Is it wrong for me to accept the very real possibility (in light of social trends in the past decades) that my current partner and I might well break up, for reasons yet unforseeable, in the future? It seems a rational judgement - a large number of marriages don't last, and unmarried partnerships even more so - yet I can imagine that I would be upset if my partner accepted this possibility as one of those "facts of life" we have to deal with.

It is certainly wise to take these statistics seriously and to realize that you and your relationship are not immune from those trends. Yet, I don't think the ideal response is to 'accept the possibility' that your relationship will fail, but instead you should ask yourself why relationships fail so frequently in our society and take steps to avoid those pitfalls. If you do all the same things that everyone else does, you should expect the same results. If you take extra steps to protect honesty, intimacy, closeness, commitment, fidelity, etc. in your relationship that other people don't take, you are more likely to succeed.

I recently read in the New York Times that a majority of philosophers are moral realists. That is, they believe there are right and wrong answers to moral questions. I have always been under the impression that David Hume has had the last word on this and that questions of morality are emotive. That is, the come from our emotions, not our reason. They are similar in kind to positions on aesthetics, for example, however in the case of morals we view them as much more important. This seems certainly correct to me. If not, how can any position on basic values or morals be verified? We can verify that the moon is not made of cream cheese, but we cannot verify in the same way that it is "moral" for that human beings survive.

If I'm reading the question correctly, it assumes that if morals aren't empirically verifiable, then they must be based upon emotion rather than reason. Frankly, I don't know why anyone would make that assumption. There are lots of important claims that aren't based upon emotion, but that ultimately aren't empirically verifiable. For example, the claim that 'if morals aren't empirically verifiable, then they must be based upon emotion rather than reason' is not empirically verifiable but does not seem based upon any emotion. If any of the great modern philosophers had the 'last word' on ethics (and a vast range of other issues) it would have probably been Kant who wrote after Hume and rejected many of his views (including this one).

Is it paradoxical for the US government to render embryonic stem cell research illegal, in a country where abortion is legal??

The current debates about embryonic stem cell research concern whether federal funding should be spent upon it, not on whether such research is banned in the USA. Similarly, federal funding for abortion is more controversial than its legality.

Why don't philosophers clearly define their terms in relation to the "theist/atheist" debate. Surely before we begin a philosophical discussion we should clearly define our terms; but when it comes to the existence of "God"; both theists and atheists just assume that everyone knows what "God" refers to. Once we have established- when the debate takes place in a Christian context- that "God" refers to the mythological creator deity "Yahweh" of the Bible; is it logical for us to even debate his existence? I mean, we don't debate the existence of the creator deities of African mythology (who have similar properties to the Biblical deity). Could this be a large-scale unexamined cultural bias?

Actually, many of the better philosophers take time to define the concept of God they have in mind. For example, in Richard Swinburne's The Existence of God you can find a 12 sentence, page long account of the God he has in mind (I believe it appears on page 7). While I understand that some people think the intrinsic probability of 'Yahweh' existing is rather low, it is a belief that is at least nominally subscribed to by about 2 billion people including some very intelligent thinkers (such as Oxford/Yale/Princeton/Cornell professors). So, I'd suggest that any belief with that kind of status is at least worth arguing about. If there are Oxford professors arguing for the existence of one of the African deities, I think it'd be fun to look at their arguments.

Dear philosophers, I am a 23-year-old boy living in a developed country (in my opinion, it is an important detail to underline) and I very often find myself reflecting on this question, never being quite pleased about the answer. Why is it widely accepted by the overculture that the technological progress applied to everyday life helps to live better than the past and feel happier, when as a matter of fact our existences become much more complex and unpleasant, especially for the young people? My remark about complexity in particular refers to the new educational system, the labour skills more and more oriented to few qualified jobs, the social and interpersonal relations, the welfare state, the financial and technological world and so on...Is the contemporary the best of all possible worlds? I don't think so. Francesco from Bari, Apulia Region, South Italy

I appreciate your question and identify two major subquestions in your comments: 1) Why is it widely accepted that technological progress helps us live better and increase happiness? Well for one thing, technology is literally a matter of life and death for some of us. As someone who survived cancer in my mid-20's, I'm very aware of the fact that technology makes all sorts of things possible. It increases our life expectancy, it increases our leisure time, it broadens the options concerning how we can spend our leisure time, etc. So, I have to go with the mainstream view that technology does help us live a happier life. Yet, I also appreciate your point that technology is not unqualifiedly positive. Your comment about the complications it introduces into life reminds me of a line from the classic movie 'The Gods Must Be Crazy' where the narrator mentions that in 'advanced' societies children are 'sentenced' to over a decade of school. Furthermore, lots of technology can be misused. 'Web'...

