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Good morning, Please give me your perspective on the following topic Theological determinism and free will. Theological determinism seems to imply that I am not truly free if God is omnipotent and has infallible foreknowledge. After all, if God knows in advance that I will steal a car, it seems as though I am destined to do so, and that I am actually not responsible (God's fault, I am absolved of morally unacceptable behaviour). Some (Christian) Philosophers would probably argue to the contrary. They might say that God's foreknowledge does not imply that I am destined to act in a certain way, as God's foreknowledge only means that he knows what I will freely choose to do. Had I chosen to freely act in another way, his foreknowledge would have anticipated that as well. My own thought is that this argument merely implies that our Free-Will is an illusion. A simple thought experiment to support that is : If God decided to reveal some of his infallible foreknowledge to me, such as, for example, that I will buy a new red car tomorrow, then I would be free to act in a way that violates this foreknowledge; I may decide to buy a second-hand blue car instead. So Free-Will seems to imply that I can only be truly free if I could act in a way that violates God's infallible knowledge. There are of course many different permutations and views. Some answers resort to Modal Logic (about which I know nothing), suggesting that some sort of reconciliation between Infallible foreknowledge and Free-Will is possible after all. Your views will be greatly appreciated Kind Regards

Thank you for your excellent question and observations.

While I am inclined toward what is known as open theism (in accord with work by William Hasker) which essentially denies that divine omniscience includes truths about future free action (referred to sometimes as future, free contingents), I am (for the most part) agnostic about whether omniscience of the future would indeed show free will to be an illusion or provide evidence for fatalism. The reason why I am inclined to open theism is because I suspect that what you and I as free agents will do tomorrow is under-determined. It has not yet happened that tomorrow you will (freely) buy a red car. HOWEVER, if we adopted some form of 4 dimensionalism, according to which all times are equally real, and it is true that (say) in 2018 you are freely buying a red car (and so the event of your free action is the result of your free action at that time), then I suggest God's knowing that would not violate your free action.

Your point about what would happen if you were informed by an infallible, omniscient source about what you will do is very interesting! Arguably, your point rests on what seems right, that when we deliberate about what to do freely in the future, we do not already know what we will do. If I KNOW I will buy the car, it would be odd for me to deliberate on whether I should or should not make the purchase. This reasoning might, then, give us reason for thinking that God's revealing (assuming 4 dimensionalism, etc) to you now in 2017 what you will do in 2018 (freely?) would compromise your freedom or at least lead to paradox. But if we take the thought experiment to its natural conclusion, on this schema, all the factors would enter into what takes place in 2017 and 2018. So, what you do in 2018 might involve this: "It was revealed to me a year ago I would buy a red car. I want to defy this to back-up a claim I made on the blog Askphilosophers, but then again, I have a chance to buy that Italian racing car and, while it happens to be red, I will paint it blue just after the purchase." As you make the purchase, you hear a divine voice: "You raised a good point in Askphilosophers in 2017, but keep in mind I revealed to you that you would purchase a red car in 2018. I did not fill you in that you would paint it blue after the purchase."

I don't quite understand why people put so much time and effort into conversing with other people about their internal "belief systems." To me, the only thing that really matters is how other people behave: whatever they believe is secondary to how well or how poorly they act. If one person believes "treat others well because Jesus says so," while another person believes "treat others well because Krishna says so," wouldn't they then both agree with each other that the over-riding priority here is to treat others well? How much "should" it really matter WHO says so?


Your view reminds me a bit of what used to be called "Christian atheism". The idea was that to say for example that God is our heavenly Father is to adopt and proclaim a policy of behaviour towards other men, namely one of brotherhood. The problem with ruling out religious faith as such, "without works", so to speak, is that as a matter of fact for many if not most religious believers it is not the case that religion is just ethics and that "the only thing that really matters is how people behave". That may be what matters to you; then you are saying, 'Ethics matters to me; religious faith doesn't.' And if your view is stated impersonally, that the one ought to matter and the other not, we have to consider the fact that it might be the case that people came to be behave in a brotherly way, but without any affection or love. Would that be as good as people behaving well towards one another and loving their neighbours? And that is the heart of the matter. Behaviourism (your view) is I am afraid to say false.

