My Answers to Some Philosophical Questions
PLEASE NOTE: The questions are not my questions. They were asked by others and I have tried to answer them. I will be adding more from time to time. Criticisms and/or further questions are welcome.
Why Can't We All Get Along?
We are all members of various groups - ranging through families, clubs, social classes, states, nations, religions, 'races'. Groups have goals, and so do the individual members of groups.
There are two kinds of goals, goals that can be got by all who aim for them, and goals that can be got by only a limited number (let's call these 'Goals').
Individuals who are members of the same group can conflict when they have the same Goal as other individuals in their group. (They obviously won't conflict over having the same group-Goal.)
Individuals can also conflict with their group, if they have a goal or Goal that doesn't allow them to also pursue their group's goals or Goals.
Groups can conflict with other groups when they have the same Goal.
What's the solution? Is there a solution? Yes, there is, of a sort. It's called market economics. In market economics, the Goals are obtained by those whose want them most and show they want them most by paying the highest price (in money) for them. This 'solution' is far from perfect, however.
One big imperfection is that market economics tends to put things on the market that shouldn't be there. Things like your privacy, your dignity, your political influence.
A second imperfection is that the market tends to step outside of governmental control and become a law unto itself. For example, if a company finds the law restricting in the country where it is, it will, if it's big enough, move it's operations to a country where the law isn't so restrictive.
A third big problem is that the natural evolution of companies is inevitably in the direction of there being, in fact or in effect, just one big company, one big monopoly. And it will be a monopoly on all aspects of human life. It will own and control everything on earth, except Mother Nature.
It will never be able to completely control Mother Nature, but it will be able to kill her. And it might, if she doesn't kill it first.
What is your 'ultimate' goal in life?
It's fine to pursue an ultimate goal, but you also need to pursue an ideal.
What's the difference? A goal can be reached (if it's a realistic goal), but an ideal is something that probably can't be reached.
What's wrong with having a goal but not having an ideal? You might reach your goal - in fact, you probably will if you're serious about it. But then what would you do? Enjoy having obtained your goal, yes, but what else? Wouldn't you miss striving for something? That's where ideals come in. The reward of pursuing an ideal is in the pursuing, not in the obtaining.
What is my ideal? Mine is philosophy, which ultimately is the pursuit of the optimization of human life.
Between the teleological and deontological theories, which perspective has a greater foundation for morality?
There are actually three main sorts of theory of morality: deontological, virtue theories, and consequentialist.
The defining characteristic of a deontological theory is that its 'oughts' are held to apply regardless of their consequences. The oughts will be derived either from some moral authority (usually God) or from the authority of reason (e.g. Kant's theory). "Let justice be done though the heavens fall!" is a deontological motto. One problem for such theories is The Euthyphro Dilemma (look it up).
Virtue theories are not about what we ought to do and not do, they are about virtuous moral character. Someone of virtuous moral character will be inclined to behave in certain ways in certain circumstances - be courageous, be generous, be friendly, etc. Virtue theories are best suited to the morality of a close-knit community. Having a virtuous character in such a community will mean being inclined to behave in ways that further the goals of the community. And in that sense, virtue theories are teleologically based. "My community, right or wrong!" is a motto a virtue theory might endorse. An obvious problem for such theories is that they must cope with two sorts of conflict: the conflict of the personal goals of members with the goals of the community, and the conflict between communities having different goals (or having the same goal that can only be obtained by one of them).
Consequentialist theories, like deontological theories, are about rules (or just one general rule) laying down oughts and ought nots. However, the oughts of consequentialist theories are derived from the foreseeable consequences, good and bad, of possible actions. And, in that sense, such theories are also classifiable as teleologically based. The most developed sort of consequentialist theory is Utilitarianism, the well-known motto of which is "The greatest good for the greatest number!" The big problem, for Utilitarianism at least, is that, in principle, in denies rights and justice to the individual and must sacrifice the good of the individual to the good of the majority.
What are the main values we have lost as a society in the last 50 years?
Values are never completely lost, they just become more or less fashionable. Writers in ancient Greece and Rome complained that the values of their ancestors were being gradually eroded.
Good manners, politeness, courtesy are less valued then they were 50 years ago.
Greed is now good - or it was in the 80s (and I think we all realize that in the religion of commerce it still is good) - but it was bad back when.
In general, the more people there are the less being a person is valued - and there a lot more people around now than 50 years ago.
If every invention has an inventor, shouldn't there be a God who invented our world and the whole universe?
Yes, if the world is an invention, but I don't know that it is, and neither do you.
