Advanced Search

I really want to do a phd in philosophy and teach, but the society says I should not. I am 19 , but have got to go back to high school to finish up . A long way to go. How do I motivate myself? How do I ignore my other and unimportant desires/distractions to become what I want and is most meaningfull to me?

I think it is great that you know what you want at the age of 19 - I certainly didn't. If the goal of achieving higher qualifications in philosophy is a genuine goal for you, then it will stay with you for the next ten years or so, by which time with a bit of luck you will have arrived at your destination. If it turns out to be a genuine goal for you, then at worst what you call distractions will just delay you a bit. In fact, the philosopher who lived his or her life without distractions is just a myth, and certainly not a standard against which the rest of us should be judged. "Life is short" is often said but, in fact, for most people life is quite long, at least in the sense of presenting more opportunities than one imagines.

Various experiences, considered good, bad, beautiful, ugly, etc., are believed to give life "meaning." This implies that there is some underlying purpose beyond the natural processes of growth found everywhere in nature. A tree doesn't need to "mean" anything to be a tree...Is this yearning for "meaning" in life simply a human coneptualization and nothing more?

What exactly are meant by the 'natural processes of growth'? I ask because it doesn't seem to me that this is obvious even with respect to trees, much less human beings. Let me give a tree-based example: an apple tree, which I can in fact see through my window right now. My understanding of the science of horticulture is pretty poor, but let us suppose that an apple tree can allowed to grow large but then it tends to die more quickly OR it can be trained so as to be quite stunted, and yet produce lots of fruit, and live for decades. Which is more 'natural'? The first involves less human interference, to be sure; but the second accords with concepts of long life and 'fruitfulness' (reproduction). My purpose here is simply to argue that we are not working with a clear-cut account of what 'natural processes of growth' are. In fact, some of the criteria we might want to use here are just straight-forwardly cultural: the move from formal garden design in the 18th Century, to a more 'wild' style in the 19th,...

One gets the impression that the term "escapism" is used pejoratively to describe literature or other forms of fiction that have no perceived value. Is escapism really something to be looked down upon, however? In the same way that a back massage or a half an hour of meditation might help one unwind and put the stress of a hectic day behind oneself, isn't escapist fiction something valuable and useful to us all, in some form or another? Why is the notion so often pejorative?

An interesting question, thank you. I am certainly not averse to taking a spy thriller, say, on holiday with me! It seems to me that the pejorative sense of the term 'escapism' has to do less with the escape part than what is escaped from. If all that were at stake were the general tension of life – and thus in that sense akin to the massage – then fair enough. However, surely things are different when the fiction in question is inviting us to escape from having concern for serious moral, social or political issues. So, for example, when the setting of the escapist fiction is a war zone, inner city life, or some such, one could plausibly claim that this is unjustly diverting attention from a real problem, or pretending that solutions are easier than they really are. Similarly, if escapist literature is not just a pleasant diversion now and again, but the readership engages with nothing else, then one begins to suspect that the escapism is less a helpful therapy than an unhealthy mode of life that...

In our society, any modern way of making one's daily life easier is considered an advance. I am only fifteen, so I might not fully understand the importance of technology in our lives yet, but my question stands: If these advances ultimately have a consequence (an example being television, which may provide temporary distraction and entertainment, but in reality just distracts us from doing something more constructive), is it really an advance at all? My mind is in conflict because many of the examples I think of often have many pros as well as many cons. Is that the nature of advancement: with every move forward there is a risk of developing problems? ~Juliet

Very few things, if any at all, have value in an absolute sense.That is, not value for this or that purpose, or in this or thatcontext, but for any purpose or context. Some of the very fewcandidates that are sometimes suggested are the morally good, thejust, or the beautiful. A technological advancement, on the otherhand, would definitely be of value only for certain purposes/contexts and not in others. That's only to be expected. So, we use the term 'advancement' in at least two senses.First, in a very narrow sense to designate the ability to dosomething that wasn't previously possible. Second, in a broader sensein which a particular new ability has value in at least some purposesor contexts and that the inevitable areas in which there aredrawbacks are either not yet known or considered a small price topay. (When you mention the term 'risk', I take it that you arereferring to drawbacks that are not yet known, and which may make uschange our mind about whether something is an ...

