Why is such a high value placed in reading the "Classics"? It's one thing to honor the past and honor the fact that, but for those who came before, we wouldn't be where we are today, and another thing entirely to pretend that those "classic" thinkers and thoughts of the past are worthy of the scrutiny of self-respecting truth-seekers today. If I'm being honest, the Pre-Socratic writings are simply idiotic by today's standards, claiming matter is all "water", or "fire", or some other random element. Leibniz, Spinoza, and those guys aren't any better. None of them had even the most rudimentary concept of physics. JS Mill and Kant read like some High Schooler, discoursing at length about Happiness and motivation without even a whiff of suspicion about the basic facts of psychology, treating those terms as if they were transparently obvious, monolithic concepts. Even an idea like the more recently vaunted Veil of Ignorance seems ludicrously vulnerable to someone of even mediocre intelligence, like me. It...

I can't resist piping up to defend Rawls's Veil of Ignorance. In A Theory of Justice , Rawls anticipates and rebuts the questioner's objection. The deliberators behind the Veil of Ignorance are choosing the most general principles of justice that will govern their society, and hence they have no basis for the specific prediction that a given principle will make "90% of people happy and 10% utterly miserable": as Rawls says, behind the Veil of Ignorance such numerical estimates "are at best extremely insecure" (p. 154). Given that insecurity, Rawls argues that it would be irrational for you to risk being among the utterly miserable, particularly if your gain in happiness (compared to what you'd experience in a less unequal society) is small compared to what you'd lose if you end up among the utterly miserable. His argument may not be conclusive, but I don't think it's as easily dismissed as the questioner suggests.

Is it possible that all branches of philosophy will one day be obsolete and replaced by activities yielding precise answers, similar to the way that the scientific method replaced natural philosophy? May Leibniz's vision of the calculating machine and the end of all disputes yet be realised? If so, I think this might be the ultimate goal of philosophy: to destroy itself, by superseding speculation with experimentation and calculation.

You seem to suggest that all questions, or maybe all questions worth trying to answer, might be answerable (at least in principle) by experimentation and calculation alone. But I can't see how they could be. Let Q1 be any question. Now consider the normative question, Q2, "Is Q1 worth trying to answer?" I can't see how Q2 could possibly be answered by experimentation and calculation alone. So there will always be questions of that normative kind left over. You might reply that those leftover questions aren't worth trying to answer, but that reply would itself be a normative claim that we couldn't assess using experimentation and calculation alone. It may also be that Gödel's incompleteness theorems imply that the answers to at least some questions will never yield to experimentation and calculation.

How important is the study of logic in philosophy, independent of any one particular philosopher or school of philosophy? Is 'logic' considered a 'neutral' subject about which 'everyone' agrees? or are there some contentious issues about what 'kind' of 'logic' applies in different kinds of situations?

I'd answer your three questions as follows. (1) Very important. (2) No: There are lively disagreements in logic concerning particular issues, and there may be few if any issues in logic on which everyone agrees. (3) Some philosophers say that different situations call for different kinds of logic. For what it's worth, I disagree: I'm not persuaded that there are any situations to which standard (or "classical") logic doesn't apply.

Do minute quantities of alcohol consumption enhance or degrade philosophical enlightenment?

I don't know how alcohol affects philosophical enlightenment, but it wouldn't surprise me if alcohol (especially in more than minute quantities) enhanced many people's desire to wax philosophical. Really, you've asked an empirical question; without a systematic experiment, all anyone could offer in reply would be anecdotes. Depending on what's meant by 'minute quantities', the answer to your question might well be neither . Philosophy is a difficult cognitive activity, and it's hard for me to think at the moment (and I'm sober) of any difficult cognitive activities that alcohol helps me do better. You might find something relevant in these two lighthearted collections: Wine and Philosophy and Beer and Philosophy .

I'm interested in the issue of whether people would have moral responsibility under determinism. So if a person in a deterministic universe would happen to commit murder, some people would say that they are morally responsible for the action, and others would disagree. When I speak of "moral responsibility" here I'm thinking along the lines of whether the person would deserve blame and retributive punishment. (If it actually happened that we lived in a deterministic universe, I assume that we would have to hold people morally responsible in some sense for practical reasons. We would have to punish to protect society and to deter future crime; but some might give up on the idea of retributive punishment and see criminals rather as unfortunate victims of the blind process of nature.) I'm not expecting a solution to the question, "Would people be morally responsible under determinism?". Rather I'm going to ask: could the issue be a conflict of opposing moral principles that may just be forever unsolvable...

