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Is Plato right when he says that ignorance is the source of all evil? I live in

Is Plato right when he says that ignorance is the source of all evil? I live in the American south, and a large number of the people here are, in my opinion, ignorant; and i recently got into an argument with a class mate of mine who said that ignorance is bliss. At least half of the people at my school have his attitude, they don't care about their education and they prefer to not deal with things that might broaden their horizons. If ignorance is the source of evil, does that mean that my area is a hot spot for evil, or is my definition of evil wrong?

Let's start with a distinction. We may say that a situation is evil if it's sufficiently bad, whatever it was that brought the situation about—even if no one intended it. But we don't usually say that a person is evil unless they have evil intentions.

Start with evil people. In the kind of case that comes most easily to mind, ignorance isn't the issue. Sadly, there are people who just don't care. If what they do hurts someone else, it doesn't matter to them. In fact, some people take pleasure in other people's pain. I'm not sure that this kind of indifference and evil intention has much to do with ignorance. It's possible to know that something is wrong and not care. Plato may have thought otherwise, but it's not obvious that he's right.

It's pretty clear that the first kind of evil—objectively bad situations—can come about for all sorts of reasons, including sheer bad luck. Putting it down to ignorance is sometimes reasonable, but often isn't. And even when the bad situation comes about because of someone's ignorance, it may not be reasonable to expect the person to have known what they didn't know. But it seems a good bet that if people are ignorant, they may end up bringing about bad consequences simply because they didn't know what they needed to know to make things turn out better.

So maybe the thing to say is this: ignorance is one source of evil, but by no means the only one. It's plausible that if people are better informed, then various sorts of bad consequences will be less likely, though truly evil people can put knowledge to evil ends.

Let's start with a distinction. We may say that a situation is evil if it's sufficiently bad, whatever it was that brought the situation about—even if no one intended it. But we don't usually say that a person is evil unless they have evil intentions. Start with evil people. In the kind of case that comes most easily to mind, ignorance isn't the issue. Sadly, there are people who just don't care. If what they do hurts someone else, it doesn't matter to them. In fact, some people take pleasure in other people's pain. I'm not sure that this kind of indifference and evil intention has much to do with ignorance. It's possible to know that something is wrong and not care. Plato may have thought otherwise, but it's not obvious that he's right. It's pretty clear that the first kind of evil—objectively bad situations—can come about for all sorts of reasons, including sheer bad luck. Putting it down to ignorance is sometimes reasonable, but often isn't. And even when the bad situation comes about...

Having the opportunity to learn and discover philosophy is in my mind a

Having the opportunity to learn and discover philosophy is in my mind a privilege. Learning and understanding philosophical matters can be enlightening, clarifying, reassuring and ultimately life-changing. Although this may appear as a personal issue but relevant to all those who are interested in philosophy, my question is why might someone feel inadequate or not worthy of gaining such knowledge? I'm very interested and want to expand on the knowledge I already have but I feel guilty at the same time. Why should I get this and not someone else? I think philosophy should be taught in all schools and branched out to all corners of the world.

I'm going to read your question not as a psychological one (that as "What would cause someone to feel inadequate or unworthy or learning philosophy?") but rather as a question about whether there could be good reasons for feeling this way.

Before we go on, an important preliminary: what I'll say is intended to be perfectly general and not to be a diagnosis of your particular case. Since I don't know anything about your case beyond the question I've asked, I couldn't possibly speak to its particulars.

As for why someone might justifiably feel inadequate, one obvious answer is that they might lack the requisite talent. For example: if someone paid for me to do a PhD in mathematics, I would feel inadequate for the very simple reason that I don't have enough mathematical talent to be a serious part of the community of students in a PhD mathematics program. And if it turned out that my being part of the program meant I was taking the place of someone with real talent, that would reasonably make me feel not just inadequate but unworthy. I'd feel guilty for making poor use of a scarce resource.

That would be a reasonable worry. But there's another kind of worry. Suppose I actually had real mathematical talent. And suppose that this got me into a math PhD program. On the one hand, I would be worthy of being in the program. But on the other hand, I might be aware that it wasn't just talent but also some measure of luck that got me there. In fact, it would be virtually certain that someone equally talented didn't get the opportunity that I got. That might make me feel bad. Indeed, it would probably be true that many people were all things considered more worthy than I, even though I met the (demanding) standard for being in the program.

