Is it ethical to have biological children when there are children who could benefit from fostering or adoption? Isn't creating further needs wrong, when existing needs could be fulfilled? I'm unsure about the moral status of having children reproductively when fostering is possible. There are some reasons for this concern, which are as follows: In the developed world, each person tends to cause globally disproportionate amounts of pollution and environmental harm. The world bank's statistics on per-capita GHG output by country support this. Creating a new person means that there is a new set of needs which must be fulfilled, often at the expense of the globally worst-off, who will be hurt by the effects of procuring the necessary resources to meet those needs. Secondly, it seems as if we have moral reason to meet existing needs before it is permissible to create more needs through reproduction. There are plenty of children without homes, and adopting or fostering them both reduces environmental...

I think you're onto a profoundly important question, and I share your concern that the issue is not commonly one encounters in public discourses. I think the issue of having children is, as you say, bound up with concerns about prioritizing existing needs and also about the environmental consequences of additional pollution, consumption, habitat loss, etc. I think the issue, however, concerns both the more developed and the less developed world. The impacts from reproduction in each are different, but those impacts in both are substantial. Currently the levels of consumption in the less developed world are low, but we can't demand that populations remain impoverished. Moreover, populations in the less developed world are despite low individual levels of consumption nevertheless collectively exerting enormous pressures on non-human populations through their effects on water, habitat, and pollution. It is clearly, then, not morally unproblematic to reproduce under current circumstances for any of us. There,...

People who want to adopt children typically must demonstrate that they would be good parents (they must be financially stable, reasonably healthy, law-abiding, and so on). This is often a very difficult process, as prospective parents are placed under intense scrutiny; and many couples who would likely make fine parents are denied. What reason is there to regulate adoption in this way that would not apply to parenthood in general? I think most of us agree that it is a good thing that not just anyone can adopt. But why should having one's own biological children by any different? I am normally repulsed by the claim that only certain people should be allowed to breed. However, I don't see what would justify applying such demanding standards to adoptive parents but not biological ones.

There are a number of reasons for the asymmetry for the difference in the way biological and adoptive parents are treated. The first is privacy. The second is liberty. The decision to reproduce and the process of reproduction are among the most personal, intimate, and emotionally profound in human life, and they involve one's own body. For the state or institutions to intrude into that process would entail compromising the most private dimensions of our lives and bodies and interferring with people's liberty in substantial ways, and people find that intolerable, especially given the epistemic problems in determining who is and is not fit to parent. The question of whether people are fit to parent can be handled once children are born. Scrutinizing prospective parents through adoption requires no iintrusion into the private matter of biological reproduction or positive comprimising of the liberty of people. Of course, the state and the community do have an interest in new members of the community being...

why do we associate different colors with different things? for example, blue is consistently associated with either feeling 'down' or 'relaxed'. black, while considered fashionable is generally considered a morose color. so, why do we feel a need to attribute certain colors to certain states of mind? if color is just a question of wavelengths, (etc) then why does society do this? - Farris, age 26

This is largely an empirical and psychological rather than a philosophical or conceptual question. I suspect that there are both natural and social reasons for the association. I can think of how some cultures use white for mourning while others black, how some associate red with luck and good fortune while others associate it with vice and anger. On the other hand, there seems a biological link between seasonal affect/exposure to bright/intense/full spectrum/natural light and therefore between dark/gray/blue environments and depression. I suppose one philosophically interesting bit would be whether it's possible to have an experience of color that's not conditioned by emotional and conceptual matters. The conditions for the possibility of color experience and the possibility of color experience independent of other experiences would be interesting to investigate not only empirically but also conceptually. We might argue that the very concepts of color (red, blue, yellow, etc.) are more and must be more...

How should we distinguish between personal memories of our past (what psychologists call episodic memory) and the imagination? Aren't the mental states at the heart of both phenomena fundamentally the same?

