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Our son (8 years old) was stating yesterday that all things have opposites. He was discussing the matter with our daughter (10) and she argued that it cannot be so. The examples our son provided were of the kind light vs dark, day vs night, cold vs hot. I tried to explain the oriental idea of the TAO, the whole being composed of Yin and Yang, both opposites but complementary and each with a touch of the other. Another example I tried to make was the definition of a vase, or a bowl or any vessel that is defined by its content. An empty vase not being anything without just "nothing" inside. The question our daughter raised was then: What is then the opposite of a lion? Or a tree, or a rock?... I had a hard time trying to get a good answer for that one and settled for a non-lion, no-tree or no-rock (thinking of the vase allegory above). My question to you is then, what would your answers be? Is there really a duality in all things and if so, how does it apply to the lion case? Thank you.

There are many different conceptions of "opposite" at work in your question. One, with which your son seems to have been operating, is similar to what Aristotle would have called "contrary". Two properties are contraries if it is impossible for them to be present in the same object at the same time, and at least one of them must be present. A weaker conception would be that of a "contradictory", for which only the first clause applies: They can't both be present. The conception of a contrary that your example of the vase employs, however, is spatial or perhaps (to use a technical terms) "merological", that is, defined in terms of parts and wholes.

So let us ask: What is the opposite of you?Non-you? And what is non-you? The sum total of everything that is notpart of you? If that's counts as your "opposite", then, yes, everythinghas an opposite, but note that we are operating with the spatial or mereological sense of opposite, not the Aristotelian sense. It's not very interesting that everything has an opposite in that sense. And it does not seem that there is any reason to believe that you have an opposite in the Aristotelian sense: That is, that there is something that has every property you lack and lacks every property you have. Indeed, unless we can say much more precisely what counts as a "property", we will be able to prove that you have no contrary, in that sense. The same will apply to "lion", "tree", and "rock".

Problem with the Problem Of Evil I've read here a few references to the Problem Of Evil and it brings to mind a small philosophical statement which I hold dear - Beauty in all things. To use the Katrina example for sake of continuity, is it not a short term and narrow view to say people have suffered? Let's assume anybody who has died in the event is not suffering. Those left behind probably are suffering but ultimately their life and those of onlookers may be bettered because of the experience; they may continue to lead more fulfilled lives than what they otherwise may have appreciated. Happiness comes from within and is not determined by what we have, what we've lost, or what we've been through. I concede that beauty in all things is partly just a psychological state, but I also believe rationally that positives can be found in the seemingly most negative situations. We have all experienced this in life first hand. Btw: wonderful website, thanks to all who contribute.

The problem of human suffering is indeed an instance of the problem of evil: it's the problem of physical evil (as opposed to the problem of moral evil, or sin, which arises from the fact that God allows agents to make bad choices and commit immoral acts). It is not clear to me that theists do respond to the problem by denying the reality of human suffering. Indeed, early modern philosophers, such as Leibniz and Malebranche, who grapple with the problem, admit the reality of human suffering, but deny that God is responsible for it.

Leibniz, for example, argues that although God creates the world, he does not will that suffering takes place, but he rather wills the existence of the best possible world, a world that includes suffering, which he does not directly will, but merely permits. According to Leibniz, the suffering that takes place in this world is a necessary component of this world, the best possible world, which God creates because it is the best world.

Sometimes this point is put in terms of beauty. It is said that just as shadows contribute to an artwork, and dissonance helps set off a musical harmony, so too is suffering a necessary part of the perfection of the world. I find the analogy with art somewhat dubious. The point, however, is simply that the suffering in this world is a necessary component of this world, and therefore is not something that God chooses as such when He chooses to create the best possible world.

So Leibniz need not admit that such suffering, as such, is beautiful, and he can fully admit the reality of human suffering. Yet he can explain why suffering is compatible with God's existence, thereby justifying the ways of God to man.

The question is, however, whether such an explanation is satisfying. Is this world the best possible world? Leibniz offers arguments for this claim, but they have satisfied few philosophers.

If one is interested in looking at a contemporary response to the problem of human suffering, Marilyn McCord Adams has written a very interesting work on this topic, Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God.

Hello. I wonder what you think about the following: About 13.7 billion years ago, there probably was a Big Bang. The astronomers start their counting of time from that. What do the philosophers think of what happened before the Big Bang? JB from Sweden

Well, I've answered other similar questions despite my not being terribly well-informed about science, so I'll take a stab at this one, too.

The answer to this question depends partly upon whether the universe is "open" or "closed", that is, upon whether the expansion of matter will eventually cease, the universe will start contracting, and everything will end in a "Big Crunch". If so, then it is my understanding that the energy so generated would lead to another Big Bang, and the whole process would start again. If that's how things are, then, before the Big Bang, that may have been how things were.

So suppose things weren't like that. Then I believe current physical theory implies that there wasn't any "before the Big Bang". Astronomers start counting time with the beginning of the Big Bang because time itself began with the Big Bang. If that seems bizarre, well, the theory of relativity does have a way of upsetting one's everyday assumptions about time.

Someone who knows more about this than I do care to confirm or deny?