Suppose all that's true. What should we say?

There's no doubt that our good fortune often involves a real measure of good fortune -- of luck. The same often goes for one's bad fortune. The world shows no signs of making desert and reward line up neatly and there's no reason to think it ever will. In some cases, the mismatch amounts to real injustice; in those cases, the right thing might be to something about it, even if that means giving up something we care about. For example: if you ended up in your place by way of a head-to-head competition with somebody who was clearly more deserving, that would be an injustice, and might make a case for stepping aside. But if the worry is more in the nature of existential discomfort about the general unfairness of life, it's not clear that there's anything to be done. You ask "Why should I get this and not someone else?" There may be no good reason. But if you stepped aside to have your place taken by someone no more deserving, that wouldn't right any wrong.

Still, the fact that you have this concern could count indirectly in favor of your having the privilege. If you get a good philosophical education, you'll not only be intellectually equipped to bring philosophy to a wider circle of people; you may be much more motivated to do so than others with the same skills. That may be the best way for you to think about your good fortune.

I'm going to read your question not as a psychological one (that as "What would cause someone to feel inadequate or unworthy or learning philosophy?") but rather as a question about whether there could be good reasons for feeling this way. Before we go on, an important preliminary: what I'll say is intended to be perfectly general and not to be a diagnosis of your particular case. Since I don't know anything about your case beyond the question I've asked, I couldn't possibly speak to its particulars. As for why someone might justifiably feel inadequate, one obvious answer is that they might lack the requisite talent. For example: if someone paid for me to do a PhD in mathematics, I would feel inadequate for the very simple reason that I don't have enough mathematical talent to be a serious part of the community of students in a PhD mathematics program. And if it turned out that my being part of the program meant I was taking the place of someone with real talent, that would reasonably make me...

How much science should a philosopher know in order to do his or her work

How much science should a philosopher know in order to do his or her work properly? If I want to be a philosopher, should I study things like calculus, computer science and quantum mechanics? Should I read those big science textbooks of a thousand pages?

Briefly, it depends on what sorts of philosophical issues you want to pursue. Most philosophers, including most good ones, don't have extensive scientific knowledge, and the questions they're interested in don't call for knowing lots of science. But philosophers who work on issues in physics, or biology, or psychology or other sciences need to be knowledgeable about the sciences they work on. In philosophy of physics, it's not unusual for a philosopher to have an advanced degree (Masters or even PhD) in physics. Even if s/he doesn't have a science degree, s/he will have to have acquired a lot of knowledge of the field - or relevant parts of it.

By way of general recommendation, however, the single most useful thing you can do if you're interested in philosophical issues about science is to learn as much math as you can. That can give you a serious leg up on learning the more specific scientific ideas that may be relevant to your interests. So if you have the aptitude, at the very least take some serious calculus and stats, and some linear algebra as well. And if you can do more, you're unlikely to regret it.

Briefly, it depends on what sorts of philosophical issues you want to pursue. Most philosophers, including most good ones, don't have extensive scientific knowledge, and the questions they're interested in don't call for knowing lots of science. But philosophers who work on issues in physics, or biology, or psychology or other sciences need to be knowledgeable about the sciences they work on. In philosophy of physics, it's not unusual for a philosopher to have an advanced degree (Masters or even PhD) in physics. Even if s/he doesn't have a science degree, s/he will have to have acquired a lot of knowledge of the field - or relevant parts of it. By way of general recommendation, however, the single most useful thing you can do if you're interested in philosophical issues about science is to learn as much math as you can. That can give you a serious leg up on learning the more specific scientific ideas that may be relevant to your interests. So if you have the aptitude, at the very least take some...

