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Throughout Plato's Republic, he makes alot of claims, that all stem from the question "what is justice", from there the soul to the analogy of the state, to the forms etc, my question is, does Plato actually believe in these analogies or are the just that, analogical statements to help his arguments

As I understand the Republic , the overarching aim of the work is to explain the nature of justice, specifically justice as a quality of individual human beings: in order to elucidate the nature of justice in the individual, Socrates introduces an analogy between justice in the state and justice in the soul. While I believe that Plato not only thinks that there is indeed a close enough similarity between the state and the individual human soul for the analogy between them to be genuinely illuminating, and, moreover, that there must be some relationship between justice in the state and justice in the individual soul if the use of the word 'justice' in both cases is not to be equivocal, I think that the question of whether there is indeed a relevant enough similarity between the state and the soul for the analogy to be fruitful, and, hence, the question of whether it might not be correct to think that justice in an individual is different from justice in the state--neither of which is engaged at any...

What are your views on Slavoj Zizek's work? Too many fallacies of equivocation? Or is he successful in what he claims to accomplish; that is, rehabilitate Hegel. I have talked to many who greatly disliked him and pointed out Slavoj's supposed 'play of words' that is aimed to confuse rather than clarify. According to them, Zizek ends up sounding profound precisely because of this equivocating word play. It'd be interesting to see what philosophers think of the matter.

I myself find Zizek to be very interesting, although I am not familiar enough with his work as a whole to assess it. One problem I find Zizek's work to pose is that he is operating outside the standard categories used by most analytic philosophers, especially because his work is so thoroughly soaked in a particular understanding of Freud deriving in large part from Lacan's rereading of Freud. However, in an article in the July 12, 2012 issue of The New York Review of Books , "The Violent Visions of Slavoj Zizek," John Gray argues Zizek's work, "achieving a deceptive substance by endless reiterating an essentially empty vision...amounts in the end to less than nothing." I recommend this article to you, but I also recommend that you keep reading Zizek's work in order to assess Gray's criticisms for yourself.

In describing Kant's idea of the "thing-in-itself" Thomas Pogge (in response to a recent question on this site) recently wrote that "According to this explanation, space and time are then features only of objects as they appear to us." I'm having a difficult time deciphering this statement. To me when you speak of a feature of an object you are referring to that object in-itself almost by definition. It seems like space and time could be either a feature of the world or a feature of our mind/cognition or psychic tendencies which we project onto the world but not both. To say that space/time is a feature of the world as it appears seems to involve a confusion of how language is used to speak about being. Appearances can reveal or distort being but I don't see how they can contribute to being. We don't speak of colors as features of the (outer) world as they appear to us do we? We try to figure whether colors originate in the mind or in the world and though we allow that there is some degree of interaction...

You are quite rightly puzzled by the distinction that Pogge, following Kant, draws between appearances and things-in-themselves: it's caused trouble for Kant's readers since the publication of the first edition of the Critique of Pure Reason . The distinction is, however, at the heart of Kant's project in the first Critique , and indeed, I would go so far as to claim that it's crucial to underpinning the entire Critical philosophy. (I see the first Critique as setting the foundations for Kant's overarching project, which I take to be aimed at ethics rather than at metaphysics and epistemology. This is a somewhat idiosyncratic view, but it is, I think, defensible; in any event, nothing in what follows turns on it.) Now the distinction that Kant wants and needs to draw is between the world as it is independently of human cognizers, and the world that appears to human beings. Yet Kant does not want to claim that the way things appear to human beings is merely a way that they appear, as...

Can someone point me in the direction of literature that tries to develop a philosophical understanding of how language change over time? Or is there not much literature on the subject?

The topic of the philosophical significance of language change is very interesting, yet it has not received much philosophical attention. There are distinct ways, however, in which one might understand the topic, which need to be distinguished in order to isolate distinctively philosophical aspects of the question. One might be interested in the evolution of particular languages, the way in which, for example, English developed over time (Latin is, I believe, the source of the greatest percentage of English words): this topic, however, is a subject for the investigation of the historical linguist and is therefore an empirical subject. (Such investigations may have philosophical implications, but I'm not inclined to see them as intrinsically philosophical investigations.) Such an investigation, which could focus not only on the entrance of particular words into a language, but also on the evolution of the meanings of particular words over time, does closely neighbor a fascinating philosophical topic,...

I need a thorough explanation on what the term 'qualia' defines. How would I use it in an expressive way? It's hard for me to formulate it in a sentence. In order to fully comprehend -- I'll need for the word to be deconstructed. Please and thank you.

