My reductionist friend argues that rice noodles are not noodles since the very first noodles ever made and the noodles most commonly eaten around the world are made from wheat by definition. That is to say, the term "rice noodles" is an oxymoron, much like "vodka martini" so just how valid is it to argue about features of rice noodles such as length, taste, and texture in order to conclude that noodles made from a different ingredient really are noodles?

I would question your friend's claim that "the very first noodles ever made and the noodles most commonly eaten around the world are made from wheat by definition ." I don't see the justification for the final two words in that claim. Even if the first noodles happen to have been made from wheat, I don't see how being made from wheat becomes part of the definition of 'noodle'. The first boats weren't made of fiberglass, but surely that doesn't preclude the existence of fiberglass boats or make 'fiberglass boat' a contradiction in terms.

There has been much made of Hawking and Harris using brain scans to demonstrate a deterministic explanation of "free will". My question is, how do they treat a case where I think about moving my arm, but don't? How can the experiment they site test thoughts, subjective experience, etc. which do not lead to any outward physical effects? Must we accept that for all cases of mental phenomena that the brain scan test constitutes a proof?

Must we accept that for all cases of mental phenomena ... the brain scan test constitutes a proof? I think the important philosophical question here is "A proof of what?" Suppose that science did somehow establish that all of our choices are causally determined by our earlier brain states. According to compatibilism , that result wouldn't threaten free will at all, and according to many compatibilists it would be good news indeed for free will. Before we get too hung up on whether brain scans are evidence in favor of determinism about human choices, let's ask the prior philosophical question "What difference would that make for free will?" You'll find this issue discussed many times on this website, including here: Question 5451 Question 5711

As practicing philosophers, how do you react to known academics and intellectuals who are dismissive of philosophy, like Stephen Hawking and Lawrence Krauss? Are there some truths to what they are saying about the nature and value of philosophy?

Speaking just for myself, I react much as I did in answering Question 4636 and Question 4759 . For reasons that I hope those answers make obvious, I don't regard the dismissive remarks of Hawking, Krauss, Dawkins, Tyson, and their ilk as worth taking seriously. As far as I can tell, their remarks stem from simple ignorance of philosophy, often coupled with ineptitude at it.

Greetings. My four-year-old daughter asked why she could not "see" god. My response at the time was something like the following. God is one without a second and undifferentiated. For one to "see" something it is necessary to distinguish that object from others. God has no other from which it can be distinguished as separate and distinct. Abstract, yes, but at least I avoided using terms like "transcendant", etc. I wanted to give her a thoughtful answer even if hard to grasp. How did I do?

I confess I have trouble grasping the answer you gave. You wrote, "God has no other from which it can be distinguished as separate and distinct," which seems to imply that God isn't distinguishable from you or from anything else there is. Did you mean to give your daughter the impression that you and your left shoe are both indistinguishable from God? I presume not. Now, on some views God just is the whole of reality, but even on those views it seems that God would be distinct from any proper part of reality such as you or your left shoe. Why not say, instead, that according to various religious traditions God is a non-physical, spiritual being and therefore not the kind of being that we can expect to see or otherwise perceive with our physical senses?

There is this theistic meta-ethical view according to which there can be evils in the world only if there is an orthodoxly conceived monotheistic god that is the ‘ground’ for the distinction between good and evil. On this theistic meta-ethical view, doesn't it seem that there is something incoherent in the attempt to argue from the relevant premises in arguments from evil to the conclusion that there is no orthodoxly conceived monotheistic god? Asserting "evil exists" seems to prove the existence of god and make the problem of evil self-refuting.

If the distinction between good and evil depended on God's existence, then -- yes -- there would be something wrong with arguing from the existence of evil to the non-existence of God. For if (a) the existence of evil logically implies the existence of God, then (b) the existence of evil logically implies the non-existence of God only if the existence of evil is impossible . But let me emphasize that the metaethical view you referred to is itself highly questionable, if not just incoherent. For arguments to that effect, see Wes Morriston, "God and the Ontological Foundation of Morality" ; Erik J. Wielenberg, "In Defense of Non-Natural, Non-Theistic Moral Realism" ; and Russ Shafer-Landau, Whatever Happened to Good and Evil? .

What's the difference between understanding an opponent's argument, and agreeing with it? What prevents me from saying that if my opponent disagrees with my argument, he must misunderstand it?

Nothing prevents you from saying that, but then nothing prevents you from being wrong when you say it. If your argument is deductive, you might make progress by asking your opponent which (if any) premise in your argument he/she finds implausible and which (if any) inference in your argument he/she finds invalid. If your opponent rejects your conclusion, try finding out why he/she doesn't regard your argument as persuasive support for your conclusion.

