Advanced Search

The last few years I've struggled with Nihilism - my work, games, activities really just have no fun or spark like they used to have. I have many sleepness nights where I'm wracking with existential thoughts and anymore I feel like just sentient matter waiting to die, and yet I dread that moment where my consciouness will no longer exist. My questions are - How do you break through Nihilism? How does one truly come to terms with impermanence and actually enjoy the short time they have left despite a meaningless, uncaring universe? I have read Camus and Sartre but I still struggle with the existential angst.

It's important sometimes to distinguish between intellectual problems and other kinds of problems. Many, maybe most of the people I know well are atheists. They agree with you: the world doesn't contain any meaning of its own, it doesn't care about us, and nothing is permanent. The difference between most of those people and you isn't that they've had some philosophical insight that you haven't. The difference, I would gently suggest, is that you are depressed and they aren't. I'm not a psychologist, but the way you describe your state of mind sounds like a textbook depression. How we think about things is certainly relevant when we're depressed, but the way it's relevant isn't just about content. Two people can both think that the world is indifferent to us, but for one this isn't an intrusive idea. It doesn't stop her from enjoying her work and her friends and her pastimes. It doesn't keep her awake at night. The other finds himself perseverating about it, brain caught in a loop. Getting out of that...

Race and the history of slavery in the US is a highly sensitive topic (here in America). Recently, a news story came out about a town - Charleston, SC - that has officially apologized for its key role in slavery. According to the numbers, roughly 40% of all African slaves taken to the US were brought to Charleston. A lot of people are upset about this, and the main idea seems to be that no living persons are connected to and/or responsible for slavery (either directly or indirectly), and so no apologies should be made. The argument can probably be more formalized as follows: P1 - People should only apologize for those things which they are either directly or indirectly responsible for. (The 'responsible' party, here, being the causal antecedent of slavery) P1.2 - People should only receive apologies for those things in which they were either directly or indirectly affected by. P2 - No person alive today is either directly or indirectly responsible for slavery. C - There should therefore be no...

Both in the law and in morality we have a notion of corporate responsibility. In the case of the law, "corporate" will include corporations and that's a good place to start. Suppose it comes to light that fifty years ago, Corporation X ignored environmental requirements and polluted the water in some town. As a result, people were harmed, including children who are now living adults.. Suppose a team of journalists uncover what happened. The authorities decide to take Corporation X to court. The law would not look kindly on the argument that there are literally no members of the Corporate board or management from fifty years ago who are still alive today, and therefore Corporation X can't be found liable. But it's not just the law. If we allowed this argument to succeed, Corporation X, which continues to do business and thrive today, would get off scot free. Many people, perhaps most, would think that this is unjust. Someone could reply with a version of the argument you've outlined, but in the context...

I have come to despise the society I live in. I find the people's "values" abhorrent and the things they do vile and misguided, but it seems clear that nothing will change the status quo, judging how those who speak out against these vile things are often met with hatred and anger. I do not want to live in my society anymore, I am so disillusioned with it, nor do I want to lend any skills I might have (by being in the workforce) for it to benefit from. I have sometimes considered moving to another country that might share my values more closely, but if there are any, I don't know if I'd be able to "survive" in it due to factors such as language barriers. After I really started to think about it, I began to realize that putting an end to my own existence may be the ultimate solution to this dismal problem. I am not happy in this life and this society. If I choose to live out my life but force myself to keep my mouth shut about the issues that bother me, it will mean a lifetime of misery as I slowly...

Before asking if something is a solution to a problem, it's worth asking whether we've gotten the problem right. There's a sign I found a few years ago; it's on my office door. It reads "Don't believe everything you think." Almost everyone needs that advice from time to time; I certainly do. A lot of what our brains churn out, especially when we're unhappy, just isn't true. While I was reading what you wrote, that slogan kept coming back to me. The reason? An awful lot of what you say just doesn't stand up to scrutiny. Yes: some people have abominable values. But there are also people who are decent, thoughtful, try to do the right thing and often succeed. I'm not guessing about this. I could make a long list drawn just from people I happen to know personally. This includes people who disagree with me about lots of things, including politics and religion. Furthermore, I'm not in any way exceptional. I'm completely comfortable saying that almost everyone knows a great many good people. There are quite...

Dear philosophers, Professor Stairs recently addressed a question about the difference between 'immoral' and 'impolite' where, if I understand him correctly, he basically said that there's a fact of the matter about morality, whereas norms of politeness are society-relative. But I think it's worth pointing out that there are a variety of other views about morality: for instance, relativism, error theory, and even some views where moral claims aren't considered truth-apt (as in logical positivism). May I ask Professor Stairs a potentially more interesting question: assuming relativism, or some similar view where there is no universal moral fact of the matter, is there a bright-line difference between the immoral and the impolite?

Perhaps not a bright line. But let's take relativism as our foil, where we understand relativism to mean that standards of evaluation are relative to norms, traditions, etc. of societies or groups. (I'm paraphrasing a definition from https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-relativism/ ). If that view happens to be correct, notice that it doesn't leave us without a distinction between morals and manners. Even if relativism is the right meta-ethical view, we still make a distinction within this society (US society for the sake of example) between matters of politeness and matters of moral right and wrong. Close enough for our purpose, we Americans agree that stealing is wrong and not just rude. We also agree that showing up to a wedding in ragged shorts and a T-shirt is rude but not really a moral wrong (though see below). The line between the two cases seems to be something like this: we can imagine, though we might not find it an attractive prospect, that fashions might change and showing up to a...

Was MLK a philosopher? History doesn't really consider him one, but he did have a lot of views regarding fairness and justice, and his ideas were very influential upon the development of civil rights and equality.

