I feel a very great love for someone, but I'm not sure what kind of love it is, and I'm worried that it might be the wrong kind of love. It has agapic elements in the sense that I want to do good for the person, but it is also rather erotic. Do you have any clear sense of whether there are any necessary and sufficient conditions by means of which I may decide this issue once and for all? Many thanks.

You shouldn't be committed to the classical distinction between Eros, Agape and Philia . These three forms of love are very often intertwined. You seem to oppose agape, an uninterested feeling of caring for the good of the other, to the erotic attraction. But what if your erotic feelings are good for the other person? Don't you think that your making this person a priviledged object of your own desire is good for her or him? It is very difficult to provide a philosophical definition of what "true love" is: Sure, a concern for the other, a possibility of projecting yourself and the other person in a shared future, the joy that accompanies a glimpse of a greater accomplishment of your ideal of a person, all these are ingredients that should be there when you fall in love. I think that love is not so different from trust: it is an accepted vulnerability, a way of opening yourself to the other that encourages him or her to reciprocate. It's a bet on a better life, or on a better "you" that you happen to...

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

There were times in which philosophy was considered as the highest form of education, a sort of "meta-knowledge" you acquire that enables you to reason about any other corpus of knowledge. In France it is still considered as such, although what French call "philosophy" is a wierd mixture of erudition, rhetoric capacities and "esprit" in conversation. I think that this still holds, and that studying philosophy enables you to acquire a skillful mind: not only a faster one (as in the case of studying very formal disciplines, like mathematics), but also a more reflective one. And I do not see the "impracticality" associated with it, apart from the fact that it makes it harder to get a job (I remember a cartoon in my department in which you could see the scene of an interview of a candidate for a job and the cadidate saying: "It is true that I have a doctorate in philosophy, but I'm willing to learn"). There's something "practical" in being mindful, and the landscape of knowledge changes so fast that it...

Is is possible to truly love someone, yet still do things that would knowingly hurt them (i.e., acts of infidelity)?

It depends on how you define "true love". Indeed ambivalence is one of the strongest features of human beings, so, typically, you have an ambiguous relation with your objects of "true love". My 7 years old son told me last night: "Maman, (he's French) do you know who is the person I love most?" I replied "No" and he said "You". Then he asked again: "Maman, do you know who is the person I hate most?" I replied "No" and he said "You". I think he truly loves me, still this is the best he can do with his love.

Sometimes we cannot think of the name of a person or the name of a place. We screw up our face, we ponder hard, and we try to recall it. Then someone suggests a name. We say "No, that's not it." How did we know it was wrong if we cannot say what's right? But then someone says the right name, and we immediately say "Hey, that's it!". If our brain knew all along what was right and what was wrong, why didn't it come into our consciousness when we were pondering? Do we have two brains, one which handles most thinking tasks but sometimes forgets and one which always knows the right answers but somehow cannot assert itself when we need it to? What's going on here?

We don't have two brains, we have much more! Philosophers (like Dan Dennett) and cognitive scientists (like Dan Sperber and Steven Pinker) argue that we have sub-personal processes that go on all the time in our mind/brain without the least control by our conscious processes, as when we parse a sentence in a natural language, a process that requires a highly sophisticated human mind but of which we do not have any conscious cue. The phenomenon you mentioned is at least similar to the "slip of the tongue" phenomenon, which is well known by psychologists (Freud also wrote an essay on it). There is a lot that is going on inside our brain and that we're not able to monitorate by our conscious processes.

Can I infer from the fact I am thinking that I have existed for a finite period of time (as opposed to simply "I exist"), irrespective of how short that period of time might be?

It depends. Descartes would say no. The strength of his famous argument "Cogito ergo sum" (I think, therefore I am) is its "performativity", that is, its power to realize what is stated by the simple fact of stating it. But this performative aspect is lost if we declinate the same sentence in a past form. "I think therefore I have existed sometime before now" is a completely different inference. If I say "I apologize" I'm apologizing, while if I say "I have apologized yesterday" I'm just describing a fact about my past life, whose truth-conditions depend on many variables. Whereas G.E. Moore would say that this is commonsensical. In his essay "A Defense of Commonsense" , he writes: "There exists at present a living human body, which is my body.This body was born at a certain time in the past, and has existedcontinuously ever since, though not without undergoing changes; it was,for instance, much smaller when it was born, and for some timeafterwards, than it is now" These are for him truisms,...

If a woman does not want to support a child, she can choose to have an abortion. Of course, the would-be father ultimately has no say in this decision (he cannot force or prevent an abortion). Presumably, the asymmetry here relates to the fact that pregnancy and childbirth burden the mother to an infinitely greater extent than the father. What I don't understand, though, is why fathers may be forced to support (monetarily) children which they didn't want. If a woman decides to have a child in spite of her partner's disagreement, shouldn't she also assume full responsibility for that child? It seems as though the man has no say at all here. If the man wants the child, the woman may nevertheless abort; if he doesn't want the child (but she does), he nevertheless must support it.

