feeling is very reminiscent to me of my first experience with philosophy (though I hadn't read many books). I felt extremely lonely and except for uncertainty there seemed nothing in life to look forward to; but shortly afterwards I found a friend with in a similar situation and my life changed dramatically. I think philosophy has brought me to life (my philosophy = thinking and reasoning). Soon, you'll even start enjoying the feeling of being enlightened in many ways; of course, there will always be people who'll feel really enlightened when they compare themselves with you!

Pir Khizar


(33) Joshua asked:

Can someone learn to philosophy even without education?

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More than two thousand years ago, a Greek philosopher, by thinking for hours on end, pondering, going over things again and again (probably while his sheep were grazing) came to some results of his own. He passed it own to some other Greek who thought about his (the first Greek's) conclusions, then changed them a bit, added something to it and passed it on to someone else. The knowledge kept on passing, sometimes newer points previously never thought of were introduced, many times the previous ones were modified (many times distorted). Things got to Plato and Aristotle and philosophy became really polished. The Greeks were replaced by other people who became the bearer of learning and reasoning. Ever since the starting of philosophy, thinkers have pondered over the problems of philosophy which have been debated very intensely for these thousands of years. The term philosophy itself has been debated and every point has been looked at from numerous angles in every debate.

Let me give you just a hint of what you're dealing with here. In the 12th century, Algazel (a religious thinker and philosopher) wrote a book 'The incoherence of philosophers'. This book was debated on by hundreds of thinkers both in the East and the West. Hundreds of commentaries were written and many refutations were presented, the most famous one coming in the 13th century by Averoes called 'The Incoherence of the Incoherence'. Someone (an Algazel fan) wrote his refutation to this book entitled 'The incoherence of the incoherence of the incoherence', in reply to which an Averoes admirer philosopher wrote 'The incoherence of the incoherence of the incoherence of the incoherence'. More books with the same name were written and the incoherence was carried to the ninth degree i.e 'The incoherence of the incoherence of the incoherence of the incoherence of the incoherence of the incoherence of the incoherence of the incoherence of the incoherence of the philosophers'. Each of these books had numerous commentaries.

Now this is just the Muslim world discussing only the term philosophy or the aims of the philosophers, and keep in mind that the Muslim world is not so friendly towards philosophy which means it's likely to keep its discussion of philosophy limited. Western philosophy is quite another story.

Now the difference between Plato and say Bertrand Russell (one of the greatest philosophers of the last century) is that between them numerous philosophers over thousands of years have discussed Plato's ideas. If you think you've got a mind powerful enough to be able to afford to dispense with thousands of years of scholarship, I think you might as well just think and come up with your answers. Even if you're a genius, chances are that you'll only be stuck up in a minor problem of the Greek ages. But even, say, you were an ultimate genius, how are you to know what you've got unless you compare it with what others have been getting? And how can you compare without knowing what others have been getting? It doesn't take a lot of education to at least start philosophizing. You can read a dozen introductory books and discuss them with someone and then you'll know where you stand or whether you need to study further or not. Perhaps you're truly a genius and wouldn't need to read as much philosophy as ordinary philosophers. Wittgenstein is one of the great philosophers of the 20th century and he's said to have not studied much philosophy as compared to other philosophers of the time.

Pir Khizar


(34) Marcela asked:

I want to know how we can know that we are not happy if we haven't had a little time of happiness?

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It would be possible to do this if the emotion of happiness was somehow described to the person. It would be extremely hard because it would be like trying to teach a robot about emotions. Then if that person were indeed unhappy they would know without ever being happy, being happy is just experience that helps us understands what the emotion is.

Casey


(35) Orange asked:

What is the best way to solve the epicurean paradox? How can you reconcile the existence of evil with an all good, all powerful God?

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Epicureans searched for happiness in a material world devoid of spiritual involvement, anathema to Christians.

Christianity itself, possibly like many other religions, is a complex of contradictions, particularly in view of the fact that the Church insists on attempting to interpret the New Testament in terms of the Old Testament. These are actually different religions, the Old Testament is concerned with the Jewish tribal God, Jahweh, whilst the New Testament is concerned with the Gospel (doctrine) of Jesus Christ, and within which he accuses the Jewish High Priests of not understanding the God who is at the centre of his gospel message. The spiritual content of the New Testament contrasts dramatically with the materialist content of the Old Testament, which is, in a sense, pagan, with it's animal sacrifices and hints of seasonal and other rituals. I have always maintained that if Jesus had been born in another country, say Poland, apart from Jewish people, there would have been very little knowledge of Jewish ancient history and the tribal God of the Israelites, but possibly a great deal would be known about Polish ancient history.

So your question revolves around which God you are referring to. The God of the Old Testament is a vengeful God, who seeks an eye for an eye, whilst the Christian God of the New Testament turns the other cheek to be slapped, and tells us to pray for our enemies. The God of the Israelites is probably not the only God produced to provide excuses for the actions and behaviour of His subjects. The God of the New Testament lays down the law but gives free choice to His human creation. We can choose to follow the path of righteousness according to the law, or to ignore this and follow what is understood to be the way of the Devil. Having given free choice God is disposed not to interfere and to allow the consequences of our actions to take their course. However, God is prepared to grant forgiveness if we are humble enough to ask for it. It seems then that evil is present in the world to test our loyalty to God. The example in the New Testament of Jesus rejecting the temptations of the Devil, points the way we are expected to go.

John Brandon


(36) Joie asked:

Is life good? If it is good then why do we have to die?

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I think the simple answer is that life seems good for some, but bad for others. It all depends on what we ourselves interpret as good and what we interpret as bad. The favourite parameters for defining good and bad lives lie within social structures, mainly the difference between affluence and poverty. Another important reason for a good or bad life is health; most would consider good health to be a necessary asset for a good life.

Whether life is good or bad does not, in the sense you mean, have any relation to physical death. However, bad social conditions and/or bad health can lead to premature death. Death is intrinsic to the cycle of nature, all living things commence to die at birth. Those who believe in reincarnation have no fear of death, and, indeed, no recognition of it. To the true Christian death is something that comes between the present life and resurrection. A meaningful answer is that life remains a mystery; the reason being that where the great questions concerning nature and religion are in evidence, both science and philosophy are very good at answering the question 'How?' but hopeless at answering the question 'Why?'.

