I had a brief chat with a work colleague today about the nature of reality and our perception of it. Essentially, his contention was that because we all basically agree on our external physical reality (e.g. when I hand him a cup of tea we both agree that I've just passed him a cup of hot tea), there must be an external reality because we both seem to agree on what it's like. If there wasn't such an external reality and we didn't essentially agree on it, he pointed out, we wouldn't be able to even ask for a cup of tea because my idea of what a cup of tea actually is would be totally different (or at least different enough to make meaningful communication difficult). Therefore, he concluded, it's common sense that we must be talking about and looking at the same "real" things and that we both experience them in the same -- or very similar -- way. Age-old philosophical problem solved! But it can't be that simple. So my question is what are the main problems with this "consensus" view of reality? Or, to put...

I've seen only one of the Matrix films, the first one. You might ask your colleague how he can be certain that things in our world aren't as they're portrayed in that film: that is, you and he merely believe you're conversing in the ordinary way about an ordinary teacup, when in fact you're both hooked up to a computer that's simulating the conversation, the teacup, and your surroundings. Is there some internal indication, something about the way things feel to him during such a conversation, that rules out a Matrix-style simulation? What could that be? Granted, neither you nor your colleague are at all inclined to believe that you're living a simulated existence, but that's just how the Matrix wants it!

It sounds to me like the arguments about the existence of God are displaced from what the essence of the argument is "really" about. It seems pretty clear from the equations of quantum mechanics that there is a Deity. However, whether She takes any interest in human beings, let alone the quotidian details of our everyday lives, is another matter. That is where the argument "really" seems to be: if we posit that there is a Deity, what reasons do we have to believe that She cares about our everyday lives or intercedes in response to a prayer? It may well be that She is like a parent with grown children: "I took care of you and raised you to adulthood and gave you all the skills and abilities you need to take care of yourself on your own. Good luck!" Isn't that the basis of the argument in favor of free will? If we do have free will, then why would God respond to our prayers?

It seems pretty clear from the equations of quantum mechanics that there is a Deity. I must say: That's as striking a statement as I can recall reading in quite a while! I wonder if it's the view of most of those who do QM for a living. Indeed, aren't there aspects of QM (indeterminacy, randomness, the Measurement Problem, the difficulty of reconciling QM with General Relativity, etc.) that suggest that no Designer is responsible for QM? Anyway, you draw an analogy between the Deistic God and a parent of grown children. But parents of grown children don't take the totally hands-off attitude toward their children that Deism attributes to God. Not if they're decent parents. What decent parent would deliberately choose not to call for help if she saw her adult child clutch his chest and collapse on the pavement? The Deistic God is a puzzling figure: knowledgeable and powerful enough to create a universe of mind-boggling size and complexity but morally callous enough not to care if the universe She...

One classification of evil is natural evil, those evils that are explained by laws of nature, without need for a personal agent. But is it appropriate to call natural disasters evil? The usual connotation of evil is something that pertains to personal agents so that it seems to me that to classify natural disasters evil would seem misleading. If my argument is valid, why does "natural evil" become a common term in the discussion of the problem of evil?

My hunch is that the term "natural evil" arose from the older label "the problem of evil" as a way to divide the data into events caused by agents and events not caused by agents. I don't think the choice of terminology is significant. One can refer to the problem of evil as the "problem of suffering" and then distinguish suffering caused by agents from suffering not caused by agents. The background assumption in any case is that suffering -- unlike, say, breathing -- isn't morally neutral: all else being equal, suffering is something undesirable that any morally sensitive person tries to prevent or relieve. So I don't think that substituting "suffering" for "evil" makes a difference to the problem or its solution. From my perspective, the important point is that if an omniscient and omnipotent God exists, then any suffering that occurs anywhere, regardless of its cause, is suffering that God chooses to permit .

