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Are feminists (who subscribe to the view) right to claim that all men are

Are feminists (who subscribe to the view) right to claim that all men are necessarily sexist? Perhaps it makes sense to limit the scope of the claim to a particular country, say within the UK. Presumably the sexism of men in few examples of matriarchal societies, if indeed they are sexist, would be different from the sexism we're familiar with. As a man, I would not care to insist that I am not sexist in various ways. My morality is egalitarian but it is no doubt at odds with my attitudes and behaviour. That applies to gender just as it applies to other ways we distinguish sets of people (or subjects of moral concern). The problem I have with the assertion is that it seems to take gender (or sex for the transphobic flavours of feminism) as the essential dividing line between people. Aren't there all sorts of predicates that group people into different sets, some more privileged than others? 'Born-in-the-UK' vs. 'Born-in-Malawi'; 'disabled' vs. 'fit'; 'socially anxious' vs. 'charismatic'. In many cases...

I don't know of any feminist writer who would assent to the claim that "all men are sexist." I seriously encourage you to think about where you got the idea that it is common for feminists to think such a thing. Feminists have had always had to contend with people caricaturing or willfully misunderstanding what they say, and so there are a lot of misconceptions floating around. If you are seriously interested in feminist views, I would suggest that you start reading. I'd suggest, as a start, the book *Discovering Reality* by Marilyn Frye.

I cannot speak for all feminists, but I do hold views that are pretty common among feminists, so let me tell you my reactions to the claim you mention. First of all, I consider sexism to be a structural, rather than an individual problem. It is not primarily a problem about the false beliefs or malign attitudes of individual men, and much more a matter of an entire system that gives women a much more limited menu of life options than men have. This is evident in the fact that, in every society, at every time in history, and every place on the globe, by any measure of life quality, women are worse off than men. It's an open question -- but one for empirical investigation, not a priori philosophizing -- how this system got set up in the first place, but it's likely it has to do with conflict over control of women's reproductive capacities. In any case, the existence of these systematic limitations on women means that men, in all societies, at all times, etc. enjoy unearned advantages over women. In that respect -- and listen carefully to this -- men all have an interest in the preservation of sexist structures, *even if* they bear no *personal* responsibility for the structures' existence.

Imagine it this way -- suppose you have purchased, in good faith, an art object that turns out to have been stolen. If the theft is discovered, you will have to relinquish the art object to its rightful owner, *even though* it may not be possible for you to get your money back from the thief. Thus, you would be better off if the theft is never discovered. This is true *even if* you are the kind of person who would, upon discovering the theft, immediately return the object to its rightful owner despite the cost. Many men are like this with respect to sexism. They say: I renounce the advantages that I have just in virtue of being a man rather than a woman, and I commit myself to dismantling the system that gives me such advantages. But the first step to renouncing those privileges in recognizing that they are there. That's hard.

The second thing I want to say about the claim you're concerned about is that it's possible for a person to contribute to the maintenance of sexist structures without intending to do so, or without realizing that he (or she) is doing so. There is a great deal of work being done now in psychology on what is called "implicit bias" -- psychological attitudes that, without our being consciously aware of them, influence the way we interact with other people, the inferences we draw, and the evaluations we make. There is a great deal of evidence, for example, that men and women evaluate the same job application differently depending on whether the name at the top is male or female. I do not like to characterize these findings by saying that people who do this "are sexist," because people are not responsible for their unconscious attitudes in the same way they are responsible for their conscious attitudes. Now that we know about unconscious attitudes, however, I do think that everyone has an obligation to work to uncover and change whatever unconscious attitudes one might have.

Everything I've said, by the way, has a parallel with white people and racism. I am a white person, and so I have enjoyed unearned advantages over black persons. The rage many of us feel about recent killings of unarmed black people is connected with this -- I am not the least bit worried when I am approached by a police officer on a dark night; I don't fear that he or she is going to view me as dangerous, and shoot me pre-emptively. (This is one rare situation in which my being a woman makes me safer!) White people who "get it" about the systemic and unconscious nature of racism respond by working against racism, even though it is (in the sense I explained above) not in their interests to do so.

