Why should society put such a high value to the act of taking an oath. Oath to say the truth, Oath to become a Citizen, Oath to take an office, Oath to serve a commission, etc. Oath is only as good as a person taking the oath, so what is different about a person expressing an opinion or a belief and doing it under oath? Is our society correct in accepting a higher level of integrity or commitment because of the ceremonious nature of it? After all, it is not difficult to act out an oath as a matter of convenience and not have any sincere feelings about the act.

One way to think about oaths would be to regard them as a ritualized form of promise . If so, then one aspect of these questions is: What's the significance of promises? There's a difference between saying that one plans to do something, which can certainly create reasonable expectations and moral obligations secondary to those expectations, and promising to do it, which creates moral obligations that are not secondary to and do not require any such expectations. So one purpose of oaths might be simply to create the sorts of moral duties a promise would. Whether one who makes a promise, or takes an oath, takes those duties seriously is, of course, another matter. Another aspect of the questions is: Why should promise-making be ritualized as an oath? I can think of two kinds of answers worth exploring. One might be that the public and ritual character of oath-taking might encourage taking it seriously. (Perhaps that used to be true more so than it is now.) Another might be that the...

How widespread is the use of deontic logic? Hrafn Asgeirsson, Iceland

So far as I know, deontic logic has never entered mainstream work on moral philosophy. One of the key ideas of deontic logic is to allow for impossible (combinations of) obligations. My sense is that, while there have been proponents of the idea that there could be such things (notably, Bernard Williams), most have rejected the idea. The argument I have usually heard (this is going back to grad school, so it's been a while) is that the relevant notion of obligation is one of all things considered obligations, and these cannot conflict. Perhaps deontic logic would be of more interest, however, if regarded as a logic of prima facie obligation. But then the deep question is how conflicts between prima facie obligations are supposed to be resolved, and, so far as I know, that's not really the focus of work on deontic logic. Perhaps more recent work than is known to me has addressed that question.

The mathematical examples used to support the notion of chaos in nature (e.g., fractals resembling coastlines) seem at times to have more the force of analogy than scientific persuasiveness. Is there currently a philosophical debate over the veracity of chaos theory?

I'm not a philosopher of science, so I have no first-hand knowledge here. But a search of Philosopher's Index turned up a review by Jeffrey Koperski, in the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 2001, of Peter Smith's Explaining Chaos . I also found a few papers on the relation between chaos theory and quantum mechanics, in which there is, apparently, no room for chaos. See, for example, Gordon Belot's "Chaos and Fundamentalism", Philosophy of Science 67 (2000), 454-465. Oddly enough, most of the references I discovered were to papers in philosophy of religion....

A man calls a woman a whore, and is promptly beaten by the woman's husband. The husband justifies the beating as an appropriate response to disrespect. His friends agree. Are they correct?

That response seems a little extreme to me. I would have thought it fairly obvious that the husband should (and would) be arrested for assault and battery.

This is a question about Hilary Putnam's twin earth thought experiment. After I read this thought experiment I was not convinced that Oscar's and twin-Oscar's "water" concept have different meanings. But most of the philosophers' intuitions are similar to Putnam (i.e., they think that Oscar's and twin-Oscar's "water" concept have different meanings). I thought that there might be something wrong with me. So I told this thought experiment to different people with different origins but without exception all of them responded that both Oscar's and twin-Oscar's "water" concept have the same meaning. So I still do not understand, why do so many philosophers' intuitions work like Putnam's? Thank you, Deniz

It's perhaps worth saying here that there are philosophers whose intuitions are closer to those of the questioner. Gabriel Segal, a member of this panel, has written a nice book called A Slim Book About Narrow Content defending a view not that distant from the one mentioned. That said, it's important to be clear about what the intuition is supposed to be. As Lynne said (hi, Lynne), the intuition is one about what the term "water" refers to. Or again, the intuition is supposed to be that, if Oscar says, "There's water on twin earth", he speaks falsely. One doesn't have to have that intuition. Some people don't. But before you decide whether you really do, it's worth thinking hard about the fact, mentioned by Lynne, that water is supposed to be a kind of stuff just like gold. Fool's gold isn't gold, no matter how much it looks like gold, and it wouldn't be gold even if it looked a whole lot more like gold, because fool's gold isn't the same kind of stuff that gold is. What we mean by...

It has always struck me that philosophy is not a subject that has made any real progress. A lot of elaborate constructs of when we perceive certain things to be piles and so forth seem to be problems that can be dealt with (eventually) by sciences such as psychology and neurology. Why waste time constructing elaborate theories that are not scientifically provable? Things like inconsistencies in how people act may be a result of people just not being perfectly logical creatures. Why waste so much time pondering questions where 1. progress is hard to judge 2. the resulting ideas do not really change the world in any significant manner.

