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First of all, I'd like to express my personal thanks for having this resource online. I'm having difficulty understanding the distinction between metaphysical possibility and logical possibility. It is said that Kripke's example, "Water is H2O" is an example of a metaphysically necessary truth, but not a logically necessary one. However, to me it seems that the extension of the terms "water" and "H2O" is the same, so the meaning of the statement is of the form A is A. (Isn't it with the meaning of a statement that logic is concerned, and not whichever semantically equivalent terms are used?) Isn't the statement that A is A logically necessary? A world where A is not A seems to be a violation of the law of identity. I guess it's likely that I am wrong. What are my mistakes? Thanks again.

Interesting question! First, I should note that some philosophers object to the claim that the ordinary term "water" refers to the chemical kind H2O. See here and here . Just for simplicity, my answer will ignore their objections. Second, a point about form. Using italics for propositions, I think we should replace the proposition Water is H2O with the universally quantified proposition Whatever is water is H2O , because, as I see it, the first proposition is false in all those possible worlds in which water doesn't exist, whereas the second proposition is (vacuously) true even in such worlds. Likewise, as I see it, the proposition Pegasus is Pegasus is contingently false (there being, as a matter of contingent fact, no such thing as Pegasus), whereas Whatever is Pegasus is Pegasus is necessarily true. So, on this view, the law of identity has the form "Whatever is A is A." I'd say that the important difference between Whatever is water is H2O and Whatever is A is A isn't...

I'm particularly concerned with this question and response: I'm not necessarily interested in the theological ramifications, but in terms of Richard Dawkins' book The Selfish Gene and Lawrence Krauss's cosmology in The Universe from Nothing, it feels like these are very real issues that have not been addressed by philosophers. Is there serious philosophy that has kept up to date on science? Or are these thinkers simply interested in claiming that Lawrence Krauss' "nothing" is different than the philosophical conception of nothing? Are there philosophers at all that deal with science post-Newton?

Speaking for my own response to Question 4636: I offered two quotations of Krauss from his online interview with Sam Harris (in which Harris gave Krauss ample space to clarify his positions) in order to show how advanced training in science doesn't guarantee even minimal competence in philosophy. All three clauses in the first quotation are stunningly false: First, modern science hasn't "changed completely our conception of the very words 'something' and 'nothing'"; arguably, science couldn't completely change our conception of those ordinary-language words. Krauss seems to think that science has somehow made the word 'something' synonymous with 'something material' and 'nothing' synonymous with 'nothing material', but if that were so then those two-word phrases would be pleonastic (i.e., redundant), which clearly they're not. The set {2} contains nothing material, but it contains something; it's not the empty set. Second, the statement "Empirical discoveries continue to tell us that the...

Is there any general concern among academic philosophers that Richard Dawkins' amateurish treatment of philosophy in 'The God Delusion' might be giving the false impression to the general public that complex debates in the philosophy of religion can be knocked down in a few pages of popular writing? Surely this is highly misleading, and obscures deep debates in academic philosophy.

Or even after a difficult day doing theoretical cosmology, to judge from what physicist Lawrence Krauss says about his new book, A Universe from Nothing , in an online interview with Sam Harris . Choice quotations: "Modern science...has changed completely our conception of the very words 'something' and 'nothing'. Empirical discoveries continue to tell us that the Universe is the way it is, whether we like it or not, and 'something' and 'nothing' are physical concepts and therefore are properly the domain of science, not theology or philosophy." "[D]o we have any physical reason to believe that such nothing was ever the case? Absolutely, because we are talking about our universe, and that doesn’t preclude our universe arising from precisely nothing , embedded in a perhaps infinite space , or infinite collection of spaces, or spaces-to-be" (my italics). Those assertions are so confused it's hard to know where to begin. Even fellow physicists have lambasted Krauss for talking...

I'm struggling to reconcile David Hume's critiques of science and religion. On the one hand, he suggests that our application of cause/effect to natural phenomena is problematic since it ammounts to simply equating the present with the past. On the other hand, he warns us against believing in second-hand accounts of miracles since they are interruptions of natural law. Isn't our use of causal reasoning the way we determine the characteristics of natural law? Is this an inconsistency in his argument and, if so, does he address it anywhere?

