Suppose that Homo erectus would still exist today. Would they deserve the same respect as Homo sapiens? Should we treat them as we treat chimps?

Well, I'm not sure that we *should* treat chimps as we *actually do* treat chimps! But in whatever way we should treat chimps, we should presumably treat members of Homo erectus (were there any alive today) in much the same way. Chimps and members of Homo erectus presumably possess to just about the same degree exactly the same features relevant to moral respect, whether it be the capacity to feel pain, the capacity to think and to know and to plan, self-consciousness, and so forth. The mere fact that Homo erectus belongs to our own genus (Homo) and stands in a closer evolutionary relationship to ourselves would seem to have little bearing on the moral status of members of that species. To say otherwise would be speciesism -- er, genusism.

What does it mean to "respect" nature? Is there a difference between "respecting" nature and just liking it a whole lot?

Imagine someone who thinks that wild things ought to be preserved and protected -- that it is humanity's moral duty to do so. She might even be one of those good people who manages to put these "green" moral principles into action. But suppose that she does not especially enjoy being around natural things. She might well prefer "civilization" to "roughing it", and she might not even find baby seals especially cute and cuddly. Perhaps she does not even derive any pleasure from the thought that there are wild places. They may leave her utterly unmoved, or they may even inspire in her fear and terror. (An astronaut might feel that way about the surface of the moon.) Such an individual might be described as respecting nature without liking it a whole lot. By the same token, imagine someone who likes nature. She enjoys spending time in wild places and derives deep pleasure from her interactions with wild things. To find opportunities to commune with nature might even be one of her main lifelong...

Many of my science professors have remarked that the law of conservation of mass and energy is unprovable (or at least unproven); is this really the case, however? Isn't the problem of the conservation law precisely the problem of induction? (I.e., we observe that the mass and energy of every system we have ever examined has remained constant, but how do we know that this will hold true (1) in the future and (2) of all systems?) But presumably when my professors have said that the conservation law is unproven, they didn't mean that this is so because of the problem of induction (after all, if they took this route then all of science would be "unproven"!). I feel as though they are treating the conservation law as exceptional when in fact it is not. -ace

I agree with you that observational evidence for the hypothesis that all processes conserve energy (or mass, or mass-energy) inevitably fails to prove that hypothesis (though succeeds in confirming the hypothesis strongly), just as our observational evidence for the hypothesis that (say) "All bolts of lightning are followed by claps of thunder" inevitably fails to prove that hypothesis. Even if every lightning bolt we have observed so far has been followed by a thunder clap, no contradiction would result from the next lightning bolt occurring without a thunder clap. So the "problem of induction" applies to both examples equally. Perhaps your science professors had something else in mind in emphasizing the "unprovability" of energy conservation. Suppose we observe a process that apparently fails to conserve energy. The system's energy before the process occurs seems to exceed the system's energy after the process occurs. Rather than rejecting the conservation of energy, couldn't we always respond by...

Society holds the viewpoint that it is wrong to attempt to create better humans (through Eugenics). That is, we shouldn't play god. Medicine goes against natural selection, and therefore it is playing god. It theoretically also makes evolution stall, and makes our species as a collective whole, weaker. So, is medicine right?

One of the reasons that eugenics has often been considered disreputable is that the criteria for "better" humans have been considered arbitrary or worse. But if we could implant a component in our genes that would give us immunity to some dread disease (like those for which we now have vaccines), then I doubt that the standard objections to eugenics would apply to it. The objections to eugenics are not that it goes against natural selection -- as if there were something especially morally significant about natural selection. There is not. After all, the preferences that we express in choosing certain people rather than others as our mates exercises a selection pressure but is not morally problematic. One way to see the potential problems with eugenics arises just with my comment above -- where I referred to a dread "disease." Surely, you might say, we can all agree that genetic manipulation for the elimination of disease would be worthwhile. But what counts as a disease? At one time, a slave who was...

I have a question about probability (and baseball). Say that a hitter has consistently hit .300 for many years. Now, suppose that he begins a new season in a slump, and hits only .200 for the first half; should we infer that he will hit well above .300 for the second half (and so finish with the year-end .300 average we have reason to expect of him), or would this be an instance of the gambler's fallacy?