Look at what's involved in theism (that is, belief in God). We assume that because the world contains persons the origin of the world must be some kind of person (whom we call call God) - but that does not follow. Granted that the world developed or evolved from some fundamental set of principles, and that process gave rise to persons, it does not follow that the original principles were laid down by a Person (God). There might be a God, but that God is or was a Person is an unwarranted assumption. And a grossly arrogant one.
Who, what, when, where, why, how?
who - me
what - this
when - now
where - here
why - because
how - like so
Respect - how relative is that?
There are three main concepts of respect.
Most basic is the concept of respect based on the concept of equality. To respect a person, in this sense, is to admit their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of their values - even if the values they pursue are not the same ones you pursue.
Then there is the respect we pay to someone who is not equal to but better than us in some way - whether more talented, morally stronger (having greater moral integrity, even if we are in moral disagreement with them), or more intelligent, or more experienced in life, or having warranted authority over us.
Thirdly, there is the 'respect' that is based on fear. In this sense, we might respect someone who is physically or politically stronger (someone who has bigger muscles, a bigger gang), or someone who has more power or authority - whether or not they deserve that authority.
Simplicity...make things simple...?
"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." - Albert Einstein
What Einstein meant, I dare say, was that in scientific theories everyhing should be as simple as possible, but not simpler than is possible. He was re-stating a much older philosophical principle known as Occam's Razor - make your account of the world complete, but not overcomplete. Include everything that needs to be accounted for, but include nothing that is unnecessary.
The theoretical concept of simplicity is related to the practical concept of efficiency - the largest possible positive output from the smallest possible unit of input.
Why do some people not take life seriously?
I think what you meant to ask was, why do some people not value their lives - as apparently they don't when they do things that might shorten their lives. I can think of three main kinds of reason why.
One, life is hardly bearable to them for some reason - could be physical pain, emotional pain, feeling of worthlessness. Often something in their past is killing them - indirectly.
Two (and this is relatively rare), they have come to the philosophical conclusion that life is a joke - a cosmic joke - God's joke, maybe. And sometimes the result of this is that when a danger comes along they embrace it instead of seeking to avoid it. Such people might or might not have a 'happy-go-lucky' personality.
Three, they have become addicted to something dangerous - either a drug, or the 'adrenalin rush', or bad diet or too much food, or - the list could be quite long - sex, fighting, etc.
In philosophy there is (and has been since at least Plato's time) a problem the Greeks called 'akrasia' - these days it's called 'weakness of the will' (or sometimes 'incontinence'). It's the problem of why, when we know certain actions are probably bad for us, we do them anyway. Plato saw it as a battle between our appetites and our reason for influence over our will. Sometimes reason wins and we choose not to do the bad thing, but often our appetite wins and etc. How is it that desire can overrule reason? That's the question.
What's the meaning of life?
Life has only the meaning you give it yourself. You can choose your own goals and values, your own ends and means. Basically, there are three sorts of alternative, and each has both positive and negative 'roads' to take.
One, you can live life selfishly. This, from a moral point of view, is negative - looking out at all times for 'number one'. But it need not be negative - not if you have a special ability or high degree of ability (say, in art) and you concentrate on developing that ability in a way that is 'selfish' in the short term but is likely to make a contribution to human good in the long term.
Two, you can invest yourself in others. This can range from simply concentrating on being a good parent, to being a dedicated contributor to some community or some organization, whether it be a religion, a political party, a commercial company, etc. But the negative side of this is that you might, in the latter part of your life, find that the group you have dedicated yourself to has not appreciated your contribution, or has changed negatively from what it was despite your efforts, and you might, when it is too late, regret not indulging yourself a little more than you did.
Thirdly, you can turn away from both self and others and, negatively, abandon any attempt to be a moral person, letting yourself be ruled by your emotions or appetites, to the cost of both yourself and those around you. Or, positively, become one of those intensely 'practical' people who 'get things done' in the purely physical sense (but are often good for little else).
Of course, it is possible to combine elements of each of the three basic alternatives - though it probably isn't advisible, for sanity's sake, to combine both negative and positive roads.
Life is about choices. Your life is about your choices.
If reality is whatever you believe it to be then is not belief more powerful than the reality you believe in?
Consider this scenario. You are at the mall, and approaching you in the distance is someone you believe to be your friend. But, as the two of you approach even closer, you realize you have made a mistake and it is only someone who looks uncannily like your friend.
Now, if 'reality is whatever you believe it to be', while you believed that stranger to be your friend then it was indeed your friend - but when you came to believe otherwise, then otherwise. Do you still want to believe that 'reality is whatever you believe it to be'?