I don't know of any feminist writer who would assent to the claim that "all men are sexist." I seriously encourage you to think about where you got the idea that it is common for feminists to think such a thing. Feminists have had always had to contend with people caricaturing or willfully misunderstanding what they say, and so there are a lot of misconceptions floating around. If you are seriously interested in feminist views, I would suggest that you start reading. I'd suggest, as a start, the book *Discovering Reality* by Marilyn Frye. I cannot speak for all feminists, but I do hold views that are pretty common among feminists, so let me tell you my reactions to the claim you mention. First of all, I consider sexism to be a structural, rather than an individual problem. It is not primarily a problem about the false beliefs or malign attitudes of individual men, and much more a matter of an entire system that gives women a much more limited menu of life options than men have. This is...

Feminists often oppose "slut shaming" which is when people denigrate women who

Feminists often oppose "slut shaming" which is when people denigrate women who are perceived to engage in sexual behavior excessively. Does this mean that promiscuity or (so called promiscuity rather) should be condoned or celebrated? Is there any reason to be opposed to (so called) promiscuity?

It's important here to separate issues. One issue is whether there is something morally objectionable in a person's having multiple sexual partners. Another issue is whether the answer to that that question partly depends on the gender of the person involved. Feminist opposition to "slut shaming" has entirely to do with the double standard regarding sexual promiscuity that prevails in our culture: a cultural presumption that there is something more shameful about a woman's having multiple sexual partners than about a man's having multiple sexual partners. In many milieus, it accrues to a man's status for him to have multiple "conquests" to his credit, while it decrements a woman's reputation for her to have had sex with an equal number of men. Why should that be? How could promiscuity be morally different for a man than for a woman? The idea that there is such a moral difference is what feminists are objecting to. Doesn't that seem perfectly reasonable?

There are a number of interesting things to consider here -- for example, the idea that women, but not men, are somehow damaged or defiled by sexual intercourse. If it is revolting to consider having sex with a prostitute, who may have had dozens of different partners, why is it not equally revolting to imagine having sex with a male "player" who has "conquered" dozens of different women? Why, in fact, do we even have the word "slut" in our lexicon, but no matching word for a man who indiscriminately has sex with a large number of different women?

It's important here to separate issues. One issue is whether there is something morally objectionable in a person's having multiple sexual partners. Another issue is whether the answer to that that question partly depends on the gender of the person involved. Feminist opposition to "slut shaming" has entirely to do with the double standard regarding sexual promiscuity that prevails in our culture: a cultural presumption that there is something more shameful about a woman's having multiple sexual partners than about a man's having multiple sexual partners. In many milieus, it accrues to a man's status for him to have multiple "conquests" to his credit, while it decrements a woman's reputation for her to have had sex with an equal number of men. Why should that be? How could promiscuity be morally different for a man than for a woman? The idea that there is such a moral difference is what feminists are objecting to. Doesn't that seem perfectly reasonable? There are a number of...

Would you professional philosophers advise that us--rather uninitiated--students

Would you professional philosophers advise that us--rather uninitiated--students begin tackling philosophers and philosophical perspectives through series such as the "A Very Short Introduction" collection? I am a senior international relations/development studies undergrad and have been recently taking courses on what kinds of ethical relations we have to others, in general,"global justice". I have read key pieces from Rawls, Pogge (I enjoy his cosmopolitan institutionalist perspective!), Sen, David Held, Habermas, Nagel, some Charles Taylor, and several others. One constant problem I have encountered was that many of these authors are writing amidst the background of other thinkers such as Hegel, Rousseau, Locke, Mill, Kant and so on. To return to my initial question, would you recommend "intro" readings for many of these authors so one can understand--very basically--where contemporary scholars derive their ideas, or do I need to take the plunge directly into Hegel (I know one day I will) et al? Could...

There are lots of resources available for people who would like to gain entry into the world of academic philosophy. I suggest that you find out what texts are used in introductory philosophy courses in the areas in which you are interested. There are two obvious ways to do this: one, if you live near a college or university, check out the campus or area bookstores for lists of the required or recommended books for the courses that interest you. You might even visit a professor during his or her office hours (these may be posted on the web, or you may be able to get them by calling the department office) to ask for recommendations.

Alternatively, or in addition, you can surf the web for course syllabi. Many instructors post these to publicly accessible sites, and the syllabi usually list the books required or recommended for the course.

