Archive for May, 2010

Column on Who Is Free To Discriminate?

Who is Free to Discriminate?

Tibor R. Machan

Everyone who is awake discriminates—it is what people do with their minds, it’s the way they know the world, more or less well. The kind of discrimination that’s objectionable is when people use irrelevant attributes of others to classify them—like their race when hiring them for jobs where race is irrelevant. The race of a CPA has no bearing on the work of a CPA, so taking it into account in the hiring or promotion process is morally wrong, a kind of professional malpractice.

In a free country such discrimination may not be forbidden however offensive it is. No more than one may ban dirty talk or filthy movies or indeed any conduct that doesn’t violate anyone’s basic rights. (A legal right not to be discriminated against doesn’t amount to the same thing. Legal rights can be granted by government, independently of anyone’s basic natural rights, even opposed to them.)

In the US, however, some features of the civil rights law have made discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, etc., illegal for most people though by no means all. A clear case in point is that customers may indulge their racial and similar irrational prejudices with complete impunity.

If racists go shopping at the local mall, there is no law against their refusing to patronize stores where Jews, blacks, women or people with obvious ethnic backgrounds happen to work. Throughout the market place anti-discrimination laws actually discriminate mainly against sellers, vendors, proprietors, employers, and so forth. If a prospective employee stay away from places of work for prejudicial reasons, there is no law against this. If racists stay away from a restaurant because it is owned or employs people against whom they harbor racial prejudice, this is not legally forbidden. You will not be able to turn in such potential customers to the EPA and get any action taken against them.
It is probably quite impossible to force such customers to stop acting on their irrational prejudice but it is also quite clear that this amounts to the unequal application of the spirit and even letter of the civil rights laws that were enacted to prohibit prejudicial conduct throughout the American economy.

Perhaps this contains an important lesson. Conduct that does not violate others’ rights may be very ill suited for governmental action. When people do violate the rights of others, this is usually evident by way of some actions that can be publicly observed—assault, battery, kidnapping, rape, murder, and so forth. But conduct that doesn’t involve such violation is not available for control. This is akin to the problem with hate crimes—how can it be verified that someone commits a violent crime out of hate?

Of course there are some measures that can be taken to counter prejudice at a certain point of its manifestation. For example, if one opens up one’s commercial establishment to all a sundry but then tries to inject criteria midway through the deal, when one notices that a potential customer is gay or black or from Bulgaria, that can be countered since the offer has already been made and to arbitrarily withdraw it can be legally actionable. Not unless the criteria, be these valid or not, are announced before the invitation has gone out to all a sundry to come and do business, may they be deployed.

Ok, but this of course has no impact on the great majority of market agents who are free to indulge their racism, sexism, ethnic prejudice and such by refusing to deal with merchants who may well have just the product or service, for the right price, they are in the market for. People who insist on using the government to make people behave well are facing a big problem with this.

But there is one avenue of recourse against the market agents who act irrationally, namely, to work very hard and vigilantly to educate them and to condemn them whenever their irrational discrimination comes to light. The trouble is that there has emerged such a heavy dependence on fixing moral failing by way of the law that such non-governmental approaches are not even explored, let alone practiced.

Machan’s Archives: In Defense of Aesthetic Judgments

Is Aesthetic Preference Unfair Discrimination?
(Or, are we being unjust to weeds when we bring home pretty flowers?)
(Originally written in response to Noami Wolff’s The Beauty Myth but now just as relevant to Deborah L. Rhode’s The Beauty Bias, reviewed very favorably in TNYT Book Review [5/23/2010].)

In his Slate on line discussion of the issue of bias in favor of people who are deemed attractive, both men and women, Stephen Landsberg seems to regard being ugly or unappealing and beautiful or appealing as entirely accidental, purely a matter of luck. But this is often wrong. And the resulting analysis as to whether giving better deals to those who have versus those who lack good looks also fails at least for lack of subtlety.
Some people get to be beautiful through hard work, some are ugly through serious neglect (though not all). No one can dispute the fact that many men and women spend extensive time and many resources in order to make themselves look good, at least as they understand this. I have two daughters and they have huge arsenals of beauty aids and, frankly, I am not without some assistance in my vain efforts to be more than less presentable.
But even if this weren’t so, even if it were entirely an accident that some are more, some less appealing, those who interact with people have the right to prefer the appealing over the unappealing, even if this is unfair of them — fairness isn’t the highest value, most of the time, to be sought from associating with others. That is to say, no one has the moral or should have the legal authority to order anyone what criteria to choose for association. (Yes, this goes for even the silliest or detestable criteria.) Certainly, choosing associates who are appealing is something one should be free to do and it is also arguable that one should take good looks or appeal into consideration in selecting people for various occupations (although at times it is irrelevant and their doing it is then arguably though perhaps excusably unfair).
Landsberg’s discussion omits these and other related points and makes it all a matter of cruel injustice or unfairness that those with more appeal gain advantages. And he is by no means alone — a number of writers on the topic — e.g., Noami Wolff in her The Beauty Myth — in failing to consider some of the nuances of how our judgments concerning appeal figure into our decision making in or out of the market place. Sometimes the discussion of this topic seems as if the authors were jesting. There are many other reasons besides beauty alone, ones that people can control to a lesser or greater degree, that they are not as eagerly accepted — some have weird voices, some a strange odor, some a difficult to understand accent, some various other traits and habits, over which they have little control.
One way to make sure these do not seriously interfere with their chances in the job market is to compose detailed employment agreements and job descriptions to spell out more explicitly what the work to be performed requires of successful applicants! Yet even here not everything can be spelled out that may be of some relevance and the factor of appeal will have a role in the decision.
But why is that wrong? Don’t we pick pretty flowers rather than weeds for our dinner table? Or cute pets rather than ugly ones? Don’t we reject unappealing works of art and put on the wall pictures that appeal to us? Is it unfair to those who cannot help but paint ugly works that their creations don’t sell? What about those who write bad novels or poetry — is it unfair to reject them? But if not, why is injecting some role for appeal in the hiring process something so unfair, unjust? Well, it isn’t. Certainly, if one wishes to argue, as many do, that the market place must be a forum of human association, such perfectly normal human elements as expressing one’s aesthetic preferences cannot be excluded from it. And that aesthetic preferences make a difference in one’s human associations cannot be disputed. Are they something unfair, wrong? Selecting our dates and mates in part because they are attractive to us surely isn’t wrong — unless pleasing ourselves in these ways is to be considered wrong, which is ridiculous.
There is only one valid point to be made about invoking aesthetic criteria in selecting trading partners, including business associates, employees, and so forth: if the job description is fully met by both the ugly and the pretty, then choosing the pretty is something but not much of a bias, an unfairness, since it isn’t a reasonable objection against anyone that he or she — or everyone around the shop — wants to be near an appealing rather than unappealing person.
In short, it is more complicated than those make out who champion some kind of simple policy of what we might dub as association-egalitarianism, the policy that we ought never to take into consideration matters — such as aesthetics — not directly relevant to what a deal is about. To try to eradicate our aesthetic concerns from all our human relations is simply obtuse — neither can it be done, nor would it be a good thing.
This is one reason that trying to legislate all this universally results in a morass and remedies little.

A Fruitful idea about Morality/Ethics

A Fruitful Idea about Morality?

Tibor R. Machan

As someone who often teaches the topic of ethics or morality in colleges and universities, I have noticed that most of my beginning students entertain conflicting positions about the subject. They see it either as a one-size-fits-all system of guidelines, wherein everyone has to act the same way or they are bad people, or as purely subjective, wherein nothing is either right or wrong and it’s all a matter of one’s opinion.
And this is understandable. If there are right answers to questions about how we should conduct ourselves, it seems to many those answers must apply to us all, equally. Otherwise how could they be right? So they are pulled toward what is often called moral absolutism. But it also seems quite reasonable that certain answers as to how one ought to act do not apply to all people the same way since they different in significant ways from one another.
How can both of these valid insights be satisfied?
One possibility is that a sound, correct morality offers perhaps just one or two very basic principles, ones that are broad enough to apply to everyone, simply in virtue of being human. But this morality would also recognize that different individuals need different guiding principles, given their special situations, including their unique individuality.
We have this, for example, in medicine or nutrition. There are basic principles or guidelines in these areas but when they are applied to people, accommodations must be made to the individuals in question – are they men or women, young or old, tall or short, of a certain metabolism or another, allergic to this or that? So, while the basics of medicine and nutrition are taught pretty much the same everywhere, when they are applied, things begin to vary quite a bit.
In morality or ethics, also, we may well have certain very basic principles that we all need to heed and practice – such as “Think things through before you act,” or “Be honest with yourself” or “Don’t deceive anyone,” “Do onto others as you have would have them do onto you,” or “Pursue excellence in life.” (I leave aside now, which might actually be the one or few sound and universal guiding principles – that takes a lot of figuring out.) But as applied to particular, individual persons, what specific guidance would emerge from such basic principles will not be the same from one person to the next.
Yet something very important about both the concerns expressed by my students and many others would be satisfied in so understanding morality: there would indeed be something quite absolute or invariable about how we ought to act, yet this wouldn’t amount to an artificial detailed one-size-fits-all code.
Indeed, the idea would help with many things that concern us all: a just legal system would not have many general laws, only a few, because citizens are quite different from one another and have just a few things in common as citizens. The market place would make sense, what with all its highly varied goods and services aiming to fit different customers and using the varied talents of producers. Even art might benefit from this outlook: We all tend to think, I believe, that some things really are artistic while others lack this quality; yet we also realize that different people, with various special attributes, backgrounds, and so forth, will appreciate different works of art. Instead of thinking that everyone who responds to something other than what inspires oneself is artistically blind, varied works will be seen as have artistic value to different sorts of people, varied talents will produce varied yet still artistically excellent works. Yet, there will still remain plenty of room for concluding that some creations do not cut it at all.
Anyway, there isn’t much hope of settling big issues like this in a brief discussion but perhaps some hints toward a sound approach could at least be established. Very formidable thinkers throughout human history have grappled with these matters and studying their reflections would be a prerequisite for making headway. What I’ve tried to do here, however, is no more than sketch out some promising initial ideas.

Column on Interstate Commerce Muddles

Interstate Commerce Muddles

Tibor R. Machan

In America most of the mild and Draconian intrusions in people’s economic lives are legally justified by the interstate commerce clause of the U. S. Constitution–Article I, Section 8 in particular. “Congress shall have power…[t]o regulate commerce with foreign nations, among the several States, and with the Indian tribes….” (Another source is the arcane police power of governments!)

The best interpretation of this power has never been uncontroversial. Some argue it could mean virtual Stalinist powers by Congress over the economy of the nation; some say it means only that Congress is authorized to regularize commerce, make all of the states conform to the principles of free market economics (instead of the mishmash of protectionism that was in place before the establishment of the country).

In recent times the former interpretation has prevailed in the courts, so now Congress is taken to be in charge of any economic activity that crosses state borders or even the sort that has a more impact on commerce is neighboring states!

Does this make any sense? Not for free adult men and women, not in a free country. In such a country Congress would not be regulating commerce of any kind since that entails regimenting the economic activities of the citizenry and no one has the basic, natural, human individual right to do that. Congress isn’t God or even king! Congress exists so as to secure our rights, period, just as the Declaration of Independence states. Anything more is dictatorship, even if only of the majority of the country’s voters over the rest of us. In a free country no such dictatorship is justified. Democracy isn’t any excuse for regimenting the minority’s lives by the majority. Democracy pertains, in a bona fide free country, to applying the basic laws of the land to new areas of life (say, the Internet). But always consistent with the basic (constitutional) principles of the country, never in contradiction to them. (If judicial review is a valid activity of the country’s courts, the courts must strike down any effort by majorities to violate individual rights!)

Why is it that the federal government has the legal power to tell citizens with whom they must do business? Because of the interstate commerce clause. And that is all wrong. No such power of Congress or any other political body may be authorized over the choices of free adult men and women. Such men and women, citizens of a free country, have the right to decide for themselves with whom they will do business and not be regimented by a bunch of their fellow citizens! Of course, they must also follow through on commitments they make in the process, such as when they enter into contractual relations with their fellows. And sometimes such relations are entered into implicitly, not overtly, as when a citizen opens a store, shop, or restaurant–any place of business–”to the public,” meaning to anyone in the market for doing business with him or her (who behaves in a civilized fashion).

So if one invites people to do business, one may only restrict or qualify the invitation ahead of time and must be fully disclosed. If I don’t want to admit married men or women into my store, this must be something people can learn before they enter the store. This is like the restrictions on who may join a club or religious order. No one married may become member of the Roman Catholic clergy, and this is made clear up front and everyone must live with it even if it is a silly requirement. Some such requirements are not silly, such as requiring that only men come to do business in one’s barbershop or medical clinic. Similarly, if one makes clear, up front, that one will not do business with blacks or women or very tall or very short people, this is something–be it an ethical or unethical practice–that must be declared up front, not once someone enters to conduct business or to seek a job being on offer. That is because opening an establishment without specifying the restrictions implies the absence of restrictions by the reasonable person standard of (common) law.

In a free country the right of freedom of association must be fully protected. But, also, once it is announced that one will do business with any civilized potential customer, that too must be protected from any arbitrary breach. The fact that America’s Constitution permits Congress to ignore this just shows how far the country needs to go to become a truly free and just society.

Philosophy Q&A (From AllExperts)

Answers from One Student of Philosophy
Tibor R. Machan

The Q&A Files

These are brief Q&As, mainly from, an Internet group to which I belong where mostly students, but actually anyone, can pose questions to and gain brief answers from people from various disciplines of study. I have not altered the questions and answers other than to remove the “Thank you” and other irrelevant parts of the posts I have received, including the names of those who sent them.

Question: Let me make a confession. I have a degree in philosophy and a PhD in Cultural Studies. I was trying to explain to my 17 year old son what sorts of questions drive philosophers, and why they might matter. I failed dismally! After two hours discussion about the nature of meaning, truth and the relation between mind and the world, he was suffering from extreme confusion and so was I . We decided to change the subject. I don’t want Rob to study philosophy if that is not his bent, but I should like to give him an answer that he can understand to the question: What is philosophy?
How do you address this question?

Answer: My experience is very different. Although I never urged her, my now 21 year old daughter decided to major in philosophy after seeing me bother about its questions endlessly, with all my friends, acquaintances and so forth. Now she calls me every week with questions, puzzles, bafflements and so on and we have a wonderful time discussing them (and only the phone bills put a fly in this great soup).
I wrote a book on this issue—Introduction to Philosophical Inquiries (Allyn & Bacon, 1977; University Press of America, 1985). (It is, interestingly, illustrated in the front by a Peanuts cartoon that ends saying “There’s a difference between philosophy and a bumper sticker.”)
But to get to the point, I usually explain that in philosophy the most general questions about the world are addressed and answers debated. What is it to be something, anything, at all? What is it to know something? What is it to act rightly and wrongly? What is it to set up a just community? What is it to create good works of art? And there are the derivative questions in all the sub-branches of the discipline, about truth, meaning, reference, significance, importance, value, and so on.
The difference between philosophy and other disciplines is just that the former addresses very, very general questions and for the latter some of those basic questions need a reasonably good answer for them to get off the ground—in physics, chemistry, math, sociology, economics and the rest those doing the work have to have some clue what counts as knowledge but they usually do not try to defend what they think about that (philosophers of science, epistemologists and such do).
I could go on, of course, but perhaps some of this will help. Though I am sure you did a fine job and it is just that not everyone has a knack for or interest in every discipline—I hardly bother with esthetics, let alone sociology or astronomy.
Subject: Kant
Question: I’m a junior in college so I really should find this answer out on my own, but I have had a hard time understanding Kant’s distinction between the words subjective and objective. I know that he uses them differently than we understand them. If you could clarify these terms or point me to a book or web-site that will explain these concepts this would sure help a lot. Thanks.
Answer: For Kant subjective means that which is dependent on us, subjects of experiences, while objective means that which is true independently of us. That is, at any rate, how I understand him.~
Subject: Philosophy
Question: Hi
How are you? In Plato’s Republic Plato has this vision of sexuality, marriage, and family life in the ideal state. Why does he have these arrangements? Thanks if you can help
Answer: Socrates wants to construct a model of a just society and this model—not a blueprint(!)—stresses reason without temptation of emotion, so he imagines impersonal sex, no loyalty to family, and marriages that are arranged based on good judgment. He doesn’t claim this is what should happen but that we should keep this model in mind and try to emulate it.~
Subject: Abstraction
Question: Hello,
I was wondering if you could direct me to some books covering “Abstraction.” I understand the basics of how we take the qualities that are common to a thing and then label it something. I know how abstracting can get to a high level and I’m not sure how to get to this level. Perhaps you have some input of your own you could share with me?
Thanks for your time.
Answer: Abstraction does begin with differentiation and integration—the mind selecting similarities and differences and forming ideas on this basis that are valid, well grounded, with names of their own. For example, we have a shape like a table, then one like a chair, etc., so we form these ideas but then we detect another similarity between chairs and tables (and sofas and beds) and we form the idea of furniture, then household items, then objects and so forth.~
Subject: Security as the Reason for the State’s Existence
Question: Who was it that said that the primary reason for the state’s existence was to provide security? Locke? Hobbes?
Answer: Well, no one said that, actually, to my knowledge, but both Hobbes and Locke held that the function of government is to secure the peace and the American founders, following Locke, said it was to secure our rights. The reason security as such cannot be its function is that security is something we would want against all adversity, including disease, earthquakes, financial calamity, hurricanes and whatever, and surely these are not all the business of government. (Here is where insurance services come in handy!) The task of government, within the classical liberal tradition (starting with Hobbes but worked out consistently by Locke and contemporary libertarians) is to protect our rights from those who can violate it (or abstain from violating it), namely other people (criminals and foreign aggressors) who have a choice in the matter and can be persuaded to respect those rights and justifiably punished if they fail to do so. That is, government is “instituted among [us] to secure our rights,” not to secure security! Hobbes thought this would require an absolute monarch or dictator, Locke thought, on the contrary, it would require a very limited but highly focused government, limited by the very rights it must protect and focused on the protection and nothing else.~
Subject: Free will vs. Determinism
Question: I would like to ask you about the topic of Peter in the Bible who denied Christ three times before the rooster crowed. Christ said this would happen, did Peter really have free will. The premise of this argument is that Peter should not be responsible because it is impossible for Peter to refrain from denying Christ. I believe this is wrong but I would like an experts point of view. This would be making a conclusion of Gods foreknowledge and human freedom. Thank you for your time. Jeremy Riffle
Answer: Here is how I’d handle it: Jesus is, after all, God in human form, so his knowing isn’t like you or I knowing about what will Peter do. God’s knowledge is completely odd, a mystery so far as the faithful are concerned, so it might well co-exist with free will. But is there such knowledge at all? That, too, is a matter of faith, not something that can be learned by (mere) humans. But in all fairness I am an atheist and find all this mysterious and faith based stuff rather incoherent, so I remain an unbeliever until I learn some sense of the matter. So perhaps you ought to ask someone who professes to understand and have faith.~
Subject: Philosophy
1.According to Locke, how would men and women live together in the absence of democracy?
2.According to Hobbes, how would men and women live together in the absence of dictatorship?
3.According to Marx, how would men and women live together in the absence of communism?
Answer: I assume you mean by “democracy” the form of government Locke himself advocates, which is a highly limited democracy in which majorities may not violate the rights of members of minorities—that is, individuals. In a state of nature, which is a society that has no such restrictions and limitations, there would be a condition of “might prevails.”
I assume, again, that by dictatorship you mean Hobbes’ absolute monarchy. Without it Hobbes thinks people would live lives that are miserable, nasty and brutal and there would be no peace at all, nor prosperity but constant war of everyone against everyone.
By communism Marx meant a society that needs no crime fighting, merely a mild bureaucracy, and everyone will love everyone else—be generous and kind and giving toward all—automatically, without need for being induced to be so by the state, so, clearly, without communism a very callous, rough competitive system would exist, with some few companies having reached the status of monopolies. But with Marx there is another matter to keep in mind: he did not think any of this could be avoided—he viewed history as a process leading necessarily toward communism from previous stages that were more and more embroiled in class conflict, starting with the earliest and gradually getting less severe as communism is approached. ~
Subject: Philosophy
Question: I am rather interested in studying Western as well as Eastern philosophy, but I have no idea as to how to start, or what books to get. I would appreciate if you could provide me with some information on how to start (a list of books you think important would be quite welcomed.) Also, I noticed you have some experience regarding philosophy of the mind . I was wondering if you could tell me how to study Chomsky’s contributions to the field of linguistics, what books do you find essential and so on. Please be aware that I am not an student of linguistics. I Hope to hear from you soon.
Answer: On introductions, I think you need first to read a good history of philosophy text, east and west. For West I would recommend Wallace I Matson, New History of Philosophy (I believe is the title) (two slim volumes), or a similar volume by Antony Flew. (Go to to check for these, or or any other book service, maybe their out of print division. You’ll get good deals.) A more detailed and complex work is Wilhelm Wildeband’s two volume History of Philosophy—I am doing this off the top of my head so my titles may be somewhat off. I am not well enough grounded in Eastern philosophy, so you should ask someone else if there is a nice introductory history of eastern philosophy you could start with—or check under “keywords” at the bookstore sites and read some reviews. On the topics of philosophy, Tibor R. Machan’s Introduction of Philosophical Inquiry (a bit dated now) is a very good beginning (maybe available in out of print divisions). In political philosophy the recent collection by Skoble and Machan, Political Philosophy, Essential Selections (Prentice Hall, 1996?) will be excellent. In the philosophy of mind you could start with reading some of John Searle’s books—the most recent, Rationality in Action. Searle would also be a good guide to Chomsky but not all his books deal with Chomsky’s thought. ~
Subject: Business Ethics Question
Question: Hi Machan, I was hoping that you can please assist me or to point me in the right direction so that I can explain how Kant’s (Immanuel) theory in justice changes how we undertake business relationships and transactions.
Answer: Kant’s approach to ethics leaves business and most other purposive, end-oriented (or teleological) endeavors without an ethical foundation since for Kant ethics is entirely deontological, resting on pure principles of (formal) reason. To put it in more familiar terms, for Kant it is always the thought that counts, whether one is intending to do what one does because one is convinced it is the principled thing to do—follows the categorical imperative. Any action aiming for some goal or end or value—such as prosperity, in the case of commercial conduct—cannot have moral significance.
Since Kant is very influential in moral philosophy, much of business ethics being taught these days amounts to little more than a kind of business taming or even business bashing. (The profit motive is seen to be either amoral or even immoral and ethics is supposed to restrain it.) In my view only a neo-Aristotelian approach to ethics, in which prudence—carefully attending to one’s own well being—is one of the moral virtues, can ground business on an ethical foundation. (See, in this connection, works by Douglas B. Rasmussen, James Chesher, Douglas J. Den Uyl, Fred D. Miller, Jr., and Tibor R. Machan—in books such as Commerce & Morality [edited by Machan], etc.)~
Subject: A Plato Dialogue and where to find it.
Question: Hi Machan, I’m writing a paper of opinions on what truth is. I found a Dialogue of Socrates on 3 websites, none of which stated the source “book” of Plato they found it in. Religious sites seem to be using it to prove truth is absolute not relative. I looked in Protagoras twice and 23 other Plato books which Protagoras does not participate in. I’ve also searched the internet under Protagoras and the quotes in question. I can’t find where this dialogue can be. Can you help in any way? Here it is:

(A dialogue between Socrates and Protagoras)

Protagoras: Truth is relative. It is only a matter of opinion.

Socrates: You mean that truth is mere subjective opinion?

Protagoras: Exactly. What is true for you is true for you, and what is true for me, is true for me. Truth is subjective.

Socrates: Do you really mean that? That my opinion is true by virtue of its being my opinion?

Protagoras: Indeed I do.

Socrates: My opinion is: Truth is absolute, not opinion, and that you, Mr. Protagoras, are absolutely in error. Since this is my opinion, then you must grant that it is true according to your philosophy.

Protagoras: You are quite correct, Socrates.

Answer: In one sense this is easy: obtain a copy of the complete works of Plato—there are numerous versions and some are very cheap.
As to the substance of it all, some truths are absolute, some are restricted to time and place, and some so called truths are but the opinions one holds very dearly but they could turn out to be more. But, in another sense, truth is truth, no matter what. If it is five o’clock now where you are, then saying so is true and will forever be true, as is the case with any truth.
The main problem people see with this comes from the fact that some think truth is final (not absolute, which really adds nothing to some statement or judgment being true). But some truth—say about the nature of the atom or measles or the best way to get to New York—may be true but later could be improved, even changed a little since we might learn more about the subject. But it would have been true nonetheless—as true as true it can be, which is all that really counts. People often expect too much from truth and from our knowledge of things. We are best off by taking truth to be the best statement or judgment that can be made for the time being, and knowledge to be our best grasp of what there is for the time being. Anything more is a pointless, futile task to place before human beings who live in time and place. Plato’s conception of truth seems, often, to have offered something more, something only God could have, if there is a God. This is why so many people then turned to skepticism and even cynicism, since what they took to be truth was be definition unattainable to anyone. I say, that’s a bad idea of truth, then.~
Follow Up Question: Machan, thanks for the incredibly fast answer. I really Appreciate your answer that was easy to understand. However, in regard to how the allegory of the cave fits in with Plato’s metaphysics, I thought that perhaps the answer had to do with Plato trying to solve the problem of being and becoming that was left unanswered by the pre-Socratic ( namely Heraclitus and Promenades). It appears (at least to me) that Plato’s allegory was an answer to how everything can be changing and yet not be changing ( however not in the same way and in the same relationship; in other words not breaking the law of non-contradiction). Can you explain to me why I am wrong and elaborate. If I am correct can you give me more insight and detail, please. By the way, was the sun that illuminated the cave in Plato’s allegory, which Plato called the good, was that Plato’s God or not. Some say it was others say it was not. What is the answer and the evidence or support for the answer.
Answer: Yes, it was Plato’s God as well as the form of the Good. But the allegory of the cave isn’t about change. Other dialogues address that topic—such as the Sophist, Parmenedies, Protagoras, etc. ~
Subject: Free Will
Question: I’m writing a response paper to Twain’s “Corn Pone”. In the text the black orator believe that no one has free will, or independent thought. He believes that people must and will conform by calculation and intention to the most popular idea of the time. I would greatly appreciate if you could suggest other philosophers who have views on this, or possibly some of your own.
Answer: Anyone who claims such a thing has a problem because then what he or she is claiming is but a product of forces over which no one has any control, sort of like rain or thunder or the four seasons. But such things cannot be true or false—they are just there—since the mind is not independent to form a decision as to what is the case or is not the case. It is like jurors who are programmed to think as they do with no control over it and thus unable to focus on evidence versus hearsay, etc. Or scientists who cannot form independent assessment of evidence or theories.
There is a very fine book by John Searle, Rationality in Action (MIT Press, 2001), that addresses this issue, as well as Tibor R. Machan’s Initiative–Human Agency and Society (Hoover Institution Press, 2000). There are many books against free will too, of course—such as Ted Honderich’s How Free Are You? (Oxford UP, 1993).
Subject: John Locke and Thoreau
Question: I don’t know if you are the right person to ask, but I’m getting desperate. I need some views on John Locke’s theory of resistance to civil government, and how it compares to Thoreau’s essay on civil disobedience…ASAP! thank you!
Answer: Locke believed that when governments no longer serve the citizenry with the protection of their natural rights to life, liberty and property (life and estates), the citizenry may and even ought to replace the government with one that will protect these rights. This isn’t quite the same thing as Thoreau’s advocacy of civil disobedience, an act that protests a bad or unjust law by breaking it but staying around to be charged with the crime and then attempting to escape conviction by convincing the court of the injustice of the law having been broken. Thoreau’s idea is more of a piecemeal opposition to specific bad laws, while Locke’s pertains to the entire system of government that fails in its appointed duties.

In regard to my first question: does the US Dec. of Independence reflect Locke’s views as stated in the second treatise of government?
In regard to the third question, if everyone is obliged to judge violations of rights, is there any situation in which they are not responsible for doing this?

Answer: Yes, to the first question. As to the second, when they have delegated the authority to others to make such a judgment—such as the courts of a free society or the police or a bodyguard. Because rights violations can be subtle and tricky, expertise may be needed and for this people establish legal authorities who then can go about determining what happened. So long as they have the consent of those whom they govern, they may perform the judgments that everyone is authorized and ought to perform but may, in line with the above procedure, delegate.
Subject: Philosophy
Question: I would like to know if it is possible to know ourselves completely. Socrates seemed to be rather interested in this question. India also has been fascinated with this question for most of its history. How do we achieve the goal of knowing ourselves completely in order to understand how to live life instead of trying to enclose life in concepts such as meaning.? I hope to hear from you soon.
Answer: Well, what would it be to know oneself completely? Or, as a species, to know ourselves completely? My take is that the problem is with “completely,” more than with “ourselves.” I think people mistake “completely” for “completely for all time.” If the latter, then of course it is not possible, nor is it possible to know anything in that way since we are temporal beings and our knowledge of anything occurs in time and place. But if “completely” means as well as possible, thoroughly, honestly, accurately, basically, well then I think yes, we can, but with very hard work and focus and concentration and discipline. And we should always resist the temptation to believe that because we have gotten a complete understanding, this will not have to be updated periodically, as is true with any knowledge we have acquired.
There is the interesting issue, some think, of whether we can know ourselves with the knowledge of ourselves included in what we know of ourselves. But I think that complicates matter unnecessarily—even if that part is in a flux, it doesn’t matter that much. We can know ourselves well enough even if some matters must be left unfinished in the project. Moreover, to say we cannot know ourselves completely is rather paradoxical—it says something timeless, final, which is just what none can promise to know about anything since time hasn’t come to an end.
Subject: good and evil
Question: I’m looking at rational theorists such as Kant to help me provide an argument for the existence of morals. Have Kant’s pure reason and one of his metaphysics essays although I’m finding them very difficult to understand. Could you give me an outline of his argument for morals and goodness with some further reading. If there is anyone who you think should be included in an argument about good and evil then I would be very grateful. cheers
Answer: Yes, Kant is tough reading on this as on other issues. He holds that since the only are of freedom for us is the exercise of our will to be rational, here is where moral responsibility lies—make principled choices, will what is right in your mind (it is the thought that counts, as it were). To will to act rationally—to will to do what one could want to be a universal guide to everyone’s actions—is to be moral. The only unqualified good is a morally good will, is Kant’s view. This also means that if one is honest, or industrious, or diligent or courageous or acts on other virtues because of what these will do for oneself or others, that doesn’t count as being morally good. Only doing what flows from a pure, good will, namely, completely principled action that pays no heed to consequences, qualifies as moral and for moral approval.
This is a very controversial position, in part because it rests on a very dubious foundation (a split reality and a split human nature). Others who have made a very diligent stab at working out the issue of moral good versus moral evil include Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Spinoza, Comte, Mill, Spencer, and a host of others more contemporary than these. My own favorite is Aristotle, who proposes a much more livable ethical position and for whom good is living in line with the requirements of one’s nature, so for human beings this means living rationally, reasonably, prudently, with an eye to flourishing as a rational animal. (There are some recent thinkers, too, who advance this, such as Ayn Rand, Eric Mack, Henry B. Veatch, David L. Norton, Tibor Machan, Stephen Toulmin, et al.)
Subject: Conservative, Liberal and Radical Political Economic Paradigms Question: Is there a point where classical liberals such as Hobbes and contemporary conservatives like Milton Friedman meet in the discussion of the role of government and the rational individual in the issue of paid parental leave? Where do the lines cross on government intervention with theorist like Arthur Okun? And where does the radical theorists like Sue Brooks fit in the this discussion? the stakeholders in paid leave debates are greatly impacted by gender, race and economic status. How do I pull it all together?
Answer: I am able to answer the first part of your question, not the rest. Hobbes(!) and Friedman are in the same methodological tradition, although their conclusions differ in significant degree.
For Hobbes the state or government has absolute authority so that peace and security would be preserved throughout society. Not that the state must exercise its power broadly but it must have the authority to do so.
In Friedman’s case the government has minimal authority but what it does have must be devoted to protecting peace and security.
In the case of Hobbes the government can be trusted to adhere to its duty but Friedman sees government as no different from other institutions and people, namely, in need of restraints, otherwise it will encroach on the very peace and security it is supposed to protect. Still, as far as their underlying philosophical premises are concerned, Hobbes and Friedman are similar enough to belong to the same tradition of classical liberal thought.
Subject: Plato’s Symposium Question: I am doing a rewrite of a paper I wrote on the Symposium, but am having some trouble on how to evaluate a single argument on love. I’m finding this difficult to make into a 6 page paper. The only guidelines where those I stated above. My original paper was too broad on the several arguments on what love is. I’d like to focus on Socrates’ argument from Diotima, but I’m stumped on how to “evaluate” it. If you could give me some suggestions on how to rewrite it to be more evaluating, I’d be most appreciative.
Answer: Well, this isn’t my strongest area in philosophy. But I can take a stab at it: first, try to check out whether the ideas used in the argument are clear—are they defined somewhere, do they make sense in ordinary English. Then ask whether the successive lines of argumentation hang together, do the statements relate to each other clearly, logically, cogently. And consider whether what is being proposed is even possible—could it be actual, real.
Go about it this way: first explain what you plan to do and with what material. Then lay out the first important claim and give your assessment of its cogency, meaningfulness—whether it can be clearly understood. Then lay out the next important claim and do the same—go through the entire discussion and do this, one by one. And then conclude with a general evaluation—is the argument clear, understandably, and does the conclusion seem possible.
That is the best I can do for now, without seeing what you are actually working on.
Subject: Plato Question: on what grounds might Plato’s understanding of human reason be criticized?
Also, I don’t know whether you will be able to help me but I was reading this book and I was confused with Plato’s metaphor of shadows in the allegory of the cave.
Answer: Plato’s conception of human reason might be criticized on the ground that it is too radically divorced from the rest of one’s human attributes (feelings, emotions, inclinations, and so forth) and that it rules rather then guides conduct when properly deployed. Indeed, human nature—its essence being human reason—exists in the realm of the forms, separated from this world.
The idea of the shadows is that the bulk of humanity only has opinions about things, not anything near true knowledge. The shadows are the metaphor for such hazy, imprecise opinions/beliefs that lack solid substantiation.
Subject: Galbraith
Question: I am writing a paper on John Kenneth Galbraith. Although there is a fair amount of information on the internet, I have no access to his theories on price control, American Capitalism, Consumer Sovereignty, the Firm and political capture. It would be greatly appreciated if you could send me any information possible on these subjects.
I asked these questions of you because I read your article on John Kenneth
Galbraith and it seemed very intelligent, full of interesting information on
the subject.

Answer: John Kenneth Galbraith is a political economists with strong democratic socialist convictions. This means he believes that a society is well governed if the economic decisions in it are made by means of a representative democratic process, not by the decisions of private individuals and firms.
Now price controls are sometimes desired by the majority of the people, or their representatives—Richard Nixon, a Republican, was the last major president who instituted wage and price controls, thinking that this is what Americans wanted. For a champion of free market capitalism, however, all such controls are a bad idea—they distort the most sensible allocation of resources, including labor, in a society. (By “sensible” here is mean a way that reflects genuine needs and wants of extremely varied citizens and their organizations.)
Galbraith believes that big corporations are dangerous because they wield a great deal of economic power (wealth, of course), so they can manipulate the desires of people by creating every so many new things—goods and services—and advertising these to consumers who are anything but sovereign (because their desires can be created for them). (F. A. Hayek responded to this by noting that yes, desires are created by all innovators, including scientists, artists, philosophers, theologians) but human beings, contra Galbraith, can order their desires, resist them, indulge them, as they decided with their rational minds (even if some fail to do so and thus become manipulable).
Although Galbraith is a democratic socialists, he seems not to trust democracy too much since he always warns that politicians and bureaucrats can be bought by lobbyists. He even agrees that government regulators, a hallmark of democratic socialism, are liable to be captured by vested interests (who supply the experts).
I hope this is some help. Let me know and maybe I can help some more.
Subject: Plato
Question: Why does Plato think we need the theory of Forms?
Answer: Because he thinks it really is true and the reason for this is that he cannot think how else standards of right versus wrong—in any field of knowledge—would be possible. Unless one perfect, timeless version of what exists imperfectly in the world can be found, we would never be able to tell that they are imperfect, how close to perfection they are, etc. Consider marriage—most are imperfect but we tend to think we have an idea of what they would have to be to be perfect (or at least quite good). How, when all of them are less than that? Because there are forms by reference to which we can judge marriages—or so Plato has it.
Subject: Richard Rorty
Question: I am a fellow philosophy expert on this website and am asking for some help with Richard Rorty’s pragmatism. I hope you are familiar with it.
I have been reading him and although I understand and appreciate his wish to do away with Platonic dualisms on a conceptual level, I cannot formulate a pragmatic response to a very practical issue. How would he respond to this:
A stole a book from a bookstore.
B reports a stolen book and says that C is guilty.
D says that C is not guilty because D witnessed A stealing the book.
Now, my natural inclination is to say that “what really happened” is that A stole the book and not C. But this uses the very dualistic construction Rorty wants to abandon, or so it seems. The trouble is in characterizing the claim by B. How else can we characterize B’s claim than that it does not correspond to reality? If Rorty says that the explanation by D is more “useful” (these are his kinds of words) than that by B, how does he answer the question, “Why is it more useful?” other than by saying that it is more useful because it is true, i.e. that it is in fact what happened?
Any suggestions?

Answer: I think you have found one way to show that Rorty’s approach is wrongheaded. I have written on Rorty for The American Scholar and Metaphilosophy [under a different name from the one I use here] and have made similar points against him, including this: What if I went around claiming that Rorty is a Marxist (or libertarian or Platonist). Could Rorty, in his own terms, meaningfully deny this? If he believes he could, this would get him back into a framework he rejects—there is my claim and there is the reality of his own convictions and the two do not match up. I think this is decisive, as is your own point.
Question: Thanks. After more reading and pondering I think I have a Rortian response to both my and your own retort that does not in any way involve him betraying his pragmatism.
In his essay “A World without Substances or Essences” Rorty addresses the issue of how his pragmatism would have him answer such questions, or justify certain claims, which is what both of us want of him. I want him to justify how he knows/feels comfortable claiming (let’s assume he is the D who saw A steal the book) that C did not steal the book, and you want him to say why he knows/etc. that he is in fact not a Marxist. In either case, although I don’t know how he would describe his point of view (i.e. whether he would call it knowledge, justified opinion, a simple claim, etc.) but I don’t think he would have any problem using any of the terminology we would use ourselves.
Rorty is clear that pragmatists should not say that dualism is wrong and that the real picture is pragmatism, which would involve slipping into an appearance/reality dualism, but that pragmatists (and everyone) need to drop discussion of language as representational, the representation being that of a so-called reality. Language and belief should not be thought of as attempts to represent reality but simply as tools for dealing with the world and/or helping us to coordinate action with others.
When coming to the point of how he knows that A and not B, or that A is true and B is not, truth or knowing simply means that A is more useful than B, or that more true statements can be said of A than of B. In your claim that he is a Marxist, Rorty can say that the only true statement about this seems to be that RD believes it (and that RD uttered/wrote it). He can also point out that Rorty himself is a better person to offer an opinion of his own beliefs than RD. On the other hand, on the claim that Rorty is not a Marxist, many true statements can be made of it, such as that he does not believe in Marxism, that he has said several times to different people that he rejects Marxism, that he has claimed to be a Ronald Reagan republican instead, etc.
Now, when push comes to shove and we demand how it is that he knows that any sentence about A or B can be true, he will resort to many of the same claims that we would, like “I saw it,” “I can hear it,” “Someone I trust told me,” “That is what I believe,” and even “Because I just know.”. This does not spoil his pragmatism; it does not force him back into a dualist viewpoint. That both pragmatists and dualists should reach a point in justification of statements whereby their statements cannot be further reduced, or further justified in any meaningful way should neither surprise us nor give us reason to believe that either view is therefore faulty.
Any further comments would be appreciated.

