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In the Monty Python football sketch, does the line, "Hegel is arguing that the reality is merely an a priori adjunct of non-naturalistic ethics" make any sense at all or is it gibberish that would only make sense to Hegel himself? Put more simply, does it mean that reality (which ought to be universal?) is something that can be known without prior the more important dimension of emotive ethical experience?

who KNOWS what would make sense to Hegel ... :-) Personally I appreciate your suggested interpretation of that sentence, though I can't quite see how to get from the Python to your (very reasonable) exegesis ... So I'm going to go with "it is indeed gibberish," but add that (with due credit to hegel) it probably wouldn't make much sense to Hegel either (who also would probably not have been amused by Monty Python....) :-) best, ap

Which top philosophers, Pre-1850, have gone along with David Hume's "Theory of Causation"? Would Descartes be a good example to start with while I'm reading up on the matter?

Descartes would probably be a good one to read AGAINST Hume's view ... (see book by Tad Schmaltz on Descartes's causation, and some articles by Geoffrey Gorham, for a good sense of Descartes on causation ... also an article by me ...) ... Interestingly you might consider studying MALEBRANCHE on the issue -- while he does not accept Hume's understanding of causation, he directly influences some of Hume's arguments -- and shares with him the view that finite objects/events do NOT enjoy necessary connections ... where he differs is that rather than conclude there is no (necessitarian) causation in the world, or that there is 'constant conjunction' causation, he concludes that only God is the true cause of everything ... good luck! ap

Why is the socratic paradox called a paradox?

I presume this phrase refers to the "The one thing I know is that I know nothing" remark attributed to Socrates? Well, one form of paradox occurs when you are simultaneously motivated to endorse a contradiction -- i.e. both accept and reject a given proposition, or assign the truth values of both true and false to it. And that seems applicable in this case. On the one hand what Socrates is asserting is that he knows nothing (after all, if he KNOWS that he knows nothing, then since knowledge usually implies truth, it follows that he knows nothing). But then again on the other hand the very assertion seems to disprove it, since he KNOWS it, and therefore knows not nothing, but something. So he simultaneously seems to be asserting that he knows something and that he does not know something. Now you may not find this particularly paradoxical -- you might be tempted to resolve it directly (by rejecting one of the two propositions). But I suppose it's called a paradox because reasonably good cases can be made...

Just finished reading Thus Spoke Zarathustra by philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and I can't help but be completely and utterly confused. His format of hyperbolic and metaphoric employs were incredibly interesting, but didn't quite comprehend the overall message. Maybe this novel is a bit an over-reach of a pure understanding for me. Granted, I've only read rich language in holy books. What was the philosopher trying to gift a reader with his novel?

Join the club ... I'm sure you'll hear from Nietzsche specialists, but as a non-specialist -- but great admirer -- let me merely say that TSZ is perhaps not the best place to start to begin to understand this amazing thinker and writer ... a fairly clear, and more straightforward, account of some of his main ideas (anyway) might be found in On the Genealogy of Morals, another famous work as stylistically rich as TSZ but a bit more 'conventional' (if that word is ever applicable to Nietzsche) ... So rather than try to answer your question, I'll merely suggest you read something else! .... best ap

One of the formulation of Kant's Categorical Imperative is that we should never treat humanity as a mere means to an end. I wonder, then, whether this means that horror film directors are behaving unethically. After all, in a horror film, terrible things are made to happen to human beings, solely for the purpose of frightening/pleasing the audience. The human beings may be fictional, but it is nevertheless the fact that they are fictional *humans* that makes horror films effective (as opposed to a horror film where the victims are all robots). It seems to me that the humanity of the fictional characters is being used as a tool to manipulate the audience's emotions. Does this fall under the umbrella of the humanity formulation of the Categorical Imperative? If not, why not? It certainly seems that it is the humanity of the victims (including their emotions, their aspirations, their mortality, their ability to suffer) that is key to the function of horror films.

A very interesting question -- and while I know next to nothing about Kantian ethics, I might chip in here the observation that in a (clearly 'fictional' film) there is no particular, actual, individual human being who is being used as a 'means to an end' (unless of course the actors etc. are being exploited in some way by the director/producers etc...!). Perhaps humanity in some general way is being used, but no individual humans -- so I would imagine that the Kantian proscription wouldn't apply .... (Now if, in a film, the actors were representing actual particular individuals, even if in a fictional way -- like a highly fictionalized biopic, for example -- that might be a different story ....) hope that's useful- ap

how big a factor is the translation when trying to understand philosophical works written in another language which we do not understand? For example, in the translation I read of Das Kapital, Marx talked about "the means of production" which seemed like an awkward and confusing term. Then one day the "aha" light bulb went off, and i realized that this term meant "technology" and suddenly his whole theory of dialectical materialism made great sense to me.

