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Why should the value we place on freedom of speech extend to cover insult and ridicule, given that these sorts of speech aren't obviously constructive?

I don't know where you're writing from, but in almost every part of the world, the law does notprotect speech that is insulting or expresses ridicule. This kind of speech is typically classified as defamation When written, it's known as libel, and when spoken, slander.

There are some differences in how different nations understand defamation, but in general terms, it's understood as the expression of a false statement, known or believed by the speaker to be false, aimed at harming the reputation of a person or group. This definition suggests that the philosophical rationale for defamation not being legally protected is along the lines you suggest, namely, that it's not "constructive." Generally speaking, we do not much benefit by believing what is false, so the audience for defamatory speech does not benefit from it. Moreover, defamatory speech does not contribute to public discourse and is not even intended to advance our knowledge of the truth. Hence, defamation doesn't seem to have any of the properties that make free speech valuable, and given that it can cause harm, it is difficult to see why the law should protect it.

What is the point of life? Aren't we ultimately living each day just waiting until the day we die?

There is no obvious logical if any connection between your premise ('Aren't we ultimately living each day just waiting until the day we die?' which is really an assertion: 'We are ultimately living each day just waiting until the day we die'), and your conclusion, again a rhetorical, question: 'What is the point of life?' The assertion here is 'There is no point of life.' Should this be 'There is no point to life?', I wonder. What is the difference?

Compare this with, 'The passengers were just living each day just waiting until they got to port' and 'There is no point in getting to port.' Or again, 'The soldiers were ultimately living each day just waiting until the war was over' and 'There is no point to the war.'

It is rather the reverse of what you suggest, in most cases. The fact that this is the one thing everyone is waiting for does not rob its opposite (life) of any point at all.

Besides, it is not true that the soldiers were "ultimately" living each day "just" waiting until the war ended' - they were also fighting their hearts out. And the passengers were not just living each day waiting until they got to port. Perhaps they were playing bridge, drinking gin, going to a dance, playing shuffleboard, quarreling, trying to get to the Captain's table, and so on.

People engaging in the activities of ordinary life are not just sitting around doing nothing at all except waiting for their own deaths. This might be true of very elderly people, but only perhaps because they find it very difficult to do anything else. But mostly people do a lot. They go shopping, they make lunch, they go on to, they work, they look at people on the bus, they love and hate their families, they love their dogs, and so on. They are not "ultimately" or any other way "just" waiting until the day they day.

The premise is in any case false, I think. "Waiting" is a very definite psychological state, and most people do not wait for death, although the proportion who do may increase with age - it is not even faintly true for children. "Waiting" means your attention is directed to the expectation of the thing you are waiting for, for example the appearance of the dentist, but it does not stop you reading the interesting year-old magazines in the waiting room.

Furthermore, life is a very abstract concept. What is the point of space, or time, or life, or causality? The better question is, what is the point of living life as you do? There are definite answers to this question. I hope my family goes on well, I hope my students improve and learn philosophy well, and I hope that the election comes out alright. And so on.

It seems to me that most theories involve postulated objects, and then various laws that describe how those objects must or can relate to each other. So, you might postulate an id, ego and superego, or genes, or electrons, protons and protons, etc. It also seems to me that there are at least two types of "simple" when talking about explanations. There's a brevity "simple" -- like a maths proof or a piece of computer coding with minimal steps. And there is also an ontological "simple" -- an explanation relying on as few postulated objects as possible. If it's true that there are at least these two types of "simple", well, does that render parsimony often difficult to apply, if you're committed to it as a good rule of thumb when deciding what to believe in? One candidate theory could be ontologically complex but brevity-simple, whereas the alternative theory might be ontologically simple but convoluted. Here are some things that worry me: (1) does appealing to deities lead to simpler explanations that ones that don't involve deities? Does OCcam's razor cut in favour of gods or against them? (2) philosophers are interested in all sorts of things that apparently aren't physical -- like universals, concepts, propositions, meanings, mental states, laws of logic. If one is commmitted to physicalism (on the basis of ontological simplicity), should one endeavour to be eliminativist about anything you can't jab with a stick, even though you can land yourself in explanatory difficulties by trying to do without these notions?