Answer: I do not think “useful” is any better than “true” or “representative of reality.” Nor is “coping” a good substitute—something Rorty deploys as well. All these just raise all the old questions of philosophy again and thus Rorty has not been of any help. But if you are pleased with his handling of the matter, so be it.
Question: Your comment to the effect of “whatever makes you happy” makes me think: Gosh, I’ve never known a relativist before! But at least your response correctly addresses Rorty on his own turf: your choice of the word “better” makes you seem to be concerned about what is useful, and not what is “true” in the standard sense of corresponding to reality. But far from making a pragmatist out of you, this may simply indicate that you have covered yourself, for if you had said that Rorty has not come up with a better way of representing reality, which is exactly what his system tries not to do, you would have appeared foolish.
I disagree that Rorty must face all of the “old questions” but agree that he must address many of them. However, I don’t see that this is an effective criticism of pragmatism, which makes no claim to legitimately evade “all” of these (suspiciously) old and worn issues. He certainly does not need to address the issue of certainty, because pragmatism does not make certainty a goal. But if he needs to justify his beliefs, or explain what pragmatism means when it says something is true, so what? His answers would not be similar to those of a “reality” seeker, which is exactly what he wants. As I mentioned before, in the end when referring to issues of the physical world, he will sound much like anyone else when he says “I know it’s black because I can see it,” but that is fine with him because he feels that he is “in touch” with the world just as much as you are.
At this point my feeling from your response is that you are perhaps one of those who is simply dismissing Rorty out of hand without appropriate attention to detail. If I am wrong, please show me. You mentioned some articles you wrote on Rorty. Perhaps you could send them? It might be the easiest way to do it.
In any case, I appreciate your attention.

Answer: As I have said before, I have written two papers on Rorty. I am now finishing a book that focuses on him and other relativists (or subjectivists or radical pragmatists). So I am not dismissing him. When discussing someone via e-mail, however, I do not go into detail as I do in a scholarly journal or book.
I think “true,” “objective” and “reality” can all be used meaningfully. Whether representationalism is the account that is itself true is another matter—Rorty seems to think all those who use these and similar concepts are stuck with it but that is just wrong.
I am especially concerned with his dismissal of objectivity in favor of solidarity and his claim that democracy is prior to philosophy—the collective prior to the individual—and that what is to be taken as true is really something just agreed upon in one’s community (as if one always belonged to some one decisive community).
Sorry if this doesn’t satisfy you but now we have to end the exchange.
Subject: three questions Question: “Is there a God?”, “Is there life on other planets, ” and “Are there alternate universes?”
Question: Can you suggest me other interesting questions to ask? I am interested in philosophy.
Answer: Does life have some special meaning for human beings? How do human beings come to know the world? Are people able to understand reality for what it actually is? What are the guidelines or principles by which we ought to conduct ourselves to be good human beings? Is there some one, single, scientific method or do different disciplines require different ways of being studied/approached? What are the fundamental principles of human community life? And these all can be broken into more detailed questions….
Subject: god and self
Question: Descartes proof for the existence of the Self and the proof for the existence of the God?
Answer: Descartes didn’t think one can or need prove the existence of the self—it is a clear and distinct idea that oneself exists since to question it simply confirms it—I question (think) therefore I am.
He proved God less convincingly—since I have the idea of God, which is far greater than I am, and since nothing can create something greater than itself, God must have created the idea of God in my mind, so God must exist. (But since Descartes also thought that might be an evil demon that could confuse us all, his argument for God suffers from the possibility that it might be a confused or false idea.)
Subject: Rene Descartes
Question: What I am trying to understand about Descartes is his wax example and his account on how we know material (physical) objects. Can you give me a little bit of information to get me on the right track. Much appreciated.
Answer: The example is to help make the point that our perceptual organs are insufficient to understand the nature of something—and anti-empiricist contention. Something is both what it is and not what it is, as reported with the senses, and that just cannot be. So on with the search for the right way to gain understanding of reality—via intuition and pure reason.
Subject: theory of knowledge
Question: Hi! I was wondering if you could help me out with an article I’ve been reading. In it, Berkeley is criticized because his argument for the existence of other minds and his argument against the existence of material substance supposedly contradict one another because he says that we know other minds because we perceive their effects (mental substance), however we cannot know material substance exists because of the dream/hallucination argument. For the physical object argument, the author of the article substitutes mental substance for material substance, thereby making Berkeley’s arguments contradictory. Now, I’m inclined to say that Berkeley is right-isn’t there a definitive difference between mental and material substance? I don’t see how you can just stick mental in for material and consider it the same thing. For example, minds (mental substance) are able to perceive ideas, while material substance is not able to. This is just a general question-the whole substitution thing confused me a little bit. If you could give me your thoughts, I would appreciate it! Thanks!
Answer: I suppose in the article you are reading the author has some underlying thesis that the mental is some version of the material, so that although it is the mind that perceives, the mind being a more evolved or developed version of material substance, it is after all material substance that perceives. Consider it this way: A rock cannot catch a ball but your hands can, so one material thing can, another cannot CATCH something. So, while most matter cannot perceive, some (mind) can. And in this way of looking at it, mind need not be exactly the sort of matter that a hand or a rock is but is a kind of matter, nevertheless. (This may better be called naturalism rather than materialism.)
However, I am no expert on Berkeley per se, only know him in rather general, broad terms, so you might ask this of some other philosopher(s). The believe that there is a definite difference between the mental and the non-mental need not imply that the mental might not be also material. After all, there can be very significant differences between different material things—a hand and a rock, for example.
Subject: The nature of knowledge
Question: Outline the merits & demerits of defining knowledge as true justified belief. What might a better account of knowledge look like?

I am attempting to study the nature of knowledge, but as a non philosopher have found this particular question rather confusing. I was wondering if you could advise me as to how best to tackle this, and what sort of background reading would be useful. There seems to be so much on the internet that I don’t really know where to begin!

Answer: Think about it this way, perhaps: When you say or anyone says “I know that such and such is the case—say, the bus left ten minutes ago,” is it true that characterizing your knowing it comes to saying, “Well, it is true that the bus left ten minutes ago and it is true that I was justified in believing this so.” If you find that both of these things are true and justify your claiming you know this, then most like that is what amounts to knowing something. If, however, you find this to be off, then the characterization of knowledge as true justified belief is wrong. I hope this helps.
Subject: Free Will
Question: I … just had a chance to look at the introduction to one of the Liberty-and-X series in manuscript. There’s a reductio [ad absurdum argument] there of arguments against free will which I think I’ve seen you make elsewhere, to the effect that an argument for determinism (or random indeterminism) undermines its own force, insofar as being caused to believe that P (by forces predating one’s birth, perhaps) is not a /reason/ to believe that P. I was wondering: how does adding free will to the mix help matters? After all, an unconstrained choice to believe that P is also not a reason to believe that P. Is there a discussion of this point I might look up somewhere?
Answer: Well, I am not sure why you believe it is that “an unconstrained choice to believe that P is also not a reason to believe that P.” If it were only that it is unconstrained, nothing more, I can see that that would be insufficient to make it a reason for believing. But, apart from one’s not being determined to believe that it is P, one could have all manner of reasons for the belief that P—for example, P itself, or some constitutive factors which, upon free reflection, indicate that P, and so on.
In short, when one isn’t compelled to believe P, lots of facts of which one is freely aware could provide support for P.
As to where this is discussed in an illuminating fashion, John Searle’s Rationality in Action (MIT Press, 2001) is a great place to start. I touch on this in my Initiative–Human Agency and Society (Hoover Institution Press, 2000).
My first encounter with a challenge to this view came when I read Adolf Gruenbaum’s essay in the old Feigle and Broadrick volume, Readings in the Philosophy of Science. He thinks all true beliefs must be caused (mechanically or some other deterministic way).
An interesting polemic by Daniel C. Dennett, in the current Proceedings and Addresses of the APA (November 2001) championing a so called Darwinian determinism, may also contribute something to a reasonably full consideration of this topic. (Dennett argues, as Skinner did many years ago, that the human self has disappeared since it does nothing at all, everything being done for it by impersonal forces.)
Question: I’m actually about halfway through Searle’s new
book now—which is part of the reason I was thinking of the subject (the
other being an epistemology class with Boghossian, who’s convinced Searle’s wrong about inference—I’ll have to pin him down and get him to formulate his objections more fully now.) Perhaps I had in mind something in line with what I imagine was Gruenbaum’s position—that if a belief wasn’t any more justified just in virtue of having been the one chosen, the “work” had to be done by the causal link between the fact and the belief representing it (and some mechanical inferences). Obviously I’ll have to ponder that a bit more—it looks like the key is some account of what it is for one belief to “provide support for” another in some appropriate way. I suppose I’m having some trouble seeing how, if an inference is independently valid, our “choice” or “free consideration” could do anything but (correctly) accept it, or reject it, since our most basic inferences have to be “blind” in some sense. But then, I don’t think I’ve very fully understood Searle’s position, so I’ll see if I can’t tease an answer out of RIA. Anyway, I shall certainly have a look at the Gruenbaum and the Dennett (though I’d rather given up on him…)

Answer: The interesting thing is that an inference is a mental act that follows certain rules but one that often is done imprudently, by not following the rules all the closely, carefully. It is here, I think, that our freedom shows: We can sustain the effort to keep on track and make inferences in line with the rules that govern good ones, or we can be sloppy, inattentive and just rush or linger with them. When Searle talks of the gap, I think it is this fact that he is noting: we are the ones who fill the gap, who connect premises in line with the rules or principles of sound reasoning, logic or what have you. This is why he, as well as so many others—Kant, Rand, Aristotle, et al—have noted that for there even to be rationality, its absence must also be possible and it must be something the agent either exerts or fails to (and the exertion and the failure is something available for us to perform anytime we are conscious and not severely impaired).
Here is also where Dennett goes wrong about evolution—there is no reason to preclude the development of an organism just like this, as a part of the evolutionary process.
(Machan: To get a clear grasp of how it goes with much of the most prominent philosophy in America today, it would probably help to read Daniel C.
Dennett’s presidential address from last year’s APA Eastern Division
Meeting, in the just published and circulated Proceedings and Addresses of
the APA, Vol 75, Issue 2 (November 2001), pp.13-30. Its pure, smug,
pseudo-Darwinian reductionism, the like of which Democritus would be proud
Lennox: I haven’t read the address, but I wanted to endorse the charge of ‘pseudo-Darwinian reductionism’, based on a careful reading of Darwin’s Dangerous Idea. That book presents Dennett’s ideas, not Darwin’s, and shows a remarkable lack of interest in either the inductive basis of Darwinism or the on-going progress in evolutionary biology in response to new research (for example the remarkable work in developmental biology that has allowed the integration of developmental biology and evolutionary biology) or the rejection of genic reductionism, based on research into the ‘unity of the genome’ and the multiple mechanisms for the cellular environment to play a role in the regulation of gene function. This is the stuff of serious philosophy of biology today. A telling aspect of that book: there has been a vast amount of first rate work on the ways in which contemporary biology does and does not make use of teleological explanation–a recent anthology of only the good stuff is over 600 pages long. None of it is even cited in DDI – -he simply smuggles pseudo-teleology in under the guise of ‘the Intentional Stance’, allowing him to use wildly inappropriate references to ‘Mother Nature’, while treating selection explanations as computer programs. As a Darwinian of sorts, the expression, which I first heard of via Ayn Rand, ‘the enemies of your enemies are not necessarily your friends’, leaps to mind.)
Subject: importance of philosophy
Question: What is the importance of philosophy to the person and his community?
Answer: People, because they are not equipped with instincts to guide their actions, have to learn how to conduct themselves and philosophy is the discipline in which the best ways are debated, over and over again, from which every generation picks what the people take to be helpful to them. This is needed because they must make long range plans and for that they need a world view, a broad framework within which to situation themselves and their future plans. That, very briefly, is one reason philosophy is necessary.

Subject: Question: Your unique experience as a professor may just give me the insight I am looking for. If you would like please take a minute or two and help me work something out I’ve been dreaming of for a long time now.
I am 25, a surgical nurse and philosopher in waiting. I’m just not sure what I’m waiting for. I definitely have a love of philosophy, actually more of a love for thinking and learning. I read a wide variety of books on both Philosophy and religion. I really do enjoy experiencing so many great ideas, theories, and problems. These ideas and problems remain one of the few interests I’ve kept while growing up, even through high school. I also have a desire to write, although it’s usually too painful to follow through with as regularly as I would like. Part of me doesn’t like exploring myself that much. Its one thing to read ideas, another to commit my own to paper.
My questions are mainly to help me decide on possible directions to take my life. Don’t worry though, all your answers will be taken with a grain of salt.
Thanks for your time,
Specific Question: A) Is a philosophy major along with the years of study and the money for tuition worth it? Or might I find just as much success on my own or even without a degree? I realize it’s a loaded question so let me clarify. How would I know if I were really the type who would benefit from going back to college? I realize much of philosophy is very interesting but it seems that these days institutional philosophy has grown into simply arguing over trivialities when the larger questions are left un-examined… in the sense that its considered a given that certain persistent philosophical problems have already been solved or at least examined to death. I’d rather not just waste my time and lots of money on tuition if all I can expect is to spend the next few years and several thousand dollars arguing who was or was not really a postmodern realist etc.…(no offense). If trivialities are the case I might be just as content to lots of hard work without a degree or even to keep philosophy as a hobby.
Answer: There are so many ways philosophy is pursued these days that no one characterization does it all justice. You could pursue your ways at several places, I am sure, and find it very fulfilling if you are devoted enough. There isn’t a lot of money in this field, of course. And getting a late start is something of a hindrance, of course. But as far as finding and cultivating the right approach, there is no reason to despair. Indeed, your background might already equip you for certain special areas of work, such as bioethics or medical ethics. You do need to check out different places—might write to the APA at the U of Delaware for information.
SQ: B) Having seen philosophy as a profession change over the years, what you see in store for it in the future?
A: There is never rest in this field, it is always on the move, going back over most of its issues, adding some nuances, seeing some trends come and go, finding certain schools rise in prominence only to fall just as suddenly. But in the USA there are so many places, so different in their approaches—just consider Harvard vs. Yale vs. Princeton vs. Stanford, for starters, and then all the less prestigious places. As I say, if you are devoted, this field will not disappoint you. Even if you were to get an MA or PhD someplace from people whom you do not find all that congenial, you can always do your own learning and get a good deal from that, with just one or two professors giving you some guidance. And it is good to be frustrated at the start, so long as you do not lose heart.
SQ C: Seeing as you have spent so much time dedicated to this field, was it the right choice for you? Is it still or was it ever fun for you? Do you think your students enjoy their hard work, or just toil through? I’m asking about real enjoyment, lost of people say they enjoy themselves but really don’t. Enjoying ones work is very important to me.
A: As you can imagine, my answer to all is “Yes!” I love the field and still do, passionately, and have no regrets at all. Not that all has been smooth—I never ended up at some premier place but have managed to publish 20 books, edited another 20 and written about 300 reasonably well published pieces and get to take part in conferences and teach my courses—who could ask for anything better? Students are a mixed bag at places where I teach—but a few come through very well and that’s rewarding enough on that score.
SQ D) Just so I can put your answers into perspective, or just for kicks, what kind of philosopher do you think you are?
A: You might consider me a neo-Aristotelian, a realist—I think the world is there, independent of our minds and we have the task to get it right: about what there is, how we can know it, how to act, how to live in communities, etc. I work mostly in political philosophy, ethics, business ethics but touch on most areas.
Subject: connection between human agreement and truth
Question: What is the connection between human agreement and truth in Wittgenstein philosophy ?
Answer: Not much that I can detect. Statements or judgments are true in a variety of ways but whether people agree with each other as to the truth of some claim is irrelevant to whether it is in fact true. This isn’t just something Wittgenstein held but is held by most people except radical pragmatists such as Richard Rorty.
Subject: connection between human agreement and truth
Question: Regarding the concept of private language and rule following; could you explain what the following sentences mean for as far as I understand there is a strong contradiction between concepts;
“following a rule is analogous to obeying an order”
“The proposition ‘sensations are private’ is comparable to ‘one plays patience by oneself’”
Answer: Following a rule is like being told what to do and then doing it—consider when you say that you went to the ball game last night. You are following the rule that the verb go, in the past tense, is “went,” so when referring to the past, use “went” not “go” or “gone.”
The second matter is this: to claim that sensations are private is to say something so obvious it’s not worth saying. Like saying “My hands are my own.” Of course. Sensations are just what an individual has on his own, not with someone’s assistance. Just like playing solitaire.
Subject: God and Misery

Answer: I appreciate your thinking of me this Christmas and deciding to give me a gift [Philip Yancey's Where is God When it Hurts?]….
I have been reading this book but have to tell you I am not sure just what its point is. The classic problem of evil is this: How could there be an all knowing, all powerful, all good and eternal being (God) while the world is mired in misery, not just for those who may have brought it upon themselves but also for complete innocents. It is a bit like this: Suppose you, a decent enough swimmer, stood by a lake and suddenly noticed a young boy going under, drowning. If you are a good person, and have the needed skill and power and time, you should jump in and try to rescue this boy, no questions asked. You wouldn’t stand by—if you would, you would be a monster. So, the problem of evil, so called—actually, it should probably be called the problem of bad things happening to innocent beings—is about this: how could God be all good, indeed, perfect, while He stands by the lake and watches the boy drown? Impossible. So there cannot really be a God, since if there were one, such horrible things would not be happening.
When it comes to evils created by people for themselves, the problem isn’t so serious. God could well be letting things work out in their proper way, so that those who act badly will suffer for this. That may be compatible with God’s nature. But to let innocents suffer, that seems impossible for someone capable of stopping it.
There are, of course, classic responses to this problem: God may have a [mysterious?] plan such that overall the bad things that happen to innocents are a necessary component of all the good things that also happen. It’s like the great meal that also requires washing the dishes, or the healthy teeth that require some painful work on them. The best of all possible worlds is just such as to include the suffering of innocents we witness around us.
But this seems implausible: if God is so great and powerful, why would he have created a world in which the suffering of the innocent is such a prominent feature? Makes no sense. Thus, the idea of God makes no sense, either.
Of course, now those like me who find that the idea of God is nonsense must still make sense of the suffering of innocents. I am not sure I can tell you in a few words how I account for this. Very briefly, though, I do not believe a perfect being created the universe but that the universe contains the potential for good and evil, with a bit of tilting toward greater good than greater evil. (Otherwise we would all have perished by now!) So life comes with the possibilities of pain and pleasure, good and evil, joy and sorrow, and so forth. That is what we detect in history and in our own lives and that is what we need to cope with. We are, then, left with a universe that has no God in it.
Subject: Taoist Philosophy
Question: Possibly a little outside of your area of study, but maybe you can help me out. I have a question regarding Taoism. I am wondering if Taoism (or any religion) can be called philosophy in the western academic context. I understand the risks inherent in doing so, but I am trying to find a definition of philosophy that can include the beliefs of religion, specifically Taoism. What implications does this definition have?
Answer: If a viewpoint relies for its support more on argument and experience rather than faith, a commitment that rests on mysterious perception or understanding, then it is closer to philosophy than to religion.
Subject: the enigma that bothers me the most
Question: What happens to people when they die?
Answer: Nothing, as I understand it. Their death is their end, so there is nothing more to expect, to look forward to, etc., apart from how other people remember them. (That is what Aristotle thought was the only possible “afterlife”!)
As I see it, based on the death of other living things I’ve had around me—cats, dogs, birds, etc.—a biological entity ceases to be once its life processes stop, once they are extinguished. The left-over carcass begins to decompose and eventually it ends up to be mostly inanimate matter (with some parts, of course, taken over by other animals for food and such).
Of course, all this assumes something I haven’t defended here, namely, that there is no separable soul—or psyche or mind—in each of us, something that might survive the death of the body. I am taking it that such dualism is mistaken, that the soul—or mind or psyche—is an aspect of oneself, requiring for its function a healthy physique. If this is wrong, then we have an entirely different set of possibilities.

Subject: Tragedy of the Commons
Question: Your essay on the above subject was very interesting and made quite a few valid points. I agree that government interference into the market place is for the most part undesirable. Government cannot decide what is the best use of the commons for the most part. But it seems that you are saying the private individual and the market place can. Am I interpreting your conclusion correctly?
I would have to say that the tragedy of the commons has no solution (barring divine intervention) for the reasons cited in your article. I. e., humankind will continue to see the effects of the tragedy until it becomes disastrous. It appears environmentally, that is beginning to occur.
Answer: I am saying that once private individuals have obtained holdings, be this in land or anything else, the chances improve that these will be prudently used. No guarantee but overall the prospects are much better then. The reason is that it is possible to assess whether one or another use of resources is of better value to the owner, who has a clear interest in economizing (even if he doesn’t fully recognize this interest). The commons, in turn, inspires a kind of reckless hustle to just get and use, as fast as possible, so one rather than others will have the benefit of the resources available to all. The goals may differ—some may want to enrich themselves, some just achieve something, some help someone, some support a cause. But with common resources the possibility of rational assessment of value is missing. It’s a systems problem, so to speak.

Subject: Abortion
Question: How is this topic best understood?

1. At conception there is no determinate entity—one or several zygotes might develop and not until about the 14th week will they be one or several zygotes.
2. If at conception a person comes into existence, every miscarriage will have to be examined for possible foul play or crime (manslaughter, negligent homicide). Every zygote is now due the protection of basic rights and so every conception would need to be recorded (as births are now). Since, however, conception is far less public than birth, this will involve massive invasions of privacy.
3. It is true that the prices moment when a fetus turns into a human being (not human life, which is irrelevant since one’s fingernails are human life, yet one may cut them) is indeterminate. But so is when someone turns into an adult or old person, yet we are able to forge laws and public policy concerning these times. So, the fact that it will be around the 24 to 27th week that a human beings comes into existence, since at that time the cerebral cortex will have developed and thus we will have a rational animal or being of volitional consciousness at hand (albeit in its most undeveloped version), should suffice to fix the point when homo sapiens will emerge from what is but a potential homo sapiens.
4. A caterpillar is not a butterfly, although it is potentially a butterfly. Neither is a sapling a fruit bearing tree, although that is what it may well become if allowed normal development.


Subject: theory of knowledge
Question: can a belief be accepted as the truth ?
can the intuition and perception of the person make him accept a belief as the truth? how does it affect history and science then?

Answer: When someone comes to believe something, say that the sun is a huge ball of fire, that person would consider this the truth. No one believes P without also holding it that P is true. So clearly a belief is always accepted as the truth, although sometimes it is not firmly held and may be given up easily enough—but then it will no longer be believed. It is unclear what an intuition is but probably it is just a belief the origin or justification of which is obscure, perhaps even completely hidden to the person who has the intuition. If one has an intuition and wants to make sure this is not just some wild idea, one will make the effort to test it, check it out, and so forth. That is what happens in science—it is never enough in science to just have an intuition. A perception—via one’s sensory organs, which have contact with reality—is something entirely different; if one has perceived that a car hit a dog, this counts as evidence for the belief that the car hit the dog. A perception is much
better grounded than an intuition—the two should not be confused.

Subject: Marx
Question: Hi, I am having some difficulties writing a paper comparing and contrasting Marx and Weber’s explanations for why people work hard in a capitalist society. I need to formulate a thesis for which explanation I feel is more persuasive. The assignment says to compare and contrast Marx and Weber’s reasons for hard work in a capitalist society but to me, it seems more suitable to compare their different explanations for the progression of history.
Marx provides a material explanation for historical change by arguing that the infrastructure determines the superstructure of society while Weber assigns greater importance to the role of religion and culture. I find it easy then to make comparisons between their two explanations. I find it difficult to find points of comparison however when the question specifically calls for an answer to the question of why people work hard. Marx does not address specifically the question of why the proletariat or the bourgeoisie work hard. He simply says that the proletariat live only as long as they can find work and they can find work only as long as their labor increases capital. He says that the bourgeoisie do not work hard at all, but simply exploit the labor power of the proletariat. In the Communist Manifesto, I did not find any other explanations for the reason, or lack thereof, for hard work in a capitalist society. Weber
addresses this question specifically by tracing the history of the time is money ethic and being from a Protestant background, I find his explanation more compelling than that of Marx, who only seems to say that the proletariat
works hard in order to ensure his bare survival. Could you help guide me in the right direction as to what I am missing? Thank you very much for your
time and consideration.

Answer: For Marx people work because they are forced to do so by their circumstances. Marx is what is usually called an “economic determinist” who holds that the social-economic-technological situations people face force them to do what they do. Since one must eat and otherwise sustain oneself in order to live, one will grab whatever opportunity there is for working and making a living. This is almost a purely (dialectical) mechanical process and involves no choice at all. Men and women work like ants or bees, only with more intelligence involved. While in Weber’s view certain convictions and beliefs lead one to be ambitious and work hard, specifically the Protestant ethic. Weber explains work by reference to ideas, while Marx explains work by reference to the material factors people confront.

Subject: I have polemical questions for you
1. Should a human being be cloned?
2. Could a eugenics policy benefit mankind?
3. Should welfare recipients be placed on mandatory birth control?
4. Are ethnic stereotypes based on fact?
5. Should homosexuality be discouraged?
6. Are blacks more inclined to criminal behavior than whites?
7. Due to recidivism, should convicted pedophiles remain in prison for life?
8. Would society benefit from an increased use of execution?
9. Is sterilization appropriate for the criminally mentally ill?

Answer: 1. Well, one should, another should not—Albert Einstein v. Adolf Hitler, for example. There is no yes or no answer to this question.
2. Mankind cannot be benefited, individual persons can. And some might while some might not benefit from this. Particulars matter a lot here.
3. No—their welfare status should be terminated, period. But nothing
should be done to them.
4. Yes, to some extent, and some prejudices, too. I am from a certain Central European country and the perception of these folks pretty much fits me too. Why? That’s a long story. But many are accurate enough—the general perception of Germans, Swiss, Danes, Italians, etc. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg about these people.
5. Not if they like being homosexual.
6. Not that I have any evidence for.
7. Everyone should serve his or her punishment and then be set free.
8. I do not believe executions are a good idea because the mistakes, however few they may be, are irreversible, uncompensatable.
9. Only if they volunteer—I say punish them like any citizen, leave
therapy to private arrangements.
Subject: Philosophy of Sex
Question: My question is inspired from a recent discussion in class surrounding the issue of sexual desire. We read an article by Alan Goldman entitled “Plain Sex” and discussed his thesis statement “Sexual desire is desire for contact with another person’s body and for the pleasure which such contact produces”. This incites the question of what counts as sexual desire, and what is not. This is in a philosophy class, not a psychology class, so we did not discuss Freud’s conception that nearly everything is sexual. The problem is I don’t think that Freud’s argument is strong enough, being that it rests almost solely on his analysis of (empirically and subjectively based) human nature. Basically, I am attempting to create an argument that agrees with Goldman’s, but that rests on a philosophical framework unlike Freud’s. If I am correct, Goldman’s thesis statement states that all touching and the pleasure that comes with it is sexual (or constitutes sexual desire). The obvious objections would be activities such as touching a baby, or a friend, et cetera. Do you see a plausible (and defendable) way around this? If this is not within your area of knowledge specifically, could you possibly point me in the direction of other philosophers that hold the same opinion as Goldman. Your help is much appreciated, Quinn DuPont
Answer: I think your reservations about Goldman are correct—when I hug my daughters, it has nothing to do with sex, yet it is touching and it is pleasurable. So the Plain Sex thesis seems to be wrong: there is usually much more to sex than the pleasure of touching. My idea, though undeveloped, is that sex involves a desire to experience being the source of (extreme) pleasure to someone who is appealing to one aesthetically and promises the reciprocal attitude of regarding one as the source of his or her (extreme) pleasure from an appealing person. In short, feeling (extremely) good, being admired, and being the source of feeling (extremely) good (or ecstatic) all together comprise sexual desire. Just why this issues in reproductive activities may require an evolutionary biological explanation, not a philosophical one.
Subject: presentation
Question: This IS for an assignment in a business ethics class, however I do not want you to GIVE me an answer… just help me think.
Assignment is to do a presentation on a moral issue in business. I want to set up an IS/LIKE argument on advertising to children.
I’m thinking….
“Child Pornography IS wrong”
Abercrombie & Fitch ads are LIKE Child Pornography
Therefore, A & F ads are wrong.

#1 question; I know I have to define pornography. I’m not sure if pornography is the right word (even though it is used in this case when reading about the controversy of their ads). I want to say the ads are promiscuous but can’t seem to link that to a strong enough article….
I’m kind of lost, and would appreciate any input you may be able to give me.

Answer: I am not sure what you want from me. I do not know the ads you are talking about. Even you say they are “like” child pornography, which means they aren’t child pornography, so your conclusion would not seem to follow. Now if you can reasonably add a premise that “what is like child pornography, in sufficient measure, has the properties of child pornography,” and if you can establish that “child pornography is morally wrong,” then you can establish that the ads are morally wrong. Yet, this does not establish that they should or may be prohibited, only that they are wrong—many things can be wrong (like bad journalism, pornography, betraying friends, etc.) that should not be prohibited. (Indeed, morality itself would be irrelevant where prohibition exists since then there is no choice about what one does!)
Subject: philosophy
Question: What were the societal problems that Plato and Confucius faced in their time, and then sought to rectify? Thanks so much if you can is much appreciated!
Answer: The main thing was rapid and unguided, irrational change that often led to chaos, disruption, and anarchy. Both philosophers were concerned with standards, Plato holding that the careful and diligent use of human reason would help identify the standards we ought to use to live right, Confucius holding that respect for authority and tradition would give us such standards.
Subject: “seize the moment”
Question: My question is regarding the “seize the moment” philosophy that many people hold to. Basically, I would like to know what are some of the pro’s and con’ of this type of philosophy.
To me this philosophy appears to be a hybrid between Existentialism and Hedonism. Furthermore, I think that there are more negatives to this philosophy (making hasty decisions, breaking promises and hurting your reputation, putting a too much emphasis on feelings to the sacrifice of values and morals) than positives. But what do you think? and do you think you can give me some examples or perhaps illustrations?
Answer: First of all, this is not a philosophy but a saying, a kind of motto, that some people adhere to as they live their lives. It means, essentially, to be alert to opportunities that would fulfill one’s aspirations, realize one’s goals. But these aspirations and goals can be very different, some good, some not so good, some bad. They need have nothing to do with Existentialism (a pretty full blown philosophy) or Hedonism (an ethical theory). Certainly when one seizes the moment, one need by no means make some kind of leap of faith or seek for pleasure. Anything and everyone can be sought by way of being alert to opportunities.
Subject: Need help with several philosophical issues
Question: I have prepared several questions to prepare me for my upcoming test.. however I’m having difficulty getting the answers to these questions. If you could provide answers or even bits of info, that would be very helpful
Answer: I am going to do this for you: I will tell you how Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes and Locke would approach the topic and I will do it VERY briefly:
1) How would each of them approach the question: “how do live a correct life and is their way relevant to today’s way of life.”
Socrates, Plato and Aristotle answer: By using your rationality, your strict reasoning capacity, very diligently. Hobbes would say: by following your natural drives and coordinating them with the drives of others. Locke would say by using your reasoning capacity and respecting everyone’s rights to life, liberty and property.

2) How can religion and philosophy be discriminated from each other? do we need to choose one of them?
Socrates and Plato would say that philosophy and religion are just more and less simple ways of looking at things but both are products of reason. Aristotle, too, would hold this. Hobbes would say religion is superstitious unreason and Locke, too, would think that religion can be based on reason.

3) Mind over Matter – do we need to choose one of them over the other?
Socrates, Plato would say you need to focus more on mind, spirit and leave matter, the body to their own resources. Aristotle thinks the two are aspects of the same thing—both are parts of reality, parts of the human person. Hobbes believes there is only matter. Locke comes very close to Hobbes.
4) Justice can be treated within the community or it can be expanded globally. discuss this issue according to the problem of time and place.
Everyone thinks justice can be dealt with in all human communities, wherever they may be. Their ideas of justice differ, of course.

5) in the 20th century a new crime was created: “crimes against humanity”. what is the philosophic or religion interpretation of this concept?
Basically it means whatever crimes are so terrible that any human being could appreciate their horror—mostly genocide and mass murder are what’s included.
Subject: a little help
Question: I am a college student and have received a rather large work to prepare, however I am not sure about a certain point and I want to check them with you (if you are able to help of course).
Regarding the philosophers: Plato, Aristotle, Marcus Aurellious, Machiavelli, Locke, and Hobbes:
How would each of them interpret philosophically, or religiously the concept of “crimes against humanity” as was developed in the 20th century?
Answer: Crimes against humanity in the eyes of Plato, Aristotle, Marcus Aurellious, Machiavelli, Locke, and Hobbes:
I do not believe this idea had any relevance to these thinkers because crimes against humanity—ones like the Holocaust or the Soviet gulags or Mao’s deadly famine in China (stemming from his utterly incompetent collective farming policies and such)—simply weren’t even conceivable in their time. Strictly speaking, though, for Plato and Aristotle such a crime would probably have to involve attacking people just in virtue of being human beings. I don’t know enough about Marcus Aurellious. Machiavelli and Hobbes would probably have thought that undermining the independence of a state and thus the safety of a country would qualify as a crime against humanity, while Locke would probably have considered massive violations of individual human rights such a crime. (Indeed, it is arguable that the contemporary sense of the phrase, “crime against humanity,” derives from Locke’s theory of universal individual human rights. Notice how the various human rights watch organizations make use of a more or less Lockean idea of rights by which they assess whether such crimes are being committed.)

Question: I was in a mini debate w/my (crit) property
prof about the Supreme court case where a shopping
mall’s right to exclude leaflet distributors was
upheld. well, my prof clearly disagreed w/the holding
and attempted to convince me that because the threat
of the police was used to make the leaflet people
leave the mall, that constitutes “state action” and
thus it is the state, not a private entity who is
abridging their freedom of speech. he was nice enough
about hearing my side, and welcomed many more remarks
about that case from me…if they didn’t know I wasn’t a
liberal they sure do now! anyhow, how would you most
effectively rebut this argument about the mall’s
excluding constituting state action?
also, fyi, at the end of class the professor asked who
in the class preferred the holding in this Supreme
court case and who preferred a NJ case we read in
which the opposite was held(under the NJ
constitution)…myself and FOUR others liked the
mall’s right to exclude, the other 90 some people
liked the right of the leaflet people to
distribute….oh well.

Answer: As the Declaration of Independence states, governments are instituted among us “to secure these rights”—life, liberty and pursuit of happiness (property); so while it is government that has been delegated the power to bar people from our property—be it a mall or a front yard—it has, presumably, derived its “just powers from the consent of the governed” and is thus acting as a kind of body or security guard in our rightful (self-)defense. It is thus using delegated powers and isn’t just going about imposing its will arbitrarily, at least when it does indeed secure our rights and does so within the restrictions of due process (i.e., doesn’t violate rights as it secures them).


Subject: history
Question: I have a question that I have been turning over in my mind trying to arrive at an answer. The question is: can Ideas be separated from history? I thought I knew the answer but my western civilization and world history teachers seem to disagree.
I do not see how Ideas could ever be separated from any part of history. I believe that ideas have consequences and that everything that has happened in history first originated in some ones mind. In other words things didn’t just happen. Alexander the great, Julius Caesar, Hitler, all were not only influenced by ideas but also sought to implement their own. How can anything in history happen without first being thought about and than carried out? Well, here my two history teachers point to Karl Marx’s theory ( of which I confess I am not to familiar with). Essentially, I was told that Karl mark believed that movements happened not because of ideas but because people felt it was time to revolt due to injustices ( I hope I’m doing my teacher’s justice here–I’m having trouble recalling exactly what they said).
But what do you say? Am I wrong? if so why?
If not, why not?
I also want to point out that I don’t intend to go to my history teacher’s and say “look what so and so told me from all experts .com”. I want your comment and opinion because I want to study it for my own edification and to do personal research on it. I intend on double majoring in philosophy and history, so the answer I seek is very important to me.
Answer: One problem with these short questions and answers is that often the meanings can be varied. “Separated from” could mean: “not be determined by” or “unrelated to” or the like. In my view we human beings have the capacity to form ideas, sometimes very inventively, through our imagination, and in those cases the ideas we form can be quite independent of history. Just read science fiction! Or poetry. Or even an ordinary mystery novel. All these contain inventions that need have no relationship to actual historical events or people or even settings (although some of our inventiveness consists of reshaping what we do know about). Even in economics, sociology, psychology and, especially, history, we often think of what is only remotely related to what actually has happened. All this stems, in my view, from our unique capacity to produce original thoughts. Which is the source of literature, music, and so forth. We have a kind of freedom that not only makes this possible but also enables us to reflect about what we are doing, speculate, entertain different ways of understanding ourselves and our relationship to the world. Indeed, if we didn’t have this freedom to think of a great variety of things, some quite imaginative and not necessarily grounded in actuality, we would probably not have the independence needed for testing our ideas.

Subject: Hobbes
Question: I’m writing a short paper entitled “In what way did Hobbes have a secular theory of the state”. As you rightly put in your instructions, I’m not asking you to write this paper for me but just for a couple of hints as to the direction I should take in writing it. I have information on Hobbes’ personal religious beliefs and how they changed through his life, but I’m pretty stumped as to how to approach this question. Any help you can give me would be much appreciated!
Answer: To start with, Hobbes was a consistent and full blown materialist who was also an atheist and amoralist (though he spoke as if he took morality seriously, only he meant by it something very different from what, say, Aristotle did). His defense of government was developed from the belief that in the state of nature, prior to any establishment of law and government, life was miserable and people would fight all the time. So they were led, quite mechanically, by their instincts or drives to agree to be ruled by an absolute monarch.
Subject: naturalism in late 19th cent. Europe
Question: I just wanted to know if you knew what were some of the results of new ideas in the late 19th century when naturalism was being developed?
Answer: Naturalism goes back to the 16th century and led to the ideas of social science and social engineering. It excluded any belief in God and sometimes even ethics and proposed an understanding of reality entirely in terms of the laws of physics, chemistry, biology and such. There are different versions of naturalism—indeed, some forms are based on the idea of “the nature of X,” some on the idea of “the laws of nature.” The former version is quite old, going back to Socrates, Plato and Aristotle and has little to do with materialism. The latter is derived from extending the principles of the natural sciences to all realms of study.

Subject: philosophy of law
Question: what is the task of philosophers of law in the 21st century?
Please give me references in addition to your answer.
Answer: As with the rest of philosophy, such as metaphysics, epistemology, the philosophy of science and such, the task of the philosophy of law is supposedly the same in any age. Here it is starts with the examination of the relationship between positive (“man-made”) law and any principles of ethics or some other discipline—evolutionary biology, sociology, economics or the like—on which it should be or is grounded. (Some philosophies of law deny there is any such relationship but they usually need to defend this position just as vigorously as do those who think there is such a relationship.)
The discipline of the philosophy of law also analyzes such crucial concepts as “guilt,” “due process,” “mens rea,” “negligence,” “justice,” “responsibility,” and so forth. The philosophy of law is also wherein many jurisprudential topics are considered, such as what a constitution is, what is citizenship, and what is the proper scope or reach of the law in human community life. (As to references, these you should look up—I am not going to list for you books you can look up at any book store or the Library of Congress web site—e.g., or,,7090&CI=024757. You can start with C. B. Gray, ed. Philosophy of Law, An Encyclopedia, [Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1996].)
Subject: reconstructionists: Marxist or pragmatists
Question: hi, I was wondering if you thought that reconstructionists are better understood as having stemmed from Marxist thought or pragmatist thought (Dewey for example). thanks for your help
Answer: Do you mean “deconstructionists”? I’ve never heard of reconstructionists, frankly, and I doubt there is such a school (but then I may just be in the dark here). As far as deconstructionism is concerned, it arises from several roots, among them Marxist historicism (which states that all principles, at least up until communism is achieved, are relative to historical epochs and cannot be universal). This then leads to the idea that nothing is stable, no interpretation is right, everything is purely idiosyncratic. And pragmatism, too, stands against the idea of firm principles (and natures) and, thus, encourages the view that all is flux and ultimately it is really just how the individual minds sees things. But there are other sources, too, such as Kantian constructionism and Cartesian subjectivism.
Subject: Socrates
Question: Is the philosopher Socrates considered a hero to you and if so Why? Also what are Socrates expressed ideas about life and what it means to be human?
Answer: Yes—he established the superior role of human reason in how we ought to understand reality (in contrast to relying on authority, tradition, and common sense). For Socrates life, understood rightly, must involve a constant quest for better and better understanding or knowledge of the essence or natures of things, which exist in the higher realm of forms or ideals (akin to how the perfect circle or triangle exists in such a realm).

