Is understanding a person (what a person does) necessarily interrelated to approving of it, and is approving of it necessarily interrelated to sympathizing with it, and is sympathizing with it necessarily interrelated to identifying oneself with this person? Thanks, Susanne

Dear Susanne, I think that you have an interesting slippery slope here. In my opinion, we should not start down it at all. We need to try to understand people and the conditions that make them the kind of people that they are. But that need not (and should not) lead to approving much less to identifying with them. We would be much better off if we tried to understand suicide bombers and pedophilic priests and the social and psychological factors that shaped them. Sympathy of a sort may be in order as well. But, approval? Not at all. Indeed, in the cases that I mentioned, part of the motivation for understanding is to try to prevent the behavior. Lynne Baker

After a protracted and painful crisis of faith, I have seized upon the idea that if the origin of life could be shown to be possible only through nature and natural processes without the influence of a creator/god, then that could do away with any pragmatic need for the existence of a deity. Is this a tenable position?

Many people think that the position is tenable. I have my doubts. Showing that life could have originated *only* by natural processes (without any supernatural intervention) seems to me at least unlikely, if not impossible. (Doing so would furnish us with a new argument against the possibility of Descartes' Evil Genius.) It is more plausible to suppose that life actually did originate by natural processes. This more plausible claim, I think, would not do away with any pragmatic need for the existence of a deity. I do not think that the motivation for belief in God stems from things we can't explain. The idea of a "God of the gaps"--a God we postulate to explain "the gaps" left by science--does not seem to me a genuinely religious idea. Belief is God seems often motivated by a sense of gratitude and/or a felt need for forgiveness. And these would remain even if life originated naturally.

Why is philosophy so difficult?

Just think of the kinds of questions that philosopher ask--about goodness and justice, knowledge and belief, meaning and reference, just to take a few samples. There are no roadmaps for answering the kinds of question that (as Nicolas D. Smith said) set you to wondering. Even what counts as relevant to an answer is up for grabs. Questions recognizbly similar to "Does X exist?" "What is the nature of X?" (where X is usually something abstract and very general) seem to be asked generation after generation--but with different standards and criteria for what governs an acceptable answer. Our changing ways of doing philosophy, I think, partly account for the absence of definitive answers to philosophical questions. Our changing ways also partly account for the perennial interest in them.

In many sporting competitions (and other types of competition) people will pray to God for help. Would it be fair to call such help cheating if it were granted? Is it ethical to even ask for what would be an unfair advantage over an opposing side in what should be a purely human competition? The critics of performance enhancing drugs seem to say nothing on this issue.

I don't think that it's possible for God to cheat, even if he answered the competitor's prayer for victory. However, I agree with Richard Heck that there is something unseemly about praying for someone else's defeat (or misfortune). If we think about real conflicts, rather than sporting competitions, it is even more unseemly to suppose that God is on our side. Our enemies are just as sure that God is on their side. Many religious people think that they see God's handiwork in various events. However, I doubt if we can understand God's Providence. We should never underestimate God's subtlety. I realize that I shifted the question from whether you would have an unfair advantage if you appealed for God's help in winning a sporting contest, and the help was provided. I don't see grounds for thinking that there is an *ethical* problem, but as Richard Heck said, a prayer for victory may be religiously inappropriate.

I was wondering "Where in my body does my sense of self seem to be centred?" For me, the answer was "In my skull behind where my eyes are." That is, I associate myself with where my primary senses are, i.e. the eyes, ears, nose and mouth. Assuming this is a normal reaction, does a person who is lacking one or more senses (e.g. blind from birth) subjectively feel centred in another part of their body? If the answer is yes, does this give any insight into the nature of self-awareness?

I think that it is common to associate one's sense of oneself with a specific bodily location. I recall thinking (when I was a young child) that my thoughts were located in my throat right behind my tongue. I now believe that my thoughts are not located anywhere--not in my brain, not in a mind. There is just thinking, constituted by neural activity. The neural activity constitutes the thinking, but is not identical to it. It is an essential property of your thinking that good jobs are scarce (say) that it is about jobs. But it is difficult to see how being about jobs could be located in a definite place in your brain. Self-awareness, too, is a matter of thinking. Your being aware that you are thinking that you will probably get a good job is an instance of self-awarness. It is no more located anywhere than is your thinking that good jobs are scarce. You can be a materialist and still doubt that all phenomena are localizable. Suppose that you play poker on the internet; where is the...