John Brandon


(37) Nigel asked:

In most, if not all, philosophical analysis is it not a real luxury to assume that we can indeed analyse anything at all, and especially, that we can rely on the law of antithesis? This antithesis assumption is surely insurmountable — you seem to be able to deny it ONLY if you assume it etc. Is it not another warning that man cannot, on his own, really know himself, or the universe etc.?

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If this 'law of antithesis' of which you speak is the so-called 'law' which consists of the observation of the fact that two claims which contradict each other cannot both be true, then in answer to your two questions:

1. No.

2. No.

As a postscript, I note that unlike facts, laws are merely human creations. So it is sometimes hoped that by calling a statement of fact a 'Law' you can make it un-fact like, and more like an 'assumption'. You can't.

David Robjant


(38) Ashes asked:

Why is it that we our outlawed for being too intelligent or too ignorant. Difference and creativity lead to the betterment of the world but we are discriminated for being different. Ignorance lets us relate to people easier and enhance our own life experience. Should we strive to be average?

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Social conformity is the one thing that all schools can teach really effectively, the trouble being that in this 'teaching' the 'teacher' is a mob of kids. Consequently, the outcome of your school experience is largely dependent on factors independent of the stuff that the parents and teachers spend so much time and money on. Unless, that is, you count the selection of the Mob as being the effort upon which parents and teachers expend the great majority their resources. Which it often is.

See, for instance, house prices in the catchment area of good UK state schools. Nothing else so well explains the vast resources expended to achieve what amounts to, on inspection, as not the adding to an education of more thoughts or more teachers or more books, but the subtracting from an education of this or that objectionable Mob. The left used to think of this subtraction as unfair, socially speaking, and of the exposure of everyone to a roughly similar mob as being a just and achievable goal of government policy. If conformity handicaps, how much more just it would be for it to handicap all equally — Equality being the one great virtue above other virtues. This egalitarian proposal would appear to have lead to rather unequal mob selection by house price, where to have a 'good school' is to buy into a 'good area', and social exclusion is cemented in bricks and mortar.

So now, controversially supposing that talent or inclination ought to be more decisive in educational success than ownership of a semi, the government is presently creating schools where the selected mob rather likes foreign languages, or computers, or whatever. This is indeed elitist, but, since the objective here is to find for an expensively trained teacher that elite mob of interested pupils who will not waste their french lessons throwing paper aeroplanes and thumping pete, entirely justified.

Obviously the answer to you question 'should we strive to be average?' is not 'yes'. Apart from anything else, it would appear to be a self-defeating striving, where the strivers end up being less than average in virtue of exceptional strife. Trying too hard is very uncool. Anyway the important point is, right or not, on account of a natural human need for human contact most people in fact do strive to be average, to 'fit in' (an expression which suggests that all boots are always the right size by divine decree, and that in difficult cases it is simply a matter of hacking off a miscreant toe or two). Silly as this is, we naturally do want to 'fit in'. The problem this fact poses, educationally speaking, is that some societies of humans only offer 'in' status to morons or devils.

David Robjant


(39) Charlotte asked:

Did the LAWS OF PHYSICS exist before the universe came into existence?

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A physicist would tell you that there is no 'before the universe came into existence', because time is a dimension, like up or down, within the universe. Here the universe is conceived of as a four dimensional object, and waiting for dinner to be served counts as 'movement' or 'travel' within that universe, along one dimension.

Physicists talk bunk. Or, they twist the english language out of all meaning in order to produce a twisted verbal hankie-knot to remind themselves of some mathematical equations they use for getting satellites into orbit. It comes to the same thing.

A philosopher, well, anyway, one like me, would tell you:

1. that time is essential to any idea of movement, and therefore cannot be conceived of as a dimension, whatever the damn equation says.

2. that equations, which are what we mean by 'the laws of physics', are written by human beings.

3. that there were no human beings before the universe existed.

Therefore:

4. there were no laws of physics before the universe existed.

Thus it is demonstrated.

David Robjant


(40) Saskia asked:

What does Aristotle mean by 'metaphysics'?

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Aristotle's work 'Metaphysics' is titled in Greek 'Ton meta ta Physika' (of the things after physics), which is supposed to mean that this is just a collection of works that later editors placed after Aristotle's treatises on physics. However, it also means that one should study these subjects after studying physical matters such as motion, time, and animal life, in order to discover the underlying nature of all things. The topics covered in this work concern metaphysical questions examined by Earlier Greek philosophers (Anaximander, Heraclitus, Parmenides, Empedocles, later Plato etc.) as well.

To be more specific, he examines in this work the following metaphysical puzzles:

Books Alpha to Epsilon: The science of being qua being, the principle of non-contradiction, definitions of key terms such as cause, nature, one, and many.

Books Zeta, Eta, Theta: Are considered the core of the Metaphysics, since they form a wide-ranging discussion of substance (ousia), it's hylomorphic definition, it's relation to matter (hyle) and form (morphe), to potentiality (dyname) and actuality (enteleheia), to change and coming-to-be, which are the basis of his Teleology.

Book Iota: Discussion of the unity of the particular beings, one and many, sameness and difference.

Book Kappa: Further analysis of parts of the Physics.

Book Lambda: Further remarks on beings in general, first principles (archai), and God or gods. This book includes Aristotle's famous description of the unmoved mover (kinoun akineton), the contemplating being.

Book Mi and Ni: Philosophy of mathematics, the nature of numbers, and criticism of the Pythagorean views.

Nikolaos Bakalis


(41) Jerome asked:

How would you resolve the problem of evil in Plato's theory of participation. Did God create evil?

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According to Plato, all the perceptible things partake and are imitations of different immaterial, unchanging and eternal entities, the well-known Forms (Ideai). For instance the man shares in the Form of man, biped, animal, living being etc. All the Forms derive from the Good itself (Goodness), which is the source of virtue and knowledge.

However, evil does not share in the Form Evilness, as one might expect, for such a Form does not exist, according to Plato. Evil and vice are simply ignorance of the advantageous and good for the human nature, a false estimation of excess or deficiency concerning pleasure and pain. Therefore ignorance is injustice, licentiousness and cowardice, while knowledge is justice, courage and moderation. (Plato's Republic 443-444). We cannot say then that God created evil in Plato's theory, for the evil derives from our ignorance and false estimation of the good for ourselves.