Subject: Aristotle’s Method of Definition
Question: I was just wondering if you could clear up a question that I have about Aristotle’s method of definition Term=Genus+Differentia. Our class is supposed to come up with a word or a concept to show how the perception of the term may not be accurate. I was wondering how I could explain the word ghetto and if that’s not a unique word do you have any ideas of one? Thank you for your time.
Answer: I admit I am somewhat puzzled but that may be because I tend to find Aristotle’s approach sound and know only very basic or axiomatic terms that do not work with it—e.g., “existence” or “consciousness.” I do not believe “ghetto” defeats his approach since its definition is (something along lines of) “demographic region with ethnic concentration,” the former part being the genus, the latter the differentia.

Subject: Thomas Hobbes
Question: What impact did/does The Leviathan have on society and governments? Or more broadly, perhaps, what connections does the work of Thomas Hobbes have to today? Thank you for your time! :)
Answer: Oddly, I just had a dream about Hobbes—maybe because a friend and I had discussed his impact yesterday. The main influence of Hobbes concerns the way many people tend to look at politics and economics, namely, in game-theoretical terms. This means they consider it a contest for power or advantage, with certain rules governing their conduct.
Hobbes thought politics arose because in the state of nature, prior to organized law and government, people would eventually violently clash on a regular basis. To bring about peaceful interaction, which would enhance all their lives, laws would be agreed to and a ruler would be selected to enforce those laws.
Later, still based on Hobbes’ basic ideas, the role of the ruler became diminished because it was determined by analysts that without severely restricting the ruler’s scope of power, the ruler would act arbitrarily and do the opposite of what was supposed to be done, namely, keep the peace. This came to support the idea of limited government (via, for example, Adam Smith, The Federalist Papers and contemporary public choice theory [that holds that politicians and bureaucrats are motivated to gain more and more power]).
The most avid Hobbesians today are Nobel Laureate economist James M. Buchanan, philosophers Jan Narveson and David Gauthier, as well as the late Jean Hampton.

Subject: comparisons Plato and Aristotle
Question: how does Socrates’ account of the principles of human conduct in Plato’s Crito manifest elements of Aristotle’s analysis of moral virtue?
Answer: Well, of course Socrates’ treatment, assuming Plato renders it correctly, comes way before Aristotle’s work on the virtues. Still, arguably Aristotle in fact uses Socrates as a model human being, probably the most virtuoso of them all known to him. But I am not sure that the Crito would serve best to showcase Aristotelian virtues because in that dialogue Plato has Socrates presenting a complicated analysis of vulgar versus sophisticated morality. Socrates tells Crito how to live and the emphasis seems to me to be on being obedient and accepting of the authority of the state, even when the state is wrong. Yet, in fact, Socrates himself did not follow this advice and it is probably true that Aristotle wouldn’t agree with it for everyone, only ordinary people who haven’t the intellectual and spiritual capacity to apprehend true virtues or principles of right conduct. It is necessary here to realize that Socrates, Plato and Aristotle didn’t believe that all persons can be supremely virtuous. They held that this is only available to the best situated among human beings, the best endowed. The lower classes, so to speak, had to be taught a simple morality, while the philosophers among us could be left to search for the complex and difficult principles of right conduct.

Subject: Cynics etc.
Question: I was once interviewed for a philosophy course at Oxford.I failed to give a correct answer to the following question:- If God is omnipotent, is it possible for God to move create an object that he cannot move, or something like that – how would you approach this dilemma?
Answer: The right answer may well be that God’s nature is so mysterious, so much beyond our human capacity to understand things, that what seems to us a paradox about God is probably just something way beyond our understanding, in a completely foreign dimension. The kind of puzzle you relate is a bit like the puzzle of a child about, say, the solar system—if the sun disapprears on one side of our house in the evening, how does it get to the opposite side of our house next morning? Well, this is no puzzle for educated adults, only for kids. Similarly with the puzzle about God’s powers.

Subject: Plato’s’ Republic, 508a-511e: ‘Vision of the Good’
Question: Philosophy was a religious experience for the ancients, but how does Socrates’ description of the good play into such an understanding?
Answer: I wouldn’t claim what you do, even if it is true the ancient philosophers did entertain theological ideas alongside their philosophy. For Plato, for example, the idea of the good has divine dimensions, being as it is the highest integrative idea and ideal in the realm of the forms—a kind of top of the heap idea that pulls all the rest together. But this isn’t religious in the sense in which the celebration of Easter or Christmas or the ritual of Holy Communion or similar rituals are. For Plato the divinity of the good is philosophically grounded, not a matter of faith, also. But maybe you should also ask someone in theology about this.

Subject: Kant’s
Question: I have read about Kant’s Copernican revolution but there is a part that I would like to understand better…that would be on what does he mean by saying “knowledge is the result of the interaction between the mind and sensation”
Answer: What Kant did to earn the status of a revolutionary is to make the very strong and powerfully supported claim that the human mind may not know some independent reality but may be structuring a reality in accordance with its own constitution. This is constructivism, so instead of discovering we my be constructing reality.
The constituents of this construction, the bricks, so to speak, are sensations, while the building is really the function of our minds. That’s what is mean by “knowledge is the result of the interaction between mind and sensation.”
In my view this is wrong but Kant certainly made his mark on Western thought with, among others, this philosophical thesis.

Subject: Nothingness
Question: I know this is pretty unspecific but I hope you can help me with this question.
What is nothingness? Well, I know this might sound cornball but I heard two people talk about it and it was pretty interesting.
One of them stated the theory that nothingness is when all anticlimaxes nullify each other. But the other person’s opinion was that nothingness is the anticlimax of everything.
Another approach of them was that nothingness is like the point behind your head where you just can’t see anything.
Answer: I have no idea why anti-climex comes into this discussion—seems to have nothing to do with it (pardon the pun). Nothingness is the generalized state of everything being absent. It is what is imagined when we also imagine everything else having vanished. Probably, nothing has never obtained and is merely an imaginary state that’s contrasted with when something does obtain, namely, always. For example, we imagine that at some point perhaps nothing existed—that is, there was an absence of anything at all. But this has probably never obtained but it is a useful theoretical notion, akin to zero. When folks say, “Nothing is up” or “There’s nothing on my mind,” they usually mean nothing in particular, something they could describe or give a name to, is going on or being thought about. But nothingness, the absence of anything at all, is an imagined state, not a real one.
Subject: Natural Law
Question: Hi, I am taking an oxford tutorial on the philosophy of law. My first paper has is an answer to the question of “what is natural law?” I am having trouble making an argument in response to a question like that. I can define what natural law is and the historical schools of natural law thought, but I am having trouble finding what to argue about in my paper. Should I compare the different schools of natural law and say which thinkers I think are right in their definition, should I defend natural law against the positivists, or should i find strands of commonality between the different versions of natural law and argue which ones best define what natural law is? Any help or direction would be greatly appreciated.
Answer: Well, the most important issue here is whether natural laws as moral principles make any sense. The critics claim that the idea of “natural law” is impermissibly taken out of the context of natural science, where laws are principles of behavior identifiable by observation, reflection and experimentation. This cannot be done in ethics because people often violate ethical principles, so why use the concept that has its home outside of ethics?
One answer to this is that although ethical principles aren’t like those of the natural sciences, such that the beings to whom they apply must conform to them, they are binding in the sense that human beings ought to follow them and if they do not, dire consequences will normally follow. It is a bit like medicine or nutrition—one may ignore the principles of healthful living but not without cost. So, yes, natural laws are not exactly like those in science but t! hey do share some features.
So, as you can see, there is room for debating the natural law issue. Some other aspects of it are whether the very idea of “the nature of X,” from which the laws governing X might be derived, makes any sense, or, to use the Humean point, whether any laws at all can be identified or are they just anticipations of our minds based on some past regularities.
Subject: Crito
Question: In the Crito the central speech is give by the laws Can you explain what do the laws say and is there a meaning??
Answer: Basically they say you should obey the law because your existence depends on it. This has been interpreted as a message from Socrates to ordinary folks but not applicable to him who is after all so wise that he can judge the law as good or bad But if all thought they could, it would spell disorder, anarchy.

Subject: moral intuition
Question: Suppose Immanuel Kant and J.S. Mill sat down for tea and Kant said to Mill:
“Five men are under the care of the same surgeon, two each need a kidney transplant, one needs a heart transplant and the fourth a liver transplant. each of these four will die in a matter of days and are waiting months for their respective donations. The fifth man needs his tonsels removed. A quick check reveals that the fifth man is an ideal donor for all of the other men. It is my assertion that it would be wrong for him to kill the one man and give his organs to the others.
The authority to wich Kant appeals is his moral intuition–that is, it ‘seems’ wrong to act thus. I am not saying that Kant himself would approach a critique of Mill this way, rather, this is an example of how I have heard others and–even myself–critique Mill and Utilitarianism. My question is, what is it about our moral intuition that makes it such an accepted authority (or is it?; I am not very well read in this area).
Answer: First, Kant would not justify his opposition to killing the fifth guy to take his organs on the basis of moral intuitions, never. He would invoke the categorical imperative and deduce that such conduct would violate pure reason and be immoral because of that. But you are right that many philosophers invoke moral intuitions as they argue, as if these were decisive points of refernece. This was made prominent in our time by Ross (in the 20s) and Rawls (in the 70s). The idea here is that no moral theory has been found to be sound, justified, so we are left without any such theory to defend our moral views. What’s left is moral intuition, which is to say the very deeply felt emotions for and against certain ways of acting. Others who find moral intuitionism flawed claim these feelings come from years of teaching and seeing examples around us and the like, but intuitionists deny this. They regard these so basic, so rock bottom that it is thought they can serve as benchmarks for moral beliefs. And while this is accepted by the critics of moral intuitionism, they add that the reason they can serve as benchmarks is that they have been well established over time and inculcated in most of us powerfully enough that they have become nearly subconscious convictions. And they may well have solid philosophical foundations, just as Kant believed.
Subject: Determinism
Question: Sir, are there any valid arguments against determinism, aside from the randomness?
Answer: This is a hotly debated issue. My own view is that yes, determinism, can be refuted—not based on randomness but on the grounds of a conception of causation that makes possible for some kinds of beings, based on their nature, to cause their own actions. Given the human brain’s constitution, we are able to initiate some of what we do—mainly, our thinking in concepts, which then guides our conduct. See, in this connection, Tibor R. Machan, Initiative–Human Agency and Society (Hoover Institution Press, 2001), Roger W. Sperry, Science and Moral Priority (New York: Columbia University Press, 1983) and Bernard Baars, The Theater of Consciousness (Oxford University Press, 1995?)
Subject: tree in forest and missing shade of blue
Question: Hi there! I’m currently interested in philosophy a little bit and have begun to read about it. I caught part of a conversation which was being discussed and they were talking about “the missing shade of blue problem” What is that? My other question is what philosopher asked the question if a tree falls in the forest and there is no one there to hear it, would there be any sound???
Answer: The missing shade of blue has to do with whether some color exists if no one has detected it but it can be imagined to fall between two other colors. As to the tree in the forest, if by “sound” is meant the vibrations set off by the falling, yes, it makes a sound. If by “sound” is meant the interaction between the vibrations and the auditory organ of some sentient being, than no, it does not make a sound.
Subject: Plato
Question: Could you tell me about these Plato’s arguments; the “to know is to remember (the truth))” and the Platonic and the modern accounts of the origin of a priori knowledge?
Answer: Plato’s Socrates tells the story that our souls used to dwell among the forms and know them all intimately before we were born and in life we get reminded of those forms by experiencing the actual instances of what the forms are forms of (say, the form of a chair is something we recollect from experiencing actual chairs). Modern philosophy, via Kant, held that a priori knowledge is innate, part of the structure of the human understanding.
Subject: Plato & Aristotle’s philosophy on education
Question: Hi, I have been looking through some information, but have not yet found some that would be useful. I wanted to know what Plato and Aristotle’s philosophy on education was. For example, Pestalozzi thought students would learn better if they could experience first hand what they were learning about. eg. 2+2=4. he thought they’d learn better if they see it first hand by adding pebbles or anything tangible.
Answer: Both Plato’s Socrates and Aristotle thought that experiencing concrete, actual reality will be essential to learning—for Socrates the concrete examples will remind the learner of what he or she knew when the soul, before birth, lingered among the forms, while for Aristotle the experience with concrete things will enable one to form concepts and principles about these things.
Subject: PLATO
Question: I do have a question regarding Plato. What is Plato’s opinion of poets and visual artists?
Answer: Plato’s Socrates—Plato never speaks for himself—believes that artists can be misleading since they speak not so much from what they carefully think but how they feel. The expression of emotions, in poetry, drama, song and painting, to name just some modes of art, has value but if it is confused with science and philosophy, that is very harmful, so artists would ideally—and this is a technical expression in Socratic philosophy—be governed by the philosopher king; their freedom to express themselves would be limited. But, in actual community life (as opposed to in the ideal community), this amounts to Socrates advising us to be very careful about taking the advice of artists, to use our reason before as we consider their emotional, sentimental messages.
Subject: Egalitarianism
Question: I have searched over the internet for historical or a brief history of the origins of egalitarianism and also some basic tenets.
Answer: Several ideas support egalitarianism, and there are different versions, as well. From ancient Greek philosophy Democritus had believed that everything is really the same. All is made up of atoms. And this implies that everyone is equal in essential respects. Christianity proposes, in the New Testament, that each person is the child of God, which also suggests that we are all equal in how important we are. Thomas Hobbes, like Democritus, also believed we are all made up of matter-in-motion, so none is superior or inferior to others. John Locke had argued that everyone has basic or natural individual rights, which then became part of the US Declaration of Independence—a limited egalitarianism. The very idea that every human being has the same basic capacity to become either good or evil—that we each determine our own moral qualities—implies a form of moral and political egalitarianism.

Subject: Theory of Knowledge
Question: I have a final that I need to prepare for in a class called theory of knowledge. He gave of the questions that we are going to have. The questions are based on opinion and we have to give a logical reasoning jusitifying our opinion. Here are the questions I was wondering if you could help me in answering them:

1.) How does theory function in science? Give specific examples of a particular science.

2.) Can one speak of objective criticism in a work of art?

3.) The grounds that mathematics deals with the human mind?

4.) Describe the methodology involved in one of the sciences we call human science?

5.) Discuss the proposition that it is not possible to live a good life in a corrupt society? (Ethics & Morality; use the 5 tenets of Morality)

I would really appreciate it if you could help me out with these questions

Answer: 1.) How does theory function in science? Give specific examples of a particular science.
A theory is a proposed answer to a question : e.g., Does the shape of one’s head indicate one’s moral character? The school of physiology called phrenology answers, “Yes.” To test this it is carefully explored whether some particular head shape matches character traits frequently enough to be significant. (It does not!)

2.) Can one speak of objective criticism in a work of art?
There are conflicting views on this, of course. One answer is that one can, provided allowance is made for some important variables such as the age when the art is produced, perhaps even the audience of the work. “Objectivity” does not mean the same as “universality!”

3.) The grounds that mathematics deals with the human mind?
The idea here is that mathematics is not about the world but about how humans think about the world. But then what about the apparently real facts involving quantities—e.g., two cows, three chairs, which when put together give us five objects?

4.) Describe the methodology involved in one of the sciences we call human science?
Psychology may involve introspection, gaining information from examining what a person notices from observing how things go inside himself or herself.

5.) Discuss the proposition that it is not possible to live a good life in a corrupt society? (Ethics & Morality; use the 5 tenets of Morality)
This is doubtful—a corrupt society, like others, offers challenges that persons can meet well or badly, so those who meet them well lead good lives in a bad society.

Subject: historical materialism
Question: I am trying to understand historical materialism in ‘The German Ideology’ and make a precise definition of it, and also trying to formulate any problems with it. But I am really stuck and can’t get to grips with it. Please could you help to make things clearer for me? I’d be so relieved and grateful if you could help. Thanks so much. With best regards.
Answer: Historical materialism holds that humanity undergoes a development, akin to the biological individual person, which is controlled by the economic-technological forces that operate on the consciousness of human beings. It is a dialectical development, whereby a state of affairs (thesis) clashes with its opposite (anti-thesis) and from this a third state (synthesis) arises that contains the positive aspects of the former two, only to continue undergoing the same process until a final resolution (communism). I hope this helps.

Subject: analysis of knowledge
Question: What is the relation between propositional knowledge , acquaintance knowledge and skill knowledge? are they reducible to each other?
Answer: In my view there is a common feature to all, namely, true judgment. Clearly, propositions involve that. But so does acquaintance, since at least with complex items in the world to be familiar with them is to have in mind some judgment regarding them that’s true. And in the having of skills, too, one would have to know what to do, which also involves judgments that are (or better be) true. It is the use to which such true judgment are put that differs in these cases—intellectual or abstract understanding, intimacy or familiarity, and practice, as well as the level of explicitness. Some of the judgments are more tacit, some more explicit. That, at least, is my take on this shooting from the hip, as it were.

Subject: Logic
Question: I am doing a research paper on why logic is important (why should any body care about logic)? I was wondering if you knew of any authors (preferably well known, but if ancient–O.K.) who deny the rules or existence of logic or try to belittle logic and do away with it. Personally I do not think you can do away with logic without employing the rules of logic in your attempt. Nevertheless, I want to read what those who deny logic have to say, I am curious to here their arguments.
Also, what are your thoughts on the importance of logic. You may be as thorough and give as lengthy an explanation as you wish (the more examples you give the better).
Since I may use the information you give me in answering my questions, I plan to give you full credit for your comments on my research paper (this way, you will bear your own weight for your thoughts and comments). Therefore I would like to ask for an e-mail address from you where my professor can contact you if she decides to check my sources.
Finally, any websites, articles or books that you know will help me prove my thesis will be greatly appreciated.
Answer: For people who belittle logic’s importance, see C. I. Lewis, Mind and the World Order, and Ernest Nagel, Logic Without Ontology, among others. Their point is that logic is optional, not necessary—it is we human beings who choose to impute logic to the world. A more complicated idea is advanced by some who advocate polylogic or alternative logics—the availability of various “logics” to choose from. (I haven’t checked this but I would assume any college library carries The Encyclopedia of Philosophy—it may even be on the Web—where this can be checked out.)
My own view is similar to yours: Logic is indispensable because the natural of reality, as Aristotle argued, requires it. Contradictions cannot BE, even if we can hold contradictory beliefs, although not quite at the same time—”It is raining and it isn’t raining” is difficult to think but it cannot be so, for sure. Logic is, in my view, reflective of the most basic laws of being—A is A, not- (A and not-A) and either A or not-A.

Subject: happiness / suffering
Question: Is it possible to be happy without suffering?
Answer: I don’t see why not. But, it isn’t possible to be happy without the possibility of being unhappy, of perhaps even suffering. But someone could be fortunate enough to just be happy and never experience the other possibility. I think that would be very, very rare because nature itself delivers blows that one cannot but find upsetting, even suffer from—such as illness, the death of a loved one, etc. But possible? Yes.

Subject: Phili
Question: I was wondering if maybe you could explain to me what Aristotle means by VIRTUE in his readings?
Answer: Virtue, simply, is an excellent-making trait of something. Human beings have intellectual and moral virtues that can make them excellent, the former inherited, the latter cultivated and chosen, not inherited. Thus honesty is a moral virtue, while intelligence is an intellectual virtue. (There is a lot more to this but this should serve as a beginning of a more developed answer you may wish to research.)

Subject: knowledge
Question: what can be meant by, “knowledge is the true organ of sight, not the eyes”?
Answer: This is kind of quick saying that’s mostly suggestive and probably means that it is only when one knows something—understands it thoroughly, conclusively, can one be sure to SEE what it is. But, of course, seeing what something is, if it can be seen, doesn’t mean that one gains a full (or as-full-as-one-could) understanding of it. Perhaps this remarks is just to warn extreme empiricists, who preach that observation is the only avenue to knowledge, to back off!

Subject: Sociological Theory
Question: Compare the Enlightenment thinkers versus the Romantic-Conservative reaction. Who had the more sociological version of government and political system? Explain.
Answer: The answer is that the enlightenment thinkers had more systematic, (supposedly) scientific solutions and answers to the problems and questions of politics, with the romantics having a more poetic, dramatic, emotional and evaluative approach. Take, for example, Bacon, Hobbes, Locke, and Leibniz, all scientifically minded philosophers—either empirical or mathematical—who hoped to provide rational arguments for certain political principles, ideals. In contrast, you have the likes of Schelling, Schlegel and Schleiermacher as the romantics who tended to worship art and emotion and didn’t argue or analyze much.

Subject: Philosophy- Spinoza and Leibniz
Question: I’m a student of history and this is not an easy subject for me. Could you please help me to understand this? My question is: Is there a way to decide if Spinoza is correct in his philosophy or if Leibniz was correct in his? If neither can be decided then what does that tell me about Rationalism? I mean, there should be a rational solution, right?
Answer: Your question requires a discussion of the relationship between reasoning about philosophical systems and various schools of philosophy, including rationalism. That’s a big order because the matter is in constant debate.
By my understanding, reasoning about philosophical systems so as to figure out which is sound or the best isn’t a particularly rationalistic undertaking at all. “Reasoning” and “following the method recommended by rationalists” are two different things, although, of course, rationalists might wish to dispute this. Still, despite their objections, there needs to be a sense to “reasoning about” or “deciding rationally” that isn’t tied to a specific school, at least not at the outset of an inquiry, otherwise the inquiry would turn out to be question-begging, circular. Taking “reasoning about” or “deciding rationally” in this pre-philosophical way—not strictly apart from philosophy but rather not yet wedded to a given philosophical system—would involve considering which of the candidates manages to take care of a very wide array of philosophical problems most coherently and completely, which would tie in most successfully with the findings of other (scientific, etc.) disciplines (so that no discord is evident, say, between rationalism or empiricism or Spinoza or Leibniz and, say, contemporary physics, chemistry, psychology, economics and so forth), and which is more readily accountable to ordinary experiences of people not yet caught up in championing a system.


Subject: philosophy
1) What does it mean to be a human that is “strangest of beings, nearest and farthest from the secret of things.”?
2) What are is the importance of concepts if concepts do not completely grasp reality?
3) what is the problem with subjectivism?
4) What is Dasein?
5) Why can’t truth be objective or relative?

Re 1: I have no idea about the first—it sounds like poetry to me, not philosophy as I understand it.
Re 2: Concepts are used to grasp reality well enough (at their best, most fully developed) but they are not going to place reality itself in one’s mind, which seems what some people what from concepts. Maybe one can think of it this way: If I grasp a pair of scissors, I do not merge with the thing but manage it as much as is necessary for it to be a useful tool. Concepts are ways of knowing, not of being, reality.
Re 3: If subjectivism were true, none would know it, since it would be subjective whether it is true or false. The very truth of subjectivism would then be a subjective, personal, idiosyncratic “truth,” of no significance at all as a philosophical position.
Re 4: It means “being there,” for “da,” the German word of “there,” and “sein,” the German word for “being.” It comes from Kant’s and others’ discussion of different ways of grasping the world.
Re 5: “Objective” means “independent of one’s feelings, prejudices, hopes, desires, and whatever—simply the facts, that’s all. “Relative” means “dependent upon some conditions such as one’s upbringing, age, health, culture, what have you.” The two are nearly opposites.

Subject: Descartes’ 3rd meditation
Question: The question is what did Descartes mean when he said “All that is very clearly and distinctly apprehended (conceived) is true?” I’m trying to figure out what is clearly and distinctly apprehended? Thank you for your time.
Answer: Well, consider that when you think “A square has four sides,” this idea is clear—nothing ambiguous, vague or fuzzy about it—and distinct—it cannot be confused with “A triangle has three sides” or “A straight line is the shortest distance between two points,” or the like. If one can find such thoughts, so clear and so distinct, then one can be sure, Descrates believes, that they are true.

Subject: hedonism and relativism
Question: What is the definition of hedonism and relativism. and what are some logical flaws associated with maintaining this position?
Answer: Hedonism, as an ethical (not a psychological) theory, champions acting so as to accumulate the maximum amount and intensity of pleasure in one’s life.
Relativism as regards knowledge is the claim that when someone knows something, that is knowledge in relation to a certain perspective or situation or some other point of reference, not something that counts for knowledge for everyone who would care to understand the topic involved. So, I know that you asked me this question from the viewpoint of my being interested in receiving such questions as an All Expert participant, but someone else not in my situation would not know it.
Relativism in ethics means that one ought to do X or not do not-X because of the relationship X or not-X have to one’s situation—upbringing, culture, history, biological make-up or the like—not because of some general principle applicable to any human being as such (as a human being) facing a certain problem.
Hedonism’s main problem is that equally intense and plentiful pleasures may be obtained from very different courses of action and so the principles, “Seek the most pleasure” cannot help one decide all significant actions. It is also a theory that doesn’t stand up well against competing theories, such as utilitarianism, altruism, egoism and the rest. Also, it is difficult for a hedonist to act in a socially effective and respectful way since other’s matter to him or her only as tools for his or her pleasure.
Relativists mostly stumble because their relativism is treated by them as an absolute, thus falling prey to the fallacy of inconsistency. If their relativism can be an absolute principle—”All knowledge and/or moral principles ought to be held only as relative to some point of view”—then why not some other claim to knowledge or other moral principles as well?

Subject: Sociology
Question: You helped me before in trying to understand some questions for my sociology class and I hope you can help me again.
First I have to answer a question on Smith and Marx on how they described that. I found all the information on that and I was able to explain the way they were similar and different in explaining value. But I’m stuck on who’s concept of value is more sociological. I looked the word up but I still can’t come to a conclusion and an explanation, maybe you can help me on this.
My next question is with Comte and Marx and the way the conceptualized religion. I understand the way Marx sees it but I’m a little shaky on what Comte thought. The last thing I’m stuck on is the way the two described the role of religion as social institution? I’m not even sure I understand last part at all, so no way can I answer that until I understand what he’s asking. I know it sounds like I’m asking you to do my homework but I have no a major amount of research these questions are only the tip of the iceberg. If you can please help me I would really appreciate it.
Answer: Marx would seem to be more sociological than Smith because he describes himself as a scientist of society and Smith as a scientist of individual behavior.
Comte wanted to replace supernatural religion with a naturalist religion of collectivist humanism. Marx thought religion was a kind of ruse or ploy by the ruling classes to keep the poor disarmed and peaceful. They would wait for death to seek satisfaction rather mount revolutions to seek satisfaction in life.

Subject: Mistake on the last question
Question: Yesterday I sent you a question and after I read what I sent I noticed I made a mistake and I’m sure your wondering what I meant. It was on the first question I asked which was on Smith and Marx on how they described that. In the place of that I meant how they describe value.
Answer: For Smith there are different kinds of value—economic and ethical. The former is what people actually strive to obtain for themselves; the second is determined by our sentiments or feelings of sympathy, even if we do not acknowledge it. For Marx economic value concerns anything wanted by others that has a certain amount of labor power—time spent on producing it. Marx didn’t believe in any permanent ethical value but thought each historical period will offer evidence of different ideas of value that are mostly expressions of what the ruling classes want.
Subject: Philosophy of Mind
Question: I am trying to sort out thoughts in my head for an essay. If you could help me to direct my attention towards a certain area or book it would be very helpful. The question is, “IS it possible for someone to be in a particular mental state without having any propensity to manifest this in behavior?” My intuition is no, after much thought, but the various theories I have looked at do not seem to imply such. The closest I can get is Supervenience in Anomalist Monism, but this seems to have some problems. I obviously do not want you to answer the question for me, just help me to refocus my inquiry.
Answer: Different ways of understanding the human mind would yield different answers. Look at two people, B. F. Skinner, Science and Human Behavior and Beyond Freedom and Dignity, and then look at some of the work of John R. Searle. The former thinks all so called mental content is in fact a kind of behavior (or its probability). Like thinking, which he calls “the probability of verbal behavior.” Searle thinks that all consciousness has a subjective, private element, one that only the agent has access to directly—like my thinking (say, of the answers I am giving you), which you can only get from me indirectly through my speech acts or behavior but I may never tell or show anyone what’s on my mind.
Subject: Humanity’s existence
Question: Why do Human being Exits on the Earth. And What is the purpose of our life?
Answer: Different schools of thought provide different answers. But generally those who have faith in the existence of God answer that human beings exist because God decided to place them here on earth, and their purpose is to discover and follow God’s will. Secularists, those who hold that it is a matter of scientific inquiry to answer such questions, tend to believe that a process called natural selection—what is often called “Darwin’s evolutionary theory”—has resulted in the emergence of the human species here on earth and other than what is chose by each person as his or her purpose—based on the kind of being we are and also on our individual identity—no other purpose exists to our lives.
Subject: philosophy
Question: I am reading Mill’s utilitarian moral theory and Hospers’s Libertarian moral theory, and I don’t understand some of the points they are making, please help me through. I appreciate it.
How do you distinguish between negative and positive obligations? and between negative and positive rights?
Answer: To be morally required to do X is have a positive obligation, while to be morally required not to do X is to have a negative obligation. If I am morally required to feed you, that fits the first, if I am morally required not to harm you, the second comes up.
Question: How do Property rights differ under Mill’s Utilitarian moral theory and Hosper’s Libertarian moral theory?
Answer: For Mill to have property rights such a system of rights would have to most effectively promote the general welfare, while for Hospers it makes no difference if such a system of rights does or does not promote the general welfare; one has those rights because one is human (and thus a moral agent).
Question: Finally, what is the difference between just acquisition and just initial acquisition?
Answer: One may justly acquire a car by, say, purchasing it from someone or having it given to one who justly owns it. One justly acquires a car initially by being the first to discover its parts (which no one owns) and then building it from them. Or one justly initially owns a parcel of land by being the first to start cultivating it or building on it when no one else owns it.

Subject: Ethics
Question: What does a divine commandment moral theory judge as morally right? And how can you distinguish moral realism from individual relativism? Finally, why is Mill’s utilitarian moral theory a teleological moral theory?
Answer: The answer depends on what the divine being involved commands—so in Christianity to follow the Ten Commandments would be morally right, for Islam to follow the Koran, and so forth.
Moral realism states that what one ought to do is something that can be established independently of anyone’s feelings, beliefs or wishes and is a matter of something real, something that exists. Individual relativism states that what one ought to do is a matter of either (a) the individual one is or (b) the beliefs an individual has.
Because “teleology” is the theory of right or good ends or goals and in Mill’s theory the greatest happiness of the greatest number is the right or good end or goal.
Subject: just philosophy in general…
Question: Hello, I am a student from Lithuania [it's in Europe :) ], and my problem may seem not very big one, but I feel I need some advice. I have to write an 8-page-long paper on any topic, and the problem is that I’m a bit confused what topic should I choose. The lecturer said it should include some my personal opinion and he wouldn’t like us to write about a single philosopher. I have found some material on mind-body problem and its solutions, and there was mentioned emergentism as probably the best solution. However, I find this emergentism quite difficult to understand. Maybe I should think of another topic? Or maybe you could recommend me something.
Answer: The emergentist position is quite interesting because it remains naturalist—that is, it does not invoke supernatural elements—and yet it makes room for the uniqueness of the mind. The idea is that as nature develops or evolves, different kinds of things emerge, gradually more and more complicated, even fundamentally different from those from which they emerged. So, for example, the human mind is basically different from, say, the mind of an ape, yet fully dependent on the human brain. So the human mind is a higher version of mind from that of the ape mind (or consciousness). But it isn’t different because it is extra- or supernatural but because natural develops and leads to emerging properties such as complicated (rational) minds.
I hope this makes sense to you. Get back to me if you need more than this for you to proceed.
Subject: Descartes Meditations
Question: I don’t know whether Descartes in an area which you have studied much or not, but I have a question regarding his Meditations. Please send it back if it is not your special subject. I am an amateur philosopher but have been puzzling over this text, the Meditations, for quite some time now. I see that the principle flaw in the theorizing with which Descartes adopts is that he adopts a ‘vicious circle’. This seems perfectly clear to me. However in the replies to the 5th Meditation, Descartes makes a reply defending himself, claiming that the circle does not actually exist. I don’t really understand how D. states that it is not a circle because to me he states: You need to believe in God to be able to trust your reasoning, but then you need to be able to trust your reasoning so as to be able to believe in God.
Any light you could shed on this issue and the agreement refuting the ‘vicious circle’ would be very gratefully received.
Answer: I agree with you, Descartes cannot bring this off however much he thinks he can. He may, however, be hoping that somehow the idea of God has the same status as his first principle, “I think, therefore, I am.” It doesn’t but he seems to think that perhaps it does. The virtue of his first principle is that it cannot be doubted, since doubting itself confirms it—if I doubt that I am, I am thinking, which shows that I am. Descartes seems to believe that this is also true about God—if one doubts God’s existence, one has the idea of God, which, supposedly, is self-evidently valid. I think he is wrong but that’s not the issue here.
Subject: ethics
Question: Why is a right to property implied by the right to live as one chooses as long as one does not interfere with other’s same rights?
What is the difference between general rights and specific rights. and also what does it mean to say that the distinction between general and specific rights is orthogonal to the distinction between positive and negative rights?
Finally, what might a libertarian say about the proper functions of government? and Why might a libertarian think of welfare programs as a form of stealing?

Answer: Why is a right to property implied by the right to live as one chooses as long as one does not interfere with other’s same rights?

Because if one has the right to live as one chooses and one’s life is taking place in the natural world, one must have a sphere of jurisdiction or authority to decide over stuff. One’s productivity and good judgment will need to issue in something one can control, decide about, otherwise one’s life isn’t really free at all in any realistic fashion.

What is the difference between general rights and specific rights. and also what does it mean to say that the distinction between general and specific rights is orthogonal to the distinction between positive and negative rights?
I don’t know this special versus general stuff—never wrote about it and have written two books about rights. The only thing I can think of is that a special right is the result of a contract or a compact (like my child’s right to have me take care of her or my cleaning lady’s right to be paid for cleaning my house).