Jane Doe, a senior person at a public relations agency, with expertise in one industry, has begun freelancing for a major newspaper. The articles do not disclose Jane's corporate affiliation; rather a generic description of Jane is given at the end of each article ("Jane Doe, an expert in ...., is a --- consultant"). The topic of the articles do relate to Jane's clients at the public relations agency (i.e., article topics are in line with the industry focus). Specific companies are not named in the articles and it isn't possible to say if Jane is indirectly promoting her clients' goals because the public relations agency does not disclose a list of client names, although it is clear that one client is a government-related agency. Jane is using her public relations agency email address for her articles work, and is interviewing experts for her articles during "normal" work hours. It seems to me that this is an ethical conflict of interest. If I'm employed by a university, say, and write articles on the side about my experiences as a bird-watcher (and, just to be clear, there's no orthinology program at the university), there's no real conflict. But if I'm employed as a university administrator and write articles about, say, the pros and cons of tenure, it seems to me that I have to disclose my affiliation. My take is that, in Jane's case, there is the appearance of conflict and, what's worse, even if there isn't a conflict, there's a lack of transparency about her corporate affiliation. Yes? In the interest of full disclosure, I am a public relations professional who's somewhat horrified by this type of breach. While getting a hold on any vindictive element in defense of my profession, I also wonder if it would ever be appropriate to notify the newspaper (this assumes that they don't know, and would care). Thank you for your time.

I don't have a whole lot to say about your analysis of this situation. It seems to me that you are plainly right that Jane has a conflict of interest, in so far as her freelance articles could promote the interests of her clients.

A friend and I were debating recently the proper classification of the word "nearly" in the following sentence: "I was studying until nearly dawn." We both thought it was an adverb modifying "until," which was modifying "studying." But he was more convinced than I was, and I'm still not sure. Rearranging the syntax makes the word's adverbial qualities more clear, but it also changes the meaning of the sentence (if only subtly). Could somebody clarify exactly what the word is doing in the sentence above?

To my ear, your sentence means "I was studying almost until dawn". So Itake "nearly" to be an adverb that modifies the adjectival phrase"until dawn", to create a new adjectival phrase, "nearly until dawn", which in turn applies to your studying. Thus, I take thesentence to be structurally parallel to "I was running very fast",where "fast" plays the role of "until dawn" and "very" that of "nearly".

What is the philosophy of art and the art of philosophy?

The philosophy of art investigates a range of general questions about art. Here are a few: What is art? What is the nature of artistic representation? What is the nature of artistic form? What are the values of art? Is artistic evaluation simply a matter of opinion, or are there objective facts about artistic quality? Philosophers of art are also interested in questions about the individual arts: What is literary value? Is film an inherently realistic medium? What is the nature of musical expression? What is the relationship between a theatrical work and a theatrical performance? There are many other interesting philosophical questions about the arts—even ones about comic books and horror movies!

Sometimespeople use the terms ‘aesthetics’ or ‘philosophical aesthetics’ torefer to the philosophy of art, but this can be misleading for tworeasons. The first reason is that philosophicalaesthetics encompasses more than the philosophy of art—it is alsointerested in beauty and other aesthetic matters in the (non-artistic)environment. The second reason is that the term‘aesthetics’ encouraged people to look for narrowly aesthetic purposesin art (i.e., purposes that have to do with the provision of beauty oraesthetic experiences). But works of art may have a range of functions, many of which aren’t naturally understood as aesthetic.

I’m not sure about the expression ‘the art of philosophy’. Sometimes the term ‘art’ is used to refer to a skill or craft (as in ‘the art of fly fishing’). If that’s what’s meant, then I suppose the art of philosophy just is the skill or craft of philosophy. On the other hand, it is interesting to consider whether some works of philosophy are also works of art. I’ll leave you with a couple of questions about that. Do you think it’s possible for a work of philosophy to also be a work of art? Do you think there are any such works?

I was loading up to go on a trip the other day and asked my Dad why he was taking a lot of extra stuff and he said: "Just in case the unexpected happens." So out of that comes my question: If you expect the unexpected, then doesn't that make the unexpected expected and the expected unexpected?

When someone says "I expect the unexpected" we might hear that alongthe lines of "I fathered someone fatherless". That is, we mightinterpret him as meaning that he expects some event which he also doesnot expect. That does seem like a contradiction. But isn't that tomisunderstand what he's trying to say? What he expects is not someevent (which he also doesn't expect); rather, what he expects is thathe doesn't expect some event. His expectation applies not to some eventitself but rather to his non-expectation of some event. What he expectsis that there will be some event that he does not expect. Thisexpectation is a second-order expectation: it applies to hisfirst-order non-expectation of some event. (My expectation that a credit card billwill soon arrive is a first-order expectation. My expectation that Melanie will expect me to pay for dinner is a second-order expectation. See herefor a similar distinction.) That's why, as Peter Liptonsays, "Even if you expect the unexpected, you may still be surprised":what surprises you and what you expected are different things. You'resurprised by the fact that there is a hedgehog in your glove compartment (are you serious,Peter?), but not surprised by the fact that something surprised you.

What are the moral responsibilities of a very intelligent person to the general public? Should they be held to the same standard of behavior as their less fortunate peers?

A widely accepted dictum in ethics is that “ought” implies “can”.Philosophers disagree about what exactly this means– but I think thatthe kernel of truth in this idea is that we can’t hold someone morallyresponsible for doing things that he or she couldn’t have not done.One's abilities in some sense set the limit of one's obligations. Presumably, it’sin virtue of their possession of certain abilities that other people lack that some people aredescribed as “very intelligent.” But it’s not clear to me that one ofthese abilities is necessarily the ability to act morally. For myreasons for doubt, go here.