I don't understand the approach in answering some of the questions. When asking if something is "important" or what "duty" is or what "right" is, why answer with examples of stuff that's one of those terms or give an insight on the subject rather than attacking the word itself and finding what it means. We're already in a hole due to the problem of causation and must find associations and directions of fit. So why not really get deep within the skin to find out what a word like "important" or "right" or "duty" means (at least to the best of our abilities). Isn't the source of much dispute in other fields that people aren't on the same page as to what a particular word or term means? Philosophy is much better than that. Or am I missing something?

I think most people here would agree with much of what you have to say, though with some differences. First, the question isn't so much what the word "right", say, means but, rather, what rights are. And similarly, it isn't so much that people don't agree about what the word "right" means: It's that they don't agree about what rights are, or under what circumstances someone would have one, or what have you. It doesn't follow that all these people mean different things by the word "right". If it did, then it would be impossible to disagree about anything. Second, to answer some questions involving the notion of a right we may not need to know exactly what rights are. This is a good thing, since some very smart people have considered this question over the last several centuries and, while real progress has been made, complete consensus has not yet been reached. Still, for some purposes, as I said, we may not need complete consensus. It may be enough if we agree about certain aspects of the...

I'm a female philosophy student, and I had an argument with my sister about the lack of female philosophers taught in college classes. She claimed that this was because of current sexism in the field of philosophy -- the mostly male philosophy professors disregard many great female philosophers and don't teach them. I thought that it was just a product of past sexism -- there historically haven't been many women in the field of philosophy, and therefore very few great female philosophers. Who's right? And if there aren't great female philosophers, should texts by women be taught anyway, as a kind of affirmative action?

It is, first of all, worth saying that the work of female philosophers is widely taught in philosophy courses. For the most part, this would be in courses on contemporary issues. As I mentioned in responding to a different question, question 1202 , there are a lot of very highly regarded women in philosophy nowadays. I would be very surprised indeed, perhaps even suspicious, if asignificant amount of work by women were not included in, say, anundergraduate introductory ethics course. In the more technical parts of philosophy, that might not be so. My own introductory philosophy of language courses usually don't include work by women on the main reading list, though there are usually papers by women mentioned as optional or additional readings, and arguments from these papers will get mentioned in lecture. When I teach more advanced courses in philosophy of language, I certainly do include work by women such as Ruth Barcan Marcus, Marga Reimer, or Delia Graff. I take this to reflect the fact that,...

Do students of philosophy have much to gain by travel, study abroad, or cultural immersion?

How about this for an argument? Human beings have much to gain by travel, study abroad, and cultural immersion. Students of philosophy are human beings. Therefore, students of philosophy have much to gain by travel, study abroad, and cultural immersion. That'd be an instance of the valid form "Barbara", and I take it both premises are true. Oh! I see! You meant, do students of philosophy, qua students of philosophy, have much to gain by travel, study abroad, and cultural immersion! Well, that's a different question. Let me answer it from the perspective of a North American. Adjust as necessary. But the answer to it is much the same. For one thing, to some significant extent, doing philosophy involves trying to pry oneself free of one's own unnoticed preconceptions. There's nothing like exposure to other ways of living to teach one how unnoticed some of those preconceptions can be. In that sense, then, I think anything that expands one's mind, and one's conception of life...

I am really interested with philosophy and I can get why many things are put into question. What I do not get is why some people even bother with questions such as: Can there ever be a truly random event? Why should we even care about something like this? It seems like the answer (if it were ever reached) would add no value to our lives. Steve, 17

Are you sure there's nothing to be learned from such a question? The question in what sense radioactive decay, for example, is random is an important question in the foundations of physics, and improving our understanding of the world seems a valuable enterprise. The question how we understand randomness is also important to the foundations of cryptography, because cryptographic ciphers typically require a source of random bits: If the bits aren't really random, then perhaps they can be predicted, and the cipher can be broken. It needs no emphasis how important cryptography is in the age of electronic mail and electronic banking.

