Recent Responses

Why can’t I argue that God exists noncontingently and is an abstract object? Some say it is because abstract objects lack causal power, and thus to argue as such would deny God at least one essential characteristic which any interesting concept of God cannot lack—omnipotence. But why can’t abstract object possess causal power?

Interesting question. Some philosophers have attributed to abstract objects divine attributes like being eternal and timeless. Perhaps some abstract objects (like the properties of justice and beauty) might be worthy of worship. I have actually argued that abstract objects do have causal roles, so I am sympathetic with your inquiry! Their causal role (in my view) takes place in accounting for our intentionality and thinking. When you think about 1+1, the reason why you reason that 1+1=2 is that you grasp necessary relationships between numbers, which are abstract objects. Moreover, for some of us who think God exists non contingently, we suppose that there is the abstract state of affairs of there being a non contingent, necessarily existing God. And no less a philosopher than Plato suggests that the Good might be the source of what is.

However while abstract objects might have some causal powers, few have thought they can have intentional powers (e.g. the property of justice as an abstract object cannot itself act justly or be loving or know things or hear prayers or care about the world....) This limitation would mean that one or more abstract objects would not be able to function / act as God is thought to do so in most theistic traditions.

Be that as it may, a contemporary, brilliant philosopher, Victoria Harrison, has recently argued for comparing God to an abstract object (she did so last summer at a philosophy conference in Brazil). You might do a search for her work on this topic.

Music is considered an art so can we consider the sound of the wind an art?

Great question. It might be made even more vexing if we compare the sound of wind with a musical piece in which musicians play instrumental music that resembles almost exactly the sound of wind. The chief reason why most of us would distinguish the two is because it is long held that works of art are artifactual: things (events or sounds) that are produced intentionally. The term "art" actually comes from the word "ars" which refers to the technique (techne) that is used to produce something. So, for most of history and today, the term "art" is short for "work of art" and because the sound of wind is (typically) not an intentionally produced to be a work (of art), the two are different.

Still, we can imagine someone recording the sound of wind and then using this in an overall musical production. We can also imagine musical compositions intended only to be performed on windy day or during extreme weather conditions in which there is thunder and lightning. In such ways, artists might attune their work to incorporate a variety of environmental factors.

Most bathroom sprays don't destroy bad odours so much as overpower them with a more pleasant odour. In such cases, can people really be said to be smelling the bad odour if they have no conscious awareness of it?

Philosophers will divide over the question whether tastes, colours, sounds, smells and so on are by nature physical or phenomenal. If these so-called "secondary qualities" are physical, then it makes sense to think of one smell covering up another, which is still there and reappears when the smell covering it up is removed. Similarly, if you think of colour as a physical entity, or you thinkbof it as rather like paint , you can think of one "colour" covering another up, so that the top layer of "colour" could be peeled off to reveal the older underlying colour. But if you think of the qualities as inherently perceptual, then one colour or sound or smell is not covered up by another; it is replaced by it. As Plato puts it in the Phaedo, 'in such a situation it either withdraws or ceases to exist.' My own preference is for a theory in which the "secondary qualities" like tastes are not inherently physical. It makes no sense to think of a physical blue, say, that lacks the quality blue. But good arguments can be advanced for both views.

Given a particular conclusion, we can, normally, trace it back to the very basic premises that constitute it. The entire process of reaching such a conclusion(or stripping it to its basic constituents) is based on logic(reason). So, however primitive a premise may be, we don't seem to reach the "root" of a conclusion. Do you believe that goes on to show that we are not to ever acquire "pure knowledge"? That is, do you think there is a way around perceiving truths through a, so to say, prism of reasoning, in which case, nothing is to be trusted?

It's not clear to me what you're asking, but I'll do my best.

Given a particular conclusion, we can, normally, trace it back to the very basic premises that constitute it.

I doubt we can do that without seeing the conclusion in the context of the actual premises used to derive it. The conclusion Socrates is mortal follows from the premises All men are mortal and Socrates is a man, but it also follows from the premises All primates are mortal and Socrates is a primate. So which pair of premises are "the very basic premises" for that conclusion? Outside of the actual argument context, the question has no answer.

