Why do some words like "gorge" sound ugly, and some words like "exquisite" sound pretty?

I have no idea. Perhaps a phonologist could answer this question. But let me ask a different one. Do you also find that it is the case that some "nonsense words" sound pretty and some sound ugly? Or is it also important what the word means?

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?

Am I to explain why philosophy has become less concerned with "truth"? Or am I to explain why it seems to have become less concerned wtih "truth"? I think I can only try to explain the latter, as I don't think philosophy has become any less concerned with "truth". It's true that philosophy (or at least certain parts of it) over the last hundred years or so have been greatly concerned with language. There are many different reasons for that focus. For a time, the idea that some philosophical puzzles are really the results of misunderstandings was popular, and so the attempt to resolves such misunderstandings by close attention to language was popular. There are still some people with such views, but not many. Some philosophers still put great stake in "conceptual analysis", the thought being that a better understanding of our concept of knowledge, causation, or what have you would throw light on philosophical problems, anyway, and careful attention to language is important in any such...

What - if any - is the difference between 'erotic art' and 'pornography'? Is it merely a value judgement?

This is not an easy question, obviously, and I'm hardly in a position to distinguish these carefully. But here is one thought. Pornography, in the relevant sense of the term, is designed to arouse. That is its primary purpose, without which it would neither be produced nor consumed. Art can arouse, and I don't myself see why arousal shouldn't be regarded as an appropriate part of one's aesthetic response to certain works of art. But art's purpose is never only to arouse. What other purposes art may have is itself a hard question, of course. But one function of art, in my own life, anyway, is to encourage me to see what is familiar in a new way. Erotic photography—Mapplethorpe's work is the obvious example—certainly can have that kind of effect. Of course, this way of gesturing at the distinction seems to put the burden upon the intentions of the artist, and that makes me uncomfortable. But I think there's something there, nonetheless.

I recently learned a fact that I was previously unaware of. Helen Keller said, through the use of a form of sign language, that before she could us a 'type' of language she had no thought. This conception of no-thought was very intriguing to me. We are to believe that our language defines our very thoughts. So without language we wouldn't have thoughts to our self. I guess what I really want know is from a philosophical point of view are we able to think without our identity of language? Can thought be just bound to what language we speak?

I'm no expert on Helen Keller, but I don't think this comment has the kinds of consequences mentioned here, and I'm not sure it should be trusted. Many human beings have the experience of thinking in language. Keller, obviously, wouldn't have had that ability before discovering language, and it may well be that her ability to use language greatly changed her experience of thinking. It may also, and probably did, greatly expand the range of thoughts of which she was capable. One can therefore understand what she might have meant by the remark reported. But it's also clear from what little reading I've just done about Keller that, by her own account, she was, before she acquired language, capable of communicating, in primitive ways, with members of her family, and her biographer, Dorothy Herrmann, speaks of her "frustration" at being unable to communicate better. So it does not seem likely that she was utterly incapable of thought.

Do animals know they are mortal? Bill Reay

Here's a more basic question: Do (non-human) animals know that they are ? Do (non-human) animals have a conception of themselves ? Are they, as it is put, "self-conscious"? Self-consciosuness seems to be a necessary precondition of knowledge of one's own mortality. Obviously, one need not give a single answer for all (non-human) animals. Perhaps birds are not self-conscious, but chimpanzees are. If one thought, as some philosophers have, that one cannot be self-conscious unless one is a user of language, then of course that would answer the question. But I don't find that view terribly appealing or well-argued. The question which animals are self-conscious is, presumably, an empirical one. I'm reasonably sure that flies are not self-conscious, but would be prepared to believe that cats are, and I've encountered some evidence that chimpanzees are. But there is a philosophical question here, as well, namely: What exactly is self-consciousness? What is involved in having a conception of...

Given the absence of justice for many victims, at what point does vigilante action become morally acceptable?

