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Is Plato right when he says that ignorance is the source of all evil? I live in the American south, and a large number of the people here are, in my opinion, ignorant; and i recently got into an argument with a class mate of mine who said that ignorance is bliss. At least half of the people at my school have his attitude, they don't care about their education and they prefer to not deal with things that might broaden their horizons. If ignorance is the source of evil, does that mean that my area is a hot spot for evil, or is my definition of evil wrong?

Let's start with a distinction. We may say that a situation is evil if it's sufficiently bad, whatever it was that brought the situation about—even if no one intended it. But we don't usually say that a person is evil unless they have evil intentions. Start with evil people. In the kind of case that comes most easily to mind, ignorance isn't the issue. Sadly, there are people who just don't care. If what they do hurts someone else, it doesn't matter to them. In fact, some people take pleasure in other people's pain. I'm not sure that this kind of indifference and evil intention has much to do with ignorance. It's possible to know that something is wrong and not care. Plato may have thought otherwise, but it's not obvious that he's right. It's pretty clear that the first kind of evil—objectively bad situations—can come about for all sorts of reasons, including sheer bad luck. Putting it down to ignorance is sometimes reasonable, but often isn't. And even when the bad situation comes about...

Having the opportunity to learn and discover philosophy is in my mind a privilege. Learning and understanding philosophical matters can be enlightening, clarifying, reassuring and ultimately life-changing. Although this may appear as a personal issue but relevant to all those who are interested in philosophy, my question is why might someone feel inadequate or not worthy of gaining such knowledge? I'm very interested and want to expand on the knowledge I already have but I feel guilty at the same time. Why should I get this and not someone else? I think philosophy should be taught in all schools and branched out to all corners of the world.

I'm going to read your question not as a psychological one (that as "What would cause someone to feel inadequate or unworthy or learning philosophy?") but rather as a question about whether there could be good reasons for feeling this way. Before we go on, an important preliminary: what I'll say is intended to be perfectly general and not to be a diagnosis of your particular case. Since I don't know anything about your case beyond the question I've asked, I couldn't possibly speak to its particulars. As for why someone might justifiably feel inadequate, one obvious answer is that they might lack the requisite talent. For example: if someone paid for me to do a PhD in mathematics, I would feel inadequate for the very simple reason that I don't have enough mathematical talent to be a serious part of the community of students in a PhD mathematics program. And if it turned out that my being part of the program meant I was taking the place of someone with real talent, that would reasonably make me...

How much science should a philosopher know in order to do his or her work properly? If I want to be a philosopher, should I study things like calculus, computer science and quantum mechanics? Should I read those big science textbooks of a thousand pages?

Briefly, it depends on what sorts of philosophical issues you want to pursue. Most philosophers, including most good ones, don't have extensive scientific knowledge, and the questions they're interested in don't call for knowing lots of science. But philosophers who work on issues in physics, or biology, or psychology or other sciences need to be knowledgeable about the sciences they work on. In philosophy of physics, it's not unusual for a philosopher to have an advanced degree (Masters or even PhD) in physics. Even if s/he doesn't have a science degree, s/he will have to have acquired a lot of knowledge of the field - or relevant parts of it. By way of general recommendation, however, the single most useful thing you can do if you're interested in philosophical issues about science is to learn as much math as you can. That can give you a serious leg up on learning the more specific scientific ideas that may be relevant to your interests. So if you have the aptitude, at the very least take some...

Hi, I'm a third-year undergraduate. I have always love both philosophy and science, especially theoretical physics and astronomy, but out of self-doubt, I majored in philosophy and only philosophy. I am in much regret that I did not double major in philosophy and physics, and am wondering about the possibility of being a research scientist in the future without doing a second undergraduate degree in science. Would it be possible to, say, do a philosophy PhD with a strong scientific bent (such as the Logic, Computation, and Methodology PhD at Carnegie Mellon), and then apply whatever foundational analysis skills I acquire thereafter in making substantial contributions to the natural sciences? - science envy

Just a few further thoughts. Many philosophers of physics don't have the equivalent of a PhD in physics, though they do, of course, know a good deal about physics. And while these philosophers usually aren't doing experimental work in physics, what they do is sometimes published in physics journals and often in journals where physicists as well as philosophers publish. If you have your heart set on being a research scientist, employed by a science department or a scientific institution, then you'll almost certainly need a PhD in the relevant science. But if you want to do research that combines theoretical issues in science with your interest in philosophy, then it's quite possible to do that without a PhD in a science. In any case, I agree with my co-panelist's suggestion: study more science in your senior year if you have room for it in your schedule.

Can a good argument be made for encouraging working class parents in particular to pursue education? What I'm trying to get at is this... I get the feeling that, had I come from a more privalidged background, I might have had a lot more support through my school years. My parents received a very poor education and "knew" they weren't really going to amount to much. As a result I was never really helped with school work and was encouraged to follow a trade rather than get further education.  As if that was the best of what could be expected from a person of our social status. I've seen the same thing happening with the vast majority of my relatives and others that I grew up with. I hated that sort of working environment and wished I had taken a different path. Although others may be satisfied with that sort of outcome, surely having more options is better. I now do social work in my community which, although satisfying, is sometimes challenging as I see lots of suffering that being better educated would...

You've in effect made several good arguments yourself. But the idea that just because one was born into a certain social stratum, one shouldn't try to get out of it is an idea that has long since lost any plausibility it might have had. In fact, when you think about it, it's hard to see what could recommend that view. Even if we concede that there will always be low-skill jobs needing to be done, it hardly follows that one is obliged to be the one who does them just because of accidents of birth. If someone is truly content to remain uneducated, or work for low wages or perform unskilled labor, that's one thing. (And there are such people.) But if that's not what you want out of life, It's hard to think of any good reason why you should be expected simply to go along with a life-plan you didn't pick. A friend of mine who got his PhD when I did came from a working class family. There's nothing wrong with that, and nothing wrong with the work they did. (My family was only pne beneration removed from...