Is not the particular in itself something which is universal?
You are confusing 'universal' (adjective) and 'universal' (noun). A 'universal' (noun), if there is any such thing, is a thing that is shared between any number of particulars. For example, if there is a universal Yellow, it is a thing that is shared between each particular yellow thing.
The question that philosophers have debated for centuries is whether there are indeed universals or whether everything is particular. There are three main opinions. One, universals are real and exist in a world that transcends the world of particular things (Plato's opinion). Two, universals are real but can only exist in particular things (Aristotle's opinion). Three, universals are not real, they are merely words, like names, that we give to particular things that are similar in some way (this opinion is called Nominalism).
What happens to us after death?
Nothing. Death is when things *stop* happening to us.
If there is a God, why do I suffer?
Defenders of a good, all powerful, and all knowing God have to explain why two kinds of evil exist, not just one. The two kinds are chosen evil (rape, torture, murder, etc.) and unchosen evil (diseases, natural disasters, etc.).
First they will say chosen evil must exist so that we can have free will. Okay, let's allow them that. Score a point for their God.
Next they will say that unchosen evil must exist so that we can appreciate the good - that good cannot exist except in contrast with evil. There are two things wrong with that answer. First, it admits that God is incapable of creating a world in which good is absolute (non-relative). Second, even if we allow them the claim that good must be relative to evil, the question remains why *so very much* evil is necessary to make us appreciate the good. To say that there needs to be as much unchosen evil in the world as there is so that we can recognize and appreciate the good is like saying that we could not tell the difference between black and white in a picture unless at least half the picture was black.
As a last resort, they will say evil does not exist - that what seems an evil is only an absence of good. This is like saying that there is no black paint on the canvas, there is only an absence of white paint - accepting it as an answer requires one to wilfully insult one's own intelligence.
The problem of evil remains - it has not been solved.
Why do we not have one thing we can all agree on?
I challenge you to disagree that it's valuable to be able to make value judgments - even if your value judgment is to die because life is no longer bearable.
To disagree that the ability to make value judgments is valuable would involve self-refutation, because the disagreement would involve making a value judgement which you would value for its necessary part in your alleged disagreement.
What is knowledge
Knowledge is the pursuit of three ideals: the real, the true and the effective.
Thus there are three sorts of knowledge:
1. Perceptual, or 'knowing as'. For example, knowing a set of sensations as, say, an airplane. The ideal of perceptual k. is reality - to perceive the airplane as it 'really' is. Realism says that our perception is only a representation of the airplane and so does not show us how it really is. Idealism says the airplane has no existence beyond our perception and so our perception actually *is* the airplane.
Perception is not objective - not the same for everyone. If you were, say, an Amazonian Indian and had never before seen an airplane you would not perceive that set of sensations as an airplane - not until you had the concept of 'airplane' with which to identify airplanes when you saw them.
2. Propositional, or 'knowing that'. For example, knowing that 'Airplane' is the title of a movie. The ideal of propositional k. is truth (a proposition is that which has a truth-value, either 'true' or 'false').
What makes the proposition "'Airplane' is the title of a movie" true? One answer is that truth is a relation between a proposition and the way the world is (or was) - a relation called 'correspondence' (think of correspondence as 'mapping' the way the world is). Another answer is that truth is a relation between propositions - a relation called 'coherence' (a coherent set of propositions is free of contradiction). Another answer is that a true proposition is one that 'works' (this means that behavior based on belief in its truth will be successful behavior).
Obviously, 'knowing that' is not objective either. We notoriously disagree about the way the world is. But this is not to say that there is no such thing as truth. We might not agree on the way the world is, but nobody who claims anything at all about the world is denying that there *is* a way the world is, because to make a claim about the world is to presuppose that there is truth - that there is a way the world is.
3. Practical, or 'knowing how'. Practical knowledge is cause-effect knowledge. Although it can be partly expressed as 'knowing that' it does not reduce to 'knowing that', because you could have all the propositional knowledge there is about piloting airplanes and yet not be able to pilot one. A claim to know how to do X can only be proved by doing X.
Importantly, the fact that a claim to 'know how' can be proved shows practical knowledge to be objective knowledge - knowledge which is the same for everyone. No matter what beliefs you might hold, no matter what way you claim the world to be, technology will work for you. Airplanes work just as well for Osama Bin Laden as they do for George W. Bush.
