Can you help me evaluate Judah HaLevi’s “Kuzari” argument for the authenticity of the Jewish Tradition? If you’ve not heard of it, I am happy to offer an imperfect synopsis, but you’re better off consulting some more reliable sources (see below). The Kuzari, in a nutshell: If public miracles (e.g., manna of Exodus 16) had occurred, they would have left behind a huge amount of accessible evidence. Therefore, had the miracles not occurred, an entire generation of Jews (millions of people) would never have been duped into believing that they did. Therefore, since virtually the entire Jewish people (along with the Christians and Moslems, presumably) *do* believe those miracles occurred, the only explanation is that they must have occurred.

The argument is problematic for a number of reasons, but let me concentrate on one aspect. You say that "virtually the entire Jewish people (along with the Christians and Moslems, presumably) *do* believe those miracles occurred". But do they, and in what sense? There are certainly accounts of such events in the Jewish bible, and the question arises whether they are to be taken literally or not. Some Jews certainly do take them literally, but many don't. Many of the major Jewish thinkers like Maimonides tended to link miracles with nature, arguing that the world's natural structure as a whole is a miracle, and what seem to us to be individual miracles are merely ill-understood natural events. The fact that many people at the time believed that what they were experiencing were individual miracles, if that is how they interpreted their experience, is no sort of evidence that they were right at all.

Do philosophers change language or does language change how philosophers think? I wonder about this when considering how attitudes change to certain things such as treatment of criminals or aspects of Human Rights. For example "Police Force" tends to be "Police Service"- sounds a bit nicer- and "Industrial Action" sounds nicer and more professional than "Strike Action". In human relations the word "Gay" has been introduced to describe homosexuals and lesbians. That seems to give a better impression although why that should be necessary given that most people accept that heterosexual does not need any other description is a mystery. The supreme example of word change is "Termination with extreme prejudice" for "Assasination"!! followed by "Rendition" for "Kidnapping". I have just read _I am, therefore I think_ and noticed that most references to people were female. An exception was in the chapter on the Environment page 104, where the example refers to a female police officer and the criminal is male!!...

It is indeed interesting how we often choose euphemisms when we want to view something in a more positive light, and vice versa. Language certainly plays a significant role in how we think of things, and we ourselves have the power to shape language to a degree by refusing to use certain expressions which we find inaccurate and replacing them with other expressions which are more neutral or even more value-laden. In the United States I suppose the most obvious example is whether one calls someone a terrorist, a militant or a freedom fighter. The news tends to use the middle term, but those more directly involved in a struggle often select one of the other expressions. It would be rather too strong to say that the language here shapes us since we should be aware of how it is being used and what choices we have. An awareness of the power of language is important for philosophers, and all citizens, since an unthinking acquiescence in a certain use of it is highly damaging to us morally and intellectually.

I understand that Socrates went along with a death sentence because he believed it right to obey the laws of the country even when they were unjust. He had ample opportunity to escape into exile, and his friends encouraged him to do this, but he said no. Aristotle was a Macedonian. With the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC there was very strong anti-Macedonian feeling in Athens. Aristotle became a target and he sought asylum in Chalcis. He did it because he did not want comply with what would have been an unjust law/judicial process and 'to prevent the people of Athens sinning a second time against philosophy' (Socrates being the first victim). So, did Aristotle think Socrates was virtuous in not taking up the opportunity to go into exile? Is it not also virtuous to find ways of surviving?

I don't think Socrates thought the laws in Athens were unjust so much as that on this particular occasion they had been improperly applied. He refused to escape because he was in principle in agreement with Athenian culture and felt that he was therefore obliged to go along with its disadvantages as well as its advantages. As you say, there is no reason for Aristotle to be so motivated given his upbringing away from Athens. Socrates thought of Athens as his mother, as he says, and was not going to reject her even if she rejected him. Aristotle had no such relation to the city. Both thinkers would agree on the advisability of surviving, but for both not at any cost.

Sometimes I'll be writing a paper late at night, and my words will appear perfectly lucid to my sleep-addled brain; but the next day, after I've gotten some rest, I realize that it's all gibberish. Is clarity an objective quality? Is it possible for someone to think that a piece of language is clear, and be wrong?

It is not only possible, but a common experience. Clarity is very much in the eye of the beholder, and we often think we are being clear but we are not. I used to have a colleague with chauvinist tendencies who would read his work out to his wife, and if she understood it, he claimed he knew it was written at too simple a level to be acceptable for his fellow academics. There is still an important trend in philosophy which thinks that profoundity goes hand in hand with obscurity. For those of us who think that clarity is significant, though, the reactions of others are crucial to knowing where we have got it wrong.

At my secondary school I often hear racist and homophobic remarks but no longer say anything when I hear them because I don't think that things I say will make any difference. Is it wrong for me to hear offensive remarks yet not say or do anything about them?

I think the issue here is what is likely to be effective. If you think that your colleagues would be impressed by your opinion then you should make those opinions public. If you think they would attack you then this should give you pause for thought. If you think that you should dissociate yourself from those remarks, and refuse to make them yourself, then this is an entirely reasonable position. When I was a teacher trainer we often discussed what one should do when a pupil uttered a racist remark. Some said that it is only right to immediately condemn the remark and establish that it is entirely unacceptable. Others argued that this would tend to amplify the racist behavior since the remark would then receive a good deal of attention, something that perhaps its utterer was seeking in the first place. If everyone reacts with shock, then a good way of getting a strong reaction is to make racist remarks. Whatever the truth of the matter, the important factor here is your judgment of what is likely...

