I thought that modern philosophy tended towards the tentative, the open-ended, and the permanent possibility of error, yet some philosophers on this site answer questions, usually on moral issues, with an almost dogmatic certainty worthy of Pope Ratzinger. How come?

Without discussing specific posts (though I dare say I'm one of the people who fit your bill), it might be something like this: just as some things are pretty clearly true or false, some things are pretty clearly right or wrong. And if the question posed is "first-level" -- i.e., one that asks about the rightness of wrongness of some particular act or policy, rather than raises the question of whether there's really any difference between right and wrong -- then there's not much point in pretending that something is unclear or up for grabs when it doesn't really seem to be. Suppose the question was whether it's okay for Robert Mugabe to run Zimbabwe the way he does, because after all, he has the power to do it, and perhaps might makes right. (Far as I know, no one has ever said that on this board...) I may not know what the best meta-ethical theory is, but if I have any moral knowledge at all, I know that what Mugabe is up to is wrong. So why shilly-shally? Indeed, it's tempting to to say that anyone...

This question pertains to philosophical education or philosophical pedagogy: Even though I do not hold any degrees in philosophy (I hold undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science), I believe that philosophy should constitute one of the foundations of higher education. It is impossible, I believe, to be truly educated without a sound background in philosophy and logic. To this end, I have always believed that with the wonderful emergence of new technologies it should be incumbent upon every capable institution of higher learning to seek to disseminate such core foundations. This can be done, with remarkable ease these days, through distance learning. However, with the exception of a very small number of philosophy departments associated with certain universities, most departments of philosophy look upon distance learning, seemingly, with great loathing. Furthermore, the thought of actually establishing distance degree programs in philosophy (whether at the undergraduate or graduate...

I have actually taught philosophy online. (I may be the only panelist who has.) In my case, it was a contemporary moral problems course, and I will be teaching an intro to philosophy course online as well. My own view is that there's no good reason why this can't work. A former colleague of mine had a view of philosophy that I've come to think is correct. Although philosophical conversation is good, philosophy ultimately gets done by writing. I don't know how many times I've had the experience of trying to write up an idea that I'd thought about or discussed and discovering that it needs considerable tweaking if it's going to work. The advantage of the online course is that it's all in writing from the outset. One popular format that worked well for me: I would pose a question in response to the readings or to earlier discussion. The question would be of a sort that couldn't be answered in a line or two. Students would have to post a reply on a discussion board, and they would also be required to...

Isn't a philosopher's adoption of a certain style of philosophy grounded more in the personal psychology of the philosopher than in a coolly-taken intellectual decision? So when philosophers debate, we are witnessing what is fundamentally, despite all the fine verbal distinctions, a battle of temperaments.

I guess my first question would be whether "style of philosophy" refers to something like "way of approaching issues" or to something more like specific philosophical views. It may not matter, however. In either case it's no doubt true that temperamental factors play a role in what we think and how we argue, though people with quite different "styles" of argument may end up supporting the same views, and people who believe quite different things may use the same sorts of argumentative tactics and rhetorical devices to make their points. The idea that our views are all simply reflections of temperament orpsychological peculiarities, if carried to its limit, would underminethe possibility of taking inquiry seriously; in fact it would undermineitself in this very way. But at the risk of a certain sort of circularity, I see no reason to reduce philosophical disagreement to a mere "battle of temperaments." I should think that everyone on this panel can provide their own autobiographical examples of ways...

What is the source of philosophy's authority? Is simply tradition? Or logical deductions from some common-sense axioms? Or an appealing fit between reasoned arguments and our contemporary cultural preference? Or maybe a bit of all three, with the other two taking up the slack, when the first one looks inadequate?

I think the first thing we'd need to say is that philosophy doesn't have "authority" in the way that, say, physics does. It doesn't include a body of more-or-less well-established knowledge. Philosophy is all about the sorts of things that some people call "essentially contested questions." So it's a field where disagreement is built in at the ground floor. You may be asking about where premises in reasonable philosophical arguments come from. There's no one answer. Tradition per se isn't important, though what we might call "reflective common sense" -- the sort of thing that seems reasonable on sober reflection by an informed person -- does often figure in philosophical arguments. So do other things, including, sometimes, mathematical knowledge and things we've learned from science, as well as garden-variety common knowledge. But philosophical arguments are arguments , and as such, they're judged by the sorts of standards that we use to judge arguments in general.

Is time a philosophical concept or a scientific concept?

How about neither? Or both? (Or both neither and both?) Put another way... Time is just one of our many concepts. By far most people who use the concept of time aren't philosophers and aren't scientists either. And so the concept of time as such isn't a peculiarly philosophical concept, nor a peculiarly scientific one. That said, time has a special place in science as a fundamental parameter. We can do a lot of science without the concept of sex, for example, even though there's a place in science for the study of sex. (And of course, if there were no sex, science would grind to a halt in a few decades!) But outside of mathematics, we can't do much science without the concept of time. Moreover, physicists have things to say about time that are deep and surprising and were mostly beyond the imagination of the philosophers and the folk until relatively recently. Philosophers have long taken an interest in time as well, and have taken it as a special subject for philosophical analysis. They've...

Does anyone know the national average number of Americans that will study philosophy in their lifetimes?

I'd like to know if my colleagues have any better information than I do. The best I have to offer is a not very reliable guess based on limited information. There is a graph at http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/97trends/ea1-6.htm which, when extrapolated, leads to the estimate that perhaps as many as 70% of people in the USA who have a high school diploma will have at least some college education. And what's posted at http://usgovinfo.about.com/od/censusandstatistics/a/highschool.htm claims that 85% of adults 25 and over have a high school diploma. This suggests that perhaps about 64% of people in the US will have at least some college education -- a figure that I seem to recall being consistent with something I read elsewhere. But to complete our guesswork, we need an estimate of the percentage of people among those with at least some college education who take a philosophy course. Here I have nothing to offer but instinct. And my guess is that it is no higher than 20% and quite possibly considerably...

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