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Are ad hominem attacks or character assassinations legitimate forms of Aristotelian virtue arguments to criticize political opinions so long as all claims are entirely factual?

I confess I do not understand what you mean by "virtue arguments" but I would respond by asking: do good persons approach arguments via character assissination? Does a good rhetor use ad hominem attacks? Facts are well and good, but "do as a good person would do" trumps nastiness and falacious reasoning in my book. But perhaps an example might help me understand better. - bjm

Regarding Ph.d. applications, how important is the writing sample? I am in a top-15 Master's program right now, 3.83 GPA, but the best part of my application is my writing sample. I got a perfect grade on it from a tough grader, and I've fixed up anything that could possibly be "wrong" with it. It's definitely my best work to date. I need that because there are a couple of weaknesses in my application that I need to "make up" for, and I'm hoping the writing sample will do the trick. Thanks.

Given that I do not teach doctoral students I can reply with complete confidence that I have no clue what "magic hat-trick" makes admission committees tick! You've done your best to present your case; innumerable factors are at play, many of which have little to do with you. So what to do? Perservere. That is it in a nutshell. The reality is that it is harder to complete a Ph.D. than to get into a doctoral program, so if you let a rejection discourage you, you may not manage to make it through...so keep trying! By now, I hope you have many acceptance letters coming your way! Bon Chance! -bjm

Many pro-choice advocates maintain that, though abortions should be permissible, they are regrettable nonetheless. For instance, Bill Clinton famously said that he wanted to keep abortions "safe, legal and rare." I don't understand this view. To my mind, whether abortion is immoral turns on the question of whether a fetus is a person with a right to life. But this seems a clear dichotomy--either fetuses have such a right, or they don't. If they do, then abortion is immoral. If they don't, then not only should abortion be permitted, but there is nothing objectionable about them at all. Indeed, it is every bit as innocuous as using condoms. Sometimes I think that what is happening is that people who advocate this position are still captive to some kind of residual pro-life sentiment. They believe that abortions should be permissible, but they can't shake the feeling that they are still, somehow, a bad thing. (And not just because of circumstantial considerations, such as that women who need abortions are...

My colleagues have answered in a very thorough way - and I hesitate to add anything accept this: women's voices are important in this discussion and thus I will add mine. I can't speak for all women and I do not deny that men are affected by abortion. Men, however, can never undergo the procedure - only women can. This does not preclude insightful reflection from anyone, male or female, but it is striking to me that one often speaks of abortion as being only about the status of the fetus and not an issue that affects the woman who is considering the question. Why is this important? In my view, there are many morally regrettable moments in a person's life - some of which involve difficult decisions and many choices involve regret. Why would a woman choose to terminate a pregnancy? Do we imagine that women (generally) do not take this to be a morally charged decision? For some, the moral clarity about abortion as a wrong action will preclude them from making that choice. Other women discover...

What is it about certain situations that makes anger, hate or rage morally justified (beyond merely being excusable)?

Anger is normal, but it is important to take responsibility for the effects of one's anger. Anger or rage can never justify actions that inflict harm on others. Why? Well, because we are not terribly aware of what triggers such destructive power, but often the real target is not the person or object we are responding to. Take, for example, road rage. Some persons blast their horns and flip persons off - all out of anger that is often misdirected. That's an easy case, but think how anger at a spouse - that may be morally justified - often gets directed at the family dog, or worse, the children. There is little universality about anger/rage as a human feeling - and yet what triggers you may not trigger me. This suggests to me that our moral outrage tells us more about ourselves than about the world and objective moral evils in it. I am willing to grant exceptions such as the holocaust, but the need to invoke Nazi's is always a sign of a weak argument. Professor Leaman is correct of course:...

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...

I am impressed that you were willing to ask the question in this forum - I don't know how many 17 year old readers we have here, but I suspect you are in a minority. This demonstrates your willingness to look for answers in unexpected places, so good for you! I am afraid, however, I agree with Prof. Stairs and want to urge caution before embarking on such a journey, which might sound to your ears so conventional and unenlightened it may be hard to hear. While you are right that it is still possible to find a path less traveled and do well in life, it seems to be increasingly rare. There are many social/economic reasons for this and over which you have little control. While the human spirit of adventure and the lure of a life lived well and fully will never die, the historical moment in which you find yourself is remarkably different than it was for your predecessors. For example, my father did very well with only one year of post high-school education, and he earned far more than I will with my...

What does "fuc*ing" mean and why is it a bad word? Does fuc*ing mean sex where there is a desire to express physical control or dominance over a woman? Is that a bad thing? Is it a normal aspect of what is sometimes thought as its opposite, "lovemaking"? If it is normal does that mean that it is not a bad thing? (I use an asterisk because I do not know if this site has a word filter.)

