Does the phrase "Who are you...," when used as an argument against someone's suggestion, hold any logical merit? Must one necessarily hold a position of authority (i.e., paid teacher, paid philosopher, etc.) to afford logical advice on any given subject? If not, how can this phrase be rebutted to a certain satisfaction of the one who spoke it (assuming the speaker of the phrase is a logical listener)? -Kemp

No, you don't. On the other hand, it is as well to know what someone's qualifications are for expressing a view, especially if we are relying on that view for something important. Bona fides might not be enough, and we would have the same problem of wanting to know how to establish that also.

Rawls defines justice as fairness. But it is not clear to me how justice differs from fairness in the first place. Dictionaries do not help because they all indicate both terms as synonyms of each other. Could anyone point me out how the two are distinct? THANKS!!!

Dictionaries are never much use in philosophy, I have always thought. Rawls is right on this, we tend to link justice and fairness,so that a distribution that is fair is also just. If you think they are different you should come up with what you take to be a counterexample.

This is a follow-up to question 1522 [www.askphilosophers/question/1522). In my language, there is a single word for "justice" and "fairness" ("justiça"). If someone in an English-speaking movie says "That ain't fair!", the translation will probably use our word for "just". So, it is really very difficult for me to understand Rawls's claim that justice is fairness. How could justiça not be justiça?

I don't see the difficulty. Rawls tried to show how his conception of justice really does establish the parameters of justice, i.e. fairness. When we wonder whether some distribution is just we consider whether it is fair, and if it is, then it is just. Of course, we tend to disagree on what counts as just, but whatever it is, it has to be fair also.

I was thinking about the ethics of the deceit involved in the current "Borat" movie. "Borat" filmed people, who of course gave their written consent, and then held them up to public ridicule. Since these people gave their written consent, they have no legal case against "Borat", but I'm wondering if they still have an ethical case. I'm thinking that "Borat" used people as means to an end, but his subjects were also using "Borat" in that they probably thought they were getting something good out of him. It just turned out that "Borat" had the last word. Is it unethical to use people's images for purposes for which they wouldn't approve, even after they have given their consent?

I suppose they gave up their right to privacy if they signed something accordingly, so as you say the issue is moral, not legal. Is it fair to make fun of people, when they do not expect, nor understood what they were participating in? Did they really give informed consent? On the other hand, we need to balance whatever might be wrong about this with the putative good of poking fun at rather unpleasant views that many of his interviewees were happy to share, and the general benefits of comedy and bringing pleasure to others. I tend to think that on balance he got it about right. If I agree to be interviewed by the media and do not like the way the interview went, or feel I did not have the opportunity to say what I really wanted to say, then I cannot complain about the setup if I agreed to it. It may well be that the interviewer is much more skilled at his or her work than I am, and I suffer accordingly, which is a good reason of course not to put oneself in the public eye if one is concerned at how your...

Is freedom really so desirable? Is it not better to be captive but cared for, than "free" to die of famine, disease or conflict? This example is physical, but mental captivity (e.g., constraining our thoughts to what we believe) can be more comforting than opening our minds to thoughts we might find uncomfortable or incomprehensible. Freedom, particularly in the Western World, is often held up as an ideal for which to strive. Is it really as good as it is made out to be?

Better a contented pig than a miserable Socrates, or the reverse, as this issue is sometimes put. We often say that freedom is a good because it allows us to flourish as human beings, while being looked after and safe in the absence of freedom is to be treated more as a thing than an autonomous individual. We do in fact tend to take risks and head off in new directions when it would be safer not to do so, and this might suggest that we do value freedom regardless of its results in terms of human happiness. Whether it is better to go for more freedom and more risk, or less, is something which only an individual can resolve as part of his or her own life decisions, and there seems not to be one answer that would have to cover everyone. But we can make sense of either response here, and that suggests that you are right in suggesting that a preference for freedom over safety is not something that is automatically the right decision ethically.

The imminence of severe, debilitating birth defects is often cited as a just reason for abortion; an abortion in such instances is imagined to save the would-be child from a life of suffering. I have two questions about this: 1) If we endorse this reasoning, are we saying that the handicap in question is such that life for the child would literally not be worth living? 2) If (1) is true, does it follow that anyone who endorses this viewpoint should also counsel people who are presently living with such disabilities to kill themselves? (I.e., if a life is not worth beginning, why should it be worth continuing?) -ace

I think you are right on the implications of allowing abortion morally. It does suggest that there could be a quality of life so low that life would not be worth either initiating, or continuing. And that does not seem a ridiculous idea, does it? We say this of animals, and end their lives when it seems to us not worth their while continuing it (although cynically it might sometimes be a matter of its not being worth our while, I suppose). Why should it not also be the case for human beings?