'For you agreed with us that those who make mistakes with regard to the choice of pleasure and pain, in other words, with regards to good and evil, do so because of lack of knowledge and not merely a lack of knowledge but a lack of that knowledge you agreed was measurement' (Plato's Protagoras 357d-e).

Nikolaos Bakalis


(42) Madeline asked:

What do you think of the wrecking ball that David Hume applies to science? Does he really show that necessary connections are merely based on psychological conditioning or constant conjunctions of similar events? What should be the impact of Hume and empiricism in this era of great scientific and technological advances?

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The great weakness in Hume's philosophy is that it is based on the principle that 'there is no idea without an antecedent impression' yet at the end of his Treatise he acknowledges that he has an idea of the Self but no antecedent impression of it. And today in theoretical science there are thousands of ideas without antecedent impressions. We have empirical evidence for these ideas, but what the ideas refer to is so-called 'underlying, ' meaning imperceptible — or, in Hume's words, no impression. In Hume's day there was no distinction between empirical science and theoretical science: it was all supposed to be empirical, and some empiricist philosophers still believe this to be so. But consider electricity, for example: it's supposed to consist of electrons flowing through wires. But nobody has ever perceived an electron, it's a theoretical entity. We have lots of empirical evidence for electrons, such as all the electrical appliances in our homes — but these are all empirical. In fact the word theoretical means non-empirical, imperceptible. And although most theoretical scientists would be reluctant to admit it, theoretical science grows out of a metaphysical background; the assumptions that theoretical reality contains no contradictions, for example, or, to get to your specific question, the assumption that it contains necessary connections, causations, which are much more potent than Hume's mere correlations.

So, in answer to your final question, Hume and empiricism should have no impact in this era of great scientific and technological advances. You may be interested in Bertrand Russell's 'principles of non-demonstrable inference' (which are really metaphysical principles needed in theoretical science) in his 'Human Knowledge: it's Scope and Limits' — his last serious philosophical work.

Helier Robinson


(43) Marina asked:

Why could Aristotles Efficient Cause be an illusion?

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It could not be an illusion: illusions occur in perception, and efficient causes are imperceptible, like energy. Both efficient causes and energy are theoretical concepts and therefore non-empirical, imperceptible. As such either may or may not exist in reality, and we can never know for sure.

Helier Robinson


(44) Gideon asked:

What does it mean to say that the 'three conditions of the tripartite analysis are individually necessary and jointly sufficient'?

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In logic, in a valid inference of the form 'If A then B, ' A is said to be a sufficient condition for B and B is said to be a necessary condition of A. 'Sufficient' means that you do not need anything else, and 'necessary' means that you cannot do without it. Note that B is not a sufficient condition for A and A is not a necessary condition for B — unless the logic is 'If, and only if, A then B.' For example, 'If Pat is a husband then Pat is a man' means that being a husband is a sufficient condition for Pat being a man and being a man is a necessary condition for him being a husband; but being a man is not sufficient for being a husband, and being a husband is not necessary for being a man. So each of your three conditions is a necessary condition for the tripartite analysis, and all three together are sufficient.

Helier Robinson


(45) Coin asked:

Is it self contradictory to claim that everything is relative?

I have read in many places talk of 'explanation' (e.g. in psychology sociology physics and philosophy) But in every single case, there has been offered no explicit statement of what is involved in 'explanation' It seems to me that all the talk which pays no attention to this concept is just as likely to be nonsense What do you think ? What is an 'explanation'?

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First, it's not clear what you mean by everything being relative. Usually this is expressed as all truth being relative, and this is self-contradictory: because the statement 'All truth is relative' is either absolutely true, and so self-contradictory, or else it is only relatively true, in which case some truths are absolute. Second, the best explanation of explanation that I know of is that all explanations are causal: to describe causes is to explain their effects.

Helier Robinson


(46) Charlotte asked:

Did the LAWS OF PHYSICS exist before the universe came into existence?

Also, did the fact and existence of what might be called the quality of POSSIBILITY have to exist before the universe could exist?

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1) I'm not actually sure that the 'laws of physics' exist in any sense at all except as ideas in human minds. It certainly seems to be true that there are regularities in the behaviors of particles, etc., and that particular physical entities, say, electrons, have particular properties, the same for all electrons (like their rest mass and charge). But laws? Would 'all electrons have the same charge' be a physical law, or merely a property of electrons? Would 'accelerating a charged particle produces a magnetic field for a stationary observer' be a physical law? it's certainly a consequence of various properties of charge and space... but those properties are not laws, and inferences from them would not 'exist', in the sense that they had a physical reality comparable to the particles they describe. I just don't really know how a 'law', such as the above statement about accelerating charges, could 'exist' in that sense... except, as I say, as an idea we have about the physical world, which is an inference we've made about certain objects as a result of certain properties of those objects.

It might be more interesting to ask whether there were any physical entities at all, and what their properties were, before the universe existed. In that case, of course the answer, by definition, is that there were none... because if there were, then some part, at least, of the universe would have existed, right? You've defined the question so that the answer just pops out... very convenient. Then the next question would be, is it reasonable to ask the first question. Well... why not? But I'm not sure what it means. It certainly assumes a lot... for example, that time runs along the way it seems to in our little microcosm, with events starting and stopping (and this is not so simple as it might look... what's an 'event'? why divide the things you see around you the way you do?) ... and so we generalize to everything and say that because we see those starts and stops, why then, everything must have those, including 'the universe', whatever that is. Do you begin to see some of the problems here?

Just because we see, for example, rain falling out of the sky doesn't mean that 'rain' is 'starting'... lots of things have to happen for that small piece of what's actually going on to occur, within all the rest. If you throw a ball, you can say that the motion starts when your arm starts to swing, and stops when the ball lands (or is caught) and comes to rest (relative to the moving earth). So there's a 'start' and a 'stop', which can be fairly well defined physically, in that case... fine. But why should this be true of 'the universe'? Maybe there has always been something, whatever, just going on, with no beginning like a thrown ball. Maybe the 'starts' and 'stops' we see, and make inferences about, are totally arbitrary, and so we have to look at things in some other way, which we might not even be able to understand.