Hi, I'm a third-year undergraduate. I have always love both philosophy and

Hi, I'm a third-year undergraduate. I have always love both philosophy and science, especially theoretical physics and astronomy, but out of self-doubt, I majored in philosophy and only philosophy. I am in much regret that I did not double major in philosophy and physics, and am wondering about the possibility of being a research scientist in the future without doing a second undergraduate degree in science. Would it be possible to, say, do a philosophy PhD with a strong scientific bent (such as the Logic, Computation, and Methodology PhD at Carnegie Mellon), and then apply whatever foundational analysis skills I acquire thereafter in making substantial contributions to the natural sciences? - science envy

Just a few further thoughts. Many philosophers of physics don't have the equivalent of a PhD in physics, though they do, of course, know a good deal about physics. And while these philosophers usually aren't doing experimental work in physics, what they do is sometimes published in physics journals and often in journals where physicists as well as philosophers publish.

If you have your heart set on being a research scientist, employed by a science department or a scientific institution, then you'll almost certainly need a PhD in the relevant science. But if you want to do research that combines theoretical issues in science with your interest in philosophy, then it's quite possible to do that without a PhD in a science. In any case, I agree with my co-panelist's suggestion: study more science in your senior year if you have room for it in your schedule.

Just a few further thoughts. Many philosophers of physics don't have the equivalent of a PhD in physics, though they do, of course, know a good deal about physics. And while these philosophers usually aren't doing experimental work in physics, what they do is sometimes published in physics journals and often in journals where physicists as well as philosophers publish. If you have your heart set on being a research scientist, employed by a science department or a scientific institution, then you'll almost certainly need a PhD in the relevant science. But if you want to do research that combines theoretical issues in science with your interest in philosophy, then it's quite possible to do that without a PhD in a science. In any case, I agree with my co-panelist's suggestion: study more science in your senior year if you have room for it in your schedule.

Can a good argument be made for encouraging working class parents in particular

Can a good argument be made for encouraging working class parents in particular to pursue education? What I'm trying to get at is this... I get the feeling that, had I come from a more privalidged background, I might have had a lot more support through my school years. My parents received a very poor education and "knew" they weren't really going to amount to much. As a result I was never really helped with school work and was encouraged to follow a trade rather than get further education.  As if that was the best of what could be expected from a person of our social status. I've seen the same thing happening with the vast majority of my relatives and others that I grew up with. I hated that sort of working environment and wished I had taken a different path. Although others may be satisfied with that sort of outcome, surely having more options is better. I now do social work in my community which, although satisfying, is sometimes challenging as I see lots of suffering that being better educated would...

You've in effect made several good arguments yourself. But the idea that just because one was born into a certain social stratum, one shouldn't try to get out of it is an idea that has long since lost any plausibility it might have had. In fact, when you think about it, it's hard to see what could recommend that view. Even if we concede that there will always be low-skill jobs needing to be done, it hardly follows that one is obliged to be the one who does them just because of accidents of birth.

If someone is truly content to remain uneducated, or work for low wages or perform unskilled labor, that's one thing. (And there are such people.) But if that's not what you want out of life, It's hard to think of any good reason why you should be expected simply to go along with a life-plan you didn't pick.

A friend of mine who got his PhD when I did came from a working class family. There's nothing wrong with that, and nothing wrong with the work they did. (My family was only pne beneration removed from workin class.) But much to his resentment, his family used to tell him that he shouldn't "get above himself." The idea that aspiring to accomplish more than one's ancestors is "getting above oneself" is a vicious notion, even if those who are in its grip don't mean it that way. The world has benefitted from countless people who have done exactly what that not-at-all innocent way of speaking would have talked them out of.

You've in effect made several good arguments yourself. But the idea that just because one was born into a certain social stratum, one shouldn't try to get out of it is an idea that has long since lost any plausibility it might have had. In fact, when you think about it, it's hard to see what could recommend that view. Even if we concede that there will always be low-skill jobs needing to be done, it hardly follows that one is obliged to be the one who does them just because of accidents of birth. If someone is truly content to remain uneducated, or work for low wages or perform unskilled labor, that's one thing. (And there are such people.) But if that's not what you want out of life, It's hard to think of any good reason why you should be expected simply to go along with a life-plan you didn't pick. A friend of mine who got his PhD when I did came from a working class family. There's nothing wrong with that, and nothing wrong with the work they did. (My family was only pne beneration removed from...