There are at least two good encyclopedias of philosophy that I can recommend. There is a print encyclopedia, published by Routledge. It is very expensive to buy, but local libraries or college libraries might carry it. There is also the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy ( plato.stanford.edu ) Both of these resources are meant to be useful for professional philosophers, so they may presuppose more expertise than you have. But many entries are quite accessible, and even if the content is a little beyond you (at this point), the references may be helpful.

Finally, don't forget to exploit this website. Search by the philosopher or topic you are interested in. We panelists all write with people like you in mind, so you might find a lot of what you're looking for right here.

Enjoy!

There are lots of resources available for people who would like to gain entry into the world of academic philosophy. I suggest that you find out what texts are used in introductory philosophy courses in the areas in which you are interested. There are two obvious ways to do this: one, if you live near a college or university, check out the campus or area bookstores for lists of the required or recommended books for the courses that interest you. You might even visit a professor during his or her office hours (these may be posted on the web, or you may be able to get them by calling the department office) to ask for recommendations. Alternatively, or in addition, you can surf the web for course syllabi. Many instructors post these to publicly accessible sites, and the syllabi usually list the books required or recommended for the course. There are at least two good encyclopedias of philosophy that I can recommend. There is a print encyclopedia, published by Routledge. It is very...

Suppose a computer is trying to execute some code or another, but hasn't done so

Suppose a computer is trying to execute some code or another, but hasn't done so yet (for example, it is waiting for a given signal, or for a certain period of time to elapse). Does the computer intend to execute that code? Can we speak of intention in a case like this?

You may not realize it, but you have presupposed the answer to your question in the way you asked it. You speak of the computer "trying" to execute a code. Trying involves intending to do something. So if you are not speaking metaphorically, you are presupposing that computers can have intentions, and that the computer in your case already has one. If the computer can really be said to be trying, then the additional detail in your example (viz., that there's a temporal gap between the computer's beginning to try, and the execution of the intended act) doesn't matter.

Now maybe you meant to be using the term "trying" loosely, or metaphorically, and then your question was whether the term "intention" could be strictly and literally applied to a computer. That's a good question. The answer, however, is not going to depend on whether there's a a temporal gap between the trying and the successful execution. You can see that if you consider some non-controversial cases of something's intending to do something. So suppose that I intend to type the letter "x". There's probably very little time between the formation of my intention and the initiation of the motor routine. (Note -- some neuroscientists and some philosophers think that there's empirical evidence that the initiation of at least some motor actions precedes the formation of the intention. It certainly seems to be that our awareness of the formation of an intention can come after the action has been initiated. But the matter is controversial.) In other cases, as for example when I form the intention to write a philosophy paper, there can be an extremely long gap between my forming the intention and my executing it. So timing is not the important factor.

What is important? First is what it is for something to have an intention; the next thing is what it takes for something to meet those requirements.

I think that an intention is the product of a desire for something and a belief about the means necessary to obtain it. So to have an intention, one must at least be the kind of thing that has beliefs and desires. That's a pretty neutral claim. Most contemporary philosophers will agree with it. Some philosophers will add that a thing also needs to be capable of action in order to have an intention. That's a little more controversial, depending on what's meant by "action". If mental actions count (like doing sums in one's head, or recalling the words to a song), then it's also pretty uncontroversial. But let's focus on the first necessary condition: beliefs and desires.

So: what does it take for something to have beliefs and desires? Here, you'll get different answers from different philosophers. But here's mine: I am a computationalist about the mind. I think that beliefs and desires are certain kinds of functional states, involving relations to representations. So I see no reason why a computer could not, in principle, have beliefs and desires. But there's another requirement for something to have a mind, and that's that the representations have to have genuine meaning (confusingly, philosophers use the term "intentionality" to mean "genuine meaning" as well as to mean "being in a state related to intentions"). Currently existing computers operate with merely formal representations -- any meaning the representations have is meaning that we, the designers and users, choose to impute to it.