Personally, I think that through careful rational analysis we can go out and discover the way the Universe actually is and, although we might make many blunders and mistakes along the way, we do get closer to finding out the truth. However, I have been told this is an old fashioned view (I think Enlightenment rationalism was the term used), that I should go and read Richard Rorty (still meaning to do) and that what we really do as individuals is to make truths which are unique to ourselves and only true for us and hence the Universe is subjective. So my question is this, is there 'a way things are' or 'the truth' so to speak, that we can go out and find (or at least try to) or do we rather 'make truths' which are only 'true for us'?

Most philosophers today in the English-speaking tradition agree with you that truth is not just subjective. But there is a lot of room between thinking that there is a single, complete true description of all reality and thinking that truth is just what we make it. For example, you might deny that truth is just a matter of opinion (even collective opinion) and ALSO deny that reality is what it is entirely independently of us. (I think that Wittgenstein would deny both.) So, I don't think that we have to choose between 'the truth [independently of us]' and 'truth-for-us'. I think that this is a deep and fascinating question.

Why do philosophers become Philosophers, is it purely intellectual or is it because all they are good at is thinking, and why for that matter aren't they out, thinking up the answers to the world's problems?

Although I agree with Alex about there being no general answers to your questions, I want to emphasize one point. Many people think that philosophical problems have no practical import or that it simply doesn't matter whether there are philosophers or not. Now it does seem that a society has to have reached a level of well-being in order for philosophy to flourish: if most people are starving or are living in fear of physical danger, they are not likely to produce people consumed by philosophical worries. However, it doesn't follow that philosophy is just another luxury to be regarded as dispensable. I honestly believe that philosophy is a major contributor to the value of a society. Think of Sparta and Athens. Sparta defeated Athens, but which society was more valuable? In my opinion, Athens (with its philosophy, sculpture, tragedies and so on) contributed more to civilization than Sparta (with all its military might). Solving "the world's problems" is not the only way to make a contribution.

Let's say John hears from others that he seems perfect for some job/field, or a natural at that job/field. "You really ought to do this or that." Further, John is aware that he is very skilled at that activity, and would be a natural at it (in other words, it's not just mom's wishful thinking that her son should be a doctor). However, John has no interest in pursuing this field, and would rather do something else. Does he owe it to the world at large to follow the unwanted path and do great things for humanity?

You can't be sure that if you follow the unwanted path, you'll end up doing great things for humanity. Life is too full of accidents and unforeseen turnings to predict that you'll do great things for humanity. In any case, I would not advise that you pursue a field in which you have no interest just because you are good at something. People are fortunate to find satisfaction in what they do. You do not have a general obligation to the world to pursue something in which you (already) do not expect find satisfaction.

Hi, I can't stop thinking and speculating about Wittgenstein's unbelievable question: "What is left over if I subtract the fact that my arm goes up from the fact that I raise my arm?". I was wondering how you guys speculate and maybe even answer Wittgenstein's question. It appears at least to me that it's a biconditional link which is why it's so interesting. Is there even any difference between the two? What does 'raise' truly mean (which I feel might be the secret to the question)? Is an action [such as raise] only an action if there is some end or fruit to it? Is it possible for a means to have no end?

Wittgenstein's question is a great one to ponder. It seems to me that the distinction between my raising my arm and my arm's rising is that raising my arm is intentional. That is, I raise my arm only if I want to, or decide to, or intend to raise it. But my arm would rise (without my raising it) if I fell into some water that pushed it up. It would also rise (without my raising it) if someone else--say, a hypnotist, or a strong person who grabbed it--intended for it to rise. In such a case, there would be an intentional rising of my arm, but I would not have raised it. So, the difference between my raising my arm and my arm's going up is that the first case--but not in the second case--requires some mental phenomenon on my part. (I am not attributing this answer to Wittgenstein; rather, this answer seems reasonable to me.) I'm not sure what you mean by a "biconditional link." You can't raise your arm without its going up, but it can go up without your raising it.

I find the distinction between compatibilism and determinism to be incomprehensible. Suppose that determinism is true and incompatible with moral responsibility. Then, person A might hold person B morally responsible but according to determinism, person A was hardwired to do this, so we can not hold A morally responsible for holding person B morally responsible (and even if we were to hold A morally responsible, our holding A morally responsible can not bear moral responsibility). In other words, A can hold B morally responsible. So, then, is there really a distinction between compatibilism and determinism?

If, as you suppose, determinism is true and incompatible with moral responsibility, then--you're right--no one is morally responsible for anything. What follows is that compatibilism is false. If compatibilism is true, then determinism is not incompatible with moral responsibility. Determinism and compatibilism are not the same thing. Compatibilism might be true (i.e., determinism may be compatible with moral responsibility), and determinism may still be false. Compatibilism concerns only the compatibility of determinism and moral responsibility, not the truth of determinism.