On 2/2, I asked: What I remember from my philosophy courses is the spirited debate, lively dialogue. For me this site is too question-and-answer, like the Stanford Online Encyclopedia that is often pointed to in the responses. Is there a place on the web where I can find a more dialogue-based form of philosophy? In reply, I received 2 replies bemoaning the quality of thinking found in philosophy chat rooms. I don't believe my question implied that I wanted to chat with morons in a "philosophy chat room", but let me clarify: I graduated with a BA in philosophy from what was then ranked as the #1 liberal arts college in the US, so I'd say I can tell the difference between people who can't reason their way out of paper bags, and philosophers. But the responders seem to imply that, at their level of philosophical accomplishment, there isn't much more to be said after one respondent has answered. In my view, this implies that the quality of the questions is poor, not provoking spirited dialogue from the...

I don't know the answer to your question. There are many philosophy blogs (run by professional philosophers or by graduate students in philosophy) that allow the posting of comments; you might check out some of those to see if they answer to your needs. This site does not yet offer any back-and-forth opportunities (though you might check out the associated Google Groups). Our original idea was to keep the signal-to-noise ratio as high as we possibly could. It would be desirable to add on a feature that would allow comments or more back-and-forth - but in a manner that allowed that feature to be "turned off" by those who prefer not to wade through those further levels of discussion. We're hoping that in a near-future enhancement of the site, we'll be able to implement that.

All human activities seem to have dramatic, defining, pivotal moments. Take basketball : 1987 Game 5 Celtics v. Pistons. Dennis Rodman rejects Larry Bird with 5 seconds left. Pistons take the ball. All they need to do is inbound the ball and hold it and they take a 3-2 series lead home. Instead, Larry steals Isiah's inbound pass and the Celtics win. Wow. Of course there are many such moments in sports. What are the equivalent moments in Philosophy? What Philosopher, finally, in what paper, knocked down a prevalent theory held for 1,000 years? That kind of thing. Can a few of you contribute your favorite moments in the history of philosophy?

David Hume's Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748) contains a discussion of induction that I would like to say qualifies – except I don't know that the position he argues against was going for 1,000 years. In fact, I don't even know if the question he addresses would have been a live one during that time. Perhaps better, then, would be Gottlob Frege's Begriffsschrift (1879), which doesn't directly argue against a logical analysis of natural language sentences which I gather had been kicking around for well over 1,000 years but which effectively demolishes it by articulating, elaborating and defending a far more powerful analysis – one which continues to be presented at every university or college in the world that offers a course on formal logic.

A long time ago - Jan 2006 if I'm not mistaken - Alan Soble wrote (http://www.askphilosophers.org/question/875): "Finally, the heart and soul of philosophy is argument, providing reasons for claims, including claims about morality and duties. In the answer to the question above, I cannot find a shred of argument. We should also avoid, that is, pastoral or friendly counseling. Without rigor, philosophy is nothing." That was back in the days when there was routinely more than 1 response to a question. Today's responses seem more and more to be becoming "pastoral or friendly counseling" without rigor. The panelists do not argue with each other - the responses are just accepted. Here's an example: Peter Smith wrote very recently (http://www.askphilosophers.org/question/2823): "For irrationally formed beliefs are not likely to lead to actions which get any of us what we want -- including a decent life, lived well in the knowledge of our all-too-explicable mortality." This statement - simply put out...

Your comment on Peter Smith's claim, "utterly preposterous," doesn't sound like rigorous argument to me, but more like contemptuous dismissal. I'm glad panelists aren't displaying more of your style of rigor! The consideration you do offer seems to misunderstand Smith's claim. What you quote him as saying is that if our actions are guided by beliefs that have been irrationally formed, it's likely that those actions will not promote our ends. I can see why he says this: if you think (1) that irrationally formed beliefs are as likely as not to be false and (2) that actions guided by false beliefs are not likely to get us what we want, his claim follows. Your observation – that we sometimes take pleasure in beliefs even if they have been irrationally arrived at – seems correct but beside the point: it speaks neither to the truth of (1) nor to that of (2).

How do you determine the panel? How do you determine who is and who is not a philosopher, more importantly? Isn't there such thing as a philosopher without a PhD and tenure, or whatever else holds this group of panelists together?

