Recent Responses

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 April 14, 2006 (changed April 14, 2006) 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 tw... 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 April 13, 2006 (changed April 13, 2006) 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 i... 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 April 13, 2006 (changed April 13, 2006) 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. T... Read more

Has anyone come up with an adequate or nearly adequate reply to the Euthyphro Dilemma or has it so far proved the nail in the coffin to the Divine Command Theory? Thanks.

Nicholas D. Smith April 13, 2006 (changed April 13, 2006) Permalink Although I agree with Peter Lipton (having actually recently made such arguments in a commentary I did with Thomas Brickhouse on the Euthyphro itself, in the Routledge Guidebook to Plato and the Trial of Socrates, I think it is also fair to mention that some theistic philosophers have recen... Read more

How do you convince a person that arguments should be logical and should not have logical fallacies when that person does not believe in being logical nor accept the need for arguments to be fallacy free?

Peter Lipton April 13, 2006 (changed April 13, 2006) Permalink Even if they are not so inclined, people should avoid fallacies, roughly because it makes them less likely to acquire new beliefs that are false. But you are not asking what people ought to do, but rather what will in fact lead them to want to avoid fallacies. Maybe we just need to know more a... Read more

What are the true reasons behind the prohibition of teachers/lecturers to develop romantic relationships with students [or vice-versa]?

Thomas Pogge April 13, 2006 (changed April 13, 2006) Permalink There are all sorts of regulations about this in different jurisdictions, but I assume you are interested in the moral prohibition and the reasons for it. I don't think it's wrong in general for teachers and students to become romantically involved with each other. It is wrong only when they al... Read more

A seemingly common criticism of the media is that its coverage isn't balanced. This begs the question - what would truly balanced coverage look like? Discussing the positive aspects of an issue 50% of the time and the negative aspects of an issue the other 50% isn't necessarily balanced, after all. Car crashes are a good example of this. When they're discussed in the news, 50% of the alloted talk time isn't dedicated to how the world has benefited from them. So what would truly balanced coverage of (as an example) the Iraq war look like? If it isn't 50/50, what would it be? And, of course, how would we even recognize it when we saw it? Just because something "feels" balanced, doesn't necessarily mean that it is.

Amy Kind April 10, 2006 (changed April 10, 2006) Permalink My colleague Carrie Figdor, who turned to philosophy after a successful career for many years as a journalist, has this to say in response: "It’s probably too simple to think of balance in terms of a ratio; it doesn’t require us, for example, to give voice at all, let alone equal time, to Holocaust... Read more

Has anyone come up with an adequate or nearly adequate reply to the Euthyphro Dilemma or has it so far proved the nail in the coffin to the Divine Command Theory? Thanks.

Nicholas D. Smith April 13, 2006 (changed April 13, 2006) Permalink Although I agree with Peter Lipton (having actually recently made such arguments in a commentary I did with Thomas Brickhouse on the Euthyphro itself, in the Routledge Guidebook to Plato and the Trial of Socrates, I think it is also fair to mention that some theistic philosophers have recen... Read more

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 April 17, 2006 (changed April 17, 2006) 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... Read more

What can explain the blindspot of mainstream politics that prevents global warming from being the biggest current agenda? This question is not possible to answer unless you accept the blatant assumption within it viz. that global warming should be the biggest current agenda that our intellectual, moral and political efforts should focus on. I believe this because I have read from various sources that it is scientific consensus that current levels of energy consumption will lead to global environmental catastrophe within a short time period. If you accept this, then this issue really smokes out all of the other important social causes that make up the majority of political discourse. I don’t believe, for example, that democracy matters in the true sense of peoples’ interests being weighted equally and determining equally political outcomes, when – whatever can be said of the virtues of such an ideal – this isn’t the way decisions are made in realpolitik – the amount of political discourse about spreading democracy (even when we do not doubt the motives behind the polemics) demonstrates a political culture of responding mindfully to the most important aspects of reality as we currently are faced with it. What are the philosophical systems most appropriate to dealing with this incredible practical problem – that through lack of will, the world’s economies and power structures are not changing to respond to the scientific evidence we have concerning climate change? A similar question can be raised about culture – global warming is a commonly discussed in papers but it lacks emotional resonance, and even on BBC NEWS, where objectivity of perspective is prized, there is overwhelmingly more TV coverage of more or less irrelavent murder cases than to this issue which throws into tumult the ideals that underlie modern civilisation as developed by enlightenment thinkers (we could question the efficacy of a codified “Right to Life” when the melting of parts of the himilayas, and else, could deprive billions of basic sustenance).

Thomas Pogge April 9, 2006 (changed April 9, 2006) Permalink I think there are three plausible candidates for the title of most urgent issue on humanity's political agenda. Global warming is is one. A substantial change in the global climate, induced by human activities, might well have catastrophic consequences. The second, somewhat related problem is that... Read more

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