A there any compelling engagements one can deploy to counter existential nihilism -- i.e. the view that life (both in terms of individuals or in terms of the totality of humankind) has no intrinsic meaning or value, and that any value/meaning we attribute to our lives and those of others is wholly subjective and will evaporate with our passing? A few pointers on how to counter this -- I think fairly commonly held -- view, as well as where I could find out more, would be really helpful!

The view you'd like to counter seems to have two parts: (1) Life, both in terms of individuals and in terms of the totality of humankind, has no intrinsic meaning or value. (2) Any value or meaning we attribute to our lives and those of others is wholly subjective and will evaporate with our deaths. Regarding (1). First, the notion of intrinsic meaning seems to me highly doubtful to begin with: it would be meaning that doesn't derive from or depend on anything else, including any intentional agents. I can't see how that could possibly work. If waves scatter pebbles along the beach so as to form the inscription "Love," that inscription has no meaning: it wasn't produced intentionally. It might perhaps acquire meaning when some intentional agent interprets it as a message. But in either case it has no meaning in and of itself. Second, one might doubt that anything could have intrinsic value , i.e., value that doesn't derive from or depend on anything else (such as being valued or ...

What's the point of philosophers analyzing the "true meaning" of texts of other living philosophers? Why not just ask them directly what they really mean when it comes to ambiguous passages, chapters, or books?

Many decades ago, something very close to your question seems to have motivated philosophy professor Paul Arthur Schilpp to launch the multi-volume Library of Living Philosophers, which now contains more than 30 volumes. You can find out more at this link . I seem to recall reading an editor's introduction by Schilpp that explains in detail his motivation for launching the series. You might search for it.

I believe that God is the greatest conceivable being, and I also came to believe again, having been a former agnostic, that He really exists. My question is regarding the responses of some atheists to some traditional arguments for God's existence, most especially to the design argument, that for these designs in nature, we should not remove the possibility of a finite god, an evil god, or many gods who designed our universe. I think all those opinions are false because being the greatest conceivable being God cannot be finite or evil and there cannot be two greatest conceivable beings. But I just wonder why should God be the greatest conceivable being. Is it not possible for there to be a God or gods who are finite and/or evil and leave it at that?

It looks to me as if you may be conflating two different arguments (or types of argument) for the existence of God: (1) the Ontological Argument and (2) the Design Argument. As you say, one objection to the Design Argument is that the universe might -- for all the Design Argument shows -- be the creation of a finite, or evil, or incompetent god, or the product of a committee of such gods. You propose to answer that objection by insisting that God is the greatest conceivable being, and therefore God is neither finite, nor evil, nor incompetent, nor equalled by some other god. But why should we grant that God is the greatest conceivable being? To establish that conclusion, you need something like St. Anselm's Ontological Argument, about which you'll find more in this SEP entry . If you reply that God is by definition the greatest conceivable being, then we need a reason to believe that this definition is in fact fulfilled , i.e., that something in fact answers...

Is it possible for two tautologies to not be logically equivalent?

I thank William Rapaport for his comment. I'll just point out that the claim two sentences (or propositions) are logically equivalent if and only if they have the same truth values (no matter what truth values their atomic constituents, if any, have) seems to imply the following odd consequence. Take two sentences lacking atomic sentential constituents: "Snow is white" and "Obama was born in Hawaii." Both sentences are true (sorry, birthers), but isn't it odd to hold that the two sentences are logically equivalent ? Granted, they're materially equivalent, but that's just a technical way of saying that they in fact have the same truth-value. Something stronger seems required for genuine logical equivalence, which is why I prefer the definition I gave above. Fortunately, some standard textbooks do define it in that stronger way.

I'm inclined to say that no tautologies are ever logically equivalent, but only because no sentences are ever logically equivalent. I take it that any tautology is a sentence in some language, as opposed to the proposition expressed by that sentence. Indeed, the etymology of the term implies that a tautology is a sentence characterized by the repetition of words: Greek tauto ("the same") + logos ("word"). An example is the English sentence "All red things are red." Unlike sentences, propositions don't contain words, so tautologies can't be propositions, strictly speaking. I interpret "logically equivalent" to mean "matching in truth-value at every possible world." Two things match in truth-value at every possible world only if both things exist at every possible world. But no sentence -- no item of any language -- exists at every possible world, because the very language of the sentence might never have existed: all language is contingent. Therefore, no two sentences are ever...