I'm attending a lecture on the philosophy of science, and our professor told us yesterday that "we constantly rely on inductive reasoning all the time in our lives, such as when we assume that the floor won't suddenly collapse beneath our feet if we walk forwards." This struck me as odd. Is it accurate to say we "assume" such a thing? It seems to me that we don't even think about these things at all, much less try to justify any such assumptions - saying we're relying on some kind of argumentation seems like a stretch, but perhaps it isn't. Is everything we do, then, the result of certain processes of reasoning? Or are there things we just do without any reasoning to support them?

Hm, I wonder if you were in MY early modern class (where I use this example with Hume ....!) In any case I might only add to Stephen's reply that one small test that we are making an implicit assumption P is to imagine, for a moment, that we didn't believe the proposition P in question -- if we tell ourselves (if we assume) "the floor WILL give out if I walk forwards" then we pretty clearly wouldn't walk forwards, which suggests that the fact that we ordinarily DO walk forwards was relying on the assumption that the floor would NOT give out .... (And of course once we admit to ourselves our implicit assumptions, we might then examine the origin/source of the assumptions, such as some implicit process of inductive reasoning ....) ap

One of the formulation of Kant's Categorical Imperative is that we should never treat humanity as a mere means to an end. I wonder, then, whether this means that horror film directors are behaving unethically. After all, in a horror film, terrible things are made to happen to human beings, solely for the purpose of frightening/pleasing the audience. The human beings may be fictional, but it is nevertheless the fact that they are fictional *humans* that makes horror films effective (as opposed to a horror film where the victims are all robots). It seems to me that the humanity of the fictional characters is being used as a tool to manipulate the audience's emotions. Does this fall under the umbrella of the humanity formulation of the Categorical Imperative? If not, why not? It certainly seems that it is the humanity of the victims (including their emotions, their aspirations, their mortality, their ability to suffer) that is key to the function of horror films.

A very interesting question -- and while I know next to nothing about Kantian ethics, I might chip in here the observation that in a (clearly 'fictional' film) there is no particular, actual, individual human being who is being used as a 'means to an end' (unless of course the actors etc. are being exploited in some way by the director/producers etc...!). Perhaps humanity in some general way is being used, but no individual humans -- so I would imagine that the Kantian proscription wouldn't apply .... (Now if, in a film, the actors were representing actual particular individuals, even if in a fictional way -- like a highly fictionalized biopic, for example -- that might be a different story ....) hope that's useful- ap

What would a robot have to be able to do, or what would it have to be, for us to consider it a sentient being as opposed to a non-sentient automaton? Please note I am using the term "robot" here in a broad sense, including such obviously sentient (fictional) constructs such as C-3PO of Star Wars fame. I don't consider "robot" and "sentient being" to be mutually exclusive terms. I'm interested in what fundamentally distinguishes sentient beings from automatons that merely mimic sentience.

This is a great question, and one with a very long history. There's a key ambiguity in it though, that should be clarified at the start: 'what would it have to be for us to consider it sentient?' might be read metaphysically or epistemologically. To read it metaphysically is to ask what, in fact, is sufficient for the robot to be sentient; to read it epistemologically is to ask what evidence would be sufficient for us, or any third party, to judge that the robot is sentient. The difference is important because it might be that there is some essential feature to sentience, but it is not one which would ever allow us to judge with any confidence/reliability that some creature other than ourselves possesses it. .... That said, a good starting point for you would be Descartes's Discourse on Method, where he argues (in brief) that the possession of genuine linguistic competence and general rationality are marks of the 'mental', or of 'sentience' broadly construed; he holds that no purely...

Would a materialist and reductionist have to reject the phenomena/noumena distinction? I saw a clip of a debate between Christopher Hitchens and Douglas Wilson in which Hitchens seems to claim that one could reject the supernatural without rejecting the noumenal. To truly believe in a hidden "thing in itself" wouldn't you have to take a leap of faith, so to speak? You would have to assert that we should believe in something unprovable, which would seem to be the antithesis of Hitchens' normal position. Thanks!

Very interesting question, but as a non-kant specialist I would answer this. It's not clear to me that the p/n distinction is a metaphysical one, i.e. one between two different kinds of objects, one 'out there in itself' and one 'in here, as perceived by our minds." Rather it seems to me more an epistemological one, ie two different ways of thinking about one and the same objects: there's the sun-in-itself, and the sun-as-it-appears, but that is one object (the same sun) thought about two different ways, not two distinct objects. (Perhaps Kant scholars interpret the distinction differently ....) But on htis understanding, the noumenal doesn't seem so exotic or supernatural or require a leap of faith, etc.; it just seems a reflection of the (perhaps obvious) fact that in thinking and perceiving about x we cannot but employ the cognitive apparatus we have, and that that apparatus will influence the process in various ways ... Moreover, "to reject the supernatural" could also be understood purely...

If something (a tool, a work of art, a dish, etc.) was created with a specific goal in mind, fails miserably at achieving that goal, but manages to be pretty good at doing something else, is it still a failure? Suppose a movie sets out to be dramatic and heart-wrenching, but ends up being inadvertently hilarious (in a good way). Should it be considered a failure? I ask because there are lots of people who tend to argue that X fails as an X and thus, regardless of how it might otherwise succeed for some people, it should be considered bad. I'm not so sure that's the case.