But still, there are problems with knowing how. The main one is the problem of 'side effects'. Cause and effect isn't a sequence, it's a web. Everything we do has both wanted and unwanted consequences, and we are only just beginning to learn how to predict in sequence; we have very little idea how to predict in web (so to speak). And so we have very little ability to predict the long-term side effects, both upon us and upon our world, of our technology.
What are the sources of skepticism? What is skepticism rooted in?
Skepticism is an attitude to belief. There are two kinds: local and global. Both are opposed to dogmatism.
Dogmatism is the attitude that *all* true beliefs can be justified. This attitude has its source in faith, which is wilful belief, as distinct from rational belief (belief permanently open to revision).
Local skepticism is the attitude that only *some* true beliefs (a specified set) can be justified. Usually the specified set has its source in allegedly self-evident truths, or axioms.
Global skepticism is the attitude that only *one* true belief can be justified, namely the belief that only one true belief can be justified. The source of this attitude is the perceived unjustifiability of all other beliefs.
What is real? What is the metaphysical absolute? Is knowledge of the real possible?
There is no access to things *as they really are* - unless there is a God who, having omniperception, presumably has such access. All human perception is seeing things as *we* are, which is as we can and must see them - just as, say, a bat sees things the way only bats can and must see them. We do not have a God's-eye-view, we have, and can only have, a human's-eye-view. Even though we can enhance our view using science and technology, it is still, ultimately and inescapably, a human's-eye-view. We can only seek to optimize, to perfect, that view.
How would you define an open mind?
One that has no beliefs that are not open to reasonable revision.
You wonder, perhaps, whether the belief expressed above is open to reasonable revision. It is. So the question becomes, what is reasonable revision. That's one of the questions philosophy has been struggling to answer for millennia.
Do the five human senses subjugate a person's imagination? Or at least severely limit it?
No sensations, no perceptions; no perceptions, no concepts; no concepts, no imagination.
But I think what you are asking is, once we do have a developed mind that can imagine, do our sensations get in the way. Well, they can, if they are too intense. That's why you go somewhere quiet when you want to think things over. And it's why pain keeps you from thinking clearly - unless you have practiced ignoring it.
What is philosophy?
You'll never know what philosophy is from a dictionary definition or encyclopedia article. Philosophy is a process, and to know it you have to take part in it. That is, for a start, you have to ask questions to find out what sorts of questions are and are not philosophical questions. You've started well: - the question "What is philosophy?" is itself a philosophical question. Here's my answer (it's a bit abstract, but that's the nature of the subject):
Philosophy is the pursuit of the optimization of human life. That is, it's the pursuit of, mainly, three things:
1. Identity - which is clarity and distinctness (the absence of confusion).
2. Harmony - which is coherence and compatibility (the absence of conflict).
3. Precision - completeness and simplicity (the absence of imprecision).
Philosophers pursue these three ideals using three main methods:
1. Analysis - taking concepts apart to see how they work - or don't work, in order to clarify them and make them distinct.
2. Synthesis - joining concepts together in order to ask questions, provide answers, criticize answers, revise answers and/or revise questions.
3. Synopsis - Taking worldviews apart and reassembling them in their most complete but precise form - with non-necessities removed.
Why is humility something which is most prevalent in Buddhist nations like Thailand and so lacking in the U.S.A?
Back before most people lived in big cities they lived in villages surrounded by farms. In such a community, what mattered morally was your character. Your character meant the way you were likely to behave in various circumstances. Your character was a set of virtues, things like friendliness (ability to cooperate with your neighbours), generousity (ability to share with them), courage (if the community was attacked), etc.
The thing about virtue-morality is that different things are considered virtues, depending upon the values of the community. Aristotle considered that a virtue was a middle position between two extremes, two vices. One vice was too much of the virtue and the other vice was too little of it. For example, he considered that humility was a vice, that it was too little of the virtue of self-respect or pride (too much pride was the vice of vanity).
Later, when Christianity developed, they simplified morality into just two 'sides', called virtue and sin. And they considered pride to be a sin opposed to the virtue (as they saw it) of humility.
Most religions simplify morality (it's part of their distrust of human intelligence), including Buddhism, in which humility is also a virtue.
