Do you think a crime committed against a nun should carry a greater punishment than the same crime committed against a prostitute? Or in other words should their perceived social standing be taken into account when sentencing?

No, social standing should play no part in sentencing. Nor indeed should moral standing. We might think that the nun in question was more deserving of our sympathy than the prostitute, or we might think the reverse, but sentencing should be based on what the criminal deserves to receive, not on the qualities of the victim. On a consequentialist view of punishment we might seek to protect some social groups by punishing crimes against them disproportionately, and then there would need to be an argument as to why the effects of such a policy are particularly desirable, yet many would feel that such a policy reveals what is wrong with consequentialism in ethics, since it deviates from aligning punishment with desert.

Are there some things about which we actually should not philosophize? Sometimes when I get too deep into thinking analytically about things like love or happiness I get this feeling of disdain for the application of tedious thinking to sacred things. On the other hand, it's hard to imagine such a thing as too much reflection; I often wonder if I want to retreat from philosophy simply because it sometimes tells me maybe-true things that I don't want to here (ack, I philosophize about whether I should philosophize!). Is this a common experience? Should anything be off-limits to philosophy, so to speak? -andy

Perhaps the only thing that should be off-limits to philosophy is thinking that there are some things we ought not to reflect on! It seems to me that reflection is generally useful whatever the topic, but then I would say that since it is my means of earning money. But even the things you mention that we value such as love or happiness can be the fruitful objects of reflection, as when we consider whether we are really in love, for example, by thinking seriously on what love is, and whether it is more than sexual attraction and so on. Reflection becomes problematic if it interferes with action, if one thinks action is worth pursuing, of course, but one does not have to be a philosopher to appreciate that thinking before doing is generally a good idea.

Is there anything morally problematic about health inequalities which correlate to inequalities in social-economic status? If so, what, if anything, should be done? How can our "modern ideals" (health care system - NHS) be applied to the teachings of Rawls and Nozick?

If there are moral problems with inequalities in general, then they should apply to health issues also. If there are not such moral problems, then they need not. That is, if we allow inequalities to exist then we should not be surprised or even shocked that they exist in health care also, indeed we should expect this. Poorer people tend to be less capable at acquiring public health resources, and have often adopted unhealthy life styles for reasons connected with their poverty, and so any general attack on social inequality should work towards improvement in general health levels among the deprived sector of society. But this is only if you value equality, it might well be that those thinkers who do not would see it as perfectly acceptable for such inequalities to persist given the general desirability of inequality as a social phenomenon.

Is global capitalism workable? That is, if capitalism is a system where most of the economic activity is based on self-interest, are the kinds of restricting factors like social welfare, laws, charity and human instincts enough to stop the polarizing of wealth, destruction of the environment and stuff that we see?

To take a different line, those defending capitalism would argue that despite its inequalities and inefficiencies, it nonetheless produces more overall wealth than any other economic system. There is no reason why that wealth should not subsequently be distributed in fair and sensible ways, provided that such an allocation does not interfere unduly with the production of yet more wealth. In fact, some capitalist societies have been rather good at doing this, and there seems no a priori reason why all could not. After all, it might strike people that what you call unbridled self-interest involves social security, protection of the environment and so on. It is not in most people's interests, after all, for the streets to be unsafe due to poverty or the ice caps to melt and drown us all.

Aristotle began studies at Plato's Academy at the age of 17. I have a few questions. 1) How smart was Plato compared to Aristotle? 2) Who would you say is as intelligent as Plato or Aristotle (preferably someone who is still alive)? 3) I am 17. Who can I go to in order to gain the same education that Aristotle did from Plato? 4) How did Aristotle go about becoming Plato's student? Did he have to pay to be his student in the same way people pay to become a student at a college? I pretty much got myself into philosophy, and upon finding out about the greater of ancient philosophers, I have been wondering how I might be able to gain knowledge compared to that of the aforementioned. Is this possible in today's society? Thank you, Steve