Finally, what might a libertarian say about the proper functions of government? and Why might a libertarian think of welfare programs as a form of stealing?
The task of government is to secure rights, that’s all. That makes it justifiable to hire an enforcer, which is what government is: the only force justified is defensive force and that is what securing rights amounts to. For that purpose we can delegate someone to use force against aggressors. And welfare costs money and it needs to be extorted from people who have earned some, so it is a kind of stealing or, rather, extortion: We will not violate your right to work provided you pay us taxes—that’s the government’s message and once complied with, welfare is possible!
Subject: Nozick
Question: What does Nozick mean by his statement “The socialist society have to forbid capitalist acts between consenting adults”?
Answer: He meant that when you require everyone to fall in line with the plan of socialist government—be it regarding production or distribution of goods and services—then free trade, voluntary exchange of goods and services, cannot be permitted because these would upset the plan. Capitalist acts are those that individuals choose on their own, be they wise or not, with other willing parties, independently of some central (or even democratically arrived at) plan.
Subject: epistemology
Question: I’m a freshman at VA Tech and I have to write a paper for my philosophy class. I was wondering if you could think of a good topic that I could explain using pragmatism and Descartes’ rationalism. I need to explain how a pragmatist and a rationalist would approach a certain issue. I’m just having trouble choosing a topic, can you help me out?
Answer: That’s a good topic because the pragmatist is responding to the Cartesian project by noting that it is really impossible to find the kind of first principles or foundations Descartes proposes. For example, Charles Peirce noted that all ideas can be challenged, none are absolutely certain, the way Descartes believed the idea “I think, therefore I am” is. Ideas, for the pragmatists, must prove themselves in their application and cannot, as Descartes had hoped, be proven true within the mind.
Subject: The Leviathan
Question: Could you tell me the philosophical and historical sequence that would have led up to Hobbes writing the Leviathan?
Answer: I can say something about the philosophical road to it—the complete rejection by Hobbes of any form of spiritual existence, anything that could not be subjected to the methods of the natural sciences.
Ironically it was Aristotle’s reintroduction to Europe, with the help of Aquinas in the 13th century—who supported the translations of the Arabic language editions of Aristotle’s works, the only ones extant at the time, into Latin—that gave a big boost to the natural sciences. Previously Plato was far more influential, giving the idea of a supernatural world much credibility. Aristotle, however, was a naturalist, a scientist, and a monist (thinking there is just one reality), so once Aquinas legitimized Aristotle’s philosophical approach, natural science became considerably liberated. This then encouraged philosophers to experiment with more materialistic ways to understand the world. Aristotle himself had been Platonized by many churchmen, so when Hobbes promoted mechanistic materialism, it swept away much of Aristotelian naturalism (e.g., Aristotle’s realist conception of the nature of things, including human nature). Henceforth there would be more scientism than ever before, the idea that the methods and assumptions of the natural sciences would suffice for understanding everything.
Subject: philosophy
Question: I am reading Plato’s Republic. How does Plato argue that the spirited part is distinct from the rational part? What is Plato’s definition of justice for individuals? Finally, why does Plato think of vice as a form of ignorance?
Answer: Plato has Socrates present the case that for there to be anything in particular at all, there must be a realm of the perfect forms that gives it its stable, fixed nature. It is a bit akin to establishing in geometry that there are perfect, abstract objects, such as circles and squares, by arguing that any circular or square thing couldn’t really exist in the actual world if it hadn’t its perfect form or nature in the realm of the forms. It is a kind of idealist argument in which it is taken that for a concrete object or being to exist, something that the five senses can perceive, it needs to be identifiable by means of an abstract object or being, something that the mind can apprehend. The human mind then is in communication with this realm of the form and is, indeed, mainly characterized by its ability to understand formal, abstract beings. That gives it its distinctiveness, indeed separateness, from concrete beings.
An individual is just if the three parts of his or her soul—the rational, the emotional and the appetitive—are in harmony, with the rational part in charge. (This is illustrated via the Republic, an imaginary human community governed by the philosopher king. But this is not to be understood as a blueprint for an actual polity, only as a model, something that has as its function to remind us of what is most important in politics, namely, reason.)
Vice is ignorance for Plato or his Socrates because they argue that if one knows the good, one cannot help but act on this knowledge. Knowing the good suffices for Plato-Socrates for a person to be motivated to do it. (Since the philosopher is best at such knowledge, he or she should rule and our minds should be in charge of our lives, again, ideally.) Now if knowledge is virtue, ignorance will have to be vice.
Subject: Democratic Revolutionary Tradition
Question: I would like to know the similarities and differences of the impact of Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Burke upon the democratic-revolutionary tradition.
Answer: If you mean the revolutionary development toward democratic politics, Hobbes helped this along by arguing that everything is really the same thing, matter-in-motion, just appearing to be different, including human beings. This certainly went a long way toward defending a form of equality, a basic assumption of democracy. Locke’s doctrine that every individual human being has the very same rights to his person and estate also supported political equality and, thus, democracy. Rousseau is a bit more complicated because he is all over the map, but he also accepted a form of egalitarianism—we are all born free, though we are everywhere in chains.
Burke is actually not such a radical democrat but more of a conservative, go-it-easy-with-any-changes, traditionalist who distrusted anything revolutionary.
Subject: Emotions and their influence on reasoning
Question: How should one approach a question on how emotions influence reasoning? It certainly has a wide range of topics to talk about, from the arts, to religion, even till science. Basically, it could be ENDLESS!!! Do I categories these distinctly, or make them a mish mash of ideas? How crucial is the definition of emotions and reasoning? Is it actually a wise question to answer?
Answer: One way is to do it phenomenologically, meaning, through your own observations of your feelings and thoughts.
Consider when you are angry with someone, do you then find it simple to think about that person’s good qualities? Or if you are sad, is it then simple to consider life’s advantages? Do a few of these and then draw your most natural conclusions. You could also do this more technically, by going to some psychological treatment of the topic. Here consider how a habitual drug abuser who has a very strong desire (feeling, emotion) for indulging may be able, through careful thought, to resist this desire.
In my view, both approaches will lead to the realization that feelings are a kind of reaction that could issue in several courses of conduct, but conduct is taking action based on careful—or not so careful—thinking and depending on which kind of conduct it is, it is more or less likely to override emotions that give one a bum steer.
Once you have gone through this kind of research, with psychological studies and thought experiments, then you would probably want to develop a definition of feelings/emotions and judgments/thoughts, yes. But that may have to be done somewhat provisionally since that’s a huge task.
Subject: Studying Philosophy
Question: What is the best effective way to study philosophy?
Answer: Engaging the great master philosophers in “conversation.” In other words, read them and think about what they say about some topic, compare their various ideas, critically consider them, then talk the matter over with others who are also smitten with the task of figuring things out about those issues. In other words, carry out a kind of global-historical Socratic dialog. You will, if you do a thorough job, reach certain best conclusions about the topic but never a final one (since that would require having considered all possible takes on it, including future ones). But if you don’t ask of yourself the impossible, which sadly lots of philosophers do, then you can reach pretty good answers.
Subject: phiosophy
Question: What strengths of character must the rulers of Plato’s ideal city possess?
Why, according to Socrates, does the ideal city have the virtues of wisdom and moderation?
Finally, how does Plato define bravery in Republic?
Answer: I take it you mean “philosophy” not “phiosophy,” I field with which I am not familiar.
The philosopher king must have wisdom and be just and because he or she is diligently studying the forms of things, this is most likely to be so.
Because the ideal city is governed, ideally, by a wise and just philosopher king whose rule will reflect his or her own character, namely, the virtues of a just person.
I don’t know that Plato defines bravery or even courage in The Republic—cannot recall just now any parts that deal with that, although it must when it comes to the virtues of the guardian class, including soldiers and such.
Subject: Ways of knowing
Question: How can emotion enhance and undermine reasoning as a way of knowing?
Answer: Emotions are, in part, physiological events, even forces, which when they are powerful enough can distract from focusing on some problem and its possible solutions. If you feel terribly sad, it is very tough to write on some topic unrelated to what made you sad. If you are angry you are likely to get overwhelmed, as it were, and it is ever so difficult to keep your head about you (as it were). Not that knowing is directly undermined by emotions but their force can be an impediment to concentration. Even a powerfully joyful feeling can be distracting—as I tell me kids, please try not to make important decisions when you are either emotionally very low or very high. Reasoning itself, however, is not an emotional process, even if it can be motivated by some emotion—curiosity, ambition, fear, what have you. So, at least, I see it.
Subject: Epistemology
Question: Should a knower’s personal point of view be an asset in the pursuits of knowledge, or an obstacle to be overcome?
Answer: Depends on what one’s personal point of view (PPV) is. If one’s PPV is a set of strict standards of objectivity, rules of evidence and such, this will of course enhance any pursuit of knowledge. If one’s PPV is a bunch of prejudices, preconceptions and biases, well those would be obstacles to be overcome. For example, a scientist doing research may believe that diseases are God’s punishment for sins; this could obstruct a clear view of what causes the disease. But if that scientist has a personal commitment or PPV to engage in open-minded investigation, that will probably be an asset to the pursuit of knowledge.
In general, one ought to work on one’s PPV so it guides one to proceed without unexamined assumptions getting in the way of objective findings—in science, journalism, philosophy, law (e.g., as a juror) and elsewhere one needs to get the straight dope and not some distorted story. It isn’t easy to shed those prejudices, etc., but it can and ought to be done. That’s how I would answer your question.
Subject: Emotion and Reasoning
Question: Is it right to say that Scientific knowledge, like the Arts, is originated from the basic emotions in certain people? Like lets say, the sufferings of people in poor countries who suffer from malnutrition trigger emotions in some people enough to make them come out with reasoning to cease the suffering, by the discoveries of crops with better resistance and quality?
Can instinct, curiosity and the thirst for knowledge be considered as emotions? Is it true to say that one’s insights and feelings (emotions?) actually drive one into reasoning and hence bringing about continually changing scientific theories?
By the way, Who can actually be considered as fundamentalists? Does fundamentalism represent degradation of reasoning in people because of strong emotions for their religion?
Answer: No, I don’t think so—scientific or other human creative work, not excluding the arts, involves something much more complicated than emotions, namely, thought and disciplined imagination. Dogs have emotions, so do horses, as do we. But while emotions can set us off to seek some kind of release or fulfillment, when we decide to create something like a theory or a story or composition, that requires careful thought, reasoning. Of course, there must be the desire to do the thing, but that alone isn’t going to take one too far. Then is when the hard stuff enters—discipline, concentration, reflection, skillfulness, etc. And without some knowledge, one cannot desire because to know what to desire, one must do some reasoning.
Reason isn’t merely the slave of the emotions or passions, it sets goals, something that emotions cannot do since they lack cognitive functions (they cannot answer a questions such as “What is it?” “What ought one to do?”).
Fundamentalism is relative to some body of doctrines—one can be a fundamentalist about a religion if one takes very much to heart just its very basic, simple tenets. But one can be a fundamentalist about something, like a political system—socialism, libertarianism, communitarianism—and thus embrace fully and consistently its most essential, central tenets. Being a fundamentalist doesn’t yet tell much of the quality or merits of one’s beliefs.
Now, you should realize there are innumerable different answers to your questions but since you asked me, I gave you what I would say in reply, not some kind of survey of different possible replies.

Subject: More on knowing…
Question: Thank you for answering my question.
Answer: 1) In different areas of knowing, such as science, Math, Art etc, how does a knower’s personal point of view help or obstruct the pursuit of knowledge?
It depends on the PPV, whether it stresses objectivity, rules of evidence, care, etc., or wishful thinking, hopefulness, indulgence in one’s feelings. The former would enhance, the latter undermine the effort to come to know things for what they are.
2) What are the factors that shape our thinking and influence our personal point of view?
Mostly the nature of our human minds—we all seem to have certain basic capacities to learn from the use of our senses and our mind. But we can also subvert these capacities or they might be subverted by some kind of traumatic experiences. It is really up to how well we deploy the mind’s tools to learn about the world.
3) Is there any field that a knower’s point of view is only either an asset or an obstacle to be overcome in the pursuit of that knowledge?
No special field—some areas or fields pose greater temptations to abandon care, such as autobiographical understanding, self-analysis, self-esteem. (We tend to wish to feel good about ourselves and so tend to yield to the temptation to engage in wishfulfillment.) But one could just as well go wrong in other areas if one abandons discipline.
Now, this is all how I view things—call it my own PPV. Other philosophers may have very different answers to you, depending upon their own PPV.
Subject: epistemology
Question: How can we determine the trustworthiness of personal experience as a source of knowledge? What’s the possible claims and counter claims?
Answer: This is a rather challenging question and millions and millions of pages of philosophical reasoning have been spent on answering it, so I doubt I can answer it in an e-mail post. Very broadly, in my view we need to first establish what would count as trustworthiness, such as that we can make predictions based on what we have come to believe on such a basis, we can organize our actions on this basis, or that we can use personal experience as an element of what renders our beliefs a good guide to predictions, to their coherence and consistency, and to the success of our lives, etc. These and other candidates seem to be reasonably well satisfied when we trust what we learn from our experience and reflections upon it (including explorations we carry out with the aid of discussions with others). But to be radically skeptical would undermine, of course, the very trustworthiness of understanding the question you posed and would land us in total nonsense. (A good source of discussion here is Edward Pols, Radical Realism [Cornell UP, 1998].)
Subject: Existentialism & Dialectical Materialism
Question: could you please compare existentialism to dialectical material for me? Definitions for both would be greatly helpful.
Answer: Existentialism is a movement in philosophy that begins with rejecting definitions! Its basic tenet is that existence precedes essence or, in other words, a given, actual, particular being is all that really is, while the kind of thing it is comes later, in the minds of human beings interested in categorizing. Also, existentialists tend to reject systems, or organized ideas, and prefer the actual messiness of existence, seeing that as more authentic, honest. In ethics they do not believe one can prove something right or wrong but it has to be based on feelings, what we take to be right and wrong.
Dialectical materialists think the world is composed of bare matter or physical stuff which is, however, moving forward in a pretty organized fashion, with every state of affairs (thesis) producing its opposite (anti-thesis), then resolving into a combination (synthesis). This is what accounts for change and improvement and progress and it continues until it all comes together in a perfect end (like in Marx’s communism). The two outlooks are really quite different, although the existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre somehow managed to embrace both for a time.
Subject: The nature of the gift
Question: Perhaps you might help me understand the nature of the gift. What the greatest minds think about the art of giving a gift? My example is of a politician who has given an icon as a gift to orphans. However he is a firm atheist, and also he is a dedicated communist and communism denies the religion. Of course what this person has done is hypocrisy but this is beside the point. My point is what exactly is the nature of giving, and does the kind of the article you give has any symbol for the receiver, for example pleasure and so on. Also would you comment about the ethics of this person? It is not so simple to me, because anyway the gift of an icon might help develop the souls in the orphans even though the giver may not believe in it.
I know your answer will be that this is a good thing anyway and I agree, I just want to understand deeper the nature of the gift.
Answer: I would need to know more about the person you have in mind in order to tell if hypocrisy is involved. Atheists certainly can give bona fide gifts—that is, the virtue of generosity is by no means only possible to the religious or faithful—indeed, often they give because the feel they must so as to gain favor with God. Aristotle, who wasn’t religious, laid out the various virtues of an ethically good human being and generosity or liberality was certain one of the major ones. (For more, see Tibor R. Machan, Generosity; Virtue in Civil Society [Cato Institute, 1998].)
To give from generous motives requires that you consider what will actually, really, benefit the recipient, to do for the recipient something that’s good. Also, to make it a gift that will be understood as a gift, not something to flatter someone or to induce the recipient to become beholden to the giver, the gift needs to also show that it is meant to benefit the recipient. This is tricky because some recipients may be cynical or suspicious or even ignorant of what will benefit them.
In other words, giving gifts isn’t easy.
Subject: essay
Question: I am writing an essay in philosophy on the pursuit of knowledge and the question is whether the knower’s personal view point is an asset or an obstacle.
Answer: I am not sure what “the knower’s personal view point” would amount to. My personal view point is to stick to the facts and to follow logic and then reach the conclusions that are warranted from doing this. That, surely, isn’t any kind of obstacle but an asset when it comes to learning of the world. If personal view point means some kind of prejudice or wish or faith or what have you, it could, of course, be an obstacle. But it always depends on the content of the personal view point, not on its mere existence—no person is without a personal view point, so it is a matter of the quality of that view point, not its existence, that determines whether it is an asset or an obstacle.
Subject: Meaning of life
Question: I have no background in philosophy which will probably be evident as you read on but I was thinking one day that people always ask “what is the meaning of life?” and I thought to myself everybody assumes that this is a question . I however thought to myself with some slight adjustments, instead of being the question it is in fact the answer. If you change the sentence to “what, is the meaning of life!” you find that “what,” i. e., to question, is in fact the meaning of life.
Answer: You may well be on to something here. My own idea has been that the meaning of life must have to do with who—and what kind of beings—we are, and that is a matter of figuring out our own identity. Then one needs to learn from that what direction one’s life should take in order to enhance who and what one is. Self-knowledge—what I gather is your “what”—will clue us in and then we can commit ourselves to self-development, self-fulfillment (not just gaining pleasure and such but truly realizing our full individual human potential).
Anyway, you are getting at something, at least the start of it.
Subject: Existentialism
Question: Why did Existentialism developed? Also, was there any particular trend or reason people embraced the philosophy of existentialism?
Answer: Existentialism appears to have developed in modern times when some philosophers, such as the Danish Soren Kierkegaard, found Hegel’s highly structured and organized philosophical system unsatisfactory because it seemed to them to emphasize artifacts, such as theories and essential forms, over direct experiences, actual realities. These latter seemed to these existentialists to be more real, more to the point about what it is to be, to exist. The famous motto of “Existence before essence” would express this concern. Essences—captured in definitions—and theories seemed to them to be a kind of artifact or construction, not actual realities. Accordingly they would mislead us and lead us to forget about what really mattered, namely, the actual realities the are before us, including our own personal experiences.
Subject: Naturalism and Non Naturalism
Question: What are the suppositions for naturalism and non- naturalism in term of ethics?
Answer: There are different types of naturalist ethics, as well as their denial, non-naturalist ethics. If the term “nature” is used to refer to all the physical properties and entities in nature, then naturalism in ethics means that “good” and “right” can be identified in terms of such properties—pleasure, wealth, power, health, or some such (combination of) features of the natural world. If the term “nature” is used to refer to what is central about the identity of something—as in “the nature of love” or “the nature of a human being”—then naturalism in ethics means that “good” and “right” can be identified by reference to the nature of human beings—rational animal, featherless biped, the laughing animal. Non-naturalism denies that “good” and “right” can be identified by reference to features or properties found in nature, as well as that they can be identified by reference to what is central about human beings. (Non-naturalists of either kind tend to advance an ethics based on convention, agreement, intuition, feelings, attitudes, etc.) The arguments for naturalism, as well as against it, will differ depending on which form of naturalism/non-naturalism is at issue.
For my money, the first type of naturalism doesn’t make it, the second does. I think one can know what good and right are by reference to human nature. (Just think of it along lines of how we know what a good banana or baseball game or government is, by reference to how fully and consistently the nature of the thing in question is exhibited in the instance at hand—only with human beings and their institutions whether good and right will be realized is largely up to the agents involved.) The fully realized human being, judging by reference to human nature, is a good one, an excellent specimen; actions that promote this realization are right. Non-naturalists who reject this view usually start by denying that there exists a definite human nature or claim that human nature is conventional, too varied from one society to another, one culture to another, so as to base any kind of ethics on it. So, the debate here is about whether the expression “the nature of X” can ever be used in a statement truthfully—it is an ontological and/or epistemological controversy.
Subject: Machiavelli – Prince
Question: My question is this: In his book, the Prince, Machiavelli argues that “the prince should always take sides in war of nearby kingdoms, rather than remaining neutral.” This seems wise, but what are some arguments that can possibly disprove Machiavelli’s statement? In other words, in his book, Machiavelli lists many ‘pros’ to support his argument, but what would be some ‘cons’?
Answer: Machiavelli starts with the premise that the primary purpose of government (the Prince’s job) is to secure the freedom and independence of the country—freedom and independence from other countries. Thus he would hold that countries that are near would be useful to fortify one’s own against major attacks from ones that are far off, regardless of whether the countries near have anything you or I might call a just cause.
The deal with Machiavelli is that “just” has no meaning for him, at least none that we would consider related to morality, to concerns about right and wrong. He is very much a strategist and associates all morality with the otherworldly concerns of the Christians. So, he is pretty much convinced that morality is a hindrance to a country’s security. (Consider, “turn the other cheek”—how could such a prescription function in a rough and tough world wherein conquest is a major purpose?)
Of course, one could argue that there are non-Christian conceptions of right and wrong that do not require that a just war amount to surrender, only one that is primarily defensive, not aggressive. Such a country could act prudently, as well as justly, without becoming vulnerable in the process. In that case if a nearby country conducts an aggressive war, it ought not to be supported and that will likely be a better overall strategy for national security. Non-aggressive countries all around could well become friendlier and provide help when it’s needed, which would not be the case if one’s country is one of the “bullies on the block.”
Subject: Infinity, time, reality etc
Question: Ever since being a little kid (19 now) I have given some thought to philosophical things. I used to ponder (and still do) how can I be sure that anything other than my mind exists…since I am perceiving the world how can other beings/things exist? I don’t know for sure if I am making any sense as it is really difficult to explain exactly how I think about these things…and so far not many have understood me at all. I am not sure exactly what I am asking LOL…I guess if I make any sense to you or if you have anything to add or any recommendations for reading.
Do you think ideas are perfect? And if your perceptions are somewhat uhhh altered (like if you are tripping on something) are any ideas you have less than perfect?
Infinity, does it go on forever or around forever? Around in a something more like a sphere rather than a circle…that way there is no path but everything is connected…don’t even ask what made me think of this but I wonder. I guess I am not asking for the truth (could any of us know?) but your opinion on the matter.
Even a sphere, is it really perfect?…is reality perfect or “just is”? I guess I am throwing a bunch of weird questions at you…but if you could offer your opinion that would be great :-D
Answer: First, your questions are pretty much the source of the very discipline of philosophy—ancient philosophers pondered just like you do, as do contemporary ones. So long as this doesn’t impeded your life but lends a measure of excitement—not always joy—to it, I would not discourage you.
Second, the particular issues you mention can be explored very fruitfully by, say, reading Plato’s Republic and other dialogues or simply a good encyclopedia of philosophy.
Third, my own take on the “Is there a world apart from my mind?” is that it makes no sense, in the end, to deny the world, so there must be. For even the question you ask is part of the world, so how could then the world not exist? Your mind, too, is part of the world—the part that enables you to be aware of the rest and of itself, too.
Anyway, I would just make sure you can be solvent while pursuing these questions. If so, then go for it and do philosophy, but do it carefully, not wildly.
Question: Why doesn’t Locke suggest a specific form of govt in his second treatise? Is it as simple as he doesn’t really know? Or maybe he wants to leave it up to his readers to decide based on his discussion?
Answer: Locke is concerned with the principles of just government and does suggest that only one that separates powers between its several parts will be able to adhere to the principles of justice he identifies—namely, the respect and protection of basic, natural individual rights.
But beyond this most political philosophers do not go because they realize that specifics are bound to the conditions of a society and cannot easily be generalized. They are interested in perennial issues, universal problems of community organization, not in this or that regime’s specific form.
Subject: Adam Smith
Question: Why might Adam Smith’s idea of the “invisible hand” be problematic? Is it because nowadays we have corporations and unions which can stand out against the pressures of competition. Smith wasn’t prepared for something like the industrial revolution…powerful and disruptive social forces. What do you think?
Answer: In my view Smith’s invisible hand idea, properly understood, isn’t problematic at all. Free adults, who are prudent, at least economically, will interact in ways that will produce their mutual commercial advantage.
If modern corporations operate by the principle of free trade, rather than by means of government granted protectionism and other favoritism, they do not undermine Smith’s principle. Only with the aid of government (or a very powerful criminal organization) can any economic agent manage to sustain a policy of undermining genuine competition.
Subject: Divine Command Theory
Question: What is the Divine Command Theory? What are its advantages to society? What are its disadvantages?
Answer: Basically the idea is that what is right and wrong are all established or determined by the commands of God. Indeed, the theory holds that it is BECAUSE God commands us to do A, that A is the right thing to do, and BECAUSE God forbids us to do B, that B is the wrong thing to do.
This is different from natural law theory which holds that God only commands what is right by nature and forbids only what is wrong by nature, so right and wrong are independent of God’s will.
The only possible benefit of Divine Command theory is that people might do what is right or abstain from doing what is wrong because they are afraid of God’s wrath. Fear, then, is supposed to be the motivator—but this also suggests that people who act like that aren’t actually good people; they are only behaving well out of terror. That is the big disadvantage—people’s character is unaffected by any sense of good conscience.
Subject: Locke
Question: I have to give a presentation on Locke for the opening part of the class, around 10-15 minutes. I am having trouble understanding what Locke is trying to say in his book “Two Treatises of Government”. Could you please give a general summary what the book and the thoughts behind them are about.
Answer: Locke is the grandfather of the American political tradition (as sketched in the US Declaration of Independence). He presented the theory of natural, individual human rights (to life, liberty and property). Natural because it is based on human nature and what it requires to flourish society (the rights to life, liberty and property); individual because an essential element of human nature is that everyone is an individual, unique being, not part of some “greater” thing like the family or society or nation or humanity; it concerns rights which are spheres of personal authority, so that one’s right to life means one is in charge of how this life is to be spent, not others (unless one consents). Government has the limited function of securing these rights, not running our lives, not even democratically. (Democracy has the limited role of selecting administrators for limited government.)

Subject: positive law, etc.
Question: What is meant by the expression “positive law”? What does it mean when one say that an action is “right”? What does it mean when one say that an action is “wrong”? What does it mean for a person to have a “duty” to do something? And what does it mean to have “a right” to something or action? (Where are there easy readings on these topics?)
Answer: Positive law is the term that refers to the actual or recorded laws on the books of a country, whatever their origin, whatever their quality—simply the law in force.
An action is right if it accords with ethical or moral standards, wrong if it violates them. (Of course, what those standards are is a tough issue to work out.)
To have a duty to do something is to be required, either by one’s own commitment—say, a professional oath—or the laws of a country to act in a certain way. Usually duties are requirements to act to benefit others.
To have a right to do something or take some action is to be in full authority of whether to do the action or not, to be free to possess something or give it away. Rights are spheres of one’s authority in life. Human rights are those spheres of authority one has because one is a human being—to think or worship as one judges proper, to pursue goals one deems worthy, etc.
There are no “easy readings” on these topics. You could check out several books, including A Primer on Ethics by Tibor R. Machan (University of Oklahoma Press, 1997).
Subject: my educational discovery
Question: I made an educational discovery and I would like to present it to you. Please, read carefully. By the age of 16, the middle class Brazilian has to read books of about 8 different subjects (Math, Physics, Geography, History, Portuguese, English, Biology, Chemistry) that have about 35 chapters each.
If the middle class Brazilian reads 2 chapters a day, doing all exercises, he would end the school year in 140 days.
Ever noticed that there are not many longer-than-2-hour movies? It’s because it’s tiring to watch most longer-than-2-hour movies.
But in Brazil teachers push the 16 year old middle class Brazilian to study for 2 hours and a half without having a break then for 2 hours and a half again without having a break every day!
So nobody pays attention and the result is a school year of 200 days, 5 hours daily plus the hours dedicated to doing the homework.
Answer: The trouble is with the One-Size-Fits-All element of it—some may find this OK but many will not, so it undermines education and gets students to hate it, in fact, which is tragic since they also get to hate their most important faculty, their minds!
Subject: John Rawls
Question: We are currently reading “Justice as Fairness” by John Rawls, and I am having a really difficult time understanding the concepts of distributive justice and desert. Is there any way in which you could illuminate my understanding with regards to the aforementioned concepts.? If you are not able to help me could you please tell me where I could go to find an answer to my questions.? I hope to hear from you soon.
Answer: Distributive justice refers to the scheme or system of laws and public policy in a country by which the citizens are assigned their rights and other public benefits. Rawls, thinks that the scheme should focus on fairness or equal concern for everyone except when a bit of unfairness will increase the overall benefit, especially of the least well off people. Rawls is concerned that without this scheme a lot of people who are lucky or endowed with assets from birth they do not deserve – that is, the have not come by these assets because of extra work they did – will be way ahead of others in the benefits they gain in society. If you want to do some helpful reading, see Robert Nozick’s criticism of Rawls in Anarchy, State, and Utopia (Basic Books, 1974), the chapter “Distributive Justice.”
Subject: Plato’s Apology
Question: 1. When Plato’s Socrates is telling the story of Oracle of Delphi is he claiming that all people are unwise including himself?
2. Why does Socrates argue that the charge of atheism is self-contradictory?
3. Is it true that Socrates’ claim that the unexamined life is not worth living implies that ignorance is truly bliss?
4. Was the assumption that Socrates made in response to the verdict that death is a great evil?
5. What does the divine command theory of ethics imply?
Answer: 1. Yes, in a very fundamental sense that none of us knows what is truly the case; yet, there is some irony in Socrates’ claim, since his knowing that he doesn’t know is itself a sign of great wisdom. So, some have argued that Socrates he talking to two different audiences at the same time, the vulgar or simple people and other philosophers.
2. I am not sure about this, sorry.
3. Not so far as I can tell, no.
4. If I understand this question, no, that wasn’t the assumption. In fact, Socrates doesn’t believe that death is a great evil, at least not for him who has lived and long and productive life.
5. The good is what it is because God wills it (as opposed to God wills the good because it is good).
Subject: Apology and Crito
Question: Socrates says he must die for the sake of the state, to which he has made a sacred promise. He says the state has functioned as a family to him. Would this be a good analogy? Does the comparison work?
Answer: Yes, it would be a workable analogy. But Socrates may also be speaking this way for the sake of encouraging order among ordinary people—he does not want them to become reckless rebels, despite the fact that he was a rebel and he believed firmly in his own rebellion. (Why, after all, did he defy the state in the first place by discussing matters officials of the state didn’t want him to discuss?)
The idea some interpreters propose is that Plato’s Socrates believe that ordinary people needed a compliant way to think about their relationship to the state, whereas philosophers another, more critical way.
Subject: Locke
Question: I was reading Locke’s Second Treatise…does he indicate his views on equality between the sexes..if not can we infer from his writings what his view would be? Thanks if you can help!
Answer: One can infer from Locke’s natural rights theory that women have the same basic rights as men since he is writing about individual human rights, and women are human! So, women as well as men have the basic rights to life and property because of their nature as rational animals who need a sphere of personal authority or sovereignty to lead a morally significant life. Or so I take Locke.
Subject: gender bias
Question: Where does gender bias stem from?
Answer: Ultimately it comes from careless thinking—taking the stance toward some problem from a “woman’s” or “man’s” viewpoint may make sense when it comes to biological issues but not, for example, when it comes to political, scientific or ethical ones. Yet some people import the biological into these other areas and that amounts to their gender bias, if the biological element they focus on is their gender.
Some claim we all have pervasive, widespread gender biases in all areas where we do research or reflection, but I do not hold this view. Only when one is negligent or careless need one’s biological attributes influence one’s research, reflection and conclusions.
So, the bottom line is, gender bias stems from careless, hasty thinking that invokes considerations of gender as its (unjustified) foundation.
Subject: implications
Question: I was curious if you might be able to help me find the implications for knowledge of agreeing with these two opposing statements: “Different cultures have different truths.” “A truth is that which can be accepted universally.” I am just beginning in philosophy and had some difficulty in this area.
Answer: There may be some truths about certain cultures that do not apply to others. Maybe about dancing and cooking different cultures take different things to be true. Yet the idea that, say, one culture’s truth about medicine could be false in another is troublesome. Even in the former case, it would be universally true that in a given culture something is true—raising kids ought to involve putting them to work—that isn’t in another (where raising kids should not involve putting them to work). But notice, the difference could be due to serious differences between the cultures.
What is impossible is that something be true in one culture—that 2+2=4—and that would be false in another, because the topic—in this case mathematics—isn’t unique to cultures the way cooking, raising kids and dancing can be.
Subject: Impulses
Question: how do we control our impulses and what happens when we let them out?
Answer: The exact process is one that would be best known by a brain scientist, not a philosopher. Philosophers can explore, however, whether we can do so and why. We clearly can—just watch yourself how you often restrain yourself from, say, yelling at someone or making a joke at a funeral or driving too fast. Impulses are what we would like to do at times that does not fit the circumstances. Parents might wish to yell at or even strike their kids, being frustrated or impatient or whatever, but they frequently resist and act civilized, instead.
Some of us, of course, yield to an impulse and fail to apply discipline, even though they could have done otherwise had they chosen to. This, of course, assumes we have free will.
You may wish to explore the issue as discussed by T. R. Machan, Initiative–Human Agency and Society (Hoover Institution Press, 2000).
Subject: Good & Evil in Spielberg’s Schindler’s List
Question: What was the good and evil in Spielberg’s movie Schindler’s List? How does it reflect good and evil
Answer: The good was evident when Schindler dealt with Jews on terms no different from how he dealt with other human beings, thus showing them the respect for their autonomy they had the right to and being willing to assist them when he could do so. The evil shown was that of the Nazis who treated Jews as if the Jews lacked rights to their lives, to their liberty, to their free pursuit of their happiness or way of life. Their evil was Draconian, very severe indeed, when they resorted to murdering Jews and others whose way of life didn’t please them and whom they believed they could simply use for their own end, including destroy if that suited them. (The clearest illustration in the movie was when one of the Nazis simply shot Jews at random, as if they were inanimate targets placed there for his amusement.)
The good and evil shown in the movie, Schindler’s List, are difficult to discuss in a few words. Even the best thinkers, even the most eloquent writers—philosophers, theologians, novelists, screen writers, poets—have found it nearly impossible to talk of this even to their own satisfaction because of the colossal inhumanity involved in the evil and the enormous courage and determination involved in the sadly sparsely manifest good.
Subject: Aristotle
Question: I am doing an essay titled “Aristotle’s ideas remained influential for nearly two thousand years. Why was this the case”. I feel the majority of the answer may be within the realms of religion, but I do not know if I am on the right lines. with many thanks.
Answer: Your question is a good one and my own answer is all I can provide—others may very well disagree.
Perhaps Aristotle’s greatest virtue as a philosopher is that he never strayed too far from common sense, from what is evident enough to any observant thinking person. He added to this with his careful analyses, is precise categorization of what is evidently true, his detailed research into facts that anyone could access. But he never introduced ideas that were what I would call a bit wild and crazy, however clever they may have been, as did many other philosophers (such as, say, George Berkeley or Rene Descartes). Religion didn’t embrace Aristotle until after Thomas Aquinas reintroduced him into European intellectual life by having his books translated from the Arabic into Latin in the 12th century, I believe. And this happened in part because by then there was a great yearning for an understanding of the world that gave a prominent place to the natural sciences, something that Augustinian theology didn’t allow so well as Aristotle’s philosophy. By merging theology with Aristotelian philosophy, the Church could keep itself current. Aristotle, in other words, would help any position remain firmly anchored in reality. This is true even today, after 400 years of thinking that didn’t much favor Aristotle, coming from those who put all their confidence in just one method of thinking, namely empirical scientific analysis. While that approach yielded many wonderful results for human beings, via engineering, agriculture, transportation, and so forth, it failed to deliver in areas that are vital to us, namely, ethics, politics, social philosophy, and aesthetics. Here the name of the game may very well turn out to be: Back to Aristotle.
Subject: statement evaluation
Question: If someone says, “I know this music,” how can the claim be evaluated, and how may it be evaluated in relation to the areas of knowledge other than the arts?
Answer: If it is someone with instrumental or vocal skills, one can tell if the person performs the piece competently; if not, maybe they can hum it; if tone deaf, then it’s not likely that there will be any way.
The means of establishing knowledge of something vary from field to field; in history they will be different from biology or math.
There are some common elements to all cases of knowing something but there are also many differences based on the type of thing at issue. (At least this is how I see it. Other people in the field of epistemology may give very different answers, so you might need to ask several folks to get a variety and then compare and judge yourself.)
Subject: Aristotle and Eudaimonia
Question: Hello, and thank you very much for any help you can give me. I am a student at the University of Nottingham, England, and I have been set the essay question: ‘Is eudaimonia the ultimate end of human action?’ However, I am a bit confused! I know that by ‘eudaimonia’ we say happiness, when actually this means a fulfilled life, rather than the feeling of happiness, but does happiness come into it at all? I wish to argue that eudaimonia is not the ultimate end of human action (by this I take it to mean the final goal? What we all aim for and can not get beyond?), because I would say that the general feeling of happiness is what we all strive for through our actions. For example, we may have a lovely house, car, and have achieved a lot academically, but could still not be happy. Aristotle says that the feeling of happiness is a sort of by-product of eudaimonia – it comes with it, but I wish to argue that eudaimonia is not needed – it is not why we act, but the feeling of happiness/pleasure is. Is it possible to say this? I’m not sure if I’m making any sense whatsoever, but I just thought I should go over my ideas! Aristotle was an objectivist, and believed that we all have the same idea of what eudaimonia consists of. Is this correct? But I would disagree with this and say that ‘flourishing’ and ‘fulfillment’ are different to different people, and thus eudaimonia cannot be a common, ultimate end for all human actions. Is it possible to say this? I am also a bit confused as to what he thought about being virtuous, etc. Did he say that we act in accordance with the virtues in order to achieve eudaimonia? I would be extremely grateful for any help whatsoever!
Answer: For Aristotle we don’t necessarily, automatically aim for happiness/eudaimonia but that is what we should do. The two are the same—happiness is not any kind of feeling for Aristotle but a state of being at one’s most excellent as the kind of being one is, namely, a human being or rational animal. (So, complete fulfillment is to live the contemplative life.)
For Aristotle, also, flourishing or fulfillment aren’t the evidently individualist type you have in mind, whereby one person’s flourishing or fulfillment may well be this, while another’s that, and so on and so forth. For Aristotle to be fulfilled or flourishing as a human being is to be as fully involved with contemplation as possible. His is more of a one-size-fits-all, intellectualist (near-Platonist) conception of eudaimonia-flourishing-fulfillment-happiness.
Of course, if it turns out that excelling as a rational animal is much more of an individualist project, such that who one is—one’s idiosyncratic attributes, one’s tastes, preferences, talents, circumstances, opportunities—has more to do with one’s possible excellence than what (Aristotle seems to think) one is in this context—a rational being—then you are right and the eudaimonia-flourishing-fulfillment-happiness that we should aim for to the best of our ability will not be of the one-size-fits-all variety but will often be very different and an excellent human life could be lived no only as a philosopher but also as one with different interests (provided, though, one pursues one’s own excellence still in line with the principles of one’s common humanity as a vital element of the virtues one practices).
And that is where the virtues come in: practical/principled guidelines to successful, excellent human living that can promote very different kinds and types of lives to flourishing, fulfillment and happiness—a good (unique) self, in short.
Subject: Aristotle & Eudaimonia (follow-up)
Question: …I wanted to make sure I understood one thing that you mentioned: You say that if we are all very individual in our beliefs, etc., then our ends are going to be different, yet you also say that we can live in accordance with the virtues yet still live our individual lives, whilst all being able to live in accordance with these virtues. Is this right, and if so, how is this possible? Also (on a very different strand of thought!) is it not possible to live in accordance with the virtues, yet still not be virtuous? E.g. you could be truthful, but only in order to be cruel to someone that you do not like, when it is best to lie. In this way, the ultimate end of human action would be eudaimonia, but not the type that Aristotle envisaged. Also, the essay title seems to indicate that if we do NOT believe that the ultimate end is eudaimonia, that we should suggest other alternatives to the ultimate end of human action. I cannot really think of any, apart from the general feeling of happiness, which you have informed me is part of eudaimonia anyway! Would you therefore say that in your opinion, this essay title is true?
Answer: I did not say “in our beliefs” but in our attributes (talents, circumstances, etc.). It is possible to live as individuals with our unique goals coming from our unique attributes yet also practice the virtues because while we are individuals, we are HUMAN individuals. This is not all that different from how basic laws of nature apply to different instances—for example, in medicine there are basic principles or laws governing how we ought to promote our health, yet because we are also unique, different dosages, different cures and therapies will apply to different people.
Yes, we can behave as the virtues would guide us to behave but not because they are the virtues but out of fear or because we are coerced to do so, in which case we would not be virtuous despite living-behaving (not quite acting) in accordance with virtues.
I don’t see any title to which your question refers here—it is difficult to keep it all in sight as I answer your question—but one way to answer the question about alternatives to eudaimonia (but not in Aristotle) would be, for example, the utilitarian goal of the greatest happiness for the greatest number; or the theological goal of serving or obeying God’s will; or the Kantian goal of living as guided by duty or the categorical imperative, etc. In Aristotle, however, eudaimonia-happiness-flourishing as a rational animal would be the only candidate for the ultimate value-good to aim for in one’s life. And that for him would be the life of maximum contemplation.