Hello, I'm 17 years old. I'm in a situation where I have dropped out of high

Hello, I'm 17 years old. I'm in a situation where I have dropped out of high school because I strongly feel I am better off without it. I am about to travel around the united states with a 27 year old man that i only met and talked with on the internet/phone for four years. In all of that time I learned to have complete trust in him because I see him as like a older brother now. It is still very possible to be lead a successful and happy life without schooling. Now further, I plan on pursue my writings in poetry and writings on my thoughts in general that i believe to have a spiritual/philosophical value. I believe in situations where the mind is constantly adapting to new environments (travel) it sets a great catalyst for creative thoughts. This is my dream and needs be fulfilled to have an existential based life realized. A lot of great philosophers have been home schooled and led rather independent life styles, which I am doing as well. I still haven't completely denied the possibility of going to a...

I am impressed that you were willing to ask the question in this forum - I don't know how many 17 year old readers we have here, but I suspect you are in a minority. This demonstrates your willingness to look for answers in unexpected places, so good for you! I am afraid, however, I agree with Prof. Stairs and want to urge caution before embarking on such a journey, which might sound to your ears so conventional and unenlightened it may be hard to hear.

While you are right that it is still possible to find a path less traveled and do well in life, it seems to be increasingly rare. There are many social/economic reasons for this and over which you have little control. While the human spirit of adventure and the lure of a life lived well and fully will never die, the historical moment in which you find yourself is remarkably different than it was for your predecessors. For example, my father did very well with only one year of post high-school education, and he earned far more than I will with my PhD. Please understand that I am not speaking of "earning-power" as a goal because we all need to find the life that suits us, and one need not have much material wealth to satisfy a worthy life.

So what leads us forward toward a worthwhile existence? That is hard to know of course, but as my colleague suggests, we can generalize a bit about development of good judgment as being, in part, a function of age. I am sure you have observed poor and good judgement in individuals of all ages - but as a rule we improve with age and learn from experiences of poor judgment. Now I recognize this creates something of a vicious circle, a bit like looking for your first job when the ads all say "experience needed." How in heaven's name do I get that experience if no one will hire me? This is a lot like the problem you face: everyone says you need more experience of life before you embark on an experience of life! But while similar, it is a flawed analogy. The flaw is that it depends a lot on the job or life experience you seek and how high the stakes are. Any wise employer will prefer to hire someone with "experience," but it depends on the job. If not a lot of training is required, it is possible that the employer meets a young person like yourself and says "what the heck, I'll give him a shot at it...worse case scenario, it won't work out, but I can take that risk." But if the job is really beyond your skill level, the employer would be not just a fool to hire an inexperienced worker, she would be irresponsible, setting the new employee up for failure and possible harm.

Perhaps this is part of why, as Prof. Stairs says, there is no need to hurry on this particular life-changing experience. The stakes are simply too high and there are so many unknowns to feel it would be wise to support such a venture at this time. It is a little like buying a $5 lottery ticket - even though the odds are hugely against you - because you might win! But then you get folks who (literally) bet their whole fortunes on the hopes of winning and lose it all. That is what is at stake here and why you are hearing another voice of caution from me. You are not playing with a five dollar bill - you are playing a high stakes game with far more to lose than you might win.

I hope you will take to heart that there is a lot more time ahead to support your dreams and surprises in store for you in life!

I wish you all the best.

-bjm

Please don't take this the wrong way. Though I wouldn't use words like "stupid", I'm on your parents' side. A man who would take a 17-year-old whom he has never met and with whom he has no real-life acquaintance on the sort of journey you describe against the wishes of the people who know him well is a man whose judgment I would not trust. And the fact that you don't see the worry gives me reason to think you aren't yet ready to make a decision like this yourself. You write "Clearly, though, young as I am, am ready to embark on a journey that will change my life." I ask: why is this clear? And to whom? Here's where we actually get to a philosophical point: the fact that you feel convinced and that it seems clear to you doesn't provide anyone - you nor anyone else - with a real reason to believe that it's true. There are too many unknowns here for gut instinct to be worth much. Might everything turn out well? It might. Or it might not. Can you become a well-educated person without...

