When we come to use the word "intelligence" simply to refer to a set of capacities, and when it becomes natural to treat non-biological machines and biological machines indifferently when assessing those capacities. See this week's NEW YORKER for a fascinating article on how that is playing out in the domain of chess. (Tom Mueller, "Your Move: Creating a Better Chess Player, NEW YORKER Dec 12, 2005, pp 62-69)
Is the value of democracy purely instrumental?
To put it another way: if 'the republic' truly worked, would it be better than the misfiring democracies that we see in the world?
This is a hard one. If you think, as did Kant, for instance (see his fine essay, "What is Called 'Enlightenment'" or Mill (read "On LIberty") that there is a special non-instrumental value in being a free participant in a public sphere where ideas and views can enter into dialogue with one another, and that this opportunity is essential to being a flourishing person, not just a means to increasing GDP, then the value of democracy is non-instrumental. I, for one, believe this.
Do we think in our native language? Can we speak German but think French? My French friend insists that we cannot as his native language is French yet when he speaks English he thinks in English and vice-versa.
There are actually three questions (at least) here: Do we think in a natural language? Is there a special role that our native language plays in our thought? Can more than one language play that role for a person? The first question is the basis of a major controversy in the foundations of cognitive science. Some argue that at the most fundamental level, all thought is conducted in an innate "language of thought" that the brain is wired to use. On this view, when you experience yourself thinking in French, the French is reprsensted in the language of thought, and the real thinking is going on in the LOT, not in the French. As I say, this view is controversial. Some critics of this view think that even though there is a level of thought more fundamental than that of which one is aware when one introspects and finds thoughts in one's natural language, that that thought is not in any language at all, but rather a form of cognition that cannot be expressed linguistically. Others argue that...
Many coutries of the world are populated by the descendents of aggressive invaders, but we do not hold these people responsible for the atrocities their descendents committed. For example, most reasonable people would not blame modern Americans for the genocide of the Native Americans. How many generations does this cleansing process take? Are a second generation of settlers whose parents took their homeland through violence already blameless?
It is probably useful to distinguish blame from responsibility. One may not be to blame for a set of actions taken by one's ancestors, but if one benefits from them, and another is harmed by them, one might still morally owe reparations. For example, suppose that my parents stole all of your parents' wealth, and left it to me, leaving you destitute. It wasn't my fault, and the harm wasn't done DIRECTLY to you, but there is still a strong case to be made that I am in possession of stolen goods that rightly belong to you, and that I owe you reparations. Now, the more distant the harms are from current circumstances, the harder it gets to assign particular benefits and injuries, and to sort out specific sequellae of ancient wrongs. But the more immediate cases, or those where, despite the passage of time the benefits and burdens remain clearly traceable, might well demand reparation, even if they don't demand guilt.
My understanding is that Buddhists believe that the self does not really exist, but that reincarnation does. If the self does not exist, what is it that Buddhists believe is reincarnated?
Excellent question. The first thing to say is that there are many schools of thought within the world of Buddhist philosophy, and there are divergences of views within Buddhism on this question. I will give you two answers, each of which is adopted by a significant number of Buddhist philosophers. The second thing to say is that in the context of Buddhism, as opposed to other "orthodox" or "Hindu" schools of philosphy originating in India, it is better to talk of "rebirth" than "reiincarnation," since, as you point out, there is nothing that gets placed into another body. Now, when Buddhist philosophers say that there is no self, they mean that there is no single, continuing substance or subject of experience that remains the same throughout one's life, like a soul, or as Indian philosphical schools call it, an "atman." Instead, Buddhist philosophers argue, a person is consituted by, or posited as an entity based upon, a set of causal processes involving a physical body, sensations, perceptions,...
But beware: Many introductions written in the West (e.g. Russell's, recommended by Prof George) will introduce you only to Western philosophy, and there is a lot of very good philosophy pursued in many non-Western traditions. I recommend Ben-Ami Scharfstein's excellent introduction to world philosophy, or Robert Solomon's and Kathleen Higgins' short introduction to world philosophy for a more global approach.
Is there a philosophical view that living the good life is an artistic endeavor? If so, what philosophers are known for this sort of view?
Yes, Nietzsche. For a good discussion, see Nehamas' book, Nietzsche:Life as Literature . Laotze is often read this way, too. Read the Daodeching and see what you think.
According to Descartes' demon hypothesis, would it be possible for the demon to deceive us about the rules of logical inference e.g. could my belief in the law of non-contradiction be caused by the demon?
Gosh, I disagree. Descartes seems to argue that it is God who makes the eternal truths eternal, by fashioining our minds so that we cannot doubt them.
The question I have arises from a number of phenomena I have noticed of late. One is that a number of reasonably respected philosophers have publicly made asses of themselves by demonstrating serious ignorance of the empirical data available in the recent evolution/ID 'controvercy'; a second is that there have been a lot of suggestions that unsupported pseudo-scientific hypotheses (such as 'irreducible complexity') should be assigned to the philosophy classroom (as a kind of dumping-ground for ill-thought-out ideas); and the third is that a lot of the most promising philiosophy seems to be coming from 'thinking scientists' (in neuroscience, physics, and so on) rather than from professional thinkers.
So, is there a crisis in philosophy? Science - at least in principle - is grounded in the systematic study of verifiable phenomena; a scientist whose knowledge outside of science is weak and who has little philosophy may not be satisfying as a person but as a scientist can still produce work with real meaning...
Good question, and one that is hotly debated, both explicity, and implicitly in the form a variety of forms of philosphical praxis, within the profession. I am a firm believer that the best philosophy is interdisciplinary philosophy, and where philosophy works on the borders of the sciences, collaboration with scientists is valuable as well as actual empirical research. My own work in the philosophy of mind involves conducting experiments, as does that of Paul Churchland,Patricia Churchland, Dan Llyod and Shaun Nichols among many others. Huw Price is a physicist as well as a philosopher, as is David Albert. Etc... I think that this is future of that part of the field that is naturally in dialogue with science. We can't just make up how the mind works, or the nature of time, etc...
Can you give any instances of any philosophical problems that have been 'nailed' so to speak by philosophy - that is, solved?
Yes. The question of whether the argument from design can prove the existence of the Christian, or any other, deity. That problem was nailed by Hume, and has been re-nailed in any number of recent articles. It can't. That also shows that the fact that philosophers have nailed a problem does not convince everyone!