Subject: Problem of evil
Question: I found this small paragraph about the Problem of evil. I don’t understand what it is saying. Can you help me in understand what it is saying ?
A theist must say, that God is morally justified in allowing or bringing about every instance of evil in the world. A single instance of pain or suffering whose occurrence or allowance, had absolutely no moral justification whatsoever would, be enough to show that there is no God or at least no Creator.
The most he can accomplish in this regard is to remind us of the horrific nature of some of the evils in this world and appeal to our moral intuitions to judge that they could not possibly be morally justified under any conceivable circumstances.
The theist insists that this life is only an infinitesimal segment of an overall existence of infinite duration and reminds us that there my be spiritual factors involved in shaping the nature of this life whose outlines we cannot here even vaguely discern.
The theist is committed to holding to holding that the evil in the world is all somehow ultimately justified, however horrible and that it is just thus all compatible with the existence of a morally good creator.
Answer: The point seems to be, put rather torturously, that if one admits that there are any genuine bad things in the world—destruction, disease, what have you—the kind of God linked to most religions, including especially Christianity, could not exist. A perfectly good and all-powerful God couldn’t, by its very nature, allow such bad things to exist.
So, to accept that God exists, the bad things we find in the world would all have to turn out to be good, after all. They would have to be good in the sense in which the painful work of a dentist is good, never mind the momentary pain, given that without that pain the good of healthy teeth would be lost. Thus all hurricanes, tornados, viral diseases, famines and similar damage and misery we find in the world must be ultimately good things, if there is a God. If they are bad things, as we tend often to take them to be, no God could exist since none would every allow it.
Subject: Problem of Evil
Question: Thanks for your earlier answer. What do you think about the problem of evil? What can you conclude about this problem and are we are going to ever find a solution?
Answer: Philosophical-theological-ethical problems may be solved but rarely so that the solution is going be accepted by other than those who have solved them, since here we are dealing with very basic human problems indeed and every generation, if not every individual, needs to find out what the solution is (if there is one).
As far as I understand it, God as understood in Christianity and other religions is impossible since there exist terrible things in the world that hurt totally innocent victims or casualties and an all powerful God would certainly have to prevent those if He is all good, as well. Imagine that you, a great runner and very fit, are standing by the curb of a road and notice a baby in a carriage rolling across the road and unless you jump to help the baby will be run over by an oncoming truck. If you do not rescue this baby, no matter what your excuse, especially if it is some kind of lesson you want to teach the world, you are a monster not a decent person, period.
There are other reasons I am not a theist—I find it all incredible, anyway. As the well known Isaiah Berlin put it, I am tone deaf to religion—I just don’t get the story, its appeal, why others buy it, etc. I think we are all part of the natural world and like other living beings in that world we are born, live more or less well or badly (which to a substantial degree, especially in largely free societies, depends on us because we do have free will and there are standards of right and wrong by which we ought to be guided), and then die and are done for. And this is wonderful enough, with all kinds of hazards of course, so why invent this myth of an afterlife and the Big Fellow?
Subject: political philosophy
Question: what is the difference between Robert Nozick’s side constraint conception of wrongful actions and that of a goal-directed conception?
Answer: Nozick held that certain wrongful actions—toward other persons—involve crossing side constraints or violating basic rights (murder, assault, theft, rape, robbery, etc.), even as there can be many other wrongful actions, at times even more severe (such as wasting one’s life away) but not of this social-political nature.
Goal- or end-directed type wrongful actions are different in that they can be highly diverse, individualized, and need not impose upon others. These would include the failure to develop one’s talents, refusal to be productive (sloth), betraying a friend’s trust, neglecting to stand up for one’s values (family, friends, property) in the face of aggression (cowardess).
Since, however, there are no such goals for society as a whole (which is not some being but the sum of relationships among its members)—no one goal or end needs to be achieved by us all apart from everyone respecting the side constraints/rights—the kind of wrongdoing involved in these vices are quite different from those involved in intruding upon others, limiting them, failing to honor their status as rights-bearing beings with their own lives to live of their own free will. You might think of it this way: side constraints involve the borders everyone has around him or her in a human community so as to be able to live a morally significant life, to choose to do what he or she will, which is everyone’s responsibility to do; goals are the values everyone ought to seek in his life on his or her own initiative.
Whether Nozick would have agreed fully with my way of putting it is uncertain.
Subject: ethics
Question: what is the difference between Ethical Egoism and Psychological Egoism ???
Answer: Ethical egoism is the view that every person ought to choose act so as to first of all benefit himself or herself (which may involve practicing all the traditional virtues—honesty, courage, prudence, moderation, generosity, etc.) whereas psychological egoism is the view that everyone is hard wired to or necessarily acts to advance his or her own interests. Choice is the big difference!
Subject: This pertains to certain human biases
Question: I’m taking a Phil course right now, and I don’t understand what the teacher is talking about. What I want to know is, if you can explain what inside and outside bias-reducing strategies are? Or the bias reducing approach called “consider-an-alternative”?
This is some what dealing with the book I am reading called “How We Know What isn’t So: The fallibility of human reason in everyday life,” by Thomas Gilovich.
If you can help, that would be great. I’m just having a hard time understanding this. If you can give me an example that would be great.
Answer: To avoid bias one needs discipline and self-understanding. If I know that I am partial to those who are tall or blonde or athletic looking, when as a teacher or juror or judge, for example, I will make doubly sure that what I think of their performance or the merit of their work or their legal status isn’t based on my liking (or disliking) them for their appearance.
You can generalize this and figure out if prejudice is unavoidable or whether discipline can overcome it. Some argue there is no way to overcome prejudice or bias or the determination of one’s culture or community when one uses one’s thinking faculty. Indeed, they claim, everything we think is largely driven by such factors. This, however, is a troublesome position to hold because it also indicts itself, making it appear that one need not take the position seriously since it, too, is just a prejudice.
In my view we are well able, but rarely fully willing, to rid ourselves of prejudices. We can turn our minds to consider things as others would and even as just a human being would free of prejudice or bias, never mind specific background. Scientists, engineers, jurors, judges at athletic events or beauty pageants as well as philosophers do it all the time, more or less successfully. Yet even to say that assumes that now and then success can be had, otherwise how would we even know that sometimes we fail? What would our failed efforts compare to?
Subject: Marx
Question: In Marx’s Communist Manifesto he stresses that the conditions of modern industrial societies invariably result in the alienation of workers from their own labor. So he then offers up a two part program kind of..socialism leading to communism. I was wondering if you thought that once in a communist state, people would lack the motivation to excel and produce more, think harder…because everyone gets an equal share. Do you think that people’s creativity are kind of hidden away in the world Marx offers to his readers?
Answer: My own position is that human nature isn’t altered by historical forces as Marx thinks it is, so, yes, in a communist or even just communal situation people tend to “slack off.” This is not so much because they don’t want equal division of resources (or are greedy, as so many hold against Marx) but because when one doesn’t have a clear idea of what is one’s own as distinct from what belongs to others, one is invariably confused as to what one may use to pursue one’s goals and what one must leave be for others to use to pursue theirs. These goals, for Marx, would eventually become the same for all, which is his biggest mistake, namely, to deny our individuality. A kind of broad (not just environmental) “tragedy of the commons” arises from his way of thinking–see Tibor R. Machan, ed., The Commons–it’s tragedy and other follies (Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 2000).
Subject: Need everything be proven true?
Question: Can we know something that has not yet been proven true. please give me some examples with your answer. thanks
Answer: Not if it needs to be proven so as to be known—such as some fact or some conclusion of an argument. But some things may be known that are true but not in need of proof. These would be what are called axioms, the foundations of proofs themselves (e.g., in logic, the basic laws such as those of identity and non-contradiction) or in metaphysics (e.g., that some things—whatever they are—exist). So, for example, it is true that “there are things,” but this truth is so basic that it need not be proven since any proof would have to already accept it (e.g., the existence of the proof or elements of it).
Subject: Kantian and Utilitarian ethics regarding supererogation
Question: At my university we have been given a list of possible questions that might turn up in our end-of-year exam. One of these questions was ‘Are Kantians or Utilitarians best placed to accommodate the possibility of acts of supererogation?’ However, as far as I can see, neither are! I really have no idea as to how either of the two can accommodate the possibility of supererogation. Would you be able to help me see things better? Am I missing out on something? I would be very grateful for any help you can give me.
Answer: Your impression seems to me to be right—superogation is best accommodated by virtue ethics, such as when one acts especially generously or courageously or prudently without it being a requirement or obligation to do so. Kantian ethics prescribes rules and there isn’t much else one can do besides following those rules (that the categorical imperative makes necessary for moral conduct); and utilitarianism, as generally understood requiring one to act so as to promote the greatest happiness of the greatest number, also leaves no room to do anything extra.
Subject: Money Fame Power
Question: I am currently dating a woman who is very wealthy. I love her deeply, but am painfully aware that human relationships seldom last forever. I do NOT want any of this ladies fortune, but at the same time, I’m presently enjoying the illusion of wealth, and frankly I like it. Assuming none of my actions will harm my relationship (which I will not do) Should I attempt to use the leverage of my current position to increase my personal financial status, gain fame or build power? Her love is foremost, but in the event things fizzle, Id like more than memories and pictures. 1)which direction should I take this 2) what actions should I take 3) is this ethical?(on a scale of 1 to 10).
Answer: As long as you do not deceive her and follow your own aspirations, I see no problem with advancing your various prudential objectives. Indeed, you would be irresponsible not to do what is called “carpe diem”—you may never get the chance to do so. It’s like exploiting a talent you happen to have or some discovery you have made; there is nothing objectionable and everything wise about it, provided, again, you are being honest with her and yourself. Best way to proceed is do what you want and keep her fully in the loop (full disclosure). You might share this communication with her and see what she thinks about your plans.
Subject: Truth
Question: I would like to know how you “know” or come to believe the answers you have to the big questions. In other words, how do you defeat agnosticism, because I am having a very hard time creating a definition of truth that I can accept – that is, one that makes sense and at the same time doesn’t take too much on faith (I presume at least some degree of faith is required in accepting axioms). Furthermore, once truth is defined, what criteria do you use to judge how true something is.
Answer: First, I start with simple things—like I am now typing a post to you and know very well what letters I am hitting on my keyboard and similar stuff. That gives me the initial confidence that I can know some things. But if so, then I don’t see why I cannot know other, more important, deeper things. Also, the skeptic or agnostic may sound like he or she is claiming not to know but in fact all the claims skeptics and agnostics make involve knowledge, too. They know the meaning of the words they use to deny that we can know big things; well, then why not go further and gradually perhaps come to know about the big issues? No good reason has been given for such skepticism or agnosticism, one according to which small stuff can be known but big stuff not. Just why should that be so? But as soon as they answer that, they are saying they know some big stuff, too, namely, the reasons for being skeptics or agnostics. Do you see where I am going with this? Knowledge depends on working hard to find out. Truth is not some final, finished, perfect product but the result of carefully and diligently keeping up with things—in medicine, sociology, cooking, auto mechanics, astronomy and, yes, even in philosophy.
Subject: Things are not always what they seem
Question: Can you explain a basic philosophical insight is that things are not always what they seem? Did any philosopher agreed with this?
Answer: Your question is a bit muddled—if you read it carefully you will notice this. So, I think what you meant to ask is whether I could explain the claim that things are not always what they seem and whether any philosophers agreed with this claim.
First, it depends on what is at issue. Some things are what they seem—say, a rain storm pretty much seems like what it exactly is, a rain storm. Other things are not, say a pregnant woman who seems like she is obese but in fact is pregnant, so we need to be careful not to jump to conclusions. Over our lives we gradually can learn what to take at face value and what to look at more carefully, searchingly so as to come to know for sure.
Many philosophers dealt with the distinction between what seems to be and what is so and so; between truth and mere opinion; between reality and appearance. Plato did, as did Descartes and many others.
Subject: Marx
Question: I might have emailed you a question a while ago regarding Marx, specifically the idea that his socialistic/communistic society would never flourish because it amplifies psychological alienation within the individual as well as a loss of individual incentive. my question now is in regards to the following: the free development of each is the free development of all. Is Marx saying that individuality does have some value…is this just a slogan or does he really mean it? Is his vision just very utopian? Maybe its just that his economic/social system is too restrictive too allow for individualism?
Answer: For Marx, who believes that “The human essence is the true collectivity of man,” human development can only be collective, never individual. So, what that slogan states it that there is no way for people to flourish alone, that all of humanity must achieve flourishing for any individual to do so.
In my view this is indeed an impossible dream because it seriously misunderstands human nature. And experientially there is plenty to disprove it. People can be quite fulfilled as well as flourishing even while many others are miserable.
The topic is a complicated one because it requires deciding between competing conceptions of human nature, individualist and collectivist. And then one may need to choose between different versions of individualism and/or collectivism.
Subject: Marx (follow up)
Question: Are you familiar with the idea of Democratic Communitarianism? This idea involves radical democracy combined with a growing sense of solidarity…while society needs our institutions participatory somehow people have to care for one another…it emphasizes democracy and community. Maybe these ideas are what Marx was lacking…the whole idea of a social fabric.
Answer: If people need to care for one another, they need to do this of their own initiative—generosity is a personal virtue extending oneself toward others freely, not by being coerced to do so either by a dictator, politburo or democratic assembly. Or so I understand it. Many disagree with the idea of individual initiative when it comes to improving society but in my view only when people cultivate moral virtues for themselves will they form successful lives and communities. The idea of democracy can mean something very broad or very narrow; should we vote on whom one should marry? What career one should pursue? How one ought to dress? Whether one will offer a smoking section in one’s restaurant or sports bar? Or should we confine voting to such areas as who should administer our laws and represent us in Congress (which has limited powers)? My own view is that democracy, like all government, needs to be limited.
Subject: Ethics and the death penalty
Question: How do we know we are acting in a ‘good’ or ‘moral’ way? I am trying to find a pro-death penalty ethical viewpoint which claims to justify their moral behavior. If you could supply me with some answers, ideas, or references in relation to this subject, that would be really helpful.
Answer: First one is a big question, the second more specialized. I can only spend time to give you my best brief assessment on both.
To learn right from wrong one needs to be taught or shown well by parents, friends, neighbors, novelists, dramatists, and so forth, and then one must reflect on what one has learned and so proceed to cultivate an approach to living that’s virtuous so one will be ready to do what’s right. This is no easy task but it is possible to bring off—there are plenty of people who have managed to live right in most periods and places.
As to the death penalty, some defend it because they hold it will deter those who might commit horrendous crimes; others think the culprit has it coming, indeed, has asked for it, by committing the terrible deed for which the death penalty is administered. These defenders reject the idea that the death penalty is barbaric or cruel and claim it is quite useful, just and civilized. (Others, of course, dispute this but I cannot get into that now.)
Subject: General
Question: Hello
I am doing a literary research at MA level and I need to have a clear idea of the following philosophical terms. Do you think you can help me understand them clearly? I have already checked them in several reference books but they only offered vague definitions more useful for a person with some philosophical background. It is as if you ask me what literature is, and I answer that “collective parole is literature” (definition by de Sussure).
1-Metaphysical: this is the main term I need to know clearly. Can you give me a good definition together with clear explanation and examples for that?
For the last two, I only need some clear definition, and if possible, in the case of Metaphysics, tell me if the more popular meaning “beyond physical matter” is also included in its philosophical sense.
Answer: Metaphysical=pertaining to the most basic, fundamental features of reality, features presupposed in all specialized studies (physics, chemistry, ethics, literary analysis, mathematics).
Ontology=the (philosophical) discipline that studies the most fundamental types of beings/events/actions/processes in reality (e.g., temporal, material, mental, special).
Epistemology=the (philosophical) discipline that investigates the nature of human knowledge.
As to the last question, no, that particular meaning is a distortion, coming from the occult, not from philosophy proper. (You will see evidence of this in books stores, even some libraries, where under “Metaphysics” various very strange books are grouped, having to do with spiritualism, telepathy, etc.) The reason it is a distortion is that it begs the question or assumes something that the discipline may not assume, namely, that the fundamental nature of reality amounts to being “beyond physical matter.” What if it does not? What if it involves no physical matter, or only physical matter, or something else entirely, such as certain principles but no stuff or substance at all?
Metaphysics asks “What exists?” “What is the nature of being?” “What is the basic stuff of existence, if anything at all?” As you can see, none of these take much for granted.
Subject: Metaphysics again
Question: Thank you for your clear explanation about metaphysics.
Just one more question: Is metaphysics a very abstract domain?
In literature, sometimes the adjective metaphysical seems to denote somehow “very abstract reasoning”, as in metaphysical poetry. (This I found in The Story of Civilization.) Does metaphysics require extremely abstract reasoning beyond other branches of philosophy?
Answer: Yes because metaphysics concerns that which is most universal, bearing on everything and anything that does or could exist; yet it is also concerned with every particular being of which whatever metaphysical truths there may be would have to be true.
Subject: philosophy
Question: Can we control our fate. please give me your ideas about fate and freewill with examples.
Answer: OK, so I read your request and decided I’d answer it. There were other options—I could have let it go, claimed to be on vacation (lied), etc., and so forth. Instead, I decided to do this, give you my quick reasons why fatalism is wrong, why free will is a better idea. You and I and millions of others know we make decisions, some good, some not so good (“Dammit, I didn’t think!”) Also, if what we believe is forced on us then why think it could ever be true? Without independence, personal autonomy, scientific knowledge, jury verdicts, etc., would all be just some event in the everlasting, unstoppable flow of events, neither right nor wrong, neither true nor false, just arbitrary “taped” messages. For more on this, see Tibor R. Machan, Initiative–Human Agency and Society (Hoover Institution Press, 2000). On the Web, look for “A Brief Defense of Free Will.”
Subject: philosophy
Question: Is math invented or discovered?
Answer: Discovered—it is the science of the quantitative aspects of reality wherein stuff comes in enumerable versions (two chicken, four mountain tops, fifty million cockroaches, three rivers). Of course, we invent the words by which we store and communicate the math, but the underlying meanings are grounded in reality.
Subject: Ethics/Philosophy
Question: I have an ethics/philosophy exam coming up, and I was given the following as my review. I have been working hard on this, and would like to see what everyone else thinks. Perhaps I can add more to what I have, or correct some of my answers. Anyway, here are the following questions:
What is a virtue theory, and how does this sort of theory differ from the other sorts of approaches to ethics? What makes Nietzsche’s view of a virtue theory? Plato’s view? Peter Singer says that it is reasonable to begin one’s ethical theory with some sort of assumption of equality. Why might a virtue theorist disagree? (Plato, for instance, despised democracy.)
Could I be immoral if I was alone in my room? How would a rights theorists approach the question? A virtue theorist?
This question deals with the extension of ethical theories beyond the human realm. What, according to Singer, is speciesism? How does his reasoning lead him to conclude that this is analogous to racism/sexism?
Besides Singer’s animal welfare considerations, there are a few other arguments for vegetarianism (or, at least, arguments that claim that an ethical life requires thinking seriously about what we eat. These arguments didn’t necessarily lead [nor does Singer's] to a strict vegetarianism.) What are these arguments?
What are the main details of Leopold’s reasoning? What is the “land pyramid”? What role have humans played in it? How does Leopold decide what is ethically right and wrong? What are some of the major differences between his attempt to extend ethics beyond the human realm, and Singer’s? How would Singer criticize Leopold? What is the “environmental fascism” criticism of deep ecology?
Answer: Virtue ethics means cultivating good character that consists of the readiness to be honest, prudent, courageous, temperate, moderate, generous and so forth. With these virtues at hand, one is likely to live a good, even excellent, life.
Singer is wrong about equality when it comes to living well–we are so different, unique, that what will amount to doing well at living for one may not for another. Indeed, virtue ethics accommodates our individual differences, since it involves principles of conduct that anyone can follow in his or her own circumstances and based on one’s own talents, opportunities, etc. Equality comes into play only in politics, where our equal human nature generates human rights that we all have and we should respect in all. But when it comes to, say, family life, humans ought to care for their own kids or parents more, usually, than for those of others–even Singer sends money to his old mother, not to mine.
Specieism is taking human beings to be of greater importance than, say, rats or spotted owls or great apes. Singer is a committed anti-specieist, thinks the goals of humans count for no more than those of other animals. He seems to me to be way off–just consider that he is not appealing to other animals to be caring and considerate but to human beings, suggesting very strongly that we are indeed higher up on the evolutionary ladder.
Yes, you could be immoral, unethical in your room–if you were lazy, careless, stupid, reckless, cowardly and so forth. (Say a small fire breaks out and instead of putting it out promptly, you panic and run and leave all your valuables to be consumed by it. That would be cowardly and wrong.) Ethics has to do with personal excellence and that includes both private and social dimensions of doing what is right vs. wrong.
You could champion vegetarianism for health reasons or because to you animals are so precious that you wouldn’t want to hurt them even for food. But that’s because of your personality, not because it is a general ethical requirement for us to be vegetarians.
I am not a specialist on Leopold–he is some kind of naturalist or environmentalist. Generally, though, most environmentalists embrace some kind of doctrine about the intrinsic value of nature or of all life or some such thing. This, however, ignores that in nature there is a hierarchy, not equality by any means. Human beings count for more than other things, and of course lions for more than zebras (which is why the former kill and eat the latter). The big difference is that human beings can make choices about their conduct, so their lives have an ethical or moral dimension, whereas animals are generally dumb beasts for whom right and wrong conduct are meaningless. (For more, check out Tibor R. Machan’s “Do Animals Have Rights?” on the Internet–just put the title in Google and you’ll find it.)
Subject: Religion and science within their boundaries.
Question: I have to work on religion and science and their gradual adjustment of their common boundaries. Is this in your area, I feel it has to do with the emergence of the scientific revolution and adjustment of thoughts on classical thinking which religion had embraced.
Answer: It is not simple to answer you question because this is a hotly contested issue—there are numerous and conflicting answers various thinkers give to it. I can only tell you mine.
As I see it, religion rests on faith or unquestioning commitment—ultimately some authority such as the Bible or the Koran (or, more precisely, those interpreting it at the moment)—whereas with science there are rules of evidence and reasoning that guide the process and lead to conclusions, ones refined throughout the centuries.
Is the former a sound approach to gaining understanding? I dispute this—there is just no way to get a common standard by which to make sure one doesn’t go astray, so there are about 2500 different religions in the USA alone, while there is pretty much just one physics, chemistry, biology, and so forth. (Of course, there are debates in all disciplines, but they aim quite confidently at some common understanding, eventually.)
Others might argue, of course, that religions deals with more complicated matters than does science—more akin to philosophy or politics, in which there are also many, many different takes and it’s very tough to reach common understanding. Still, I think religion is inherently unstable, whereas these other areas may be difficult but not by their very nature indeterminate and indefinite.
Subject: Logical Positivism
Question: Can you recommend some accessible books about Logical Positivism? I am interested in the history of this school of thought and some current opinions about it, including yours. I had a course in modern philosophy back in the 70′s, and this topic was briefly covered, but I would like to learn more.
Are there any philosophers currently publishing articles about this? Has it been totally discredited?
I read somewhere online that Logical Positivism was attacked somewhat harshly for “careerist” reasons. The claim was that since Logical Positivists reject much of what many philosophers make a living writing about, writing articles attacking Logical Positivism was a good career move. To get hired as university philosophy professor, it would be unwise to reject the work of your potential future colleagues as nonsense. Hence, Logical Positivism dies out. I have no idea if there is any truth to this.
Perhaps you can point me towards some interesting books or papers on the topic.
Answer: The best book on the school is A. J. Ayer’s Language, Truth and Logic (London, V. Gollancz, ltd., 1936). Ayer was a major proponent of this school and its best selling teacher. Current consensus tends to reject LP as simplistic and self-referentially inconsistent because, e.g., although LP rejects all statements as to what we ought to do as meaningless, it is itself mostly a statement about what we ought to (or, especially, ought not to) do (namely, we ought to eschew statements about what we ought to or ought not to do). Also, LP’s statement that only propositions or statements that can be verified through sensory experiences are meaningful and could be true is itself not verifiable through sensory experiences.
Subject: reality
Question: Why is reality like this?
Answer: Like what? Actually, reality is every which way, not just any one (or this) way. Anything that is an element, part or aspect of reality, even these words I am writing and the thoughts you are having and the keyboard on which I am writing the words, etc., etc. It’s everything that is.
Subject: urgent, epistemology question.
Question: If someone says “I know this music,” how can the claim be evaluated? What are some problems of knowledge encountered when dealing with this statement?
Answer: First, these sorts of questions usually arise in connection with some particular account or theory of knowledge. Put just this way, however, one probably needs to simply give a “common sense,” ordinary answer. For example, suppose a child asks this question, how would one answer it? Well, one would probably say, to see if the claim is true, let’s see if the person making it can whistle or hum the tune; recognize it from among several tunes being played by a pianist; recognize it on the radio, and so forth. Now, just approaching the claim this way there really are no problems of knowledge being encountered. None. Of course, if one has a very strict sense of what it takes to know something, then these “tests” may not be satisfactory—for example, what if there are tunes that are very similar; or what if the person whistling is off key? But honestly these tend to be puzzles that are contrived, not for real. Indeed, some philosophers complain that thinking there is some problem here is itself a problem of some philosophies.
Subject: knowledge
Question: What are some of the factors that might render our knowledge or what we think we know as either incorrect or illusory?
Answer: You ask me this in a form that suggests that you want my answer, in the terms I have come to regard these matters, not an answer various philosophers would provide. So, here it goes.
We are justified in doubting what we consider our knowledge—say about where we were born, what our name is, who reared us, where we went to school, etc.—if we come to find out that we have some kind of problem with memory, with perception, with the source of information and so forth. There is no justification for some general doubt about our knowledge since such doubt gets us into paradoxical twists and turns—for example, why should we then trust our doubts? They too rest on some measure of knowledge—say, of the meaning of the terms in which they are being expressed or thought. Illusions only make sense one by one, not as a general condition of our beliefs since illusions always assume there is also reliable knowledge with which we can contrast them. It is impossible that everything is illusory but this or that belief could well be; but being an illusion, a belief also presupposes that it can be remedied, corrected, etc.
So, nothing can be a factor that would render all of what we know incorrect or illusory since then that factor, too, would be such and couldn’t be trusted, relied upon.
Subject: Sartre’s thought on the history of philosophy
Question: What was Jean Paul Sartre thought on the history of philosophy? How does it relate to life and what was his importance?
Answer: As Sartre saw it, philosophy took a bad turn when Socrates or rather Plato argued that reality consists of abstract ideas or forms, the essences of things. The famous existentialist staying that “existence precedes essence” means that what is important is not theories and ideas but actual beings, the here and now, what can be experienced directly, not what is thought. He joined others in the existentialist “school”—Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Jaspers and others—all of whom decried the emphasis (especially in the influential philosophy of Hegel) on systems of ideas and called for a turn to actuality. There is much that separates the existentialists but this one thing unites them, namely, the call back to the actual.
Subject: Philosophy major…..maybe???
Question: Hi, I am currently about to start college. I would like you to tell me what I could do with a degree in philosophy. I am intrigued by the subject very much. But, I’m afraid that I would not be able to do anything with a degree in philosophy. Also, I would love some of your opinions about philosophy as a major.
Answer: If one aims to do philosophy today, one would most likely need a PhD (and become a teacher), nothing less, and then from a very good place. The field is a bit like art history or one of the fine arts—its rewards are mostly the doing of it and only rarely what others will give you for it. Still, there are ways to make a living teaching it but it takes incredible perseverance. Yet, those who really love wisdom—philosophy means the love of wisdom—will not likely settle for anything else, even if there is a life long struggle and earnings are meager. And there is so much joy in doing philosophy well that these earnings need not be great, only enough to keep one solvent.
Subject: truth
Question: I’m doing a paper on truth and the implication on knowledge of accepting ‘different cultures have different truths’ and ‘a truth is that which can be accepted universally’ I was wondering if you knew any philosophers who supported these theories (the only thing I can find is cultural relativism) or any suggestions about important stuff to include any help would be great
Answer: The main proponent of such a view today is Richard Rorty—see his recent books, such as Objectivity, Relativism and Truth (Cambridge University Press, 1991). But the idea has been around for centuries. The current idea of multiculturalism also suggests the view that what is true is a matter of what culture the one who is judging belongs to. Usually this is confined to normative matters (ethics politics, aesthetics) and not to science, although some take it there, as well.
In my view such a position is very difficult if not entirely impossible to uphold because if it is true, then it is only true relative to a given culture, which then suggests it isn’t always true—and what is one to make of that confusion?
Subject: Usefulness of History
Question: I’m still in junior college and ready to transfer to a nearby University as a History major. One problem I have always had explaining to others, is the reason for studying history. I usually explain that history helps define who and what we are; it gives us a context for our lives today. Yet, though what I say may be true, a study of history also reveals disturbing facts about human behavior such as war, misery, greed, slaughter. What good is this knowledge if we keep on repeating the same patterns? Where is the usefulness of this knowledge especially for the general public? I am seeking insight and answers into these complex questions because I aspire to be a teacher and thus, have a ready answer. I suppose the application of the dark aspects of history will vary depending on who is asked. Personally, I think we repeat the past because every age thinks itself more intelligent than the previous. This breeds a kind of arrogance rooted in a fundamental dissatisfaction with our period of existence. In other words, our view point is to constantly look for what’s new as if just around the corner we are going to find that which gives meaning to our lives.
Answer: I am no specialist in the philosophy of history. Yet, of course, I have a few ideas on this topic.
For one, we need to know about the past so as to become wiser about the future—this is as true for our individual past as the past of our communities and species. The history we study is of a being quite like us, yet not just exactly like us, so we will gain some understanding of ourselves but cannot expect anything like full understanding. We are, after all, individuals and thus not replicable. And we are free to ignore lessons, as is evident from what we often do, namely, repeat mistakes in spades. One reason, though, each generation will probably continue to revisit issues members of past generations have dealt with (even pretty well) is that human beings never like to rely solely on the authority of others, including their ancestors or past thinkers. We are like adolescents—we went to figure things out for ourselves. I do not believe we become more and more intelligent as we continue our march through time; often we are stupider than those before us. But that’s not the issue—it is to go through the learning process, to get things right by ourselves. That seems to be what impels us to go over old issues in so many disciplines of learning.
Subject: World view
Question: How do you look at your life and the world in terms of logic, metaphysics and epistemology?
Answer: Basically by never accepting that there can be contradictions, by using my mind guided by the rules of logic, by making careful distinction between what I know, believe, have some idea about, and merely guess at. In short, I try to be as rational as possible and then act accordingly. But, of course, it all comes out well or badly once the details unfold, once I try to apply this to day to day, minute by minute experiences.
Subject: World View
Question: Thanks for the answer but can you please be more specific? Like for each of them, looking at logic, metaphysics and epistemology separately.
Answer: Actually, to be more specific would mean to acquaint you rather fully with the details of my life. Since that is not possible, all I can tell you is that I have metaphysical convictions, views about the nature of reality, that guide my understanding (so, for instance, I do not take seriously the existence of ghosts or that creationism is valid), as well as one’s in logic, so that no contradictory ideas or beliefs are acceptable for me (square circle, voluntary slavery, etc.) and in epistemology (so that I make firm distinctions between what I merely believe to be true, know to be true, have some hunch is true, have probable cause to believe to be true, etc.). That’s as much detail as I can give you without going through various events of my life where these convictions played a role.
Question: I’m having trouble understanding the significance of book II, The individual, state, and education. I was wondering if you could maybe help me understand it.
Answer: In the Republic Plato has Socrates devise an ideal state, one that should serve as a kind of model (but not a blueprint) for how to organize our communities. His view of the individual’s relationship to the larger community is itself modeled on the way parts of our bodies relate to the entire body, fulfilling various functions for the benefit of the whole. Yet, actually, Socrates uses the community to tell us about the individual’s soul, comparing the soul to the state’s three parts (executive, legislative and commercial—which in the soul is rational, emotional and appetitive).
As to education, here Socrates presents the allegory of the cave where the teacher who has seen the forms of things—that is, their ideal versions in the realm of the forms or their true definitions—has a hard time teaching people the truth because they have become so habituated to living with distortions, mere images or copies of what things really are like. So, the education process is very difficult and will succeed only with a few.
So, in the ideal community a few would take part in governance, some would help along and the rest would follow the guidelines these lay down. What this suggests, given that this is only a model, is that we must all be careful to be thoughtful about our lives, including our laws and public affairs. That, at least, is how I see the situation.
Subject: name
Question: can a name point to something that is always changing?
what does giving a name do?
can different names mean the same thing?
Answer: Names are mostly used for identifying and re-identifying individuals (persons, pets, favorites things, places). They aren’t words, which mean general things (“chair,” “justice”). We give whatever name we want to, within limits, but sometimes there is some meaning in a name, too. Names do not mean, they do not point, they enable us to identify and remember individuals. And nothing changes always, or at least hardly anything. So the Mississippi River is both changing and the same, in different respects, and it helps a lot to know its name. Even words help us to think of various kinds of things the members of which change a good deal but not usually suddenly, abruptly, so saying all these things I am saying with the words I am using does enable us to communicate about a common world. At least that is my take on this issue.
Subject: Poststructuralism?
Question: Quick question: what is poststructuralism? I’m reading an essay where an English teacher talks about poststructuralism being a problem in historical research– especially regarding European-Indian encounters in colonial times. Also what is Modernism and Postmoderism. I know the suffix “ism” indicates a system of belief. If you know of a good website were I can get the definition of philosophical terms I would appreciate it.
Answer: Well, I am not a expert on all these—but “post” means “after,” of course, and “structuralism” is a school of research in the social sciences with certain formal principles that supposedly concern the structure of beings, including living beings with certain goals or ends that emerge out of their structure and in terms of which they can be best understood. Modernism concerns the ideas associated with the Enlightenment—science, rationality, secularism (no religion), etc., so that “postmodernism” refers to ideas that supposedly supersede modernism and involve mostly skepticism, subjectivism, vagueness, ambiguity, indeterminacy, etc. Of course, some of these terms signify positions that have been around in one or another rendition from time immemorial and have simply been recast in contemporary lingo.
Subject: Usefulness of History
Question: I’m still in junior college and ready to transfer to a nearby University as a History major. One problem I have always had explaining to others, is the reason for studying history. I usually explain that history helps define who and what we are; it gives us a context for our lives today. Yet, though what I say may be true, a study of history also reveals disturbing facts about human behavior such as war, misery, greed, slaughter. What good is this knowledge if we keep on repeating the same patterns? Where is the usefulness of this knowledge especially for the general public? I am seeking insight and answers into these complex questions because I aspire to be a teacher and thus, have a ready answer. I suppose the application of the dark aspects of history will vary depending on who is asked. Personally, I think we repeat the past because every age thinks itself more intelligent than the previous. This breeds a kind of arrogance rooted in a fundamental dissatisfaction with our period of existence. In other words, our view point is to constantly look for what’s new as if just around the corner we are going to find that which gives meaning to our lives.
Answer: I am no specialist in the philosophy of history. Yet, of course, I have a few ideas on this topic.
For one, we need to know about the past so as to become wiser about the future—this is as true for our individual past as the past of our communities and species. The history we study is of a being quite like us, yet not just exactly like us, so we will gain some understanding of ourselves but cannot expect anything like full understanding. We are, after all, individuals and thus not replicable. And we are free to ignore lessons, as is evident from what we often do, namely, repeat mistakes in spades. One reason, though, each generation will probably continue to revisit issues members of past generations have dealt with (even pretty well) is that human beings never like to rely solely on the authority of others, including their ancestors or past thinkers. We are like adolescents—we went to figure things out for ourselves. I do not believe we become more and more intelligent as we continue our march through time; often we are stupider than those before us. But that’s not the issue—it is to go through the learning process, to get things right by ourselves. That seems to be what impels us to go over old issues in so many disciplines of learning.
Subject: instincts vs. reflexes
Question: hi, I’m wondering if humans have any instincts? if so, what are they? what are the differences between instincts and reflexes?

If there are different views to weather or not humans have instincts, what are some of views that say they do have instincts?

Answer: The only instincts people have are as infants, to suckle, but these are extinguished in a few months. Instincts would be knowledge of reasonable complex behaviors needed for various purposes but it doesn’t appear that humans have any such. They do have reflexes, as when we blink upon something that seems to attack our sight. These are simple physiological behaviors not requiring knowledge.
I am not able right now to give you a survey of different views.
Subject: Truth
Question: On the subject of ‘How we can arrive at truth’…
I am wondering if it is possible to arrive at truth. I believe that to arrive somewhere, we cannot have left that very place we wish to arrive at. So taking this, we cannot have truth to begin with in order to arrive at it. But then, it seems absurd to suggest we could arrive at truth induced only by falseness. This would suggest that we must have some truth, even if we are not ‘aware’ of it, and so the first problem of arriving somewhere where we have left, is brought round once more.

I understand my wording in this could lead astray readers, and ask that you take it in conceptual thought rather than words of an inadequate communicative system.

Answer: “Arriving at truth” is a metaphor, so there shouldn’t be a lot made of that way of speaking. We judge rightly, in which case our judgments are true, or we do not, in which case they aren’t true or are so only by accident. How do we tell if we judge rightly? Well, this is a long story and different philosophers tell different ones and I do not wish to sound like I am special (although of course I think my approach is sound, true, about truth).
Roughly, when our judgment (or statement or assessment or however we characterize our belief) manages to be in conformity with reality, then that judgment is true. How do we tell if it is in conformity with reality? With the use of our various cognitive faculties—our senses, our reasoning, our memory, etc. The various special sciences develop ways or methods for this in their respective disciplines; we also have our ordinary, pedestrian approaches, such as carefully looking at how things are, etc., etc. (as is done by a jury at the end of a trial).
I hope this sends you off on a fruitful track.
Subject: logic/reason
Question: I’m sure what I want cannot be done directly as a response from you, but perhaps you could provide me some relevant references.
What is the relationship between deductive and inductive reasoning; specifically, does an “interface” exist between formal and factual realities? Is such a connection the basis of probability theory?

Answer: Where deductive reasoning applies to closed concepts/statements—a square must have four sides, this is a square, so it must have four sides—inductive applies to open ones (taking time into consideration). All inductive inferences assume that time doesn’t up and change things all by itself but there can emerge factors yet unknown that will change something, so what has been true thus far might not be later. Thus, just because the sun has risen in the East from the perspective of the earth for millions of years, there could possibly be a change in this, so the inference that so it will do tomorrow is inductive, not deductive (except if the assumption of “no change to come by then” is treated as incontrovertibly true).
Subject: ethics and philosophers
Question: Would you be able to help me see how a philosopher like Aristotle would view an ethical dilemma such as and individual who needs to decide whether or not to purse his homosexual tendencies or just restrain them and try to lead the life he is expected to lead?
I need to see how Aristotle would view this to help me with my philosophy class.
Answer: Aristotle would ask whether such a tendency is natural, accords with human reason and prudence and other virtues, and then act accordingly. There is no geometrical resolution for him of such matters, but neither are they dilemmas, since for Aristotle reasoning things out will always be able to rank possible actions so we can pursue what is most sensible, most rational. (I doubt that in our day Aristotle would have found homosexuality anything but an unusual sexual inclination or tendency of some people instead of something irrational.)
Subject: Doctrine of choice
Question: I need to track down some information on a philosophical doctrine which asserted that a person always had freedom of choice no matter what situation they found themselves in.
It was a strong freedom of will argument which actually stated that even an executed prisoner exercises a final choice – even if the choice is to die. The argument reduced each instant to a two-way choice of which we are free to select either option in any given instance.
I think it was called _____’s Doctrine of Choice – obviously I’ve managed to forget to person this doctrine was named after!
If you’ve heard of this concept, or could suggest somewhere I might to be able to find some information on it, I’d be very grateful.
Answer: I associate this idea with Jean Paul Sartre’s Existentialism but I am not certain about it. It states that even in prison one has the choice to comply or not or obey or not or some such thing. (I think this is stretching the concept “choice” beyond its clear sense.)
Subject: Truth
Question: What does it mean for something to have different truths, and are different truths simply different parts related to the whole?
My second question is does the nature of truth require that it accepted universally or put in another way, does truth exist whether or not it is accepted universally? If the necessary condition for a truth to exist is NOT that it is accepted universally, then is there a property to a truth, which permits the possibility of it being accepted universally.
Answer: There is, as far as I can tell, no such ting as “having different truths.” A statement—or judgment or belief or proposition or sentence—is either true or not, period. Truth is the property of these by virtue of which they are correct or right ways of conveying what is the case, the facts of the matter at hand.
Since truth is a property of judgments, etc., and not all those who can judge things may make judgments that are true (but some make no judgments at all about a matter or some make wrong judgments about it), it isn’t necessary for a belief, etc., to be universally accepted for it to be true. (For example, it is true that “You asked me the above question and that I am trying to answer it,” yet this is something few would accept since probably only you and I know it).
If a belief, etc., is true, then it is something we humans can ascertain or make sure of by using our conscious capacities of perception-and-reasoning. If that cannot do the trick, then the belief cannot (ever be known to) be true. (The only exception is that some people may be crucially incapacitated in regard to using their minds, in which case a belief can be true without their being able to tell.)
Subject: acceptance
Question: My question is what does it mean for truth to be accepted. Can’t this just be a choice of words, I mean I can say believed or thought. Also, who or what makes this acceptance of something and what is the purpose of acceptance? Lastly, what is it (in terms of the nature of truth) that makes ‘acceptance’ distinct from other like or dislike concepts (i.e., believed and thought)? Thank you for your time.
Answer: For a claim that’s true to be accepted is for a person to decide to believe it, no more. Sometimes people have other beliefs, true or not, that stand in the way of accepting some new and true belief. Thus if it is true that Iraq had no WMDs, yet one holds (or even strongly wishes) that it’s true that the war was justified, the former may be difficult to accept. Of if it is true that once one dies one ceases to exist altogether but one also believes—or wishes—it to be true that the soul survives the body after death, the former would be hard to accept.
It is a person who decides—maybe gradually, slowly—to accept a belief’s truth, mostly so as to be guided by it in one’s life, one’s conduct. Acceptance, however, may be quite independent of truth for many of us—we may just like a belief or judgment or claim, so we accept it as true; or it may be easier to live with neighbors and colleagues if we accept a belief as true, so we do it. But we may also be committed to accepting as true only what we have seriously examined and concluded as in fact true. But that is not what everyone uses in coming to accept a belief as true.
Subject: Rule Utilitarianism
Question: Rule Utilitarians judge which course of conduct will maximize human happiness in a class of similar cases. What does this concept or belief mean in today’s society (2003), and is this different from Act Utilitarians?
Answer: First, an act utilitarian would want us all to consider every particular action in light of whether it produces the maximum good or value as compared to alternative actions we could perform. It would be utterly tedious to carry on that way—no one could get anything done since the calculation would take forever. Rule utilitarians want us all to find those rules which when followed will promote the greatest good or value so all we need to keep in mind is the rules and we would do the right thing but we wouldn’t need to figure out on each instance of following those rules whether that particular instance produces the greatest good or value. We might think of the rule that “honesty is best policy” along such lines – be honest, as a rule, because following that dictum will produces the greatest good even if on a given occasion this may not be so. In politics or public policy, rule utilitarians would probably promote observing traffic directives “as a rule” (stopping at red lights, using one’s turn signals) for so doing will promote the greatest good (even if on some particular occasion it may be a waste of time to stand there a wait for the light to change to green or to turn on the signal [as when there's no one behind to see it]). Most laws that prescribe or prohibit conduct—”as a rule”—would fall into this category under rule utilitarianism.
Subject: Deontologist
Question: Follow up To Rule Utilitarianism—What might be a deontological approach to capital punishment?
Answer: If there is a rational principle that justifies capital punishment, based on something like desert, justice or retribution—as distinct from deterrence—then that would count as a deontological approach to the topic. Yet there are other alternatives that are not deontological or utilitarian, such as a teleological justification, whereby what counts is that punishment or some other action may be due because of the justice of achieving some end (retribution, reform, etc.). And there are also theological justifications, arising from beliefs about following God’s will or commandments. But in much of contemporary ethical teaching the deontological and utilitarian are the sole options presented.
Subject: Kant and Mill
Question: How does Kant’s notion of freedom differ from Mill’s?
Answer: Yes. Kant’s notion has much to do with his dualism. The phenomenal world contains no freedom at all. Only the will can be free, as a feature of our noumenal selves (that is, roughly, of our inner lives). Kant and Mill do share a similar notion of political freedom and some argue Mill is actually close to Kant by seeing being free as an aspect of human happiness. But Mill was no dualist, though there is only the phenomenal world (or the world of experience, that studied by all the sciences).