The effective morality of the modern U.S.A. is not a religious or virtue morality. It is a struggle between law-and-religion based morality on one side, and the 'morality' of market economics on the other. Virtue is pretty much dead as a morality in the U.S. because it is best suited to small communities, and the U.S. is dominated by big-city big-business. Americans think they have freedom, but it is proving to be the freedom to become the slaves of market economics. In market economics, *everything*, as far as the law allows or fails to enforce, is for sale - including personal privacy, dignity, political influence, and so, ultimately, freedom. Further, in market economics *everything* is potential fuel for the engine of commercial advertising - *nothing* is sacred to commercial advertising (unless made sacred by effective law). Apart from law, the only other human control on commerce is the vote of the majority of citizens. There are two sorts of vote - the dollar and the ballot. Every money transaction is a vote - it has an effect on what commerce will or will not put on the market. Most Americans stupidly give away their political influence by not voting, giving commerce all the more opportunity to exert the political influence of money. The freedom of this morality is the freedom to be ruled by desires - your desires and the desires of others, but ultimately, the desires of the majority. This system very efficient at managing our desires and preferences, but it is a very questionable way to manage our needs.
Ultimately, there is also a non-human influence on commerce. We call it 'Mother Nature'. People can swindle each other (that is what commerce is: - regulated swindling), but they cannot swindle the laws of nature. This will be brought home to us, sooner or later.
What are the main arguments for belief in God?
The most popular argument for God is The Design Argument, which goes:
The world has the appearance of having been designed, like, say, clocks are designed. A thing that's designed must have a designer. Therefore, the world has a designer, whom we call God.
Criticism: the argument is an analogy, and the conclusions of analogies are never certain, even if their premises are true. What's more, apparent design can also be explained by the evolutionary scientific worldview.
Then there's the Ontological Argument:
God is that than which nothing more perfect can be conceived. A perfect thing would not be the most perfect conceivable if it did not exist. Therefore, God exists.
Criticism: The argument steps fallaciously from concept to extra-conceptual reality.
Or there's Pascal's Wager:
The choice of whether or not to believe in God involves a risk, a gamble. If we choose not to believe and God does exist, we risk losing our immortal soul and/or suffering an eternity of punishment. On the other hand, if we choose to believe and God doesn't exist we have lost nothing and have gained hope and comfort in our lives. Therefore, the best bet is to believe in God.
Criticism: The argument only works for a certain limited concept of a God who punishes unbelief. What's more, the argument makes the very questionable assumption that faith can have exclusively pragmatic motives.
What are the main argumants against beief in God?
Is ego an impediment to peace?
Freud's ego is one third of a set, with the superego and id. Freud no doubt got the idea of this tripartite model of the subconscious from Plato's tripartite model of the 'soul'.
Plato's soul has a 'spirited' faculty (the will), a reasoning faculty, and an appetitive faculty. The virtue of each faculty is courage, wisdom, and temperance, respectively; and together these virtues comprise the virtue of justice, or good character.
In political terms, for Plato, the courageous are suited to become guardians (army/police), the wise are educated to become philosopher-kings and run the state, while those most in need of temperance are farmers, traders, artisans, etc.
In China, in the 1500s, a writer named Wu Cheng-en, wrote "Journey to the West", about a Buddhist priest, Tripitaka (the name means 'three baskets'), and his pilgrimage to India to fetch scriptures back to the Chinese emperor. With him on his journey Tripitaka took Monkey (a courageous but wilful monkey-spirit), Sandy (a would-be philosophical fish-spirit), and Pigsy (a food and sex obsessed pig spirit). You can see the similarities to Plato and Freud.
As to whether ego impedes the way to peace, Plato saw peace, both psychological and political peace, as a condition of balance between all three aspects. The appetites and the reason struggle for influence over the will, because it is the will that initiates action. All three aspects need to be in balance for there to be justice and peace. For Plato, the reason must be in control, because only the reason can have access to true knowledge of the good.
Who would win a war between aliens and leprechauns? [Not strictly a philosophical question, but I had fun answering it]
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Assuming a choice between contentment and reason, which would you choose?
Let me tell you a story.
There was a chicken who lived in a chicken run on a farm. He was fed and watered every day without fail by the farmer's wife. He had shelter and protection from predators, and he had other chickens to socialise with, so he was happy. True, he had little freedom, but he was only a chicken and this life was all he had ever known.
One day he thought about all the advantages of his life and how he had always been looked after by the farmer's wife, and he decided he was contented.
The next day being Christmas day, the farmer's wife came into the run and grabbed him and chopped his head off.
(If the chicken had been a reasoner, he would have realised that his contentment was based upon a kind of reasoning called 'induction'. Basically, induction is the conclusion that because something has always been so in the past it will continue to be so in the future. Induction is a sort of reasoning we all rely upon every day, but we can never be certain that its conclusions are true.)
What is the opposite of "being"? No one can "be dead".
If once a bee's a being bee,
How can that being bee not be?
A being bee not be a bee?
That cannot be, not for a bee
Nor for a human being.
