Recent Responses

It is believed that space is infinite, therefore containing an infinite number of universes. Since there is an infinite number of universes, then there are an infinite amount of Earth's exactly like ours, an infinite number of Earth's with subtle changes, etc. However, if this is true, then there is also an infinite amount of universes in which this is not true, creating a sort of paradox. How would you solve this?

It doesn't seem difficult to solve, if we're willing to accept more than one universe. Analogy: There are infinitely many numbers that are even, infinitely many numbers that are odd, and infinitely many numbers that are neither even nor odd (because they aren't integers). The infinity of numbers satisfying the description "even" and the infinity of numbers satisfying the description "odd" doesn't preclude an infinity of numbers satisfying "neither even nor odd." It would be paradoxical only if there had to be numbers satisfying more than one of those descriptions.

In the Stanford Encyclopedia the predicate "is on Mt. Everest" is given as an example of the sorites paradox applied to a physical object--where does Everest end and another geological formation begin? It seems to me that people who climb Mt. Everest (including Sherpas who live in the area) know that the base camp is where Everest begins. The millimeter objection in the article seems arbitrary. Why not an operational definition of "being on Everest is at or higher than the base camp used to reach the summit"? I have no problem accepting that as fact. Likewise, if I describe something as a "heap", and the person I'm communicating with recognizes it as such, what difference does it make how many units are in it?

The problem simply recurs with the phrase "at the base camp" in your definition: Which millimeters of terrain belong to the base camp, and which do not? At the limit, nobody knows. But unless there is a sharp cutoff between those millimeters that belong to the base camp and those that do not, the sorites paradox shows that the phrase "at the base camp" has logically inconsistent conditions of application, and therefore either nothing is at the base camp or the entire earth is at the base camp.

I see no hope of solving the sorites paradox for one vague phrase, such as "Mt. Everest" or "a heap," by appealing to some other vague phrase, such as "at the base camp or higher" or "what someone I'm communicating with recognizes to be a heap." If only it were that easy.

Is it consistent to oppose the death penalty on moral grounds, and also believe that life in prison is actually worse anyway?

I’m not sure I fully grasp the motivation behind your question, but here’s a guess as to how you may be reasoning:

A punishment can be ethically indefensible if it is too severe, either in its own right (50 years of continuous physical torture, say) or in proportion to the seriousness of the crime (a decade in prison for petty theft, for instance, would be excessive). If life in prison is worse than execution, then if the death penalty should be opposed because it is too severe, then we should also oppose life in prison, since if the death penalty is too severe, and life in prison is (by stipulation) worse, then life in prison must also be too severe. So if this reasoning is correct, then either
(a) both the death penalty and life in prison should be rejected on moral grounds for being too severe – a position that some may hold but many will reject on the basis that life in prison is not necessarily too severe
(b) the death penalty must not be as bad as we think, and should not be opposed.

Before addressing the reasoning here, let me say that (a) does not strike me as so implausible a stance. In my estimation, we tend to underestimate the badness of life incarceration, and in particular, the ways in which the unrelenting infringements on a person’s liberty, etc., are bad for a person. So perhaps both punishments really are too severe.

That said, there are, I’d say, two places where this reasoning seems open to question.

The first concerns your thought that life in prison is ‘worse’ than death. For one, how bad life incarceration is depends a great deal on prison conditions. Whatever its hardships, life in a Scandinavian minimum security facility is not anywhere near as bad for an inmate as life imprisonment in a US-style supermax facility that uses prolonged solitary confinement, etc. So whether life imprisonment is worse than death will turn on contingent facts. Moreover, we might question an assumption that seems hidden in your question, namely, that how bad something is depends only on its experiential properties. Suppose we grant that the experience of life incarceration is (often) worse than the ‘experience’ of death. (Note the quote marks there; I’m assuming that death is the permanent cessation of selfhood, that there’s no afterlife, that death is not something we experience, etc. — debatable propositions, yes, but let’s operate with these assumptions for now.) In other words, undergoing prolonged suffering behind bars will often be worse than simply not existing. Nevertheless, it may not follow from this that incarceration is worse than death, given that death may deprive a person of a life she wishes to keep living or of goods that she would have enjoyed had she continued to live until her natural death. (Note that these considerations make the badness of execution contingent on what kind of future a person is deprived of, how long she has to live, etc.) The death penalty may therefore be worse for a person’s overall lifetime well-being even if being dead is not worse than spending life behind bars. (Incidentally, I take it that the fact that almost every condemned prisoner exhausts their appeals before being executed is an indication that there is at least something worthwhile about continuing to live, even in the very adverse conditions life incarceration presents.)

