Recent Responses

I often find myself to be impatient, often frustrated, when people claim something to be 'obvious', and never more than when I think that they are using it incorrectly. An example of this might be "obviously, Hitler was an evil man", or "obviously, it's better to be poor and happy than rich and sad" - this is because I wish justification for their claim, and do not want to simply accept it (in these cases because of popular opinion). I realise that both of these examples are ethical, but is there anything that is understood by philosophers to be obvious (and by obvious I mean without need of qualification or justification)?

Luciano Floridi 4/17/06 (changed 4/17/06) Permalink If I may reply in terms of personal experience: when students start"doing philosophy", one of the first thing they (need to) learn isthat what seems obvious to x may be much less so to y. As soon as things become interesting, they stop being obvious. Yet I have noticed that this is not the only important... Read more

To which philosopher it may concern, I recently been perplexed by the following logical puzzle (or what seems to be, anyway): Working at a used bookstore, I and the rest of the staff are constantly asked about where to find books. One of my co-workers had the following exchange with a customer and couldn't make anything of it: Customer: "I am looking for a particular book." Co-worker: "Well is it fiction or non-fiction?" Customer: "Neither." So far, this is what I've come up with: (1) The customer is looking for a book that is neither fiction nor non-fiction, which would mean that it can't be both fiction and non fiction (which is quite common, e.g., historical fiction). (2) If non-fiction is the opposite of fiction (and not considered as a separate entity), then was the customer contradicting himself and as a result saying absolutely nothing? (3) If fiction is defined as something that isn't true, and non-fiction defined as something that IS true, then the customer was asking for something that was neither true nor false. Can that happen? Can something not be true or false? And further more, what would that mean? (4) This whole problem is irrelevant because there ARE books that are not fiction or non-fiction--which I am unaware of. I think the big issue here is how you define fiction and especially non-fiction, then again, I don't know and would greatly appreciate your response. Thankyou, Haley

Thomas Pogge 4/14/06 (changed 4/14/06) Permalink Your definition of fiction and non-fiction (your point (3)) seems flawed. For one thing, a lot of what commonly goes under the non-fiction heading is false, at least in part. Think of an book about the bombing of Pearl Harbor which, although marketed as an accurate historical account, is full of errors. So, w... Read more

How do we know that modern mathematics is correct? Thanks, Ryan.

Alexander George 4/14/06 (changed 4/14/06) Permalink See also the response to Question 773. Log in to post comments

How do we know that modern mathematics is correct? Thanks, Ryan.

Alexander George 4/14/06 (changed 4/14/06) Permalink See also the response to Question 773. Log in to post comments

How do we know that modern mathematics is correct? Thanks, Ryan.

Alexander George 4/14/06 (changed 4/14/06) Permalink See also the response to Question 773. Log in to post comments

Why are Picasso paintings so important? How can I appreciate the importance of Picasso paintings? Honestly, when I look at them I think that they are interesting but I never get the impression that they are produced by a genius. If understanding Picasso's paintings (and art in general) needs training (knowing Picasso's life, knowing the context in which the paintings are created, knowing Picasso's intentions, knowing the traditions in painting, etc.) why are they exhibiting art works to the public? Quine's "Two Dogmas of Empiricism" is one of the best and most influential articles in the history of analytic philosophy but nobody expects non-philosophers to appreciate its importance. There are no Quine exhibitions. Thanks.

Richard Heck 4/15/06 (changed 4/15/06) Permalink I'm no expert on art, just someone who enjoys it, but I certainly would agree with you that Picasso can be hard to understand. Most of his painting (and sculpture) isn't what one would describe as "beautiful", though there are paintings of his that are beautiful: For example, "Child with a Dove" (see it here)... Read more

A couple of years ago I read an article about an experiment where the genes of a jellyfish were spliced into a rabbit - the result: a rabbit that glowed in the dark. My question is, science aside, is this a rabbit?