(Yes, I'm afraid I am guilty of composing that bit of doggerel (beegerel?))
Does telling the truth make you honest?
A very challenging question.
The word has several meanings, but I think what they all boil down to is that to be dishonest is to be deceptive in some way.
Not telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, is always dishonest, strictly speaking - though there are, of course, some situations in which telling the truth could be the wrong thing to do (depending on what sort of ethics you subscribe to).
Another way of being deceptive is to steal. People who steal are deceiving others (and sometimes themselves) that something belonging to another belongs to themselves.
Then there's cheating and swindling of various kinds.
In general, misleading people about what is true, genuine or original is dishonesty. You could even argue that the use of cosmetics and cosmetic surgery is dishonest.
We live in a world that is currently dominated by commerce or business - call it what you will, it promotes all kinds of dishonesty. Does anyone think commercial advertising is ever honest? Even if you go into business with the best of intentions, you will be forced (not merely tempted, but forced) into dishonesty in order to compete and survive. Business is swindling and cheating regulated by law.
So there's much more to honesty than telling the truth. To be honest is to avoid practicing any sort of deception - including self-deception.
Doesn't studying philosophy make you depressed? In the end you don't know where you are standing. The principles you built your foundation on are shaking.
What you have to realize about philosophy is that it uses reasoning to pursue perfection. But it has never caught it.
Philosophy has a history - it changes very slowly, but it changes. If you are depressed by philosophy you are depressed by change. But everything changes, even those principles you built your foundation on.
So don't take it too much to heart. Philosophers don't know everything - nobody does - but that doesn't mean nobody knows anything. It all depends on how strictly you define 'knowing'. Philosophy defines it too strictly - in pursuit of that unreachable perfection.
Think of it this way. Doing philosophy is like wearing a t-shirt with 'philosopher' printed on it. Not even philosophers wear that t-shirt all the time. Like everyone else, they live their lives as if there are things - lots of things - they do actually know.
What are the ten things that most motivate us?
Motives come in two categories:
A. 'Carrots' (things that attract you)
B. 'Sticks' (things that repel you)
1. bodily pleasures (no example needed)
2. aesthetic pleasures (e.g., the beautiful)
3. intellectual pleasures (e.g., the logical)
4. emotional pleasures (e.g., happy laughter)
5. religious pleasures (e.g., contemplation of God)
1. bodily pains (no example needed)
2. aesthetic pains (e.g., the ugly)
3. intellectual pains (e.g., the stupid)
4. emotional pains (e.g., fear)
5. religious pains (e.g., threats to faith)
What exactly is the definition of Post-Modernism (pertaining to philosophy)?
There is no exact definition of it. Which is an appropriate state of affairs, because P-M writers tend to deny that any exact definitions of *anything* are available.
Modernism in philosophy is seen as the project to define such things as the self, meaning, rationality, truth, knowledge, and morality. P-M writers have launched a critical attack on the entire feasibility of that project.
In general, their attack tends to be self-refuting. For example, a critical demolition of the concept of meaning (language meaning) will nevertheless be expected to be understood by readers - that is, readers will be expected to find that it has meaning.
Does a person really have a choice about what they will or will not believe?
Of course belief is a matter of choice. It's all a matter of how much will must be applied in the act of belief.
Some things are easy to believe. For example, it's easy to believe what appears to be a car is in fact a car, and (if you can drive) if you try to drive it you will be able to drive it - unless you have reason to believe it's out of gas or broken down, but even then you can choose not to believe those things despite the evidence and keep trying to drive (you might be considered insane, but you can choose to refuse belief).
Some things are difficult to believe without an intense and sustained act of will. For example, you can choose to believe something for which there is no evidence at all - such as that the world of the Lord of the Rings is not fictional and does in reality exist.
You even have a choice whether or not you believe in the reality of Middle Earth if you have been taught from infancy that there really is a Middle Earth. And you can choose not to believe in the reality of Middle Earth even if you live in a community in which most people believe it, and even if there are weekly meetings in your community in which someone who has been taught to teach the reality of Middle Earth behaves emphatically as if there really is a Middle Earth.
You always have a choice in what you believe. I choose to believe this.
Is mathematics discovered or invented?
Math is not a unity, some of it is discovered, some is invented. But it can't be known which is which without reference to its applicability.
The history of math/science shows that on several occasions math that was at first 'pure math' (non-applicable math) has later been found to be not only applicable but has led the way to new scientific discoveries. How could this be so if at least some of math was not already 'there' to be discovered?
