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I've just graduated with a B.A. in the humanities and hope to attend graduate school for philosophy in the near future. I didn't major in philosophy-even though I have taken many courses in the subject I know that it will be a challenge to get into a good Ph.D program. Would it best suit me to undergo a master's in philosophy first-assuming that I'm accepted to such a program- before undergoing a ph.d? I'm also interested in the subject of religion and am wondering whether a master's in religious studies- e.g. an MTS from Harvard- would hurt my chances at getting into a good philosophy Ph.D program? What do you think of undergoing a master's in religious studies in lieu of a master's in philosophy? Aside from religion my primary philosophical interests are in ethics, social philosophy (esp Marx),philosophy of science, Kant, the history of philosophy and feminist philosophy. Thank you for your time...

I would also suggest investigating the M.A. programs in philosophy that have a good track record of helping people get into top PhD programs. However, I'd also add that majoring in philosophy is not a requirement for admission to most PhD programs, and many strong graduate students in philosophy have majored in other fields. Whether you are competitive for the better PhD programs depends largely on your letters of recommendation, GRE scores, and, as already noted, your writing sample.

Which kinds of job would be the most interesting (and available) to a recent undergraduate philosophy graduate, whose main interest is in philosophy, and who intends to continue pursuing philosophy as a hobby, but who thinks graduate study in philosophy is not a realistic option (for example, jobs that would appeal to someone with a strong interest in philosophy of action, free will, moral psychology, meta-ethics, the nature and grounding of normativity, philosophy of language and philosophy of mind, esp. theories of intentionality, etc.)? Basically, jobs for someone who would like to do graduate study in philosophy, but knows they are not quite brilliant enough...

First, one does not have to be brilliant to go to, and be successful in, graduate school in philosophy. That aside, there are many interesting career paths for someone with your education. One avenue is to pursue federal jobs, by looking at www.usajobs.gov. You can do a search by major or keyword, and some interesting jobs pop up for philosophy, including overseas teaching jobs. Another teaching option is Teach for America (www.teachforamerica.org) . Quite a few philosophy majors wind up working in digital technology. Your interests overlap with work in cognitive science, and potentially computer science. At social networking startups, there is a lot of attention to questions about agency, the nature of communication through different media, and even matters of identity in the digital environment. Teaching and digital technology are two large areas to consider.

If something as blatant as the color green can be said to not exist isn't conceivable that nothing exists?

To begin with, why should we think that colors do notexist? Many philosophers have arguedthat colors are secondary properties ,that is, they are properties that are perceived, and as such properly exist inthe perceiving mind rather than external objects. But many of those philosophersalso think that there are primary qualities which external objects haveindependently of the mind, and which, together with the perceiver, areresponsible for the perceived secondary qualities. On that view, colors exist, they just are not“in” external objects. Some philosophers, such as Berkeley,deny the existence of the material world, but maintain that colors and other “sensiblequalities” are real perceptions in the mind. But aside from the question of thereality of color, the question of whether total non-existence is conceivable isan important (and related) philosophical question. I recommend Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy as a starting point.

If we were able to create a computer that functions exactly like a human brain, when does this "artificial" intelligence stop being artificial? I suppose what I'm trying to say is that if this computer could truly learn, and be programmed in such a way as to develop emotions just as humans do, when does it become real? When is it not right to just plug it out and "kill" it? Many people would, I'm assuming, argue that a computer isn't living, or isn't biological. (As posed in an earlier answer, that's not particularly valid; we all weed our gardens.) It comes down to emotion as far as I'm concerned. I'm finding this question particularly difficult to phrase, and the more I type the more I think that the question is going to come across as all over the place, so I'm going to stop at that and hope for the best! If there is no response I will try again another time.

The “artificial” in “artificial intelligence” describes the origin of the form of intelligence, as the result of artifice rather than nature. Both artifacts and natural things are real. However, until the advent of computers, the term “intelligence” was rarely applied to artifacts. Thus, thinking that artifacts can be intelligent involves conceptual change. You embrace this change, and suggest that a computer that functions the way intelligent humans function are indeed intelligent. Many philosophers of mind agree with you. You further suggest that emotion is a necessary component of an intelligent being. This is a bit more controversial. You may have watched Watson, IBM ’s computer, beat the world’s best human Jeopardy players recently. Many would be inclined to say that Watson is intelligent, but lacks emotion. Your final, and most provocative claim is that such artificially intelligent entities have moral status, that under some circumstances, it would be wrong to unplug them. (See the termination...

Is there any value in "thinking for yourself" on subjects that have long been thought about before? Regarding whether God exists, for instance, lots of people far smarter and more knowledgeable than I have been unable to come to a consensus. If they can't figure it out, I have little hope of finding the truth myself. And if they did happen to come to consensus, it would be silly of me to try and prove them all wrong. So why should I think for myself if smarter people have already thought for me?

Philosophy doesn’t really advance by consensus. In the history of philosophy some of the most important philosophical works are ones that were not widely adopted at the time they were written. It may be that on any number of issues, someone has “figured it out,” even if it’s not universally acknowledged by other philosophers. If by “thinking for yourself” you mean putting aside the work of others because there hasn’t been consensus, then you’re right that such a strategy is unlikely to yield results. But if you mean that you should critically examine philosophical views that are not popular or widely accepted, then you are much more likely to be able to contribute to a discipline that progresses more by the combined efforts of its participants, than by the singular insight of individuals.

Is testimony subsumed by empirical knowledge? In other words if I know some historical fact by the testimony of a text book do I have empirical knowledge or is testimony a classification of knowledge unto itself?