People often take pride in things that they don't have control over, or events and accomplishments in which they were not involved. For example, an American might be proud of the United State's role in World War 2 even though it occurred long before he was even born. Much the same could be said of pride of one's race, university, local sports team, extended family or ancestry, and so on. How can this kind of pride be justified?

Standardly, philosophers think of pride as closely related to deservedness. Pride, on this view, amounts to taking pleasure in one's excellence or accomplishments. To have proper pride therefore requires that one have an accurate appraisal of one's excellence or accomplishments. To take more pleasure than one's excellence or accomplishments merit is to exhibit vanity. To take less pleasure than one's excellence or accomplishments merit is to exhibit excessive modesty or a lack of self-respect. (This analysis of pride owes much to Aristotle's discussion of pride in the Nicomachean Ethics.)

So what of those who (as you ask) are 'proud of' their nation's past accomplishments, or in the victories of their favorites sports teams, etc.? On its face, pride seems unjustified in these cases. For these are not the person's accomplishments but the accomplishments of others. It would, I agree, be a form of noxious self-flattery for someone born well after the Second World War to take literal pride in the US' role.

But this suggests that "pride" here is being used in a different or looser sense. In being 'proud' of the US role in the War, I am not taking pleasure in what I did. (After all, I didn't do anything!) I would speculate that 'pride' here is a mixture of admiration and identification. It would be strange for (say) Swedes to 'take pride' in the American war effort, precisely because they do not identify as Americans or see themselves as contributors to the ongoing lineage of American history and culture. Swedes could thus admire the American war effort but not really 'take pride' in that effort. Contemporary Americans, in contrast, can both admire that effort and identify with those responsible for that effort. This isn't pride in the classical Aristotelian sense. It's a bit like pride at one remove: a kind of taking pleasure in admirable things done not by oneself but by those one identifies with. Its justification, in turn, depends on (a) whether (as the classical Aristotelian conception has it) these accomplishments are worthy or admiration, and (b) the admirer stands in a sufficiently strong relationship of identification with those responsible for these accomplishments.

Are people and businesses misusing the word philosophy when they say, for example, "My philosophy is to always tell the truth," or "Our philosophy is that the lowest price is the best price?" Isn't that closer to a creed or an ideology?

Briefly, no. Words mean what people use them to mean, and words can have multiple meanings. Expressions like "My philosophy is..." are so common that they represent one of the meanings that the word "philosophy" has come to have in English. Of course it's not what professional philosophers usually have in mind when they use the word, but professional philosophers don't get veto power over usage.

A further thought or two: I can't really get bent very far out of shape by this one, but it's a bit unfortunate in at least one respect: it gives some people the impression that philosophy is all about truisms and banal principles instead of being something that calls for rigorous thought. But the cure for that is not to complain about how folks use the word; it's for philosophers to do a better job of helping people understand what we do and why it's worth doing.

I've often heard people make the following argument about the n-word. It is self-defeating to insist that it is offensive for people, especially white people, to use the n-word. This taboo is precisely what empowers the word and makes it harmful; if we let people say it freely, it will lose its effect, which is what those concerned about racial invective should really want. I was wondering if the panelists are convinced by this theory of the meaning of the n-word and slurs more generally.

I am in my sixties, and I used to hear the N-word uttered quite freely and frequently by whites. The term still retained its poisonous power, which comes from a bloody history of oppression. It is true that some words like "sucks" lose their potency and connection with their original meaning as they come into common usage, but I see no reason to believe that this would hold for racial slurs. Moreover, I suspect that some taboos, some limits on expression are healthy. It would not be salutary for the psyche for people to feel relaxed in the use of terms that landed like stones on some people's ears. Thanks for your question.