Now as I said, philosophers are going to disagree about all the elements of my view. But the main thing is that most philosophers do think that being able to form intentions requires having a mind, and they think, further, that it is a real fact about the world that some things have minds and some things don't. An interesting exception is Daniel Dennett. He denies that there is any specific property or form of organization that is necessary for something to have an intention; he thinks that as long as a thing's activity can be usefully described in intentional terms -- terms like "believe," "desire" and "intend," then that thing can be truly said to have intentions. As he puts it, for a being or a system to have mental states is for it to be fruitful for an observer to take the "intentional stance" toward that being or system. What's crucial about the pattern of activity, what makes it interpretable as intentional, is that the activity looks rational. So, for example, if you are playing chess or hearts (more my speed) with a computer, you might find yourself wondering what move the computer "is thinking about making". And the way you might think about this is by pretending that the computer knows certain things -- the rules of the game, the moves that have already been made, the moves that are open to it -- and wanting certain things -- to win the game -- and then figuring out what any rational being would decide to do in those circumstances. What Dennett would say is that if you are able to sustain play this way -- if what the computer does continues to look rational in light of what you are pretending to be its beliefs and desires, then you are not pretending. All it is for the computer to be really intending things, Dennett would say, is for its behavior to display a pattern that makes it fruitful to attribute beliefs and desires and intentions to it.

So Dennett might well say that the computer in your example is intending to execute the code, regardless of it satisfies all those other conditions I gave. But he'd want to know more about the computer's behavior, to see whether the pattern supports our taking the intentional stance. But again -- the time between intention formation and execution is not pertinent.

Dennett, by the way, thinks that nature itself is an intentional agent, because we can think of natural selection as a rational process. And some philosophers, like Deborah Tollefson, who agree with Dennett about intentionality in general, think that groups of agents, things like the Supreme Court, can literally have intentions. I think that, whether or not one wants to use the term "intention" the way Dennett recommends, there's still going to be a difference between the kinds of beings that satisfy the conditions I sketched and those that don't, and that the difference is important for lots of reasons.

But still -- nothing depends on time!

You may not realize it, but you have presupposed the answer to your question in the way you asked it. You speak of the computer "trying" to execute a code. Trying involves intending to do something. So if you are not speaking metaphorically, you are presupposing that computers can have intentions, and that the computer in your case already has one. If the computer can really be said to be trying, then the additional detail in your example (viz., that there's a temporal gap between the computer's beginning to try, and the execution of the intended act) doesn't matter. Now maybe you meant to be using the term "trying" loosely, or metaphorically, and then your question was whether the term "intention" could be strictly and literally applied to a computer. That's a good question. The answer, however, is not going to depend on whether there's a a temporal gap between the trying and the successful execution. You can see that if you consider some non-controversial cases of something's intending to...

Hello,

Hello, I would like some clarification on deduction and induction. I have heard scientists claim to use deductive reasoning. In each case, the scientists use a hypothetical syllogism, such as modus ponens. I am confused about this because I noticed inductive arguments can be made into deductive form if conditionals are used. For example, consider this case: If an argument contains a conditional statement, then it is deductive reasoning. This inductive argument(X)can be re-worded to contain a conditional statement on the spot when asked. Therefore this inductive argument (X) is deductive reasoning. According to the example given, all arguments are deductive! Some help and clarification please? Are all arguments with at least one If . . . then . . . premise deductive by definition alone? Should inductive arguments be inductive no matter what form because the conclusions are not guaranteed from the premises?

Ordinary usage of these terms is inconsistent, and so, to some extent, is the technical usage. Sherlock Holmes is said to have solved crimes through "deduction." A philosopher would say, no, his methods were non-deductive. "Inductive" is often, in philosophy, opposed to "deductive", yet the kind of proof that in mathematics is called an "inductive" proof, is, by standard philosophical definitions, deductive. So no wonder you're confused.

Nobody owns these terms, so no one can rightfully say that anyone else's usage is objectively correct or incorrect. But let me give you at least one way of understanding the terms, and then an explanation in terms of that understanding for all the weirdnesses.

I tell my students in Intro Philosophy that the difference between "deductive" and "non-deductive" arguments has to do with the way the premises of the argument are supposed to support the conclusion of the argument. In a deductive argument, the author of the argument is claiming that the premises support the conclusion with logical necessity -- that is, the author of the argument is saying, in effect, "if the premises of this argument are (or were) true, then the conclusion has to be (or would have to be) true;" or, equivalently, "it's impossible for the premises to be true and the conclusion to be false at the same time." If a deductive argument is well-constructed, then it really will be the case that if the premises were true, then the conclusion would have to be true as well, we call the argument "valid." With a non-deductive argument, the claim is different: it's that the premises, if true, make it probable that the conclusion is true. The author of a non-deductive argument is aware that the premises don't logically entail the conclusion, that it's logically possible for the premises of the argument to be true and the conclusion false, but that's OK. All the author of a non-deductive argument is claiming is that the premises give you good rational reason to accept the conlusion.