I'm a little puzzled by this question. In what sense do victims get justice from the working of the criminal justice system? I ask this question in all sincerity. I know many people sincerely believe that it is one of the purposes of the criminal justice system to dispense justice to victims of crime, but I have never myself seen it that way, and I don't really understand why other people do. So I'm puzzled. For what it's worth, though, I don't think "vigilante action" is ever morally acceptable, so long as a functioning government is in place. It may be understandable in certain cases, but that is different. The IRA dispensed its own brand of justice in Northern Ireland for years, and we have now seen where that leads. Just ask the sisters of Robert McCartney, who were otherwise no fans of British rule.

It was said [in a Google groups post ] that "If a [mathematical] proof requires the checking of a very large but finite number of cases, far too many for a human to check, and we use a computer to perform that check, should we count the proposition as proved?" is an open question of mathematical philosophy. Why would anyone think the answer is anything but "yes"? The proof may not have desired aesthetic qualities, but no mathematician would deny its validity even though she may try to create a more pleasing proof.

I don't have anything to add to Dan's comments, which pretty much cover the bases. But I will add another reference: Tyler Burge, "Computer Proof, A priori Knowledge, and Other Minds", Philosophical Perspectives, vol. 12, pp. 1-37, 1998. Burge's discussion ties the question asked here to very general questions about the nature of a priori knowledge.

An atheistic blogger recently responded to a question about reincarnation by saying that he was certain that the mind's energy simply dissipates impotently, once its host (the body) is no more. Why, though, is the concept of reincarnation any more ridiculous than it is for my wireless laptop to transmit an intangible email, and for another computer to receive and reconstitute it, in a similar form though not exactly the same?

It's also not clear why, if your mind were "cloned" in this way, the resulting creature would be you . If your thoughts and memories can be transferred in this way to another body, then they could presumably be so transferred while you remained as you are. That other person is not, I take it, you, so why should that person be you if your thoughts etc are so transferred but your current body is destroyed? This kind of puzzle has been much discussed in the literature on personal identity. See Derek Parfit's Reasons and Persons for a start on it.

Is astrology really a science that can be proven? Can the alignment of the planets of when and where someone was born make them who they are?

It's perhaps worth adding the astrology evolved at a time when people's conceptions of what planets are were very different from what they are now. There was a time when it was thought that the planets were points of light embedded in giant crystalline spheres whose rotation was caused by the tireless work of angels. If that were what planets were, then, well, gosh, who knows what strange and wonderful inferences could be made from their positions. That astrology survives despite the downfall of this kind of conception is testament to some profound human impulse.

How can the universe always be said to have existed, when there is nothing in the universe that always existed? People, plants, planets - all these things come into existence and then decay and disappear. In other words, every thing in the universe needs a cause for its existence. God, on the other hand, needs no such cause. This is not because he is "causa sui" or "self-caused"(an absurd notion, for how can something that has no being produce it own being?), but rather, he is "sine causa" or "WITHOUT a cause". Something, after all, always had to have existed. This is the Uncaused (call it God), not the Caused (Universe), which is inherently unstable and subject to flux. Scott from Ireland.

Just to echo Joe and Alex, it's not at all clear to me why the following isn't a coherent possibility. Suppose that, for convenience, we divide time into equal intervals, says, seconds, and let's suppose that time is infinte in both directions. (That may be false, as a matter of physical fact, but it's not an incoherent supposition, so far as I can see.) Let's suppose that at each time t n there exists exactly one object, n , which has but one purpose in life: to bring into existence the object n +1 which will exist for the next second. That's definitely a boring universe, but, as I said, it doesn't seem incoherent, and in it each thing has a cause. If our universe is temporally infinite in both directions, then maybe things are similar in it. If I remember correctly, Aquinas, who (as Alex implied) gave a version of this argument as one of his "Five Ways", considers this kind of reply. His answer is that the whose series of things needs a cause for its existence, but it's hard to...