Recent Responses

Say that you join a "youth social and adventure group", where, while rock-climbing or bowling or hiking, its core members will begin, subtly, to sound out your religious beliefs and talk to you about God, is that at all morally problematic? Or in general, if any group has the main raison d'etre of recruiting for a church/political party/pyramid scheme, but initially conceals this motivation (for instance, through initially avoiding any mention of the parent organisation), is there anything wrong with that?

There is something wrong with Jonathan Westphal 12/14/17 (changed 12/14/17) Permalink There is something plainly wrong with a group that conceals its real purpose, surely, and lures you in with a false front. But there is nothing wrong with members of a group that is visibly religious in orientation inviting someone to come along and join. 'Why not come and... Read more

What might be the impact, if any, on philosophical theory or practice is we found life elsewhere in the universe?

Funny you should ask this: Michael Cholbi 12/7/17 (changed 12/7/17) Permalink Funny you should ask this: The philosopher Tim Mulgan just published a nice article exploring this question, particularly its ethical and meta-ethical implications. Here's Mulgan's piece: Read more

How strong of an argument for theism is the fine-tuning argument, and what is the current opinion of it?

Great question! Yuval Avnur 11/26/17 (changed 11/26/17) Permalink Great question! "How strong" is a difficult question to answer precisely, and I'm sure different philosophers will have very different takes on this. The answer will probably have to be comparative (that is, compare how good this argument is to others), and philosophers disagree about how good... Read more

What is right and what is wrong? Who can say what is right and what is wrong? How can we know what it is? Does it really matter, does it make a difference to know what the right thing and what the wrong thing is? I'm talking about stuff like sexism, racism, money, society etc.

Well, things are wrong if we Allen Stairs 11/24/17 (changed 11/24/17) Permalink Well, things are wrong if we shouldn't do them; they're right if we should. As for which specific things, there are many. Some people think they can boil it down to a simple principle or two (e.g. things are right if they produce the largest balance of good consequences over bad.... Read more

What is the key difference between philosophy and poetry? Can a quote be identified as poetic with a philosophical idea hidden within it? For example Albert Einstein once said "Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand." Could this quote be identified as a sort of poetry? Can it be described as something that describes a philosophical idea? This question arose as someone told me that this is his philosophy, but it sounds like a poetic piece that describes an idea to me. In addition, David Schmidtz once said that "Life is a house and meaning is what makes it home." This also sounds poetic, but does it also describe a philosophy in a single sentence? In general, can a poetic sentence/quote be used as a philosophy or to more generally describe a philosophy?

Plato's view was that poetry Jonathan Westphal 11/23/17 (changed 11/24/17) Permalink Plato's view was that poetry is a divine madness - theia mania - and that it is better avoided. He recommended philosophy instead. This seems a bit extreme, and a bit dull. Not all poetry is the product of any kind of mania, and many poets are perfectly sane. Some philo... Read more

Is Privacy a form of lying? To keep something private is to regulate truth, it's deciding who should learn the truth and who shouldn't (whether it be on a personal scale or a larger collective scale such as a political organisation). Usually, things are kept private in order to prevent judgment from outside parties, but is it not right that people should be able to make judgments based on the truth? For instance, why do we usually keep our sexual encounters private? Should we not make judgements based on the real truth either of one's character or organisation as opposed to being kept from the reality by the mitigation of information? what if there were no privacy? what if humans were only ever completely honest about their situations? is privacy an arbitrary social construct? would a world without privacy be chaos? P.S is there any interesting reading on this topic you might recommend?

Here's a first-pass response. Allen Stairs 11/23/17 (changed 11/23/17) Permalink Here's a first-pass response. Lying is saying something that you know is false in an effort to get someone to believe it. If I don't say anything, and I don't try to mislead you about the facts, then I'm not lying. And so if I keep something private, I'm not lying. In fact,... Read more

In war memoirs, there is sometimes talk about a feeling of invulnerability among soldiers new to combat: it never occurs to many people that they themselves might be killed. But then something punctures the feeling: it might be that a friend dies, or it might be the sheer quantity or awfulness of death, but at that point the recruit "sees the elephant" and gains a sense of their own mortality. Well, if someone "sees the elephant", how would philosophers characterise the change in epistemological status? For instance, would it be fair to say that the person has gained new knowledge, ie now knows that they're mortal, whereas they didn't know this before? Or is just a case of probability weightings of possible outcomes having changed in the light of new data?

It's a fascinating question. Allen Stairs 11/17/17 (changed 11/17/17) Permalink It's a fascinating question. When the recruit "sees the elephant," as you put it, they seem to gain something that calls out for an epistemological characterization, but just what they gain is harder to say. The problem is that the obvious suggestions don't seem to work. The... Read more

Is there any reason to believe that one sex is biologically superior to the other in a generalized sense? I've heard it said that men are inferior to women because they don't live as long and, in every age group are more likely to die than women. Add to that the fact that men's immune systems aren't as resilient as women's, they invest much less in reproduction, more boys than girls have ADHD or autism, and (it has been argued) men's sexual and aggressive urges are the cause of most violence and suffering in the world. As a man myself, I find these notions deeply troubling, not least because I am not a violent person, but also because though the above facts are scientific, I've read other arguments that evaluative notions of 'superiority' and 'inferiority' have no place in scientific discourse. So if it's not for scientists to say whether or not one sex is superior to the other, which type of expert should we appeal to, if at all? Philosophers such as yourselves, who presumably understand value better than most people? If so, do you think one sex can be considered superior to the other, in any all encompassing, generalized, meaningful way?

The physicist Wolfgang Pauli Allen Stairs 11/16/17 (changed 11/16/17) Permalink The physicist Wolfgang Pauli apparently didn't have much patience for what he saw as nonsense. More than once, it seems, he dismissed an idea by saying that it was "not even wrong." I'll have to admit: the idea that one sex is superior to the other in any all-things-considered wa... Read more

If I investigate the Goldbach conjecture by testing individual even integers to verify that they accord with it, do I have more reason to believe that the conjecture is true the more integers I verify? Or am I in just the same epistemic position regarding the conjecture whether I've verified one integer or a billion?

As you clearly know, no Richard Heck 11/9/17 (changed 11/9/17) Permalink As you clearly know, no matter how many integers you have checked, that will always be a finite set, and so there will always be infinitely many integers you have not checked. Unless you had some reason to believe that a counterexample to Goldbach must be "low", then, it's hard to see w... Read more

Why does God not relieve the acute suffering of a child? This example incites the jury. The child's suffering and mine during a flu episode only differ in degree. The question is why God allows suffering at all. In a world of inevitable death suffering is unavoidable and is therefore as natural as elliptical orbits. Suffering (like its twin pleasure) is morally neutral and a by-product of sentience--cruelty and indifference are not neutral. For God to intervene would be to change the natural order, thus depriving humans of a full range of experience, freedom to act, and full responsibility for those actions. The terms of existence are non-negotiable. God's moral law is the architect's plan for living with these conditions. Does my argument hold any water?

I think your argument has Stephen Maitzen 11/9/17 (changed 11/9/17) Permalink I think your argument has holes that prevent it from holding much water: 1. Our world need not have been a world of inevitable death. Any God capable of creating the universe from scratch is capable of creating its physical laws, so nothing forced God to make our universe one in w... Read more