Now there is a large catalog of argument forms of both the deductive and the non-deductive type. Modus ponens and hypothetical syllogism are two different forms of valid deductive arguments. Modus ponens is the form:

  1. p
  2. If p, then q
  3. Therefore, q.

Hypothetical syllogism is the form:

  1. If p, then q.
  2. If q, then r.
  3. Therfore, if p, then r.

There are approximately one kazillion others.

There are also different non-deductive forms: inductive arguments involve premises about particulars, for example:

  1. Swan1, which I have observed, is white.
  2. Swan2, which I have observed, is white
  3. ....

N. SwanN, which I have observed, is white.

N+ 1. Probably, swanN+1, which I have not observed, is white.

Another kind of inductive argument uses the same premises, but has as its conclusion: "Probably, all swans are white."

Because inductive arguments sometimes involve moving from particular cases to general conclusions, the form of mathematical proof that moves from a fact about one number, say, that it has property P, and a fact of the form that if some arbitrary number has P, then so does its successor, to the conclusion that all numbers have P, it seems to fit the pattern of inductive arguments. But since inductive arguments in math involve deductively valid steps, rather than probabilistic steps, "mathematical induction" counts, by the definition above, as a form of deduction

Sherlock Holmes used a form of reasoning that we in philosophy call "abductive" or "inference to the best explanation." This is a very common form of non-deductive inference. It goes like this:

  1. Phenomenon X occurred.
  2. The best explanation of why X occurred is Y
  3. Therefore, probably Y.

So the astronomer Leverrier noticed a wobble in the orbit of Uranus. He argued that if there were a planet of such-and such size at such-and-such distance from Uranus, then that would explain why the wobble occurred. Therefore, probably there is such a planet. And indeed, it turned out that there was: Neptune! Holmes does essentially the same thing: he lists all the facts, considers what the best explanation of those facts would be, and concludes that the best explanation would be if the butler (or whoever) did it. (Elementary, my dear Watson.) This is probably only called "deduction" because of the common use of the word "deduce" to refer to any kind of rigorous reasoning.

As I said, no one owns these words. The characterizations I gave are useful ones, I think, and allow us to express important distinctions among kinds of reasoning. That's a good reason, I think, to use the words "deduction" and "induction" in the ways I explained about.

Ordinary usage of these terms is inconsistent, and so, to some extent, is the technical usage. Sherlock Holmes is said to have solved crimes through "deduction." A philosopher would say, no, his methods were non-deductive. "Inductive" is often, in philosophy, opposed to "deductive", yet the kind of proof that in mathematics is called an "inductive" proof, is, by standard philosophical definitions, deductive. So no wonder you're confused. Nobody owns these terms, so no one can rightfully say that anyone else's usage is objectively correct or incorrect. But let me give you at least one way of understanding the terms, and then an explanation in terms of that understanding for all the weirdnesses. I tell my students in Intro Philosophy that the difference between "deductive" and "non-deductive" arguments has to do with the way the premises of the argument are supposed to support the conclusion of the argument. In a deductive argument, the author of the argument is claiming that the premises...

Dear philosophers,

Dear philosophers, I have a question concerning politics and movies. Do people who boycott movies involving a certain actor/director/producer simply on the basis of the political views of that actor/director/producer acting reasonably? I wouldn't think so because a large part of how people decide whether to watch a movie or not is the history of the quality of the actor/director/producer's work and not that actor/director/producer's political views. What do you philosophers think?

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I think there may be a couple of different questionshere. One is: do people have theright to refuse to view a movie on the grounds that they disagree with thepolitics of someone involved in the making of the movie? The answer to that is, yes, ofcourse. No one has an obligationto see any particular movie, so one can decide whether or not to view it on anygrounds whatsoever. Sometimes people find the politics of some director or actor sorepugnant that they cannot bear the thought of viewing a film in which thatperson was involved.