Good question -- and the answer (clearly) is "very big"! .... Or at least it can be ... It's hard enough to interpret a philosopher (get clear on just what his/her claims and arguments are) when you share a language, and when you're in the same time period -- and at least with our contemporaries we can always just call them up and ask 'what the heck did you mean with this sentence?' ... But every translation is definitely itself an interpretation, so when you read important texts in translation you are, at best, getting the translator's interpretation of the original text, which may or may not be very close to the original in meaning and in connotation -- and this problem only gets more severe as the temporal distance grows (eg translating ancient greek into 21st century english) and is made worse between certain pairs of languages (eg greek to english is more distant than, say, french to english) ..... So the best thing you can do, for any texts that truly matter to you philosophically, is learn the...

A philosopher pointed out the the big questions of philosophy are also the ones asked by all children. I'm thinking Quine, or Bertrand Russell But I can't remember. Anyone know?

I've made the same point in my book "The 60-Second Philosopher," though I think it has to made with some finesse to count as being particularly accurate. Young children seem quick to recognize questions about basic principles -- that there is a causal order -- that there may be a supreme being of some sort -- basic moral principles -- but that's still pretty far from saying they ask the same questions as the big questions from philosophy. (Tom Wartenburg has a recent book out on doing Philosophy with Children and on focus groups he's done, which might offer support for your question ....) hope that helps-- ap

I was wondering whether in his writings on natural language Wittgenstein adverts to Plato's theory of forms. I'm thinking in particular of his essay on defining the word "Spiel."

I'm no Wittg. expert -- that said, if all you mean by 'advert' is 'refers to', then it wouldn't be at all surprising if Wittgenstein did, since (I gather) crucial aspects of Wittgenstein's theory of meaning would be critical of a competing "Platonic" theory -- ie, part of his point in introducing 'games' is to deny that there are any necessary/sufficient conditions for falling into certain categories, rather those categories are characterized by 'family resemblances' -- so what allows a particular activity to count as a 'game' is not that it displays the 'essence' of Game (participation in the Platonic Form of 'Game'), not that it satisfies a particular set of necessary and sufficient conditions, but merely that it shares an adequate number of salient characteristics with other things which count as 'games' ..... So does he explicitly refer to Plato? I don't recall -- but it would be a Platonic theory he is criticizing there .... AP

I was trying to explain Wittgenstein to a friend using the "if a tree falls in the woods..." question. I suggested that it depends entirely on what you refer to as "sound": vibration or sensation. The person I was talking with insisted that no, only a narcissist would assume it wouldn't make a sound just because there is nobody there to hear it. What about the birds, he asked. First of all, is my use of the tree falling conundrum an appropriate way to introduce someone to Wittgenstein? Was I perverting Philosophical Investigations? What would have been a better way to get across the importance of Wittgenstein in this case?

I can't answer wrt Wittgenstein in this case -- I don't know his specific views here -- but the general question IS an old one, and received some very provocative treatements in the early modern period (esp 17th-18th century, esp. in the work of the Idealist George Berkeley) -- I'll merely answer the point as your friend made it -- namely, anyone who argues that such a tree does NOT make a 'sound' is (a) definitely referring to sensation, not vibration as you put it, and (b) tends to allow that any "mind" or "any" perceiver would be sufficient for the "sound" to exist in addition to the vibration -- so the presence of a bird would suffice! I don't know of any philosopher who would hold that ONLY human perceivers work here ... However: the latter does raise the discussion to the next level: does a given vibration 'sound' the same to us and to the bird? does it sound the same even to different human perceivers? if not, what does that show? (maybe that sound IS subjective, exists only in the mind...

I just finished "Philosophical Investigations" and I found that Wittgenstein's writing, ironically, was difficult to understand. Perhaps this is because I am a neophyte to the discipline. I do feel he could have written better. My question is: Did Wittgenstein write in such a fashion in order to show the problems of language?

I'm not a Wittgenstein expert, but based on what I do know about his work and his life I would judge that the answer is no. Most of his published writings, including the Philosophical Investigations, were not quite written for publication in the ordinary way -- rather they consist of his posthumously published notebooks, jottings, lecture notes, etc., and may never have been intended for publication. He was the sort who was constantly grappling with philosophical questions and reflections, constantly reworking his thoughts, constantly revisiting his earlier conclusions and rethinking them -- and the writings as we read them simply reflect that fact. Yes they ARE difficult to penetrate, follow, etc., but that's more because they are deep, difficult, in progress, and unpolished, rather than because they are intentionally designed to illustrate any particular points. Personally I love reading Wittgenstein -- maybe even precisely for those reasons his writing is extremely provocative -- I sort of...