Recent Responses

I recently thought something unsettling about claims of objectivity. It is customary to think that for a view to be objective is for it to be true independent of human opinions. My question then is this: isn't it the case that any view we have, even if we take it to be objective, will still have to pass through the human lens so that there is no view that can be completely independent of human perspectives? Is this a good argument? As an objectivist, I find this argument hard to refute so any help from you would be much appreciated. Thanks!

I think the wording of your Stephen Maitzen 11/29/18 (changed 11/29/18) Permalink I think the wording of your question contains the answer. You define an objective view as a view that is true independently of human opinions. A view can satisfy that definition even if every view is someone's view. The fact that no view can be held without being held by someon... Read more

Can something become nothing? In an absolute sense. It seems impossible intuitively speaking, but I have hard time figuring out a logically strict arguments. Thanks!

Merriam-Webster Online Stephen Maitzen 11/29/18 (changed 11/29/18) Permalink Merriam-Webster defines the relevant senses of the verb "become" as "come into existence"; "come to be"; and "undergo change or development." Given that definition, how about this argument? (1) Necessarily, whatever comes into existence, comes to be, or undergoes (qualitative) chang... Read more

Hey so I'm actually writing a paper on the biological basis of morality and am taking an evolutionary standpoint on it. So my premise is based upon the fact that all living beings have the intrinsic need to survive and reproduce, which is what natural selection is based upon. Also, it has been researched that species (using the definition of organisms that can breed with each other and produce viable offspring) care for each other and co-operate with each other to ensure the survival of their own species. Now I believe that this would lead to one objective moral truth that we ought to care for the well being of our species. I know this commits the is ought fallacy but I believe it can be overlooked in this case since this behavior of survival and reproduction can be observed in all species that we know of to date. Do you think this Is a fairly viable standpoint to take or am I missing something essential?

When you say that "species.. Stephen Maitzen 11/8/18 (changed 11/8/18) Permalink When you say that "species...care for each other and co-operate with each other to ensure the survival of their own species," I take it you're referring not to all species (including all plants, all microbes, all invertebrates, etc.) but only to those species whose members... Read more

Many theists appeal to certain facts about the world (objectivity of morality, laws of nature, existence of the universe) and infer that these facts must be grounded in God. One response that I found common to atheists is to argue that these facts are rather brute and need no explanation beyond themselves. My question then is this: What makes a particular fact a brute fact? To put it more specifically, are there any criteria for what would make a certain fact brute and also for what would make a certain fact necessarily grounded on something else?

As I understand it, the Stephen Maitzen 11/4/18 (changed 11/4/18) Permalink As I understand it, the distinction between brute facts and other facts is that a brute fact has no explanation (not simply an explanation we fail to know) whereas any other fact has an explanation (even if we don't know the explanation). Contingent facts could have been otherwise: t... Read more

Hi! My friend tells me that our purpose in life can't be to be happy. Either one of the religions has got it right, and there is a deity or deities, in which case our purpose is to serve them, or there is no God, in which case we have no purpose other than one we arbitrarily decide for ourselves to follow. Does that claim hold water? Thanks in advance for your help!

I think your friend's Stephen Maitzen 11/1/18 (changed 11/1/18) Permalink I think your friend's argument by dilemma leaves out this possibility: we were made by a deity (or deities) principally in order to lead happy lives rather than principally in order to serve it (or them). Even so, our having been made for the purpose of being happy wouldn't make b... Read more

It is now known that perpetual motion machines are scientifically impossible because of the Principle of Conservation of Energy. Now, suppose someone is able to create a perpetual motion machine. This would entail that a known law of nature has been violated. My question then is this: should that particular act be considered a miracle?

If someone figured out how to Allen Stairs 10/26/18 (changed 10/26/18) Permalink If someone figured out how to build a perpetual motion machine, this would mean that something formerly but falsely believed to be law of nature would have been found not to be. It wouldn't mean that a bona fide law of nature had been violated. Or at least that's a reasonable t... Read more

Hi! I was wondering if I could ask a few moral questions related to Brett Kavanaugh. 1. Is it morally bad to profit from a crime; and, if so, why? It seems to me that most traditional moralities seem to proscribe against acts (like "Thou shalt not murder"), and sometimes against the emotional motivation for acts (greed, lust, pride), but that they aren't focused on the consequences of acts. It also seems to me that act utilitarianism wouldn't regard profiting from a crime as bad per se. If anything, the resulting happiness is a good: it's just that it needs to be weighed together with the resulting suffering. 2. In the case of Brett Kavanaugh, let's assume: (a) that he did commit assaults while drunk 40 years ago; and (b) that, after college, he went on to lead an unimpeachable life. In this scenario, would the assaults then constitute a moral reason not to confirm him to the Supreme Court? What does the panel make of the following claims? -- (a) He's a different person now, so there is no moral problem. 40 years says so. Convicted criminals need to do less than that to prove they deserve to have full citizenship rights reinstated. -- (b) Criminals can still be good Xs -- good doctors, good teachers, good judges, etc -- so there is no moral problem. There is no clear causative link between assaults then and judging ability now. -- (c) Assuming there are moral objections to profiting from a crime, Kavanaugh wouldn't be. Rather, he would be profiting from having got away with a crime, from not having it on his record.

You ask if it's morally bad Allen Stairs 10/25/18 (changed 10/25/18) Permalink You ask if it's morally bad to profit from a crime. Since the answer seems pretty clearly to be yes, I'm a bit unsure what would count for you as saying why, but let's try an example: Robin's spouse carries a large life insurance policy. Robin kills him—a morally bad thing, I... Read more

Can philosophy prove/disprove anything or it is just inconclusive and useless?

One of philosophy's most Stephen Maitzen 10/23/18 (changed 10/23/18) Permalink One of philosophy's most important uses is in helping us to spot bad questions. It's better to diagnose the defect in a bad question than to try to answer a bad question straight up. Take your question, for instance. Its defect is your false dichotomy: your assumption that an... Read more

Why are non-material objects not causally efficacious? Or, why can’t non-material objects partake in causality? Is there a reason other than simply saying that non-material objects are as such by definition? Thank you!

The first point is that not Allen Stairs 10/14/18 (changed 1/5/19) Permalink The first point is that not everyone would accept the presupposition of your question. Most obviously, theists wouldn't. According to many varieties of theism, the First Cause of the material world is not a material thing. Needless to say, not everyone agrees. But you can deny that... Read more

Lots of science today (meteorology, cosmology) is based on computer simulation or modeling for those phenomena that are difficult to observe directly. If a computer simulation gives me a result consistent with what we can see (star distribution for two galaxies that collide) can we infer that the underlying process is the same in the simulation and in physical world? The simulation is just numbers (or symbols) input as data about the system(s) modeled. Are numbers the underlying "stuff" of objects, too, rather than atomic particles, etc.?

Suppose that instead of a Allen Stairs 10/5/18 (changed 10/5/18) Permalink Suppose that instead of a computer producing a simulation, we have an army of thousands of worker-bee science grad students performing and assembling vast numbers of calculations matching all the steps that a computer simulation would call for. Suppose the results are consistent with... Read more

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