Recent Responses

Are there any great literary stylists in philosophy? Its analytical nature would seem to militate against this i.e., trying to express difficult ideas as intelligibly as possible. Some may have (but the only ones I can think of are in translation and far from what the panel go in for) and are usually aiming for a 'felt' response such as Nietzsche, Kierkergaard, Plato's account of the death of Socrates, and so on. Wittgenstein seemed to like portentous statements (again I only know him in translation and couldn't really understand him) such as 'The world is all that is the case' and 'Whereof we cannot speak thereof we must pass over in silence'. Was he trying to sound gnomic and literary while conducting philosophical analysis? I teach English and use Russell's lay writings as models of concision and eloquence in style. I also use extracts from Sartre's 'Being and Nothingness' to show how not to write! Someone told me Sartre had had no training in logic hence his tedious verbosity. I also consider Martin Heidegger's written style an incomprehensible and impenetrable joke (but maybe it works in German). I am not referring to any philosopher's literary work here, just their 'factual' texts. I would value your thoughts on this and would also like to thank you for this site.

Alexander George May 3, 2006 (changed May 3, 2006) Permalink Two mention just two further wonderful writers in English: J.L. Austin has a very powerful voice. And W.V. Quine has an extraordinary style about which much could be said. (And I would not call Wittgenstein's style "portentous". Pitch perfectly resonant, yes.) Log in to po... Read more

I am a philosophy student that doubts philosophers; I can't write papers, or at least trying to make the connections emerge from details is damn near the hardest thing I've ever done. I have the right ideas (that I am sure of) and I can talk philosophy (intersbujective exp. confirms this) but my papers fall into detail etc. (No one has ever said, WOAH this paper should be published). But even when, one night, I curse the very subject matter and damn it all to hell, I wake up the next morning prepared to try again. But still, at night I try to cast the dead weight from my shoulders in despair. Question: if one's temperament is philosophic should they steer away from academic philosophy? Question 2: Should the person who falls in love with wisdom only to damn her at night continue to make the effort, indeed, should one rule out a life-long marriage with the enticing specimen?

Jonathan Westphal February 9, 2009 (changed February 9, 2009) Permalink Answer to Q1: Why should a person who loves philosophy not steer towards academic philosophy? The better one knows her the more she has to offer, such as fascinating arguments. Answer to Question 2: If you are in love with someone, you really should marry that person, other things equa... Read more

I have been reading Bertrand Russell's <i>History of Western Philosophy</i>, and am puzzled by a paragraph in a section on Plato ('Knowledge and Perception in Plato') pertaining to the use of the verb 'to exist'. The paragraph reads as follows: "Suppose you say to a child 'lions exist, but unicorns don't'; you can prove your point...by taking him to the zoo and saying 'look, that's a lion'. You will not...add 'and you can see that that exists'...if you do then you are uttering nonsense. To say 'lions exist' means 'there are lions', i.e. 'x is a lion' is true for a suitable x'. But we cannot say of the suitable x that it 'exists'; we can only apply this verb to a description, complete or incomplete. 'Lion' is an incomplete description, because it applies to many objects: 'the largest lion in the zoo' is complete, because it applies to only one object". What puzzles me about this paragraph is quite how it is, as Russell sees it, nonsensical to say 'there is a lion, and it exists'. Is it because we do not need to add 'and it exists', because we can see that it does (thus the addition is not necessary and does not add anything to the statement), or is it due to a lack of specification over whether we are making a general or a particular claim (i.e. 'lions exist' as opposed to 'that lion exists', the aforementioned statement taking neither form)?

Peter Lipton May 1, 2006 (changed May 1, 2006) Permalink Russell may be making the claim that existence is not a property. An individual may have the property of being furry, of making loud sounds, and of living in Regent's Park Zoo, but it does not also have a property of existence. Rather to exist is for those properties to be instantiated. To say that... Read more

Does the individual consciousness depend on the actual atoms or only on the configuration of the atoms? Suppose we have mastered cryo-freezing and atom-manipulation technology. We can freeze and unfreeze people at will. We freeze Sarah. We replace Sarah's atoms one by one. With all atoms replaced, we wake her up. Is it the "same" Sarah? (the same to herself, not just to us). Thanks, Mario

Allen Stairs August 11, 2007 (changed August 11, 2007) Permalink Let's call the being that results from all this replacement Sarah2. We can ask a pair of questions that seem different. One is whether Sarah2's conscious states will be like Sarah's. I agree with Mark that the answer to that question is yes; at least, it's hard to see why it would be no. But w... Read more

Which edition of Kant's critiques do you recommend? (And for that matter, where is there reliable information to be found about which editions of philosophy books are best?)

Thomas Pogge May 1, 2006 (changed May 1, 2006) Permalink I think the Cambridge University Press editions are probably best in all three cases, they tend to do very good editions -- both of translated and of originally Anglophone works. Typically, a good indicator is what the best recent secondary literature is using or what top scholars assign in their cla... Read more

Are there any great literary stylists in philosophy? Its analytical nature would seem to militate against this i.e., trying to express difficult ideas as intelligibly as possible. Some may have (but the only ones I can think of are in translation and far from what the panel go in for) and are usually aiming for a 'felt' response such as Nietzsche, Kierkergaard, Plato's account of the death of Socrates, and so on. Wittgenstein seemed to like portentous statements (again I only know him in translation and couldn't really understand him) such as 'The world is all that is the case' and 'Whereof we cannot speak thereof we must pass over in silence'. Was he trying to sound gnomic and literary while conducting philosophical analysis? I teach English and use Russell's lay writings as models of concision and eloquence in style. I also use extracts from Sartre's 'Being and Nothingness' to show how not to write! Someone told me Sartre had had no training in logic hence his tedious verbosity. I also consider Martin Heidegger's written style an incomprehensible and impenetrable joke (but maybe it works in German). I am not referring to any philosopher's literary work here, just their 'factual' texts. I would value your thoughts on this and would also like to thank you for this site.

Alexander George May 3, 2006 (changed May 3, 2006) Permalink Two mention just two further wonderful writers in English: J.L. Austin has a very powerful voice. And W.V. Quine has an extraordinary style about which much could be said. (And I would not call Wittgenstein's style "portentous". Pitch perfectly resonant, yes.) Log in to po... 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 April 29, 2006 (changed April 29, 2006) 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... Read more

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 April 29, 2006 (changed April 29, 2006) 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 t... 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 May 4, 2006 (changed May 4, 2006) 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 b... Read more

Dear philosophers, this is a question from a fresh mother who has a teenage kid. Every time she asks some questions about the truth of life and world, I feel cornered. I hope she could grow up into a person who has her own judgements and ability to reflect independently. I don't want her to be influenced by her mother's words as I was. What should I do?

Jyl Gentzler April 28, 2006 (changed April 28, 2006) Permalink When I first read our interlocutor’s question, I too was tempted torespond that mothers have no choice but to influence their children’svalues and beliefs. Every action, statement, and gesture of a belovedand respected parent signifies to young children who are desperate tomake sense of their wo... Read more

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