Recent Responses

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 April 27, 2006 (changed April 27, 2006) 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 j... 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

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 April 27, 2006 (changed April 27, 2006) 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 beauti... 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 April 27, 2006 (changed April 27, 2006) 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 diff... 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 April 27, 2006 (changed April 27, 2006) 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, wit... Read more

Is there any test in philosophy to verify or refute the philosophers' guesses/hypotheses?

Mark Sprevak April 27, 2006 (changed April 27, 2006) Permalink There are data that philosophers aim to respect, and their guesses/hypotheses may either fail to fit, or succeed in fitting, this data.Unfortunately, there is not a great deal of consensus in the philosophical community on exactly what this data consists in. However, many philosophers would like... Read more

Is there any test in philosophy to verify or refute the philosophers' guesses/hypotheses?

Mark Sprevak April 27, 2006 (changed April 27, 2006) Permalink There are data that philosophers aim to respect, and their guesses/hypotheses may either fail to fit, or succeed in fitting, this data.Unfortunately, there is not a great deal of consensus in the philosophical community on exactly what this data consists in. However, many philosophers would like... 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

I desire to produce a Great Work - the term I will use to avoid a lengthy, linguistically-bound dissertation on its specifics - but I find that, while I long to produce and offer a work (a work of art - writing, animation, film, or a combination) of Content (something with meaning and value beyond surface value; also, thought-provoking, e.g. the animated series <i>Neon Genesis Evangelion</i> or Franz Kafka's <i>Metamorphosis</i>,) I hate the thought of ignorant persons maiming the work, or enjoying it in a puerile manner for superficial reasons alone (e.g., thinking <i>Metamorphosis</i> was just some cool story because the guy turns into a bug, or <i>Evangelion</i> because it has giant robots.) This makes me reticent to create anything. Is this purely some sort of narcissistic elitism, or is it a legitimate concern? How have prior artists worked through misanthropy towards the ignorant to continue to create? Is there an established explanation of why myself or others feel this way about the full value of a work being discarded in favor of a small piece of it?

Nicholas D. Smith April 27, 2006 (changed April 27, 2006) Permalink Great works--and also not-so-great works--are a bit like children to us. We bring them into being as a result of our desire, we do our best to nurture and to preserve them, and to advantage them in the world as best we can...and then we turn them loose into a world that may love or hate, m... Read more

When philosophers try to answer a question like 'is it right to do X?', or 'do I have a soul?', they are asking the same questions which we all ask, and answer for ourselves, in everyday life. If philosophers research these questions intensively (perhaps for many years) before publishing their findings, and if even then there will be some counterarguments, how can we ever hope to find approximately true answers in our less formal, everyday musings? Thank you.

Nicholas D. Smith April 27, 2006 (changed April 27, 2006) Permalink I very much like your expression, "approximately true answers." That, it seems to me, is all that any of us can realistically hope to achieve in our thoughts about many things. So, perhaps, the only difference between the musings of the best philosophers and the most ordinary of people wo... Read more

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