Given all this, how can your question possibly be answered? We can say, well, assuming that this, and this, and this... are all the way they seem to be to us, right now in history and scientific thought, then perhaps the answer is no, they didn't. But that's not an answer, it's purely a speculation based on very very uncertain and incomplete information and understanding.

But all the above is controversial. This is a complicated issue, and there is a huge amount of literature on it. Here's some:

Giere, R.N. Science without Laws. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1999.

Drewery, A. 'Essentialism and the Necessity of the Laws of Nature.' Synthese 144 (2005): 381-96.

Mumford, S. 'Laws and Lawlessness.' Synthese 144 (2005): 397-413.

But none of the references above are introductions to the philosophy of science; they are all fairly technical, because this is not an issue you can just plunge into. You need to start with an introduction to this field, and slowly build up your knowledge, if you're really interested in this. Start with these (Kuhn, then Hanson, then Popper, then Kitcher, is the order I'd recommend), before you even think of reading the above:

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

Kitcher, P. The Advancement of Science; Science without Legend, Objectivity without Illusions. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Kuhn, T. S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. 3rd ed. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1996.

Popper, K. R. The Logic of Scientific Discovery. Translated by K. R. Popper, J. Freed and L. Freed. English, 1958 ed. New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1968.

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.

Suppe, F. The Structure of Scientific Theories. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1977.

2) I don't have the slightest idea of what 'the quality of possibility' might be. Possibility is not a quality or property of anything, as that term is used in statistics, and any area science I know of, but an inference about the frequency or manifestation of events. And since you're asking about 'the universe', you're asking about the physical world, in a scientific context, as far as I'm concerned.

Steven Ravett Brown


(47) Martyn asked:

I have been studying philosophy selftaught for a number of years mostly from Nietzsche. m question is how do I define myself if at all? Am I atheist, agnostic, existentialist, naturalist, nominalist, nihilist, objectivist, pragmatist, perspectivist ? I don't want to be defined as anything but people are wary of something they can't define. I am most certainly not antireligious because I think humans will always want to be part of a herd but I am against the doctrines of our religions in the sense that I dislike the answers offered to me by theology and The Church with it's eternal judgement and divine retribution. I don't want the tag 'atheist' because it seems too dry to live with even Nietzsche said he knew nothing of atheism. Is it important to be part of something that can be defined. Nietzsche, for example is considered an ethical philosopher and by others a romantic philosopher and historian. Nietzsche seems undefined to me. He seems to be an amalgamation of them all but at the same time never committing fully to either.

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Might I suggest that you can define yourself as a 'Bright'. Check out http://www.the-brights.net/

Stuart Burns


(49) Tomaj asked:

I write on philosophy and I'd like to see if they're suitable for publication. I have no degree in philosophy but I'm interested and read about it. my major essays mainly contain philosophy from the point of view of literature. at the moment, I'm not focusing on contemporary fields in philosophy such as linguistical approaches, or concept of truth and meaning. I'm more or lees focused of literary work with underlying philosophical implications that take a more critical approach rather than a descriptive to philosophical investigations... how can evaluate these and step towards publishing?

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Writing philosophy is a craft. How do you learn a craft? By apprenticing yourself to a craftsman, and by doing it. You need criticism from philosophers, which is best gotten by attending school and taking philosophy courses, where you have to submit papers. Next, you have to both read philosophy journals, to see how philosophers write, and also to submit to peer-reviewed journals in order to get criticism from the reviewers. If it's literary criticism you want to specialize in, then that's the field in which you have to do the above.

Steven Ravett Brown


(49) Mark asked:

Hello, this is really just self indulgent tripe, no depth here!... Just wondering if any philosophers could guide me in trying to justify art to myself and a desire to simply paint what I see, in a world where 'recognised' art is continuously becoming more conceptual, elitist and ignorant to the 'real world'. I am an art student trying to base my dissertation around the meaning of life, and the meaning of art within that meaning. Basically, I really just need some philosophical direction in terms of art in the grand scheme of things! It may seem like quite a broad, naive and somewhat ignorant question to ask, but why art? Please help.

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Well, let's see. You want a) to justify art, b) to justify representational art, c) to know the meaning of life, d) to know the meaning of art, and to know e) the reason why we do art. Are you asking about all of these, or just the easy ones, like the meaning of life? On top of that, you say that you're getting a Masters or PhD in art, and you're doing a dissertation on 'the meaning of life'.

It sounds to me as if you're going through that typical graduate student crisis: why am I doing all this (which I went through, and most others). Here's what you do, and I'm dead serious. Forget this crisis. Postpone it. Pick some nice, simple, topic for your dissertation (not 'the meaning of life'... please), and just grit your teeth and do it. Do what your adviser wants. Do anything. Then, when you're finished, you can start asking these questions. Believe me, what matters now is not what you're doing. What matters is getting it done.I know about all the agonizing, but from the other end, when it's all done, what matters is the piece of paper, not particularly what it's on. Just do it.Start writing half an hour a day; surely you can do that, right? Every day, no matter what, scribble something down. Just a half an hour, on the first thing that comes to mind that isn't 'the meaning of life'.

Steven Ravett Brown


(50) Adam asked:

Can you please give me some ideas on the works of philosophers that dealt with the representation of death?

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I'd advise you don't read philosophers on death; but that you read clinical psychologists. Try E. Kubler-Ross (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elisabeth_Kubler-Ross):

On Death & Dying, (Simon & Schuster/Touchstone), 1969 Questions & Answers on Death & Dying, (Simon & Schuster/Touchstone), 1972

Death: The Final Stage of Growth, (Simon Schuster/Touchstone), 1974

Steven Ravett Brown


(51) Kevin asked:

I'm reading about nonconsequentialist theories, particularly about Kant and positive and negative duties. What I don't understand is why negative duties have greater emphasis than positive duties. The explanation I have gives something about the difference between using people as 'means' or 'ends', but it's a bit confusing and a bit sketchy. Can you explain why negative duties are so much more important than positive duties?

