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Philosophers like Wittgenstein and Plato are known for their distinctive, and challenging, writing styles. Perhaps unsurprisingly, commentators generally don't write like Wittgenstein and Plato in writing about them. Does this show that works like the Tractatus and the Republic could have been written just as well in ordinary prose? My underlying presumption here is that when people write about philosophers, this largely amounts to restating the claims of those philosophers. So if a Wittgenstein scholar insists that Wittgenstein's oracular style is essential to his philosophy, and yet argues as much in an article written in straightforward, conventional prose, she is actually contradicting herself in a way.

Not all of Plato's writings are challenging or difficult. But some are, the Parmenides for example. And Wittgenstein writes perfectly ordinary sentences in the Philosophical Investigations , though people complain that the writing is hard to follow. I can't agree with this, as I think it's a view that insinuates itself when you don't know the arguments very well. The Tractatus is of course different. But both the Parmenides and the Tractatus could have been written in ordinary prose, apart from the symbolic bits, for example in connection with the symbol omega and the theory of numbers, say, or the theory of truth-functions and the general form of the proposition. But your presumption is wrong. When people write about philosophers' work, very little restates the claims of those philosophers. The only point of that would be educational. Much more of the writing about works of philosophy is about what the claims mean and whether they are true. So your contradiction disappears. It is...

A lot of philosophy seems to be "philosophy of x" -- philosophy of science, philosophy of language, philosophy of mathematics, etc. Given this, should philosophy, institutionally speaking, be treated as a separate discipline at all? I mean, why couldn't the various philosophies of x be absorbed into the various types of x?

What you are offering is a philosophy of philosophy. From your principle that "philosophy of x" should be absorbed into the department of x, institutionally speaking, doesn't it follow that philosophy of philosophy should be absorbed into the department of philosophy? But it must be treated as "a separate discipline" for this to happen. Where else would you teach the philosophy of philosophy, metaphilosophy? In the department of physics perhaps?

How important is translation in the study of philosophy? It seems like, in certain areas of philosophy, precise definitions and subtle nuance can have significant impact in outcomes. I was curious how a difference in translation might affect it. One example: I have three different translations of the Tao te Ching , and for some of them, the same original comes out so differently one wonders what each translator thought they were reading at the outset! Another example: when I first read Das Kapital (in English), I was initially confused by the recurring term "means of production." Finally, it dawned on me, that term meant "technology" and serendipity! it all clicked. thank you for your consideration.

Translation is enormously important in philosophy. It is a philosophical topic of interest in its own right. There are issues that arise in connection with the thesis of the indeterminacy of translation and "radical translation", from scratch, associated with Quine, that call for an account of what translation actually is. Should language preserve poetry, or is it true that poetry is what is lost in translation? Is it acceptable to turn a Hebrew original into perfect English iambic pentameter, for example, as the King James Bible did, 'She gave / him of / the fruit / and he / did eat'? Or is the importation of a majestically inevitable and continuing process into the language itself a specious artifact? There is also the question whether translation into an ideal language is translation at all, or whether it is a funny kind of reconstruction. Besides all this, we have the question whether, since French and German, for example, lack an equivalent word for the English "mind", English sentences using "mind"...

I was puzzled not to find any mention of "emptiness" (as expounded upon by Nagarjuna and Chadrakirti, not the feeling one blogger has when his relationships end.) Is that not an issue that our learned philosophical crowd seriously contemplates these days?

I have to say I think about nothing all the time, both in the sense of not thinking about anything, and in the sense of contemplating the concept nothing . P.L. Heath has a very fine piece on "Nothing" in the Encyclopedia of Philosophy . On the other hand I suspect that śūnyatā is not really emptiness or literally nothing - śūnyatā is a kind of non-substantiality, certainly, but in Western metaphysics that does not mean a non-entity. The point is that śūnyatā is emptiness, but of the detritus of external influence, or void or outside dependence. It has its own quality. It is also like a kind of expectant fulness, empty as the rich expectation of a joyous future event is in an obvious sense empty (of the event) compared with the experience of the event itself. A quality however is an entity, though not a substance.

I am a humanities teacher teaching Philosophy around the question of what does it mean to be human? I am hoping to find some age appropriate readings/ videos that discuss the basics of the philosophical movement. Can anyone help me? Thanks

How about Leslie Stevenson's Ten Theories of Human Nature ? I have had good luck teaching freshmen with this, doing a course called "Human Nature". It's on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Ten-Theories-Human-Nature-ebook/dp/B003F3PN1K Good luck with the class!

I believe it was Hume who made the point that reason cannot motivate us, only our feelings can. Supposing that's true, I have a far-flung conclusion that seems to follow from that: when the panelists on this site choose which questions to answer, they're motivated by some emotion, not by reason. But doesn't this corrupt the purity of the logic of the answer? Perhaps not necessarily so, but isn't it likely that of the 2,600+ questions a good number have been tainted? How is it not the case?

A mathematician might find his feelings engaged by certain questions. Sir Andrew Wiles was passionate about Fermat's Last Theorem from the age of about ten, I believe. (Say, by contrast, that he took little interest in statistics. Perhaps statistics even disgusts him.) Does any of this "corrupt the purity of the logic" of his (rather long) answer to the question how to prove Fermat's Theorem? No, it just powered his interest in mathematics. Besides, why isn't it possible to be inspired and motivated by a thought or an ideal? The ten-year old Wiles had the thought, 'I will prove the Theorem', and this motivated him and engaged his feelings - and the grown-up Wiles did prove the Theorem. The purity of his logic was perhaps even assisted by his passion.

Although they cannot pretend to have "solved" the problem of induction, scientists have no qualms whatsoever about making inductive inferences in their work. Likewise, I take it that judges and lawyers agree that murder is a terrible crime, even if they are at a loss to explain why one's death is a harm to one. Why is it that we feel totally comfortable in going about the various activities of human life, even when there are (seemingly) gaping holes in the philosophical theories which are supposed to underwrite or justify those activities?

It is not obvious to me that we - we philosophers, that is - do feel totally comfortable about the activities of human life. We worry about induction, whether death is an evil because it deprives us of some good, and so on. But there is no absolute requirement to worry, and most people don't. And that is perfectly rational. In just the same way, I am not worried at all about the fact that I have no idea why gravity works. I can walk happily about on the surface of the earth without really understanding why I don't fly off it. Physics is a specialist activity that most people don't need. We don't have to understand too much of it to go about our daily lives without a lot of intellectual discomfort. But we can if we want, or we can try to!