Is convincing a person they are wrong not a form of indoctrination? After all,

Is convincing a person they are wrong not a form of indoctrination? After all, it involves changing the way people think such that it conforms with one's own views. Is it not censorship? Since putting opinions in the wrong clearly prevents them from being expressed.

Let's suppose you say to me "How's your brother Paul?" I say "My brother is fine, but actually his name is Peter." Most likely that will be enough to convince you. And unless your reactions are rather unusual, you're likely just to ay something like "Oh. Yes. Guess I got mixed up." It would be really odd to call this indoctrination.

Or suppose I've been working on a budget and I send you the figures. You tell me that the total is off by $2,000. I don't believe you, so you work through the math with me, pointing out where I made a mistake. And I end up agreeing. Still nothing that seems like indoctrination.

However, those may not be the sorts of cases you have in mind, so try this one.

Suppose George thinks that women shouldn't be allowed to run for public office. Mary asks why. George gives his reasons, which reflect false beliefs about women's intelligence, emotions and so on. Mary engages him in a long, calm discussion, after which George agrees that his views reflected various kinds of prejudice and misinformation. George reconsiders his view and no longer says that women shouldn't be allowed to run for office. Still doesn't seem like indoctrination. Mary has persuaded George to change his mind by offering him reasons. She hasn't coerced him and she hasn't manipulated him. She also hasn't "prevented" him from expressing his former view except insofar as she's helped him see that it wasn't a well-thought out view to begin with.

If I enter into a discussion with you to try to persuade you of my view, then so long as I'm offering serious arguments and reasons, the word "indoctrination" seems very odd. The hallmark of indoctrination is intellectual manipulation that gets in the way of being moved by facts and reasons. And to censor someone is to prevent them from expressing a view that they actually want to express. If I've given up a view because I've come to see that it's mistaken, I haven't been censored; I don't want to express the view anymore.

Indoctrination and rational persuasion have something in common: when they succeed, someone's views change. But they also differ. Indoctrination doesn't show respect for the person it's practiced on; it simply manipulates them. Likewise, censorship and rational persuasion have something in common: when they succeed, some view that might have been expressed isn't. But they differ too. Censorship goes against the will of the person censored; rational persuasion engages their will.

All of which suggests some obvious final thoughts: if this seems reasonable to you, then you may no longer hold the view you started out with. But if it seems reasonable, I hope that's because it stands up to reflection. And if it doesn't, you're more than free to say so and say why.

Let's suppose you say to me "How's your brother Paul?" I say "My brother is fine, but actually his name is Peter." Most likely that will be enough to convince you. And unless your reactions are rather unusual, you're likely just to ay something like "Oh. Yes. Guess I got mixed up." It would be really odd to call this indoctrination. Or suppose I've been working on a budget and I send you the figures. You tell me that the total is off by $2,000. I don't believe you, so you work through the math with me, pointing out where I made a mistake. And I end up agreeing. Still nothing that seems like indoctrination. However, those may not be the sorts of cases you have in mind, so try this one. Suppose George thinks that women shouldn't be allowed to run for public office. Mary asks why. George gives his reasons, which reflect false beliefs about women's intelligence, emotions and so on. Mary engages him in a long, calm discussion, after which George agrees that his views reflected various kinds of ...

Why does our society place more value on the degree than the actual learning?

Why does our society place more value on the degree than the actual learning? With Ivy league and esteemed colleges publishing their courses online, it is plausible to think that one could learn as much or more than a graduate, yet that knowledge would not be valued in the workforce or in the field of knowledge. This can also be seen in high school. Less knowledgeable students who earn the diploma are far greater valued than others who may have superior knowledge but did not complete.

I agree that there is some utility in this way of thinking about formal education, but I also think that this perspective is so shallow that individuals who learn to adopt a richer perspective may learn more and may be able to do more with their learning.

First, I think it can be useful to reflect on the benefits of learning that have nothing to do with social status or employability. Is there intrinsic value in learning and in learning how to learn? Does a high-quality learning make one a better person in addition to increasing social status and employability? Understanding those benefits may improve motivation to work hard and effectively as a learner.