I don't know what you mean by "the root of a conclusion," but you seem to be suggesting that any knowledge is impure if it depends on -- or if it was acquired using -- any reasoning at all. Perhaps the term inferential would be a better label for such knowledge. On this view, even if I have direct knowledge that I am in pain (when I am), I have only inferential knowledge that Some Anglophone is in pain if I derive the latter proposition from the former by way of the premise I am an Anglophone.

Your final sentence suggests that reason is like a prism that distorts any image seen through it. I don't see reason as a distorting influence on knowledge but, instead, as an essential tool for acquiring all of the inferential knowledge that we have. It's true that bad reasoning can take you from premises you know to a conclusion that you fail to know, but bad reasoning is the fault of the reasoner, not the fault of reason.

Is certainty a requirement for truth? We know that certainty is not a requirement for knowledge, but how about for truth?

No; truth doesn't require certainty. Whether something is true is a matter of how things are, whether anyone is certain about it or even aware of it. For example: I have a file cabinet in my office with some papers in it. No one (certainly not me) is certain exactly how many pieces of paper are in the cabinet, though there's a truth of the matter. The truth is determined simply by what's in the cabinet, whether anyone knows or bothers to check.

In the case of my file cabinet, it's at least possible to find out how many pieces of paper are in it, and so someone might suggest modifying the view you're asking about. Perhaps there's a truth about a matter only if it's at least possible for someone to become certain of it. And indeed, people have defended views like that. They go under the umbrella of verificationism. There are even some cases where something like verificationism is plausible. For example: we don't believe there's such a thing as absolute uniform (inertial) motion because our physics tells us that even in principle we couldn't detect it. On the other hand, it's hard to see how anyone could ever be certain of exactly how many dinosaurs were alive on earth exactly 100 million years before midnite, New Years 2018, GMT. Nonetheless, the fact that we have no way of being certain doesn't seem to have anything to do with whether or not there's a truth of the matter. In the case of absolute motion, questions of verifiability shade over into questions of what we would even mean by "absolute inertial motion." For the dinosaurs, the fact that there's no way for us to be certain of the number doesn't seem to have anything to do with meaning.

Here's a quicker way to the point: you agree that knowledge doesn't require certainty. But if we can know things we're not certain of, then there are truths we can know without being certain. That's a way of getting to the same place from a premise you've already granted.

How do the authors of dictionaries know what is the meaning of words? They may know the occasions when people say or write those words, but they still have to guess what words and people mean on those occasions, don't they?

The rough answer is that the authors of dictionaries do it the same way the rest of us do. When you run up against a word that's not in the dictionary, sometimes you can tell what it means from context, and sometimes you find out by asking other people. In fact, for most of human history, these were the usual ways of learning the meanings of words. How this works in detail is a deep and interesting question, but whatever the answer, it clearly does work and so there's no special problem for compilers of dictionaries.

Here's an illustration adapted from https://bestlifeonline.com/new-words-2017/. If someone said "Just ping me when you've made a decision," you might need to do a bit of guessing or asking, but it wouldn't take too much work to figure out what they mean: "Get in touch with me by text or email or on Facebook messenger or..." Lexicographers have more systematic and refined methods for deciding what people use a word to mean, but they don't do something radically different from what ordinary speakers do.

We can add that words don't get into the dictionary until they reach the point of being widely used. Sometimes the question isn't so much what people mean by the word (though the dictionary will duly note that) but deciding whether the word has taken root deeply enough to count as part of the language.

Logic is supposed to be an objective foundation of all knowledge. But if that's the case then why are there multiple systems of logic? For example there's 'dialetheism', which allows for true contradictions, and 'fuzzy logic' in which the law of excluded middle does not apply. If people can just re-write the rules to create their own system of logic, then doesn't that make logic subjective and arbitrary? It doesn't seem like arguments would have much weight if I could simply just choose whichever system best supports the conclusion I want.