One might say, in fact, that memory is part of our imaginative capacity, or at least dependent upon our imaginative capacity to the extent it is composed of imaginative mental phenomena. One way to distinguish memories from other imaginative events, then, as Oliver Leeman suggests, is by their epistemic status. Genuine memories are true, while imaginative events generally may or may not be. But I'd add that it's possible to have imaginative events that are true but are not memories. They would be true accidentally, or by luck. For example, I might imagine that right now a Turkish fighter jet has engaged a target along the Syrian frontier--and by chance it might be so. I'd say, then, that another feature of memories that distinguishes them from imaginations is their causal history. Memories are cause by past experiences, by our past interactions with the world, ourselves, and others. Imaginations may be dreamt up at any time. But these are rather objective ways of distinguishing memories from...

I've read that Fichte believed we all a part of a universal mind and that our minds more than just being subjects in the world are the co-creators of nature. Does he mean that in the way a new age sort might take it to mean that we are creating reality at our own will?

I suppose it depends upon what you mean by the phrase "in the way" when you say "in the way a new age sort might take it to mean." If by "in the way" you mean as a mind that can be determined through our individual choices or individual wishes, then no. Fichte's "mind" is not reducible or determined by our individual thoughts, feelings, and mental acts. And if by "in the way" you mean because it's simply pleasing or inspirational to think so, then, again, no. Fichte's position was developed in large measure through the rational demands, implications, and alternatives of philosophers trying to work out the necessary conditions for the very possibility of our selves, the world, freedom, causation, and our ability to understand/know. Having said that, it's also important to understand that the mind or consciousness or "I" we experience is not our self in the truest and most universal sense, that the world and we are the expression and activity of an immaterial consciousness, and that Fichte's work is not...

Should philosophy be considered among the group of disciplines we consider sciences or among the humanities? I understand that the answer to this is typically taken to be that philosophy is among the humanities but I also know that philosophers sometimes resist this categorisation. Obviously we'd need to refine our definitions of these categories first to see if we can produce a useful answer. And perhaps the answer is that there's a third category that philosophy should belong to all on its own?

It's funny you asked, as I have just been discussing with the Physics faculty at my university the possibility of having my course in Metaphysics count as an elective in their program. One might ask, I think, why there are categories at all. Why not just have disciplinary programs. The reason is often more administrative than pedagogical or theoretical. Universities need means of distributing budgets, committee assignments, and review procedures. Sure there is a background in the medieval division of the ancient liberal arts into two categories: the verbal studies of the trivium (grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic) and the quantitative studies of the quadrivium (music, astronomy, arithmetic, and geometry). And there's a stream of division that extends out of nineteenth-century ideas about the human sciences. But I find very little theoretical consideration given to the division today. My hope, in fact, is that it will diminish somewhat in importance as interdisciplinary studies gain in prominence. And that...

As an argument against bestiality, it is often said that animals are not able to consent to sex. If this is the case, though, wouldn't that mean that every instance of two animals mating is an instance of rape, since presumably neither of them are able to consent?

Well, if someone is struck by lightning is it murder? A necessary condition for the commission of a crime is that the candidate criminal be an agent. Arguably, non-human animals are not. So, just as they can't consent to sex, they are incapable of rape or murder. Concepts of moral or criminal propriety just don't apply to non-human sex. One reason one is tempted to think otherwise is that non-human animals have moral standing. That is, they are the proper objects of moral consideration, and one can act morally or immorally towards them. But not everything with moral standing is a moral agent. Now, having said that, I do think there are other reasons for your justly wondering about this question. The sexual congress of plants and microbes doesn't raise this question. You aren't likely to wonder whether bees rape flowers. But the sexual activity of animals more closely related to humans seems strikingly similar to our own conduct, as do many non-human ways of eating. Moreover, non-humans close to us can...