A quale (plural, 'qualia') is supposed to be the 'feel' of some experience, such as seeing red, hearing middle C, or tasting chocolate. I think that the idea is supposed to capture the common--although not universally accepted--intuition that there is something that 'it is like' to have a certain kind of experience, that marks it out as that kind of experience. (For an excellent, intuitive, presentation of this idea, see Thomas Nagel, "What is it Like to Be a Bat?".) There is, I should say, considerable disagreement among philosophers about whether there even are qualia.

Suppose I write a computer program that randomly strings words together, and the first output it produces happens to be "I am a janitor." Is the output an instance of language? Does it mean anything, and if so, what?

In Reason, Truth, and History , Hilary Putnam imagines a similar scenario, supposing that an ant's movements through the sand produce marks that have the form of English words: Putnam asks, as you do, whether those marks should be taken to be words. I'm inclined to answer--as Putnam does--that the marks are not words and, hence, do not signify anything and are not an instance of language. There are various routes that one might take to this conclusion. Here's one. One might argue that in order for marks (or phonemes) to have a meaning, the producer of the marks (or phonemes) must intend for those marks (phonemes) to be understood. Neither the ant nor the computer program (presumably) can have such intentions, hence the marks (phonemes) are not significant. While these marks (phonemes) may, of course, be interpreted as significant by some competent language user, but they do not count as significant because they have not been produced by a competent language user. In the absence of such...

If a woman were to force herself sexually on a man most people would have a hard time imagining how that incident would cause lasting and profound trauma for that man. Why is that?

I'm not sure that "most people would have a hard time imagining" how a woman's forcing herself sexually on a man could cause lasting and profound trauma for the man: some people might well have difficulty imagining how this could be the case. Perhaps such 'imaginative resistance' would be due to certain ingrained and long-standing assumptions about sexuality, including the canard that males always want sex, and therefore could not be forced to have sex. Even if some do share such assumptions, I myself do not find it difficult to think that a woman forcing herself sexually on a man would be no less a violation than a man forcing himself sexually on a woman: what's crucial in these cases, to my mind, is that the sexual relationship is in some way coerced and, hence, is not freely entered into by both parties. (To be sure, the nature of the coercion might differ in the two cases: whereas one might think that a man forces himself by force on a woman, in most cases, given the disparities...

Critics of philosophy say that it is a subject that hasn’t made any real progress. Why waste time constructing elaborate theories that are not scientifically provable? Why waste so much time pondering questions where the resulting ideas do not really change the world in any significant manner?

It's not clear to me that philosophy doesn't progress, despite its critics' claims to the contrary. Yet the progress that philosophy makes IS, admittedly, different from that made by, for example, the natural sciences. Whereas natural sciences--normally--answer questions, philosophical progress does not consist in the resolution of questions (which is, of course, the basis for complaints about the discipline itself), but in sharpening or even transforming questions, or proposing answers to questions that may not yet have been thought of (or even of renovating OLD answers to questions). While philosophy does not, admittedly-at least usually--add to our stock of knowledge (Moritz Schlick once said that writing down propositions proved in philosophy is a pastime highly to be recommended, knowing full well that the list might well be empty)--they do, however, illuminate our concepts and can yield new ways of thinking about older problems that may put them in a new light. This, to me, does count as...

What is practical philosophy?

Practical philosophy is so called--by Kant--in contrast to theoretical philosophy. According to Kant, theoretical philosophy, roughly, treats the question: 'What ought one to believe?', whereas practical philosophy, again, roughly, treats the question: 'What ought one to do?' In present-day, philosophy, the distinction continues to be observed: philosophy is divided into 'M&E' (metaphysics and epistemology)--which Kant would have called theoretical philosophy--and 'M&P' (moral and political philosophy)--what Kant would have called practical philosophy.

Is there any discussion about how art is highly individualistic with respect not to its content but the fact that most works of art, at least traditional art like painting, sculpture, etc., are created by single individuals, rather than groups? I've heard it said that Western art is highly individualistic while Eastern is not, and that this is a reflection of cultural differences; however, with respect to the artist as a single person, Eastern and Western art seem the same. Why is art such an individual creation? Perhaps one person has great vision and another great technique; why haven't there been numerous pairs like this throughout history who've worked together on creating paintings?

It's not clear to me that it is correct that Western art--even in media such as sculpture and painting--is indeed historically such an individual creation. In the Renaissance, there were workshops, with masters and apprentices; some contemporary artists, such as Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons, have had certain of their works fabricated by others; the sculptor Richard Serra has his large steel pieces cast by industrial foundries. This is not to deny that the idea of the artist as individual creator doesn't persist, and that it doesn't capture the practice of many artists: I do, however, think that this very idea has a history that might well merit investigation that could illuminate its origin and power.

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