Subject: Decision Making
Question: Do people make decisions for no reason?
Answer: Yes, they can be impulsive and decide out of sheer willfulness. I will buy a dress or hat or car just because, well, I want one. Why? No reason. This isn’t to say there was no cause for them to do so, but a reason is something rationally believed, while a cause can be something that drives one (the need to feel excitement, to feel alive). Sometimes one does something as a matter of how one feels, a passion or urge, not a rational belief or conviction. As one matures, of course, one probably acts and decides on fewer occasions for no reason at all. At least this is what I believe.
Subject: Wittgenstein’s Family Resemblances Model
Question: Here’s a straight forward question: do you know any flaws with Wittgenstein’s Family Resemblance model?
Answer: Yes—if one tries to figure out a definition of a concept from ordinary usage (“the meaning of a word is its use in the language”), one will have to accept without question badly thought out uses of the concept. Ordinary language reflects both careful and careless thinking and so it cannot be the last word on what concepts mean, how they ought to be defined. There needs to be critical analysis involved, mostly logic, coherence, completeness and so forth, so it may even turn out that many concepts can be given definitions that are better than the family resemblance model Wittgenstein offers.

Subject: Rousseau
Question: what were Rousseau’s ideas on knowledge and freedom vs. responsibility?
Answer: He didn’t have an elaborate epistemology, like other philosophers. Rather he advanced a social philosophy, even anthropology. His philosophy did of course touch on freedom and responsibility, though not, I think, on free will. Real freedom for him means acting in conformity to the general will, which is how one ought to act, not how everyone might want one to act. The general will is the idea that there is an overall standard of correct conduct that human beings are responsible to observe.
Subject: Dualism
Question: What is the basic assertion of dualism according to Descartes?
Answer: That there is a fundamental difference between the substances of mind and body, so much so that there is a problem understanding how mind could control body at all (he finally thought it is through the pineal gland, though it’s a mystery how).
Subject: Aristotle’s ethics
Question: what is the (very)basic structure of argument in Aristotle’s Nichomachean ethics?
Another question: I have the Penguin “Aristotle – ethics” is that both the Nichomachean, Eudemic ethics?
The reason for him describing all those moral virtues in book 2-5 that we should use them as a guide to become good men?
Answer: Human nature is being a rational animal, and the goodness of something consist in fulfilling its nature, so human beings will be good if they aspire to fulfill their nature (be rational). I don’t know about the Penguin book. Yes, the moral virtues guide us to become good persons.

Subject: Why?
Question: I’m a student of physical sciences and languages. My boyfriend is a philosophy major, so I’m trying to learn more about the field.
Generally, I find philosophy rather aggravating and hard to understand, because to me, it seems to go around in constant circles and answers questions simply with more questions. I appreciate that people study it and discuss it, but I find that I’m quite bad at doing so myself. I’m taking a course this term, entitled “Culture, Identity, and Self,” and I find that I’m never quite sure what I’m supposed to get out of a discussion, lecture, or article (actually, I find it hard to follow them).
I suppose my questions to you are whether this is normal for people beginning to learn about philosophy, and why does the field interest you?
Answer: Yes, quite normal, especially if they are accustomed to studying the natural sciences as they are presented in high school and college. Once you reach grad school, even the natural sciences begin to be more complicated and even philosophical—as you can tell from following the development of quantum physics or evolutionary biology.
Philosophy is, at any rate, the field where progress is very rare and we do, indeed, go around discussing the same of stuff, but we do this for very good reasons: every generation needs to revisit the most basic questions, such as what is it to be something, anything at all; what is it to know; what are proper methods for studying the various aspects of the world (scientific methods); what is right conduct; what is a just society; can we be objective about the world around us, and so forth, with many details I haven’t even touched upon.
Also, in philosophy the views of nearly all contributors are considered as initially admissible for consideration, so very weird notions will be studied, tested (mostly by way of thought experiments, since it is generally frowned upon to use people in laboratory experiments without their consent and once they give their consent, they become problematic—biased—subjects for study).
So, try to think of it this way: Is it not to be expected that something as extraordinary in nature as human beings are—just look around you for what they do, well or badly, that is drastically different from what even the most developed animal does—would not be understood in simple, precise, exact terms? Just as one example, take the difference between an adolescent and an adult—pretty hazy, no? Or trustworthy and untrustworthy—once again, not a simple matter. So the field that addresses the most basic aspects of humanity’s situation would then naturally be rather complex, even convoluted (if you consider that everything proposed needs to be given a fair exploration so as not to miss out on some possible insight). And every generation has its team of philosophers to check over all this again and again, since we tend not to prefer taking for granted what our elders tell us.
Subject: Inequalities among U.S. Social Welfare program
Question: I am doing this research paper on the criteria placed on the U.S. social Welfare program. I am very interested in finding resources that deal with the theory behind the criteria placed on the U.S. social Welfare program, so I will appreciate if you can help me find some valid resources that will help me develop a thesis for my paper.
Answer: Frankly, you are looking for information from someone in social work or government, not philosophy. In any case, my view is that there can be no valid criteria for wealth redistribution—it must all be rather arbitrary and ad hoc, since no one in government knows who deserves resources, who does not, why, etc. Consider Kenneth J. Arrow’s work in social choice theory—shows that no prioritization can be achieved as to which social service program is most important, which is less, etc. So, the result is that the rankings tend to be entirely political—which group will keep voting for the politicians who send out the collected taxes.
Subject: An ethical life
Question: How would you go about leading an ethical and morally rewarding life? How would this differ from a life that is lead just by “taking it easy” and not thing about the life that is lead?
Answer: In my view an ethical life is one involving conscientious attention—paying close heed—to one’s circumstances and how to cope with them successfully and acting on what one learns about this. There is no “taking it easy” here because without the attention, one gets into serious trouble, messes things up, fails at maintaining good relations with others, or at finding the kind of productive activity that will be fulfilling, etc.
One may take it easy on and off, for rest and relaxation, but not as a permanent life style. (There may be some whose circumstances make such loafing about apparently possible, since they may not have to struggle much—having inherited talent, good looks, wealth or such—but even these folks will feel a loss emotionally and psychologically if they just drift.) Bottom line is, paying attention, keeping fully awake to the world, is the first and most important imperative for living a good human life.
Subject: Descartes, Hume, and Kant
Question: Compare and contrast Descartes, Hume, and Kant with respect to the limits of human knowledge.
Answer: This really sounds like a test or homework question that you are supposed to answer following your own study. Briefly, though, Descartes believes in very limited innate knowledge (ideas) that’s certain beyond any doubt; Hume holds that such certainty comes at a very high price and could only be attained via the senses, not via reason; Kant thinks human knowledge is a kind of shaping of reality by means of our mind’s structure, so there is the possibility we don’t know what’s what actually, only what appears to be so and so.
Subject: Free will
Question: Hi, I’m doing a paper on determinism and one of my arguments against free will is that to be free one must be able to control either their environment and/or their self. I’ve already proved that one has no control over their self and heredity, but how could I argue that and individual cannot control their environment but rather the environment controls the individual? Any suggestions or examples would be greatly appreciated.
Answer: This is a challenging question to me as one who does believe that we have free will—I think even an exchange such as the one we are having makes little sense without us having it (you chose to ask me, I choose to reply).
Now, perhaps the best source for the side you wish to defend is B. F. Skinner’s Beyond Freedom and Dignity (1971), in which the late behaviorist psychologist of Harvard University argues, among other things, that the environment controls us by means of various types of reinforcements (positive or negative). So, for example, Skinner would argue that my very creative and brilliant answer right here (just kidding) is not promoted by my own initiative, my choice to think through matters and write them down for you but only by your placing before me enticements I just cannot resist (which you knew, since you addressed this to someone who has “volunteered” to try to answer your kind of questions). And you, in turn, were induced to ask your question by various stimuli in your environment that you couldn’t resist either.
So, here is the world around us that does change but we do not change it, only react to it in ways that become part of the world’s own determined processes.
Subject: Philosophy
Question: I am currently a philosophy student and have been studying the subject for quite some time. I have covered many theories, views, beliefs and what have you, but I am still confused to what exactly philosophy is? Taking into account all the previous philosophers I have studied: Plato, James, Griswold, Irwin, Singer, Hume, and many more I am left with a bundle of different theories and views but no clear cut answers to what philosophy is and why I’m studying it. These questions have burdened me for quite some time and have I felt inhibited my learning of the subject to some extent. Why study something if there are no clear-cut answers; at least at times that’s what it seems like to me.
Answer: Your puzzle is not unusual. Just the other day I was reading the current issue of Philosophers’ Magazine, from the UK, and one philosopher interviewed there denied that there is philosophy at all. I disagree, however. The discipline is one that addresses the most basic questions there are, such as “What exists?” “What is being?” “What is knowledge?” “What are standards of right conduct?” “What are standards of justice?” and “What are standards of artistic excellence?” There are many, many other questions, usually about the details of the answers to the previous questions that various philosophers attempt to provide.
The discipline is odd because it rarely makes progress in the fashion of, say, chemistry or biology. Rather its questions are repeatedly addressed, by the philosophers of every new generation, because the answers are so important that no one would wish to simply accept the answers others offer, even if they are good ones. So you will find every philosopher, major or minor (that is, widely recognized or not), revisiting all the topics in the field, so to speak, “Just to Make Sure.”
Thus one can best think of the field as an ongoing, unending, conversation about those basic topics, including about what the questions mean, whether we can know their meaning, etc. And few if any answers are ruled out of contention—even very crazy ones get taken seriously now and then, again, Just to Make Sure.
Well, you will find, of course, others disputing my understanding of philosophy. It doesn’t mean that it’s wrong. But whether it is or not is pretty much something, again, you yourself will need to make sure.


Subject: Filters
Question: I have to write an essay with the topic “In order to find out how things really are one must understand the filters through which one perceives the world. Discuss and evaluate”. I need specific examples. Any ideas?

Answer: Well, disagree with the assumption of the problem. If we had filters through which we perceive/understand the world, then perceiving/understanding those filters would also have be done through filters, ad infinitum, and we would never get to perceive/understand the world as it is. So we either must not have filters or we cannot perceive/understand the world. But we can understand the world – for example, this disjunction above is such an understanding. So, we have no filters, except in specified cases, such as when we wear glasses or use a hearing aid or look at something through a telescope. But that is not the same as having filters through which one perceived/understands the world.
Subject: Nietzsche
Question: I know you might not be familiar with Nietzsche but I was hoping you could help. I have this quote and was hoping you could help me better understand it. It is as follows:
“A thought comes when ‘it’ will and not when ‘I’ will it. It is thus a falsification of the evidence to say that the subject ‘I’ conditions the predicate ‘think.’ It is thought, to be sure, but that this ‘it’ should be that old famous ‘I’ is, to put it mildly, only a supposition, an assertion. Above all, it is not an ‘immediate certainty.’”
I find myself lost amongst all these its and I’s. If you could explain the it’s and I as well as help me understand the overall statement I would appreciate it greatly.

Answer: This suggests that Nietzsche thought that what comes to our minds is out of our hands, not something we control. Thoughts come and go on their own and we aren’t willfully thinking them, he seems to think. “It occurs to me” is more accurate for him, than “I thought it.”
Subject: Descartes
Question: In part Four, of his Book “Discourse on Method”, Descartes proves the existence of God. But, how can we use the same method that he employed to disprove God’s existence?
Answer: Descartes attempts to prove the existence of God by arguing that since only a thing greater than ourselves can produce the idea of perfection in our minds (we are too meager for such a creative feat), there must be such a greater being, and that’s God. Now this is a bad argument because many small things do produce great things—a tiny match can cause a huge forest fire, for example. Also, by his own account, we could be completely deceived about whether God exists. But I do not believe the same method of argumentation he uses to try to prove God can be used to disprove God.
Subject: de Botton
Question: I’ve taken a peek at Alain de Botton’s CONSOLATIONS OF PHILOSOPHY and it’s a little fishy, to me. To the best of your knowledge, other than three (of the six) thinkers he mentions – Epicurus, Seneca and Montaigne – have any well-known Western philosophers spent any time working on life’s everyday issues, like those de Botton handles in his book, such as how to be happy, how to deal with a broken heart, how to deal with being unpopular or without friends, etc.?
I’m asking because it seems to me that, from an historical point of view at least, philosophers aren’t experts on these questions any more than are intelligent bankers or housewives. Wouldn’t you agree?
Answer: Philosophers do, however, focus on the exploration of these issues, write about them, debate them, far more than your ordinary banker or housewife. And bankers, in turn, worry more about exchange and interest rates and other economic factors than do philosophers or physicists, while housewives—or house husbands—more about household concerns. There is a division of labor in the scholarly and professional worlds, which is why there are so many different disciplines at universities and jobs in the market place. So, while intelligent and decent bankers and housewives could well have a pretty good idea about happiness and broken hearts, they rarely engage in detailed organized expositions of these, write them down and publish them for everyone else to be able to have a peak.
Subject: Understanding philosophy
Question: I’m currently a student at Oberlin college. I just wanted to ask you what you thought was a good formal, though just initial, approach to the study of philosophical works. What is your method when you begin to read a new text? I would look for the main argument and it’s reasons. But I think this is too general. I’ve gotten advice such as:
Asking questions:
“What is a counterexample to the theory’s objection”
“What is contradictory about this theory”
I suppose then that that initial formal system is simply a line of questioning. My questions must then be, what are the general questions needed to understand the text? As Adam Robinson had deemed them, what are the “expert questions”?
Answer: There isn’t a one size fits all answer to your question—it depends on who you are, your talents, aptitudes, interests, temperament and so forth. I began studying philosophy way before I got to college, just reading some of the greats in a collection I discovered. I started with Plato and Aristotle, then read Plutarch’s lives, then Montaigne, Locke, Marx and others. Then I read the novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand who inspired me to go more deeply into it all. When I finally got to college, night school at first, I found a very inspiring professor who was himself Greek and eventually committed myself to the discipline. I have never regretted this and had a wonderful career in the field, despite being a bit marginalized because of my politics (libertarian). I always asked the questions you list, I never deferred to others although they did influence me often. Philosophy is studied mostly in talking things over with (friendly and not so friendly) adversaries and those who are closer to one’s thinking, reflecting on it all once you withdraw from the discussions, etc. Throughout my 35 years of teaching I have always exposed myself to severe criticism from others who disagreed with me, sometimes a bit painfully, but nearly always to profit.
Subject: Philosophy–Ethics and animals
Question: I am writing a paper on either one of the following main claims relating to animals and ethics: “Utilitarianism is wrong because it does not even guarantee that we should be vegetarians” or “The suffering of our species does somehow seem more important than the suffering of other species.” If you are familiar with either of these topics, I would like some help on how I can use one of the previous claim to write a paper. I have just taken a philosophy course and do not have much background on these topics, therefore I would appreciate it if you could provide some philosophical standpoints on how humans are “morally superior/better than” animals (or not) and/or specify how utilitarianism would argue on vegetarians.
Answer: The first topic is nonsense—it assumes without reason that vegetarianism is correct. And there is not much more to say than to note that—the topic begs the question, period.
As to the second topic, I know of a book just about to appear that will interest you, Putting Humans First, Why We Are Nature’s Favorite (Rowman & Littlefield, 2004), by Tibor R. Machan. His “Do Animals Have Rights?” can be found on the Internet, as well as his “Why We May Use Animals,” I believe.
The main point he makes is that animal rights is an unfounded concept or idea since animals lack a moral nature and rights pertain only to beings who have such a nature (i.e., who can make choices for which they are responsible and thus need to have a sphere of personal authority that is secured by rights). “Animal rights” makes no more sense than “animal guilt” or “animal punishment.” People are also more significant or important, than other living beings, in the only meaningful sense of these terms: they matter more because they are creative, choosing, moral beings. Animals aren’t without moral significance, however, but only as moral patients, not as moral agents.
Subject: Descartes and Spinoza
Question: I need some information on the philosophies of Descartes and Spinoza. How do they compare and contrast?
Answer: First, you need to read these two philosophers, that’s how to get information about them. Secondary sources, especially brief sketches on All Experts, just cannot do the trick for any course you might be taking. Descartes is not as systematic as Spinoza; he is a theist, whereas Spinoza is as close to being an atheist as one could get away with back then—for him God is identical with Nature; Descartes believes in free will, Spinoza does not. Descartes deals with ethics very briefly, Spinoza spends volumes on the subject.

Subject: John Stuart Mill
Question: I am writing a paper on John Stuart Mill vs. Immanuel Kant. I am needing help understanding John Stuart Mill. I know he was a utilitarianist, but did he also believe in a distributive justice? If so could you explain it to me in simple context? I know Kant believed in retributive justice.
Answer: Mill was a utilitarian (not a utilitarianist) and he only toyed with the idea of distribute justice late in his life (some claim under the influence of his socialist wife, Harriet Taylor). That is to say, Mill thought a fully capitalist arrangement for production is fine but some state redistribution of wealth may be needed if the market’s distribution leave some folks entirely out of the game (they remain utterly poor). Kant believed in retributive justice, but this has to do with his view of punishment, mainly. He thought a criminal deserved to experience the consequences of his or her wrongful deeds even if this does not deter others from committing the same crime.

Subject: Teleological Argument
Question: Proof for the existence of God—Why do some people think that the teleological argument proves that there is a deity?
Why do some people think that the teleological argument is fatally flawed and does not prove that there is a being that created the order that exists in the entire universe and in all that exists within it?
Answer: These appear to be psychological questions. Do you mean what reasoning leads some people to accept the argument, others to reject them? Mainly those who accept is believe that something must explain why the universe exists and God’s intending to create it is a good explanation, as good as one can get. But something must explain it. Those who find this unconvincing respond saying there is no justification for thinking the universe needs to be explained—explanations work in the universe, not of the universe—and, furthermore, if it does require an explanation, explaining it by God just leaves the further question, well then what explains God?

Subject: Science or Pseudo-science?
Question: I am taking a Philosophy course at a University. I know nothing about this subject and I’m having a hard time in this course. Right know we are talking about the works of Karl Popper and what he considered science, a science. I don’t really understand this concept and would greatly appreciate your help. Also, I would like to know your opinion on whether you think Karl Popper would have thought James McConnell’s experiment on the chemical transfer of memory in worms is genuine science or pseudo-science?
Answer: Popper held that a science is a discipline of inquiry about what things are, what causes things to happen, what is likely to happen in the future, based on conjectures or hypotheses—speculative ideas—that can then be tested for their truth. If these ideas can be refuted but aren’t refuted, they are likely to be true—probably true—but if they are refuted they are false. But one cannot ever establish such an idea as true forever since some later experiment could refute them.
McConnell’s experiment qualifies as good science because one can easily imagine that his hypothesis would be refuted or confirmed.
Subject: Aristotle’s master science
Question: I am a student in the UK and I am preparing for a presentation which seeks to give an explanation of Aristotle’s view that politics is ‘the master science’.
Having read the first book of the Nicomachean Ethics and other various essays on the Ethics and Politics all I have managed to find that answers the question in part is the first 4 sections of book one in the ‘NE’.
Any possibility you could help me out with some other information or source references?
Answer: Well, that seems like a good start but you can also carry on with the project by arguing that Aristotle believed that politics is a field of study (and activity) that draws on all the other fields of human inquiry (and practice)–thus it is the Master Science. Consider that for Aristotle politics involves human beings in their effort to live justly among each other. To do that requires knowledge of all human things, including human biology, psychology, economics, and so forth, as well as other sciences that support these studies. So politics is drawing on every branch of knowledge in order to formulate its principles of just community life.
Subject: Philosophy of Language: Meaning as reference
Question: Hi, could you possibly tell me briefly some arguments for and against the idea of meaning as reference in the philosophy of language? Also can you tell me some books/articles/ejournals with discussions of whether reference is meaning or not? I have read Lycan: Philosophy of language and found it mixes this with other topics, also I have Martinich’s anthology, which has some useful texts – but I’m not sure which ones! I am writing an essay, but I’m not asking you to answer the question – just to give me a brief idea of the arguments for and against and point me in the direction of some good reading material!
Answer: This topic is all over the map in the philosophy of language, so I will skip giving any references. The idea that meaning amounts to reference has the problem that it restricts meaning to just one way language is used, namely, to refer to something. But there is mentioning, signifying, indicating, showing, and all the rest. Meaning is not just any one of these. Meaning is difficult to describe because it is actually something unique–only human beings seem to be able to mean this or that. It seems they have the kind of consciousness that enables them to produce meanings, to mean.
Of course, much of meaning amounts to referring, so the idea isn’t crazy.
Subject: Perception
Question: In order to find out how things really are, one must understand the filters through which one perceives the world. Could you give me some guidance on this question?
Answer: The proposition asserts that when we view the world with the aid of our sensory organs, we are doing so with what amount to impediments to seeing what really exists and we need to learn what these are before we can get to know the real thing. But this begs the question–are our sensory organs any sort of impediments at all? Is a microscope or telescope or any other device used to examine something an impediment or rather an instrument that enhances our ability to look? Our sensory organs could well be instruments enabling us to see exactly what there is, no impediments at all.
If we consider that we examine the world with the aid of these organs and the faculty of mind, and if we assume that all these involve filters, then we can never get to figure out just what the world is since even that idea will be conditioned by the alleged filters. We couldn’t even learn about the filers since whether they exists or not would also be something we would have to consider in terms of our having these filters.
So, either we work with impeding filters “all the way,” and then we do not know whether we see what really exists or some distortion of it, or these really aren’t filters at all, merely instruments or devices with which we get to look and see exactly what’s what, at least when they are functioning well.
Subject: Existentialism…is it true?
Question: My rudimentary understanding of existentialism is the belief that existence precedes essence. Is this true? Do we create our nature or do we seek it?
Answer: You are right about Existentialism holding that our existence–actual being–precedes our essence–our nature as human beings. I disagree that there is this dichotomy, either/or, about the matter. In fact, our actual identity as our self is all tied up with our nature as human beings. Even existentialism tends to admit this, implicitly, when it holds that we are distinct from all other beings by virtue of our (absurd) freedom. Our nature, then, is to be free! So, it turns out, Existentialism also lumps together our actuality and our human nature.
Subject: Liberalism and Conservatism
Question: What are the “official” philosophical definitions or world-views of both liberalism and conservatism? (I’ve asked liberals and conservatives this very question, and rarely do they have anything beyond a kindergarten understanding of their own positions. )
Answer: There is both modern and classical liberalism. The former is the view that to be free the government must provide support that enables us all–especially those who now lack it–to do what we need to or should; the former holds that to be free it is necessary for others to respect our negative rights (not to be intruded upon, not to be invaded, not to be made the slave or involuntary servants of others), and for the government to protect these negative rights. (Two distinct senses of “liberty” are at work here, that explains the difference.)
Conservatism is actually more a method of thinking about social and political matters–namely, one that consider the teachings of the past (traditions, customs, habits of mind, and laws) decisive in guiding public policy, or even personal conduct–than any specific doctrine. Thus you will find that conservatives in America believe something entirely different from conservatives in Iran, Russia or China–it all depends on what traditions, customs and such inform people in these different regions.
Subject: Liberalism and Conservatism (follow-up)
Question: As I think this question through, I believe I ought to clarify it. All issues have a “liberal way” of resolving them as well as a “conservative way”. What I’m wondering is how to describe the tenets of both in a general sense.
I’m not very good with words, but would you say that liberalism values/supports independent or unique thought over and above traditional or established norms? I’ve seen that liberals are known for the “breaking” of established values/norms while conservatives try to protect what is established.
If I’m correct, then ultimately liberals don’t value the established values of other liberals. They desire to break all the norms…even liberally generated norms.
Conservatives, in a likewise fashion, can fall prey to protecting useless/harmful norms that have no worth other than they were established at some previous time.
Perhaps this is why one ought to value both philosophies and not be an extremist in either. Does this new “middle of the road” philosophy have a name?
Answer: American conservatives tend to defend American traditions, including elements of the Declaration of Independence, of American culture (melting pot, Christianity, puritanism, tolerance–a big mishmash), picking and choosing based on what strikes them important (based on their understanding of history and tradition). It is still more a method than a doctrine, no matter how people tend to misunderstand it. Your middle of the road idea is just what most conservatives practice in America given the country’s mainly classical liberal heritage.
Liberals, too, are a mixed bag. Socialist, communists, libertarians, and such are the purists but they aren’t part of the mainstream now.
The bulk of the influential thinking in the country is internally incoherent–just look at the liberals who now claim to be against preemptive government action (in Iraq) but advocate preemptive and precautionary policies with respect to nearly everything else (government regulation, the environment, etc.).
Subject: Life is a school.
Question: Have any philosophers written about the idea that “Life is a school?” If you know of any, would you please direct me to their writings.
Answer: Socrates is reported to have said: “An unexamined life is not worth living.” I would assume this qualifies as a case in point–life is a school wherein one conducts examinations.
Subject: mill, Kant, and rights
Question: Could you please explain to me what Mill and Kant feel about rights? what is their value of rights?
Answer: Mill thinks we all have those rights that facilitate the achievement of the goal, the greatest happiness of the greatest number–in other words, he has a utilitarian justification for rights, although happiness for Mill includes liberty, so it would be very difficult to promote happiness with the right to liberty. Kant thinks our personal moral autonomy requires that our rights be respected, otherwise we cannot make significant moral choices–they would not be choices of our own if we didn’t have the right to make them.
Subject: Locke
Question: Are resources scarce in the state of nature, according to Locke and why? also can we have property in the state of nature
Answer: Resources are scarce in the state of nature since human beings want thing done up, not as found there–they want home, not a cave; a care, not some gravel on which to roll; they want cooked meals, not raw meat; they want a time piece not guesses with the sun; and all of this needs to be made by people and they only make stuff if they can earn a living from it, so they don’t do much of it, for the hell of it. Even land is useless unless cultivated to yield usable fruits, vegetables, or grain. Yes, we can obtain property in the state of nature–the problem is protecting it from thieves and invaders, so civil society, with law and due process, is very prudent to create.
Subject: jurisprudence
Question: I’m at university in England, and I’m writing a paper in jurisprudence where I have to critically analyse the debate between two theorists on the validity of unjust law, I am having REAL trouble in how to structure my answer, and what exactly critically analyse is requiring me to do in answering.
Answer: This is a thorny problem and without having a clue as to what the two theories are, I am not sure I can be of help. To critical analyse a theory involves, mainly, to see if it rests on true (enough) premises; whether it is internally consistent; whether its implications help solve the problems being addressed by the theory, whether there are ambiguities that leave too many loose ends, etc.
Normally, in most Western legal systems, unjust laws could be valid if they were enacted in a way–via procedure–that’s itself just (just like a bad verdict in a trial can be valid if it came about via honest deliberation). So, for example, if the law makers followed a procedure to which law making must adhere–they held hearings, they represent the voting public faithfully, their facts are the best they could get a hold of, etc.–then the law they enact, even if it is ultimately wrong or unjust, still has legal validity. There are some jurisprudential views that dispute the above saying only when a law is just can it be legally valid, but this is such a stringent requirement that probably no theory could meet it. So, the issue is whether the law has legal authority, not whether it is just.
Subject: Hey do you think that voters are slaves?

Question: Do you think that most people are mind-manipulated by the media and technology like the movie ‘The Matrix’?? Do you think that even though USA has a high standard of living compared to other nations, they are being brainwashed thru education, ingraining memes in their brains in order to serve the high cupulas. Do you think that the capitalist system per se is a hoax, a big treason against humanity??
Because of the economic gap between rich and poor and the ideology of hierarchies??
Because I observe a lot how societies are since history and most people are enslaved, like clones and used as tools in favor of the power elite while they work a lot to create wealth. By the way very smart persons who question the systems are either killed or hated like Socrates for example ;-)

Answer: No, I do not think that voters are slaves. The people who are slaves or whose lives are substantially under the control of others are physically subordinated, subjugated. Say, in America, when one pays one’s taxes, this is achieved by means of physical force or its serious threat against the citizenry. (Taxation is like extortion by gangsters: “You must work for us — i.e., hand over a large portion of the money you have earned from your work and dealings — or we will hurt you, destroy your place of work, your home, etc.”)
In much of the past such physical force was overtly, directly applied, by the lackeys of kings and tsars and such, so the oppressed were tortured and killed if they didn’t go along. Now it is a bit more subtle. But many in the Western world are both partially enslaved and also go along with the system, believing they come out on top with the system’s oppressive features.
That we all have fundamental, unalienable rights to our lives, liberty, and pursuit of happiness is an idea that has gained some currency and even popularity but many treat it unseriously, the way they treat various moral principles (such as “I must keep my word,” “I ought to tell the truth”).
Subject: Descartes
Question: Does that mean then that Cartesian dualism was actually nothing new i.e., nothing that hadn’t already been said in Christian philosophy/theology? I thought that Descartes was supposed to be of great significance in western philosophy – is it that his method of doubt was new but his conclusion wasn’t?
Answer: Descartes made the case for his version of dualism in far more philosophical terms than did the Christian theologians. He had more of an impact on secular philosophers than on theologians, I believe. Indeed, his method of doubt gave rise to a powerful skeptical tradition even though he himself thought he had answered the skeptical concerns he raised. Others didn’t think he had and remained influenced by his skeptical views. (I, by the way, think those views are groundless and seem important only because of the very perverse idea of knowledge Descartes and many others were invoking–whereby one knows only if one is certain beyond a shadow of doubt. It is far more reasonable to regard knowledge as requiring certainty beyond a reasonable doubt, just as our courts require of juries.)
Subject: Reality
Question: The typical question, but one that is very interesting none the less. How do i know that the colors I’ve been seeing all my life are the same for everyone else, and are not different in everyone’s perception but are simply called the same thing. For example, how do I know that when i look at something that appears red to me, that someone else might not see it as green but learned to call it red, and another person sees purple but calls it red as well?
Answer: Red, yellow, green and such cannot have meaning “just for oneself.” Words aren’t “just for oneself.” You couldn’t even formulate the question above if that were the case — I would have no clue what you mean. But I do know, roughly, what you are after. When you use the sensory capacities or organs you have, your human senses, do these provide you with the same information mine provide me with, etc., etc.? There is no good reason that they do not, none. All cases of disagreement can be explained without reference to some weird discrepancy between your and everyone else’ sensory capacities. Sure, now and then there is a discrepancy, as when something is amiss with one’s ears, eyes, or such, but these are explainable by reference to some impediment, not some basic discrepancy. There is, then, no reason to take seriously some idle possibility that we do not see the same things we all in fact pretty much rely on seeing with similar organs. It’s cooked up by philosophical misadventurism.
Subject: Berkeley’s arguments
Question: Could you please explain some of Berkeley’s arguments against perceptual realism? I do not fully understand them.
Answer: You ask me to explain “some of Berkeley’s arguments” but which ones? He thinks that when we aren’t aware of something, then we lack justification for believing it has physical, perceptible reality. As one looks and sees a chair, the chair is real because the mind perceives its various qualities but once one isn’t looking at and seeing it, those qualities no longer exist — the perceptual reality is gone — so the chair cannot reasonably be said to exist. Of course, since God is always awake, even if we aren’t perceiving the chair, God is, so this justifies us in believing that the chair exists even when we do not see it.

Subject: Epistemology
Question: What is Epistemology? What fields are there in Epistemology? Is Epistemology science or philosophy based?
Answer: Epistemology is that branch of philosophy — the love of wisdom — wherein the question “What is knowledge?” and related questions are considered. For example, a very prominent answer is that knowledge is when someone can back up what he or she believes by reference to evidence gained through the senses (empiricism).
Epistemology is not what we commonly consider a science — as, say, chemistry or sociology — because all the sciences already presuppose some answer to the questions raised in epistemology. For example, the science of chemistry assumes that the elements are something we can know and understand.
Subject: Positive and Negative rights w/in Political parties
Question: Can you explain to me the difference in positive and negative rights and who emphasizes which, the Republican or Democratic party?
Answer: A negative right concerns prohibiting others from interfering with one’s actions, property, life, liberty and so on–e. g., the right to property means others have no authority to use one’s belongings without one’s permission. A positive right concerns the requirement to being provided by others with what one needs–e. g., the right to health care or education.
Both US parties embrace both type of rights to some extend, with Republicans having favored negative rights a bit more than Democrats do where economic matters are concerned, while Democrats favoring negative rights in connection with civil matters (ACLU’s mission).
Democrats are more in favor of entitlements, public policies that impose taxes on those who have resources so as to pay for provisions for those who are deemed to be in need of those resources. But Republicans these days are just a step or two behind with this–e. g., President Bush prescription drug bill for the elderly. And right now, with the Republicans tending to favor shortcuts to fighting terrorism, they also have been less committed to such negative rights as the right not to be interrogated and even arrested and incarcerated without due process.
Socialist tend, in the main, to favor basic positive rights, while libertarianism favor basic negative rights.

Subject: Thomas Hobbes
Question: Can you please tell me what provoked Thomas Hobbes’ famous quote? And what is that quote?
Answer: “[In a state of nature] No arts, no letters, no society, and, which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Leviathan, Part I, Chap. XIII. He believed that being motivated by fear and self-aggrandizement, people outside of society would lead such lives but this can be avoided once society has been organized.
Subject: Philosophical inquiry
Question: After much discussion and debate, I have come for an answer: is the statement “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end” really and logically true?
Answer: As with most stuff in philosophy, this is much debated. My own view is that it is wrong, certainly never “logically” true. (Only formal arguments are ever logically true or, rather, valid. We do use “logical” loosely to mean “it makes sense”.)
Determinists would hold to that idea. But those of us who hold that human beings have free will tend to believe that each person has the capacity to bring forth some new, novel event, namely, his or her judgment from which his or her actions stem. So these would be beginnings without having to be the product of some prior end. (For more, see Tibor R. Machan, Initiative–Human Agency and Society [2000].)

Subject: Moral philosophy and epistemology
Question: Can ethics plausibly be replaced by an epistemic practical theory, as argued at the following link:
Answer: I am not doing all this digging for what I am supposed to talk about because the link is obscure–there is nothing but some summaries to look at. But I am very suspicious of anyone who claims to have shown that no moral theory can work–to produce such an impossibility proof is a huge order because it requires both having gone though innumerable efforts to demonstrate ethical theories and also looking into the future when such efforts will again be made. Frankly, I myself have worked out a perfectly sensible epistemological basis for a neo-Aristotelian ethics/morality (along lines of Philippa Foot’s recent book, Natural Goodness, and so I am not easily convinced of such a claim as made here). (My own dissertation back in 1971 argued for the possibility of making true moral judgments, so, again, I am skeptical.) Just consider, also–on the basis of this argument one should accept the moral judgment that one should not attempt to defend moral judgments. Very paradoxical, I would say.
Subject: lying
Question: What are your thoughts on lying? Is it alright to lie? What is your position and how did you get there?
Answer: Lying is morally wrong, unethical. The reason is that one has a responsibility to be fully aware of reality and lying subverts this–if one lies to oneself; and one has a responsibility to provide others who depend on one with correct information about reality (unless they are guilty of some crime or other violation of one’s rights, as would be tyrants or their enforcers). Since, however, friends, colleagues, neighbors, and such aren’t such enemies, their expectation of clear and accurate communication ought to be honored. Or one may simply refuse to provide any information or communication.
Subject: philosophy
Question: I would like to ask you about human loneliness. One time when i was watching TV i heard one girl, who just graduated from University and who studied philosophy, saying that at the end of her studies she found out, or came to conclusion that humans were very lonely creatures. I was pondering over these words and with time i realized that she was probably right. Though we have friends, parents, wives and husbands we are, especially in extreme situations, left alone and can rely only on ourselves. I can give you an example. A few months ago i was taking an oral exam in American Literature. I was waiting for a few hours to get into the room where the teachers were sitting and waiting for the examinees. After 5 hours of waiting there were only two people left in the corridor of the University, my friend and me. I asked him to let me go in first because i had enough of waiting, i was tired just like him, he agreed of course and said “sure”. However when the door was opened, one of the teachers walked out and asked “who wants to be the first one”, then my friend forgot what he had told me and walked into the room before me. I was left alone and realized once again, that people are actually alone and can count, mostly, only on themselves. I also heard such a phrase: Though a husband and his wife sleep in the same bed they have different dreams.
I wanted to ask you what is your point of view as a philosopher. Do you share my and not only my opinion concerning human loneliness in the world which is, paradoxically, full of people. How do you understand it and what are your thoughts about it? Hope that you understand my way of thinking though it may seem to be pretty obscure.
Answer: You ask, “Do you share my and not only my opinion concerning human loneliness in the world which is, paradoxically, full of people. How do you understand it and what are your thoughts about it?”
As often, in this case, too, there are several answers that are all correct. For one, yes, we are all alone–not, however, necessarily lonely (persistently feeling all alone)–when it comes to making basic decisions. Even to accept another’s advice leaves the decision to us. We die alone; we dream alone; we feel our pains and joys alone–that is, each of us is an individual with a unique center not shared or joined by others (although in rare cases, such as identical twins or very, very intimate soul mates, this can be abated).
On the other hand, we can grow intimate with some, a few, others; friends are like that, good, solid friends; Aristotle taught that a friend is “another self.” With such a person we may achieve a measure of full communication–even communion–so that we would always know there is someone or a few persons who not only understand us very, very well but also empathize with us, can virtually feel what we feel when we feel it. (Recently my daughter lost a young friend in a bizarre way, partly the friend’s doing, partly an accident, and she felt the loss very powerfully, even while thousands of others around her have died in car crashes, wars, earthquakes and she felt only a little when that happened.)
We are close, and can be close, only to a select few individuals–because they have to be a good fit, which is naturally rare among people, all of whom are unique–and if we hone those ties, we make sure they stay alive and are treasured by us and do not take them for granted, then the feeling of loneliness will be minimized. (I know a bit about all this because I am a naturalized citizen who left family and friends behind to make a brand new life and had to develop my friends from scratch.)
Subject: justice
Question: What is the current definition or conception of “justice” in the US? I define it as the nothing
more that the regulatory redistribution and deprivation of private property and its attributes including life, liberty and happiness. Is this not the case?
Answer: No one definition is embraced in such a diverse country and even the law sees it variably, from state to different state. Roughly, though, there are two alien notions of justice that are in play: the redistributionist idea you mention and the due process idea that requires respect of individual rights to life, liberty, etc. And they often collide, so that means judges and bureaucrats say what goes, which is to say no idea of justice in in play at all, only arbitrary rule.
Subject: Nietzsche Quote
Question: 1) From what source and when did Nietzsche say, “All sciences are now under the obligation to prepare the ground for the future task of the philosopher, which is to solve the problem of value, to determine the true hierarchy of values.”
2) What does this quote mean?
Answer: That’s from the “note” that ends “On the Genealogy of Morals, First Essay.” It means, I think, that we need to get a systematic idea of values.
Subject: Metaphysics
Question: I know that one of the very-well known Buddhists in the past, or maybe even Buddha himself said that he had no time for metaphysics, it was just a waste of time, because in actuality it didn’t make us happier and it didn’t help us in coping with the problems of our lives. So according to him there’s no point in talking about metaphysics, in any case talking about metaphysics doesn’t solve anything, doesn’t bring us closer to truth. And what do you think, is metaphysics just a daydreaming, a useless subject to deal with? Thank you for your time!
Answer: I disagree very strongly with that view. Metaphysics identifies the most basic principles of reality or existence. If one dispenses with this task, one is left without a fundamental guideline to what can be believed, known as fact.
Suppose, say, that one runs across a claim (perhaps during a criminal trial) that someone was in two places at the same time in the very same respect. Why can’t this be so? A very familiar and probably correct metaphysics identifies the law of non-contradiction as a basic principle of reality. So such claims are ruled out from the start within such a metaphysics–one need not examine each of them one by one, see whether this claim to “a and not-a” is false and that claim to “b and not-b” is false, ad infinitum. Rather if this metaphysics is correct, then all statements of the form “A and not-A” are false and we can move on to more promising tasks. And that can certainly assist us in our quest for happiness and other goals.
Subject: Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics
Question: What does the title of this book mean? What examples in the text prove it? How does Aristotle understand virtues? I also wanted to know, from Aristotle’s text, how is he helpful and what is one problem or limit with his approach?
Answer: This book of ethics is named after Aristotle’s son. Aristotle does understand the virtues, both moral and intellectual. The former are ways of acting that follow reason, that are rational, reasonable; the latter are qualities of mind (intelligence, smarts). He is very helpful if one wants to live right, be a successful human being (not just educator, scientist or football player) and one problem with his approach is that he overemphasizes the life of the mind, as if those not mainly concerned with abstract ideas didn’t have that good a chance of being successful.
Subject: Political Science
Question: It seems that most of Africa’s conflicts are ethnic. To what extent does ethnicity cause conflicts in Africa?
Answer: Ethnic conflicts are usually caused by a certain way of thinking about people, namely, as parts of tribes or groups that have some kind of independent identity–a bit like thinking of the Yankees or Enron or the Mafia the members of which, however, chose to be members. Basically accidental (ethnic, anatomical or biological) traits are treated as defining the individual as part of this larger whole. So when one member of an ethnic group attacks a member of another, the others regard it as an attack on all of them and this escalates into repeated exchanges of violence (a bit like gang warfare in inner cities, only in gangs members chose to be such, whereas in ethnic groups they just happen to be such because of their ethnic attributes).
The remedy for this is individualism, the idea that it is individual persons who commit wrongs against others, not tribes or ethnic groups or such. And then when violence is perpetrated, it is the agent (not those who look like him or her, or share other accidental similarities) who needs to be held responsible and maybe punished.
Africa’s troubles are many, including tribal thinking. But some of that thinking disguises envy, resentment, fear, and other strong feelings. The discipline of individualism is difficult to acquire.