You've asked a very good question, and your final sentence makes a good point. Those who defend one or another non-classical system of logic (paraconsistent, dialetheistic, intuitionistic, fuzzy, quantum, etc.) insist that they're not simply choosing a system of logic on a whim or merely out of convenience. Instead, they say, we're forced to accept non-classical logic because (a) it's an objective fact that arbitrary contradictions don't imply every proposition; because (b) some propositions are objectively both true and false; because (c) some propositions are objectively neither true nor false; because (d) some tautologies aren't completely true and some contradictions aren't completely false; because (e) the data gleaned from reliable experiments don't obey the classical laws of distribution, etc.

Having looked into them, I find none of their arguments for (a)-(e) persuasive. But what's most interesting, as various philosophers have observed, is that the defenders of non-classical logic sooner or later all rely on classical logic in arguing for their preferred systems. Their reliance on classical logic to argue for non-classical logic suggests to me that classical logic is the logic they trust when the chips are down.

My question is regarding Loneliness. How can anyone overcome loneliness? But first some considerations: The uncertainty of the future does not imply an answer. Saying that someday the feeling of loneliness can disappear because of the possibility of finding someone its not a method to overcome it, its just waiting and tolerating it. Present interaction with other people is not efficient. This may result in feeling more lonely. Of course this is a topic that i can relate to. Thats why previous considerations can have the wrong approach, as it personal. In my opinion, getting involved with other people its just a way to cover the real problem. This has gotten me to think that a logical solution cant be generalized or universalized. But I hope there are aspects of loneliness, that every feels, which can be treated with the same solution. Thanks for your time.

Philosophers may not have any special wisdom to impart on this question, but a bit of analyzing might still be useful.

You haven't said what you mean by "loneliness." It might seem that the answer is so obvious that it's not worth asking, but I think it matters for some things you say. Typically when people say that they're lonely, they mean either that they lack company and find that distressing or painful, or that they don't feel an emotional connection with the people they have as "company." We'll at least start with that understanding.

You're surely right that even if it's possible that you'll find someone to salve your loneliness, that doesn't get you very far. But then you go on to say that interacting with people in the here and now isn't "efficient." On the face of it, this is puzzling, since if it's loneliness as spelled out above that you want to cure, it's hard at first to see how the cure could come without relationships with other people. You say that getting involved with people covers up the real problem, and that raises an obvious question: what do you understand the real problem to be?

Since you haven't said, I can only guess. But one thing you might mean is a lack of self-sufficiency. The idea would be that a truly self-sufficient person could be solitary and yet content. There's surely something to that thought; ideally one should be able to abide and be content in one's own company—at least for a while. Though that's true, it's not a problem that people seek the company of others. Valuing self-sufficiency and solitude doesn't entail putting no value on love and friendship.

That doesn't get us nearer to a solution to the problem you've posed, and as already noted, philosophers have no special insight into such matters. However, there's a related matter that may be relevant: what's sometimes called the paradox of happiness. The "paradox" is just this: even though one might wish to be happy, the best way to achieve happiness is unlikely to be by trying. Happiness is a by-product of pursuing more specific, particular goals that are valuable in themselves. Insofar as loneliness is a source of unhappiness, the same point is likely to apply. It may be that the best way to deal with loneliness is not to try to deal with loneliness. The best way may be to pursue goals that one is likely to find satisfying and that are within reach. Which goals isn't a question with an all-purpose answer; it depends on the person. Some might have the side effect of bringing a person into situations that make satisfying relationships with other people more likely, but if the goals are apt, they'll be worth pursuing on their own. Whether or not that solves the problem of loneliness, it could take it out of the foreground and make it less pressing. For a lot of reasons, someone who's not fixated on loneliness is more likely to be less lonely.

Which is the more morally detestable action. To discriminate against people due to the color of their skin, or to discriminate against people due to their religious beliefs? On both accounts one discriminates against an involuntary characteristic, race being innate, and religious views being a matter of conviction. In the question, I assume that one cannot choose ones conviction, one cannot be forced to believe in God, not truly. Thus, being convinced of the truth of a certain religion is involuntary. Therein lies my question, if we accept the moral detestability of racism, should we also accept a moral detestability of religious prosecution? And if so, wouldn't morality dictate the refrain from verbal offenses against religious people, on par with those against races?

