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

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

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

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

Mark Sprevak April 27, 2006 (changed April 27, 2006) 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... 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 April 27, 2006 (changed April 27, 2006) 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... 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 April 27, 2006 (changed April 27, 2006) 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 dogma... 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

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