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When using an example to try and support some point you are trying to make, is it better to use a common example that your audience is familiar with, or an exotic thought experiment?

The choice of an example in support of a philosophical position, or the choice of a counterexample to criticize a philosophical position, depends on the topic under investigation. If we were wondering whether two individuals could be physically identical but mentally different, for example, we might need to resort to the exotic twin earth examples found in the literature in the philosophy of mind. It is a good policy to avoid gratuitous exoticism, however, and instead use examples that involve familiar circumstances and contexts when possible. The reason for this is that in philosophical discussions the aim is to find as much common ground as possible. If examples used to ground a position are themselves controversial, then it will be more difficult to advance an argument based on them than if more familiar, accepted examples are invoked.

I have always thought that with the primary colors and black and white, you can create any color that we see. This may sound dumb, but then how do you make neon colors? What else can you add other than the previously mentioned colors (or lack of)?

Neon red is simply red light emittedfrom an enclosed clear transparent vacuum tube containing the element neon, towhich an electrical current is applied. Neon actually emits a red-orange color.Other colors can be obtained by introducing other gases in the enclosure andalso by changing the color of the tube. What you may be asking about is thedistinctive glow emitted from a neon tube. The red of a neon tubeappears different from the red of a painted surface, for example. Differentmaterials emit or reflect red light in different ways, and our visual system issensitive to many of those differences.

When wondering whether a phenomenon A causes a phenomenon B, people often ask whether phenomenon A is necessary and sufficient to produce the phenomenon B. That got me thinking whether a phenomenon A can ever be proven to be a necessary condition for phenomenon B. According to modal logic, a proposition "p" is necessary if, and only if, not "p" is not possible. So, if we can demonstrate that in the absence of A, B is not possible, we would be demonstrating that A is necessary for the occurrence of B. My question is: Can it ever be proven that something is not possible? How?

You’ve stumbled on one of the most important andenduring topics in philosophy, as well as onto the central question: What isthe nature of the necessity in causal relationships? Philosophers agree that untilthe work of David Hume, many philosophers took held that the necessity of aneffect, given its cause, is logical necessity. If the cause is present, then itis logically impossible that its effect must follow. If I let my keys drop froma height of one foot, then the keys must fall. But you rightly note, as Hume did, that the necessity claim means thatit’s logically impossible for the keys not to drop, and you well ask: How do we determine logical impossibility? Hume argued that the testfor logical impossibility is inconceivability: Can we conceive or imagine thekeys not dropping? Sure – we can imagine that the keys remain suspended, or that they “fly” left, right, or up. So it is possible that the effect will not follow, and whatever necessity there is whena cause brings about its effect, it...

How do you think technology will affect the teaching and practice of philosophy? During my undergraduate degree (in philosophy), I took notes in numerous classes on a laptop and could download papers from a variety of journals as PDF. I have seen numerous academic perspectives regarding technology and learning - from Bert Dreyfus' idea that the podcast of his lectures at Berkeley on philosophy and literature reduced class attendance, to law schools having "laptops off" sessions to science professors encouraging (or even requiring) graduate students to blog about their lab work. I even saw a theory that ethical theories are implicitly tied to the technology of their time - the printing press linking with Kant, utilitarianism, Mill-style liberalism, the mass media of television, radio and newspapers doing the same for Rawls and Nozick. And, of course, many philosophy professors like Brian Leiter now have blogs and some have podcasts too. At technical conferences, we use technology to provide things like ...

Computers have found their way into philosophy over the lasttwenty years or so, though philosophers disagree about the significance of thisfact for philosophy itself. Many philosophers see technology merely as an aidto productivity. There probably aren’t many professional philosophers who stilluse typewriters; most use computers for writing, and e-mail and the web for scholarlycommunication. The use of “Web 2.0” tools, such as blogs, wikis, and the likehave been adopted by still a minority of philosophers, and there remains a fairdegree of skepticism about the usefulness of such tools for research purposes.The availability of online access to many journals is a great help, thoughaccess and availability varies widely by institution, and by journal. There areonly a handful of “online only” journals. No established hard-copy journal thatI know of has gone exclusively online, though most have made back issuesavailable electronically, often through jstor.org or other aggregators. Use ofthe web by...