That, notice, is a separate thing from making an aestheticjudgment about the film. One mightconsistently judge that a particularfilm is a masterpiece, and yet condemn the politics of the director who madeit, or the actor/actress who starred in it. I wish that intelligence, skill, and artistic visionwere always bundled together with moral virtue and political correctness – butthe reality is that they are not. (Wagner, in my estimation, is a case in point. A notorious anti-Semite, but he wrote sublime operas.)

But you might be asking a different question. You might be wondering aboutwhether people have the right to organizea boycott – that is, try to persuade a large number of people to refuse to seethe movie -- against a particularmovie on the ground that they disagree with the politics of someone involved inthe making of the movie. Here,again, there’s an easy answer: one has the right to try to persuade others ofanything they want. But I do thinkthat there are issues of moral responsibility here. Boycotts, if successful, have a serious economic impact ontheir targets, but also on many innocent others. This makes it morally incumbent on those who are thinking oforganizing a boycott to consider very carefully the likely consequences of theboycott, both in terms of the aims the boycotters have, and in terms of theforeseeable effects on people who are not actually the targets.

I do not myself approve of boycotts aimed at simply causingeconomic pain to some individual whose politics one dislikes. I want to see an argument that refusing to buy a certaincompany’s product – or view some director’s movie – will promote some positivepolitical end. I would support aboycott of a film, for example, that was produced by a studio that refused toabide by fair labor practices, or that allowed animals to be tortured duringfilming. In that case the boycottwould not only deprive the studio of income, but would publicize the abuses,all of which would put pressure on the studio to change its policies. And if the studio did change itspolicies, I would want the boycott to end. I would also support a boycott of a film that waspromulgating some slander or propagandistic message. But a boycottof – oh, I don’t know, say, Mel Gibson movies – what would be the point? To pressure Gibson into changing hispolitics? Economic pressure is nota legitimate means to achieving that sort of goal.

@font-face { font-family: "Cambria";}p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt; font-size: 10pt; font-family: "Times New Roman"; }div.Section1 { page: Section1; } I think there may be a couple of different questionshere. One is: do people have theright to refuse to view a movie on the grounds that they disagree with thepolitics of someone involved in the making of the movie? The answer to that is, yes, ofcourse. No one has an obligationto see any particular movie, so one can decide whether or not to view it on anygrounds whatsoever. Sometimes people find the politics of some director or actor sorepugnant that they cannot bear the thought of viewing a film in which thatperson was involved. That, notice, is a separate thing from making an aestheticjudgment about the film. One might consistently judge that a particularfilm is a masterpiece, and yet condemn the politics of the director who madeit, or the actor/actress who starred in...

Is there a fallacy where claim P is made, but the reply is to use radical people

Is there a fallacy where claim P is made, but the reply is to use radical people who have made claim P, but this usage of radical people is supposed to represent everyone who said claim P? I'll give an example below: 1. Suppose claim P is: 9/11 happened because of America's failed US foreign policy. 2. Jean Baudrillard has claimed a, b, and c to support P. Noam Chomsky has said d, e, and f to support P. (Note: Baudrillard and Chomsky are on the fringes of supporting P, meaning that they support P, but in very radical ways.) 3. However, a, b, c, d, e, and f are all false. 4. Therefore, P is false. Now, of course the fallacy is that one is only looking at two sources who argue for P, and by discounting those claims, there's a hasty generalization to say that P is false. So a hasty generalization, I believe is correct. However, my focus is on concentrating on the fringes. If one wants to argue against P, one doesn't argue against the fringes who argue for P. So it's sort of a straw-man, but at the...

Whew! What you have here is a real smorgasbord of fallacies. Let's sort them out. One fallacy here -- and I think this is the one you primarily have in mind -- is a fallacy called "attack ad hominem ", which means "attacking the person." This is the fallacy of attacking the character or credentials of the person making the argument, instead of showing what's wrong with the argument itself. In the example you give, Chomsky claims that US foreign policy was partly responsible for the 9/11 attacks, and offers considerations d, e, and f. To attack Chomsky's argument , one would have to either give grounds for thinking that d, or e, or f was false -- that is, show that the argument contained a false or unsupported premise -- or else show that d, e, and f did not logically entail the conclusion (if the argument is meant to be deductive) or did not provide good evidential support for the conclusion -- that is, show that the argument was not valid (bad if the argument was supposed to be...