Good questions. The philosopher David Lewis (1941-2001) rightly insisted on distinguishing two kinds of ontological simplicity or parsimony: quantitative and qualitative. Quantitative parsimony concerns the sheer number of postulated entities; qualitative parsimony concerns the number of different kinds of postulated entities. Lewis argued that only qualitative parsimony matters. It's not the sheer number of (say) electrons but the number of different kinds of subatomic particle posited by a theory that makes the theory parsimonious or not, compared to its rivals. (Maintaining this line required Lewis to treat "the actual world" as an indexical phrase and to hold that each of us has flesh-and-blood "counterparts" in nondenumerably many other universes.)

All else being equal, then, theories that posit deities are qualitatively less parsimonious than theories that don't, because (I take it) deities are supposed to be of a different kind entirely from the phenomena that they're invoked to explain. Furthermore, any simplicity had by deity-invoking theories is likely to come at the cost of explanatory power. Theistic explanations, for example, typically say that beyond a particular stage of explanation reality is the way it is simply because God wants it that way, there being in principle no explanation of why God wants it that way rather than some other way. (In On Genesis, St. Augustine writes, "Anyone who asks 'Why did God want to make heaven and earth?' is looking for something greater than God's will, but nothing greater can be found.") As I see it, naturalists need never give up on seeking contrastive explanations for the facts.

The relationship between naturalism, as I define it, and abstract objects (universals, propositions, etc.) is tricky. I think the two are compatible: that is, I don't see naturalism as implying physicalism. But I recognize the tension, which makes me a reluctant Platonist about abstract objects. If I saw a way to make sense of the world without positing any abstract objects, I'd be strongly tempted to take it. I hasten to add that abstract objects are by no means easy for theism to explain either, because of the necessary existence and ontological independence that (many) abstract objects are supposed to enjoy.

Dear philosophers, I've been told that instead of looking for objective moral facts, many philosophers see the task of ethics as bringing intuitions into "reflective equilibrium". But if intuitions aren't a sort of sixth sense that allows people to perceive moral facts, and are merely behavioural tendencies from nature and nurture, why ought we try to systematise them? What special authority do they have, and why <a href="">duree action viagra</a> should we care about them?

I think there may some some false dichotomies afoot here.

Most of us think there are some first-order moral facts. For example: I may think (I do, actually) that torturing people just for fun is wrong. However, if I'm doing moral philosophy, I'm not trying to assemble a collection of first-order moral truths. I'm trying to present an account of (for instance) what makes things right or wrong. And so I offer some general view—for example, some version of utilitarianism, perhaps. But how do we decide whether my theory is correct? What counts as evidence?

One important piece of evidence is whether my theory can account for uncontroversial cases. I think it's pretty uncontroversial that torturing people for fun is wrong. If my theory didn't entail this, that would be a serious piece of evidence against it. (Compare: if a scientific theory fails to account for some apparently unproblematic piece of experimental evidence, that's a strike against the theory.) Part of the process of arriving at reflective equilibrium is checking whether the theory does a good job of dealing with straightforward cases. But we also have judgments about principles. Most of us judge that moral reasoning should treat similar cases similarly. Most of us judge that suffering is morally relevant. And so on. Whatever principles the theory offers will be more or less plausible at first blush. The theory may also have some apparent advantages or disadvantages along dimensions such as clarity, generality, simplicity and the like.

And then there are hard cases. If a theory gives us what seems to be a satisfying way of dealing with a range of hard cases, that counts in its favor. Taking that into account is part of the process of getting to reflective equilibrium.

