Okay, before you read my question - please read it with a "voice-tone" of curious respect. How does one becomed "recognized" as a philosopher? I suppose the simplified version of my question is "What makes a Philosopher a Philosopher"? I mean, we all have ideas about how things work, and spend time considering the great mysteries of life. If I want to become a philosopher, how can I make a living at it? It seems there are few options aside from teaching philosophy in universities or writing philosophy books. Thanks.

It's hard to answer what makes someone a philosopher for perhaps the same reason it's hard to say what precisely philosophy is. These days (and probably it's never been very different) most people who are able to make contributions to philosophy (and in that sense are philosophers) have received an education in which they've read and thought about many of the great classical texts, about many seminal contemporary contributions, and have had the opportunity, through conversation with others, to improve upon their native talents for critical analysis, imaginative reflection, and clear exposition. As for how you make a living, well these days I'd say close to 100% of those making widely recognized contributions to philosophy are in the education business (universities, colleges, community colleges, distance-learning enterprises, perhaps even schools). Some philosophers work in hospitals and businesses offering help in matters of practical ethics. Alas, there are not many philosophy stores.

In a critical thinking textbook I’m trying to study from, there is an exercise which gives groups of three different independent reasons from which I must select the one which supports a stated conclusion. For example: Conclusion: Blood donors should be paid for giving blood. (a) The blood donor service is expensive to administer. (b) People who give blood usually do so because they want to help others. (c) There is a shortage of blood donors, and payment would encourage more people to become donors. (Anne Thomson, Critical Reasoning - a practical introduction .) For each question I must pick the answer which could be a reason for a conclusion, say why it is the right answer, and why the other options are wrong. I’ve had absolutely no problems selecting the correct answer, but I can’t seem to say why. It would seem that I could easily say THAT a particular reason gives or doesn’t give support to a conclusion, but I can’t seem to put into words HOW or WHY. So my question is, why and how do...

In the most straightforward case, that of deductive inference, reasons support a conclusion in this sense: if the reasons are true then the conclusion must be as well. Once one moves beyond deductive inference, the truth of a good argument's premises makes the truth of its conclusion more or less probable. If you're asking the question "How does it come to be that the truth of some claims makes the truth of others either necessary or highly probable," that's a much contested issue that haunts the philosophy of logic, the philosophy of language, and the philosophy of science.

I was just playing chess against my computer, and suddenly I realized that computer chess has no rules. In computer chess there are things that happen and things that don't happen; there are "laws of nature" (although "nature" is here a computer running a certain software), but there are no rules in the sense of "things regarded as customary or normal", as my dictionary says, or in the sense of "a convention set forth or accepted by a group of people". This way, computer chess is very different from over the board chess. Do you agree?

I'm not sure that any of your reasons for thinking that the computer is not following rules is convincing. After all, for humans too "there are things that happen and things that don't happen." There are laws of nature that our bodies and brains are acting in accordance with, etc. And wasn't the computer's code programmed by human beings who intended the computer to behave as if it were following certain rules? Does your claim boil down to the intuition that human players are conscious of following rules whereas a computer is not? But is that so? Are human players really conscious of following rules? Or do they just act? Do you feel that there must be a difference because you think that humans are conscious while computers are not? But why believe that? Of course, you're right that computers play differently from humans. I expect most very good players could (today) tell whether their opponent was a computer or a human. But that's not the difference that I think you're trying to get at.

I have recently been reading in Richard Dawkins' book, the idea that God being both omnipotent and omniscient is a contradiction. I think it is something along the lines of: if God is omniscient then He already knows how He is going to deploy His powers, which means He is effectively bound to act in a certain way -- meaning He is not omnipotent. But I'm not sure I've totaly got my heads around the concept. Can anyone add anything more?

Many people think that God's having foreknowledge of my actions is incompatible with my acting freely. The argument you describe applies this reasoning to God Himself: His foreknowledge of His own future actions would render Him unfree. So either God is not free to do whatever He pleases (i.e., is not omnipotent) or God lacks foreknowledge. I find the original argument dubious. God's foreknowledge of my actions is not really incompatible with my freedom. For more on this, see Question 579 .

When something disastrous happens, like Katrina, "logic" says: so much the worse for a loving God. But for the believer, what comes out, instead, are things like "God never gives us more than we can handle" and "We have to praise the Lord, and thank him, that we are OK." Why? (Or is this just a psychological or sociological question? Or did I watch too much Fox news?)

Professor Andrew Dole (Department of Religion, Amherst College)kindly provides the following response to a query of Alan Soble's above: "In 1992 Plantinga wrote a ‘spiritual autobiography’, which is available online here . (I think this piece was published in Philosophers who Believe ,edited by Kelly James Clark and published by InterVarsity in 1997; butI’m not sure about that.) The piece gives a fair impression of howPlantinga would answer Alan’s question. It also contains an extendeddiscussion of Plantinga’s position (then) on the problem of evil. Thiswas a number of years ago, but I have no reason to think Plantinga haschanged his position on the relevant subjects since then. Ithink it would be fair to say that Plantinga would answer Alan’squestion as to why he believes in an omnipotent, omniscient andomnibenevolent God by pointing to his religious upbringing. That is tosay, he was raised to believe in God, and came to the ‘age of reason’with such a belief already in place. Further,...

A modernized "translation" of David Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion can also be found here .

Suppose some condition A is identical to some condition B; to be concise, let's write A=B. It seems obvious, then, that A is necessary and sufficient for B; or more compactly, A B. On the other hand, that implication's converse (i.e. that A B implies A=B) seems like it isn't right, because we can easily come up with counter-examples. Take my mother, for example; she is always saying, "eating spinach everyday is a necessary and sufficient condition for becoming strong." In other words, she claims that you will become strong if, and only if, you eat spinach everyday. Surely it does not follow that becoming strong is identical to eating spinach...right? Now I am tempted to consider the question in the context of sets. Suppose you want to prove that two sets S and T are equal. Then it is sufficient to prove that membership in one follows from membership in the other, and vice versa. I.e. x is an element of S x is an element of T. So it appears that the "=" relation follows from " " relation. ...

A nice question. Yes, if the predicate "F" and the predicate "G" are co-extensive (i.e., are true of exactly the same things), it would be wrong to conclude that the property corresponding to "F" is the same as the property corresponding to "G". (Nick gives some good examples of this in his response.) You seem to think that the set example conflicts with this observation, but it doesn't. If we establish that x is an element of S if and only if x is an element of T, we can indeed infer that S equals T. But that's different from inferring that the property of being an element of S is the same as the property of being an element of T. And it's that inference that would conflict with our observation. Perhaps you think that this last claim can nevertheless be inferred because you think that if S is identical to T, then the property of being an element of S is identical to the property of being an element of T. But that isn't right. Washington, D.C. is identical to the capital of the...