Why is the notion of a child having sex with an adult considered so profoundly offensive? It is widely believed that sex with a child is psychologically harmful to the child. However, why should that be? Is it the act itself that is psychologically harmful to the child or the belief that they (the child) have participated in something psychologically harmful which psychologically harmful to the child? Some people have claimed that when a child participates in a sexual act that they lose their "innocence." Yet I do not perceive any direct connection between innocence and sexuality. It is possible to express ones sexuality in ways that are disrespectful and even sadistic, for instance a person might feel deeply insulted if they allowed a person to have access to intimate parts of their body only to discover that that person had no respect for them as a person. The complexities and dangers of sexuality are one reason that it seems to be no less prudent to restrict the sexual activity of children than it...

Not only is it possible that pedophilia is in general not judged philosophically; as it is with virtually everything it is a near certainty. That, however, doesn't make the judgment incorrect. I can't speak to the reasons that pedophilia is thought to be harmful psychologically, but philosophically the issue is one of consent . That children should be initiated into and involved in a set of practices (i.e. sex) with such profound emotional, social, political, and moral implications without their consent is what offends philosophically. What determines when someone is able to give consent to sexual interaction, what criteria ought to be employed to determine when consent is properly given, etc., are interesting and difficult philosophical issues. I don't however think the aesthetic line of thought you pursue will prove terribly useful in this regard or in underwriting moral judgments about pedophilia, as what is thought to be disgusting pedophilia today was not so in the past--for example, in ancient...

The website "Wikileaks" has been getting a lot of media attention recently after it's leaking of thousands of secret and classified US diplomatic cables. It was also in the headlines in April after it's release of classified footage showing US forces killing Iraqi civilians and journalists. Some governments have been critical of Wikileaks, Hilary Clinton referring to the recent leaks as an "attack on the international community and Sarah Palin describing head-man Julian Assange as having "blood on his hands", and calling for the US government to hunt him down with the same urgency as that with which they hunt down suspected terrorists. Is any of this backlash justified? I have a feeling that such harsh criticism is typical of a person who has been caught in the act of wrong-doing and points the finger at the person who reveals their crimes, in an attempt to draw attention away from their own misdeeds. Is Wikileaks responsible for the death of US soldiers in Iraq? Is there a point at which freedom of...

I'm inclined to think your psychological account of the response is correct, though perhaps incomplete. I also think the intensity of the fury against the leaks indicates the extent to which the government and many citizens have internalized institutional authority as normal and overriding, that both the government and many citizens have lost touch with other, competing, and sometimes more important sources of authority and obligation. The authorities have reacted hysterically because they find intolerable the idea that people might act upon other grounds and find themselves compelled by duties that the authorities don't define. They are not only upset with these leaks, but they fear that these leaks may inspire others. The policies of the state, however, are not always congruent (and are often not congruent) with the interests of the nation, or with what is morally right. So far, Wikileaks has no demonstrable blood on its hands. If it had, the specifics would be broadcast on FOX 24/7. Defense...

Is a moral ought an unconditional ought? In a book on nursing ethics I came across the idea that a moral ought was unconditional. Contained no ifs or buts. Nurses ought to help their patients. Not ifs about it. It was stated as being unconditional. First page, first paragraph They said unlike moral oughts, other oughts are conditional... if you want to be well rested you ought to go to bed early, that sort of thing. But it is not true that nursing oughts are also conditional? Nurses ought to help their patients if they want to keep their jobs/follow nursing guidelines...etc. How can there truly be an unconditional ought?

For myself, I doubt there are unconditional oughts. Your book seems to have been informed by a specific kind of ethics associated with the work of Immanuel Kant, among others. For Kant there are two kinds of imperatives. One kind, called "hypothetical" imperatives are the sort where what one ought to do depends on a condition being met. They usually take the form of "If you want X, then do Y." Or "If you don't want X, then don't do Y," and so on. For Kant, these are really moral "oughts" since they depend out our desires. In cases like this one acts in order to satisfy one's self, to answer one's desires, not because the action is the moral thing to do. In such cases we are slaves to our desires and acting more or less selfishly. Often, in fact, what's the morally proper thing to do, according to this line of thinking, is to oppose our desires or even do what we don't desire. If I find money, I might desire to keep it, but the morally right thing is to return the cash. So, what your book is saying is...

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