First, thanks for this great website. I was talking to a friend about Descartes and Cogito and it revived my curiosity in the subject. Most of us would agree that there is an objective world out there. Is there a way to prove it? How can I prove to my self that I am not the only thing that exists? I thought perhaps because there is an order in the things around me, in which I have no will. I can not change the laws that the things around me obey, wether they are objective or part of my imagination. Does this force me to admit then that the things I perceive are objective? I could definitely use some help. I would like to read more in the subject as well so if somebody could give me ideas and refer me to some books, it would be great. Thanks in advance. Alejandro

The fact thatyou're talking about Descartes and the cogito witha friend is an excellent start. It is certainly a main part of theproject of Descartes' Meditations on First Philosophy to prove that one can have knowledge of a world which extends beyondone's awareness of oneself as a thinking thing. I would recommend acareful reading of that work, with particular attention to the thirdMeditation, where Descartes explicitly considers and rejects thesuggestion you've hinted at, namely that the existence of a worldoutside oneself follows from the fact that the world seems to imposeitself on us, often against our will. Descartes rejects this argumentbecause it is possible that such ideas could still be invented by us,and only appear to issue from outside us. This point is made inpreparation for the proof of God's existence in Meditation 3, whereDescartes argues that when one reflects on the content of one's mind,only our possession of the idea of God requires that there...

I used to think that we needed language to think but then babies and animals can think and they don't have a language. I then came to the conclusion that they may not have a verbal language like ours but they use their other senses to have a language and that's why they can think. So would it be possible for a person who had none of the five senses to think? And if we use our senses to think, do plants think? Plants have senses so can they can think to some extent?

You raise a number of controversial questions about therelationship of language and thought and the possession of thought bynon-adult humans and non-humans. You suggest that babies and animalscan think. Do you think babies at any age can think, or just babieswho have reached a certain level of cognitive maturity? Do you thinkall animals can think, or just some? Do oysters think? It appearsthat you attribute thinking to any organism that can sense. But mostphilosophers think that there is a distinction to be made betweensensation and thought. An organism may be able to feel pain, forexample, when it has certain unfortunate interactions with itsenvironment. But it doesn't follow that that such an organism isthinking about it'senvironment. The sensation isn't a thought or a representation of theenvironment, but just a feeling caused by the environmental stimulus. This is a difficultphilosophical distinction, one which has exercised many a greatphilosopher, and there's good...

Why are philosophers interested in the topic of death?

I recommend taking a look at Fred Feldman's book Confrontations with the Reaper: A Philosophical Study of the Nature and Value of Death (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992). It covers many of the issues mentioned by Mitch Green. But make sure you read the Preface, where Feldman explains the circumstances that motivated him to take up the issue.

Living things have perception. When a sensory cell is disturbed, a chain reaction is caused which sends the sensory data to the brain where, through very physical means, it is analyzed and thoughts and emotions are created. If this is all done by physical means, by the complex physical reaction which is the nervous system, do seemingly non-organic things such as my computer have perceptions as I do?

If your question is whether “yourcomputer,” which I take to be an ordinary personal computer, has perceptions asyou do, then the answer is clearly “no.” Your computer has input devices suchas a keyboard, and possibly a scanner, a video camera, and a microphone. Such input devices transduceranalog physical processes into discrete digital symbols, and those symbols arestored in various locations in the computer and then can be manipulated inconcert with computer programs and further input. Your brain also takes inputfrom external physical stimuli such as light, sound waves, etc. It alsotransduces those signals into other forms, typically chemical and thenelectrical signals. Those electrical signals – action potentials, are then propagatedto other locations in the central nervous system. So both the brain and yourcomputer transducer signals and do things with them. One could call bothprocesses “perception”, though the actual mechanisms in your pc and your brain arefunctionally different, and it is a bit...

Let's say I like, but don't need, a piece of software. If, after shopping around, I find the lowest price is way, way beyond what I'm willing to pay for it and so I decide not to buy it. Then, I find an opportunity to download it from the internet for free. If I download it and use the software I realise I'll be breaking the law. But, from a moral perspective, how should I be judged? I haven't really deprived the software developer as I wouldn't consider buying at the current price. Nor has the developer lost any material possessions. Nor have I given money to any criminals. Plus, if I commit to buy the software should it ever become what I consider to be "affordable" they won't lose any future income either. Again, how would you judge this behavior from a moral perspective?

Let’s begin by asking where the copy of the software on the Internet came from. Presumably someone purchased a licensed copy. Typically, commercial software licenses limit further reproduction and distribution. So the original purchaser agreed to the conditions of the license, and consummated that agreement when installing the software. More directly: The purchaser promised not to further distribute it. So you’ve come across this software on the Internet, and you know that its availability is the consequence of someone’s broken promise. You did not make the promise, but you are knowingly benefiting from someone else’s moral failure. Compare the situation from buying a used car from someone who stole it, and you know the car is stolen. You may know as well that the original owner is fully covered by insurance, and will not suffer any financial loss. Is it morally o.k. to buy such a car? Does it matter that you wouldn’t have purchased the car from another source because you aren’t willing to pay the market...

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