Overall, the process amounts to bringing first-order judgements and theoretical considerations into balance. Sometimes, first-order moral judgments lead us to reject or modify parts of a theory. Sometimes, the overall advantages of the theory, including things like simplicity, unificatory strength... persuades us to modify some of our first-order judgments—in effect to "explain away" apparent counter-evidence. The same is true in science. No one thinks that just any apparent experimental counterexample is enough to overthrow a theory. If the theory is otherwise plausible enough, we treat isolated bits of counter-evidence as anomalies to be explained rather than fatal blows.

The comparison with science is important, but it's not just science. In almost any intellectual endeavor, part of what goes on is an attempt to bring higher-order theoretical judgments and close-to-the-ground first-order judgments into equilibrium. It's fair to say that the method of seeking reflective equilibrium is one of the most important tools in any philosopher's toolbox, whether what's at issue is morality or matters of a very different sort. It's not a matter of a "sixth sense," and it's not a question of "behavioral tendencies." But it's not just philosophy. In any domain where we've gotten far enough to think theoretically, we bring various judgments to the table. The judgments differ in strength and they differ in degrees of abstraction. They also don't usually start off as a consistent lot. When we go through the process of shaping, pruning, balancing, augmenting and so on, we are trying to achieve reflective equilibrium.

The process assumes that our first-order judgments aren't just wildly wrong, and it also assumes that we have some ability to make sound judgments about more abstract matters. That means reflective equilibrium takes it for granted that radical skepticism is wrong. That may bother some people, but most philosophers take it in stride. We patch up the boat while it's afloat. Reflective equilibrium is a fancy name for a large part of that sort of carpentry.

Why is the sorites problem a "paradox"? Isn't it fundamentally a problem of definition?

The sorites problem is a paradox for the reason that any problem is a paradox: it's an argument that leads from apparently true premises to an apparently false conclusion by means of apparently valid inferences.

I don't think it's fundamentally a problem of definition, because the concepts that generate sorites paradoxes would be useless to us if they were redefined precisely enough to avoid sorites paradoxes. Take the concept tall man. In order to make that concept immune to the sorites, we'd have to define it in terms that are precise to no more than 1 millimeter of height, because a sorites argument for tall man exists that involves men who differ in height by only 1 millimeter. But defining a tall man as (say) a man at least 1850 millimeters in height would mean that in many cases we couldn't tell whether a man is tall without measuring his height in millimeters. Given the impracticality of taking such precise measurements in the typical case, we'd likely stop classifying men as "tall" and "not tall" and start classifying them, instead, only as "clearly tall" and "clearly not tall," i.e., clearly on one side of the line or the other. But then a sorites argument, couched in terms of millimeters, arises for the concept clearly tall man, forcing us to define that concept in terms that are precise to no more than 1 millimeter. The same cycle then begins again.

So even if we make our peace with the arbitrariness that would attach to any precise definition of tall man -- why 1850 mm rather than 1875 mm? -- practicality would force us into using some imprecise concept instead, thus opening the door to the sorites.

Can a feeling that God exists count as a good reason for believing in God? Could it also count as good reason for public policy -- for funding churches and religious schools?