Acts of "kindness": I do things in my life for others like; hold doors, pick up liter and carry groceries. I have been under the assumption that I was doing these things for others. After making this a way of life, I find myself feeling guilty when I don't pick up trash or hold the door for someone. So my question is: Are my actions as well intentioned and selfless as I once believed or do I do those things to feed my ego to make myself think I am a good person? This has really got me thinking about my motivations for "doing the right thing". Am I secretly trying to make the unconscious case for my moral/socital superiority? Thanks for listening. Kai

Is there any reason at all to think your motivation is selfish? It seems like an abstract possibility that you are trying "to make the unconscious case" for your moral and social superiority, but where is the evidence? There is the deliverance of your own heart to be considered too. If you catch yourself thinking, 'I wish I didn't have to open all these doors for people. It is so annoying. Why don't I just shove through first? - Oh, but then people will not think I am a good person.' Suppose you suppress the thought. Then there is a question to be answered. But in the absence of any evidence of this sort, any thoughts of this kind, and in the presence of a good-hearted or kindly feeling towards the people for whom you open doors and carry groceries, why on earth would you think that there was anything sinister and egoistical going on in the unknown depths of your soul? For one thing, ex hypothesi these things are unknown. Maybe they are there and maybe they are not. But that is a tautology from logic, not an argument. So there is no reason to draw any conclusion other than the one to which all the evidence points, namely that you are a kind and thoughtful person who takes seriously the responsibilities we have to others. To repeat, if the evidence positively suggests you are selfish, that's one thing. But the evidence as you have described it is nil.

Sociology undergraduate here, who is struggling to "see the wood for the trees", as the idiom goes. My two brief questions are the following: Is there anything unique within sociological theory, or is it just a spin-off of philosophy that lacks training on how to think? Additionally, is it the case that a philosophy degree can open doors into other fields, but sociology is more limiting to academic mobility?

This will be a very subjective response; others who have some acquaintance with the two fields will answer differently. Also I'm pretty out of date on sociology. One thing that has not changed much there, though, as far as I'm aware, is that like many social sciences, it is deeply split between two subfields, which differ so much from each other that they might as well be separate fields. On the one side, there is mathematical and quantitative sociology, which operates largely with rational-choice models, treated quasi-formally, and on the other side there is qualitative sociology, which is no less empirical, but relies more on participant observation and what Clifford Geertz called "thick description." I think the answers to your questions depend to some extent on which of these two you are primarily interested in. Or you might, as a third option, be one of those hopeless idealists like James Coleman, who thought the two mutually alienated sides belonged inseparably together and that the example given by the founders (Simmel, Weber, Durkheim, etc.) in this respect should go on being followed. Coleman was said by many (not only at the University of Chicago) to have been the last sociologist who successfully bridged that gap. (Which shouldn't intimidate you!)

To your first question: Sociologists of all three kinds are of a much more empirical cast of mind than philosophers, and that makes a big difference. They are also, in their very different ways, more empirically-minded than most other social scientists, especially economists. I think this is a big advantage, since one of the significant weaknesses of philosophy is that there is too much meta-stuff and not enough obect-stuff. Philosophy certainly does offer a certain kind of training in "how to think," but sociology gives a *different* kind of training in how to think, a more concrete and straightforward one less easily bamboozled by useless verbal gymnastics and endless hair-splitting. It gets more happily down to the business of addressing real and important, if sometimes rather ill-defined problems. However, there are differences in this respect among the three kinds of sociologists I've listed. The first kind is pretty narrow, at the extreme they're a bit like economists and don't think much at all; they just apply their models to large datasets. The second kind have to engage in a bit more thought just because the responsibility for processing and organizing the vast quantity of information they gather falls on themselves. But it's often not a very systematic or disciplined kind of thought. The third kind (and yes, I realize, the cardinality of this set may presently be zero, but that shouldn't prevent an undergraduate from striving to emulate the previous members of the set, from Weber to Coleman) is the best model for learning how to think. Especially because it's out of favor, and nearly all the members of any department (who will each be on one of the first two sides) will think you're daft, and you'll constantly be having to defend yourself -- which is in itself a good training in how to think.

