Recent Responses

Consider the following scenario: an acquaintance I personally do not particularly enjoy talking to is learning French and asks me for a favour, namely to chat with them an hour per week in French, my mother tongue. Would it be morally good to do them the favour, even if it would just be out of duty? Or another scenario: my mum wants me to visit her for Christmas, but I wish not to, just as much as she wants me to go. Should I go out of duty? According to Kant, good actions must be motivated by a sense of duty, as opposed to inclination. But shouldn't it be just the other way round, at least if the action is about doing another person a favour? It almost seems immoral to do somebody a favour only because of duty.

Jyl Gentzler June 6, 2006 (changed June 6, 2006) Permalink I wonder whether there isn’t a bit more to your worry that there issomething immoral involved if you were to visit your mother despite thefact that you really didn’t want to or if you were to give free Frenchlessons to an acquaintance whose company you didn’t enjoy. To explore this idea, I’d like t... Read more

Does freedom exist? Let's say this is anarchy: there are no rules, and no control -- is that freedom? You have the freedom to go kill someone, but in return you'd be taking away their freedom to live. Does freedom only apply in certain cases where it doesn't affect anybody? Such as freedom to think what you want. But then again wouldn't education be taking away that freedom, by telling you what's right to think? My question is simply can freedom exist?

Sean Greenberg June 1, 2006 (changed June 1, 2006) Permalink In Book II, Chapter 21, Section 8 of the New Essays on Human Understanding, Leibniz draws some distinctions that are relevant to your question. Responding to Locke's discussion of freedom, Leibniz writes: The term 'freedom' is highly ambiguous. There is freedom in law, and freedom in fact. In l... Read more

Dear AskPhilosophers, I'm not an avid philosopher (ask me to pull up quotes from a philosopher and I'll mumble something from Thomas Jefferson), but I've always been curious about something: What kind of jobs do philosophers do? I ask this in good heart; I'm just curious as to what you do after going to college for four years to learn about philosophy. But then what? Is there a philosophy job of sorts? Can you just have that job and nothing else?

Richard Heck June 1, 2006 (changed June 1, 2006) Permalink There are a couple different parts to this question. You ask about people who "go[] to college for four years to learn about philosophy", so I take it you have undergraduate concentrators in mind. Such people do just about every job you can imagine. The study of philosophy is excellent preparation f... Read more

Can a good deed be thought in any way to offset the mark of a bad one, or does the moral worth of either sort exist independently? If a person commits a crime we say is unforgivable (say, murder), do we nevertheless suppose that the deed might be atoned for by some (albeit tremendous) combination of benevolent deeds, or do we mean that that the crime's weight is absolute regardless of peripheral acts? -andy

Matthew Silverstein June 1, 2006 (changed June 1, 2006) Permalink I think there are two separate questions here, both contained in your first sentence. A good deed can indeed offset the mark of a bad one, but that does not mean that the moral worth of one action depends in any way on the moral worth of another. The moral worth of a particular action depends... Read more

Is a doctor or an optometrist ethically or morally obligated to report a patient with poor eyesight to the state department of motor vehicles?

Roger Crisp June 1, 2006 (changed June 1, 2006) Permalink I assume we're imagining that the doctor knows that the patient hasn't herself reported her optical problems. I suppose the first thing to try would be asking the patient to do so. Now imagine that the patient refuses, or that the doctor has reason to suspect that the patient won't make a report. The... Read more

Is time infinitely divisible or is it composed of individual moments? Seth

Richard Heck May 30, 2006 (changed May 30, 2006) Permalink Philosophers are not well placed to answer this kind of question. It's really a question for physicists, who would conceive it, I believe, as the question whether time is quantized. Log in to post comments

My English teacher used to say that a poem can have deep meaning beyond that originally intended by its author. It's a pretty comforting and even intuitive idea, but I wonder if it can really be true. Locke, for example, said that words necessarily represent only the ideas of the speaker - does this imply that all poetry and literature necessarily entails a single, "correct" interpretation? Is it incoherent to suppose that one's personal reading of a poem has any real link to the words on the page? -andy

Richard Heck May 30, 2006 (changed May 30, 2006) Permalink This is a very good quesiton, and a very hard one. My own view is that your teacher was right, but that there are limits to how far the point can be pushed. Poetry, of course, is characterized by the extensive use of metaphor and other figures of speech. So just consider metaphor. Can a particular m... Read more

Is there any reason that philosophy seems not to be taught in most American high schools (I could be wrong, I'm only speaking from experience)? I'm a college student who did not discover philosophy until my sophomore year, and I really wish I had had a chance for exposure to the stuff earlier on.

Richard Heck May 30, 2006 (changed May 30, 2006) Permalink One reason, I'm sure, is the same reason so many American high schools have eliminated languages, music, and the arts: A lack of money, coupled with a very narrow conception of what education is. The latter, I'd guess, is the reason so few American high schools would have offered philosophy even bef... Read more

Suppose I personally disliked people with a certain trait and, as a consequence, choose (perhaps unconsciously) not to become close friends or romantically involved with them. As long as I am still friendly and polite to them, this behaviour as such would not be ethically objectionable as it would just be my personal taste, and I am not morally obliged to be friends with anybody. However, personal tastes are often grounded in cultural norms and fashions that can be pervasive across a society. Then all these individual personal dispositions together will cause systemic discrimination and real suffering amongst the "victims". Examples of this scenario are overweight people, the disabled, or people of certain races. But if all individuals can excuse their behaviour by personal taste, who is to blame, morally?

Richard Heck May 30, 2006 (changed May 30, 2006) Permalink I'm not so sure I agree with your initial premise. Suppose the trait in question is having red hair. It seems rather irrational of you to dislike people who have red hair, and for that reason there does seem to be something morally suspect about your attitude toward people with red hair. It seems, i... Read more

Is there any fundamental difference between an individual's beliefs (say, religious belief) and empirical knowledge (say, scientific knowledge)? The former is clearly based on faith: the individual believes that e.g. God exists because he believes what his religious texts, his parents, his teachers, his peers, the media he chooses to consume say. But is that not the same in the latter case? The individual believes that Earth is round as opposed to flat, not because he has actually seen Earth from above or performed any other relevant experiments, but simply because he believes the textbooks, his parents, his teachers, his peers, and the media. The average individual's "knowledge" that the Earth is round is based entirely on hearsay. The same holds true for many other "facts" (even non-empirical, a priori ones). In this light, isn't our level of assuredness in these facts rather irrational and quasi-religious?

Richard Heck May 30, 2006 (changed May 30, 2006) Permalink There are a couple different issues here that need to be disentangled. One concerns what philosophers call "testimony". It's clear that one way of knowing something is being told: If you can't know that the earth is round because you were told, then, as you note, very few people know that the earth... Read more