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Well... they aren't. They're easier to describe, that's all. It's much easier to say, 'don't lie', than it is to say, 'always tell the truth', because if you say the former, then you leave open all the little decisions about when you actually lie, when to tell half-truths... etc. But if you say the latter, 'always tell the truth', hey, you're stuck. The problem with Kant's ethics is that he never was able to actually work out the details. He came up with a principle to the effect: 1) treat people as people not as objects; which is a specific version of a yet more general principle: 2) that if it screws things up if everyone does something, then you'd better not start doing it; which is a specific version of a yet more general principle: 3) if you act according to some principle, and that action has the consequence of undermining or destroying the principle itself, then the principle is wrong: it's self-destructive, so don't use it. A nice meta-ethical solution which, unfortunately, is so general that it's almost unusable.

You see the point? it's a kind of Darwinian approach (although almost no one else has this take on Kant) to ethics. You try to figure out a principle, and if using it results in a contradiction, then that principle has basically eliminated itself, through testing itself in action. So Kant says that if everyone lies, then lying, as a principle, destroys itself because if everyone did it then no one would trust anyone, and any distinction between lies and truth would be meaningless, and so you couldn't lie, in effect. Acting according to that principle causes it to self-destruct, to self-contradict, when it's tried, just like a mutant organism which can't eat self-destructs.

But the problem here is that it's easy to say: don't lie. But what do you do? What doesn't self-destruct, and how do you test that? One can say, 'do your duty', as Kant does... but what's that? Not lying? Not stealing? Yes... easy enough to say, and to rationalize. But first, to support a principle like 'don't lie' by saying that well, if you think about it, you see that it won't work... is absurd, as far as I'm concerned, because anyone can rationalize just about anything, if they want to badly enough. Just read the newspapers, or philosophy journals, if it comes to that, to find examples. Second, consequently the way to test that, and any other such principle, is to take examples, real data, from societies which use those principles (or which have attempted to) and see what happens. Do societies in which lying is rewarded fail? Succeed? Over what length of time? In isolation or in interaction with other societies? You see what I mean?

And so, third, in order to find what does work you have to do the same thing and go look at what has worked. But then, you've got the problem of evaluating what 'works' means. Whoops. You're caught in a meta-ethical loop here, where in order to evaluate a principle, you have to first have a principle to evaluate it with.Kant's idea of self-contradiction is nice enough in the abstract, but what does it actually mean, when you go look? You never get a situation where everyone, always, lies. So how do you test all this, or know that your abstract conclusions are actually true?People are unhappy, when you get problems with working out principles? But then you're using 'happiness' as a meta-criterion, aren't you. People die? People are happy? Rich? You see what I mean? What makes those good or bad?

And this is why I said, above, that it's easy enough to forbid lying. Sure, right. A nice simple example, like, hey, if we all kill each other, then, by gosh, there won't be anyone left to kill anyone, and so that principle self-destructs, and we should never kill. Well, that just won't do, and finding just how to go about actually working out Kant's little program is something that people are still struggling with, those who are even interested.

Steven Ravett Brown


(52) Bill asked:

To what extent is the age old realism vs. idealism purely academic? What practical difference does it make if my coffee cup is merely a 'representation' or 'idea' in my mind vs. a 'real' cup? It would seem that so long as the shared world, real or ideal, holds, that is all that matters...i.e, that we can continue to communicate, engage in science, etc. at least as well as we do now.

Maybe Rorty is right to say that such 'debates' should be set aside as counterproductive to our goals?

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Yes, I think you're mostly right... as long as we remember to retain some kind of reasonable Popperian criteria. Without that, you're just floating, and we do have physical bodies, after all, and we can't just walk through walls by willing it... for some walls, anyway: the 'objective' kind. So there are some limitations here. But for a very interesting take on this, look at the sci-fi book: Lady of Mazes, by Schroeder. Definitely neato, and it makes the issues raised by the movie Matrix seem extremely trivial. You might also look at:

Brueckner, A.L. 'Brains in a Vat.' The Journal of Philosophy 83, no. 3 (1986): 148-67.

Or just go look up something like 'brains in vats' on Google.

Steven Ravett Brown


(53) Stephen asked:

I know that most of you philosophers do not believe in any God. My question to you is: If there is no God, then how are we here, wondering, thinking, and living?

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Well perhaps it would be nice if we had the answer to every question, or even to this one... but we don't, and I'm not sure I would want that anyway. How boring it would be if we had all the questions answered. Suppose there were a god, and when you died, physically, you could have any question answered. Ok, you get them answered. Then what? What next? Thousand-year orgasms, like the Muslims want? Um... well... fine, and after 10 or 20 of those, wouldn't you be a bit bored? How about perpetually singing hymns, like the Christians want. How many hymns are there, anyway? 100? 200? And how long does it take to sing a hymn? And you have eternity ahead of you...? Whoops... You might look at the old Heinlein book, Stranger in a Strange Land, for an interesting take on a possible afterlife.

Steven Ravett Brown


(54) Hope asked:

How does one pronounce Foucault?

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In English Foo coe. I have no idea how it is pronounced in Japanese

Shaun Williamson


(55) Eva asked:

Is being a philosopher hard?

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It is the most difficult thing you can do in this world. However don't do it unless you have to. If you can do something easier.

Shaun Williamson


(56) Mark asked:

The property of redness is presumably definable in terms of fundamental physics, but it isn't a physically interesting property. Alien thinkers (not just physicists but any kind of alien thinkers) would never entertain a concept corresponding to the property of redness unless they chanced to stumble upon humans or, at any rate, on a planet much like Earth.

On the other hand, it is plausible that the concept of belief would form a part of ideal alien science. Much of what economists talk about would be part of an ideal alien science, but only part of what psychologists talk about would. (In fact, economics may be an 'a priori science' in the sense that even if the laws of physics were much different, scientists would still have come up with the doctrines of economics.) So what do philosophers think of the concept of goodness? Would aliens have come up with it? And what about particular moral judgments?

For instance, assuming that killing is a concept of ideal alien thinking, would it be part of ideal alien thinking that killing is wrong? Or could it be that, although there is a perfectly alien thinkupable or even a priori understanding of killing, it is only because of the peculiar nature of human beings that killing them is wrong? Could it be that it is wrong to kill humans but not aliens? Or that it is wrong for humans to kill but not for aliens to kill?

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Just how many questions do you want answered here? The problem with asking so many, in such a disorganized way, is that I'll have to answer you the same way you asked, or write a book. I'll do the former.

