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Hi...I'd like to begin reading Hume. Should I begin with the Treatise or the Enquiry?

Well, there are two Enquiries, corresponding to the first and the third books of the Treatise. And I'm sure everyone will have her own strategy for reading Hume. My own opinion is that you can't really appreciate the Enquiries until you see how much is behind them; they're too smooth and polished. So I would recommend starting with the Treatise, but not reading it straight through from beginning to end, and not getting too bogged down in the minutiae. Very roughly, I would recommend reading Book 1 of the Treatise relatively quickly to get an overview of the argument, without attempting to be too precise about it. Then I would skip to Book 3 and do the same, though this one is a bit harder to grasp without attending to the details. It is fashionable these days to claim that the long-neglected Book 2 is just as important etc. as Books 1 and 3, but as a way in to Hume I think you'll find Books 1 and/or 3 more accessible. Also, depending on which you are more interested in (Book 1 if you're more into...

What philosophical works have been dedicated to the topic of rational decision making, the adoption of values, or how people choose their purposes in life?

A slim, accessible book on part of this question (and only part!) is Decision Theory and Rationality by José Luis Bermúdez (Oxford University Press 2009). It requires little or no technical knowledge of decision theory, and shows how decision theory can't possibly be an exhaustive account or explication of rationality. Bermúdez makes a good case, in simplest terms, that rationality plays at least three key roles: the guidance of action (i.e. answering the question what counts as a rational solution to a decision problem), normative judgement (answering the question whether a decision problem was set up in a way that reflected the situation it is addressing), and explanation (answering the question how rational actors behave and why). He argues that no form of decision theory (there are lots, and he only explores a few of the more common ones) can perform all three of these roles, yet that if rationality has one of these three roles or dimensions, it has to have all three of them. So decision...

Sociology undergraduate here, who is struggling to "see the wood for the trees", as the idiom goes. My two brief questions are the following: Is there anything unique within sociological theory, or is it just a spin-off of philosophy that lacks training on how to think? Additionally, is it the case that a philosophy degree can open doors into other fields, but sociology is more limiting to academic mobility?

This will be a very subjective response; others who have some acquaintance with the two fields will answer differently. Also I'm pretty out of date on sociology. One thing that has not changed much there, though, as far as I'm aware, is that like many social sciences, it is deeply split between two subfields, which differ so much from each other that they might as well be separate fields. On the one side, there is mathematical and quantitative sociology, which operates largely with rational-choice models, treated quasi-formally, and on the other side there is qualitative sociology, which is no less empirical, but relies more on participant observation and what Clifford Geertz called "thick description." I think the answers to your questions depend to some extent on which of these two you are primarily interested in. Or you might, as a third option, be one of those hopeless idealists like James Coleman, who thought the two mutually alienated sides belonged inseparably together and that the example...

I am wondering if it is worth my time continuing to read philosophy. I have read quite widely in the hope of "broadening my mind", but lately I have noticed that while reading new material, I seize with pleasure on the points that confirm what I already believe--I am a practicing Roman Catholic--and sideline those I disagree with. I assume it would be the same, if I were a Marxist, Buddhist, agnostic, or nihilist, reading principally in search of what confirms my beliefs. I can see the point of reading philosophy, if you don't already have beliefs or opinions or simply need to produce an academic essay, but why bother when you know what you know? Have you had a different experience?

If you want to participate in the philosophy game, even passively, you have to pretend you have an open mind. Most philosophers don't, of course, but they do their best to pretend. And I have to say that the value system of the community (even among academics!) does seem to apportion the highest degree of respect and admiration to those who give the best appearance of having an open mind. From a philosophical point of view, your complacent attitude toward your own observations about yourself ("lately I have noticed" etc. -- without the slightest twinge of any critical impulse toward yourself) puts you outside the pale. If you really think it's just too much trouble to change that comfortable attitude, you should give up any interest in philosophy. It is not worth your time, or anyone else's. But before you settle into your comfortable ignorance, you should perhaps review, once again -- with care and attention, though -- the earliest Socratic dialogues, including especially the Apology of...

Irrational numbers and infinity have made me come up with this problem: pi, for example, is an irrational number, which means that it doesn't terminate or repeat. Every new digit found in pi increases the value of the number, no matter the value of the digit (for example, 3.141 is larger than 3.14, and 3.1415 is larger than 3.141). If pi never ends, then that means that there is an infinite amount of digits that will increase the value of pi by a tiny fraction. Therefore, pi should be infinitely large. So, pi = infinity. But there is a problem: pi is between 3.13 < x

This is actually a very good question to illustrate how everyday intuitions can lead you astray in thinking about philosophical problems -- or about any problems, really, that require finer and more sophisticated distinctions than needed in typical situations of everyday life. Everyday intuitions, embedded in the categories of our inherited natural languages, are insensitive to certain fine distinctions made in the more finely-tuned artificial languages we've invented. From an everyday point of view, there is no reason to think that your argument about pi being infinitely large is flawed at all. But in mathematics, we've had to deal with the problem that that argument works in some cases and not in other cases -- some infinite series "converge," as mathematicians say, while others "diverge." The sum of all the reciprocals of the natural numbers (i.e. one half plus one third plus one fourth plus one fifth, and so on) diverges, i.e. it's infinite, as in your intuition. But the sum of all the...

