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1. Stella is a woman and she is mortal. 2. Joan is a woman and she is mortal. 3. Liz is a woman and she is mortal...etc How many instances of women being mortal do I need before I can come to the general conclusion that all women are mortal?

the short answer: you need as many instances as there are (or have been, or will be) women. a longer answer: if what you're asking is how many instances do you need before it might be reasonable to infer that all women are mortal -- well there's no absolute answer to such a question (I would say). Partly it's about all such similar forms of reasoning -- in general, how many instances do you need in any inductive argument before it's reasonable to draw the general conclusion. Partly it's about the specific case -- what are the specific biological facts about womanhood (assuming that's a biological category) and mortality, which might govern how many instances are required before the general conclusion is reasonable. Partly it's a matter of social norms -- in the community you inhabit, how many instances will people require of you before they decide you are reasonable etc ..... the short answer has the benefit not merely of being correct but also being clear! hope that helps --- Andrew

After studying philosophy, I am now so skeptical of everything that I no longer know what I should believe in. I have no idea whom I should vote for in election or whether I should be voting at all, what religion I ought to believe in if any at all, why I should bother getting married, or even why I should bother getting out of bed in the mornings. Have you found that philosophy leads to more skepticism and knowing nothing rather than clarification?

This is a terrific question/problem, and Stephen's response is a very good one. I merely want to point out that it's possible to have another kind of response to the situation you're confronting. I would characterize the situation as one where you realize that everything is ultimately connected to everything else, every belief has infinite implications that require exploring before they are rationally affirmed, to every position there is an objection, to every objection there is a response, and the whole process never ends ... Now if you believe that in order to know anything, or act in some rational way, the process of inquiry that produces that knowledge or action must be "completed", then you'll be in the bind you describe. But maybe THAT is the belief to be given up (and maybe the bind you describe is itself a key argument for giving up that belief). Instead recognize that deliberation and explanation must always come to a temporary end at some point -- and that you should always believe/act with...

I was wondering if Nagel's argument in "what it is like to be a bat" or the Qualia "Knowledge argument" can be used to prove that certain non physical knowledge can only be attained through experience? For example, could I say that I could read about being an enterpeneur, learn everything there is to know about running my own business but that there is certain knowledge I will only attain when I actually start my business? Thank you Mike

Good question. Of course we'd have to be very careful re: what we mean by 'non-physical' knowledge. For sometimes what people mean when they suggest 'you can't know everything about being an entrepreneur until you actually try it' is merely that there are various facts, bits of advice/wisdom, etc., that no one is likely to teach you in advance, that cannot be anticipated, etc., that you'll only come across and learn when you're acquiring experience in the activity -- but that on its own entails nothing about whether those facts are "non-physical." For a rough example, you might not be able to fully understand just how difficult the local tax code is for business until you try navigating it yourself for your own business, but that doesn't mean those facts about the tax code are non-physical in any way. In short: sometimes experience is necessary simply to acquire perfectly "physical," factual knowledge. But then again, there remains room for something else, the 'what's it like'-ness of it all. One of the...

I'm attending a lecture on the philosophy of science, and our professor told us yesterday that "we constantly rely on inductive reasoning all the time in our lives, such as when we assume that the floor won't suddenly collapse beneath our feet if we walk forwards." This struck me as odd. Is it accurate to say we "assume" such a thing? It seems to me that we don't even think about these things at all, much less try to justify any such assumptions - saying we're relying on some kind of argumentation seems like a stretch, but perhaps it isn't. Is everything we do, then, the result of certain processes of reasoning? Or are there things we just do without any reasoning to support them?

Hm, I wonder if you were in MY early modern class (where I use this example with Hume ....!) In any case I might only add to Stephen's reply that one small test that we are making an implicit assumption P is to imagine, for a moment, that we didn't believe the proposition P in question -- if we tell ourselves (if we assume) "the floor WILL give out if I walk forwards" then we pretty clearly wouldn't walk forwards, which suggests that the fact that we ordinarily DO walk forwards was relying on the assumption that the floor would NOT give out .... (And of course once we admit to ourselves our implicit assumptions, we might then examine the origin/source of the assumptions, such as some implicit process of inductive reasoning ....) ap

Would a materialist and reductionist have to reject the phenomena/noumena distinction? I saw a clip of a debate between Christopher Hitchens and Douglas Wilson in which Hitchens seems to claim that one could reject the supernatural without rejecting the noumenal. To truly believe in a hidden "thing in itself" wouldn't you have to take a leap of faith, so to speak? You would have to assert that we should believe in something unprovable, which would seem to be the antithesis of Hitchens' normal position. Thanks!

Very interesting question, but as a non-kant specialist I would answer this. It's not clear to me that the p/n distinction is a metaphysical one, i.e. one between two different kinds of objects, one 'out there in itself' and one 'in here, as perceived by our minds." Rather it seems to me more an epistemological one, ie two different ways of thinking about one and the same objects: there's the sun-in-itself, and the sun-as-it-appears, but that is one object (the same sun) thought about two different ways, not two distinct objects. (Perhaps Kant scholars interpret the distinction differently ....) But on htis understanding, the noumenal doesn't seem so exotic or supernatural or require a leap of faith, etc.; it just seems a reflection of the (perhaps obvious) fact that in thinking and perceiving about x we cannot but employ the cognitive apparatus we have, and that that apparatus will influence the process in various ways ... Moreover, "to reject the supernatural" could also be understood purely...