1) No, redness is not definable in terms of physics, not at this point, at least. Redness is not a frequency of light.

2) Um... and you know this because....??

3) Really? Why?

4) Zowie, it's nice to know all these things about aliens. Thanks for letting us know.

5) So the economists are actually the most basic scientists? Wow, and I guess they aren't all billionaires... because they voluntarily refrain from making market killings? Must be.

6) I think goodness is a totally neato concept.

7) Um... I'll have to ask my Martian friends...

8) Same as above.

9) Well, your last few questions are really quite unanswerable... you might think about what an alien is, anyway. Why don't you start with animals?

Steven Ravett Brown


(57) Michel asked:

First:

I am from Holland and my english is not perfect. Most of my life I am thinking about the great questions and answers.

My question to you:

Why is nearly everybody trying to search for a reason of it all?

Why is it so difficult for us to accept there is none.

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Well, aside from all the obvious answers like Plato's sense of wonder, trying to make sense of causes, etc., etc... all of which are plausible but merely intuitions, we have studies like these:

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

Azari, N.P., J. Nickel, G. Wunderlich, M. Niedeggen, H. Hefter, L. Tellmann, H. Herzog, P. Stoerig, D. Birnbacher, and R.J. Seitz. 'Neural Correlates of Religious Experience.' European Journal of Neuroscience 13 (2001): 1649-52.

Blanke, O., and S. Arzy. 'The out-of-Body Experience: Disturbed Self-Processing at the Temporo-Parietal Junction.' The Neuroscientist 11, no. 1 (2005): 16-24.

Boyer, P. 'Natural Epistemology or Evolved Metaphysics? Developmental Evidence for Early-Developed, Intuitive, Category-Specific, Incomplete, and Stubborn Metaphysical Presumptions.' Philosophical Psychology 13, no. 3 (2000): 277-97.

Giovannoli, J. The Biology of Belief: How Our Biology Biases Our Beliefs and Perceptions: Rosetta Press, Inc., 2000.

Langdon, R., and M. Coltheart. 'The Cognitive Neuropsychology of Delusions.' Mind & Language 15, no. 1 (2000): 184-218.

Lawson, E.T., and R.N. McCauley. Rethinking Religion: Connecting Cognition and Culture. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

in which people are actually trying to approach these questions empirically. I particularly recommend Boyer's article, in answer to your question. Both he and Blanke are actively researching these questions.

Steven Ravett Brown


(58) Kay asked:

What is the historical development of continental philosophy's existentialism and phenomenology as a response to Hegelian Idealism?

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This is quite a nice article which might address your question:

Buckle, S. 'Analytic Philosophy and Continental Philosophy: The Campbell Thesis Revised.' British Journal for the History of Philosophy 12, no. 1 (2004): 111-50.

Steven Ravett Brown


(59) Adrianna asked:

Are public authorities justified in intervening to prevent adult persons from deciding to self harm?

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If public authorities don't intervene in cases of self harm then they are criticised for being uncaring. If they do intervene then they are criticised for limiting the freedom of the individual. There is no easy answer to this question except to note that if someone wants to self harm then they can easily do it in ways that will not be noticed by the public authorities.

I think it is more important to think about why people self harm and what we can do to help them given that they are often very resistant to accepting help. What we need to be clear about is that self harming is an irrational activity carried out by unhappy people. It is not just an eccentric alternative hobby practised by happy people.

Shaun Williamson


(60) Anthony asked:

Jung says 'its not important what you believe, its important that you believe.' (paraphrased) as in respects to god or a greater unknown thing. people have always worshiped. why must we worship and believe there is more when we can't see it?

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I believe Jung was a traditional Catholic but this quote reveals his attachment to the dangerous existentialist nonsense that afflicted Europe in the 20th century. After all Hitler was a believer, wasn't he and of course many people worshipped Hitler. People are weak and easily fall into the trap of believing that there must be something that will make things right. So they will worship anything, a murderous dictator, a pop star, a profit seeking preacher.

What we should think is 'Its not important that you believe, it's important what you believe'.

Shaun Williamson


(61) Mark asked:

The property of redness is presumably definable in terms of fundamental physics, but it isn't a physically interesting property. Alien thinkers (not just physicists but any kind of alien thinkers) would never entertain a concept corresponding to the property of redness unless they chanced to stumble upon humans or, at any rate, on a planet much like Earth.

On the other hand, it is plausible that the concept of belief would form a part of ideal alien science. Much of what economists talk about would be part of an ideal alien science, but only part of what psychologists talk about would. (In fact, economics may be an 'a priori science' in the sense that even if the laws of physics were much different, scientists would still have come up with the doctrines of economics.) So what do philosophers think of the concept of goodness? Would aliens have come up with it? And what about particular moral judgments?

For instance, assuming that killing is a concept of ideal alien thinking, would it be part of ideal alien thinking that killing is wrong? Or could it be that, although there is a perfectly alien thinkupable or even a priori understanding of killing, it is only because of the peculiar nature of human beings that killing them is wrong? Could it be that it is wrong to kill humans but not aliens? Or that it is wrong for humans to kill but not for aliens to kill?

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

Well there are so many questions in what you say that it is difficult to answer them all.

Redness is not just a matter of physics, we didn't have a satisfactory theory of colour vision until the middle of the 20th century when Dr. E. Land, the inventor of the polaroid camera, published the results of his experiments.

Mathematics is an a priori science, it is not clear that economics is. Our sort of economics means nothing to an Indian tribe in the middle of the Amazon jungle.

That the laws of physics are the same in any part of the universe is a fundamental principle of Einstein's theory of relativity. That is why he concludes that the speed of light is the same for an observer no matter where they are or what speed they are travelling at.

If we met a race of aliens who regarded killing as an ideal then we could not recognise them as moral beings. They would be a race of psychopaths. However I think it unlikely that such a race could survive for very long in any universe.

Shaun Williamson


(62) Janice asked:

Do I exist? If so, where is it?

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I don't know if you exist or where you exist because I don't know you or where you live. Try asking your friends if you exist.

Shaun Williamson


(63) Janice asked:

Is there anything existing within or beyond the human body/ mind that can be called I?

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No one calls you 'I' although people may call you Janice. Even you don't call yourself 'I'. 'I' is not a name, it is more a way of calling attention to yourself.