Yes, of course - degrees, tenure, etc. are not necessary conditions for being a philosopher. There is no set of defining conditions for being a philosopher, any more than there is such a set for being a carpenter. Here, we look for people who know a bit about philosophy's history, its great works, its perennial themes, who can write clearly and helpfully for an untutored audience, and who are keen to contribute. Of course, you might complain that this pushes the question back to "How do you determine what is philosophy?" - and you'd be right, and perhaps puzzled. I can't relieve that puzzlement, but I can suggest it's nothing special about the notion philosopher or philosophy . For after all, can you say how you determine who's a funny person? Or what's a messy room?

This question might not be appropriate, but I'll try anyway. How is it that the precise meaning of the Waverly passage in Russell's "On Denoting" remains notoriously unclear? Russell died in 1970; I'm incredulous that while he was alive no one simply asked him what he had meant. I am similarly amazed whenever there are exegetical questions about the work of any modern philosopher (e.g., Quine).

I used to share your puzzlement. I was a graduate student at Harvard and very interested in Quine's work. Early on, I thought to myself "This will be great: all I have to do is walk downstairs and just ask Quine what he meant by some puzzling or ambiguous passage." Well, I did that several times and, you know what, it didn't help me very much. One day, I reported this puzzling fact to Burton Dreben–who did not find it surprising at all. "What do you expect," he said, "if you ask Quine a question, what you will get back is more Quine !" Obviously true, yes, but nonetheless a very suggestive observation.

Dear sirs and madams, I recently met my cousin, who is a very bright biologist. When she learned that I studied political science and philosophy at university, she asked respectfully me why I would study a self-perpetuating field. I know what my reasons are, but I would be interested in reading what some of the professionals have to say: Why study philosophy? Moreover, why study it since there is an impracticality associated with it? Have you ever gotten any flack from loved ones for philosophizing? Thank you for your time, -Justin

I wonder whether there is no question that tires philosophers more than this one -- if it's not "What's your philosophy?" or "If a tree falls in a forest ...". The assumption made in the question, that "there is an impracticality" to philosophy, is false. It's not the common perception of employers or graduate schools, and it's not the case. A recent article in The New York Times spoke to this. The article was unfortunate, in my view, because a reader might think that the main reason students do, or should, study philosophy is instrumental: it sharpens various skills which will be of value throughout one's life, regardless of its particular shape. That might be true for the occasional student but in general skill-sharpening is not a strong enough motivator to keep curious people studying a subject. The real reason is that issues in philosophy are central to our lives as thinking creatures, and the specific form these issues take in the questions, answers, and arguments of the great...

Is a computer conceivable that would cut down on Philosophers' work by immediately identifying logic mistakes in arguments? For example: you enter "The Ontological argument for God" or "David Hume's argument against Inductive Reasoning" (or, for that matter, scan in the entire text of Plato's Republic) into the machine, and it immediately uses its programming (which tells it to watch out for contradiction, and all those other logic laws, etc.) and spits out the mistakes in reasoning. Is the problem with this that it would be too difficult to program, or that the laws of logic are under respectable attack?

Philosophy would be much easier if we could program such a machine -- and boring too. But it's not going to happen. For one thing, there's your interesting point that philosophical disputes can go very deep, so deep as to include disagreement about what the laws of logic, of correct inference, ought to be. Secondly, even for first-order classical logic, there simply is no computer that can decide whether any given inference is correct. (This is known as Church's Theorem and was proved by Alonzo Church in 1936.) Finally, there's the fact that evaluating the logical cogency of arguments is only a (small) part of the business of figuring out what to think about someone's argument in philosophy: at the very least, one must also understand and evaluate the assumptions to which the logical reasoning is applied.

Can philosophy of mathematics influence mathematics, or it is just an abstraction of what actually works?

As Peter Smith's examples make clear, sometimes "the philosophy of mathematics" appears in other than philosophy journals and is done by other than people in philosophy departments. Another instance of this is the long current of constructivism in mathematics. The development by mathematicians of constructivist mathematics (most notably, intuitionistic mathematics) is often motivated by their -- for want of a better term -- philosophical reflection on the nature of mathematics.