Hi, great question! I will focus on your first question, because I think your second question, about public policy, requires discussion of all sorts of things about the distribution of goods in a society, and the law (in the US, for example, we have to keep in mind that our constitution seems to forbid any such funding). Perhaps another panelist can take up those issues. I'll stick to the question whether the feelings that God exists can count as a good reason for believing in God.
First I should point out that many philosophers have written on this, and have different views (shocking! I know). Some, writing in the Calvinist tradition (e.g. Alvin Palntinga and William Alston) think that some feelings that God exists are like perceptions, or sensations, of God, and they should count as evidence for God's existence just like a perception of, say, a table counts as evidence for a table. They both have arguments (different ones) to the effect that one can rationally regard one's feelings about God as perceptions of this kind before one already concludes that there must be a God. Intuitively, this might make some sense. You might think to yourself: hey, I have this feeling, out of nowhere, that there is a God, and since I don't have any evidence to the contrary, why shouldn't I regard this feeling as some indication that there is a God? On the other hand, dig a little deeper and some doubts begin to appear. What best explains the fact that you feel that God exists? Is it a need, or a wish, that you have? Is it the product of, say, your need to feel comforted in certain ways? Is it the product of your desire to think that your upbringing was righteous (if you had a religious upbringing) or all wrong (if you had a secular upbringing)? Is the feeling rooted in a very deep and desperate desire not to die? These suggestions, and many complex variations of them, have all also been offered as alternative explanations of your feeling that God exists. Unless you settle where the feeling comes from, it seems a stretch for you to regard it as a good reason to believe in God, doesn't it? Hmm. Maybe not. Some *other* philosophers argue (erroneously, I happen to think) that information about the causal source of your "evidence," or what you take to be evidence, is irrelevant to whether it is rational for you to believe on its basis.
Ok, so I just said, essentially: lots of people say different things, some regard the feeling as evidence, some don't. So, maybe that doesn't help you. I'll try to help by making two further points. First, there is an ambiguity in the term "reason" in your question, and, second, it may be useful to compare your feeling that God exists to other feelings.
First, what counts as a "good reason" to believe something? In my first paragraph I assumed that only evidence can count. But maybe the feeling you have in mind, perhaps a pervasive, ever-present loving feeling for something greater than us, provides a different sort of reason to believe. Perhaps your feeling makes it a good idea, from a practical perspective, to believe. Some philosophers (most famously Pascal) have thought that practical considerations can make it rational for us to at least try to believe. If believing seems good for you, given your feelings, maybe that's a reason to try to believe it. How you get yourself to believe it is a whole other story (I recommend an essay, basically just a transcription of a lecture, by Daniel Garber, entitled 'What Comes After Pascal's Wager' on this topic). Anyway, my point is that your feelings may provide some non-evidential sort of reason to believe. The downside of thinking this way is that, on reflection, you might conclude that nothing but evidence is a good reason to believe. Believing is taking something to be TRUE, so shouldn't any reason to believe be a reason relevant to the TRUTH? You have to figure that out first.
Second, it might help if we consider feelings about other things, to compare with your feelings that God exist. Suppose I am desperate for money, perhaps I have a very ill relative. Suppose I've run out of other options, and decide that attempting to rob a bank is the only way. This robbery is very risky; I could get shot or arrested, making things even worse for my sick relative. But as I consider it, I am overwhelmed by a feeling that I CAN DO THIS, THIS WILL WORK. Not because I have any evidence that I won't get shot or arrested. It's just a feeling that this is the right course of action and that it will end well. Now, is my feeling a good reason to believe that it will all work for me out when I rob a bank?
Objection! That example is unfair. In this example, I had some reason to think that the bank robbery will not work out. My feeling goes AGAINST my prior knowledge about the robbery plan. But, you might say, your feeling that God exists may occur when I have no prior knowledge, either way, about how likely it is that God exists.
A different example, then: my daughter's birthday is in March. Right now, it is impossible for me to tell how likely it is to be raining in March. But she loves the beach, and I want to plan a grand party for her, now, on the beach. Suppose, for the sake of the example, that I have to reserve the party location now if I want to have the party there in March. Also, suppose I don't know how to use google and so I lack access to average weather in March on this beach. I just really don't know how likely it is, and suppose I lack any good reason to think anything at all about the probability. Some might say: you should think the chance of rain is 50%. Maybe. I myself think that's wrong. But, anyway, I don't have any background knowledge to the effect that it will rain, or that it won't rain. And yet, I have this feeling, when I look at my daughter, that she will LOVE her birthday party on the beach, that it will all work out and there will be no rain. Is this a reason to believe that there will be no rain?
I think that we want to say "No." It's not a good reason to believe that it won't rain. However, I think it is, perhaps, some reason to be hopeful, and to plan for a rainless birthday party. Maybe. At least we get this out of the example: a feeling that it will not rain, or that God exists, may warrant some other attitudes, besides belief, about rain and God. It is worth thinking about that, I think. Let's not pretend that belief is the only thing that matters.
I hope that helps!

