Recent Responses

Why is it said that scientific results must be replicable? Is this also possible or should that also be the same for mathematics, history, arts or other natural or social sciences?

Peter Lipton 4/29/06 (changed 4/29/06) Permalink As David says, replication in science is a way of checking that a result is genuine. We can distinguishing two different senses in which a result may fail to be genuine. One is that it was made up. Replication is a good way of detecting (and discouraging) fraud. Here there is a parallel in the study of hi... Read more

Is there a relationship between predicate logic and computers? If so, what is the relationship?

Mark Sprevak 4/27/06 (changed 4/27/06) Permalink I don't think that there is a special relationship between predicate logic, as opposed to any other kind of logic (propositional, modal, etc.), and computers. But there is often a special relationship between formal logic and computers. It is often possible to set up physical relations inside a computer to mi... Read more

Aristotle began studies at Plato's Academy at the age of 17. I have a few questions. 1) How smart was Plato compared to Aristotle? 2) Who would you say is as intelligent as Plato or Aristotle (preferably someone who is still alive)? 3) I am 17. Who can I go to in order to gain the same education that Aristotle did from Plato? 4) How did Aristotle go about becoming Plato's student? Did he have to pay to be his student in the same way people pay to become a student at a college? I pretty much got myself into philosophy, and upon finding out about the greater of ancient philosophers, I have been wondering how I might be able to gain knowledge compared to that of the aforementioned. Is this possible in today's society? Thank you, Steve

Nicholas D. Smith 4/27/06 (changed 4/27/06) Permalink Your questions seem to focus on how smart people were (or are), and thus on how you can become that smart. Maybe you mean something different than I do, when you use the word "smart," but I think the only honest answer one can give to many of your questions is "no one knows, and no one can know." But... Read more

One virtue that I see in people I admire is curiosity. As far as I know, it was not a classical virtue, and its only appearances in the Bible resulted in someone being expelled from the garden or turned into a pillar of salt. What do ethical philosophers have to say about curiosity?

Nicholas D. Smith 4/27/06 (changed 4/27/06) Permalink I agree that curiosity is a great virtue, but I disagree that it was not a classical virtue. You are simply looking at the wrong "classics"! It is no surprise that curiosity is treated with suspicion (at best) in religious works whose whole goal is to get the reader to follow certain dogmas or patterns... Read more

Why do people say that some things mankind does are unnatural? Isn't every human development natural because we are part of nature?

Peter Lipton 4/29/06 (changed 4/29/06) Permalink I agree with Nicholas that where we can take natural to mean 'conducive to human flourishing', in Aristotle's sense, there will be a connection between being natural and being good. But there are natural functions that do not carry this meaning. In biological cases, functions often correspond to 'selected e... Read more

In order to be as 'good' as possible and lead a life that benefits others as well as yourself, is it better to follow a particular religion or a particular philosophy?

Nicholas D. Smith 4/27/06 (changed 4/27/06) Permalink Yes. Let me explain: Identification with some group (religious, especially, but also philosophical) extends your ability to make a difference in the world by adding your efforts to those of others, rather than limiting your efforts to the confines of whatever you can do on your own. By joining Habitat... Read more

Are Scientists who hold strong religious beliefs, or 'faith' as it may be called, scientists of a lesser calibre? I ask this because traditional scientific method entails entering into scientific work with a clear and unbiased mind in relation to the subject. If there are two scientists, one of 'faith' and one of no religious persuasion both trying to prove a particular point in say, evolution, is the scientist of 'faith' not heavily inluenced by his need to prove his faith true in his method. While the other scientist may have a more reliable opinion as he relies on reason and scientific method alone?

Nicholas D. Smith 5/4/06 (changed 5/4/06) Permalink I certainly do not agree that creationism is "utterly optional" for a good scientist, on the obvious ground that it is bad science (or else pseudo-science). That was my point. On the other hand, I accept that someone who was religious could do exceptional work in evolutionary biology--either by partitio... Read more

Is a poem about nature beautiful because of its form, or is it beautiful because it reminds us of the beauty inherent in nature? Philosophers tend to equate aesthetic beauty with the form of a work of art and our 'interests' get in the way of appreciating the form. However if this is the case why is there not more beautiful poems about rubbish dumps and oil spills.

Douglas Burnham 4/27/06 (changed 4/27/06) Permalink A great question! There may be a middle ground to the answer. Beautiful natural objects, and beautiful poetic objects, might both be considered beautiful because of complex or harmonious formal properties that evoke certain responses (this is, roughly, Kant). If this is the case, the a beautiful poem about... Read more

Why can't philosophers agree? In the natural sciences you seem to find disagreements at the frontiers of new research, but after a sufficient time has elapsed, agreement is reached and the frontiers advance to new areas of enquiry. The research takes place in professional journals, then the final story makes it into textbooks, with undergraduates in the natural sciences reading only the textbooks. In philosophy, undergraduates read journals as much as anything else, and the textbooks are as controversial as the journals. In what does progress in philosophy consist?

Nicholas D. Smith 4/27/06 (changed 4/27/06) Permalink Philosophers don't all agree because they won't listen to me! Just kidding! In fact, I would really hate it if everyone's reactions to my views were: Oh, right. Well, that's it, then! That would be the end of philosophy, and I would not want to contribute to that! There are lots of differences betwee... Read more

Do you think it is a bad thing that musical genres are fragmenting? In the past there were clear movements in music, Baroque, classical, Romantic. As time goes on, movements seem to become more specialised, with the Beatles and rock then split into punk, metal, indie, dance, hip-hop, soul, nu-punk, nu-metal. Each movement seems to be targeted at a sub-section of the population, and so music is losing some of it universal themes. Music created with less artisic merit and effort is reaching the public. Is the inevitable result of new technology, or the rise of an instant gratification cuture that wants to listen and create without any serious effort?

Douglas Burnham 4/27/06 (changed 4/27/06) Permalink I'm not convinced that European music ever had the clear periodisation that you describe. 'Baroque', 'Classical' and so forth tend to be descriptions applied by historians of music after the fact. In fact, at any one time, there were thousands of composers, working to specialised markets, with different pl... Read more