I have two questions about logic that have vexed me for a long time. Smith has written two great books of philosophy. Now he has come out with a third book. Therefore, that book will probably be good too. Smith has flipped a coin twice, and both times it has come up tails. Now Smith will flip the coin a third time. Therefore, that flip with probably end up 'tails' too. The logical form of inductive arguments seems to contribute nothing; the premises seem to do no logical work supporting the conclusion - is that right? Smith has written two great books of philosophy. Now he has written a third. Any author that has written two great books of philosophy, and then writes a third, has probably written a third great book. Therefore, Smith has probably written a third great book. That seems a deductive argument, because the general premise was added. And if true, the premises do seem to support with conclusion with necessity, even though the conclusion is probable; it is the knowledge of the world and not...

I think both arguments can be analyzed as inductive arguments and still distinguished in terms of their quality. The book argument is a stronger inductive argument than the coin-toss argument for a simple reason: the probability that Smith's book C is great isn't independent of whether Smith's books A and B are great. That is, Smith's having written great books A and B makes the probability that Smith's book C is great higher than it would be had Smith not already written two great books. Important: higher than it would be otherwise, which needn't mean higher than one-half. Even though Smith's track-record raises the probability that book C is great, the track-record needn't make it more probable than not that book C is great. By contrast, the probability of tails on any given toss of a fair coin is independent of whether the coin came up tails twice already: that history of tosses neither increases nor decreases the probability of tails on a third toss.

Is it consistent to be a libertarian while opposing suicide on moral grounds?

I'm no expert on libertarianism in political philosophy, but I think I can answer this one: Yes. As I understand it, political libertarianism is a position concerning the legitimate power of the state. One can consistently oppose suicide on moral grounds while maintaining that the state has no business interfering with suicide. One can consistently think that, for various reasons, one morally ought not commit suicide while also thinking that the law should keep out of it. Indeed, a particularly strong distinction between "immoral" and "illegal" seems to lie at the heart of the libertarian outlook.

Are the laws of logic invented or are they independent of human reason? If they are independent, how can they exist immaterially? What does it mean for such laws to exist in a nonphysical way?

Good question, and as fundamental a question as anyone could ask. I think that the laws of logic must be not only independent of human minds but independent of any minds, including God's mind if such exists. At any rate, I don't think anyone can see how it could be otherwise. To say that the laws of logic depend on human or divine minds is to imply that the following conditional statement is nontrivially true: If (1) human or divine minds had been different enough, then (2) all of the laws of logic would be different from what they are . (By "nontrivially true," I mean that the statement is true not merely on the ground that (1), its antecedent, is logically impossible. If (1) is logically impossible, then the conditional statement is trivially true, even if (2), its consequent, is also logically impossible.) We can't make sense of the italicized statement without presupposing that (2) is false . If the italicized statement means anything, then it doesn't mean this: If (1) human or...

In several answers in AskPhilosophers, philosophers say that some uttered words express emotions, feelings, sensations and the like (but you always use the word "express"), and that this is not the same as some words saying or stating that such emotion (etc.) occurred. So you make a big difference between expressing and saying (or perhaps stating). For instance, "ouch" expresses pain, while "I am feeling pain" states that such pain exists. Sometimes you say that expressing cannot be true or false, but statements can. It is very difficult for me to understand this difference. I understand that "ouch" is much more immediate than "I am feeling pain", and that "ouch" is slightly humorous, and there may be other differences, but basically these two sentences just say the same thing. They convey the same basic information and both can be used to give a false information. Would you be so kind as to explain me what is the difference between expressing and saying (stating) in cases where what is expressed can be...

A very interesting question touching on complicated territory! Probably the best response I can give is to recommend the SEP article on "Pragmatics," available at this link . I think you'll find it contains lots of information highly relevant to your question.

In the light of the current state in philosophy, do skeptics still get an upper hand? Can we really know anything with certainty?

I'm going to refer you to two websites. At the PhilPapers Survey , you'll discover that only 4.8% of "target faculty" said that they accept or lean toward skepticism. Among specialists in epistemology (the theory of knowledge), that figure increases to 9.4%, but it's still small enough to suggest that philosophers in general don't think of skepticism as having the upper hand once the reasons for and against it are examined carefully. For detailed discussion of your second question, you might start with the SEP entry on "Certainty" . I hope you find these resources helpful.