It seems unethical to me for the government to provide material support for people in need, for two primary reasons: - for the harm it does to the people being supported - more importantly, because it undermines the moral imperative of people in society. - in the USA, it also appears to be a violation of the First Amendment, which prohibits the establishment of a state religion. Helping people in need is fundamentally a religious directive ("feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless") I fully support providing material support for people in need, as long as it is done either directly by individuals, or by individuals organizing together in various social organizations (e.g., church, synagogue, local food bank, clothing drive, soup kitchen, etc.) - each of us has a personal moral imperative to help those less fortunate, we cannot simply satisfy this imperative by taking money away from other people by force and then using those funds to provide help. - the people receiving...

You offer two reasons (though really it's three.) The first is that if the government helps people (provides material support, in your phrase), it harms those people. Is this true? It's quite possibly true sometimes ,. But is it true by and large? You haven't offered any evidence, and I'm not convinced that there is any. In any case, when the government doesn't help people it's at least as plausible that at least some of the time, that results in harm. So even if both policies sometimes harm some people, that doesn't tell us which is worse. But there's another problem internal to your argument. You're in favor of various kinds of aid, so long as it's not provided by the government. Presumably you're in favor of that at least partly because you think it can actually do good. But if private charity can do good and help people, it's not obvious that having the help come from the government can't do likewise. Now there are questions here that philosophy alone can't answer: which kinds of aid...

Recently I asked if theology were a branch of philosophy, and was encouraged by Dr. Stairs to ask my question. If we are told in Christian (Catholic at least) faith that God is the only One True God and we should not pray to any other God except Her/Him/It, then how come (in some branches) we can pray to saints or to Mary, and not be committing idolatry? One answer I've heard is that we do not "pray" to them so much as we ask them to intercede for us on our behalf....I don't know though, that sounds forced.

The question of whether this sounds forced or not is a hard one to make a judgment about, but the answer, as I understand it, is pretty much the one you've heard. If one prays to a saint, one is asking the saint to intercede; not to perform the miracle. Although we might say loosely that a saint "performed a miracle," the saint has no powers over nature of his/her own and if a miracle occurs, the source of the miracle is God. This isn't to suggest that your question is a bad one. Why bother, one might ask, with this circuitous route? After all, God (assuming there is a God) hears the prayer, knows what the petitioner want, and grants the request or not—even if the petitioner addressed the request to a saint. Perhaps a panelist with a deeper understanding of Catholic tradition can chime in, but Catholicism has a genius for appealing to the religious imagination of its adherents. And since religion is at least as much a matter of the heart as of the mind, one can imagine an argument to the effect that...

There is an argument as to whether achievement is intrinsically valuable that interests me. I feel as though it is not, but am having a hard time coming up with good arguments to defend my view. I just feel as though in completing a terrible act, even if it was your goal, one is in no way benefitted. Could you help explain some of the arguments here? Thanks!

There are two sorts of issues here. Let's start with the one that I think underlies your discomfort. The fact that something is my goal may matter to me, but that doesn't make it intrinsically valuable. Indeed, it might be intrinsically horrid. If someone's goal is to brutally torture an innocent child to death (writing those words actually makes me shudder, but that's part of the point) then their goal is the very opposite of intrinsically valuable, and the fact that they would value achieving it makes them evil without adding an iota of value to their "achievement." In a nutshell: the fact that I value something doesn't entail that what I value is valuable. Whether an "achievement" is valuable isn't a matter of whether someone values it, but of what the achievement itself amounts to. There might seem to be a utilitarian argument to the contrary: the pleasure the sadist gets from his cruelty adds to the sum total of happiness in the world. But all this really shows is that a certain version of...

I've been having a moral conflict about whether I should serve in the military or not and I came to the conclusion that it would be immoral for me to serve. But then I thought to myself, if I think it's immoral to serve I'm basically saying that anyone with the choice to not serve shouldn't serve, and if everyone who has the choice to not serve does that the military will collapse and since the country has no defenses a war will likely ensue that would cause many more deaths than if people had served. So does that falsify my claim that it is immoral to serve in the military?

You've given an apparently powerful reason for thinking that it's morally acceptable to have a military to defend the nation: lives will be saved. You've implicitly cast this in terms of defense. That is, you've implicitly offered a justification for having an army by appeal to the right of a nation to defend its citizens. It's plausible that having no military would lead to more deaths than having one. And it's morally plausible that people—and nations—have a right to self-defense. And so this raises an obvious question: what reasons are left for thinking that military service is immoral? There may be reasons. But you've shifted the burden onto yourself. If you want your view to be taken seriously, then you have to say more. If you leave the argument where it is, then you're open to the charge that you hold your position in bad faith. Are there reasons to the contrary? You could try to show that having armies leads in the long run to more deaths. Or you could try to argue that it's always wrong to...

There have been some excellent questions about whether moral claims can be objectively true or not. Isn't there an unspoken presupposition to that argument, however? "Moral claims can only exist in situations where there are beings who are subject to morality present in the first place." or perhaps you can word it better to capture what I am trying to say. In other words, if there were no sentient beings, then the concept of morality could not even exist, as only sentient beings are capable of moral reflection in the first place.