If I could just say something about one aspect of your question, I think Socrates, although perhaps not Aristotle, would highly disapprove of the ways in which philosophy is taught nowadays. It was important certainly for Socrates that the philosopher not receive payment for what he provided, since that makes the relationship between the teacher and the pupil basically dishonest. If the pupil/state pays the teacher, then he is going to say whatever he thinks it will be in the interests of his continuing employment or growth in his income to say, whether it is true or otherwise. That is what the Sophists did. If the link between teacher and pupil is based on nothing monetary then both are free to explore the truth in ways that are unconstrained by any other consideration. As we know, Socrates fell foul of another form of sanction, execution, for apparently speaking too freely and generally getting on people's nerves. However, I would not let this worry you too much, I suggest you go for perhaps the...

Why are Picasso paintings so important? How can I appreciate the importance of Picasso paintings? Honestly, when I look at them I think that they are interesting but I never get the impression that they are produced by a genius. If understanding Picasso's paintings (and art in general) needs training (knowing Picasso's life, knowing the context in which the paintings are created, knowing Picasso's intentions, knowing the traditions in painting, etc.) why are they exhibiting art works to the public? Quine's "Two Dogmas of Empiricism" is one of the best and most influential articles in the history of analytic philosophy but nobody expects non-philosophers to appreciate its importance. There are no Quine exhibitions. Thanks.

Let me say something about a very interesting point you raise. How much background, context and so on do we need to grasp in order to understand a work of art? Is art like language, where you have to know the rules before you can make any progress? Or indeed like philosophy as in the example you give of Quine. Or is it more like something that we might expect anyone to appreciate regardless of context? I know there are good arguments for the "art as language" position but I tend to go for the other position, and if you want details you should have a glance at my book on Islamic aesthetics, with that title. In the book I discuss the possibility of understanding Islamic art yet knowing nothing about the context, culture and so on that provided its surroundings. I talk about an experience I had which actually got me to write the book, where a group of schoolchildren who visited an exhibition of Qur'ans were totally immersed in the physical beauty of what they were seeing without knowing anything at all about...

My parents tend to blame the ills of UK society on the Thatcher government. In relation to this, I wonder to what extent a single figure or political era can shape a people, given that whatever a party or figure says or does comes from the prior possibility for that particular action or speech. Philosophically speaking, can we hold a single figure or political era responsible for any society considered 'as a whole' (i.e., seen in general)? Also, can you direct me to any philosophers who have written about this? thank-you.

I suppose we could point to important figures such as Hitler and Stalin who surely can be said to have made a significant contribution as individuals to political life, albeit negatively, and Winston Churchill in a more benign manner. It might be said that they could only have exercised such influence had the context been right, and no doubt that is true, but it is difficult not to acknowledge the ways in which they stamped their individual characters on their societies and the world in consequence. I don't know which philosophers have written on this, it is more an issue for political scientists I suppose.

A friend of mine working for a business recently claimed that his business was bribing a petty government official involved in the audit of their government tax/duties accounts because the government official was demanding a bribe. He managed to reduce the bribe amount to half or even less. My question is this: Is it right for him to take a high moral ground compared to the bribe taker? His argument is that like pollution, corruption is required to be reduced and since he managed to reduce the bribe amount, he did the right thing morally and ethically speaking. I argued that my friend is as much an accomplice in the ethical wrong doing as the bribe giver(the business) and the bribe taker(the petty government official). My friend seems to be stuck on the "pollution analogy" and feels he has done a great act by reducing the bribe amount like reducing the "pollution". Can you expose ethical issues invoved in the above?

Well, it might be that your friend is right to feel happy with what he has done since the system of bribes is so commonplace within the culture that it is inevitable and has to be accepted as just another business expense. That would not be to approve of bribes but to acknowledge its ubiquity. What he should be pleased about is not taking the high moral ground but in reducing his costs from what they would otherwise have been.