Further, technology and math go hand-in-hand. Technology is objective knowledge, it works for everyone, no matter what their other beliefs may be. Math does not merely describe technology, its application to technology makes technology precise, makes it work with optimum efficiency. How could this be so if that applied math was not just as objective as technology?
The objective knowledge that is applied math cannot be constrained by logic. Math is more abstract than logic, and it has been shown that math cannot be reduced to logic.
Does all human life have the same value? Is the life of a bum equal to that of say Oprah or the President?
The first thing you have to ask about a question like "what is the value of X" is - what is its value to who?
Some people claim that the value of a human life is absolute - meaning that all have the same value no matter how people value them. The negative side of this claim is that the right to human life is claimed to be 'inalienable' - which means it can be neither taken away by another nor given away by the person whose life it is. It follows from this claim that things like suicide and euthanasia are *always* morally wrong.
It seems that these days the value of a human life (like the value of everything else) is determined by the market. This means that your life is worth to you what you will pay to maintain it, and is worth to others what they will pay to have access to your life (even if it's only 'media access'). To the market there is nothing sacred about anyone's life - each life is worth its value on the market, no more and no less. Of course, this evaluation is not final - the law, insofar as it is independent of the market, also has a say about the value of your life.
So this is part of the price we all pay for the advantages (and there are some) of living in a world dominated by market economics. Your good parents, who might, for all the world knows, have been among the 'salt of the earth', will remain anonymous while the name of the moral imbecile who murdered John Lennon goes down in history. (But note the irony that the market made Lennon famous too.)
The third alternative is simply that the value of your life is the value you, and nobody else, attaches to it. If you value yourself highly, you will defend your right to life, but only for as long as your life is valuable to you. This is not, of course, to say that you should never take into account the opinions of others about the value of your life - but always keep in mind that it is not their life, it is yours, and the final decision rests, or should rest, with you.
How well does your life now match what you imagined it would be when you were a kid?
Life is like a box of chocolates: - overpriced, fattening, and it leaves a mess behind - but jeez it's yummy!
Seriously, I don't recall imagining anything about my future life when I was a kid. I just assumed it would go on and get better. I think that's what the definition of 'kid' is.
Is expectation a part of life?
[I don't get the point of this question either, but here's how I answered it]
Life has three 'parts':
1. we experience the present
2. we remember the past
3. we expect the future.
The questions that arise from this are:
1. is the present really as we experience it?
2. was the past truly as we remember it?
3. based on our memory of the past, will what we presently experience have the effects we expect?
What's your opinion on philosophical postmodernism?
[This answer develops a little the answer I gave to a similar question above.]
It's almost always self-refuting.
For example, linguistic meaning has proven extremely difficult to account for - but try saying there is no such thing without being self-refuting.
When it isn't self-refuting it's a self-justification.
For example, the post-Marxist claim that philosophy boils down to a power grab is itself a power grab by self-appointed spokespersons for the powerless.
Ultimately, postmodernism is nominalism - the claim that there are no universals (no real categories, kinds), that everything is particular. The problem with this is that nothing can be understood nor even said without the presumption that there are universals.
It isn't just the fact that nothing can be said without universals that makes nominalism self-refuting, it's the fact that nothing can even be *thought* without them.
Was it ever true that "Pluto is a planet"?
Since you are asking this in philosophy, what you are asking is "How true or valid are scientific categorizations? If Pluto can be a planet one day and not the next, doesn't this mean scientific truth is merely what we decide it is?".
The answer to that question is no....and yes.
In changing the status of Pluto, science is merely doing what it has always done, put something in what specialists have decided (no doubt carefully decided) is a more appropriate or accurate category. Look at the history of taxonomy in biology and you will see that it has been a continuous process of refinement.
On the other hand, the question remains. Is our refinement of taxonomies in all the sciences moving towards an 'objective' truth about things? No, not strictly objective - that is impossible - we can only know things the way humans can know them. But that's okay, because there is no other way we possibly could know them.
Is the belief in a Supreme Creator irreconcilable with the theory of evolution?
No, not strictly irreconcilable. Religious belief can be changed to account for evolution - but then, it can be changed to account for anything.
The problems for religion if evolution is true are:
1. A *good* Creator is irreconcilable with evolution. Evolution is an utterly unjust and agony-filled process that has continued for hundreds of millions of years; if God created it, God is not good.
2. Perhaps religion is an evolved adaptation that will be adapted away from when the environment it has helped bring about makes it no longer adaptively useful.
What is your opinion on the limits of abstraction?
There is no level at which abstraction is unproductive - even the most abstract concepts have at least potential application.