True: only sentient beings can think about moral questions, and so moral questions don't arise in a world with no sentient (or better, sapient) beings. Of course, in one sense of "arise," no questions arise unless there are creatures who can ponder the questions. Nonetheless, that doesn't make the way things are depend on the existence of thinking beings. There were electrons before we came on the scene, and there would be electrons even if neither we nor any creatures like us had existed. That said, you're right: moral matters have an intrinsic connection with beings who can ponder them. There are no live moral issues in a lifeless world, nor even in one with sentient but no sapient creatures. Moral truths are truths about how certain kinds of creature should behave if there were any. But this is consistent with there being moral truths even if nothing in the world knows those truths and even if none of the relevant kinds of creatures exist. Thus, one might say (I would) that before any thinking...

How do we justify our knowledge of the external world? Knowledge of the external world seems to be fallible in any case if we put the threshold of success at the highest level, namely 100% certainty. But this still raises a question: if we want to avoid complete skepticism, how can we be certain that our knowledge is at least likely to be true? In order to create a probability about the validity of our knowledge of the external world we need to start from perception. The problem is that we can be certain of the existence of perception but not the source of it (the matrix/the real world), and that is essential for the knowledge of the external world. In order to calculate our probability we then need the number of possible events E and the one favourable event F we're looking for: E = 2 possible events are external source or non-external source (matrix, hallucination, dream etc.) F = 1 favourable event i.e. external source P(F) = F/E = 1/2 = 50% It seems to me that both possibilities are equally likely....

Setting external world skepticism aside for a moment, suppose I'm about to roll a die. Now there are two possibilities: it will come up 1 or it won't. If I reason as you did, I will conclude that the probability is 1/2 that the die will come up 1. Something has gone wrong here. For one thing, we can't get the answers to probability questions just by counting. There are many ways to slice up the space of possibilities, and if we use your rule, the answer we get will depend on how we do the slicing. This is a well-known problem, and there is no simple fix. But there's another problem: the probabilities here aren't chances. They are degrees of belief. Even if we thought (though we shouldn't) that the right way to slice things up is that our experience has an external source or it doesn't, without adding nothing more fine-grained, we don't have to agree that the two possibilities are equally probable. You say "it seems to me that both possibilities are equally likely." It's worth wondering whether you...

An inventor creates a life-saving drug for disease X, which has no other cure. Worldwide, death by disease X among white people has been eliminated because of his drug; however, the death rate remains at pre-drug levels among non-whites because he has contractually restricted its sale and use to white people. For non-whites who die from disease X, is this inventor a causal factor in their death? My friend and I have debated this. I argue YES. The actions the inventor has taken to restrict the sale of his drug demonstrate intent with full knowledge of the consequences of the actions he has taken. I think his actions are not only causal, but in a world where this medicine is readily available everywhere, he becomes the primary cause of death. My friend argues NO. The inventor has done nothing with respect to non-whites. There is no causal relationship. Pulling a man from a burning building saves a life, but not doing so doesn't cause a death. Where I see actions that cause harm, my friend sees...

As you've described the case, there's something the inventor could do that would save lives. There's also a dispute about how to analyze the notion of a cause. Some would say (your friend apparently is in this camp) that absences—in the case, not doing something—can't be causes. Others disagree and provide accounts that allow absences to be causal. This is an abstract and complicated issue, but how much difference will it make to how we judge the inventor? Suppose I'm in a war zone and happen to know that there's an IED in a certain spot. I see someone running on a path that will take him over the IED and almost certainly leave him dead. Let's assume I even know who it is and know that in all relevant respects, he's an innocent. As it happens, I'm behind a barrier, but I could easily warn him. I don't. He runs over the IED and dies in the blast. Is there something I could have done that would have saved him? We've already said yes. Would it have come at any significant cost? We can stipulate for...

I am just starting to study philosophy and I am not understanding the claim that all knowlege comes from science. Could you please give me some practical examples?

The reason you feel you don't understand the claim is because it's nonsense. I know that there are three pillows on the bed behind me, but no science was committed in finding that out. I just turned around, looked and counted. I know that I had dinner with friends yesterday. No scienceing there either. I just remember. I know that one of our neighbors recently quit a committee he'd been a member of. Once again, no science; someone in a position to know told me. In fact, it's safe to say that by far most of what we know we know without anyone doing science. Of course people doing science make observations, consult their memories and get information from other people. But so does everyone, and most of us are not scientists and don't do science. The fact that X has important things in common with Y doesn't make X a Y.

I have recently heard that, according to physics, you can never actually touch anything. This seems clearly false and I feel it should be refuted with philosophy (if not physics). Can you comment on this? p.s. See for example https://futurism.com/why-you-can-never-actually-touch-anything which seems to claim that, according to physics, you can never actually touch anything

According to the internet, the sun rose at 6:02 this morning in Washington. I was awake and when I got around to opening the blinds I could see that the sky was blue. The sheets on the bed are blue too, though not the same blue. They're a few years old and I like the way they feel when I touch them. But the sun doesn't rise, does it? Although centuries ago, people thought it did, they were just wrong. And there isn't really a sky—no dome or roof or thing of any sort. There are sheets, but they're made of atoms, which aren't colored, nor are collections of them. And touching the sheets; don't get me started on that. Except… If someone says the sky is blue, they've said nothing false, nothing wrong. Same goes for telling you the color of their sheets; likewise for telling you they touched them. People may be mistaken about what being a blue sheet amounts to, or a blue sky, or about what's going on under the covers, so to speak, when we touch a sheet, or anything else. But that doesn't make the...

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