Hello, I'm 17 years old. I'm in a situation where I have dropped out of high school because I strongly feel I am better off without it. I am about to travel around the united states with a 27 year old man that i only met and talked with on the internet/phone for four years. In all of that time I learned to have complete trust in him because I see him as like a older brother now. It is still very possible to be lead a successful and happy life without schooling. Now further, I plan on pursue my writings in poetry and writings on my thoughts in general that i believe to have a spiritual/philosophical value. I believe in situations where the mind is constantly adapting to new environments (travel) it sets a great catalyst for creative thoughts. This is my dream and needs be fulfilled to have an existential based life realized. A lot of great philosophers have been home schooled and led rather independent life styles, which I am doing as well. I still haven't completely denied the possibility of going to a...

Please don't take this the wrong way. Though I wouldn't use words like "stupid", I'm on your parents' side. A man who would take a 17-year-old whom he has never met and with whom he has no real-life acquaintance on the sort of journey you describe against the wishes of the people who know him well is a man whose judgment I would not trust. And the fact that you don't see the worry gives me reason to think you aren't yet ready to make a decision like this yourself. You write "Clearly, though, young as I am, am ready to embark on a journey that will change my life." I ask: why is this clear? And to whom? Here's where we actually get to a philosophical point: the fact that you feel convinced and that it seems clear to you doesn't provide anyone - you nor anyone else - with a real reason to believe that it's true. There are too many unknowns here for gut instinct to be worth much. Might everything turn out well? It might. Or it might not. Can you become a well-educated person without...

Is convincing a person they are wrong not a form of indoctrination? After all, it involves changing the way people think such that it conforms with one's own views. Is it not censorship? Since putting opinions in the wrong clearly prevents them from being expressed.

Let's suppose you say to me "How's your brother Paul?" I say "My brother is fine, but actually his name is Peter." Most likely that will be enough to convince you. And unless your reactions are rather unusual, you're likely just to ay something like "Oh. Yes. Guess I got mixed up." It would be really odd to call this indoctrination. Or suppose I've been working on a budget and I send you the figures. You tell me that the total is off by $2,000. I don't believe you, so you work through the math with me, pointing out where I made a mistake. And I end up agreeing. Still nothing that seems like indoctrination. However, those may not be the sorts of cases you have in mind, so try this one. Suppose George thinks that women shouldn't be allowed to run for public office. Mary asks why. George gives his reasons, which reflect false beliefs about women's intelligence, emotions and so on. Mary engages him in a long, calm discussion, after which George agrees that his views reflected various kinds of ...

Why does our society place more value on the degree than the actual learning? With Ivy league and esteemed colleges publishing their courses online, it is plausible to think that one could learn as much or more than a graduate, yet that knowledge would not be valued in the workforce or in the field of knowledge. This can also be seen in high school. Less knowledgeable students who earn the diploma are far greater valued than others who may have superior knowledge but did not complete.

I'm always a little worried about broad generalizations about society. That said, I'm willing to grant that there is a real bias of the kind you describe. And I would also agree that many very worthy people get overlooked on that account. As for why it happens, that's an empirical question and as a philosopher I have no special insight into the answer. But I can offer a hypothesis: it's a time-saver. No doubt there are many people with no degrees who are smarter and more knowledgeable than people with Ivy-League credentials. But if I'm an employer, I don't have the time or the means to figure out who among all the applicants is really the most capable. So I will use things like educational achievement as a proxy. If someone got a degree, there's a good chance that they have at least a certain basic level of intellectual ability and stick-to-itiveness. And if their degree is from a prestigious school, that inference may be a little more solid. At least, I'd guess that this is what many employers...

Do professors/teachers have any ethical obligations to their students? Take, for example, the case in "21" the movie, in which a professor of mathematics at MIT is recruiting his brightest students into an illegal blackjack ring that he is heading. The action might be immoral, but my question is whether there is anything about the teacher-student relationship that makes it especially (or specially) immoral. Thx

One obvious problem here is that teachers have a sort of power over students. They can give them bad grades, refuse to write letters of recommendation... If the students "consent" to the arrangement, it will be that much less clear that the "consent" was strictly voluntary. So in addition to the inherent wrongness of the scheme, the extra problem is that the teacher is quite likely taking unfair advantage of the students.

Having grown tired of reading secondary material in my study of philosophy, I have decided to read primary texts in a chronological, rather than thematic, order. I have started with Plato and have read most of the works I can find online or at my library. Before I move on to Aristotle, I would like your advice. Do you think a chronological approach is a good idea for someone untrained in philosophy? Do you think I should read every work by a given philosopher, or are there 'key' works that serve as their primary contribution to the field? If the latter, are there any lists that you are aware of that state what those key works are?

Consider an analogy. Suppose I wanted to learn physics, and I decided to read great works of physics in chronological order. Whatever value that project might have, it would be a poor way to become a physicist. So no: I wouldn't recommend reading historical works in chronological order. I wouldn't even recommend putting a lot of emphasis on reading historical works, period. One reason: philosophy is essentially something you do . Working philosophers aren't intellectual historians. They're trying to sort their way through problems. Work by older philosophers can be suggestive and relevant, but most working philosophers spend very little of their time reading the classics. I'm guessing that by "secondary sources" you mean commentaries on historical works or introductory material on various problems. My suggestion: move next to edited collections of contemporary papers on problems that you're interested in. For example: if you're interested in the free will problem, you might consider getting...

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