Since you are obviously interested in probability and baseball, here's a fun question for you to think about. How can it happen that player A has a higher batting average than player B in the first half of the season, and A also has a higher batting average than B in the second half of the season, but B has a higher overall season batting average than A? (Yes, this can indeed happen. It is a form of "Simpson's Paradox.)

I can recognize the importance of logic in argument but it never seems to apply in the 'real' world. You never see headlines along the lines of SYMBOLIC LOGIC REFUTES SENATOR Z'S CLAIMS ABOUT DEPLOYMENT OF TROOPS IN IRAQ SHOCK, followed by 'if A then not B' stuff. No political columnist ever cites logical validity or fallacies to support their view or dismiss the views of others - it is all opinion and anecdote (even if they did, few would get their point) - so how does logic work outside of the rarefied realm of philosophy?

Well, I happen to think that it would be better if political columnists DID point out logical mistakes in the arguments made by public officials. There is no shortage of mistakes to point out. Of course, to point out mistakes in the arguments made by politicians, there would have to be arguments to begin with, and they too are in perilously short supply. Perhaps more attention to logic would encourage participants in public debates to offer arguments instead of appeals to emotion, innuendo, name-calling, and sanctimonious prattle. Logic concerns how we ought to reason. Perhaps your logic course will lead you to demand that public figures offer you arguments that stand up under logical scrutiny. I, for one, would consider as highly successful any logic course that encouraged students to do that, even if they did not remember what modus ponens was after the final exam was over.

Are there ever good reasons to believe in hypotheses which are not falsifiable (i.e., "scientific")? Is it implicit in the idea of a falsifiable hypothesis that we should throw non-falsifiable claims by the wayside?

The notion of a "falsifiable" hypothesis is very difficult to make precise in a way that allows us to count as "falsifiable" all and only those hypotheses that we are inclined to regard as "scientific." Take the hypothesis that the total amount of energy in the universe is the same at every moment in the history of the universe ("energy conservation"). No observations would ever be enough, all by themselves, to demonstrate that the total amount of energy has changed. There would be no way to prove, on the basis of observations alone, that we have failed to take into account some previously hidden form of energy that would suffice to "balance the books." This is not a craftily chosen example. Typically, in mature sciences, when an individual hypothesis (such as energy conservation) is tested against observations, other hypothesis are needed in order to conduct the test. So if our observations fail to go as we expect, there is the possibility of putting the blame on those other hypotheses, rather than on...

Are statements about probability universal truths? Is it possible to conceive of a universe in which a fair coin lands heads 75% and tails 25% of the time?

A fair coin may land "heads" over and over again, as we all know. As the number of tosses increases without bound, the likelihood of the coin's landing exclusively on "heads" becomes arbitrarily small. So in the limit, the likelihood of its landing "heads" over and over (or even 75% of the time) is zero. Nevertheless, it is possible (where a "fair" coin, by definition, has a 50% chance of landing heads and a 50% chance of landing tails).

This may be a silly question displaying only my ignorance on the subject. My question has to do with point-particles and spatiality. Physicists say that point particles have causal powers, i.e. photons striking someone’s eyes at certain wavelengths cause them to see. Perhaps photons are only contributory causes to one’s seeing. Physicists also say point particles are objects that are both concrete and physical. That is, they can be located in space which entails they are spatial objects too. However, by definition a point-particle lacks width, length, and depth, the three spatial dimensions. My question is how can this be? Is this a conceptual incoherence, or am I missing something? Does spatiality entail physicality or conversely, does physicality entail spatiality? Alternatively, is it that these two concepts have no intimate connection? Please explain. Thanks.

Your question seems to concern the connections between being spatial, being concrete, and being physical. Part of your question seems also to concern the idea of point particles. Now it might be that ordinary material objects really do consist of point particles. If that's true, then point particles are concrete, physical, spatial entites. (That a point body has no dimensions does not keep it from being spatial: it has a location in space.) On the other hand, it might be that the fundamental, elementary objects that physics seeks are not point sized. (Perhaps they are strings or whatever.) In that case, it might still be that certain physical theories that invoke point bodies do a pretty good job for certain purposes. Point bodies would then be idealizations -- useful ones. They would be abstract rather than concrete objects, in one sense of "abstract." (It could work the other way too: hydrodynamical theories that treat water as a continuous fluid may work very well even if a body of water...