In first year philosophy, I posed a thought experiment involving breakfast cereal that challenges concepts of God. I have since come across it in other forms, but this was the form in which I posed it. It is this: If God is omniscient, and omnipotent then man cannot have free will. The reason is this: If I have a choice of breakfast cereals to eat for breakfast tomorrow morning then God cannot tell me today which breakfast cereal I will eat, because then I may choose to eat the other breakfast cereal just to make a point. Either God does not know, and so is not omniscient; God cannot tell me, and so is not omnipotent; or I do not have the freedom to choose! I would appreciate your thoughts on this.

(Perhaps this is related to one of Nick's points.) God's knowing what I will choose is compatible with my choice being free. What God might know is what I will freely choose . Perhaps your thought is that if God knows this ahead of time, then I don't have the freedom to choose otherwise. But why not? If talk of God's knowledge is a colorful way of talking about what future tense statement it would have been true to utter in the past (namely, something like "He will choose Raisin Bran tomorrow"), then why think that that constrains one's freedom? Why not say that the future tense statemement that might have been uttered yesterday would have been true precisely because you did (freely) choose the Raisin Bran today? One last thing: if God does indeed know that you will choose the Raisin Bran and God tells you this, is it really possible for you to choose otherwise just to irritate God? Well, it sure seems possible, in the sense that the Special K is within arm's reach, etc. But it's not...

I would like to study the impact of entertainment and marketing on people. How would studying philosophy help me to that end? Are there particular types of philosophy courses that would help? Particular philosophers?

It wouldn't. There aren't. No. I think you might get more from courses in psychology, sociology, or anthropology. While many philosophers are interested in factual matters, they don't usually tend to be such specific and applied ones.

There has been a gread deal of debate in the news, of late, as to the application of torture under a so-called 'ticking time bomb' scenario. Is physical or mental torture ever justified in such an extreme event in a moral society?

I find myself impatient with such questions. There may be a theoreticalinterest to them, but in practice I find they often have the effect ofparalyzing action that we know to be right. (And is one being overly suspicious to wonder whether they are sometimes offered with precisely such intentions?) I expect that most oralmost all instances of torture fail to take place in anything like the "ticking bomb"context; most, perhaps all, torture that's actually practiced is absolutelyand unmitigatedly wrong. And our conviction that these instances of torture are wrongshould not be weakened by our realization that we cannot decide whethertorture might ever justified or, if we think it might be, whereprecisely to draw the line.

Why do philosophers make seemingly simple questions completely complicated and confusing?

There is no reason to think that a simple question must have asimple answer. The question "Why are there tides?" is very simple; agood answer to it is very complicated. But maybe you think thequestions philosophers give complicated answers to can be answered verysimply. In which case, you should write up some of those simple answersand post them on the Google group associated with this site. Let's seewhat people think of them! You might also be wondering why simplequestions often tend not to be amenable to simple answers. Well, that'sa good simple question and I suspect it has no simple answer! Often,questions in philosophy ask for an explanation of some notion. Andoften, a philosopher's conception of what a good explanation looks likeis similar to that of a scientist: a general account that makes use ofa few notions in terms of which a few basic claims are formulated fromwhich a wide range of phenomena follows. In other words, philosopherslook for theories . And theories, because they seek to...

Would it ever be possible to achieve world peace? The only way that seems possible is to get everyone to believe the same thing. The only way that seems possible is if there were divine interference. Since this is highly unlikely how could there ever be world peace? ~Jordan~

I suppose another way you could try to get everyone to believe the same thing is coercion, terror, and force, either outright or threatened. Doesn't sound appealing. So maybe we should rethink what's needed for world peace. Instead of thinking that it requires universal agreement, perhaps we should explore the possibility that it requires only respect for reasonable differences of opinion; instead of everyone's having the same beliefs, we need to work out a way in which sharp differences needn't lead to conflict. (You might reflect on our own society, in the U.S., which is domestically at peace and yet whose citizens have sharply conflicting beliefs about matters of great importance to them.) In this connection, you might be interested in reading Immanuel Kant's Perpetual Peace (1795) or John Rawls' The Law of Peoples (1999).

All spoken and written languages - current or extinct - have things they express poorly or can't express at all. Art can be used to fill in the gaps of the inexpressible. How many languages would a person need to know to express everything, and by being able to express everything, would they be more capable or less capable of art?

But are there thoughts that language cannot express? I know many peoplewrite as if there were many thoughts, many valuable ones too, thatsimply can't be put into words. But are there any? Can anyone give mean example? Of course, many things can't be put into words — the cup ofcoffee I had this morning can't be (though the thought that I drank itcan). But is such an inability on language's part a failure to express something?

Hi. As an undergrad I became deeply interested in philosophy two years ago, and am currently on track to graduate next semester. I've enjoyed relative academic success in my studies but am usually unable to translate this into any sort of "philosophical" confidence. My question I suppose is this, did any of you experience extreme dread before considering grad school and lack of confidence as well? I feel that in ways philosophy has opened up so much for me, and that I can either continue to pursue it academically or live out a "philosophical" existence of experience. This is all very vague but I'm looking forward to hearing advice from a diversity of people in the field. Thank you for your time...Jake Claro

Dear Jake, People differ, of course. Some are sort of cocky and look graduate school in the face without blinking. Others — and I've known many, many such — are very nervous at the prospect, convinced that they just don't know enough to go to graduate school, aren't well prepared enough, perhaps aren't even smart enough or philosophically astute enough. I don't expect any of these postures is in the slightest bit predictive of how much a person will enjoy graduate school or of how well he or she will do in philosophy: confident people can crash and burn, and insecure souls can flourish. I suppose if your lack of confidence is so intense you simply cannot enjoy what you're doing, well, that's one thing. But if you don't find that your worry dims the delight you take in philosophy, then perhaps you ought to consider allowing yourself to be nervous but paying it no mind. Yours, AG

Who said "The married philosopher belongs to comedy"? (I think it was a 19th century German philosopher but I'm not sure.) Thanks.

In On the Genealogy of Morals, Friedrich Nietzsche says that "A married philosopher belongs to comedy" (with the exception of "the mischievous Socrates").