Shaun Williamson


(64) Madeline asked:

What do you think of the wrecking ball that David Hume applies to science? Does he really show that necessary connections are merely based on psychological conditioning or constant conjunctions of similar events? What should be the impact of Hume and empiricism in this era of great scientific and technological advances?

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'All reasonings concerning matter of fact seem to be founded on the relation of cause and effect. By means of that relation alone we can go beyond the evidence of our memory and senses. If you were to ask a man, why he believes any matter of fact, which is absent, (for instance, that his friend is in the country, or in France) he would give you a reason, and this reason would be some other fact, as a letter received from him, or the knowledge of his former resolutions and promises. A man finding a watch or any other machine in a desert island, would conclude that there had once been men on that island. All our reasonings concerning fact are of the same nature. And here it is constantly supposed that there is a connection between the present fact and that which is inferred from it. Were there nothing to bind them together, the inference would be entirely precarious. The hearing of an articulate voice and rational discourse in the dark assures us of the presence of some person. Why? Because these are the effects of the human make and fabric, and closely connected with it. If we anatomise all the other reasonings of this nature, we shall find that they are founded on the relation of cause and effect, and that this relation is either near or remote, direct or collateral. Heat and light are collateral effects of fire, and the one effect may justly be inferred from the other.'

David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Second Edition Eric Steinberg, Ed. Hackett Publishing Company, Indianapolis, 1993. Chapter on Cause and Effect, Part I.]

'We have no other notion of cause and effect, but that of certain objects, which have been always conjoined together, and which in all past instances have been found inseparable. We cannot penetrate into the reason of the conjunction. We only observe the thing itself, and always find that from the constant conjunction the objects acquire an union in the imagination. When the impression of one becomes present to us, we immediately form an idea of it's usual attendant; and consequently we may establish this as one part of the definition of an opinion or belief, that it is an idea related to or associated with a present impression.'

Dave Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature. Penguin Books Inc., London, England. 1985. Chapter 19, Section iv.

When Hume wrote these words circa 1740 he was reasonably correct in his characterization of our common every day understanding of the relationship between cause and effect. However, this was before the scientific revolution of the Enlightenment. In particular Newton's First Law of Motion Objects in motion tend to stay in motion, and objects at rest tend to stay at rest unless an outside force acts upon them. In other words, any event that we can observe constitutes a change in the previously existing status quo. And by Newton's First Law, any such change requires the application of force a flow of energy.

Since the time of Newton then, our common understanding of the physics of energy flow has constrained our talk of cause and effect. It is certainly true that we notice instances of cause and effect by the constant conjunction of events. But contra Hume's suggestion above, for us to assert that one event another is to assert that there is a suitable energy flow from the causing event that initiates the change that is the effect event. Which is not, of course, to say that we are necessarily aware of what that flow of energy is, or of any details of the steps of the flow. It is merely to claim that there is such a flow.

CAUSE — 1. a. The producer of an effect, result, or consequence. b. The one, such as a person, an event, or a condition, that is responsible for an action or a result.(3)

EFFECT — 1. Something brought about by a cause or an agent; a result.

The 'higher level perspective' (Humean causation, or what I like to refer to briefly as 'causation(1)') is a view of 'cause and effect' consistent with Hume's analysis. An observed repeated conjunction of two events — one labelled as the 'cause', and the other labelled as the 'effect'.

Suppose at 8.21 PM, I make an experiment: I think 'sound of thunder'. At that exact same moment, you seem to 'hear' the sound of thunder. Only no-one else did. Cause and effect? How does one prove that? The way Hume says (in his rules for judging causes and effects)? If this happens just once, we mark it down as happenstance. If it happens occasionally but not consistently, we mark it down as simple coincidence. But if it happens consistently, repeatedly, and especially if we can make it happen at will, we can — a la Hume — recognize the concatenation of events as a candidate cause-effect pair. This sort of thing happens all the time, and is the general way in which we identify cause-effect linkages.

Combine this higher level perspective with the detailed reductionist focus of science. Science, in examining the suggested Humean cause-effect pair that is my thought and your hearing of thunder, will attempt to find out just how your thought 'caused' my heard thunder. And it will do that by attempting to track the transfer of energy between your thought and my hearing. While Newtonian Mechanics is not the most accurate available theory of physics, it has been more than adequately demonstrated as sufficient for all but relativistic or quantum events. To propose, therefore, that your hearing thunder is the effect is to propose that the biochemical reactions in your head that is your hearing of thunder must be initiated by some application of external stimuli — an application of force — a transfer of energy originating in the cause — the biochemical reactions in my head that are my thinking 'sound of thunder'.

If scientific investigation cannot find such an energy flow (as would be likely in this case), then the hypothesis that my thought 'caused' your hearing of thunder would be seriously questioned. Other sources of the noticed linkage would be sought before scientists would be willing to throw out most of our understanding of physics. Hence we have the 'lower level perspective' of cause-effect relationships that is the flow of energy (application of force) between the event that is the 'cause' and the event that is the 'effect' (Newtonian causation, or what I like to refer to briefly as 'causation(2)') that acts as a constraint on our 'freedom' to notice pairs of Humean cause-effect conjunctions of events.

Understanding the relationship between 'cause' and 'effect' is critical to our understanding of reality, and critical to how we survive 'the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune'. From the perspective of physics, the link between a cause and it's effect can be determined by following the flow of energy. The cause is always the creator of the energy that triggers the effect. But at the higher level of practical day-to-day events, the link between cause and effect is often simply a Humean observed correlation between the occurrence of two sets of circumstances.

Which set of circumstances is the cause and which is the effect is often not clear. If we choose the wrong set as the 'cause', we often find ourselves pursuing theories of how reality works that become overly complex, and ultimately self-defeating. By reversing field, and realizing that we have the cause-effect relationship backward, we discover that our theories become simpler, that they have broader application, and that they offer greater opportunities for deeper understanding. When we get our understandings wrong, we run the risk of becoming lunch rather than enjoying it. But take heart. We are pretty good at doing it right. We are descendants of a long line of hungry but fragile omnivores who have successfully managed to predict where and when the tiger will jump.