Marc Lange 4/14/06 (changed 4/14/06) Permalink Good question. I'm not sure that there's any answer "science aside", since the notion of being a member of a given biological species (in this case, some sort of rabbit) is a scientific concept. It is up to science to tell us what species are, whether there are any such things, why they arise and go extinct, an... Read more

I often find myself thinking what really distinguishes Humans apart from other animals. If it is intelligence (high or low is irrelevant, it is still an inelegance) then this statement isn't true since we know that there are numbers of highly intelligent species including birds (non-mammal). So I came to conclusion that the only thing that does separate us is art, or perhaps understanding the value of art. But to contradict myself I keep flashing back on various images and video clips of cats or other animals "painting" on the canvas. Do you think in your philosophical opinion do these animals go through similar (high or low is irrelevant) process of appreciating art.

Douglas Burnham 4/14/06 (changed 4/14/06) Permalink A fascinating question. I suspect that art appreciation might well be important, although perhaps only as a symptom of an underlying difference. Let's look at the question more generally. It is important for us to know what are the essential differences between humans and other animals for two reasons. Fir... Read more

In international law, we have a right to leave our own countries (and come back) but not to enter other countries. Say I leave my home country A and try to enter B. There are some circumstances when, intuitively, it would seem unjust for B to refuse me entry, for example, if in turning me away, my life would be cut short, or if in entering B my life will be enriched and no harm will be done to the citizens of B. However, what principles should apply apply across borders to this type of issue?

Thomas Pogge 4/13/06 (changed 4/13/06) Permalink I think you are asking whether international law ought to be revised so as to avoid the two intuitive injustices you assert. With regard to your first intuitive injustice, international law already recognizes a right to asylum and a duty of non-refoulement. But many states implement this right in arbitrary an... Read more

Hello, I would like to ask a question about ethics involved when nudity is permitted in public places. I live in Sydney, Australia. At one of the most popular beaches here (which hosts tens of thousands of people per day and is freely available to anyone who wishes to go there), a man was arrested and fined $500. This was punishment because he had been on the beach with a camera, surreptitiously photographing women who were lying on the sand, with no tops on. He was discreet such that almost none knew at the time that he had photographed them - after they apprehended him, police went around with his camera, identifying people and approaching them with the images in hand. Many people using this beach choose to sunbathe disrobed, of their own free will. The man admitted that his actions were intended to further his own sexual gratification. Although I think the man's behaviour was in poor taste, using others as mere means to his own selfish ends, on consideration I cannot see why it should be held illegal or punishable. Firstly, anything that is visible from any public place is obviously visible to anyone who happens to be in that public space, and that includes busses, houses, trees and people who choose to disrobe. I have never heard of a law that prohibits anyone seeing whatever it is they see from a public place. Secondly, if it is permissible for passers-by to see a person on Bondi Beach who has chosen to disrobe, then ought any emotional or hormonal response stimulated in the viewer be prohibited, as long as the person so exited does not act in a way that harms others? If it were so, then surely every person who has ever been sexually exited by the sight of a stranger's disrobed body, and then silently lusted about it, has acted in a prohibited way. Thirdly, how using a camera to 'fix' an image of what one can see, and preserving this image, significantly different to seeing it? Even if we assumed the man intended to use the photographs for commercial gain, then how is this different to him taking a photo of Sydney Harbour, including in it the thousands of buildings lining it, and using this photograph for commercial gain? What about images of all manner of things available on Google Earth? Fourthly, shouldn't the onus for privacy lie with the people who have chosen to disrobe? If they do not wish people to photograph their bodies, should they not keep them robed while they are in a public space?

Nicholas D. Smith 4/13/06 (changed 4/13/06) Permalink As a matter of prudence, I am inclined to agree with the arguments of the questioner--if one does not want others to photograph one's exposed breasts (or other body parts), one should keep them covered in public. On the other hand, I don't think that the issue is quite as simple as this. The man who was... Read more