What makes an argument "good"? Is there more to a good argument than raw persuasive power? Does a good argument have to support the right conclusion? For example, might the ontological argument be a good argument for theism even if theism is false?

The term 'good' is notoriously ambiguous. However, I often tell my students that a goal for their arguments should be that an intelligent, well-informed person with no strong pre-existing opinion on the matter would find it convincing. Thus, a 'good' argument could have a conclusion that is ultimately false. And it is possible for 'good' arguments to exist for logically incompatible conclusions. Note, however, that there is more to this account of a 'good' argument than pure persuasive power... it has to be persuasive to a certain kind of person (whereas some arguments that 'persuade' the masses are not particularly convincing to the well-informed or the intelligent). As for the ontological argument, I don't think it is a good argument (in the sense above) in contemporary culture because most people would not find its premises to be more likely than its conclusion (and generally the point of an argument is to get someone to accept a conclusion based on the strength of its premises and their...

Why does our society place more value on the degree than the actual learning? With Ivy league and esteemed colleges publishing their courses online, it is plausible to think that one could learn as much or more than a graduate, yet that knowledge would not be valued in the workforce or in the field of knowledge. This can also be seen in high school. Less knowledgeable students who earn the diploma are far greater valued than others who may have superior knowledge but did not complete.

I'd like to supplement Allen Stairs's fine response with two additional points. First, giving significant credence to the possession of degrees isn't merely a time saver. As a society we have largely delegated the measurement of learning to degree granting institutions. At least in theory, possession of a degree is supposed to correspond to the actual possession of knowledge. There aren't a lot of reliable alternatives for judging whether or not someone possesses the knowledge in question (especially if the person trying to gauge another's level of knowledge is not an expert in that area herself). Sure, a prodigy might be able to self-teach and attain more knowledge than the credentialed person, but that is still relatively rare. Second, there is more to the possession of a degree than mere knowledge. It communicates to potential employers (and anyone else who cares) that the person has a level of perseverance and discipline and is able to work within the guidelines of an institutional...

We all wish that we die before a person we love a LOT (our parents is an example), because we think that we'll be very sad and cry all the time. But, isn't it more moral to wish that this beloved person dies before us, so we would support the extreme sadness and not them ?

I disagree with one of your stated assumptions and one of your implied assumptions. First, I certainly don't want to die before many of the beloved people around me (and I insist that I still love them quite a bit). However, I disagree with this stated assumption, because I disagree with your implicit assumption that when we should wish to die ought to be motivated mainly by a desire for self or others to avoid the sadness of grieving. It seems to me that we should be more motivated by a desire to avoid (and for others to avoid) the 'bad' of death. I would prefer not to die at all but since that doesn't seem to be an option, it seems wisest to accept the natural pattern of this world: to die after your beloved parents, before your children and grandchildren, and in roughly the same time span as siblings, friends, and spouses. It is also easier to accept mortality (your own and others) if you don't think this is the end, as many excellent philosophers such as Plato, Aquinas, Kant, and Kierkegaard...

I am firm believer that life human or animal should be preserved whenever possible. I would also like to believe that had I lived in Nazi Germany I would have stood up for the persecuted. So how can I reconcile my strong moral convictions with my inaction regarding the mass murder of animals everyday. Ironically enough I feel guilty for letting the law and the disappointment of my family stand in the way of stopping the massacre. This guilt is causing me great pain. Please enlighten me on what I should do.

An important ethical principle advanced by Kant was 'ought implies can.' So long as you are doing what you can to carry out your moral convictions, you have no reason to feel guilty (though perhaps, you still have reason to feel sorrow). It is legitimate to try to persuade others to embrace your view within reason, but remember that damaging your relationships with your family over this issue or getting yourself thrown into jail would only introduce another evil into the universe. So, perhaps you should do more than you currently are, but I don't think you ought to 'beat yourself up' over things that are outside of your control.