A second set of questions we might raise about this reasoning is whether the severity of punishment is the only moral grounds for opposing a punishment. We might conclude, in connection with the death penalty for example, that it tends to be allocated in ways that are unjust — that defendants from certain social groups are more likely to be executed, etc. Note that these are moral considerations against the death penalty that don’t turn on how bad it is (or how bad it is in comparison to alternatives such as life imprisonment). Or one might oppose the death penalty believing it’s too risky for a society to impose. Death, as many have said, seems different than other punishments; it’s ‘final’, irrevocable, incompensable, unappealable, etc., in ways that other punishments may not be. So perhaps the reasons to morally oppose the death penalty is that societies ought not to risk imposing a penalty that’s unique in having these properties.

Is suicide immoral?

This is a question with a long and disputed history. My own article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy outlines some of the main moral arguments surrounding the permissibility of suicide: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/suicide/

There's a long of history of religious anti-suicide arguments. I don't find these convincing as moral arguments, even granting the theistic assumptions on which they rest. And while I find Kant's position that suicide violates duties to oneself plausible, let's set that aside and treat your question as equivalent to 'does suicide wrong others?', I think the fairest answer is 'it depends.' The most credible argument for the immorality of suicide is that it harms specific others -- family members, etc. — who are are harmed psychologically or materially (a child whose parent's death via suicide deprives her of her parent, for instance) and who have come to rely upon the suicidal person in various ways. As I lay out this role-based obligations argument in the SEP article:

No doubt the suicide of a family member or loved one produces a number of harmful psychological and economic effects. In addition to the usual grief, suicide “survivors” confront a complex array of feelings. ... . Suicide can also cause clear economic or material harm, as when the suicidal person leaves behind dependents unable to support themselves financially. Suicide can therefore be understood as a violation of the distinctive “role obligations” applicable to spouses, parents, caretakers, and loved ones. However, even if suicide is harmful to family members or loved ones, this does not support an absolute prohibition on suicide, since some suicides will not leave survivors, and among those that do, the extent of these harms is likely to differ such that the stronger these relationships are, the more harmful suicide is and the more likely it is to be morally wrong. Besides, from a utilitarian perspective, these harms would have to be weighed against the harms done to the would-be suicide by continuing to live a difficult or painful life. At most, the argument that suicide is a harm to family and to loved ones establishes that it is sometimes wrong.

Now it’s true the Eagles won the super bowl. Is the following statement true.?The team had always a winning chance of 100 percent regardless of their preparation , and there was absolutely no power in the world that could have changed the outcome .

Let's focus on one bit of your question. You ask if this is true:

          The team had always a winning chance of 100 percent regardless of their preparation.

Now compare that to something more mundane. As I write this, it's 3: 45 here in College Park. The light in my office is on. Would you say this?

          The light always had a 100% chance of being on at 3:45 on February 15, regardless of whether anyone flipped the switch.

I'm guessing you'd say no. The flipping of the switch was an essential part of the process that turned the light on. Likewise, the Eagles' preparation was an essential part of the process that brought about their win. No switch flipped, no light on; no diligent preparation, no win.

It's not that this answers all the questions someone might have about freedom and determinism (or, in this case, freedom and determinateness). It's just to say that there's no reason to think things would have turned out as they did regardless of the events that led up to them. The possibility you're asking about is sometimes labeled fatalism, and the belief in fatalism is often a consequence of overlooking the point made by our little example of the light switch.