Is knowledge produced just to be sold? If not, then why are there ubiquitous tuition centres that are situated even within the tutors' houses, assessment books that encompass the many subjects students study for and take up the most space in most book stores (a generalisation),and sky-rocketing tuition and scholastic fees? Why do people perceive that the more knowledge you have, the higher the chances of you being successful and happy? And why do schools give difficult examinations? Is knowledge produced just to be sold, to be keep in secret, and will be only disclosed to the people who could afford to pay?

There's a lot of interest here, and a lot that's problematic in your questions! ... There are empirical studies in the U.S. at least that show things such as that college degrees increase average earning power over the course of your life -- now whether that means 'the more knowledge you have' leads to 'more success and happiness' I don't know, but it's the kind of statistic that might be relevant to your concerns .... I am not inclined to think that (all) knowledge is 'produced just to be sold' -- it's produced for many reasons, including the inrinsic interest of producing it -- but if it turns out that (much) knowledge is in fact useful, and valuable, then why would it be surprising that it would also be sold, even if it isn't produced for that purpose? Now if you're concerned about more political/sociological issues -- like what sorts of societies choose to have their education be so expensive, etc., that I can't say -- I too would prefer that education be far less expensive, be seen as a public...

When we learn something, generally speaking, we have acquired some kind of knowledge. But what about when we forget things? It seems intuitive to say that we don't know the thing in question anymore. Yet often, we will suddenly remember things we forgot without learning them again - spontaneously, so to speak. So during the period between the forgetting and the remembering, do we know the information and not have access to it, or do we not know it? How should we conceptualize spontaneous remembering in such cases?

great question. one small part of the answer would rely on how we conceptualize the non-forgotten, stored knowledge itself -- does it exist as propositions or discrete entities somehow tucked away somewhere in the mind (or brain)? if so, then if forgetting means deleting, then such things shouldn't count as known. But more plausibly stored knowledge would be conceived dispositionally -- as a disposition to re-create a given thought (and more generally beliefs shouldn't be conceived as individual units either ...) -- and once beliefs are conceievd that way then it's much easier to think of forgetting as just some (temporary) flaw in the mechanism that triggers the disposition -- in which case the way is more open to treating the 'forgotten' bit as 'really there, if temporarily inaccessible' .... hope that helps -- ap

Without considering the arguments that there was ever a Jewish Holocaust can I be certain that such a thing happened just because I've read about it in my history books in school?

Why mention the Holocaust example specifically? Any worries about the "certainty" of historical knowledge would equally apply to every single piece of historical knowledge. Of course, what makes the Holocaust example stand out is that it does get challenged -- by people who have typically deeper agendas -- so perhaps what you should be asking is this: whenever you read about any historical event, and whenever you find people challenging conventional historical events, can you distinguish what is driven by "agenda" and what is driven by actual consideration of the available "facts"? (An excellent general book on the subject is the recent book "Voodoo Histories", which is a study of various conspiracy theories (including Holocaust denial and others), trying to articulate how/when people with agendas choose to selectively apply ordinary standards of reason and evidence ......) best, Andrew

If we apply nihilism to all knowledge, how is the paradox it creates overcome, as to deny an existence of knowledge is to stand by something known to oneself? Wittgenstein's idea to kick away the ladder seems to some what fill the void but it isn't exactly a satisfying filler!

hm. why can't we methodically critique the possibility of knowledge in various domains w/o ever explicitly addressing the question of whether we can 'know' that knowledge (in general) is impossible? or, is it really self-contradictory (a paradox) to claim that all knowledge is impossible, even this -- for when one denies 'knowledge' one typically replaces it with something less prestigious (like belief, maybe) -- and so one can coherently say I believe that no knowledge is possible (and that belief is the most we can get) .....? ap

Hi my question is about what we know about things we know because they are what they are or we know because they are what we perceive them to be. I came to thinking about this when I was thinking of spinning a cube fast enough to appear to be a sphere. The problem I had was that if what we know about things is gathered by how we perceive them, i.e. through empirical investigation, then the sphere/cube problem would lead to a contradiction in conclusions as one group of people (those that see the cube in motion) would say that it is a sphere whilst another group of people (those that see the stationary cube) would say that it is a cube. So our knowledge of things cannot have come from how we perceive them as our perceptions are obviously misleading and can lead to contradictions. This leads me to think that what is is separate to what our minds perceive or what our minds think is but then I come across the problem of the gap between reality and our minds. How do our minds detect what actually is in reality...

Wow, fantastic email -- getting at the heart of some major philosophical ideas and movements. Empiricists tend to stress the role of perception/experience in producing knowledge, while rationalists tend to promoe the role of reason, often arguing on the basis of such considerations as those you mention. A couple of quick thoughts about the specifics of your message. Your example of a problematic perception (spinning cube looks like sphere) doesn't quite/fully show that perception is problematic, partly because some other perception is relevant to getting at the truth, ie seeing the cube not spinning. The rationalist might say that reason is needed to process these otherwise conflicting perceptions, but even if this so, it does seem that perception is playing a key role in generating our knowledge of the world (that a cube exists, and that, when spun, it looks spherical) -- so what you've raised is a kind of problem for perception, but not one which obviously (to me anyway) undermines the importance...