Pride gets a bad rap in theology and folk wisdom: It's one of the Seven Deadly Sins, and we are told that "Pride goeth before a fall". But it seems to me that a lack of pride can be just as bad, too. And some forms of pride can be good. The belief that some things are beneath one's dignity might keep one from committing certain immoral acts or lapsing into certain degrading conditions. Isn't pride a capacious category that contains both beneficial forms (such as self-respect) and pernicious forms (such as arrogance and egotism)?

I do agree with you; a measure of self-esteem is essential. The problem may be a simple one: 'pride' in modern English has an ambiguity about it, meaning both to be perfectly acceptably pleased about one's achievements, but it also means to be too proud. In previous centuries, however, this ambiguity was not so marked, and the primary meaning was the latter. That simple answer, though, still leaves us with the problem of when does the morally acceptable mode of pride shade over into the unacceptable. I’ll suggest, sketchily, a couple possible solutions. One answer might be when the prideful state has moral consequences: when for example my prideful state leads me to side-step moral rules and be hurtful to others. Still another answer would be when pride is vain; that is, when it is unjustified. The reason why this might be considered unacceptable is that it violates the moral regard I should have to myself. If I can be said to have a moral duty to myself, a duty to care for and...

Is there really such a thing as being selfless? Every scenario I can think of proves otherwise. Such as someone holding a door open for someone else going into a building. They either expect a thank you or want other people to think they are a good person. Does this make the word selfish essentially meaningless?

Well, yes and no. What is likely the case is that our actions all have many motives, only some of which we become aware. Holding open the door could be habit, and in that sense motiveless; or the motive could be the negative one of guilt at not holding it open; or the other person could be attractive, or important; or, as you say, the motive could be the reception of thanks; or it could be a dutiful, selfless act. This complex of motives yields at least two interesting philosophical problems: first, if and how one can train one's habits and develop one's virtues, so that non-moral motives have less effect upon one's actions. In short, so that one is not a slave to one's own impulses. Second, the question of whether a genuinely selfless motive is possible at all, and whether it could ever be a dominant or determining motive. Your 'every scenario' argument seems to be a good one, but can be turned around. Many a scenario in which you see a selfish motive - such as greed - could be read...

Can an ideal be achieved? If my understanding of what ideals are is correct (i.e., a mental conception regarded as a standard of perfection), then it seems that they are, by their very nature, unattainable (at least in a corporeal sense). Yet, nations are built, wars are fought, and people are killed over ideals. If they are only "perfect ideas", doesn't that seem a bit absurd and irrational? Is my understanding of what an "ideal" is incorrect?

In ordinary English, 'Ideal' has at least two meanings. One is an exemplar of perfection, as you say. E.g. an ideal professor, or an ideal partner. There seems no reason why this necessarily could not be attainable; that is to say, why such an object could not in fact exist. The other is a notion of a religious or moral nature that entails specific features that appear to be incompatible with the nature of existing things. So, for example, the ideal of an absolutely pure or selfless moral act. There are many plausible accounts of human nature (specifically of how human beings are motivated to act or make decisions) according to which this ideal is not possible. However, it seems to me that we misunderstand the nature of ideals if we focus on whether they are factually achievable or not. An ideal inaugurates a project of directed change. So, the ideal professor (assuming some measure of agreement of what that would be) directs real professors to improve their act. And this is true whether or...

John Ruskin once wrote: “Seek not the nobleness of the man and hence the nobleness of the delights, seek the nobleness of the delights and hence the nobleness of the man.” Is there a consensus on this? Does moral goodness automatically derive from sound aesthetic judgment, or is it possible to be virtuous person and still like reality television? --Patrick Tucker

I suspect that there is near universal agreement on one thing, namely that 'moral goodness' does not automatically derive from sound aesthetic judgement. As Kant (with uncharacteristic wit) puts it: "virtuosi of taste, who not just often but apparently as a matter of habit, are vain, obstinate, and given to ruinous passions, can perhaps still less than others claim the distinction of being attached to moral principles" (Critique of Judgement , par. 42) . Much more controversial is whether what you call sound aesthetic taste might have some less direct relation to or influence upon moral behaviour. But in order to answer the question, we would first need a good, solid definition of its key terms: 'sound aesthetic judgement' and 'moral goodness', and you could hardly have picked two more debated ideas! Let me suggest just two possible ways of approaching the question in order to illustrate something of the variety: First, might some forms of art (particularly narratives in novels or...