Recent Responses

I recently heard about mathematical paradoxes and I have a perhaps strange question: It seems to me that the goal is to figure out what the fundamental problem is, i.e. what gives rise to the paradox, so we can perhaps rewrite the axioms so that the problems disappear. But why not just say: "Well, paradoxes arise when you talk about sets that contain every set, so let's avoid talk about sets that contain empty sets." (Kind of like saying that bad things happen when you divide something with zero, so don't do it!)

Let me add one other thing. I thought the first thing you said was aboslutely right: "the goal is to figure out what the fundamental problem is, i.e. what gives rise to the paradox". The reason is that it is supposed that our being led to paradox in the case of, say, sets or truth or vagueness shows us that there is something about sets or truth or and vagueness that we don't really understand. If we understood things properly, we would understand how the paradox could be avoided, and not simply because we put our heads in the sand. So paradoxes are manifestations of our lack of understanding, and it is the lack of understanding that we really want to remedy.

Is it true today what I will do tomorrow?

If on Tuesday you play chess, then if you had said on Monday "Tomorrow I will play chess" you would have said something true. It's easy to think that the truth of that future tense statement as uttered on Monday constrains what you can do on Tuesday; that is, it's easy to think that the claim's truth on Monday restricts your freedom. It seemed as if you had a choice about whether to play chess on Tuesday — but really you didn't, since it was already true the day before that you will play chess! Most philosophers reject this threat to our freedom. To many, it seems like a piece of verbal trickery. Yet there are disagreements amongst them about what precisely the trick is.

Why do bad things happen to people who are good or try to be good? Is being good all your life ultimately boring and thus having bad things happen adds "spice," i.e., challenges to our lives? Tests our mettle? Or is it simply "karma"? What goes around comes around? Be careful what you wish for because you may get it. Sow the wind reap the whirlwind, etc. Are people, basically, good? Why does it always seem that the "bad" person prospers while the "good" person suffers? Where is the justice in this? Is goodness something that you just acknowledge within yourself when you know you have done your very best at an activity? Is this your reward for being "good"? Thank you. Bill

You express some thoughts that many people often have (including me).You expressed them in a way that makes no reference to God, but formillennia the natural way of putting one of your questions was to askwhy God — an all knowing, all powerful, all good being — would allowmisery to befall those creatures who abided by His laws. This is thefamous Problem of Evilthat philosophers, theologians, andcountless others have wrestled with forever. (Richard Heck says alittle more about the problem in his response to another question.) Onecan see why theproblem is so pressing for someone who believes in God's existence. Isit pressing, is there even a problem, if one doesn't? For in that case,why should one expect that acting ethically would keep one from harm'sway? Some thinkers have argued that to act ethically is to act in sucha way that, if everyone were to act like you, everyone would findthemselves better off. But even on this view, it isn't the case that toact ethically is to act in a manner that will protect one from misfortune (for others might not act ethically).You hint at another response along these lines: that acting ethically(immorally)is in itself good (bad) for one. (One needn't add that people actethicallyin order to get this good.) If it's true that acting immorally isactually bad for one, a personal misfortune — it brings about, notcancer, but disease of another kind — then perhaps the thought that some badpeople prosper across the board is just an illusion. They might avoid certain illnessesor poverty or earthquakes, but still a misfortune has befallen them invirtue of their immoral actions. Not all misfortune consists in pain,and perhaps the misfortune of having acted immorally is like that.

Is it ethical for me to take a shortcut that involves leaving an expressway a few miles before an overcrowded bridge and taking local roads only to re-enter the expressway just before the bridge. I have observed that much of the slowdown at this bridge is caused by merging traffic coming from this shortcut.

The expressions "Free Rider" and "Easy Rider" both fit nicely with this cute example. I'm not convinced (yet) that it is not a moral question. When I refrain from making that automotive move--or when I give in to temptation, and do it--I feel my moral sense at work. I'm a cheater, or I rose above the base human urge to cheat. I suspect that utilitarians, deontologists of various stripes, and virtue-ethicists all would have something to say, or pontificate, about it. Jan Narveson, by the way, would say (has said) that the fact that we have such crowded highways is a sign that our lives are getting better (and not, say, environmentally worse).

Update February 14, 2006: I took a passenger van from O'Hare airport in Chicago to a hotel in the Loop last Thursday. The cars on I-90 were crawling up each other's tailpipes. My driver scooted off the interstate at an obscure exit, zipped through the intersection (the light was green), and dove right back in on the other side. When I got out of the van at Club Quarters on W. Adams, I mentioned to him that I thought he didn't save any time by that maneuver. His reply: "Oh? I skipped past 100 cars." Not quite. There were 3 lanes of traffic. On my calculation, he skipped by 33.3333 cars. (Another update, 04/03/06: maybe he skipped by 300 cars!)