However, I can see why you ask the question. If you look at the founders (who are still live figures in the field; their key texts are taught to undergraduates), and many sociologists since then (esp. those of the third sort listed above), it's certainly true that they were not only philosophically literate but often motivated by philosophical questions. In some cases, as in Alfred Schutz, the philosophical dimension seems almost dominant, and in those cases one can certainly sympathize with your question whether sociology is just an inferior spin-off of philosophy. However, even in Schutz the empirical dimension is much more high-profile than in Husserl (whose ideas he largely relied on in his sociological work). So I would say that it really depends on your tastes and sympathies. If you like thinking about stuff in the abstract, without being weighed down by facts or specific questions, then you might prefer philosophy. If you actually care about getting any sort of insight into real social questions, sticking with sociology may be the way to go.

Now to the second question: If your training is mostly in the first sort of sociology, you're probably better off switching to economics or political science, where you'll learn more about that sort of modelling than you will in sociology (and math would of course be best of all, since those tools will be useful anywhere). A degree focused mainly on the second sort of sociology might feed into a broader range of possible options, especially since that sort of skill has become pretty rare these days -- even anthropology, which used to turn out battalions of people trained in that skill, has backed away from it somewhat. But the best and most flexible degree, in terms of fields it could lead into eventually, is in the third sort of sociology -- i.e. in a sociology that still tries to bridge the gap between the formal and the qualitative. I really don't know whether anything remotely resembling that is still possible, but if it is at your university, then I'd definitely stick with sociology -- certainly over philosophy, anyway. It would have a better balance than philosophy between the abstract/theoretical and the concrete/empirical kinds of learning to think; probably even the first or second sorts of sociology could have that advantage if they weren't too one-sided.

So a really old question would be "what's the meaning of life?". I wanna switch it up and ask "why do we even exist?". We've done so many negative things throughout history. The importance of knowing what we're made of and how we work means nothing to me, if I don't know why we exist on this planet we call earth.

I am not sure how old the question is, in exactly the form you give it. I suspect it is quite new. In the Nichomachean Ethics Aristotle asks whether 'there is some end of the things we do, which we desire for its own sake (everything else being desired for the sake of this) . . .' (W.D. Ross trans.). But this is a very different question. There is no mention of meaning, and there is no mention of life. So I think it makes matters worse to think that 'Why do we even exist?' is the same question. (I wonder about the implication of the word "even". What is it suggesting? (Cf. 'Why does he even bother to come to the meeting, since he never utters a word, and sleeps through them?')) Another bit of phrasing bothers me. You say that what we are made of means nothing to you, 'if I don't know why we exist on this planet we call earth.' Are you thinking that it's not really called earth, but we, we ignorant fools, we call it that? So what is it's real name? We need to get the main question very clearly in mind, without the noise, before we can hope to begin to answer it. I suspect it has as much to do with the dislocation produced by the destruction by science of the mediaeval world picture, which gives a picture of life ending up in Heaven in the eternal life of God. Once science had destroyed the cosy Judeo-Christian metaphysics, there was a vacuum in which one could ask, 'What - what then - is going on? What does life amount to? What does it mean?' The question is an essentially secular one. It is important to note that here by life is meant life in a quasi-biographical sense, not in a biological sense. John Wisdom asks us to imagine that 'we come into a theatre after a play has started and are obliged to leave before it ends.' We may then be puzzled by some action in the part of the play that we have seen. 'What does it mean?' we can ask. "Why did the heroine raise her left arm three times without any explanation as the clock struck one?' (This is my example, not Wisdom's.) The important point about this question is that the narrative is taken to be incomplete. Is that assumption satisfied in the case of a human life and biography? Not necessarily, it seems to me, since much in life is explicable and much may be complete. Many obituaries point to a kind of completeness and fulness of a life well lived, and novels can too. If a beloved father dies, one need not conclude that life is meaningless, whatever that is supposed to mean. One will mourn, and yet one may not be troubled by the onset of meaninglessness. One might of course think that death implies incompleteness, but that is far from obvious. Suppose we think that the question, 'What is this nice log fire for can be expressed (which I doubt) as, 'What is the meaning of this fire?' The fire is to provide heat for those around it. That does not mean that when it ends (provided it does not end too early) and dies down, we can infer that it has or had no end or that it was meaningless. The reverse is true. If the end comes at the right time, that simply underscores the "point" of having the fire. I should add finally that I do not believe that the "negative things" that we have done in history have any connection with "why we exist on this planet" or with "What is the meaning of life?" or at least one would want to see an argument making the connection.

