Recent Responses

Why aren't more contemporary ethicists doing work informed by the broader social-biological scope of animal behavior?

David Brink May 4, 2006 (changed May 4, 2006) Permalink I may not be best positioned to address this question, since my own work in ethical theory is mostly not deeply informed by broader social-biological perspectives on animal behavior, but I'll have a try. The question seems to assume (a) that ethicists are not influenced by social-biological perspectiv... Read more

I once read that, in the case of most scientific discoveries, if they hadn't been made when they were, and by who they were, the same discovery would have been made by someone else. Is this true? I also read that Einstein's general and special theories of relativity were such an original contribution that if he hadn't come up with them we would still be waiting for them. Do you think that's the case? What about philosophy? Are there determinate structures of thought which philosophers are just uncovering, or is theorising a significantly creative act?

Marc Lange May 4, 2006 (changed May 4, 2006) Permalink I have heard this said as well. In the history of science, there are many examples in which several researchers independently came up with the same new idea. Schrodinger and Heisenberg independently came up with the same theory (quantum mechanics) and presented it in such different forms that someone el... 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

I remember reading somewhere that either Socrates or Plato favoured the idea of a ruling elite as a system of government. What he meant by this was a group of, I think, around 7 philosophers who, due to their altruistic nature and philosophic ability, were selected for a lengthy period to make decisions, without vote or public ballot, for their city state. What my question is... is, If Plato (I think it was Plato) were to see how we govern today, what part would he favour, if any? And would he think his ruling elite system still to be workable?

Nicholas D. Smith May 4, 2006 (changed May 4, 2006) Permalink In the Republic, Plato argues that there should be a ruling elite consisting entirely of philosophers. He never mentions that there must only be 7 of these, and I think it would also count as a serious misunderstanding (one often made in the scholarly literature, however) to say that these philo... Read more

Is there any way to get published if you're not a professor in a university? For example, let's say I just pick up a philosophy magazine out of interest and want to respond to the article. Will I even be read or do I have to have a degree? Since people seem to agree that on the basic philosophy questions everybody asks them and has their own answers, it's theoretically possible that some non-professional has got a good answer right? And perhaps s/he wants to publish it. How might someone like this proceed? Separately, is it possible to know where philosophy presently is without being educated formally? I feel like the books in bookstores are mostly classics from at least 50 or so years ago. But can you get aboard of what's going on now without entering a university? For example, how would I proceed if I want to know the present state of deliberation on the...philosophy of mind, say? Thanks!!

Nicholas D. Smith May 4, 2006 (changed May 4, 2006) Permalink Nearly all of the philosophy journals practice "blind review" of submitted articles. What this means is that those making the decision to publish or not to publish the contributed piece have no idea who the author is, or what his professional status (or lack of it) might be. So yes, it is certa... Read more

Is global capitalism workable? That is, if capitalism is a system where most of the economic activity is based on self-interest, are the kinds of restricting factors like social welfare, laws, charity and human instincts enough to stop the polarizing of wealth, destruction of the environment and stuff that we see?

Oliver Leaman May 4, 2006 (changed May 4, 2006) Permalink To take a different line, those defending capitalism would argue that despite its inequalities and inefficiencies, it nonetheless produces more overall wealth than any other economic system. There is no reason why that wealth should not subsequently be distributed in fair and sensible ways, provided... Read more

Would an alien race, with a completely different understanding of the world and different values, rate our art and music the same? (Assuming they could comprehend it.) I don't think that they would. Would this call into question the objectivity of artistic value?

Mark Sprevak May 4, 2006 (changed May 4, 2006) Permalink I agree that an alien race that differed considerably from us would be unlikely to rate our art and music the same. However, this does not, by itself, show that there is no objectivity in artistic value. If one wished to defend the objectivity of artistic value in the face of such evidence, one might... Read more

Let us assume that it is moral for people to act selfishly, and by this I don't mean in the empty sense that whatever you do is that which you have chosen to do. It seems right that long-run happiness is better (more selfish) than simply taking a lot of drugs, sleeping with random people, and just feeling a lot of pleasure rather than actually feeling satisfied by accomplishing goals. Yet for the life of me, I cannot logically justify why. Is there good reason to live a life of long-term planning rather than empty sensation? Thank you, Adam

Thomas Pogge May 4, 2006 (changed May 4, 2006) Permalink There are really three questions here, worth distinguishing clearly. Question 1 is whether pleasure and the avoidance of pain are the sole ends of human life or whether we rather have reason to value and seek other ends (as well). Here you may think about whether the value of pleasures is unaffected... Read more

I frequently hear physician's voice the following argument with respect to sexual disorders and anxiety/depression, and I wonder of its validity: If there's a chemical treatment (e.g. pharmaceuticals) and it's successful, then the problem is physiological, not psychological. The argument appears invalid to me, because it seems to assume too large of a rift between one's psychology and one's brain. More exactly, if a chemical treatment works, and if one's psychology (i.e. thought-patterns and emotions) can have an effect on one's brain chemistry (and vice versa), then couldn't the problem still have a psychological source? It seems as if these physicians view psychology as having a basis in a something (a soul perhaps) that is causally independent of the brain. But that seems like an odd view for a Western physician to hold. I'd greatly appreciate any thoughts on this.

Mark Sprevak May 3, 2006 (changed May 3, 2006) Permalink I agree that this reasoning seems strange. However, here's one possible justification for it. Any cause can be described in a large number of different ways. For example, a brick thrown at a window can be described as: (i) a brick thrown at a window, or (ii) the movement of a bunch of molecules throug... 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