Much of what we know is based on the evidence of testimony, rather than the evidence of our senses. Consider your knowledge of your birthday. Your evidence that you were born on a particular date is based on information from your parents, your birth certificate, and other testimonial evidence. You were there, of course, and you were sensing. But the sensory information you had at the time did not count as evidence. Your knowledge of your birth is a bit of empirical knowledge, as are other items of historical knowledge. Indeed, a great percentage of your beliefs are based on the testimony of others. Your excellent question about whether testimony is “subsumed by empirical knowledge” might be understood as the question of whether testimonial knowledge can be reduced to some more basic kind of empirical knowledge, such as sensory-based knowledge. This is a controversial issue in the epistemology of testimony. Some beliefs that are justified by testimony can be independently checked by first-person...

I have had this issue circulating in mind probably since I was in kindergarten. The basic question is this: how – being conscious of my own being, seeing through my own eyes, thinking my own thoughts, interpreting all the other senses, etc. – can I know or accept that every other person in existence does the same thing, if I myself have no way of experiencing other people's beings except from a third-person perspective? From my vantage point, I am the only person who has his own thoughts and autonomy. It has often occurred to me as an afterthought that, since I consider myself pretty intelligent in my own right, that perhaps everything else in my environment could be some massive illusion that my own mind is causing me to accept as reality. Could the fact that there are philosophers responding to this very question prove that my mind is playing a trick on me by creating a response for me to interpret? I suppose my basic question is, is this entire situation possible, and/or is there a concrete way to...

You've nicely articulated several of the fundamental questions in the philosophy of mind and epistemology - the problem of other minds and the problem of the external world. If your knowledge of the world is gained through awareness of your own thoughts, how do you know that there are other thinking persons, and indeed how do you know that there is a world external to your thoughts, a world of other persons and physical objects? The question of whether what philosophers call solipsism , that you, as a thinking thing, might be the sole existing entity is possible, is at the heart of discussions of this issue, both in historical philosophical texts and in contemporary discussions. In his Meditations on First Philosophy , Rene Descartes provides arguments for solipsism in the early part of his work, but then attempts to show that we prove the existence of a wholly good god who would not deceive us about our ordinary beliefs about the existence of other persons and the external world. As Charles...

It seems that many philosophical positions are very depressing and scary. For example, a world without God, a world without freedom, or a world where everything can be explained away by science, even a world where everything that makes us human can be reduced to neuroscience. Not all philosophers endorse these views I know but how can some philosophers be happy people and live fulfilling lives with some of the positions in philosophy? I enjoy philosophy but some of the possibilities scare me or worry me too much for me to think about.

Whether one finds view, philosophical or otherwise, is depressing or scary is likely a function of one’s prior beliefs. If you already belief that God is the source of all things, has endowed us with freedom, and is the ultimate moral authority, then challenges to the existence of God may indeed be scary and depressing. But many atheists believe that there couldn’t be a being of the sort that provides the positive explanations of the existence of the universe, human freedom, and morality. But it doesn’t follow that such individuals can’t embrace non-theistic answers to such questions. Atheists can and do theorize about the origin of the universe, the nature of human agency, and the specialness of humanity. One who believes that the mind can be understood by neuroscience doesn’t think that the mind is “explained away” by neuroscience. Rather it can be explained by neuroscience, and the possibility of such explanations for such a person may be exciting and uplifting. Such an individual may delight in the...

Does it make sense to talk of unconscious IDEAS? I know psychoanalysts often talk of unconscious ideas, but am puzzled by their supposed status. Many of our physiological processes are unconscious to us, but ideas? If there were unconscious ideas, how would we identify them, and how would they relate to our conscious ideas? A fan of Hume

I am also a fan of Hume, and it's easy to see how the issue you raise may appear to be particularly difficult for Hume. For Hume, ideas are copies of impressions. Impressions are sensations (or reflections - feelings) that we are aware of. Ideas are less lively, but still present to mind. So how could there be an idea about which we are not aware? Moving away from Hume for a second, consider your beliefs. Do you believe that fewer than five thousand people would fit inside a typical passenger car? Surely you believe this, but it's unlikely you had ever consciously entertained the idea involved in this belief. It's correct to say that you've believed it all along, even before it was raised as a matter of belief a few sentences ago. Such dispositional beliefs provide good examples of ideas that you have, but which you've never consciously entertained. How do we identify them? Certainly it's not by introspection, but rather by observing our dispositions to behave in various ways. You might think about...

I often find the word 'individuation' used in philosophy of mind, i.e., "individuation of beliefs". Yet, I have a very vague idea of what 'individuation' means. Moreover, it seems that different philosophers use the word in different ways. The closest explanation of the aforementioned phrase I have seen is: "a way to taxonomize beliefs". But on what basis does this taxonomy rest?

Individuation is the process of picking out individuals. We do this all the time in ordinary life. For example, if we were in a parking lot, we could individuate the cars in the lot. That is, from the group of objects in the lot, we could distinguish the individual cars. We wouldn’t have a difficult time figuring out, for example, whether there are five cars, or two cars or one car. We could distinguish each individual car. (Of course I haven’t said how we would do it, but it shouldn’t be hard to tell that story.) So there isn’t a problem of individuation for cars, at least in ordinary circumstances. Your excellent question is how we individuate, that is distinguish, beliefs. Fred’s belief that the combined landmass of French Polynesia is roughly equivalent to the landmass of Rhode Island is a different belief from his belief that the total area (including the sea) of French Polynesia is roughly equivalent to the total area of Europe. Here we have individuated the beliefs by reference to the...

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