I agree with my colleague, N.S., and would like to add that his last line is worth reading the whole post! Another way to think about this term comes from personal experience - in which meaning and gender analysis had no part. A number of years ago I was walking down a hallway in a classroom building and suddenly remembered that I neglected a Big Commitment...and the word "F**K!!" emerged loudly from my professorial mouth. Horrified, I looked around to apologize to any tender ears but I was spared because fortunately no one overheard me. But the ease with which it blurted out without my conscious permission gave me pause. It was, at the very least, unbecoming behavior. I vowed to amend my ways; I wanted to become more becoming in my speech. With practice I have developed some verbal temperance. As a virtue, this temperance has led to at least two good things: first if, as Aristotle suggests, we are what we do, using obscenities is simply a nasty habit and we become, well, nasty, and who...

According to Wikipedia, which I grant isn't always a reliable source, William James believed that truth is what is useful. To me that just sounds stupid. Certainly truth is not just whatever is useful. Should I be so dismissive or is there more to his theory of truth to be appreciated?

Oh, where to begin! Yes, James said this; no, it is not the case that James was stupid and it would be a travesty to dismiss James! But Lordy, have you stepped into a huge question- it is no wonder the Wiki-machine makes it sound so simplistic. Scholars of James, Peirce, and Royce (to name a few) make their livelihoods debating this particular question and I think it safe to say that you will not find consensus among them. Heck, at a table of four James scholars, there will be at least 5 opinions! [A great James scholar I know answers any question about James' thought with the caveat "Well, it's very complicated."] As a reader of classic American philosophy, with a deep regard for James, I confess I am at a loss to reply in simple terms - and will delight in the responses of others who go where I fear to tread. I am most familiar with Royce and therefore I offer this humble suggestion: if you wish to get a very quick course in James, you might start with his Lowell Lectures of 1907...

There seems to be a common intuition that parts of a system can't understand the system they are in without stepping outside of it. This is mostly applied to ideological and political issues ("Ideology is everywhere, so you can't step outside it and thus can never fully understand it"), but I've seen it applied to artificial intelligence as well ("A computer program can't fully understand itself" is treated as self-evident by some). Is there something to this intuition, or is it just rhetoric? I can't think of any obviously necessary reason why a part of a system shouldn't be able to perceive or understand the system as a whole.

I reply here knowing full-well I am out of my depth - I know there will be others who will probe this question far more adequately than I. But this disclaimer is itself a type of question imbedded within your query: what is "the whole" of any system? As a philosopher I know the limits of my knowledge by coming up against them time and again; as much as I love Hegel, there is no system of consciousness about which consummate knowing is possible. So let me suggest that, in the abstract, as you have framed it, I do not find there to be a compelling answer without greater specificity of what system one wishes to analyze. Indeed, the word "understand" or literally, "to stand under" suggests a relation other than from within. One can make too much of the insider/outsider standpoint as necessary for critiques aimed at the whole, but there seems to be a compelling case for some epistemic advantage from which "the whole" appears more clearly. Examples abound, such as how African Americans can shed light on...

what exactly is existential nihilism? I have found different sources and from my understanding it is the belief that you can't create any meaning. The meaning an individual creates, even though they may change their mind and create a new meaning, and the meaning from a transcended source. An Example is from god. Is this correct summary of existential nihilism? I understand how someone reaches the conclusion that meaning is created by the self and not from some higher authority but I can't seem to understand why an individual could not give themselves meaning. Could you explain this to me very very simply? Also how would someone refute existential nihilism using atheism and not a religious answer? Does existentialism allow for you to believe in a determined universe? What I mean is a universe where science can predict everything. Thanks for your help I am not advanced in philosophy so I need an easy to understand answer

It may disappoint you but I do not have an answer for you - existential nihilism sounds dangerous to the heart and mind, so I guess I've avoided it. Let me pose a question: if you or I cannot point to the locus of meaning or value does it imply non-existence? To a certain extent, all value claims are faith claims of a sort: even the market "value" of crude oil is based on faith in unseen and unforeseeable forces. We feel its effects and some of us place a great deal of stock in the reality of this force, but in what sense is it real? Perhaps meaning-making is both discovered and created. To be concrete, the value of "love" is not verifiable or objective in a material sense. And yet, I do not accept that this is my creation alone, nor is it pure discovery of an objective meaningful reality. Perhaps there is a meeting place of subjective and objective "reals" that we bump into that are irreducible to categories of existence or non-existence. I find Charles S. Pierce to be helpful here,...

Is it considered possible to be consciously aware of an object or thought without experiencing feelings, or is "feelings" just another word for conscious awareness?. If this question can't be dismissed, which philosophers have explored it?

I have no expertise on zombies or blindsight, but there is a wondrous episode on RadioLab.org in their archives entitled "Words." It raises more questions than answers, but that is what we philosophers do, is it not? bjm

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