Locke and Reid wrote essays, Hume and Berkeley wrote treatises, Reid also wrote an inquiry and Hume wrote an enquiry, etc. What's the difference between an essay, an enquiry, an inquiry and a treatise? Thanks, T

I don't believe Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Reid were using these terms—which you take from the titles of their books—in terribly specific senses. There may have been historical echoes. Certainly Leibniz's New Essay Concerning Human Understanding was so-called to echo the title of Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding . But there is one obvious difference: "essay" and "treatise" are names of kinds of writing; an "inquiry" is a certain kind of act or, perhaps, a report of the results of such an act. But again, I'd not read much into that. As for the difference between "inquiry" and "enquiry", modern dictionaries regard these as mere variant spellings, and it's worth remembering that spelling was not so uniform in those days as it is now.

Is there any reason that philosophy seems not to be taught in most American high schools (I could be wrong, I'm only speaking from experience)? I'm a college student who did not discover philosophy until my sophomore year, and I really wish I had had a chance for exposure to the stuff earlier on.

One reason, I'm sure, is the same reason so many American high schools have eliminated languages, music, and the arts: A lack of money, coupled with a very narrow conception of what education is. The latter, I'd guess, is the reason so few American high schools would have offered philosophy even before the cuts in funding for public education.

Whose opinions are worth more? The Philosophers (the ones who create the philosophies) or the Philosophologists (the ones who study and critique the Philosophers). And which one are you?

I don't myself see that there is any real distinction between philosophers and "philosophologists". I've never even encountered the latter term before. It's hard to imagine doing philosophy without reading, understanding, and criticizing it, and I don't honestly know how one could read, understand, and criticize philosophy without doing it---unless, I suppose, one was some kind of skeptic about philosophy.

Sometimes, in the midst of a discussion with some of my philosophy-type friends, one friend will hand-wave dismissively at something I say as "merely an empirical matter". What is so mere about philosophical discussions surrounding empirical matters?

Nothing, in my view. But there are approaches to philosophy that regard any question on which empirical facts might bear as somehow not really philosophical. This conception of philosophy is, it should be said, very much a recent invention. Certainly Aristotle did not make this kind of division between philosophy and the "merely empirical". Nor did Descartes, or Leibniz, or Hume, or Kant. It's an interesting question where and why it originates.

Is there some kind of award for philosophical "discoveries" like the Nobel prizes for the sciences? Or do you philosophers disagree too much to call anything a definitive discovery?

So far as I know, there isn't really such an award, but I don't believe that's because we all disagree. One wouldn't have to give such an award for a "discovery". Rather, one might give the award for some other sort of contribution, and philosophers do agree, to a significant extent, about whose work is good and worth reading. Of course, there are disagreements there, too, but there are also such disagreements on the cutting edges of the sciences. That's one reason the Nobel Prizes tend to be given to work done quite a while ago. It's not always obvious at the time what work will last. And so, if we were to look backwards, say, thirty years, I think you'd find very broad agreement about what work done in the mid-1970s is still worth reading.

Why do I ask questions that I already know MY answer to? Why would I change my mind if I am already sure that, for example, 'knowledge comes from experience' or that, 'there is no life after this one'? Are there any instances in which any of the philosophers on this site have radically changed their minds or caused others to change theirs?

And I'll add that, yes, my views on some fairly fundamental questions have changed a good deal. I used to think, for example, that language was essentially a social phenomenon. In my case, it wasn't reading any one particular paper that effected the change. It was, rather, a result of my thinking about the nature of communication, as I worked on an ostensibly quite distant set of problems concerning reference. Over time, what I found myself wanting to say about how we communicate using demonstratives ("that", "this", etc) and indexicals ("I", "here", "you", etc) veered unexpectedly toward a very different conception. It was only then that I found myself returning to material I'd read long before and explicitly re-thinking my previous views.