How can understanding of issues be advanced even when definitive knowledge can’t be had?

I'm not entirely sure what you have in mind by 'definitive knowledge'. I suspect you mean a sort of certainty, so that we have definitive knowledge that p when (and only when) we know for certain that p is true. If I understand your question this way, it boils down to how we can understanding something if we don't know it for certain. Philosophers have differing views about what understanding is, and specifically in relation to knowledge. But, setting those aside, I might be able to help you with your question by noting a connection between understanding and explanation. Suppose you want to understand you caught the flu. That is, you seek to explain why you got the flu. You do some research, ask a doctor, etc., and learn that the flu is caused by the influenza virus that is spread by, let us say for the sake of the example, exposure to the bodily fluids of an infected person. You may not be CERTAIN that the research you did is correct, but you could be reasonably confident that it is correct. Furthermore, you note that exposure to an infected person's bodily fluids does not guarantee, 100%, that one will get the flu. And you cannot be certain that the *only* way to get the flu is by exposure to a sick person. Still, it seems, you do possess an explanation for how you got the flu, if, for example, you recently kissed your flu infected significant other. I think we'd want to say, in this case, that although you don't possess "definitive knowledge" about why you got the flu or your case of the flu, you do understand why you got the flu. This may not be exactly what you had in mind when you asked your question, but perhaps it helps you to start on an answer. My example raises the question: what is the relation between knowledge and certainty, and explanation and knowledge, that you are assuming when you ask this question? This may be a case in which getting clear on the question and its assumption will settle the question.

Hello. I wanted to ask about revenge. (1) Is there anything morally wrong with taking revenge? (2) If the urge to take revenge is a genetic instinct (and surely, it's quite plausible that it might be), why should it have less moral authority than any other feeling about right and wrong? The background to this question is that, while there's no explicit eye-for-an-eye in the laws of most contemporary societies, usually judges take community expectations and appropriate punishment into account when sentencing, and not just factors like legal requirements, precedence, rehabilitation and deterrence -- so revenge is arguably still very much a part of modern law.

Modern legal systems and practices are probably shaped by a number of different factors, as you note. Criminal sentencing, for example, is likely to reflect concerns about rehabilitation, deterrence, consistency — and revenge. You rightfully ask: Should revenge have a place in how wrongdoers are treated -- is there something morally suspect about revenge?

First, it's key to recognize that revenge does not simply aim at making a wrongdoer worse off. Revenge is instead partly a matter of motive: Whenever we punish someone, we aim to make them worse off in some way. What distinguishes revenge from deterrence and other motives is that in acting so as to avenge, we aim to make the wrongdoer worse off for no other apparent reason than that the wrongdoer should be made to suffer. We aren't attempting to discourage the wrongdoer (or others) from acting wrongly, nor are we attempting to use the suffering as a way to improve the wrongdoer's character, etc. Revenge is fundamentally vindictive. To punish a wrongdoer out of revenge is to cause her to suffer, so to speak, just so that she suffers.

And it is the vindictive character of revenge that makes it morally suspect, according to many philosophers. The main worry is that it seems odd to think that we can have good moral reason to do something that seems to aim at nothing good. Suffering, normally, is a bad thing. The advocate for revenge isn't suggesting that we should cause wrongdoers to suffer because doing so will result in some good. Vengeance, it is said, is supposed to be good for its own sake. But that (one might think) is puzzling. Surely the only way to justify causing some bad is by pointing to some other, presumably greater, good it brings about. Yet that's precisely what revenge is not. It's supposed to justified simply because of what the wrongdoer has done, not because of what good will result from avenging that wrong.