Are all political systems equal, meaning they bring out the goods that we all want in our society, when ideally practiced, or some would necessarily come out better than others just by the fact of their nature, arrangement and constitution? For instance, I once held the belief that communism is an equally good way of a government as democracy if it is ideally practiced, but I now doubt this point of view. Do I have good reasons to doubt it?

You haven't told us your reasons for doubting it, so that's hard to answer. But neither "communism" nor "democracy" is a sufficiently well-defined concept to be of any use for the important question you want to raise. First, it's essential to distinguish between the historical governments that described themselves (or were described by others) as "communist" (or whatever) and what "communism" might have meant before or after that as an aspiration or a political or social ideal, or even just as a description. These are entirely different things and often have no relation to each other at all. Second, there is the question about which features of a given society "matter" in the sense that they actually characterize how the society "works," i.e. that they influence other parameters in a society and determine what happens in it, how people are treated, how rich they are, etc. Insofar as we know anything about this at all, such outcomes generally have little to do with the extremely crude terms generally...

Both idealism and materialism have convincing arguments for me, yet within each argument are refutations of the other. How can I reconcile which to believe when they both seem equally as likely? I've thought that perhaps idealism explains our own subjective worlds, and materialism explains the objective external world, but can both be true when they contain refutations of the other?

Yuval Avnur's response to this question is of the kind that is currently most popular among philosophers; it takes the "existence" question (or, as philosophers like to say, the "ontological" question) seriously, at face value. There is another approach, though, proposed by logical empiricists such as Rudolf Carnap, in which "existence" questions are disqualified as incoherent, since there is no logically or scientifically respectable way of answering them. In this view (best exemplified perhaps in Carnap's famous paper "Empiricism, Semantics, and Ontology"), questions about existence are best understood as practical questions about choosing a language: should we use an idealistic or materialistic language for science, or to talk about moral or political problems, or for some other purpose? (The answer might vary by purpose.) Within the Vienna Circle of logical empiricists (in the 1920s and 30s) there was some controversy about this. Otto Neurath, who was a Marxist, maintained that the...

Quine has put forward several arguments against the Analytical/Synthetic Distinction in the paper named "Two dogmas of empiricism" (I have not read the paper myself), one of arguments being that there is no non-circular definition of Analytic. while I argue with Quine on that, I do not find that to be a problem since I don't have any reason to think that Circular Definitions to be a problem. since Definitions are ultimately circular (Since the definition of words are relies on the use of other words), meaning that you have to reject the use of language all together (which is absurd since you have use language to come to that conclusion). Why are circular definitions bad definitions?

You should certainly read "Two Dogmas of Empiricism" -- it's one of the best-known papers in analytic philosophy and can be said to have set a large part of the agenda for Anglo-American philosophy since its publication in 1951. Better to read the paper itself, anyway, than to read things things about it, as you evidently have. Circularity doesn't itself play that much of a role in Quine's paper. His attack on the analytic-synthetic distinction is waged on two broad fronts (to oversimplify a bit), a logical one and a linguistic one. The logical one is largely implicit in "Two Dogmas" but gets more attention in some later writings of Quine's. It derives from Gödel's first incompleteness theorem, which showed that there can be (under certain conditions) true sentences in an axiomatically defined language not provable from its axioms (i.e. not "analytic" as that is understood by e.g. Frege). So if you want a distinction between sentences that are simply an artifact of the language you've chosen and...

Can we really define Philosophy?

Think about it. Nearly all controversies with an intellectual component are at least partly controversies about what concepts to use. The deepest controversies in nearly all disciplines aren't the substantive ones, where people disagree about some particular theory or fact, they are the conceptual ones in which people disagree about how to talk about the substantive stuff, what concepts to use. Philosophy has generally been a clearing house for all these conceptual controversies from all the other disciplines, and from life in general (this isn't a definition, it's a stab at an empirical generalization, though admittedly a somewhat idealized one, in which I leave out a lot of stuff others might like to include within "philosophy"). Philosophical responses to these controversies have been all over the map. Sometimes philosophers just pick up those same controversies and carry on just as the physicists or lawyers or whoever might have done, in the same terms as the physicists or lawyers. Other times...

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