I was having an argument with a religious friend of mine and I told him that I didn't think I could argue with him anymore because his belief in God was irrational. He replied that my belief in reason was irrational. Is belief in reason irrational?

You friend is reviving a delightful argument from Sextus Empiricus (Outlines of Pyrrhonism) to the effect that any justification of the value of rational proof has to be either a rational proof and hence circular, or irrational and hence inconsistent with the conclusion one is trying to establish! It is a devilish argument. While it does show that you can't justify the use of rational argument from nowhere, it doesn't show that there can't be strong pragmatic reasons for using rational argument that do not consist in proofs that it is justifiable. The very fact that it is a deeply embedded and successful practice may make it prima facie justified, with the burden of proof for one who wishes to dislodge it on the other's shoulders. Note that critiques of rational argument are equally question-begging. Wittgenstein's ON CERTAINTY is a nice source for a subtle discussion of this issue.

Hi I'm just a 15 year-old kid in PA and I was wondering if you could verify what I believe to be the meaning of life. I believe that the meaning of life is to search for the meaning of life, because doesn't that give us a meaning to our lives? And if we finally find a meaning to life, what else do we have to live for? But as long as we keep searching for the meaning of life, we have a meaning of life. Do you agree or disagree?

Hey, don't call yourself JUST a 15 year old kid from PA. You are asking a very deep question, and proposing a very thoughtful answer. I would agree that thinking reflectively about the meaning of life is ONE of the things that makes life meaningful. But I wouldn't agree that it is the whole picture. For instance, it might be that making a contribution to the welfare of others, or furthering knowledge, or developing one'w own talents and virtues would make life even more meaningful. Asking what THE meaning of life is might be a misleading way to put the question that really bothers us when we are tempted to ask that very question. It might make more sense to ask, "what kinds of things make life meaningful?" That suggests a broader menu. Nontetheless, your insight that caring about that issue in the first place is an important first step is on target. You might enjoy reading Aristotle's NICOMACHEAN ETHICS, or Marcus Aurelius' MEDITATIONS. I'd also suggest Tolstoy's ...

Is there a way to prove reincarnation? Has the possibility been explored?

There are many philosopher who take themselves to have demonstrated the reality of rebirth (Dharmakirti most notably) or reincarnation (Sankara). But in my view the arguments are pretty poor. They typically appeal to putative memories, or to the alleged impossibility of a physical basis of consciousness or mind. Neither route has much going for it.

Does personality prove self-consciousness? If an animal has a defined and changeable personality (can get depressed, etc.), is it then self-aware?

There is a difference between consciousness and sel-consciousness. It is one thing to be aware of things around oneself, or even of one's own physical states, and another to be aware that one is so aware. The latter is self-consciousness. Personality is yet a third thing. As a reasonable first pass we could take it to be a bundle of behavioural, affective and cognitive dispositions. Those would seem to require consciousness, but not self-consciousness.

I realize that these terms are vague and inexhaustive, but nevertheless there seems to still exist quite a bit of discussion about the "continental/analytic" distinction in philosophy. While at times the issue seems to be little more than academic bickering, it points to a pressing question about philosophy's place in today's world. From what I understand, empirical-minded analytic philosophers tend to think that vague issues dealt with by continental philosophy can be better expressed through, say, art, while continental thinkers argue that analytics are better off just doing math or science. Who's to be believed, if anyone?

I really do think that it is time we got over this distinction. Since many people called "analytic" by those who are fond of the distinction were born, lived or wrote on the continent in questiion, and many of those dubbed "continental" live and work on other continents, it is at least misleading. Things get worse when you actually pay attention to the content of texts, the methods of anaysis, the kinds of arguments offered. There just is no clear way of drawing the distinction. The closest one can come, I think, is to talk about literary style, which is a pretty superficial way to carve up philosophy. Even then you fail to get a clear cut. What you find are clusters defined by mutual approval within and and a certain amount of disdain between. Let's get over it. Worrying about this supposed distinction not only discourages people from taking seriously the work of people they should take seriously, but it also implicates an exhaustiveness that excludes African and Asian philosophy.

What makes me the same person today as I was any time in the past? I have new memories and experiences, so why aren't I someone else?

This is, indeed a matter of great controversy, and one that has generated a vast literature. There are those who argue that it simply wrong to say that you are REALLY the same person you were before, because there are so many differences; others who argue that because it is correct to say that you are that there must be SOMETHING about you, or the continuum that constitutes you that undergirds that fact. Others suggest that you identity is a kind of very useful fiction or construct, and so that while it is true that you are the same person now as you were when you were 2, that is true in the same sense that it is true that Ahab was captain of the Pequod, that is because we say so, and this is the kind of thing that can be made true by say-so, as opposed to by discovery. You might enjoy reading, from the Buddhist literature, the QUESTIONS OF KING MELINDA, relating a lovely dialogue between a king and a Buddhist philospher regarding this point, or David Hume's discussion in A TREATISE ...

How does the panel explain the fact that philosophy seems to have become less and less about "truth" and more and more about the constructs of "language" - such that the discipline now appears to have a closer relationship with lawyers rather than scientists. When did it all go wrong?

There's another way to think about it. For a long time (between the 17th and 19th centuries) Western philosophy was concerned with the nature of knowledge, and that interest was prosecuted by inquiry into the nature of the relation between the mind and the world. That relation was generally taken in European philosophy to be one of REPRESENTATION : the mind was taken to represent things in the world, and questions about knowledge were often framed as questions about how those represenatations arise, what their relation is to representeds, and how we could be justified, or whether we could be justified, in claiming knowledge of the world in virtue of awareness of our representations. At the dawn of the 20th century, a number of European philosophers (Frege, Russell, Wittgenstein, Heidegger) noticed that language also represents the world, and that it mediates our interaction with objects of knowledge. This insight inspired a great deal of attention to language as a medium of representation. But...