There are at least two issues here. One is whether race and religious belief are involuntary in the same way. Another is whether it's ever okay to discriminate on the basis of a person's beliefs—religious or otherwise.

On the first issue I'm going to simplify by mostly setting aside some important questions about whether there is such a thing as race in any deep sense, and just what race amounts to insofar as there is such a thing. The important point is that in typical cases, there is for most any practical purpose nothing people can do about their race; racial identity is strongly involuntary. That's not so clearly true of matters of conviction. There's nothing at all unusual about people changing their convictions, including their religious convictions. Non-believers become believers; believers become non-believers. This doesn't tell us whether such changes are voluntary, but it's an important difference.

Are such changes belief voluntary? That's too simple a way to frame the issue. It's often said that we can't simply decide what we're going to believe. I could no more decide to believe that there's an elephant asleep on the bed behind me than I could pick up that bed (even without an elephant on it) and crush it into a fist-sized ball with my bare hands. But I can decide to reconsider at least some beliefs. I can decide to seek out reasons and evidence on both sides. I can resist the temptation to ignore facts that count against my predilections. That's not the same as simply deciding to change my mind, though if enough evidence accumulates on one side, I can make the effort to focus on that evidence. If it makes me uncomfortable, there are techniques that will help me sit with that discomfort and not simply give in to it. In short: belief isn't simply voluntary, but in exactly the sorts of cases you have in mind, it isn't simply involuntary either.

We can go further: on important matters—especially if they affect other people— we have a responsibility to pay attention to the evidence and to try to be guided by it. Failure to do that can amount to a legal offense (negligence), but it can also be a moral failing. If someone is unwilling or unable to take what we might call epistemic responsibility, this can be a legitimate reason for at least some kinds of discrimination. It might be a reason not to hire the person to watch your kids, or a reason not to appoint them to a position of power, or a reason to vote against them in an election.

That's all general. In the case of religious belief or lack thereof, the details will matter, but that's true in general. Some people might be best described as brainwashed, but some might just be stubborn. That will make a difference when we consider how much blame (or credit) they get for their beliefs.

Responsibility for one's beliefs is a subtle matter, but we don't need to sort it out to answer your last question. The mere fact that someone disagrees with you about an abstruse and possibly undecidable matter is seldom likely to add up to a reason for discrimination. In particular, persecuting people or even insulting them for their beliefs or lack of beliefs is almost never going to be acceptable. Nonetheless, this isn't because one's religious commitments are involuntary in the way that one's race is. In important ways, the two cases are quite different. What beliefs we end up with is not simply out of our control, even if it's not straightforwardly voluntary. Those differences suggest that bad as it may be to persecute people for their beliefs, it's even worse to persecute them for their race.

I'm thinking about writing a book to teach kids philosophy, but I've run into a bit of a writer's block from the onset. I'm not sure whether to start with epistemology(theory of knowledge) or metaphysics(theory of reality). At first I thought about starting with epistemology, then metaphysics, on the grounds that people base their views on reality around knowledge. But then I realized that one's understanding of reality will often influence how they perceive knowledge. Which one is better to start with? Or perhaps is starting with one or the other inaccurate and should both be introduced at the same time?

I wish you great success in this project! For inspiration, you might look at the entry on philosophy for children on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The books by Gareth Matthews are particularly good and are reference in the SEP entry.

I suggest you might begin with both metaphysics and epistemology. It is very difficult to do epistemology without some (presumed) metaphysical claims (there are observations / sensations / there is thinking / doubting...) and difficult to consider metaphysical claims without engaging in epistemology (what do we know -or have good reason to believe about observations / sensations / thinking / doubting). You might even begin the book with making the claim that while it is tempting to prioritize epistemology (for example) it is difficult to do without some commitments or assumptions about what there is.

One blended way of practicing philosophy with both epistemology and metaphysics can be found in the tradition of so-called critical common sense philosophy as found in, say, Thomas Reid, Bishop Butler, G.E. Moore, Roderick Chisholm.

Good luck with your undertaking!

Pages