Is the study of "ancient philosophy", (i.e., Socrates, Plato, etc..) just a historical endeavor or is it still an important and fruitful field of philosophical study in itself? Seems to me that much philosophy, even pre-1800 or so, has been made irrelevant through relatively recent scientific studies. (I'm thinking about early philosophy on perception, for example.)

You should tell us which scientific advances in your view have made ancient philosophy irrelevant, and why. Certainly the ancient philosophers used all sorts of science in their accounts which is now thoroughly out of date, and if those accounts depended on the science, then of course it would have serious implications for the philosophy. But on the whole it does not, and that is why we are still interested in ancient philosophy. Certainly we know much more now about how perception actually operates than did our predecessors, but no more at all about how we should classify what we think we experience, and how it should be related to the external world, if at all.

I've often heard that Anglo-American philosophers have somewhat alienated themselves from their colleagues in disciplines like history, literature, the arts, anthropology, and so on. Is this true? (As far as I can tell, I think this is at least truer in the Anglosphere than on the Continent.) If it is, how can this be explained? Is it because Anglo-American philosophers do not feel that they share a common language with their colleagues? For example, whereas their colleagues may have no qualms using words like 'meaning', 'truth', ‘duty’, 'subjectivity' quite freely in their writings, analytic philosophers seem to take great pains even to define them.

There are philosophers who have a rather arrogant attitude to practitioners of other disciplines, but then this is not uncommon among anthropologists, historians etc. either. Professionals usually try to magnify their self-importance by criticizing other approaches to issues. In fact, people are very careful about how they define terms in all the fields you mention, not just philosophy, so whatever language we happen to be working in, we do share a common language. The picture you describe may be an accurate account of a limited period in the sixties when philosophy did sometimes set out to take a very haughty attitude to other subjects, but those days are long gone. And good riddance to them.

If there was a God who existed and was prepared to punish you for not believing in him, then if this God was fair, it seems that there would have to be some pretty good (obvious) reason why he could expect everyone to believe in him. Even if some of these difficult (for me) cosmological or ontological arguments are any good, then a fair God could hardly punish you for making an incorrect evaluation of such difficult arguments. So maybe there is another reason why God could expect someone to believe in him - could you maybe make a decent argument as to why someone should believe in God along these lines: It seems (obviously this is controversial) that there is something a bit more virtuous about believing in God than in not. What I mean by this is that belief in God seems very humbling, optimistic, honest and hopeful, whereas rejecting the existence of God seems a bit more cynical, easy and self-centered. In other words it is a better reflection on a person's character if they believe in God than if they...

I think right at the end you hit the nail on the head as to why the argument is not particularly useful, since all it shows, if it shows anything at all, is that we are better off believing something rather than otherwise. As you say, that demonstrates nothing about whether the belief itself is true or otherwise, just that we ought to believe in it. It is a bit like those motivational "experts" who get people to think they are capable of doing all sorts of things through believing in the truth of particular facts, and that truth is actually irrelevant to the action, what is vital is just that it is believed to be true. I don't think most religions would expect God to punish people who did not believe in him, although some do think that the idea of God not existing is so out of kilter with the facts that we would be reprehensible in taking such a line. You are right to question the idea that any sort of moral argument for the existence of God could be used to prove anything about his existence,...

A friend's husband just up and left her after twenty-eight years of marriage. She had supported him emotionally and financially while he struggled as an artist, and a few years ago he hit it big. He then took up with a new woman, who didn't know him when he was struggling but knows him only as a wealthy, influential man. I believe the husband's behavior in leaving his wife is immoral: she was constantly there for him when he needed her; shouldn't he stick around for her now that she is older and needs him? Or is it morally acceptable for him to leave if he feels it would enhance his growth in life?

Difficult, isn' t it? He obviously owes her a debt of gratitude, and the law will ensure that he cannot jettison his responsibilities towards her entirely, I suppose. He may feel that his relationship with her has run its course, that is the sort of thing that people say, and that he would like to start a new relationship with someone else. Is this immoral? I suppose our relationships with others do change over time, and even if we are grateful to people we are not obliged morally to remain in a relationship with them as a consequence. In fact, that very gratitude may serve to hasten the end of the relationship. What difference does marriage make? In contemporary Western society, not much for most people morally. A husband in the situation you describe who stayed with his wife would often be regarded as having performed a superrorgatory noble act, i.e. more than one would be entitled to expect. Should marriage make a difference? From a moral point of view, I don't think so. It is a contract and...