Recent Responses

What, if anything, can you boil one's self down to, outside any notion of soul or essence?

Many philosophers, especially those in the Buddhist tradition (Nagasena, Candrakirti, Santideva,or see Hume for a Western sympathiser), have argued that there is nothing that one can "boil oneself down to," that is, that the self has no existence independent of convention. Others have argued that there is some basic subjective entity, either substantial (Descartes) or transcendental (Kant, Schopenhauer) that undergirds our identity.

Is it true that time has no end?

This is an open question, and one that will be decided in the branch of physics known as cosmology. Since time is best conceived as a dimension of the universe, and as we do not now know the long-term future of the universe, this cannot be answered at present.

What is the difference between analytical and continental philosophy? Is one better than the other? Is analytical philosophy more scientific than continental philosophy?

I agree that the two designations do not have much geographical significance, or significance in the nature of problems pursued or methods employed. I also don't think style is a very consistent indicator. Finally, the differences between philosophers within one of these very loose groups might be more important than any differences between groups. Perhaps, therefore, the distinction should be retired from the language. If there is a difference that is more than anecdotal, it is historical in character. Please see my answer to question 926.

http://www.amherst.edu/askphilosophers/question/926

However, for the moment, we're stuck with it. The distinction has been institutionalised in ways beyond your or my control -- for example, in publishers' catalogues, in journal readership and subscriptions, in the categories of work presented at national and international conferences, or for the British Research Assessment Exercise.

Why should I believe you?

Fair enough, Alan. Based on my experience of human beings, the more sociableand cheerful attitude that you suggest seems appropriate as ageneral day-to-day attitude toward others. I’m generally not worriedthat people are lying to me.

But I understood the question differently– not as directed to humanity in general, but at usin particular, the panelists on AskPhilosophers. I took the questionernot to be wondering whether we were lying but whether we knew what wewere talking about. There are a lot of people out there promisinganswers to life’s big questions, and skepticism seems to me to be aperfectly healthy response to these promises. It was for this reasonthat I tried to assure the questioner that we aren’t making any suchpromises.

How should we view architects and their work? If we think of buildings as purely functional, then we seem to be thinking of architects as means to ends only, forgetting their concern for aesthetics. Conversely, if we see buildings purely as aesthetic objects, we are underplaying the technical - scientific - expertise of architects. Is there a middle ground of judgement here?

I’dlike to add a few points to Roger’s very reasonable remarks. First, thefact that works of architecture can be seen both functionally (i.e., interms of broadly utilitarian purposes) and aesthetically does notdistinguish them from many other works of art. Consider stained glasswindows, Native American pottery, woven rugs, masks used in tribalrituals, etudes—all of these may have both functional and aestheticpurposes. You might also consider artworks that are designed to promote political or ethical change. It might be thought that what is distinctive about architecture is that it is essentially functional. Is it the case that it is not possible for something to be a work of architecture unless it has a utilitarian function? This is tricky, but I would be hesitant to say yes. (Consider architectural follies.) Second, I wouldn’t put too much weight on the idea of an aesthetic object. Works of art may do a range of thing: represent, express emotion, express a view of the world, exhibit form, etc. They may also provide aesthetic experiences (or experiences of beauty), but this does not seem necessary for art status. Hence, a work of architecture may succeed artistically without being an aesthetic object or serving strictly aesthetic purposes. Third,even if a building only served utilitarian functions it wouldn’t followthat we would or should treat its designer as merely a means to someend. (Of course a building that only had utilitarian function might not count as a work of architecture.)

Should we philosophize about philosophy? Why?

Here is one reason. A central task of philosophy is to figure out how our knowledge-seeking activities work and what they achieve. That is epistemology and it is, for example, a big part of the philosophy of science. So if you think that philosophy is in the knowledge-seeking business, then it is natural to be interested also in how that activity works and what it achieves.

We are often told time is like a river. Are there other useful analogies for time? For example: Time is like a bowl of jello with fruit: time is the jello and events are the fruit stuck in it. I guess what I'm really asking is does time have to flow? Is there another way of thinking about time?

Thinking of time as flowing obscures far more than it clarifies, on my view, and I think that the river analogy is dangerous. Anything that flows flows at some rate. How fast does time flow? Sixty minutes per hour? The image raises the prospect of a supertime against which the flow of time occurs, and that raises a nasty regress. Better to think of time as a dimension of the universe, but one that is anisotropic,t hat is, one in which going in one direction is different from going in another, unlike, say, East-West travel.

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