Hi. I have been struggling lately. I was just wanting to confirm that determinism is a THEORY,correct, as to ask if it has been proven? Has there been any 100% consensus as to say we don't have free will? Will we ever really know for sure? I'm sorry I'm just going through many questions right now. Determinism (in any form) has not been proven 100% correct? And all of those theories on determinism, and indeterminism, are all not confirmed correct? They're just perspectives correct? Thank you so much for any relief/ information you can give me.

Determinism is neither as well-established as (say) the sun-centered model of the planets nor as well-refuted as (say) the earth-centered model of the planets. The truth or falsity of determinism is an open empirical question.

But perhaps I can provide some relief from the threat that you think determinism would pose for free will. Please see this answer to a question posted here in 2016: http://askphilosophers.com/question/25905.

Is there any way to define coincidences so as to make their existence possible in a deterministic world?

I think so. Suppose you encounter an old acquaintance, whom you haven't thought about in years, on a street corner in a foreign city. That unexpected encounter sounds to me like a paradigm case of a coincidence, precisely because it was (as we say) "the last thing you were expecting." Nevertheless, the encounter might well have been guaranteed to occur by prior conditions, as determinism says all events are. Our very limited knowledge of the prior conditions -- indeed, our total lack of interest in their precise details -- makes such an encounter surprising, i.e., not at all predictable by us given how little we knew about the prior conditions. Even so, those prior conditions could have determined that the encounter would occur exactly when, where, and how it did.

How is this argument valid? Either Oscar is an octopus or he is a whale. Oscar is a zebra. Therefore, Oscar is an octopus.

Validity in an argument comes down to one question: Is it possible for all the argument's premises to be true and its conclusion false? If no, then the argument is valid. So, assuming it is impossible for Oscar to be both a whale and a zebra, the argument is valid. Even so, the argument is not formally valid, because the following is not a valid form:

Octopus(Oscar) or Whale(Oscar)
Zebra(Oscar)
Therefore: Octopus(Oscar)

Not all valid arguments are formally valid.

Furthermore, assuming that Oscar is not both an octopus and a zebra, the argument is unsound despite being valid, because in that case the second premise and the conclusion are not both true. The same holds for this argument (on similar assumptions):

Oscar is an octopus, or Oscar is a whale.
Oscar is a zebra.
Therefore: Oscar is a whale.

Valid but unsound. So neither argument establishes its conclusion.

All chariot racers are musicians. Some chariot racers are soldiers. Therefore, some musicians are soldiers. Valid or Invalid?

Valid. Your second premise tells you that some chariot racer is a soldier. Let's call him "Alfred". So Alfred is a chariot racer and Alfred is a soldier. So Alfred is a chariot racer. This last fact, combined with the first premise, tells us that Alfred is a musician. But Alfred is also a soldier. So Alfred is both a musician and a soldier. Hence, someone is both a musician and a soldier. Which is your conclusion.

Hello my question is about the Kalam Cosmological Argument. I personally do agree with the premises and the conclusion, however a person on youtube said that you cannot say that an infinite regress does not make sense but an infinite being does. So my questions are what is the difference between an infinite regress and an infinite being, can you say they are both absurd? Does an infinite being make sense?

A response to Jonathan's point: To deny that the universe had a beginning is not to deny that a Big Bang occurred several billion years ago, nor is it to discount the evidence for such an event. But the available evidence doesn't imply, and it may not even favor, the claim that a Big Bang event occurs only once rather than cyclically, with the cycles going back, in principle, forever. So I stand by "eminently."

While I'm at it: Jonathan wrote that "some infinite series don't make sense (e.g. an infinite series of events leading up to a present event, since one could never take the last step, since there is no last step)." I take it that Jonathan meant to write "there is no first step," since we're talking about a series that is infinite in the earlier direction. But either way -- "first" or "last" -- his reasoning sounds like Zeno's argument that I can never begin to traverse (or finish traversing) any distance because there is never a first (or a last) fraction of the distance that I traverse. That argument is invalid. I can traverse all of the fractions of the distance even though there is no first, last, or nth fraction that I traverse.

Pages