If I may complicate things a bit: I don't question the scholarly accuracy of Prof. Baxter's reply on behalf of Hume, but I'd point out that he attributes to Hume a handful of inductive claims, for example: "We instinctively make and believe...predictions, anyway. We can't help it"; "People who rely on experience in this way tend to be happier and longer-lived than people who rely on other ways of coming to belief." Those are claims about human tendencies: not simply historical reports about how things have gone but inductive generalizations about how things (will) go under normal circumstances. If they were merely historical reports, we'd expect them to use the past tense rather than the present tense ("make," "believe," "rely," "tend"). Since they're inductive claims, by Hume's own lights we have no good reason to believe them. So it would seem, on this reconstruction of it, that Hume's argument for the practical rationality of our relying on induction contains premises he thinks we have no...
Sorry to be a pest, but I still don't see how Hume escapes the problem. The claim that appeals to induction have natural force is itself an inductive claim: not a historical report of the force such appeals have had but a generalization about the force they continue to exert even on people the claimant has never met. So Hume seems to rely on the existence of a force when, by his own lights, he has no justification (not just ultimate but any justification) for believing that it exists. It looks as if Hume has to soften his critique of the justification of inductive beliefs or else stop arguing for the practical rationality of relying on induction.

Hi. My question regards Martin Heidegger and his work and philosophical project. To whom would you recommend reading Heidegger's texts? To whom would you recommend his philosophy? I was once told by a philosophy professor of mine that he was "The greatest thinker of the last century" and, consequently, when faced with one of his texts, I expected something grand. Yet, 'grand' is not exactly the word I'd use to describe my experience with it. Since then, I have read some other stuff by him and I can say that my opinion about his work has not really changed from that of the first time I encountered: a rather obfuscated writer with many pretensions; not a true thinker. On the other hand, the fact of seeing some personalities praising his work, without actually elaborating on their claims, makes the case rather shady. Is Heidegger being praised for his actual efforts as a thinker? Or is it all the buzz a mere tool to promote a certain view of things which, otherwise, would not find itself a place...

I share your skepticism about Heidegger and his work. But, to give him a fair shake, I'd recommend reading the long and detailed SEP entry on him, available at this link . It appeared in the SEP in 2011, which is surprisingly late given Heidegger's fame and influence. (By comparison, Derrida's entry appeared in 2006, Rorty's in 2001.) Anyway, the job of the entry-writer is not only to explicate the philosopher's major ideas but also to make a case for the interest and importance of those ideas. If, after reading the entry, you're not satisfied by the explication and persuaded that the ideas are interesting and important, then I'd recommend moving on to something else in philosophy. There's plenty of good stuff to be found elsewhere.

I have heard Christian apologists say that the concept of the fundamental equality of human kind originates in Genesis 1:27 and that it was wholly alien to ancient Greek thought. Can anyone think of anything in ancient Greek texts that would undermine the apologists' argument?

I can't help you with the Greek texts. But I'd encourage you to indulge in the heresy of questioning 'the fundamental equality of human kind'. What does it mean? That every member of Homo sapiens inherently possesses the same worth, the same dignity, the same value, or the same natural rights simply in virtue of belonging our species? I don't think that claim stands up to scrutiny. Species membership, as such, can't have moral significance. Nor does the claim look more plausible if we assume that God made every member of our species 'in his own image'.

I am really fascinated with Hume's discovery that an "ought" cannot be derived from an "is." However, I've also read that the argument of Hume is a failure. My question then is, what can be the most reasonable response to this accusation of Hume? Is he right or wrong on the matter?

I prefer to think of it as Hume's claim rather than Hume's discovery, since "discovery" implies the truth of what's discovered, and I think Hume was wrong, at least on what seems to me the most natural interpretation of what he says in the Treatise of Human Nature . But the interpretation is part of the problem; scholars disagree on what Hume meant. There's a magazine article on this topic, written by one of Hume's defenders, at this link . There's also a recent collection of essays, Hume on Is and Ought (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), that goes into minute detail on the interpretation and evaluation of Hume's claim.

I'm having trouble appreciating Kant's moral philosophy. According to him an action is bad if we can't universalize it as a maxim of human behavior. Under that way of thinking being gay is bad because if everyone was gay nobody would have any babies and that means you are willing the non-existence of the human race which would be a contradiction if you want to exist. So I guess bisexuality is okay but being a monk isn't. The reasoning seems absolutely bonkers if you are gay whether from choice or from nature there is no reason to surmise that you think everyone has to be gay. If Kants moral philosophy is so lame I must admit that it prejudices me against his whole philosophical system. Is there any reason why I should give Kant's ethics more credit?

The nice thing about the Kantian approach is that it does not allow for exceptions in just my case. Of course, this result stems from the fact that the Kantian approach doesn't allow for exceptions in any case, which many philosophers regard as a reductio of the approach. For example, Kant famously prohibits lying to a murderer even to protect an innocent potential victim. Most people have strong intuitions to the contrary: lying is presumptively or defeasibly wrong, we say. A false theory can imply true consequences; it's the false consequences that are its undoing.