Subject: philosophy
Question: One of the most renown martial artist in history said that “Killing is always a sin, sometimes unavoidable but never justified” I understand that if something is unavoidable it is at the same time justified, so i think that there is some kind of paradox or clash in these words, how do you think, do you agree with his words?
Answer: Yes, this remark is paradoxical, although it may be playing with a technicality. If, say, this martial artist believes that self-defensive (or even punitive) killing is a sort of reflexive human behavior that is unavoidable–an assumption that is difficult to demonstrate, of course–then the remark may simply mean that when we behave reflexively (as when we blink or sneeze) no justification is applicable. (Say you sneeze at a funeral and disrupt the ceremonies, it is not something you need to justify.)
But, in fact, lots of putatively justified killing is voluntary–one may defend one’s life or choose not to (as pacifists are wont to do); one may defend one’s realm or refuse to (ditto). So, when one does choose to do these things, the issue of whether one acted with justification–indeed, justly–can definitely come up.
Subject: why?
Question: why do we sometimes ask “why” questions? please help.. thanks a lot…
Answer: As you notice, I am sure, your question is a “why question” as well. Our reasons for asking such questions can vary greatly but in a very general way we ask them to gain understanding of the world in which we live and mostly want to thrive. Without answers to “why questions” we don’t get to understand our world and then we cannot navigate it with a decent chance of success.
Subject: Philosophy/Language
Question: What do philosophers mean when they speak about private and public use of language?
Answer: What many contemporary philosophers are talking about is the difference between an alleged private language and the normal public language we all speak. The private language is supposed to be one that an individual creates by assigning words to the various sensory experiences he or she has. It was Ludwig Wittgenstein who argued that no such language is possible, languages being by their very nature public. This he did by pointing out that the usage of a language is always subject to correction by other users, thus showing that language is necessarily public and cannot be private.
There is controversy about this, still, because some have replied that while words are public, names need not be. I can name something privately and there is indeed no one who could correct me. And perhaps such names could be used to create some kind of private language.
Subject: Language
Question: What would be your response to the claim that there are three given uses of language:

a. To give simple factual information.
b. To give simple commands (‘Close that window’).
c. To ask simple questions (‘What time will you arrive?’). It doesn’t seem to me that there is anything simple about such language.
Answer: The most important function is missing: To enable us to retain information by use of such concrete items as words, sentences and such. We could not keep in our minds all the (groups of) bits of which information consists unless we first had them labeled “table,” “chair,” “justice,” or “thermodynamics.” Communication via language first requires this ability to retain information.

Subject: philosophy
Question: Do you agree that “good and evil beings are all one united family in the world.” How do you understand these words???
Answer: I think anyone who understands English will know this is at most some kind of poetic statement, not to be taken literally. We are not a family across the world–Vladimir Putin isn’t my cousin, for instance, nor is Michael Jackson or Tony Blair. Generously read, it means that within the human species there will be good people, bad people, mediocre ones, and they may carry on doing the right thing one day, the wrong thing the next, etc. So, yes, humanity includes all these human beings will all those qualities.

Subject: Philosophy
Question: I have never understood the idea of “universals.” Do these refer to the actual existence and definition of the idea in the mind of God or are do they mean that, say the word, “dog” must necessarily mean certain things or what. Thanks for any clarification you can give me.
Answer: Universals are the sort of “things” many philosophers argue about. We (sort of) know they exist in some fashion or other since when we refer to chair or apple or such, we know we mean all of these kinds of things or events or whatever and not just one instance. But it seems like chairs are all individual things, this, that and another chair. So what does “chair” mean then? Something besides all those individuals? Some “universal” chair? The definition of the concept “chair”? What?
I cannot spell out here all the various answers that have been given, from Socrates to Rorty. They all had their answers (as do I who also addresses the matter in my work). There are some nifty books on the topic–just go to a book store and look, in the philosophy section for “universals” (or on the Internet, under “keywords”).

Subject: Wisdom.
Question: I heard once true wisdom is admitting you know nothing. What does it mean to be the smartest/wisest person Earth?
Answer: This is a widely debated matter, sparked by Socrates’ reported claim that all he knows is that he knows nothing and by the general opinion that he was a very wise person. But what this all amounts to depends on the proper meaning of “know” in all this.
In Plato’s various discussions of knowledge, it turns out that we get at least one “idealistic” understanding of the concept. That is to say, “knowledge” means being completely, totally in touch with the final, perfect, timeless forms (or definitions or natures) of things. Now that kind of knowledge is indeed impossible–and it is not what any sane person means when saying “I know what time it is” or “I know where I was born” or “I know the structure of the atom.”
So, yes, a wise person will know (in the sensible sense of that term) that he or she knows (in the idealistic sense) nothing. But it really is not a very informative claim and no one should be taken aback by it.
Subject: Mill’s harm principle applied to a contemporary case.
Question: I’m sure you are familiar with the harm principle laid out by Mill in his essay On Liberty which states that society may coerce an individual only if his opinion harms others. I’m curious how this principle would be applied to a situation I saw on the news recently. A judge in Alabama was dismissed for wearing the Ten Commandments on his robe. Would Mill, relying on his harm principle, think this was the right thing to do? I think he would say yes, for a judge is supposed to enforce the secular laws of the state, and by basing his judicial decisions on the Ten Commandments instead, he could very well harm others.
Some difficulties arise, though, because the secular laws and the Ten Commandments often lead to the same conclusions. Therefore, reliance on the Ten commandments would only harm those that come before the judge some of the time instead of all of the time.
What’s your opinion? Did I apply the principle correctly, or should the judge have not have been fired? Also, a person could hold the opinion that the Ten Commandments should take precedence over secular laws as long as that opinion didn’t harm others; so someone who was not a judge would be allowed to hold this opinion, right?
Answer: Judges are hired to adjudicate, for which they are required to wear garb that shows no favors to any side that might come before them. The Alabama judge breached this condition of his employment, thus he (sort of) harmed his employers (or some of them). Mill’s principle, though, may not suffice to cover all rights violations, some of which may not do any harm (or injury) but nonetheless need to be stopped.
Subject: Political Theory
Question: I’m trying to come up with claims about liberty and philosophers. What can be some central concepts of why Plato and Aristotle and their thoughts were not concerned with liberty? Is liberty a concept that could not yet prevail?

Answer: Basically Plato seems to have been concerned with virtue or right behavior (for the teaching of which he had Socrates use the model of a perfect community). Plato’s times were somewhat wild, unruly and his focus was, therefore, on how to recover standards of right vs. wrong, good vs. evil. Freedom wasn’t the main concern. Aristotle did have a few things to say about freedom–or rather, choice–when it came to the same topic, namely, the virtues. For Aristotle the moral virtues were a matter of free choice, otherwise they wouldn’t be moral virtues at all. So here is the beginning of classical liberalism, the belief that human individuals must have a sphere of personal authority wherein they can make significant moral (including economic, religious, professional, sexual and other) choices and not be under the command of others.
Liberty is difficult to defend because once people have it, they start, quite naturally, focusing on their various particular goals and they often begin to be willing to sacrifice the general system of liberty so as to gain support for those goals via coercive measures. But one can persist and at least ward off the worst tyrannies.
Subject: Perception And Creativity.
Question: Does creativity and imagination completely depend on our perception (the world we sense)?
Answer: Matters like this are debated a lot in the discipline, so what I answer may be true but not uncontroversial. The material we use to imagine, even fantasize, will mostly come from what we know from experience, yes, but its configuration will be immensely varied from person to person. Just think of the great variety of novels, short stories, paintings, sculpture, design, music (including arrangements), and such that people have created by way of their imagination–while they all rely on familiar enough basic input from the world (colors, shapes, sounds, events, behaviors, thoughts, and so forth), how these all get put together in all the arts is quite unpredictable and often totally surprising (which is what makes encountering the results of such imagination so interesting).
Subject: Intelligent Design
Question: I am planning to go to a public hearing that is being held by the Board of Education in my town on the issue of introducing Intelligent Design into science classes in public schools. I’m thinking about speaking in that hearing. But, since I don’t have any background in Philosophy or Theology sometimes my arguments turn out to be overly simplistic and naive. So I was wondering if you could give me some feedback. I have included the text of what I want to say at the end of this question.
Teaching creationism in science classes is illegal for good reasons. What we need to realize is that Intelligent Design (ID) and Creationism are fundamentally the same idea. The only way proponents of ID have managed to maintain the illusion that these are two different things, is by avoiding answering questions about the origin, identity, and the nature of the designer, who they claim is responsible for life on earth.
If anyone tries to answer these questions, they will inevitably end up with a designer that will be awfully similar to the biblical god. This is because as far as the humanity can see, there is only one set of satisfactory answers to these questions; there is only one path, down which we can travel to adequately answer these questions, and that path ends in religious dogma.
For example, the one we call god is believed to have always existed and will always exist and this is the only acceptable way to characterize god. Any deviation from this description will open the door for questions and will undermine the totality and the absoluteness of the creator. The same is true for a designer. This is why advocates of Intelligent Design not only do not, but also can not make any claims about the origin, the identity, and the motives of the designer, because any realistic attempts to answer these questions will inevitably make them look like creationists.
So it seems that ID has two choices, either remain incomplete indefinitely by continuing to ignore questions about the identity and the origin of the designer, or turn into creationism. Either way, it does not belong in science classes, but rather it should be taught in comparative religion classes.
Answer: In my view intelligent design of the universe is impossible since intelligence is a function of a conscious mind and a conscious mind is dependent upon a brain, which is an organ of a biological entity which is part of the universe. But whatever is part of the universe would have had to be the result of this intelligent design, yet it must also exist prior to it, which is a contradiction: either it came before or after the design, not both. A science, in turn, cannot rest on a contradiction since all science must obey, never violate, the laws of logic. If it does not, there is no sense in it at all.
Subject: Philosophy
Question: In my next class we are going to have a discussion about this question and I want to be able to participate but I’m a little lost… 1) Describe how throughout the history of Philosophy, philosophers have debated the “one and the many”, “the parts and the whole”, rationalism, idealism, empiricism, the subjective or the logical and the real or the unreal?
Answer: A full answer would need to be quite long. Here is a short version: Parmenedies worried about the one and the many (for him there was only one, the whole of reality); Plato’s Socrates worried about it and proposed that the one is in the realm of the forms, the many in the realm of the visible things; parts and wholes are also discussed by various philosophers but none come to mind just now; rationalism is proposed by Descartes and Spinoza, both of whom believe knowledge is to be obtained by using pure reason; empiricism is proposed by Locke and Hume, both of whom argue that knowledge must be obtained by the sense organs; the subjective is what one with a mind and feelings imputes to (or reads into) the world and treats as part of the world when in fact this only seems so; the logical is what is required by the system of rules by which those with minds ought to figure things out (logically); the real, as many philosophers would have it, is whatever there is, the unreal is whatever is not.
Subject: Kierkegaard and angst
Question: i am in grade 12 and this is my first philosophy course. i am not experienced in the field or versed in the terminology. i am very interested in existential angst, and am told Kierkegaard is a king of angst. my task is to choose a particular philosopher and use him/her to critique a current event. my questions are:
1. which text of kierkegaard’s or webpages are the most effective in explaining his perspectives on the meaning of life and existential angst?
2. would Sartre be a better choice for the topic of angst?
3. what kind of current events would you relate to angst? I’ve considered the growing popularity of New Age philosophy, as well as the straying from religion (as evidence of angst?) on issues such as abortion, euthanasia and gay marriage.
PS: Your expertise includes general and political theory. What is general theory?
Answer: By “general theory” is meant here no more than that one is familiar with the discipline of philosophy’s several branches and sub-branches (including contributors).
You are right to say that “Kierkegaard is a king of angst.” His book Either-Or would, I believe, work best, although Sartre’s play Nausea would also work.
I believe the recent tsunami (and some less drastic natural disasters) would qualify as anxiety producing, although some folks get anxious from nearly everything, like traffic, going to the doctor for a check up, getting a needle stuck in their arms for a blood check, or having to say something in public. But serious angst–which is a German term meaning anxiety–tends to come from drastic and unpredictable events, things that can strike at random. And when there is deliberation behind it, as in the case of terrorism, so that the whole point is to create terror in people who do not deserve it at all, that’s probably the worst contemporary case for you to consider.
Subject: philosophy
Question: For Descartes, what is the one ‘thing’ he concludes that he cannot possibly doubt, and how does he arrive at this conclusion? And, how does Descartes account for the existence of innate ideas?
Answer: Descartes concludes that he cannot doubt his own existence since even in attempting to doubt it, he must exist to do so. It is, thus, indubitably true that he exists. Descartes thinks that the idea of God must be innate since he is too feeble a being to have thought of it himself.
Subject: Who am I?
Question: Who and what are the we in we?
Answer: This question is groping to be intelligible. What can “in we” mean? Does it mean “in the human race” or “in the society in which one lives” or what? And if it is just a question about who and what a person is, each individual’s answer will be different for the former but basically the same for the latter. You are the individual, unique, irreplaceable person who wrote that question, one who would be sorely missed by friends and relatives if you were to die. But you are also a human being, like the rest of us, a being with the capacity to think, to ask questions, to be silly and stupid and wise and careful and reckless and the lot. But the two aspects are inseparable–it is because you are a human being that who you are is so different from who others are. As the comedian novelist Steve Martin has a character say in his recent novella, “People, I thought. These are people. Their general uniformity was interrupted only by their individual variety.” (The Pleasure of My Company, p. 62)
Subject: Kant
Question: I am perplexed by Kant’s transcendental deduction of categories
Can you provide me some help ?especially with reference to the distinction between objective deduction and subjective deduction and the main points discussed under these headings.
Can you also mention some critics who objected to this transcendental deduction and the main points raised by them
Answer: I can only give you hints–you ask for a bit too much. Kant’s asks, basically, “What would have to be the case for us to know the world as it appears to us?” and answers that “Our minds would need to contain certain necessary categories for understanding things.” In short, to explain our knowing that which we clear seem to know, we would have to have a certain kind of mind (this is the deduction or abduction).
Many critics object to this, especially modern Aristotelians who hold that the mind does not impose any categories but identifies them as part of the world. (One very avid critic is the Russian born novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand, in her Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology [NAL, 1979] and Philosophy: Who Needs It? [NAL, 1982]; see also the philosopher Edward Pols, in his Radical Realism [Cornell, 1998].)
Answer: One way to take that claim is that it means appearance is an aspect of reality–whatever something appears to be is real, though certainly not everything, about that thing. Say, if you see an attractive person. This attraction at that point comes from the appearance–what you can observe–and it is quite real, although not all there is to that person. Or an apple can appear to be very healthy but beneath this appearance it can contain worms. But this still makes the appearance an aspect of the apple and, thus, real. Appearance, thus, need not deceive unless one takes it for more than it is.
Subject: pragmatism
Question: Could you please explain to me William James’ theory of meaning and how it relates to pragmatism. Also, could you explain how his theory relates to Charles Peirce’s take on pragmatism. Your help is much appreciated.
Answer: James’ idea is that we use language to help us cope with the world successfully and however we understand a term or concept, this needs to be our test of whether it is meaningful, useful. Even whether a belief is true needs to be tested by way of seeing whether it serves the useful purposes we can achieve with having this belief–say, a belief in God is “true” when so believing helps us get on with life successfully. (There are more or less nuanced versions of this, of course.)
Peirce held the view that we have beliefs that are always subject to being corrected, updated, and never fully proven correct, so that nothing could be said to overturn them. But you really need to read both James and Peirce to get them right.
Subject: Illusionary world?
Question: Might the world be an illusion or dream?
Answer: “Might” is a very loose term–is there something contradictory about the idea? Well, yes, there is since the dream itself would be a real dream, no? And that means something would be real, not an illusion. And, in any case, your question better not be an illusion for then I will have wasted my time, as would you have. The point of raising such a question is simply to consider something far out, fanciful, just so we know we haven’t missed anything. But it shouldn’t be taken seriously.
Subject: faith in science
Question: For the purpose of research for a book on faith I would like to know what impact if any faith has on science and is there any room in science for faith in a higher power?
Answer: Of course, you must be talking about the possible impact of faith on scientists and their work and about whether those committed to doing science in the regular way it is done–experimentation, logical reasoning, mathematics, and so forth–can agree, based on their way of doing science, on the existence of a supernatural higher power.
There are scientists who are influenced by their faith but they usually keep their scientific work apart from their religious beliefs, although a few do mix them. (The Templeton Foundation in the USA encourages this latter with a huge monetary prize, a little more than what the Nobel Prize pays.) And, of course, in Muslim countries there is a lot of mixing going on, though I do not know with what measure of intellectual success. There are some, also, who mix science with God, at least some version of God, as when they argue for “intelligent design.” However, this is highly problematic since intelligence is normally tied to a living brain, so how could it be the case that such intelligence came before everything else, including brains? Still, there are scientists who mix the two, though the a large number of them are secular thinkers, even materialists or naturalists, and have no room for any supernatural beings.
Subject: Thesis
Question: I have to write a thesis for an intro to philosophy class. Freshman at 30 and have never written a thesis. At any rate. I would like to write it on something close to my heart. Anxiety disorders. May sound like a silly question, but how do you write a philosophy paper on anxiety disorders? Someone had once told me about a website that was good for learning how to write philosophy papers of all kinds. Any suggestions?

Answer: Anxiety disorder is a psychological issue, not a philosophical one. Anxiety may be, but not the disorder. I suggest you pick something more philosophical and Google it.
Subject: Free Will
Question: Do human beings truly have free-will?

(1) do human beings truly have free-will?

Answer: (1) Yes, ordinarily people have free will (if their brains aren’t seriously damaged). See, e.g., Tibor R. Machan, Initiative–Human Agency and Society (2000).

(2) No, if by “global skepticism” is meant doubting everything. I don’t doubt that I am answering a question posed to me on All Experts; I don’t doubt that I know the author of the above book; I doubt doubt that my car is parked outside my house in a car port, etc., etc.
Subject: Imagination
Question: I have some ideas regarding imagination and I wonder if you could point me in some directions for further investigation/reading.

My idea is this –
1, we can never be free because we are limited. E.g, 1 have 2 arms and not 4, I have to breathe, I can’t fly etc. We are always operating from constraints.
2, in my imagination I can be free. I can have 4 arms and can fly and imagine things that cannot happen or exist.

I’m thinking about this because I teach music and often encounter problems in getting people to be more imaginative when improvising, people tend to let the limit of the instrument dictate to them how to play and I think that if you play from your imagination then you reach for things and think/play creatively.

So these are my thoughts. Have there been any philosophers or anyone who has written on this?

Answer: Having limitations doesn’t render one unfree–I can only use the keyboard on this computer to answer you but I could write a great variety of answers–I am free within my limits. So are the folks you teach. So I see it. And you can also be free in your imagination but this is only the freedom of your thoughts, although for an artist that is crucial. Many people simply aren’t incline–or have decided not to–be imaginative. I am a writer of non-fiction but each time I try to write fiction, I fail. I haven’t cultivated this way of using my mind, as many others haven’t, so we stick to reading novelists, poets, playwrights, etc., all of whom are pretty good at using their imaginative capacities. There have, of course, been many philosophers who have reflected on this–you might start with Arthur C. Danto, a contemporary writer on art, go to John Dewey, Ayn Rand, maybe read another contemporary’s, Randall Dipert’s, book, Artifacts, Art Works, and Agency (Temple UP).
Subject: Why ask why?
Question: Why do we ask why? Or, why do we asking questions? Why do I want to know the answer to that and other questions?
Answer: Are you joking? You just asked a “why” question, so you are in the best position to know your reasons for asking it. There is no general reason, just this and that question asked for this and that reason.
Subject: Thesis
Question: Have a question, perhaps you could direct me to a few online places for details. I have to write a thesis for an intro to philosophy class. Freshman at 30 and have never written a thesis. At any rate. I would like to write it on something close to my heart. Anxiety disorders. May sound like a silly question, but how do you write a philosophy paper on anxiety disorders? Someone had once told me about a website that was good for learning how to write philosophy papers of all kinds. Any suggestions?

Answer: Anxiety disorder is a psychological issue, not a philosophical one. Anxiety may be, but not the disorder. I suggest you pick something more philosophical and Google it.
Subject: Free Will & Skepticism
Question: (1) do human beings truly have free-will?
Answer: Yes, ordinarily people have free will (if their brains aren’t seriously damaged). See, Tibor R. Machan, Initiative–Human Agency and Society (2000).

No, if by “global skepticism” is meant doubting everything. I don’t doubt that I am answering a question posed to me on All Experts; I don’t doubt that I know the author of the above book; I don’t doubt that my car is parked outside my house in a car port, etc., etc.
Subject: Imagination
Question: I have some ideas regarding imagination and I wonder if you could point me in some directions for further investigation/reading.

My idea is this –
1, we can never be free because we are limited. E.g, 1 have 2 arms and not 4, I have to breathe, I can’t fly etc. We are always operating from constraints.
2, in my imagination I can be free. I can have 4 arms and can fly and imagine things that cannot happen or exist.

I’m thinking about this because I teach music and often encounter problems in getting people to be more imaginative when improvising, people tend to let the limit of the instrument dictate to them how to play and I think that if you play from your imagination then you reach for things and think/play creatively.

So these are my thoughts. Have there been any philosophers or anyone who has written on this?

Answer: Having limitations doesn’t render one unfree–I can only use the keyboard on this computer to answer you but I could write a great variety of answers–I am free within my limits. So are the folks you teach. So I see it. And you can also be free in your imagination but this is only the freedom of your thoughts, although for an artist that is crucial. Many people simply aren’t incline–or have decided not to–be imaginative. I am a writer of non-fiction but each time I try to write fiction, I fail. I haven’t cultivated this way of using my mind, as many others haven’t, so we stick to reading novelists, poets, playwrights, etc., all of whom are pretty good at using their imaginative capacities. There have, of course, been many philosophers who have reflected on this–you might start with Arthur C. Danto, a contemporary writer on art, go to John Dewey, Ayn Rand, maybe read another contemporary’s, Randall Dipert’s, book, Artifacts, Art Works, and Agency (Temple UP).

Subject: Citizens and government
Question: At what point does it become morally necessary for citizens to disobey their government? At what point should citizens even resist (non-violently or violently) their government? examples where you would be willing to break the law or resist your government even if it meant personal risk for you?
Answer: The US Declaration of Independence answers the first part of your question pretty clearly: When the government begins to systematically violate individual rights. There are different levels of personal risk. Barring suicidal risks, it is ethical/moral to oppose government in various ways. ~
Subject: Moral code in a pluralistic environment
Question: Given the fact that we live in a pluralistic environment where there are many competing visions of what is morally good, and where there is no one view of the good that commands everyone’s allegiance–how should we go about building a unified basis for moral order in society? What can provide the foundation for enough moral agreement to build a unified society? What moral theory might provide a framework for creating some moral order for society? What can we all agree on?
Answer: You will never reach a consensus because (by any account of morality) some folks are vicious and cannot be counted on to come to act decently. So total consensus is impossible. There may, however, be some basic matters on which reasonable people can and should agree, such as that it is better to flourish in life than to perish or suffer; when this is made clear and its implications laid out, there is reasonable hope of sufficient consensus to have a civilized society.
Subject: Individualism
Question: Overtime the increase in individualism has affected all of society. It has changed societies attitudes towards death, dying ,and bereavement. what are really the gains and losses of this development. on for example the spiritual, medical, ethical, and social aspects. I looked at euthanasia, and palliative care but I am a little blurry into the spiritual, and social issues examples. In class we are discussing the human meaning of death and I am in a nutshell trying to understand the way individualism affected society’s attitude, in all the areas not just euthanasia (ethical, social). I want to be able to understand all the dimensions in order to contribute to the class discussion.
Answer: There are different types of individualism. The subjective sort isolates individuals and makes their communitarian attitudes somewhat meager, although not absent. The more robust, neo-Aristotelian individualism construes every individual a sovereign a being, of ultimate value, and enhances the community individuals choose to live in. (For good discussions, see Tibor R. Machan, Capitalism and Individualism [St. Martin's Press, 1990] and Classical Individualism [Routledge, 1998].)
Subject: Assumptions
Question: I was wondering is there anything we humans can answer without backing up with premises that are assumed?
And is there a “solution” to paradox?
And finally, I was wondering what philosophers do for a living besides teaching and witting?

Answer: There are some facts that are inescapable–such as that you are now conscious as you read my reply, or that there are things (e.g., this reply), and that whatever there is, is something and not what it is not–but these are not assumptions, really, but axioms or facts (or truths, when put into propositional form) that are so basic that even to questions them requires their existence. (Just try denying that you are conscious or that something exists–what about your consciousness of that denial, what about the existence of it?) But, aside from these basic facts or truths, there is much that we always assume, with pretty good reason but without always making sure of their truth or that they are facts–such as gravity or that our eye sight is reliable or that what we take to be our name is really our name.
Philosophers sometimes become editors of magazines or at publishing houses; now and then they get law degrees and use their good logical training in the legal profession; sometimes they even become consultants–for example, on ethics for business firms–to organizations or persons with problems to work through.
Subject: Assumptions
Question: Thanks a lot for your explanation. I was just wondering, isn’t axioms kind of resembles assumptions; just that axioms are the most fundamental assumptions, like 1+1=2 is axiomatic because 1X substance + 1X substance = 2X substances based on deductive thinking. So we kind of assumed that logical thinking is valid.
And again we based our assumptions on our five sense because without it, we literary know nothing, and I think we kind of assumed that the “truth” are only based on our five senses, like whatever we do or experience, we use are senses, but because there might be the 6th or 7th or infinity amount of senses, aren’t our answers always incomplete and based on assumptions in some sense? Maybe you can share with me your opinion. Thanks
Answer: Some things are known, some things are assumed. If everything were merely assumed, this distinction would vanish and the idea of an assumption would no longer make sense. “Assumed” is meaningful in contrast to “known.” If there is nothing known, there is nothing assumed either–we are all at sea about it all, including that we are all at sea about it all. It is a confusion of skepticism to assume one part of a polar concept and deny the other when, in fact, they only make sense together. (Like, “middle” makes no sense without “beginning” and “end.” So to say, “everything is in the middle,” would make no sense. So, “everything is assumed” makes no sense—something has got to be known.)
Subject: Values, Principles and their Relationship
Question: I would like to know if you could provide me with a way to explain the relationships of the following:
• Values (The behaviors of Values)
• Principles
• Ethics
• Morality
• Character
Do these fit together? Do they orbit each other? Do they build upon each other? How can I explain the above visually??
I’d like an analogy so that I can explain it to my students and others.
Answer: Your question requires a book to answer–perhaps you should consider checking Tibor R. Machan, A Primer on Ethics (University of Oklahoma Press, 1997). Very briefly, values are whatever some living being seeks to obtain; values do not behave but whatever requires them behaves so as to obtain them (or, in the case of human beings who can choose their behavior, they ought to behave so as to attain them); principles are basic laws of behavior and in ethics they are the laws that ought to be acted on so as to achieve the values that should be attained; ethics is the discipline in philosophy wherein values and how to attain them–and how to justify their attainment–are studied; “morality” usually means the same thing as “ethics” (although in morality one is focusing more on interpersonal principles of conduct while in ethics one focuses on all principles of conduct, especially those that will help one live an excellent life); character is the set of habituated ethical or moral principles of conduct a person has internalized so as to guide oneself without having to deliberate about it every time one needs to do the right thing.
The analogy you might wish to use is engineering, where the goal (value) is to produce a functional or useful edifice, the principles are the laws of mechanics, electrical wiring, suspension, and such; the ethics or morality the field of engineering involved, and character the learned skill(s) of the engineer(s). Or, for more visual representation, you might use a building where the purposes of it stands for the value, the foundation for the principles, the study of how to build for ethics or morality, and the learned professional skills of the construction team for character.
Subject: The Mind
Question: I have an essay on consciousness to write but I am stuck as to where to begin and to my own beliefs on the topic therefore it is proving difficult to both research and begin the essay. I was wondering what concepts of philosophy I need to grasp in order to approach this topic. I am not asking you to write me an essay, more to guide me as to theories and concepts which can be used in reference to the topic. I have been informed to use Chalmers’ valuable discussion but I am unsure as to which discussion this is referring to. Is it the “zombie” discussion or is there another discussion which I have missed?
Answer: Well, I wouldn’t know what discussion you have missed–how could I? But here is what you could do:
Begin by stating what the ancient problem of mind versus body (brain) is about, namely, whether there is any difference between the living brain (as seen by a surgeon or, now, a CAT scanner), and the mind or consciousness (as experienced by someone with that brain who sees something red or thinks the idea of justice or love or imagines a pretty face). It seems there is a difference–no matter how much we look at brains, it isn’t the same as having those experiences. Yet, it seems, also, that having those experiences depends on having the living brain in our heads. So where it the difference, if there is any?
Then you can suggest some possible answers: The brain has its physical components but these make possible the mental components, a bit like in a mirror there are the glass and the paint on the back that make possible the reflections the mirror gives us (which cannot be seen just from looking at the glass and the paint on the back). Or perhaps some other way of understanding the difference is possible–there may in fact be some kind of spiritual element in us that exist alongside the brain, or the like.
How would all this be possible in our world? Well, it wouldn’t if only one kind of stuff exists, of which everything, including the brain, is composed. Then there is nothing more to the mind but this stuff and our “inner” experiences that seem so different are nothing at all. But perhaps the world is not just made of one kind of stuff but stuff that develops, in time and through all kinds of interactions in the world, into more and more complicated substances and the brain is then a highly evolved substance that makes those different, unique inner experiences possible…..
Subject: Kant question
Question: I’m currently studying Kant. Do you know what he means when he says “rational nature exists as an end itself”? It is quite unclear. Can you help me out?
Answer: It means that any being that has the capacity to think on its own, to reason things out, to evaluate and then set goals, may not be used by others (who have a choice about such things) against his or her own will. To illustrate, consider that we use dogs, chicken, trees, rocks, and such at will, with impunity (mostly, especially if they do not belong to someone else), but we are not permitted to use another person unless he or she agrees (for example, we may use a doctor, dentist, or CPA only if that individual permits this–e.g., agrees to be hired by us). Why? Because these are individuals who can think for themselves, who have a rational nature, as do we who also may not be used against our will. (“End in itself” means something “capable of–and living by–setting goals or ends for him or herself.”)
Subject: utilitarianism
Question: can you please explain the principle of utility in “everyday language.” Also, did Jesus believe in this principle? I’m thinking yes because he died for the salvation of mankind.
Answer: Utilitarianism means that each person ought to promote the greatest happiness (or good or satisfaction) for the most people (or sentient beings). Two version exist, act and rule utilitarianism. The former (quite impossibly) requires we check whether each action we take achieves this goal; the latter requires we adopt rules of conduct that (overall) promote this goal. It’s the latter version that is prominent.
Jesus is difficult to judge because he was both Man and God. As God his conduct is too mysterious to understand and, in any case, it is doubtful He suffered. As Man, of course, he suffered but is it really possible to assess what he did in light of the fact that he was also God?
Essentially, no harm could come to Jesus as Man-God, so what he did is probably best understood as an act of generosity or perhaps mercy (in the case of really guilty sinners).
Subject: Vietnam
Question: I am not sure if this is your area of expertise, but here it goes. I am kind of puzzled by the idea of kamikazes. Could you imagine killing yourself on purpose? Even if it is for your country. But if you think about it, the kamikazes are only from the eastern half of the world. Iraqis, Japanese, the Vietcong, the NVA, etc. Do they not honor self life over in Asia like we Americans do? Are they not afraid of dying? Also, from what I have read, Russians barely even grieve the death of loved ones. Tears are normally not shed, and they get over the death quickly. My best friend died last year in a car accident and I think about him almost daily! What is the difference between our perspective on life, particularly OUR own life, compared to the ideas and philosophy on life of Asians and the East part of the world. I hope you can give me an answer, I’ve been thinking about this for a while now.
Answer: It is always possible for someone to consider risking his life worth the reward (a liberated country, etc.) but suicidal behavior requires, I think, some belief in self-glorification in a sort of afterlife. So it does have a lot to do with self, however, in a complicated way. And often there is actual belief in an afterlife of happiness and honor. Or, in some instances, it is because it earns one the care for one’s relatives from others (as in the case of Palestinian or Muslin suicide bombers). Even Christian martyrs were to be rewarded with eternal heavenly bliss. Few just throw their lives away for nothing, although there are crazies or folks who are temporarily out to lunch and then nothing matters to them.
Subject: Sartre
Question: If Sartre is an existentialist, how can he be an atheist? Like, if existentialist always believe in free will, must they not believe in something beyond that which is physical?
Answer: Existentialism, as Sartre understood it, has to do with the freedom we all have to think and feel as we will. The idea is that there are no pre-existent categories that our thinking must fit, it’s all up to us: Existence precedes essence; so how we define the world, what it will be for us is something we may freely decide.
Sartre is an atheist because he also doubts that any prior being, one prior to our choice to believe in one thing rather than another, exists. He is a subjectivist about what is the case other than one’s immediate experiences or feelings. That is, at least, how I understand his views.
Subject: Philosophy – ethics & Medical technology
Question: Why would Immanuel Kant view medical technology as unethical? Why would Mill view medical technology as unethical?
Answer: These are strange questions–they assume that both Kant and Mill would view medical technology as unethical but is that correct? If human beings are treated as ends in themselves and not merely means to someone else’s ends, any technology that we may make use of is morally OK for Kant. And if the goal of maximizing happiness is achieved by way of medical technology, Mill would support it as morally OK. So I am not sure what’s the problem. Medical technology, like any technology, is a tool or instrument and can be used for good or ill within any ethical framework.

Subject: Essays
Question: In my forthcoming research fellowship exam we will be given some topics for essay writing are there some special ingredients of philosophical essays? What should be my style of writing? They just mentioned in the syllabi that the essays will be given on general, contemporary or themes of disciplinary relevance….
Answer: Start by stating the topic on which you want to write your essay and why it matters to you and should to others. Then explain some crucial aspects of this topic. Then state what position about this topic you want to defend and explain. Then provide your argument for this position, show that it is a reasonable view to take about the topic. Then consider some objections to your position, real or imagined, and answer them. Then conclude with some recommendations as to what might be done to implement your position.
Subject: a question
Question: Is there a philosophical or ethical question that you find hard to answer or cannot answer?
Answer: I personally cannot–haven’t the time, energy, resources and smarts to–answer many but I do not believe there are any questions that cannot be answered. If the question is meaningful, it can be answered with sufficient effort and perseverance. I find the problem of free will a very challenging one, as well as the one about the duration of the universe. But there are more.
Subject: Difference
Question: What is the difference between “Philosophy” and “Logic”?
Answer: Logic is the formal discipline of correct reasoning, its basic and derived rules (what makes arguments valid, what makes them sound, etc.). Philosophy is the substantive discipline concerned with identifying the most basic facts of reality, including those pertaining to our relationship to reality (metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, political philosophy, aesthetics, etc.). The former is the paramount device for reaching understanding about the latter.

Subject: Justification within Interpersonal Relations
Question: Hmmmm… I got a feeling you’re going to deny my question but I believe this is tied into philosophy. I know this isn’t the “person/relationship” section but they don’t have the topic that I wish to be covered so the closest thing was philosophy. Now there’s this girl I like I believe I have justified reasons for liking her. I like her because she’s funny, happy, bubbly, moral, and somewhat cognitive but my problem is that, that doesn’t seem like enough reason to be in a relationship. I say it doesn’t seem like enough reason in that I don’t feel justified. But then I don’t know when full justification is in play. If she would be happy with another person and me not cause any conflict I would be happier doing that. My problem is I don’t totally understand the purpose of a relationship. I understand each participant becomes more inclusive into each other and more exclusive at the same time with people observing the relation. I understand that their are common interests between both participants. I do not totally understand the difference in relationship and friendship aside from intimacy and even then I don’t totally understand the point to intimacy aside from extensive expression.

To simplify that my main questions are what are the main purposes of a relationship and what justification should I be looking for?
Answer: You seem to assume that “liking” someone, even maybe “loving” someone, must be justified by way of general reasons–such as they are intelligent, beautiful, compassionate, etc., meaning they deserve your love–but you leave out a factor that is far more personal, namely, individual appeal or compatibility based on who you are and the other person is. Without this, what has come to be called chemistry, the rest of the factors you list tend to be unhinged. Love is personal or even individual in this way, so that one’s beloved cannot be replaced, which is why loss of a loved one is so devastating and takes so long to overcome. Friends fit the bill but they can be multiplied because the intimacy involved isn’t exclusive, whereas lovers touch each other, both literally and figuratively, on so many personal fronts that any serious substitute would intrude (ergo jealousy). Once that personal touch is there, of course the other attributes you focus on are also crucial but without that personal touch, the others do not make for a romantic relationship. (Best on this topic is David L. Norton, in his Personal Destinies [Princeton UP, 1976].)
Subject: 4 General Philosophy
Questions: 4 General Philosophy Questions Please
Can you help me answer some questions… 1- what’s the difference between act and rule utilitarianism? with examples please. 2- what’s the difference between a utilitarian and a formalist? with examples. 3-what’s the difference between common law and Civil law? with examples 4- why would you abandon the utilitarian position? give examples.
Answer: Act utilitarianism requires one to calculate whenever one takes some action whether it contributes best to the greatest happiness of the greatest number, while rule utilitarianism requires one to adopt general rules or principles to promote that goal. (E.g., as I write this, AU requires I figure if my doing so serve that goal best, while RU requires I follow a principle, such as “fulfill your promises,” that promotes that goal.) A utilitarian must calculate overall benefits versus harms when he or she acts, while a formalist needs to make sure he or she obeys certain basic rules or principles of action (e.g., help others, help yourself, serve God). Common law comes from actual court cases at the local level, civil law may be what the legislature enacts (although I am unsure here). One might oppose utilitarianism because one cannot ever know ahead of time whether one’s actions promote overall happiness. (Does what I am doing now really advance overall happiness or would it have been better to make myself a sandwich or clean my front yard? No one can tell this.)
Subject: general
Question: well, I guess i am asking a fundamental question of what is the real aim of philosophy…It strikes me as strange that for thousands of years people have been asking the same basic questions and have not found the answers to them- why are we here, what is this world, what is the right way to live and how to be happy…what then in you opinion, is the object of philosophy if we cannot answer the most basic questions of our own existence? thanks
Answer: It is not the case that for thousands of years people have asked the same questions but came up with no answers. They have come up with many answers, some of them excellent, even the right ones, but they haven’t reached widespread agreement about them, which is perfectly normal for people to do. People are very different and often stubborn and silly and inept and only now and then are they up to reaching the right answers. In this discipline, too, even if they do reach the right answers, the next generation will need to revisit the issue again, and again, since it is so important and no one else’s answer can be one’s own answer that one must reach through doing the hard work like those before. From each generation there will be some who will focus on these issues and grapple with them and some of these will get it right or nearly so. But that’s not good enough for the next bunch–they, too, need to come up with their answers. Such is the human condition.
Subject: Decisions and Actions
Question: Do people take action or make decisions for no reason?
Answer: Yes–sometimes they take actions for no reason other than to (unselfconsciously) satisfy some impulse, whim, wish, or fantasy. Now these can be construed as reasons of sorts but they would be unreflective, lacking care and focus (which is why they are often regretted). They would probably be best understood as causes, not reasons.
I should also say that “making a decision for no reason” is probably impossible since to decide something involves considering things, so decisions would likely be more reflective. So it probably makes no sense to have a decision that is without a reason. But, actions are another thing, especially impulsive ones, even reflexive ones. That’s how I see it (briefly).