Dear philosophers,

Dear philosophers, I have 2 questions: 1. Do you believe that it is morally permissible for an unmarried person (who has no children to care for) and who has battled depression for many years to commit suicide ? 2. What is your opinion of Liberalism which asserts that a person's life belongs only to them, and no other person has the right to force their own ideals by which that life must be lived ? Thanks, William

William: I think Professor Antony's reply is deep and commendable. I would only add a minor point about self-ownership or the thesis that one's life only belongs to one's self.

"Belonging" can involve property rights (this house belongs to me) but it can also refer to what is good for a person (e.g. he belongs in a hospital, she belongs in a great school, etc). If you step back from your current state (a very difficult act of abstraction, I agree!), can you see that you belong in a caring, curative therapeutic process? I think if you can begin to begin seeing that, you can see a different path than self-destruction. In a way, part of an answer to your question will involve not just a matter of liberalism versus a conservative, paternalistic form of governance, but it will involve a philosophy of values and one's overall understanding of the cosmos. For example, one of the reasons Christian philosophers historically opposed suicide (even the dignified suicide of Lucretius which was valorized in Ancient Rome --see the early chapters of Augustine's City of God) was because they believed that the purpose of life included joy, a joy in creation and Creator. This was why some Chritians historically defined despair as a refusal of joy. Clearly this was NOT taking into account the clinical, organic roots of depression and despair, nor was this taking seriously ways in which depression or despair can be quite involuntary and not a matter of choice (refusal or acceptance). But I mention this to suggest that you might take seriously some worldviews that hold out joy as an attainable, desirable end, even if it must be sought out not just philosophically or theologically but through careful medical practice. To give a somewhat secular alternative example, you might look at John Stewart Mill's autobiography and his account of his misery and despair. He emerged partly through meditative readings of the romantic poets Wordsworth and Coleridge. I note this as "somewhat secular," as their poetry had a rich spirituality not quite akin to secular naturalism.

William, I will try to answer both of your questions, but I especially wanted to answer the first one. I suffered from depression for most of my life, and considered, in a very personal way, the question you have asked. Forgive my presumption, but I want to make sure that, if you are asking about this because you are contemplating suicide, you know that there are some very effective therapies now for depression. I am not referring just to drug therapies, although medication was crucial (and is crucial) to my recovery; talk therapy is important too. It is not always easy to find an effective and tolerable therapy regimen -- I tried two anti-depressants before I found one that worked -- so (again, excuse my presumption) if you have tried one or even two or three that have not helped, you may need to try another. If all this is irrelevant, then good. The ethical question you ask is a hard one, but I believe that a person who is suffering terribly and who has no reasonable prospect of gaining...

I find the philosophy of religion immensely interesting. Recently I watched a

I find the philosophy of religion immensely interesting. Recently I watched a YouTube video in which a well known Christian philosopher/theologian, William Lane Craig, explained how the Anglo-American world had been "utterly transformed" and had undergone a "renaissance of Christian philosophy" since the 1960s (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=902MJirWkdM&feature=related [starts at around the 7:40 mark]). Do you agree with these statements? Moreover, how well respected is Dr. Craig? Is he generally viewed as a top notch philosopher? I also wonder whether the very best arguments on the atheistic side are really being discussed. It seems there is some disdain among philosophers regarding the so-called "new atheists": Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, etc. Who are the top contemporary atheists working in philosophy today? I'd really be interested in reading some of their work. I would really appreciate multiple perspectives on these questions. Thanks a lot.

PS to the last positing. Here are just some of the theists who are active in the UK or are recently retired, who have impecable credentials philosophically:

Oxford: Daniel Robinson, Brian Leftow, Tim Mawson, Brian Davies (now at Fordham), Keith Ward (now in London but formerly Christ Church), R.M. Adams and Marilyn Adams (just moved to UNC -Chapel Hill). Still affiliated with Oxford but retired Richard Swinburne, John Lucas, Michael Dummett, Basil Mitchell. John Foster died about two years ago, but he was a brilliant philosopher of the first rank, the leading exponent of idealism and a theist.

Cambridge: Douglas Hedley, Brian Hebblethwaite, Sarah Coakley (I believe she is now in Cambridge, but not positive), Janet Soskice, others...

