I've been reading philosophy for some time, and I've seen something I couldn't understand however hard I try. There've been a number of comments that some ideas are too sceptical. There've also been attempts to defend philosophers from accusation of being sceptics both by themselves and their defenders. Therefore, it seems to me that Scepticism (or being sceptical) is generally considered somehow negative. But why is it so? I simply can't see anything wrong with Scepticism. I am aware of possible cases when defended ones are mistakenly considered as sceptics, but there's possibility that those defended may indeed express sceptical views as well.

There's limited and local skepticism, based on serious reasons for doubt. That can be a very good thing. (One ought to be skeptical of what politicians or advertisers say, for example; we've got plenty of evidence that they're often less than reliable sources of information.) But then there's more global skepticism that calls into doubt in a wholesale way large swaths of what we normally believe -- typically not on the basis of specific reasons for doubt, but rather on the basis of top-down arguments. Many of us (not all) find the second sort of skepticism less than helpful intellectually. One reason: starting out with that sort of skepticism cuts of interesting lines of philoosphical inquiry before they get anywhere at all. Unless we set that sort of skepticism to one side, most philosophical projects don't even get off the ground. For example: if we start from the point of view of ethical skpeticism, then serious moral inquiry gets stopped before it even starts. There's another reason: at...

Could a big computer solve a philosophy problem?

Could a really, really smart person solve a philosophy problem? For example: could a really, really smart person "solve" the freewill problem? Some really, really smart people already have — at least to their own satisfaction. Other really, really smart people aren't convinced. Is it just that at least some of these people aren't smart enough? Or is there something else going on here? Let's consider a different example. The four-color conjecture says that using no more than four colors, any map drawn on a plane surface can be colored so that no two contiguous region have the same color. This conjecture was finally proved with the aid of a computer in the 1970s. Not all mathematicians agree that we really have a proof here, since no human being could ever check it. But we might at least say this: so long as the algorithm really was properly designed and the machine worked properly, we've got something of the same general logical sort as a mathematical proof, and we could have very good empirical...

hallo, I appreciate your homepage very much. I would like to ask you for opinion about a method of thinking. The idea is this one: If you have a question, and you think you cannot answer it, may you change your question to a similar/different one? For example: Does God exist? A similar question would be: How would it affect me if I knew that God does exist? (Example by: Bert Brecht- Stories of Mr. Keuner The question of whether there is a God A man asked Mr. K. whether there is a God. Mr. K. said: “I advise you to consider whether, depending on the answer, your behavior would change. If it would not change, then we can drop the question. If it would change, then I can at least be of help to the extent that I can say, you have already decided: you need a God.”) I think it means getting a different point of view or a different way to approach towards a question. What do you think about such a method of thinking? Is it legal or not? Do you think it is a serious way of thinking or is it a trap...

Perhaps the fact that I find this whole line of thought a little befuddling means that I shouldn't be answering the question. But maybe if I explain my confusion, that will help. Start with something simple. I might be curious about, say, some abstruse mathematical claim. And so I go to my mathematician friend and I say "Is it true that such-and-such?", where "such-and-such" is the mathematical conjecture I'm interested in. It would be pretty odd, wouldn't it, if my mathematician friend waxed "philosophical" about whether knowing the answer would change my behavior. In one way, of course, it would: I'd stop asking the question if I knew the answer. But in most other ways, life would go on as before. And yet, I still want to know whether such-and-such is really true. The point is that there really are two issues here, and it seems like confusion to mix them up. One is the matter of whether what I'm curious about is so; the other is the matter of what I'd do if it were -- or weren't. Now the two...

The average American doubtless knows more about subjects like math, history and science than did an average American 200 years ago. Does philosophy also enjoy this kind of broad progress? Is the average person more philosophically able now than in the past? Or are advances in philosophy typically enjoyed only by specialists?

Answering this question isn't altogether easy, for two reasons. The first is that we need to get some sort of a clear fix on what philosophical ability amounts to. And supposing we were able to sort that out, the next problem is that the question is an empirical one -- a matter of what the facts are -- and here philosophers have no special expertise. Compare: suppose we wanted to know whether the average person is more mathematically able than people were say, 50 years ago. There might well be data around that could give us a fix on this; perhaps someone even has some sort of reasonable answer. But while mathematicians will have something to say about what counts as mathematical ability, they aren't likely to have any special insight into the distribution of mathematical ability in the population. Still, in the mathematical case we might expect to get some sort of broad agreement about what counts as mathematical ability. The ability to come up with solutions to certain sorts of problems would be a...

I was taught that philosophers should not try to abolish ordinary notions like "existence" or "truth," but only to explore them. But I have also heard that time may not be necessary for fundamental physics. In general it seems possible for science to drop an ordinary type of notion by demonstrating a theory (or theories) without it. Can philosophy also do away with an ordinary notion? Should it try to?

"Shoulds" in philosophy are a tough sell. And in particular, the idea that philosophers "should not" try to overturn ordinary notions is one that's regularly challenged by philosophers. For example: many philosophers have argued that there is no such thing as a "self." Some philosophers have argued that the ordinary notion of belief is incoherent. And challenges to the idea of time, to take your example, have come from within philosophy itself; McTaggart's famous article " The Unreality of Time " offered purely philosophical arguments for abandoning our familiar ways of thinking about time. It would be not just hard but perverse to argue that philosophy should never challenge our ordinary conceptions -- even if the challenge runs very deep. After all, sometimes we are confused, and even when we're not, there's often something to be learned from meeting the challenge. That said, some attacks on ordianry notions may take those notions to carry more baggage than they really do. The case of the ...