It's an interesting question, but especially at the meta-level. I've been thinking about how it should be answered and here's my tentative theory. One way someone can count as a philosopher is if people who count uncontroversially as philosophers by and large count the person as a philosopher. In this case: if philosophers generally counted MLK as a philosopher, that would be enough to settle the question. As it happens, this isn't the case for MLK (at least, not that I'm aware.) Another way is if the person's work is the kind of work that philosophers would generally count as philosophy. That's a bit vague, but here's a sort of operationalized version. Suppose we took samples of the person's work and presented them to lots of philosophers (ideally without telling them whose work it was.) If philosophers tended to agree that the work (however valuable it may be) isn't philosophy , that would make a good case for saying no; the person isn't a philosopher. If philosophers tended to agree that the...

Is there a clear-cut distinction between something that is "immoral" and something that is "impolite"? After all, aren't both categories about violating a society's norms?

Quick example: in this country, it's impolite to slurp your soup; not so in some other countries. That's just a matter of differing social norms Killing innocent people is immoral; it's immoral regardless of where you are, and not just because we happen to have a social norm against it. Being impolite can also be a moral error, though usually not a big one. It's wrong to upset people for no good reason, and being impolite sometimes has that effect. But it's not just that we have a social custom of not distressing people for no good reason; it's wrong. Two small points. First, the moral claims above could be subject to qualifications; I leave it to you to consider what such qualifications might be. Second, I haven't argued that it's wrong to distress people for no reason, though the fact that no one one likes having it done to them would be part of any such argument. I also haven't argued that killing innocents is just plain wrong, but similar reasons would apply there with even more force. In any...

Is there any reason to think that happiness is of any importance?

There are different things you might mean, and the answer will depend on which ones you do mean. Since I'm particularly unsure what you mean by "importance," I'm going to look at a nearby question: is there any reason to think that happiness is a good thing? That raises the question of what counts as happiness, and without trying to give anything like a full-blown theory, I suggest thinking of happiness as human thriving. And without giving a precise definition of "thriving," we can come at it this way: imagine someone who has the usual daily ups and downs, but is engaged, resilient, productive, with a normal range of healthy emotions, who can take pleasure in things worth taking pleasure in, etc. etc. etc. Is this a good thing? It's hard to see what possible reason there could be for thinking it's not. Imagine two villages. In one, most people are thriving; in the other, more or less no one is. Which would you rather live in? Which is a better model for what we'd like other places to be like? For most...

Hi there. I've recently become depressed over the fact, said by some philosophers, that everything we do and enjoy is merely a distraction. I really don't want to think this as I love my passions dearly. But my anxiety keeps making me believe what they said. Is it true? Or are what we enjoy in life more than just distractions? Thanks.

Distraction from what? Perhaps these people think there's something else we should be paying attention to, to the exclusion of all else. What? Even if what it is is a Very Good Thing, there are lots of good things, and if we ignore all the others, the world will be the poorer for it. Maybe they think no one should pursue purely personal interests. But all else aside, if you don't take time for yourself, there's a real chance that you'll be less good at contributing to whatever common good is at stake. Or is the claim that nothing matters? If so, it doesn't matter that you're doing whatever you're doing; if nothing matters, nothing matters. In any case, it's pretty plausible that art, music, friendship, play, and countless other things do matter in their varied ways. At least, it's more plausible than hifalutin arguments to the contrary. So my advice is: don't be bullied by the scolds. The best response (if not the best revenge) is to live well, and that includes making room for the passions that...

Which is the more morally detestable action. To discriminate against people due to the color of their skin, or to discriminate against people due to their religious beliefs? On both accounts one discriminates against an involuntary characteristic, race being innate, and religious views being a matter of conviction. In the question, I assume that one cannot choose ones conviction, one cannot be forced to believe in God, not truly. Thus, being convinced of the truth of a certain religion is involuntary. Therein lies my question, if we accept the moral detestability of racism, should we also accept a moral detestability of religious prosecution? And if so, wouldn't morality dictate the refrain from verbal offenses against religious people, on par with those against races?

There are at least two issues here. One is whether race and religious belief are involuntary in the same way. Another is whether it's ever okay to discriminate on the basis of a person's beliefs—religious or otherwise. On the first issue I'm going to simplify by mostly setting aside some important questions about whether there is such a thing as race in any deep sense, and just what race amounts to insofar as there is such a thing. The important point is that in typical cases, there is for most any practical purpose nothing people can do about their race; racial identity is strongly involuntary. That's not so clearly true of matters of conviction. There's nothing at all unusual about people changing their convictions, including their religious convictions. Non-believers become believers; believers become non-believers. This doesn't tell us whether such changes are voluntary, but it's an important difference. Are such changes belief voluntary? That's too simple a way to frame the issue. It's often...

Can one have delusional knowledge?

Depends on what you mean. If "delusional knowledge" is supposed to mean that what the person "knows" isn't true, then the usual answer (with which I would agree) is no. We can't know what isn't so. If "delusional knowledge" means beliefs produced by the person's delusion, but that happen by luck to be true, the answer is no according to most philosophers. The problem is that even though the belief is true, it isn't connected to the facts in the right way. To put it a bit too simply, the fact that what the person believes is true doesn't have anything to do with the fact that they believe it; they would believe it even if it were false. If the question is whether a person who suffers from delusions can know some things, the answer is yes. A deluded person might know her own name; he might know where he lives; she might know that hydrogen is the first element in the periodic table. But due to his delusions, he might believe that astral beings are whispering the secrets of the universe in his ear....

Pages