There is a teacher in our school who often forgets if he gave us homework. The majority of the class takes advantage of this. I do not. Am I a fool for not wanting to use somebody's weakness against them? If we continue to do the same lesson over and over like we are doing now, we will not learn anything new, but I will get a little less homework on my plate every night. We read the same stories, never get homework due to his forgetfulness. Are the actions of the class IYO, immoral? Is it Immoral to use someone's weakness against his or herself for your own benefit?

Not necessarily, since using others' weakness is often a legitimate way of getting things we deserve. If someone in authority can be swayed to do what is right by playing on a weakness, there is no reason why we should not do so. The important issue here is whether the activity connected to the weakness is ethical or otherwise. If as you think it is hardly in your interest, or those of your colleagues, to repeat the same lesson a good deal, or to avoid homework which is after all useful in passing future examinations, then playing on the weakness is not to the pupils' long term advantage. This is surely the nub of the issue, and you are not a fool for wishing to get this work well grasped by you through homework and so get in a position to move onto something new and perhaps more interesting.

From an ethical standpoint, to how much effort must I go to return an overpayment from my employer? I received an overpayment of $10,000 in a summer paycheck (the bonus should have been $10,000 paid over two months at $5,000 each; instead it was two months at $10,000 each). I promptly reported the overpayment to payroll, but several months later, they still haven't done anything about it. I was taxed on the overpayment as income. Is it ethically incumbent upon me to follow up until they take the money back, or is there a point at which it's reasonable for me to keep it?

We should all have such problems! You promptly took the appropriate steps to alert them of the error, and I suppose that is that. If I were you I would ensure that they got the message, by asking them to confirm its receipt, and then the ball is very much in their court. It is a bit like going to a party and having someone spectacular fall for you. You may not feel you deserve it, and you may make no attempt at portraying yourself as any better than you really are, but if fortune smiles on you on that occasion, why not enjoy it?

What are the names of some respected philosophers or schools of thought that believe things are as they should be in the sense that much of what we consider to be bad is in fact of value to life when considered in a larger context?

I suppose the obvious person to think of here is Leibniz, cruelly mocked by Voltaire in Candide for arguing that this is the best of all possible worlds, if he did argue in such a manner, that is. But a large number of philosophers, especially in the philosophy of religion, have found explanations for apparent imperfections in fact making up a bigger and greater overall perfection, and here we should include Spinoza. It is not actually implausible since we do only have access to a small part of the whole, and what we perceive may not give us a good idea of everything, so why should we think that instances that appear bad mean that everything is bad? It would be like arguing that since cars occasionally stop, their main function is actually to be still.

Concerning our moral obligations to other people, what is the distinction between killing and letting die? For example, if I'm at the beach and there's a child playing in the water, I think I can safely say that everyone would agree that it would be wrong for me to go in to the water and drown the child. But say I see the child drowning, and there's no one else around, and I could easily jump in and save him without risking my own life, would it be wrong for me to stand there and do nothing as he drowns? I'm not so sure what one's moral obligation is in this case. Personally, I would feel awful about letting the child drown and would certainly try to save him, but maybe not everyone would, and I'm hesitant so say they've done something wrong by doing nothing. In other words I don't know if I would support a law punishing such behavior.

How far does our responsibility go to others is an interesting issue. Would we have more of an obligation to the child if he was our child, or someone we know, or someone who is from our country, and so on? And what counts as being culpable in not paying attention? For example, if we see a child in difficulties we ought to help him, but suppose we see a child by himself in the water and go to sleep. Would we be at fault then? It is not our job to search the water for potential dangers to others, but if we are responsible for harm we could prevent perhaps we should never relax at the beach but spend all our time combing the area for potential dangers to others. This brings out what is problematic in the idea of preventing harm to others. If we are so responsible then it is difficult to know where to draw the line. Should we prevent children from eating hamburgers on the beach, because we may think they are unhealthy, or drinking soft drinks that are bad for teeth? Should we stop them reading trashy...

Karl Marx based his claim that all workers are exploited within capitalism, upon the assumption that the value of a product is basically determined by the amount of labour put into it. More specifically, the value of a product equals the cost of raw materials, usage of means of production (both factors are more or less constant) and then extra value added to it because of labour (e.g. coffee is worth more than the mere sum of water and coffee beans; the extra value is created by grinding the beans, ...) The point then is that a worker's wages are typically less than the extra value of the product added by labour. Hence the worker is performing some of the labour for free, hence exploitation. Now my question: I can see the reasoning behind this, but I question the assumption that the value of the product is determined by the amount of labour put into it. For example, suppose one worker is digging for gold, while another one is digging for stone. Let's say the labour they do is roughly comparable, yet...

Surely the value of a product is far more than just the value of the labour involved in it, as the example you produce suggests, even for Marx. Workers are exploited if they are not paid what they contribute to increasing the value of the product. The arbitrary difference between the value of gold and stone is a good example of how capitalism affects the basic values of essentially similar products and what makes it arbitrary is perhaps not unrelated to the similar amount of labour involved in both.