I have a friend who is a top philosophy student. She is also one of the top English students, but bristled at the suggestion that an excellent grasp of language did, in some way, confer upon her her superior ability in conducting philosophical argument. Is this link between proficiency in the language of philosophical argument and one's ability to make philosophical argument too tenuous? Or is philosophy like mathematics, bound by certain axiomatic rules which must be mastered and manipulated with discipline in order to authoritatively address philosophical problems(with the language of the axioms being insignificantly marginal)?

It's hard to see how one could be good at philosophy without a good deal of linguistic subtlety. That said, there are many things that might count as having an excellent grasp of language, and not all of them are especially relevant to being a good philosopher. Someone who is very sensitive to the expressive and poetic qualities of language might have very little analytical ability, and very little feel for philosophical thinking. And some excellent philosophers have very little capacity for literary appreciation, let alone for writing graceful prose. We could multiply examples. Some people are gifted at making spontaneous puns. They may not have any philosophical ability for all that, and many good philosophers no doubt lack this talent. It would be hard to be a good philosopher if one had an impoverished vocabulary. But having a rich stock of words doesn't by itself signal philosophical skill. And on it goes. Some kinds of linguistic ability are necessary for being a good philosopher. But...

My question arose from responses to questions 40 and 2062 on this site. In question 40 it was asked why something exists, rather than nothing. In question 2062 it was asked whether there are any questions which can not be philosophized about. My question is: why is the question "why is there something rather than nothing" considered a false philosophical question? Is it somehow even less answerable than all the other philosophical questions? And why does this seem to disqualify the question as being a "good" philosophical question. Thanks for the opportunity to ask this (and for your time).

Showing that something is a pseudo-question -- what you've called a false philosophical question can be hard. Not always; "What's the difference between a duck?" is not a real question, though where I grew up, there was an answer to it ("One leg is both the same.") When the question is "Why is there something rather than nothing?" we're pretty clearly in territory where people will differ over the propriety of the question. First, let's get a rough and ready grip on the notion of a pseudo-question. One pretty good way to think about it is that if nothing could possibly count as a correct answer to a "question," then it's not a real question, superficial grammatical form notwithstanding. "What's the difference between a duck?" pretty clearly fits this description, as does, for example, "What's the distance in meters between purple and despair?" But what of "Why is there something rather than nothing?" This, I'd suggest, is not so clear a case. Suppose we could somehow show that certain things...

Has anyone ever asked a question that could not be answered philosophically? I'm not asking whether anyone's asked a question that cannot be answered by a philosopher -- presumably, a philosopher cannot answer whether the universe is intelligent or whether human beings deserve to live. But is there any question that cannot be philosophized about?

On your general question: "is there any question that cannot be philosophized about ?" I think I can provide a proof that the answer is no. Suppose, for reductio , that there is such a question, call it Q . Then the question of why we can't philosophize about Q is a perfectly good and obviously philosophical question. Thus, Q , the question about which we can't philosophize, is a question about which we can philosophize, which is absurd. And so there are no questions that cannot be philosophized about. QED That said, treating garden variety questions like "Can you give me a lift to work?" or "Would you like to go to the movies tonight?" or "is there any dirty laundry in the basket?" as occasions for philosophizing is usually a pretty good way to annoy the people around you. Being clear about this sort of thing should probably be required for getting a philosopher's license, but far as I know, the regs in most jurisdictions don't include it.

If we imagine an intelligent alien race, could we also imagine philosophical questions they have come up with that have eluded us and vice versa? Or are all philosophical debates necessarily universal? My understanding of our application of philosophical analysis is that it is all-encompassing and would even have to apply to any god or advanced alien civilization (I mean the method not the conclusions). Or can something else be conceived? NB I write this as an arch-skeptic and atheist.

Hi, I'm not entirely sure what the "arch-skeptic and atheist" bit is about, since I'm not sure how it bears on your question. But here are a couple of thoughts. First, just what counts as philosophy and what sorts of questions belong to philosophy is a matter of dispute. Tjough meta-philosophy isn't a hot topic in my neck of the woods, it's still true that philosophers don't entirely agree about the nature of their discipline. That means that they don't entirely agree about method. Further, method and content may not be easily separated in all cases. (For example: someone doing phil of math may need to draw on methods that have to do with the particular nature of math, and that wouldn't be likely to come up in philosophy of art, for example.) Philosophy seems to me to be like most disciplines. It doesn't have an "essence," and it's not likely that there will be a useful "sufficient and necessary condition"-style account of what it is. It's another of the many cases of what gets called a ...

What, precisely, is requested when the question "What is X" is asked?

It depends, doesn't it? If the question is "What is that funny-looking gizmo?" it's likely that the person simply doesn't recognize the sort of thing s/he's seeing. The answer might be "It's a pressure cooker weight" or "it's a memory chip." Sometimes "What is X?" is a way of asking for an explanation of the meaning or reference of a word, as in "What is a basilisk?" (Answer, as any Harry Potter reader knows: it's a giant lizardly sort of beast that can kill you simply by staring into your eyes.) Perhaps what you have in mind is a question about the "essential properties" of something -- about the nature of some kind of thing or stuff. A sample question might be "What is water?" and the candidate answer might be "Water is H 2 O." The idea would be that this is the nature of water -- the kind of stuff it is. If this really is the nature or water, then nothing could count as water unless it was H 2 O, and for reasons that aren't simply linguistic. However, philosophers won't all agree about...

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