Stuart Burns


(65) Caitlin asked:

I am taking a Theory of Knowledge class this semester, and have a few questions:

(a) Can anyone talk meaningfully of a historical fact? How can anyone speak with certainty about anything in the past? (b) Does knowledge always require some rational base? (c) People say a machine can 'know', can a machine think?

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If you are taking a Theory of Knowledge course, then you will undoubtedly already have encountered the tripartite or Justified True Belief theory of knowledge:

Consider a statement of knowledge 'S knows that p'. In order for the statement 'p' to be considered 'knowledge' possessed by S, rather than merely an 'opinion' or 'belief' held by S — (i) the statement 'p' itself must be true; (ii) S must believe that p is true (in the strong sense); (iii) that belief must be a 'justified' belief (S must have confidence that p is true), based on one or more of — (iii-a) the consistency of p with other (prior) knowledge; (iii-b) the past performance of the source(s) of information about the truth of p; (iii-c) the preponderance of the evidence that S has that p is true.

(Note: this is a rather simplified rendition of the theory that ignores many of the detailed problems that you will no doubt encounter in the course of your class.)

So, the answer to your question (b) above clearly depends on just what you mean by a rational base in this context. Since it is not at all obvious what you mean by this label, I cannot offer any further advice. Feel free to clarify the intent of your question.

Your question (a) above delves into the problem of just what it is that makes a statement or proposition true, and whether there is a distinction (and just what that distinction is) between whatever it is that makes a proposition true, and however we might judge that the proposition is true. There is a great deal of literature addressing this issue. For my own take on an answer, suggest you peruse http://www3.sympatico.ca/saburns/pg0309.htm.

As for your question (c) above, it all depends on just what you mean by think. But I do think that it is generally accepted that when people say that a computer knows something, they are not using the word in the same sense as when they say that I (or you) know something. A computer is said to know something when it is possible to retrieve that information from the computer. This is more like saying that I know how to get to St. Louis, than it is like saying that I know that St. Louis is north of New Orleans.

Stuart Burns


(66) Laura asked:

What is the meaning of life?

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Your question is a very simple one, and a very common one — especially to those new to the subject of philosophy. In fact, in my own very limited experience, it is the question that most frequently starts an individual on the road to a deeper investigation into the various subjects of philosophy.

On further investigation, one will usually find that this very simple question is also a very complex one. In fact, one will quickly discover that one has to be more specific about just what one means by 'meaning', 'life', and 'meaning of life'. It turns out there are a number of ways to interpret this seemingly very simple question.

Here is a small sampling of the ways that I have found this question actually intended. By 'What is the meaning of life?' do you mean -

(i) What is 'life'? In the sense of how or why is 'life' different from 'non-life'? (ii) What is the purpose (or function or intent) of life? In the sense of 'why does life exist at all? (iii) What is the significance of life (to the Earth or to the Universe)? In the sense of does it matter to the rest of the Earth or the Universe whether there is life or not? (iv) What is the purpose (or function or intent) of the human species? (v) What is the significance of the existence of the human species (to the Earth or to the Universe)? (vi) What is the purpose (or function or intent) of my life? A much more specifically intended question usually posed by someone struggling to find some anchor to their daily struggles. (vii) What is the significance of my life (to the Earth or to the Universe)? Also a very specifically intended question, posed by someone feeling overwhelmed by the apparently insignificant role allotted to the individual by 'Science'. (We each are one of six billion humans living on a tiny speck of dirt circling a run of the mill star at the outer edge of a run of the mill galaxy that is one of trillions in the Universe. How insignificant can you get?)

I am sure that there are other meaningful interpretations of your question. If you would like to clarify just what you intended by your question, I would be happy to provide whatever information I can.

Stuart Burns


(67) Rob asked:

How can there NOT be a God? It appears as if the world is existing, in some manner of temporally linear fashion, and has existed for some amount of time. If the so called 'laws of cause and effect' are any gauge, it seems that the world, if it is in fact existing, has to have begun at some point. So time, insofar as events happen and things endure, exists, and the world had to have started; that is to say, it can't be temporally infinite, for this would violate the laws of cause and effect with the problem of an infinite regression. But it couldn't have simply happened out of nothingness, could it? Someone must have started it. Right?

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

You raise an interesting point.

However, have you considered that if we do assume that there is a God that started it all, all of the issues you raised with regards to the existence of the world can be raised with regards to the existence of God. Consider this re-phrasing of your question:

How can there NOT be a Hyper-God? It appears as if God is existing, and has existed for some amount of time. If the so called 'laws of cause and effect' are any gauge, it seems that God, if it is in fact existing, has to have begun at some point. So time, insofar as events happen and things endure, exists, and God had to have started; that is to say, it can't be temporally infinite, for this would violate the laws of cause and effect with the problem of an infinite regression. But God couldn't have simply happened out of nothingness, could it? Someone must have started God. Right?

I think you see the potential for just as significant an infinite regress. There are two ways (at least) out of this seeming dilemma. One is the suggestion that God is outside of time and space, and beyond the scope of the laws of causation, so that there are no questions of there being something before God. But this is more or less inconsistent with the Christian notion of a personal God who hears and responds to our prayers. The other is the suggestion that God is (by definition?) infinite in duration and infinite in scope, so again there is no question of there being something before God. But if it is acceptable for God to have infinite temporal duration, why is it not acceptable for the world to have infinite temporal duration?

In short, I do not accept as reasonable your suggestion that someone must have started the world.

Stuart Burns


(68) Charlotte asked:

Did the LAWS OF PHYSICS exist before the universe came into existence?

Also, did the fact and existence of what might be called the quality of POSSIBILITY have to exist before the universe could exist?

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Why does anything exist at all? What you refer to as the laws of physics, is the body of lore that gives men their concept of nature. Whether this concept can be applied successfully to the conditions present before this universe came into existence, remains inconclusive. This, however, does not indicate that there was nothing. Note that the concept of before introduces a temporal dimension to this discussion which might also not be applicable.

The events of the universe are organized by it's own internal logic, so in this respect, I contend that there were laws of physics existing before the Big Bang. To borrow a term from theater — the dramaturgy was already in effect.

A possibility can be viewed as organizational potential, and if such did not exist before the universe came into being, it becomes hard, if not impossible to have this conversation. In other words, if it is not possible that this universe can exist, you would not have had the opportunity to ask your question.

Victor Lestat