What drives all the squabbles about free will and determinism? Is it anything more than a desire to reward and to punish, especially to punish?

What you're asking is really an empirical, psychological question -- What motivates the various sides in a particular controversy? -- rather than a question that philosophers, as such, are well-equipped to answer. But I'll hazard an answer anyway. Take some carefully, even painstakingly, considered decision, such as U.S. president Obama's decision to order the May 2011 hit on Osama bin Laden. If that decision wasn't one for which the agent is morally responsible -- i.e., morally liable to praise or blame -- then I don't know what could be. But according to the incompatibilist side of the debate, if determinism is true then Obama bears no more responsibility for his decision than someone high on PCP bears for his/her decision to try to fly from the roof of an apartment building. According to incompatibilism, if determinism is true then all decisions are equally unfree, equally lacking in responsibility, regardless of how sober, well-informed, and deliberate the decision-maker is. The philosophical...

Do words only have the power that we give them?

By "power" in this context, I take it you're referring to the psychological, rhetorical, or political power of words. I can't see any source of such power except us humans. That isn't to say that the power is unreal, only that words possess no internal magic, contrary to what humans in general used to (and some still) believe. Nor is it to say that any individual can render words powerless simply by deciding to. A racial slur, for instance, might induce people to physically harm the person targeted by the slur even if the person targeted decides to regard the slur as having no power over him or her.

Has American philosophy lost interest in metaphysics?...thanks, Arnold

No, indeed. I don't know which periods of American philosophy you're comparing when you ask whether American philosophy has lost interest in metaphysics. But if you check the current tables of contents of general American philosophy journals such as Nous , Philosophical Studies , and Philosophy & Phenomenological Research -- to say nothing of more specialized American journals such as The Review of Metaphysics -- you're sure to find articles in metaphysics written by American philosophers. You'll also find plenty of American-authored metaphysics articles in philosophy journals that are headquartered outside America, such as Mind , Analysis , and Erkenntnis . If anything, the interest of American philosophers in metaphysics has increased compared to, say, the middle decades of the twentieth century.

As all logical arguments must make the assumption that the rules of logic work, is there any way to derive the laws of logic?

As you suggest, all logical arguments (and hence all derivations) depend at least implicitly on laws of logic. So I can't see any way of deriving any law of logic without relying on other laws of logic. Nevertheless, we can derive every law of logic, provided we're allowed to use other laws of logic in our derivation. We needn't fret about our inability to derive a law of logic while relying on no laws of logic, because the demand that we do so is simply incoherent.

When a person, and especially a talented one, dies young, people sometimes mourn not just what they have in fact lost, but what might have been. But is mourning what might have been predicated on the belief that things could have been otherwise? And if someone is a thoroughgoing determinist and thinks that there's only one way things ever could have turned out, would it be irrational for such a person to mourn what might have been?

One way to interpret the mourner's state of mind is this: the mourner is thinking (optimistically) about the life the young person would have led had he/she not died young. That state of mind is consistent with believing that the young person's death was fully determined by the initial conditions of the universe in combination with the laws of nature. The deterministic mourner might even recognize that, in mourning the young person's death, the mourner is committed to regretting that the Big Bang occurred just the way it did or that the laws of nature are just as they are: for only if the Big Bang or the laws of nature (or both) had been appropriately different would the young person not have died young. Furthermore, determinism allows that they could have been different. Determinism doesn't say that the initial conditions and the laws of nature are themselves causally determined; that would require causation to occur before any causation could occur. Although the deterministic mourner's regret...

Can we perceive the natural laws, which have shaped our ability to perceive?

I'm not sure I would use quite the verb "perceive" to describe our cognitive grasp of natural laws, but I don't see any reason why we can't discover at least some natural laws, including those that have shaped our ability to perceive (or discover). That is, I don't see any reason why a natural law's having shaped our ability to perceive should make that natural law especially hard for us to discover. It's not as if we should think of natural laws as having purposely shaped our ability to perceive in order to keep themselves hidden from us.

Skeptical theism states that if we cannot tell whether any of the evils in our world are gratuitous, then we cannot appeal to the existence of gratuitous evil to conclude that God does not exist. However, I can't help but think that we can. The rules of probability tell us that that individual probabilities can be quite low, but their disjunction can be very high. For instance, there may be only a small chance that you will be involved in an automobile accident on a given day, but if you drive every day, the chances are pretty good that you will be in one on some day in your lifetime. Similarly, even if the chance that a given instance of a trillion cases of suffering is gratuitous is quite low, the chance that one of that trillion is gratuitous can be can be very high, and it only takes one instance of gratuitous evil to rule out the existence of God. Coming from someone who is not a philosophy major, am I right in my criticism of skeptical theism or is it too naive?

The theism part of skeptical theism, at least if it's classical theism, must say that the probability that God allows suffering without having an adequate moral justification for allowing it is well-defined and zero, just as you suspect. But the skeptical part of skeptical theism, as I understand it, says that we can't properly assign any probability at all to the claim that a given case of suffering is in fact gratuitous (i.e., such that God, if God exists, has no adequate moral justification for allowing it). We can't, according to the skeptical part, because we can't presume to know the full range of justifications at God's disposal, if God exists. So we have to enter a "?" rather than a number (or range of numbers) into our calculation of the probability of the disjunction, which of course renders the calculation impossible. I don't mean to suggest that I accept the skeptical part of skeptical theism, but that's what it says, if I understand it correctly.

so What is more real? The number two or my two feet?

Why must either be "more real" than the other? I can't make sense of "more real," anyway, as a comparison. Are shadows less real than the 3D objects that cast them? Shadows are dependent in a way in which 3D objects are not, but I don't see how that makes shadows any less real when they exist. Some philosophers say that the number 2, being an abstract object, exists necessarily (i.e., in all possible circumstances), whereas your two feet exist only contingently (i.e., in some but not all possible circumstances). But that view does not imply that the number 2 is any more real than your two feet. Other philosophers say that the number 2 exists but not your two feet, because they say that "anatomical foot," being a linguistically vague term, fails to denote anything in the world. (I think they're mistaken.) Still other philosophers would say that neither the number 2 nor your two feet exist. But none of that, I think, implies that one is more real than the other. Is Donald Trump more real than the...

Hi! I wonder what "knowledge" is. I heard the JTB argument that says knowledge must be a justified, true belief. Then there is the Gettier problem in which JTB is not sufficient to describe knowledge. But I suppose, to say that "JTB is not enough for knowledge", one must have a definition of knowledge in the first place which is not "justified, true belief". So I was so curious what the definition of knowledge, about which philosophers have been discussing so long, actually is?

You're right that according to the JTB analysis of the concept of knowledge (it's really an analysis rather than an argument), propositional knowledge is identical to justified, true belief. Gettier cases, as you say, are meant to show that knowledge requires more than justified, true belief. But Gettier cases don't proceed by assuming a different analysis (or definition) of knowledge than the JTB analysis: if they did that, they would be guilty of begging the question against the JTB analysis. Instead, Gettier cases involve scenarios in which intuitively the subject lacks knowledge of a proposition despite having a justified, true belief of the proposition. We're supposed to agree that, intuitively, Smith doesn't know the proposition Jones owns a Ford or Brown is in Barcelona , even if we don't have in mind any specific definition of "knowledge." Compare: If I propose an analysis of the concept of a lie on which a lie is nothing more than a false utterance, you can refute my analysis by...

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