I think it's pretty obvious that philosophy has made profound contributions to human knowledge and culture. John Locke's Two Treatises on Civil Government , for example, lay the foundation for the political system in the United States, and that, despite its flaws, seems like a good thing. But maybe you weren't thinking about ethics or politicial theory. Well, Rene Descartes's Meditations on First Philosophy helped to establish a conception of the world and what is required for knowledge of it that made it possible for empircal science to grow and flourish, and that was a pretty good thing, too. But maybe that isn't what you had in mind, either. To speak for myself, I tend to think of philosophy (outside ethics) as what something is before it's science. Indeed, in Descartes's time, there wasn't a division between philosophy and science. There was just "natural philosophy", and both the Meditations and his work on optics were part of natural philosophy as he understood it. But as a result...

Being a non-religious person I do not believe in 'Intelligent design', I am a strong adherent to evolution. Yet I still wonder 'What is the meaning of life'. After much thought and some reading/learning I have come to the conclusion that the meaning of life is to pass one's ('one' being anything alive, plant or animal) genes or DNA along to the next generation thereby renewing the cycle of life. What are your thoughts on this subject? Another question - If my meaning of life is true, do you think that man, with his science, can surpass this meaning and redefine the meaning of life? David D.

Frankly, I've never understood what "the meaning of life" issupposed to mean. It's an odd phrase. I take it that the question issupposed to be what the purpose or point of life is, but that's an oddway to ask the question, and I'm not sure I really understand it then,either. Why think that life, as such, that of plants or animals,bacteria or gnus, has any uniform point or purpose? What differencewould it make if it did or didn't? I think people who have asked what "the meaning of life" is have wanted some understanding of what they were supposed to be doing with their lives: If we knew what the meaning of life was, the thought is, then we'd have some idea what the goal of life was, and that would give us some sense of what a well-livedlife would consist in. Then we'd have some idea what we ought to bedoing here. The cover of Killing Joke's second album shows a young ladlooking up at the sky and screaming, "What's this for!?" That's thefeeling behind the question. But note that the real...

Recently I was debating with others the proposition that solving social problems in games enhances one's ability to solve real-world problems (my view was the negative: many excellent strategic gamers consistently make spectacularly foolish personal decisions in real life). This seems to generate the question: "Do philosophers have a better track record of making successful personal decisions than the average minimally-thinking individual?"

In college, I had a professor who was both a devout Jew and a Kant scholar. Kant, you may know, was pretty anti-Semitic, which wasn't uncommon then, of course. I asked him how he handled that. He said to me, "One wouldn't expect a geometer to be a triangle" by which, I take it, he meant that someone who can think profoundly about moral questions need not be very good at putting theory into practice.

I recently heard about mathematical paradoxes and I have a perhaps strange question: It seems to me that the goal is to figure out what the fundamental problem is, i.e. what gives rise to the paradox, so we can perhaps rewrite the axioms so that the problems disappear. But why not just say: "Well, paradoxes arise when you talk about sets that contain every set, so let's avoid talk about sets that contain empty sets." (Kind of like saying that bad things happen when you divide something with zero, so don't do it!)

Let me add one other thing. I thought the first thing you said was aboslutely right: "the goal is to figure out what the fundamental problem is, i.e. what gives rise to the paradox". The reason is that it is supposed that our being led to paradox in the case of, say, sets or truth or vagueness shows us that there is something about sets or truth or and vagueness that we don't really understand. If we understood things properly, we would understand how the paradox could be avoided, and not simply because we put our heads in the sand. So paradoxes are manifestations of our lack of understanding, and it is the lack of understanding that we really want to remedy.

Physically speaking, what is memory? What is a memory? If a memory is stored as a physical structure in the brain, is it possible that the human genome codes for the formation of one or more of these physical memory structures during brain development? In other words, could the genome, which we all share, include memories that are preloaded into the human brain during the brain's growth before birth? Could this be a physical manifestation of Jung's collective unconscious? EdHead

Most of these questions seem like empirical ones, and I'm not a neuro-scientist, so I'll skip them. But let me ask a question back. Suppose Dr Jekyll performs an operation and, as a result, I seem to remember once sitting on a throne while some guy goes on about how, if I don't let his people go, there'll be plagues and pestilence and stuff. I don't see what that couldn't happen, as a matter of pure possibility. Would you want to say I remembered any of that? If all of us were born with that apparent memory, would it matter what we said to the previous question?