Color alone cannot a picture make. Every language (and art is a language) has three aspects: content, form, and context.
It is content that decreases as abstraction increases, and it is breadth of applicability that increases with abstraction.
As abstraction proceeds, content diminishes first, then form. Ultimately, all that is left is context.
The most abstract concepts are mathematical concepts. They are the context of everything - applicable to everything.
The 'ladder of abstraction' goes something like this:
- somatic skills (practical knowledge of one's body)
- perceptions (perceptual knowledge)
- concepts (bringing perceptions 'under' concepts, into categories)
- propositions (knowledge 'that', as distinct from 'how' and 'of')
- reason and imagination
- science and technology
Can you please write me a poem about eternal love?
Our love, springing from a kernel,
Seasoning a moment vernal
As we dance though life diurnal,
To creation is internal;
While, excepting the infernal,
The Creator's love's eternal.
What determines if an argument is fallacious?
There are many ways an argument can be fallacious, but those ways come under three main headings:
1. Informal fallacies of content.
Fallacies of this kind are due to a fault in the content of the argument (that is, the actual words used). The determining factor in such fallacies is some sort of *confusion*. Often the fault is one of double meaning. For example:
Arnold is very healthy.
Smoking is not very healthy.
So, Arnold is healthier than smoking.
Because the phrase 'very healthy' has two different meanings in this argument its conclusion is nonsense.
2. Formal fallacies.
Fallacies of this kind are due to a fault in the form (the basic structure) of an argument. Usually the term applies only to deductive arguments, in which case the form is said to be invalid. The determining factor in such fallacies is some sort of *conflict* in the structure . The sort of conflict relevant here is incoherence (conflict within an argument. An incoherent argument implies a self-contradiction and thus cannot be true.
It is often difficult to tell whether a deductive form is invalid. One easy method that often works is to remove the content from the argument to expose its form and then give that form some very different content. For example:
If Tom likes Jane he might do her homework.
Tom is doing Jane's homework.
So, Tom likes Jane.
The form of this is:
If P then Q.
But look what happens when you give this form different content:
If there is a power blackout the TV won't work.
The TV won't work.
So, there is a power blackout.
If an argument has a valid form and true premises then its conclusion is *necessarily true*. If an argument has true premises but its conclusion is not necessarily true then it has an invalid form.
3. Informal fallacies of context.
Fallacies of this kind are due either to something that is outside the argument and should be in it, or to something that is in it but does not belong there. So the determining factor is a lack of *precision* - the argument is either incomplete or overcomplete. For example:
John tells us smoking is bad for our health.
John is still a smoker.
So, we should ignore what John tells us about smoking.
In this argument the premise that John is a smoker is irrelevant to the question of whether John's advice is good advice. This argument both lacks premises it needs and includes a premise that does not belong.
Do you agree that as technology advances the arts get more rich and more interesting?
There's no doubt about it. But it's also true that as this enrichment happens the very concept of art gets more diffuse.
Once, visual art consisted almost entirely of two media - drawn or painted images, and carvings or sculptures. Then everyone knew what art was.
These days it's getting to the stage that an artwork needs to be declared to be art in order to be recognized as art.
Once the extremely painstaking execution of the artist's concept was at least as important as the concept itself - perhaps in most cases more important. These days the concept is undoubtedly more important than its physical execution.
Perhaps the day will come when we will be awash in rich and interesting artistic concepts, while the remains of their transient physical executions add to the rubbish dumps.
Is self doubt a symptom of philosophy or does it fuel the pursuit of knowledge?
Okay, I'm going to give you the sort of answer a philosopher should give.
First, I'll point out that your question involves the fallacy of false dilemma - it assumes X can be only either a or b, that there are no further alternatives. But don't feel too bad, this is an extremely common fallacy.
And no good philosopher can let you get away with wording that suggests that the discipline is a disease. Only someone like Wittgenstein can get away with that.
I take it that what you mean by 'self doubt' is doubt about what you know. Doubt about knowledge is not self doubt (not unless you are that solipsist I've heard about). Most knowledge is public, not private - by which is meant, most knowledge *can* be known by more than one person. Indeed, practical knowledge, know how, in the form of technology, can be used by any person, no matter what else they might or might not know.
Descartes didn't put just his own knowledge in doubt. Although he wrote his Meditations in the first person, he was putting everyone's knowledge in doubt, not just his own. Philosophy is about what *we* can or cannot know, not about what *I*.
Does doubt fuel the pursuit of knowledge? Undoubtedly. When there is zero doubt, everything is 'known', so there is no need for nor possibility of further progress in knowledge.