Is there any reason to think that professional philosophers change their minds more than other people?

I suspect, and this is confirmed by experience, that professional philosophers if anything change their minds somewhat less than other people. Your early experience with philosophy is that you change your mind all the time. As a learner, every new paper or book seems to have an unassailable and persuasive argument, and you feel yourself pushed all over the place in your views (at least on topics where you are malleable because you haven't already thought much about them - which connects to my point below).

But professional philosophers have had the opportunity to read, absorb, and evaluate many many points of views and accompanying arguments. If they have got that far they have probably formed, or reinforced, their own views on very many topics, and those views are correspondingly harder to alter from outside. It is surprisingly difficult to get a philosopher to change his or her mind. That's not because they are especially stubborn (though some are; and also not to be underestimated is the factor that many philosophers have a professional stake in preserving, or being seen to preserve, the view with which they are associated). It is rather because they have very likely already heard arguments similar to the one you are now trying to use to change their mind, and have already made up their mind as to why that argument does not budge them. Even a new argument has to run up against the whole established and carefully built worldview in the philosopher's mind, and so has that much more to do to cause a change in opinion.

Outside of their speciality, say in more everyday topics like politics, the philosophical skillset I think also tends to make philosophers less likely to shift opinion. Speaking just for myself, I can say for sure that the really big changes in various parts of my worldview happened, for the most part, prior to becoming a professional philosopher.

That said, and you can be sure that other philosophers with their own equally set ideas will disagree with all I've just said, there are notable examples of philosophers changing their minds. One example that occurs to me is Frank Jackson, who in 1982 devised the famous knowledge argument to show that physicalism is false - the idea that we and the world around us consist of nothing but matter as described by physics. This anti-physicalist argument became very influential. But Jackson became persuaded of physicalism's truth in the 1990's, and now spends much of his time explaining why in his view his original argument was mistaken. I think we would all like to think that if good reasons are presented to us we will change our minds.

Not everyone who smokes gets cancer, but we still say things like "smoking causes cancer." How should we understand causal statements like this?

A good question, but as you no doubt guessed, one that people have thought about. The short answer is that we'll say that X causes Y if X raises the probability of Y, even if it doesn't raise the probability to 100%

Let's be a bit more concrete. Think about clinical trials of a medication. Suppose we think that some new compound lowers blood pressure. We might test this by selecting a set of test subjects with hypertension, and then randomly assigning some of them to the treatment group and others to the control group. Ideally the test would be a double-blind test. That is, neither the people administering the treatment nor the people being treated would know if they were getting the actual medicine or a mere placebo. We'd measure everyone's blood pressure before the trial, and then after. And then we'd compare. Normally we wouldn't expect that everyone who received the actual treatment would have lower blood pressure at the end, and we also wouldn't expect that no one who got the placebo would end up with lower blood pressure. What we would be looking for, roughly, is a statistically significant difference between the two groups, with the people in the treatment group having a lower average blood pressure after the treatment than before, and by a larger margin than the control group. I haven't stated that carefully or precisely, but you get the idea.

So the effect is statistical. If the trial is successful, we would say that administering the medication makes it likely that the patient's blood pressure will be lowered, and makes is more likely than if the patient were left untreated.

What I've said here leaves out important nuances and qualifications, but I hope it gets the idea across. We don't think that X must invariably bring about Y to say that X causes Y, but we do think that for X to cause Y, X has to make Y more likely.

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