This strong position seems awfully black and white to me. It's easy enough to distinguish "failing to accomplish goal x" from "failing to accomplish goal y," generally speaking, so why not use that? So of course it's plausible that something would fail to accomplish its creator's intended goals while inadvertently accomplishing some other "goal." Of course, that latter sounded awkward -- what is it to have a goal (for a project such as a film) if not a deliberate or intentional one, and what is success if not 'fulfilling one's intended goal"? In other words, if (in your example) the film was not intended to be hilarious then it didn't have the goal of being hilarious, in which case it could not be counted as "successful" if "success" = fulfilling one's goals ... But then again, "success" means different things -- not merely 'accomplishing one's goal' but (in this case, say) "making money" or "making people laugh" etc.... But then again, again, as I think more about it, I'm leaning towards the view...

In scenarios where the metaphorical glass is either half-full or half-empty, so to speak, are there any compelling rational reasons to come down on one side or the other? Or is a person's optimism or pessimism just a character trait independent of rational thought?

Well, there may be certain ontological commitments or implications of choosing one over the other. (This would be independent of one's "optimism/pessimism"...) For example, in the medievals there was extensive discussion about what constituted "real being" and what only seemed real, but was in fact either derivative or conceptual or negative being. So, for one example, it was argued that light is "real" while shadows, which SEEM real, can be "thought of" as if they were real, in fact are not: shadow is merely the absence of light. A lot could ride on this: all real being (for example) would require a cause of its being, while derivative or non-beings would not. So if there is light you need to explain what causes the light; but if there is darkness, you don't need something which "generates" darkness, since darkness is not a real existent, but the absence of the real existent. That being said, there is something to say for preferring the glass being half-full -- for then you are speaking of what...

According to Wikipedia, "any definition that attempts to set out the essence of" a concept "specifies the necessary and sufficient conditions for a thing being a member of" the set corresponding to that concept. Ok. But I wonder if it wouldn't be great if, for some more difficult concepts, we could at least specify some sufficient conditions in a way that we would pick most things that are members a the corresponding set. For instance, wouldn't it be a nice philosophical progress if we could get a "definition" (?) of beauty that would cover most beautiful things and no non-beautiful thing? I mean a definition that is not circular, of course.

I haven't looked at the wikipedia article, but the view it expresses is VERY old-fashioned. Since Wittgenstein's "family resemblance" concept, and especially since cognitive scientists such as Eleanor Rosch's work in the 1970s, it's far more fashionable to think of concepts (and categories) as constituted not by "necessary and sufficient conditions" but by prototypes and similarity relations, far more befitting "fuzzier" concepts -- for example the way we think about "dogs" is not to generate an "essence" of necy/sufficient conditions, but by having in mind some prototypical dog at the center and then linking it to less familiar, less central, other examples ... This is far more in keeping with your nice suggestion, that what we seek (as I'd put it) are some "characteristic" properties of the paradigmatic members of the set, recognizing that other creatures may share these properties to various degrees and still count as members of the set in question ... So unless the wikipedia article was...

Most words function properly because we more or less agree on what they mean. I can say "chair" and you will most likely have a good idea of what I am talking about. There are other terms, however, where people seem to squabble quite a bit about what a term actually means - like "art", "personhood", "fairness", etc. My question is: Can such terms be useful even if there are several opposing interpretations of what they mean? How? No doubt the debate itself is informative, but if we don't have a clear understanding of what "art" means, I wonder how useful it is to talk about the qualities of art, the study of art, or whether something counts as art. So how useful are terms where people can't agree on a concrete meaning? When does a term become too vague or disputed to be useful?

Great question, though I might worry that words like "useful" are about as vague as any of those in your examples, and thus your question may suffer from the same problems! ... I like your point that "the debate itself is informative" -- assuming that's true, which seems plausible, why couldn't that be "useful" enough? We learn an awful lot about our own concepts and beliefs when we grapple over what constitutes a person, or a work of art, or fairness ... So I'm a bit curious why, after recognizing that as a value for even these vague terms, you seem to demand something significantly more. Perhaps you would like these terms to take on refined and precise meanings like those in natural science, at least paradigmatically -- but then again, these terms DO often take on such precision, at least once they're in the hands of philosophers debating the issues. Bertrand Russell has a nice bit where he observes that if scientists are entitled to develop their own terminology and refine ordinary words to make...

Couldn't all marketing that implements psychological techniques to influence behavior without the subject realizing it be considered unethical? It seems to me that advertisers have an unfair advantage over consumers who have not had the opportunity to study the psychology used in marketing campaigns.

That's a great point, but of course partly it depends on what it means to "have the opportunity": in the general sense everyone is free to study whatever they want in this country .... (of course in practical terms not everyone is free to do very much, perhaps, but at least in principle; and anyway even if far more people were "freer," in practical terms, how many would actually choose to study the psychology of marketing?) .... And, anyway, a lot of the fascinating results exploited by marketers are pretty robust: ie they persist even AFTER the people are informed .... (For great examples see Dan Arielly's book Predictably Irrational and Daniel Kahneman's recent book Thinking, Fast and Slow) ..... ap

How can we justify using juries in our court systems when there are significant problems of discrimination and stigmatization against certain groups? Don't such common biases in society undermine the role of the jury as a supposedly neutral judge of evidence?

I'm reminded of (I think) Churchill's observation that democracy is a terrible form of government, but it's the least bad of all the alternatives .... You are surely right in your observation, but what alternative would be better? *Every* individual may well be subject to the same biases, even "experts," and you have to put the accused up for judgment before *someone*: at least if you make it a reasonably large group of people, and do your best to avoid "biased" people, and to select "peers," you seem to maximize your chances of getting something resembling "objectivity" or neutrality ... ap