Second, I think it can also be useful to reflect on a more sophisticated manner on the instrumental value of education: those who view a degree program simply as a means to a credential fail to internalize a narrative of self-development and growth (self-consciously directing one's education to increase skills, insight, and wisdom, for example), and as an educator I've found that those of my students who grasp on to such a narrative learn more and learn better. Higher education institutions gesture towards this idea with statements about fostering lifelong learning, but those statements tend to be empty platitudes without corresponding curricular or co-curricular content.

So, one reason why society places more value on credentials than on the learning that underlies them is that too many learners fail to question a shallow and limited viewpoint on the purpose, nature, and benefits of education. Individuals can benefit from rejecting that perspective, and institutions of higher learning have opportunities to help their students do that. Hiring managers may always value credentials highly because they don't have the ability to assess individual learning, but learners and institutions of higher learning can certainly do more to increase the value of those credentials by valuing learning more highly.

I'm always a little worried about broad generalizations about society. That said, I'm willing to grant that there is a real bias of the kind you describe. And I would also agree that many very worthy people get overlooked on that account. As for why it happens, that's an empirical question and as a philosopher I have no special insight into the answer. But I can offer a hypothesis: it's a time-saver. No doubt there are many people with no degrees who are smarter and more knowledgeable than people with Ivy-League credentials. But if I'm an employer, I don't have the time or the means to figure out who among all the applicants is really the most capable. So I will use things like educational achievement as a proxy. If someone got a degree, there's a good chance that they have at least a certain basic level of intellectual ability and stick-to-itiveness. And if their degree is from a prestigious school, that inference may be a little more solid. At least, I'd guess that this is what many employers...

Do professors/teachers have any ethical obligations to their students? Take,

Do professors/teachers have any ethical obligations to their students? Take, for example, the case in "21" the movie, in which a professor of mathematics at MIT is recruiting his brightest students into an illegal blackjack ring that he is heading. The action might be immoral, but my question is whether there is anything about the teacher-student relationship that makes it especially (or specially) immoral. Thx

One obvious problem here is that teachers have a sort of power over students. They can give them bad grades, refuse to write letters of recommendation... If the students "consent" to the arrangement, it will be that much less clear that the "consent" was strictly voluntary. So in addition to the inherent wrongness of the scheme, the extra problem is that the teacher is quite likely taking unfair advantage of the students.

One obvious problem here is that teachers have a sort of power over students. They can give them bad grades, refuse to write letters of recommendation... If the students "consent" to the arrangement, it will be that much less clear that the "consent" was strictly voluntary. So in addition to the inherent wrongness of the scheme, the extra problem is that the teacher is quite likely taking unfair advantage of the students.

Having grown tired of reading secondary material in my study of philosophy, I

Having grown tired of reading secondary material in my study of philosophy, I have decided to read primary texts in a chronological, rather than thematic, order. I have started with Plato and have read most of the works I can find online or at my library. Before I move on to Aristotle, I would like your advice. Do you think a chronological approach is a good idea for someone untrained in philosophy? Do you think I should read every work by a given philosopher, or are there 'key' works that serve as their primary contribution to the field? If the latter, are there any lists that you are aware of that state what those key works are?

If you do decide to take the chronological approach, then I think you should definitely focus on key works--in fact, in many cases just chapters of key works. I think it would make sense to choose a history of philosophy as your guide, staying away from anything overly voluminous or idiosyncratic. Blackwell has a one-volume history by Anthony Kenny that looks good. The table of contents references specific philosophical works, which may help you create a manageable, focused itinerary for yourself. Bon voyage!

Consider an analogy. Suppose I wanted to learn physics, and I decided to read great works of physics in chronological order. Whatever value that project might have, it would be a poor way to become a physicist. So no: I wouldn't recommend reading historical works in chronological order. I wouldn't even recommend putting a lot of emphasis on reading historical works, period. One reason: philosophy is essentially something you do . Working philosophers aren't intellectual historians. They're trying to sort their way through problems. Work by older philosophers can be suggestive and relevant, but most working philosophers spend very little of their time reading the classics. I'm guessing that by "secondary sources" you mean commentaries on historical works or introductory material on various problems. My suggestion: move next to edited collections of contemporary papers on problems that you're interested in. For example: if you're interested in the free will problem, you might consider getting...

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