Granted, advocates of revenge may respond that this critique misses the point: Revenge itself is good. There's something right or proper, they may propose, about a wrongdoer being made worse off. Normally, suffering is bad. But the suffering of wrongdoers is made good by virtue of the fact that it a wrongdoer who suffers. Other may argue that the good of causing wrongdoers to suffer isn't intrinsic to it, but nor does the good reside in causing a good result by punishing the wrongdoer. For instance, it may be good that wrongdoers do not enjoy any advantage from their wrongdoing.

The larger point, however, is that however instinctual a desire for revenge may be, it appears to be a suspect moral ideal, just insofar as it seems to aim at what is bad in some sense because it's bad.

Some good sources you might consult here are Martha Nussbaum's recent book Anger and Forgiveness, which rejects revenge, and the work of Jeffrie Murphy, who advocates for vindictiveness.

I'm a literature student and I've become aware that Marxist theorists (Fredric Jameson, Terry Eagleton, and so on) often talk about 'dialectics' - a term, I have traced to Hegel. But I'm unclear what is meant by this or how the term has been adopted. Is there anywhere you could point me which has an overview/guide to this?

Why not try here:

Very crudely: dialectic describes a process whereby some social formation (e.g. a set of economic relations, a political institution, a set of religious beliefs, or even cultural forms (like the conventions of the novel)) does not quite 'work', and thus tensions arise (some kind of opposing beliefs or formations, or even a social formation that temporarily combines within itself two opposing ideas), until a resolution is reached. So, it is a way of understanding how and why change happens.

Hi, I'm struggling to understand free will. I've been told that either of the following scenarios is commensurable with free will: (1) an omniscient being that knows all future events; (2) a block universe where future and past in some sense coexist with the present. But if free will is commensurable with these scenarios, would it be merely epiphemomenal? Would free will play any causative role if either of these conditions was true?

Your question suggests that you are thinking that free will must be something (e.g., a causal power) that is not a part of the rest of the universe, that it must be something that is (1) outside of the universe about which the omniscient being has complete knowledge, or (2) outside of the events that occur within the 'block' universe (an Einsteinian universe where there is no passage of time and the laws of nature describe the relationships between all the 'tenseless' events). If you think of free will that way, then yes, it seems like it cannot get a causal toe-hold on a universe that is already 'set in stone' like the block universe or one whose details are all already known by a god (who might be imagined outside the universe surveying it all at once). Free will, whatever it is supposed to be on this picture, would be cut out of the process, bypassed, epiphenomenal.

However, perhaps there is a better way to understand free will, one that neither has these consequences nor makes free will a mysterious causal entity that cannot really be understood at all. Free will is a label for a special subclass of events or processes within the universe (whether it's a block universe or a fully-known-by-god universe or neither). Free will picks out humans' uniquely well-developed capacities for imagining various ways we might act, evaluating those options, and deciding on the basis of these deliberations. Exercising those capacities makes crucial causal differences to what happens in the universe, especially by making a difference in how we act. In many cases, no other events are the 'causal source' of our actions, in that no events, more than our own deliberations, explain why we act one way rather than some other way. Our conscious mental activity, which is likely essential to these capacities, is also within not outside the universe.

Of course, on this view, our exercising our capacities for free will is an essential part of the universe, not distinct from it. As such, the way we actually exercise them will be 'set in stone' in the block universe--though not epiphenomenal for sure, since the events in the block universe would be quite different if our decisions were different. And the god would know how we actually exercise them, but that would not make them epiphenomenal. If anything, our making the decisions we do causes the god to know what she knows.

In case it's not clear, the response I'm outlining here is a compatibilist one, since it is a way of showing why free will is compatible with determinism (e.g., a block universe) or god's foreknowledge. But it's also meant to offer a sort of 'error theory' for why people might think free will is incompatible with these types of universes: they may be thinking that the only way to make a causal difference that matters in the universe is to act from outside of it and hence if that possibility is ruled out, they think they don't make any causal difference at all--their deliberations and decisions are bypassed or causally irrelevant. But there's no need to make that mistake. Once we come to understand how we (including our conscious minds) are a part of the rest of the universe, we'll be better able to see how our free will is a crucial causal component of our universe.