Subject: Problem of Evil
Question: I am doing research on the Problem of Evil and am quite interested in any conclusions you may have come to about it.
Answer: There are several problems of evil but the most popular is the one relating to God’s existence as an omnipotent, omni-benevolent being. If God is both of these, how can there be so much evil in the world? Surely an all good and omnipotent being would use His almighty power to eliminate evil.
A bit more refined, this should be called the problem of Bad Things Happening to Good or Innocent People. Maybe God made moral evil possible because when he gave us free will, it was with the provision that we can choose to be evil, do evil things. But this doesn’t even come close to explaining how come such bad things as a tsunami or hurricane exit, not to mention diseases and other horrible things which do great harm to good or innocent people.
Imagine that you are sitting on a bench by a busy road and suddenly a baby carriage starts to roll on to it. It’s certain that the baby will be harmed. But you, although very fast on your feet, do nothing. Could you then also be a good person? Well, God appears to be acting just like that, so clearly He cannot be omni-benevolent (all good). That’s the issue.
Subject: Philosophy
Question: I’m taking a intro to philosophy class and having trouble in it. My question to you is please explain in generally the four primary philosophical which are metaphysics, epistemology, axiology, logic.
Answer: I take it you mean “philosophical branches or divisions.” Metaphysics (from “meta”=”before or above”, and “physics”=”nature”) is the branch concerned with the fundamental laws of all of reality, with such matters as what it is to be, did reality have a beginning, are some of its laws stable over time or eternal, etc. Epistemology (from “episte”=”knowledge or science” and “logy”=”theory or discourse”) is the theory of knowledge, of whether and how one knows something, anything at all, of what are the basic elements of knowledge. Axiology concerns the principles of ethical or good conduct. Logic concerns the principles of valid reasoning, of thinking properly.
Subject: Philosophy
Question: I would like for you to answers these questions; they are not homework questions, these questions I got wrong on a exam. 1. Why is logic important for philosophy? Explain (in logical sense)what an argument is. Explain the difference between deductive arguments and inductive arguments. Explain what a logical contradiction is. 2.Explain one paradox of omnipotence and one paradox of omniscience.

Answer: Logic is important because our thinking requires standards–not just any way will do. Logic provides the standards for reasonable, rational, successful thinking. Why? Because logic rests on the basic idea that no contradictions can exist in the world. So if logical contradictions, inconsistencies, infect our thinking, we are bound to go astray.
An argument is a line of thinking that starts with known facts (premises), from which something not yet know is derived (conclusions), provided logical principles are being used.
Deductive arguments involve using various definitions or necessary truths and learning what is embedded in them; so a deductive argument adds nothing to but merely makes explicit what is hidden in what we already know. An inductive argument amounts to taking examples of a certain kind of thing or event and learning what tends to recur in them all and investing this result with confidence but not treating it as necessarily true. A logical contradiction amounts to claiming that some property (or attribute or feature) both is and also is not true of something–e.g., George has on a hat and he is hatless, as well. This cannot be the case–it is a logical contradiction.
(I don’t know what is the “paradox of omnipotence” and the “paradox of omniscience”–there is a paradox of being both, for if you are all knowing you would know how to create something you cannot do, but if you are all powerful, you could do anything you could know.)
Subject: big small
Question: What is the difference between big and small? they both exist, so where is the meaning?
Answer: These are concepts that gain their meaning within a context. In a zoo the elephant is big; among objects in the universe it isn’t that big! In my kitchen an ant is small; but among flees an ant is big. “Big” and “small” do not have meaning apart from their context. It’s like that with many concepts–near, far, deep, shallow, etc. Indeed, all concepts have meanings within contexts.
Subject: For a Reason
Question: Does everything happen for a reason?
Answer: Not so far as I can tell. Rain, for instance, doesn’t happen for a reason; it does have a cause. A reason is some idea that someone has for doing something and rain, or an earthquake, or whatever happens apart from human intentions very likely does not happen because someone had a reason for doing it! So it seems to me.
If God exists, even then He doesn’t make things happen for some reason every time. Reasoning does produce some of what we do but sometimes we do things “for the hell of it” and not for some reason!
Subject: limits
Question: hello. are there limits to human reason or logic? can it solve everything? thank you.
Answer: If there were, we could not tell. But the mind seems to be the sort of faculty that is ready to address any problem and it seems, also, to be prepared to deal with them all–it’s a bit like cameras that can take pictures of anything that’s visible. Thinking is this kind of open-ended endeavor, fit for a world that appears to be open to be thought about. (These days physicists are even considering the existence of yet unchartered dimensions of reality–though invisible, their existence can be learned of by us. Quite amazing.)
Subject: flesh
Question: I’d like to ask you a question about eating animal flesh. I’m not going to ask you whether we have the right to treat them the way they are treated in slaughterhouses now, because i know the answer; of course we have no right to do it. However i would like to ask you who gave us the right to kill animals. I know that in the Genesis it’s written that we were given dominion over the kingdom of animals and we can eat whatever is moving on the earth. But who said so? God? Who wrote the Genesis people, or maybe God did it? I think the Genesis was written by people so how do we know what God said? It’s not what God said but it’s what people said,in my opinion, and people gave themselves dominion over the animals. Of course if there is nothing else to eat, it stands to reason that it’s better to kill an animal than to die of hunger instead. But who gave us the right. Isn’t a life a life, The Roman Catholic Church doesn’t respect it? As far as i know all living beings have souls and so does animals. So? Is it moral to kill them if we have so many other things to eat. Can we say that it’s nothing wrong because the Bible says we CAN? On what grounds do we have the right?
Answer: A full answer is provided for you in Tibor R. Machan, Putting Humans First, Why We Are Nature’s Favorite (Rowman & Littlefield, 2004). This book argues, in part, that rights aren’t given to anyone; one has them by virtue of one’s human nature. Without that human nature, the author argues, one has no rights.
Other animals may need to be treated humanely, kindly, prudently, etc., but they have no rights to such treatment because, as the author argues, only moral agents (not patients) have rights.
The author, by the way, does not rely on Biblical doctrines to try to prove his points. You can see for yourself if his case is successful–although since you say you know the answer to whether animals have rights, I suppose you need no longer bother with this author’s highly skeptical thesis.
Subject: duality
Question: I would like to know how we can resolve the nature of duality of existence. whether it is between religions, cultures, east and west. One can not stay in the middle too long for sometimes we are forced to take a position, although the middle is the safest and sometimes boring place. thank you.
Answer: My understanding is that there is no duality but there are multiplicity of ideas on what counts for most, one thing, two things, three, four, infinite number of them, etc. In my view, however, only one of those is correct and we can only find it through very hard work. The rest are only nearly correct, good for some limited purposes, approximations or, most often, out and out wrong. (There are no UFOs, airplanes are not birds, global warming is not going to be a disaster, cancer is very dangerous but has a chance of a cure, etc., etc.) It is a myth to think that there are permanent dualities, although in some cases they do exist–mind and body, appearance and reality, etc. But they are not everywhere–justice, disease, beauty, wisdom, play, art–all these are non-dualities. There is a temptation for some of us to think always in terms of threes, or twos or fives or what but none of this is required by reality.
Subject: knowledge
Question: Are there limits to knowledge or is knowledge infinite or finite? thank you.
Answer: You ask this as if one answer could just be provided in a sentence or two. This is an ancient question and many, many answers compete for the right one. My own is just a candidate, though I have confidence in it.
Knowledge is an accurate understanding of reality–not a final, perfect, timeless or the like but a correct one (to the best of our current abilities). “Infinite” doesn’t even arise in connection with knowledge, not does “finite.” The universe may be infinite or finite but knowledge of anything is no more or less than our best current grasp of it; nor need to be anything else.
Subject: knowledge
Question: In my opinion no matter how comfortable we are in life, no matter how self satisfied we are, the goal of humanity is to seek the ultimate truth, and why we are here. Do you agree?
Answer: No. Humanity has no goal or goals. You, I, and all the rest of us have goals and they differ greatly from person to person and to know what they are you have to ask them or watch them. Mostly, in very general terms, they want to have a satisfying, happy enough, interesting life, filled with some adventure, love, and decent health. The particulars are, however, innumerable.
Subject: self
Question: can a smart individual look out the rat race and see how the machine of competition works and why it works? Is it normal for one to think of oneself separate from want desires and needs, and to see the machine as a brutal game that can be understood and conquered? This is freewill.
Answer: Competition is no machine but people working to make a decent living, which involves finding others who want their work and will pay for it. For this they need to hustle a bit but this can be done quite friendly, without rancor, provided on is civilized. Some will see competition like a nasty battle, but most see it–or should, in my view–on analogy with a marathon race, only endless. Some try to trip others, cheat here and there, but on the whole human beings aren’t at all brutal when they work in the market place–just check out a market place for yourself, the small one where food and various small and medium size items are offered for sale and bought. It is actually a pretty friendly, peaceful place, except for a few thugs.
Sure we can stand apart and reflect on what we do in markets or anywhere else–that is what scholarship and research are about. But then even those doing this go into their communities and pursue their various goals, some of them by way of the market place, some of them competitively, some of them in church, some in their intimate relations.
If you check the millions of small encounters instead of what the media reports, you will find this well confirmed.

Subject: Soul
Question: I would like to know is the soul immaterial? if so, how do we know it exist? also is it able to cause effects since it has no matter? thank you.
Answer: If there is a soul it might be but need not be immaterial, not at least separate from the body but the principle of the life of the body. So, it could cause things to happen, just as your thinking of this question caused the question to appear in your post, etc., etc.
Subject: Hobbes
Question: Reading in the Leviathan of Thomas Hobbes, I have found two issue that seemed isolated to me and which I hope you would be able to assist me.
I have read through his articles of peace, about the regulation of conduct in the leviathan and the means of entering from the articles of peace; what I want to know is the relationship which exist between the articles of peace and the leviathan.
Answer: The Leviathan will secure the peace because of the near-absolute power of the head of state. Without this power, the social contract that establishes the principles of peace would collapse, Hobbes thinks.
Subject: Fiduciary power/LOCKE
Question: Please assist me in the appreciation of Locke’s idea about the state of nature and his concept of the fiduciary power.
thank you.
Answer: Locke believe that prior to the emergence of civil society and government, people lived in the state of nature, meaning without the benefit of law and order. Still, they have rights there, which is why they are justified in instituting government that has its job to protect those rights. (I don’t know about fiduciary power other than the duty to provide services that had been promised.)
Subject: Animal vs. human cruelty
Question: I’ve read somewhere that people are just apparently worse and more cruel than animals. I was wondering over this word “apparently”. Isn’t it that we are really more cruel than animals are. Do animals kill for pleasure. In my opinion the animals hunt and try to kill their prays as soon as possible just to appease their hunger. Animals cannot think of some sophisticated methods of torturing their prays but humans can and they proved it many times for example during different wars. I think this is because we can think the way animals cannot and this makes that people sometimes do horrible things. So in your opinion are we just “apparently” worse and more cruel than animals or maybe there is no doubt about it that we are. How do you think?
Answer: Non-human animals do what they must, period. Ascribing human traits of character to them is wrong. Yes, they kill their own young–lions, fish, etc.–but that’s due to innate drives. (Even in The March of the Penguins the parents just leave the young behind for good, which isn’t “nice.”) People, in contrast, have a choice and when they engage in misconduct, they are blameworthy, when acting decently they are praiseworthy. These do not apply to non-human animals. Thinking about what we do is precisely what would stop us from doing horrible things–thoughtlessness is the source of our malpractices.
Subject: European view of early modern times.
Question: I am studying history for a college class and was hoping you could point me in the right direction. We have an essay due. I certainly am not asking for your help in completely answering this question. I intend to complete a long essay on my own, but I was hoping you may be able to point me in the best direction on this topic, perhaps outlining some areas to look …
The essay prompt: How did European views of the universe and humanity change in early modern times? What was most responsible for these changes?
I assume this is regarding Enlightenment, but not sure. Did it change from religious thought to more of the scientific process?
Answer: The main change came about after Thomas Aquinas reintroduced Aristotle to Europe (had him translated into Latin from the Arabic versions of his books) in the 13th century or so. This led to the church sanctioning the study of science, which in turn led to an enthusiasm about scientific materialism (Thomas Hobbes, who followed Galileo in thinking the world can be reduced to some basic material stuff). With the successes in technology that followed all this, the modern European era turned more and more toward the scientific (actually scientistic [look this up]) approach, leaving behind such ideas as human (or God’s) purpose, ethics, justice, and right and wrong and embraced, instead, a focus on what is most efficient, what works, what can be manipulated best.
Of course, just now there is some kind of reaction to this, with many thinkers embracing post-modernism, desconstructionism, radical pragmatism (all basically skeptical views). There are other reactions, such as the rediscovery of Aristotle without the Christian baggage so it doesn’t contradict modern science.
I hope this helps–gets you started.
Subject: Positivism and Political Theory
Question: I am currently reading social and political theory. On my readings on normative political theory I came across the argument raised by the logical positivists against the approaches of normative theory, my question is to what extent does the arguments of the logical positivists resemble that of empirical political theory? and if there is any semblance in their critic of normative political theory, then what is the difference between normative and empirical political theory?

Answer: Positivists mainly object to normative political or ethical or any other theory on the grounds that propositions including such terms as “ought to” or “should” are unverifiable. Because many in the field of political theory found positivism convincing, they rejected any such terms and confined themselves to empirical propositions and predictions, without making any value judgments. That is how they differentiated themselves from normative political theory, by refusing to admit propositions, hypothesis and the like that contained value terms. (Value-free became the dominant approach not just of political theory but much of the rest of social science.) But this approach was criticized for inconsistency since it made the value judgment that we ought to stick to empirical propositions. How were they going to verify that proposition without violating its instruction? So, as they say, it was “back to the drawing board.” John Rawls, in 1971, published A Theory of Justice (Harvard UP), which embraced the intuitionist and social contractarian approach. Later Robert Nozick came out with his Anarchy, State, and Utopia (Basic Books, 1974), in which a similar normative approach was taken, with but a few modifications. But there has always been a philosophical school in politics, following Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, which boldly embraced the normative approach–Leo Strauss and his students followed this, as did Ayn Rand and hers (Douglas B. Rasmussen, Douglas J. Den Uyl, Tibor R. Machan, Fred D. Miller, Jr., Eric Mack, et al) and the neo-Airstotelian Henry B. Veatch. These scholars, however, never became as prominent as Rawls and Nozick and the rest who hail from prestigious universities such as Harvard, Princeton, Oxford, and Cambridge. But, in any case, positivism is no longer a dominant school and its criticism of normative political philosophy is now pretty much refuted.

Subject: philosophy of history
Question: What is the difference between history and philosophy of history?
Answer: The philosophy of history–as the philosophy of anything–examines the assumptions underlying the concept at issue, in this case of history, and whether those assumptions are sound, true. For example, the philosophy of history would study the nature of time, of development, of progress and regress, of change, etc.

Subject: life
Question: My 12th grade English teacher is asking that my class asks a “burning question” of a few experts. My question is: what is the purpose of life? I would appreciate any response you can offer me.

Answer: Life in general has no purpose but the lives of particular living things do. Most things aim at survival and procreation. Some aim at flourishing. It is in their nature to do so. Human beings, however, have the option to decided what purpose they will pursue with their lives. This is a grave responsibility and some never fulfill it. But with care and attention and perseverance, each of us will eventually discover what he or she should aim for in life. (Our purposes are, of course, highly diverse because we are very different individual human beings.)

Subject: Humanism
Question: I was intrigued when my teacher began talking about how humanism helped shape the changes the occurred in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries (Europe), however he didn’t go into detail as to how it did so. If you could clear this up for me at all it would be appreciated, as I’m interested to know how a philosophical application such as this could have shaped centuries.

Answer: Probably what is most important about humanism—which has been around much longer than since the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries (Socratic or ancient Greek humanism if famous, for example)–is that it aims to displace religion as the source of ethics. Thus it suggests that how we ought to act is possible to know from an understanding of human nature instead of God’s will. In the modern era this was what Ludwig Feuerbach taught, in his book, The Essence of Christianity. He influenced Karl Marx who started off as a humanist but then changed into a “scientific socialist.” Today two kinds of humanists dominate–collectivists (drawing mostly on Auguste Comte and Karl Marx) and individualists (drawing on Herbert Spencer and Ayn Rand). There are also Albert Camus and Jean Paul Sartre, two existentialists, who are also humanists. And there is the movement called secular humanism, to distinguish the scientific versus religious humanists (who now combine faith and science-based ethics).

Subject: “Great person” theory
Question: In the history of psychology, the “great person” theory looks at the massive contributions and achievements of certain individuals. That is, the idea that if a person has the correct personality traits, his/her instincts will lead to historical developments regardless of the details of a given situation or period of time. This position asserts that an individual who has reached a position of power and influence or has discovered something simply through great personal effort. Can you provide some examples of “great persons” from the history of psychology?

Answer: First, Sidney Hook actually wrote something on this topic but from a philosophical perspective. His choices were Napoleon, Bismarck, Churchill (if I recall correctly). But there are others in different fields, such as an Aristotle or Descartes in philosophy, a Freud or Jung in psychology, a da Vinci or Van Gough in the visual arts, Proust or Tolstoy in literature. And so forth and so on. All these and some similar folks have made a big difference in how things have turned out in the realms of human life they touched.

Subject: humanism today
Question: Are there any books or journals you know of which cover or link with this topic? I would like to understand further how the word humanism developed, it’s key stages and what defined these stages, also I’m interested to know how people see humanism’s future? Any insights of yours would be appreciated. What do you think of new humanism? Do you think that the word can be justified in the same way that it was. Do you think that humanism today is still possible. Has or can meaning be restored to the word humanism? I am studying philosophical humanism at the moment and am fascinated by the development of its meaning and linguistic origins of the word.

Answer: At the level of fundamentality at which one considers ethics and social philosophy, humanism is just as promising a stance to take today as it was in the days of Socrates or Ludwig Feuerbach. It is an alternative to faith-based ethics, etc., resting, presumably, on an understanding of human nature. Of course, in every age there were skeptics who would reject the very possibility of knowledge of the nature of things, including human nature, and today we have post-modernists for whom no concept or theory has objective meaning or validity. But, in my view, these skeptics are no better than their kin in pre-Socratic times. So, yes, humanism is a solid candidate for guiding human conduct and institutions. It requires, however, a very close and detailed study of what human beings are. (For example, is a human being, as Marx argued in his humanist days, “the true collectivity of man” or rather basically an individual with his or her own independent mind?) The word “humanism” was coined to replace “theism,” “belief in human beings” as opposed to “belief in God.” There are many, many books on this topic–go to Google and write in “humanism” or to Wikepedia or the Library of Congress or There is The Humanist magazine, Free Inquiry (the magazine of Secular Humanism), etc. You can easily locate reading materials, really.

Subject: Concepts
Question: I’m confused about something I read in a psychology textbook. Under the section about how we form concepts in general such as when we “abstract” all the things, for example, that makes a car different from every other car and just keep those properties it has in common with other cars like four wheels, an engine, it’s shape, etc. It’s “carness” in short. Well, when I got to point in the paragraph that stated: “even the word concept is a “concept,” I began to scratch my head. I know concept formation is necessary so we as humans are not inundated with too much data. I don’t know if I’m making any sense but could you please tell me how “the word concept can be a “concept?”

Answer: No, the word “concept” is a word but when we used the word in a regular sentence like, “The concept ‘happiness’ is complex,” we mean by it whatever a concept is, namely, a mental integration. By the way, your psychology text made a mistake of confusing concepts with their definitions. A concept is not only those attributes of what it is a concept of which all the things meant by it have in common. Concepts include a lot more than the defining attributes. A good book to look at is Ayn Rand’s Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology (1979). (Rand is not an academic philosopher but this work of hers is outstanding philosophy.)

Subject: Time & Space
Question: A few times when I was reading different books I came across a phrase like this one “there is no time and space” There was no “time and space for him or for her” Or “he was the enemy of time and space.” Once I read that one of the martial artists said that there was no time and space for him. I understood that he was talking about speed of the person who attacks and about a distance between him and his opponent. So for him both time and space did not exist because he was so self confident. I’m just curious whether saying that there is no time and space belongs to some specific current of philosophy. And what it may mean, does it make any sense to say so. I think i know how to understand that there is no time because the time does not exist, we are not able to seize the time. There is no past no future and the present is passing away all the time so we cannot seize it too. This is how i understand it at least. Am I right??? However I don’t understand that there is no SPACE. Do you know maybe how to interpret it? Thanks!

Answer: All such expressions amount to literary or poetic license. The intimation is that whatever is beyond time and space is otherworldly, way out, beyond the normal or mundane, very impressive and awesome. If you read such phrases in astrophysics, however, there may be something Einsteinian at work there.

Subject: Knowing the physical world
Question: From what is everything that mankind collectively ‘knows’ about the physical world, derived?

Answer: Why the scare quotes around “knows”? The answer is that there is no derivation at work here because we have direct access to the physical (and indeed some other aspects of the) world (such as our pains and thoughts or memories) by means of our perceptual organs. When you wrote out your question and sent it and I read it, I knew that there were marks on my screen from looking, not from deriving it from anything.

Subject: ARISTOTLE’s Ethics
Question: What is the human function and what does it have to do with the good life?

Answer: The human function is reason or rationality, the use of one’s mind. It is human because this is what distinguishes people from other animals and it is a function because its use is needed for flourishing. When one puts one’s reason or rationality–one’s mind–to full use, one becomes the best one can be of the kind of being one is. Human nature, in other words, is then fully realized or actualized, which for Aristotle is the human good.
Subject: Follow-up on ARISTOTLE’s Ethics
Question: Anyway, one would consider this as having good a good virtue.

Answer: First virtues would be cultivated in us by parents, family, neighbors, and others surrounding us in childhood; gradually, as we mature, we ourselves begin to take over this job and make sure we act virtuously–honestly, prudently, generously, moderately, courageously, etc. In time these virtues will come to form our character, become second nature for us, so we need not deliberate about them but act in accordance with them almost automatically (although we do keep a mental eye on ourselves to make sure we act right). That’s if we pay attention and make the effort to be good.
Subject: Wittgenstein “philosophy is ‘i know not what’ by ludwig Wittgenstein”
Question: Please discuss ludwig Wittgenstein definition of philosophy ….
Answer: Wittgenstein didn’t define philosophy–or anything else–since he didn’t believe in definitions but in what he called family resemblances (or strong enough similarities) that characterize whatever is talked about in the same terms–like “table,” “government,” “justice,” or “kidney.”
Philosophy for him was a (mental) activity by which one rids oneself of verbal bewitchments, perplexities, or confusions. It is doing analysis of ordinary language so as to get clear on what is meant by what term. “Helping the fly out of the fly bottle,” is a metaphor he used to characterize philosophy. He didn’t much believe in philosophical systems or theories but mainly in doing philosophy in the above mode.
Subject: Postmodern thought
Question: Do you think that postmodern thought can ever be rational, even though it stands against modernism and modernism is essentially rational? Do you think it could be as it is rationally linked to Postmodernism but also because there is never a certain, unchanging answer to everything, according to Postmodernism, therefore making the rationality of the postmodern possible? Any ideas either way?
Answer: There are a few insights of postmodern thought that, oddly, do make sense (although they are presented as against sense).
One is that in understanding the world we need to heed individual differences, especially when it comes to how people ought to act, how institutions should be set up, and what is important or even aesthetically worthy. Modernism and the enlightenment had been too enamored by universalism, the one size-fits-all approach to thinking about things. Yet even in medical science taking account of individual differences has come to make much sense.
Another is that while reason is a proper means for understanding, to exclude emotions as strongly suggestive of what’s what in certain areas is a mistake. Modernism too radically separated reason and emotion.
Also, modernism championed too much materialism, even mechanistic thinking, which shoved aside the personally or privately very evident element of free choice in human affairs. If one pits reason against this personally confirmable aspect of our lives, reason is going to lose ground and too many will jump aboard irrationalism, mysticism, even fanaticism. By embracing a metaphysics that doesn’t champion determinism, Postmodernism is something of an antidote to modernism’s mechanistic materialism.
Subject: Marx-Communist revolution vs. previous revolutions Question: What did Marx think would be the difference between the communist revolution and all previous revolutions?
Answer: The communist revolution is just the final fundamental, dialectical upheaval in humanity’s development–there have been others but after the one that ends capitalism and produces socialism/communism, there will be no more. (Mao Tse-tung disagreed, with his idea of the permanent revolution.)
Also, the revolution envisioned by Marx and Engels would not necessarily be violent–Marx said, in a speech in Holland in 1883, that in democratic countries the revolution (which means fundamental turnover or change of basic institutions–e.g., the abolition of the right to private property) will come about via the vote. People will find the anarchy of the free market so intolerable that they will vote for politicians and measures which will abolish that system. (For more, see T. Machan, Revisiting Marxism, A Bourgeois Reassessment [Hamilton Books, 2005].)
Subject: I think therefore I am?
Question: I’m Asian who is trying to learn western philosophy (and my study has nothing to do with philosophy, it’s just my personal interest.) I’ve heard this phrase, “I think therefore I am,” a lot. I searched the meaning in the internet but still don’t get it. I don’t understand why this phrase was so famous? What made Descartes famous? Could you explain in layman’s term?
Answer: The famous French philosophers, Rene Descartes (1596-1650), realized that he could doubt everything he believed. The only thing left was this statement–”cogito ergo sum”–that he could not doubt. (Doubting it confirmed it: If you doubt that you are thinking, well you are then also thinking!) So he concluded that this statement–or judgment–is the foundation of all truth.
Many have criticized Descartes. Some pointed out that if you are thinking, there has to be something (reality) that you must be thinking about; so thinking could not be the only thing you know for certain. Others deny that knowledge needs any foundation at all. The issue is very widely discussed and debated in epistemology, the theory of knowledge.
Subject: Political philosophy
Question: Will you please explain the difference(s), if any, between conservatism and communitarianism in regards to the government’s role and the importance of equality. I found them similar in some ways. Your help is appreciated.
Answer: Conservatism refers to a method for approaching politics and public policy–it recommends heeding the teachings of experience, of the past, of what is tried and true–to conserve all that and not to be adventurous and invent a lot of new laws and policies. Communitarianism is a political position that holds that individuals must defer to the community in their judgments, that they do not even exist as sovereign, independent persons but are parts of the larger whole that is the community. In some radical versions it means that it is the community that determines what is true and false and there is no independent standpoint from which truth and falsehood can be ascertained. Charles Taylor of Canada and Amitai Etzioni of the USA are prominent communitarians. Edmund Burke (UK), Michael Oakshott(UK), Russell Kirk (USA) and Roger Scruton (UK) were and are major conservatives.
Subject: [My life]
Question: Sometimes, quite often actually, I have a feeling that I’m wasting my time. I am aware that our life is ending one minute at a time and that we’ll never get back all the minutes that we lose. It seems to me that we live in a time when it’s hard to be yourself, when it’s hard to be someone original, to create something new, something that gets us out of bad in the morning, because so many things have already been done.Very often we would like to be someone else but there is no chance for it, we have to suit ourselves to the surrounding reality. It breeds frustration sometimes and makes people behave like machines. We go to jobs that we don’t like just to earn money to buy something that we think we need. Sometimes we ask ourselves if we died now, how would we feel about our lives. I suppose that most people wouldn’t say anything positive. Is there any solution, any way out from this kind of impasse, to become yourself again, or maybe rather to become yourself for the first time in your life. To listen only to your own voice, to move forward without being afraid of, to stop the feeling of time constantly passing away in front of our eyes. Is it possible in today’s society where everyone, or most of us, do what they have to do instead of what they would like to do? Only in the face of some disaster we realize that it’s not it, this is not what we were looking for, but sometimes it’s too late. Have you ever, in your life, asked yourself such a question, if so, what was the answer? Are there any good books, philosophers who dealt with such problems, maybe Erich Fromm, maybe someone else. And what are your thoughts on this?
Answer: You may need to write to a psychologist instead of me because I tend to be very positive about my life (although I am now getting old).
Being oneself is doing, in part, just what you are doing–trying to figure things out, asking questions, pondering and wondering. I consider all of it quite fulfilling and some of the anxieties associated with it all simply don’t phase me, or not much.
I would need to know you personally in order to begin to give any kind of helpful advice or suggestion. The only general thing I can say is continue to ask, to search, but learn how to make the most of it, how to be fulfilled from doing it (and other things that suit you).
No one ever lived in a very hospitable or utterly hopeless world, only now we are so well informed and the news is usually all bad since those in the media seem to hold to the view that bad news is more important than good news. (Only somewhat jokingly, I would suggest that for every minute of news–from TV, radio, magazines, newspapers, Internet–you need to watch a minute or so of something like the Travel Channel or travel or garden magazine or advertisement so that there is a balance of good and bad input from the world into your life.)
Anyway, I hope you do not despair–talk with friends or pals or mere acquaintances and read novels, ones that you enjoy (ask friends to suggest some to you)!
Subject: epistemology
Question: I wanted to know what is sense experience?
Answer: Most thinkers using that phrase mean by it the events that involve the use of the five senses in the process of perceiving something. Thus, for example, as you are reading this reply, your eyes perceive the marks on the screen by way of various visual input. In other words, sensory experiences are the components of the material apprehended by way of one’s perceptual faculties. (One controversy about this has to do with whether when one perceives something–a song, a scene, a surface–can it be broken further into bits and pieces of sensation or is that a misguided way to think of perception.)
Subject: political analysis
Question: please sir, I would like you to summarize what behaviorism or behavioral approach is all about.
Answer: The idea is that all that matters for understanding people is their observable behavior. Behaviorism is an offshoot of empiricism and materialism–the idea that only what can be observed constitutes knowledge and what is made of matter constitutes reality. This applied to studying human psychology is called behaviorism. The behavioral approach is whatever utilizes only observation and physical manipulation (via stimulus) for studying and controlling human behavior.
Subject: Knowing — I am suppose to answer this question in my philosophy class, but I don’t understand:
Question: How do we come to know things?
Answer: Start with simple things–you know, don’t you, that the words you put down for me to read mean certain things. You came about this knowledge through you slow but important maturation, as you used your senses to learn that the words mean this and that and that if you use these words you can convey information, questions, etc.
Knowing comes about by using the mind you have and have used to educate yourself about what there is around you in the world. We use our senses, first, and slowly organize what information these senses help us get, by way of exercising our capacity to think. Look at how you know what I am saying above, based on what you have learned with the use of your senses and your mind. That is how knowledge comes about.
Subject: Bioethics
Question: how did the two classical utilitarians, Jeremie Bentham and John Stuart Mill, differ about the nature of utility? and list one objection to utilitarianism and how a utilitarian could reply.
Answer: This does look very much like a home work or take home test question, so I will be very brief–you will need to fill in the details.
Bentham believed that utility consisted solely of physical pleasure (hedonic units), while Mill had a richer notion of satisfaction or happiness, with such higher quality ingredients as experiences of reading, the theater, music, love, freedom, and so forth.
A problem with utilitarianism is that “the greatest happiness of the greatest number” involves two possibly incommensurable quantities. What if a very few could be immensely happy while many others would lose some of their happiness? Utilitarians might reply that people are very similar to one another so this isn’t likely to be a problem. More to be found at

Subject: Connections among Locke, Hobbes, and Descartes Question: Thanks for your reply! i was also wondering… reading from Descartes, how does he explain his mind-body dualism? If they are distinct, what connects them??? I’m getting a bit confused as I read them over…

The text above is a follow-up to …

Question: Hi! As you read from subject, I’ve recently read for hw Hobbes’ leviathan, Locke’s second treatise on govt, and Descartes’ discourse on method. after reading, i got a little bit confused because they didn’t seem to differ too much from each other… so my question is…


Answer: First, what “nature” means for these thinkers is that most basic aspect of something–as in “the nature of a human being” or “the nature of justice” or “the nature of government.” Nature, then, is what it is for something to be the kind of thing it is. It also refers to reality, so it promises something fundamental and stable on which to rest one’s reasoning, something that doesn’t vary much from one time period to the next.
Answer: Descartes thought, very improbably, that the pineal gland served as the connector between mind and body!
Subject: Human Freedom Question: What are some philosophical approaches to human freedom? What different positions are used to justify the approaches?(I really need to have a better understanding on what the questions are asking. I do understand what human freedom is, but would like the questions interpreted better.) Thank you.
Answer: This question is too broad. There are a lot of approaches to human freedom out of philosophy. Nearly every major philosophers addresses freedom. Which do you have in mind?
Subject: Plato and Government Question: Plato has a lot to say about goodness as it relates to government. How would Plato’s views compare with those of Machiavelli. What values would Plato find essential for a ruler?
Answer: Plato is an idealist who wants us to have a clear idea about the timelessly best, perfect version of whatever is at issue–the soul, the society, the body. Machiavelli is concerned about how to govern in practical, workable ways and thinks idealism can get in the way of this. Subject: Hermeneutics/positivists v. relativism/universalism Question: A little bit confused with the relationship between these four terms. Is hermeneutics the same thing as relativism and positivist the same as universalism? Or is it that hermeneutics-positivists are approaches that can be used in discussing relativism/universalism?
Answer: Hermeneutics is about gaining a good intuitive grasp about something–it is quite subjectivist, so, yes, it is close to relativism (a form of it); positivism is entirely different–it concerns a clear empirical grasp of the world, no values, no feelings only the facts! Universalism seeks universal principles, principles that apply at any time, in any place–like justice or liberty or equality.
Subject: Postmodernists and ethical dilemmas Question: When looking at the perspectives of the consequentialists and non-consequentialists and decisions made by each involving ethical dilemmas, how would a postmodernist solve an ethical dilemma? Which way would they tend to lean and why?
Answer: I think a post-modernist has no general answers to you question, only the idea that each of us needs to come up with our own answer as best as we can but not count on anything that will convince others, hold for them, etc. Post-modernism tends to be very subjectivist.
Subject: Should philosophers rule? Question: I’ve just read Plato’s Republic, and was very interested in his idea of an ideal city, especially that philosophers should rule! In my opinion, it wouldn’t be a good idea, as the philosophers would be too preoccupied looking for the form of the good and not devoting themselves to ruling.
I also thought that if the citizens did not understand philosophy, as Plato says, they would surely overthrow their rulers!? I was just wondering what your thoughts on the subject were?

Answer: Plato has Socrates and his pals consider an ideal society, one that only exists as an impossible dream, so to speak. The Platonic system is like a model on the cover of Vogue, it is only related to reality as a sort of guide, not a blueprint. Subject: Humanities Question: What influence does classical Greek philosophy have in the modern world?
Answer: It pretty much made the modern world–science, logic, education, politics, etc., etc. Only religion comes from Jerusalem, the rest is all from Athens.
Subject: Life is like a dream Question: I got few question I need to ask you. It seem to be easy, but I just don’t understand.

1.Why does man commonly say “Life is nothing but a dream.” What does it mean?

2.In what way is life like a dream? In what scenario in life will we feel “life is a dream”? Why would a person feel that life is unreal?

Please give examples if possible. I understand “life is like a game” and “Life is like drama”, but I just cannot understand “Life is like a dream”. I thought this question should be very simple.
Answer: This remark is more poetic than philosophical. It is an exclamation that shows awe or wonder and doesn’t mean to be taken as a claim that might be true! Like, people are all dogs! Or the world is an oyster. Subject: Metaphysics Question: On 10/26/04 you answered a question on Metaphysics I have posted below. Can you explain the answer you gave in layman’s terms….I did not understand the answer. Maybe you could use a different example to make your point. I am wanting to finish my bachelors degree in Metaphysics and I’m also studying Buddhism and would like to eventually counsel people.

Question: I know that one of the very-well known Buddhists in the past, or maybe even Buddha himself said that he had no time for metaphysics, it was just a waste of time, because in actuality it didn’t make us happier and it didn’t help us in coping with the problems of our lives. So according to him there’s no point in talking about metaphysics, in any case talking about metaphysics doesn’t solve anything, doesn’t bring us closer to truth. And what do you think, is metaphysics just a daydreaming, a useless subject to deal with? Thank you for your time!

Answer: I disagree very strongly with that view. Metaphysics identifies the most basic principles of reality or existence. If one dispenses with this task, one is left without a fundamental guideline to what can be believed, known as fact.
Suppose, say, that one runs across a claim (perhaps during a criminal trial) that someone was in two places at the same time in the very same respect. Why can’t this be so? A very familiar and probably correct metaphysics identifies the law of non-contradiction as a basic principle of reality. So such claims are ruled out from the start within such a metaphysics–one need not examine each of them one by one, see whether this claim to “a and not-a” is false and that claim to “b and not-b” is false, ad infinitum. Rather if this metaphysics is correct, then all statements of the form “A and not-A” are false and we can move on to more promising tasks. And that can certainly assist us in our quest for happiness and other goals.

Follow-up Answer: Maybe you think so differently from me that we cannot understand each other in a short exchange such as what occurs in these question/answers. My point is that metaphysics concerns very basic issues, the most fundamental ones, dealing with what it is to exist, what are the most basic principles of reality. Say you have a friend who says he came across ghosts in his home. Suppose you dispute this. One reason could be that your metaphysical position is such that it rules out the possibility of ghosts–for example, materialism. If this metaphysical position is correct, ghosts could not exist and would have to be the figments of our imagination or something similar. But of course it all depends which metaphysical position is right–materialism, idealism, dualism, process philosophy, occasionalism, or something else.

Subject: Slaves
Question: Would you agree that nowadays a human being became a cog in a large economic machine that his hands have built. He became an automaton and his life became empty and lost its meaning. Do you think that individuals are subordinated to and manipulated by powers outside of themselves, they lost their identity and may easily say “I am as you desire me” Are we just pawns in a big game, slaves- or maybe there are those who think of themselves as masters, strong personalities who, don’t play the game, but lead their lives over the board. Are we all automatons who have been crammed into a certain form? Thanks!
Answer: I do not agree with this. People in large economic machines–as you refer to companies, firms, and such–all have the entry/exit option and they exercise it constantly, moving to better jobs, leaving to stay home with kids, retiring, etc. People do cooperate with others quite often and in this they also often yield to other people’s wishes, but usually because they are being considerate, not from genuine compulsion. What you are suggestion with your rhetorical questions–for you are not really asking me but telling me what you take to be the case–is that you find that for some folks it is difficult to cope. Such is life. But it isn’t that they are slaves–you are insulting those who have been slaves throughout history by making this claim. They would have given anything to live like those you are talking about as “slaves” in our time.