You asked: "Could the issue be a conflict of opposing moral principles that may just be forever unsolvable by rational argument? So maybe you just can't produce arguments that can 'bridge the gap' between the two sides, i.e., the arguments just don't exist that would have the rational force and traction against the other side." I don't see it as a conflict of opposing moral principles. I think each side sees itself as trying to work out the implications of our shared concept of moral responsibility . One side thinks that our shared concept requires indeterminism; the other side thinks it doesn't. Or maybe our shared concept is inconsistent in both requiring and not requiring indeterminism, or we have two distinct concepts of moral responsibility, but even that I wouldn't classify as a conflict of moral principles. In any case, I'm not pessimistic about the possibility of making progress in this debate. Indeed, I think we've made progress in the last several years and will continue to. The new field of...

Do all philosophical problems reduce to the metaphysical question of "why"?

Not as far as I can see. Indeed, I highly doubt that we've discovered all of the philosophical problems there are, and I'd be very surprised if the problems we have discovered all reduced in that way. What makes you suspect that they might? Consider, for example, the Paradox of the Heap: If we remove grains, one at a time, from a billion-grain heap of sand, when precisely does the heap cease to exist? The question has implications for much more serious matters than heaps of sand, and the answer is extremely controversial. I can't see how this paradox "reduce[s] to the metaphysical question of 'why?'." For starters, why what ?

Are empirical questions inherently non-philosophical? If answers to those questions can be determined by polling or science, should philosophers never address them?

Your question touches on a current debate within philosophy. You can find more about the debate by searching under "experimental philosophy" and "x-phi" on the web. Regardless of which side one takes, however, it's always important to know which kind of question (empirical, conceptual, logical, normative, or a mixture of those) one is trying to answer: the answer to "Which kind of question is that?" is a philosophical matter. In my experience, philosophers too often fail to recognize that the question they're asking has empirical aspects -- aspects that, as philosophers, they're not trained to investigate. If a question can be answered by polling or some other empirical method, then any philosopher who tries to answer it had better be properly trained in the relevant empirical method. Once the empirical results are in, the implications of those results are something that philosophers, as such, are well-equipped to work on.

Why are personal religious beliefs more respected and legally protected than personal philosophical beliefs? Could this be because religious metaphysics are more irrefutable than secular metaphysics?

Your first question is an empirical question; we get a lot of those here. A sociologist or a legal historian might be able to answer it, but not a philosopher as such . But your second question seems less clearly empirical. If by "more irrefutable" you mean something like "supported by better arguments" or "less vulnerable to serious objections," then I'd say no based on what I know of religious and secular metaphysics. I'd recommend reading two recent articles: this one by Erik J. Wielenberg and this one by Wes Morriston . Both argue that a religious metaphysics of morality is less plausible than a secular metaphysics of morality and, furthermore, that the former metaphysics in fact depends on the latter. Note that position P can be less plausible than position Q even if P depends on (i.e., implies) Q.

More people are familiar with the ideas of Camus and Sartre, two examples of continental philosophers who wrote of the need of philosophy to be applied to the human condition, than are aware who Quine and Wittgenstein were. Does it bother analytic philosophers that most people consider analytic philosophy to have zero relevance in their lives yet regard many continental philosophers as public intellectuals?

Speaking for myself as an analytic philosopher, I'm bothered more by (a) the fact that "most people consider analytic philosophy to have zero relevance in their lives" than by (b) the fact that many people "regard many continental philosophers as public intellectuals." I think (a) stems from most people's ignorance about what analytic philosophy is and about what training in analytic philosophy can enable them to do. Among other things, training in analytic philosophy can help them see that some of today's public intellectuals (including, yes, some philosophers in the continental tradition but also some physicists and biologists) don't deserve the publicity they've received. Unfortunately, given the way North American schoolteachers are currently chosen and trained, I'm not sure how much philosophy can be properly taught to secondary school students. Given entrenched current realities, a student's education in philosophy may need to wait until college/university. In that case, of course, only...

I've heard philosophers talk about "dissolving" problems and questions. What does it mean to dissolve questions/problems and how do philosophers do it?

Dissolving a philosophical problem involves challenging the presuppositions -- often unrecognized presuppositions -- that give rise to the problem. Consider two examples near to my own heart. Newcomb's Problem in decision theory has generated enormous controversy since it was first brought to the attention of philosophers in 1969, and the dispute over the "correct solution" to the problem shows little sign of being settled anytime soon. But some philosophers think the problem is unsolvable because it's ill-posed . On their view, it's a pseudo-problem, perhaps because it's based on the false presupposition that we can understand the set-up of the problem in the first place . They think the problem is therefore one to be dissolved rather than solved. A second example is the perennial question "Why is there something rather than nothing at all?" Many philosophers have spent tremendous energy concocting elaborate metaphysical answers to that question. But I think the question, as it's usually...