John Cottingham (Reading), John Haldane (St. Andrews), Mark Wynn (Exeter), Victoria Harrison (Glasgow), Tim Chappell (Open University), Daniel Hill, and many more.

Also, one should bear in mind that there are more categories than "cheerful atheists" and "cheerful theists": there are some very prominant agnostics in the UK, probably the most well known is Sir Anthony Kenny (affiliated with Oxford). He is the greatest living historian of philosophy and categorically rejects atheism. He is not a theist, but he has defened the coherence of theism and regards it as a live position.

This isn't going to be a response from a different perspective from Peter Smith's, but I have a little information to add. First of all, William Lane Craig has debated a lot of philosophers over the last fifteen or so years, including a couple of the contributors to Philosophers Without Gods (Edwin Curley, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, and myself). I won't try to give the roster for fear of offending someone I've left out -- but you can find some transcripts of some of the debates on Craig's website: http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/menus/debates.html (Mine didn't make the cut! If you're interested, you can watch it through the Veritas Forum: http://www.veritas.org/media/talks/639 ) . Craig's debate with Walter Sinnott-Armstrong became a book: God? A Debate Between a Christian and an Atheist (Oxford University Press) and Sinnott-Armstrong has another book on the relation between religion and ethics: Morality Without God (also Oxford). Robert Garcia and Nathan King...

What is it that seems constantly to put philosophers in a position where they

What is it that seems constantly to put philosophers in a position where they are compelled to justify their work? Even if we accept such asinine criticisms as that philosophy is impractical, say, why aren't people similarly critical of literature or other fields in the humanities? What is it about philosophy in particular that seems to get under peoples' skin?

Well, of course, everyone on this panel loves philosophy, so we're probably not the best people to ask. But here are some speculations. First of all, philosophy deals with questions that a lot of people find tremendously important: what happens after death? what gives life value? is there a God? what is consciousness? So many people --many students -- come to philosophy with high hopes, and with expectations. But second, it turns out that these questions are extremely difficult to answer -- indeed, they turn out to be difficult to even ask. The process of clarifying the issues, breaking down the questions into sub-questions, reviewing answers that others have proposed, taking account of new information -- all this can seem very tedious, and very far removed from the original questions that seemed so pressing and so interesting. People who devote their careers to thinking about these questions --academic philosophers, for the most part -- necessarily specialize andfocus, and their writings and their conversation become technical, arcane, and inaccessible to people outside the field.

I think that people who try to engage philosophers on the "big questions," whether as students or as fellow airplane passengers, can reasonably become impatient, frustrated, andperhaps a little suspicious when they get their answers -- "Hey -- I was interested in how God could allowsuffering -- why are we talking about 'scope ambiguities' and 'modallogic'"? A polymer chemist or nuclear engineer would probably not be expected to put his or her work into a nutshell -- people are tolerant of technicality in science because they accept its necessity. But it's not as obvious why someone can't just tell you what the hell conscious is, and so it can look like obscurantism when a philosopher tries to give a serious answer.

If my diagnosis is correct, then the condition is made worse by the zillions of shallow (and callow) poseurs who offer (for a price) quick, superficial but profound-ish answers to the big questions, promoting. (I won't name names, but check out the "Philosophy" section at your local Barnes & Noble, and you'll find a few.) But we academic philosophers have to take a little responsibility, too, for our bad public image. We need to try harder than we do to make our research intelligible to people outside our field, or at least to trace the connections between the big questions and the specialized work we engage in. This website is an excellent move in that direction.

Well, of course, everyone on this panel loves philosophy, so we're probably not the best people to ask. But here are some speculations. First of all, philosophy deals with questions that a lot of people find tremendously important: what happens after death? what gives life value? is there a God? what is consciousness? So many people --many students -- come to philosophy with high hopes, and with expectations. But second, it turns out that these questions are extremely difficult to answer -- indeed, they turn out to be difficult to even ask . The process of clarifying the issues, breaking down the questions into sub-questions, reviewing answers that others have proposed, taking account of new information -- all this can seem very tedious, and very far removed from the original questions that seemed so pressing and so interesting. People who devote their careers to thinking about these questions --academic philosophers, for the most part -- necessarily specialize andfocus, and their...

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