Recent Responses

Can you coherently consistently imagine a universe where laws of thoughts are false?

If by "the laws of thoughts" Stephen Maitzen 9/20/18 (changed 9/21/18) Permalink If by "laws of thoughts" you mean laws of logic, then no. No coherent (that is, self-consistent) situation can violate any law of logic. Even philosophers, such as Graham Priest, who claim to be able to imagine situations that violate the law of non-contradiction conce... Read more

In a reply to a question about the sorites paradox, Professor Maitzen writes: "Logic requires there to be a sharp cutoff in between those clear cases -- a line that separates having enough leaves to be a head of lettuce from having too few leaves to be a head of lettuce. Or else there couldn't possibly be heads of lettuce." However, there is no justification that clearly leads from his premise to his conclusion: obviously we can have heaps of sand without knowing exactly how many grains of sand are required to distinguish a "heap" from a pile of individual sand grains, or else there would not be a so-called "paradox" in the first place! The premise as he presents it sounds like a tautology, not a logical argument. What makes a "heap" of sand is not only how many grains of sand there are, but also how those grains are arranged. If you took a "heap" of sand and stretched it out in a line, you would have the same number of grains, but it would no longer be a "heap." You could take a head of lettuce and separate it into its individual leaves, but then you'd no longer have a head of lettuce. So you can clearly have a head of lettuce without knowing the exact number of leaves required, since we can easily validate that assertion through an appeal to empirical experience. The sorites paradox tries to impose a degree of precision on a concept that by design is meant to be indeterminate in number. His answer does not address that consideration at all, but merely insists that a heap "must be" determinate in number or else it could not exist.

What makes a "heap" of sand Stephen Maitzen 9/20/18 (changed 9/20/18) Permalink What makes a "heap" of sand is not only how many grains of sand there are, but also how those grains are arranged. If you took a "heap" of sand and stretched it out in a line, you would have the same number of grains, but it would no longer be a "heap." Agreed! Even so,... Read more

I recently watched a tv show that produced a line of questioning in my head on the virtue of reality. How do we define reality? What's the difference between reality and a world that is the perfect replication of reality? What would be the difference between the two worlds? Is it truly possible to know when we are living in reality? I guess I'm mostly asking if there is work form past philosophers that I could read on the subject?

A perfect replica of reality Allen Stairs 9/13/18 (changed 9/13/18) Permalink A perfect replica of reality would be like reality in all respects. It would contain trees—real trees. It would contain people—real people. It would contain fake butter—real fake butter. And if it were a perfect replica, everything in reality would be in the replica. So in every se... Read more

Is the Sorites paradox really a paradox, or is it more properly considered to be a logical fallacy? By definition, the term "heap" is indeterminate. Yet the Sorites paradox tries to force a specific definition on what is by design an indeterminate concept: the very idea of defining the term "heap" as a specific number of grains of sand is fallacious, is it not? I don't see a paradox here as much as I see confusion about how terms are defined. How many grapes are in a bunch of grapes? How many leaves are in a head of lettuce? How many grains are in an ear of corn? How many chips are in a bag of potato chips? in each of the above questions, the answer will vary from one example to the next, the exact number is not particularly germane to the concept. So what makes a heap different from a bunch or any of the other examples?

I see the sorites paradox as Stephen Maitzen 8/23/18 (changed 8/24/18) Permalink I see the sorites paradox as a very serious problem, not a logical fallacy that's easy to diagnose and fix. The paradox arises whenever we have clear cases at the extremes but no known line separating the cases where a concept applies from the cases where the concept doesn't app... Read more

Do people owe a debt for investments made in them which they never had an option to refuse? Some examples might be: Debt to society for paying for your childhood education Debt to parents for raising you Should it be considered ungrateful for someone to discontinue their affiliation with the investor if they feel that the relationship isn't beneficial to them?

You pose the question twice: Allen Stairs 8/12/18 (changed 8/12/18) Permalink You pose the question twice: first by asking if people owe a debt and second by asking if behaving in certain ways would be ungrateful. I think the difference matters. I don't know whether a child owes a debt to her parents—at least not in a certain strict sense. The primary use of... Read more

Is it ethical to favour one soccer team over another?

The answer is surely no: it's Allen Stairs 8/11/18 (changed 10/5/18) Permalink The answer is surely that it's not unethical or wrong or immoral to favor one team over another. But there's an interesting issue in the background. At least some views of what morality calls for say that we should be impartial. If I'm a utilitarian, then everyone's pleasure... Read more

My understanding is that philosophers like Wittgenstein held that thought without language is impossible. I've seen many people reply that they have non-linguistic thoughts all the time, and my guess is that what they mean is that they often "think" in imagery rather than words. For example, rather than saying with their inner voice, "I should advance my pawn," they picture a chess board with a pawn moving forward. Does this demonstrate non-linguistic thought?

I'm no expert on Wittgenstein Stephen Maitzen 8/9/18 (changed 8/10/18) Permalink I'm no expert on Wittgenstein, and I don't know the particular argument of his that you're alluding to. He does give a famous argument that anything properly regarded as a language must be usable (if not also used) by more than one person. But your question is about someth... Read more

If the unconscious exists as part of our working brains, how can we tell what is in it? Can we find out what is in specifically our own unconscious by ourselves?

There are different theories Gordon Marino 8/9/18 (changed 8/9/18) Permalink There are different theories about that but one prominent theory, namely, Freud's - that repression and resistance are the reasons why much of our mental life is unconscious and save for himself -- he thought ordinary human beings could not break through that resistance on their own... Read more

did socrates really say "I know that I know nothing."?

It seems not. In any case, Allen Stairs 8/4/18 (changed 8/4/18) Permalink It seems not. In any case, the discussion of this saying in Wikipedia is actually pretty good: Log in to post comments

My wife wants to retire to a gated community. I find the phrase to be an oxymoron, and believe that the whole gated project is morally flawed; for example, it can lead to us vs. them thinking, social stratification, etc. Is there an argument here, or just a personal preference?

Nice question - I wish Michael Cholbi 7/26/18 (changed 7/26/18) Permalink Nice question - I wish philosophers thought more about questions related to domestic choices like this one! No doubt the disagreement between you and your wife could reflect variations in personal preferences that are morally defensible. Some can tolerate noisy environments, others pre... Read more