I am not sure what is the philosophical question here. Of course there is no general moral principle that guides the rules that you're evoking and you may imagine a huge cultural variation in different legal systems. There are legal systems which do not recognize the right to abort to a woman who doesn't want to have a child as well as there are legal systems (actually, most of them until recently) that do not oblige a man to support his child if, for example, the child is born outside a legal mariage. The rights of women to decide upon the destiny of their future children seems a very recent contingency of some of the contemporary legal systems, and not an inevitable consequence of the difference between men and women. It is unclear in the question whether you complain of this state of affairs (that probably refers to contemporary United States) or you ask what is the underlying moral principle that justifies it. If it is the second one, I would say that there is no such a principle.

I have heard that Descartes' "cogito ergo sum," while intuitively compelling, is actually a logically flawed argument. Can someone explain how/why it is logically flawed? I have heard the argument that anything that has any properties at all has the property of existence automatically, so existence is not a substantive property (have I put that correctly?). Even if that is true, why should it matter so as to make the cogito argument flawed? And are there any other, perhaps better logical arguments against Descartes' proposition?

Descartes' cogito is perhaps the best known argument in the history of philosophy and one of the most discussed. Criticisms are many, even in Descartes' times (Gassendi replied to him by saying that "ambulo ergo sum" is as good an inference as "cogito ergo sum" - which is in line with the objection you mention in your question). It is even unclear whether what Descartes had in mind was to draw a logical inference: he says that the conclusion that I exist from the fact that I'm thinking is a self-evident perception of my state of being, an intuition that I have more than a logical deduced thought. A possible objection is that the method of doubting that underlines the whole argument presupposes a being who doubts, that is, presupposes the conclusion it apparently allows to draw. A very influential treatment of Descartes' argument is the one put forward by the philosopher Jaakko Hintikka in a 1962 paper: Cogito ergo sum: inference or performance? (Philosophical Review, vol. 7). ...

Could one argue that parental discipline constitutes mental/emotional abuse in certain cases? At what point does punishment (ignoring physical punishment for this question) become abuse?

That parental discipline may constitute a form of abuse depends entirely on what you accept under the label of "discipline". Consider for example a family in which following some religious practices - like preying before supper, or not eating certain kinds of food - is considered as part of a discipline that children are obliged to follow, and a 10 years old child (that is, someone who is cognitively able to take at least partly autonomous decisions on her moral preferences, even is she still doesn't have reached the institutionally established "age of reason", usually 16, 18 or 21 according to the countries) who refuses to comply. In this case, I would consider a sanction of her behaviour as a form of abuse. Punishing her for not complying to a rule she doesn't want to endorse because she finds it incompatible with her ideas and moral feelings is a form of abuse. Abusing children means prescribing them a system of rules of disciplines without taking their stance and thinking about what is...

How can we discern the difference of how we authentically "feel" as opposed to how we "think" we feel?

Feeling pain is no more authentic than thinking that you're feeling pain. It is just that the two ways of accessing the experience of pain are different. When we feel something - pain, joy - we may be not aware that we are feeling it, whereas thinking that you're feeling pain or joy is a conscious experience in which our conceptual apparatus is mobilized. But this doesn't mean that feeling is a more authentic experience than thinking you're feeling. There are experiments that show that injured people feel pain in their amputated limbs even if they know that they cannot feel it anymore. That is to say that you may be deceived by your feelings as well as by your thoughts about your feelings. As for discerning how we feel as opposed to how we think we feel, I would say that a sensorial experience is always underdetermined. We feel the gap between the raw experience and its conceptualisation according to our previous experiences, our cultural background and what we know about the world and ourselves....

Is it ethical for a depressed person to limit social interaction with friends, based on the idea that the friends might find such interaction unpleasant? Part of the problem is that friends often don't openly admit to not enjoying the depressed presence, but, if the depressed person finds it difficult to live with him-/herself, would it not follow that other people also find his/her company difficult? Increased isolation would undoubtedly have adverse effects on the depressed person. Would it be possible for a philosopher to explain the ethical position of the depressed person as regards to social interaction, please?

When you are going through a depression your social identity is severely undermined. The mirroring effect that others have on your own perception of yourself- the way you "see yourself seen"- is so modified by your emotional states that one can argue that it would be probably safer to avoid too much contact with others. I'm not claimimg this on ethical bases: I agree with Thomas Pogge's idea that depressed people shouldn't avoid interactions on moral reasons, that is, to "spare" friends and acquaintances of their unpleasant presence. Still, I think that depression is a major distortion of the usual social feed-back we get from others in stabilizing our personal identities. Thus, one may argue that a mild isolation can be therapeutic. Jean Paul Sartre used to say that "Hell is other people". I think that depressed know very well the meaning of his claim and avoiding others in some circumstances can be a safe move.