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I am confused about Aristotle's virtue ethics as it applies to Aesop's fable of

I am confused about Aristotle's virtue ethics as it applies to Aesop's fable of the boy who cried wolf. Since he was telling the truth the second time, is it actually the townspeople who are behaving immorally by ignoring him? Just because the townspeople could not instantly verify the veracity of his testimony (which can be independently verified), is that really a sufficient reason to let the sheep die? By Aristotle's reasoning, is the boy (an occasional liar) just as immoral as the townspeople (by negligence)?

Perhaps you're putting more weight on the fable than fables are meant to bear. Fables are short, stylized ways of conveying a point, and the point here seems clear enough: if you come to be seen as a liar, you risk not being believed when it matters.

Though I gather that there's a remark attributed to Aristotle that conveys much the same message, once again it may not be profitable to put too much weight on the fable as a device for exploring Aristotle's Ethics. The boy seems clearly to represent someone who lacks an important virtue: truthfulness. The fable doesn't really address the question of whether the townspeople also lack some virtue such as prudence or caution. In real life, we might wonder how many times the boy would have to lie before it become reasonable for the townspeople to ignore him; in the context of the fable, that's not really the point at issue.

Perhaps you're putting more weight on the fable than fables are meant to bear. Fables are short, stylized ways of conveying a point, and the point here seems clear enough: if you come to be seen as a liar, you risk not being believed when it matters. Though I gather that there's a remark attributed to Aristotle that conveys much the same message, once again it may not be profitable to put too much weight on the fable as a device for exploring Aristotle's Ethics. The boy seems clearly to represent someone who lacks an important virtue: truthfulness. The fable doesn't really address the question of whether the townspeople also lack some virtue such as prudence or caution. In real life, we might wonder how many times the boy would have to lie before it become reasonable for the townspeople to ignore him; in the context of the fable, that's not really the point at issue.

A lecturer I met a few weeks ago said to me (among other things) that up to this

A lecturer I met a few weeks ago said to me (among other things) that up to this point no-one has managed to disprove Kant's famous claim that 'we should always treat others as ends in themselves and never as mere means'. While I agree that this is a noble maxim by which to live our lives, is it true that it has not been disproved? It seems slightly hasty to claim this about anything.

I think there are two different issues here, so let me start with the simpler one. Suppose the lecturer said: "To the best of my knowledge—and I've read a great deal on the matter—no one has disproved Kant's claim. That seems the sort of thing one might reasonably be able to say, and might well be what the speaker meant. If so, no problem.

If the speaker is claiming more or less a priori that no one has a disproof, this would be harder to swallow, but there's a way to understand it that makes it not just mere arrogance. Suppose I said: no one has disproved that 3+4 = 7. I might well mean not just that no one happens to have done this, but that no one could do it. And in fact, I'm quite sure that's right: no one could disprove it.

So the speaker might have meant that Kant's claim had a status rather like "3+4=7": necessarily true, hence not disprovable. If so, I'm not sure he's right, but also not sure he's wrong. However, there's yet another possibility. To see it, ask what would count as a disproof of Kant's claim. A proof that it's incoherent would do, but it's hard to believe that it's incoherent even if it's not inconsistent to reject it.

Another sort of disproof would be a counterexample: a case where it was acceptable to violate the maxim. What might that be like?

It's easy to imagine cases where a utilitarian might say we could or even should violate Kant's maxim. The trouble is not that the utilitarian is clearly wrong, but that the counterexample will almost inevitably be controversial, hence not clearly a disproof.

This isn't to say that Kant is right and his opponent wrong; rather it's to suggest that an outright disproof would be very hard to come by. And so I'm inclined to think the speaker might be right.

I think there are two different issues here, so let me start with the simpler one. Suppose the lecturer said: "To the best of my knowledge—and I've read a great deal on the matter—no one has disproved Kant's claim. That seems the sort of thing one might reasonably be able to say, and might well be what the speaker meant. If so, no problem. If the speaker is claiming more or less a priori that no one has a disproof, this would be harder to swallow, but there's a way to understand it that makes it not just mere arrogance. Suppose I said: no one has disproved that 3+4 = 7. I might well mean not just that no one happens to have done this, but that no one could do it. And in fact, I'm quite sure that's right: no one could disprove it. So the speaker might have meant that Kant's claim had a status rather like "3+4=7": necessarily true, hence not disprovable. If so, I'm not sure he's right, but also not sure he's wrong. However, there's yet another possibility. To see it, ask what would count as a...

I'm having trouble appreciating Kant's moral philosophy. According to him an

I'm having trouble appreciating Kant's moral philosophy. According to him an action is bad if we can't universalize it as a maxim of human behavior. Under that way of thinking being gay is bad because if everyone was gay nobody would have any babies and that means you are willing the non-existence of the human race which would be a contradiction if you want to exist. So I guess bisexuality is okay but being a monk isn't. The reasoning seems absolutely bonkers if you are gay whether from choice or from nature there is no reason to surmise that you think everyone has to be gay. If Kants moral philosophy is so lame I must admit that it prejudices me against his whole philosophical system. Is there any reason why I should give Kant's ethics more credit?

On one version of the Categorical Imperative, we're told to act only on maxims (roughly, principles of action) that we could will to be universal laws. That may or may not be the right way to think about morality; I don't have a settled opinion. However, there are philosophers who think Kant had the theory right, but fell down in applying it. Kant thought that lying is always wrong; whether the Categorical Imperative requires this is less clear. The question is whether there's a way of formulating an acceptable maxim that allows for lying in some circumstances. Kant's argument to the contrary isn't entirely convincing, to say the least.

The case of homosexuality is arguably a case in point -- or more accurately, the case of homosexual sex may be a case in point. Kant thought, far as I know, that homosexual acts are always wrong. But when someone who's homosexual by orientation acts on that orientation, it's pretty implausible that their maxim, universalized, requires that heterosexuals have homosexual sex.

This suggests a different problem for Kantianism: not that it demands morally screwy conclusions, but that at least some formulations of the categorical imperative may not provide much guidance. The first version of the categorical imperative calls for a certain sort of consistency, but consistency alone may not get us very far. The requirement that we never treat anyone as a mere means but also as an end in themselves may have more content. Once again, Kant seems to have thought that this version rules out homosexual sex (and masturbation, and extra-marital sex), but once again, we can doubt that Kant is the best guide to what the principle entails.

On one version of the Categorical Imperative, we're told to act only on maxims (roughly, principles of action) that we could will to be universal laws. That may or may not be the right way to think about morality; I don't have a settled opinion. However, there are philosophers who think Kant had the theory right, but fell down in applying it. Kant thought that lying is always wrong; whether the Categorical Imperative requires this is less clear. The question is whether there's a way of formulating an acceptable maxim that allows for lying in some circumstances. Kant's argument to the contrary isn't entirely convincing, to say the least. The case of homosexuality is arguably a case in point -- or more accurately, the case of homosexual sex may be a case in point. Kant thought, far as I know, that homosexual acts are always wrong. But when someone who's homosexual by orientation acts on that orientation, it's pretty implausible that their maxim, universalized, requires that heterosexuals have...

is Jungs' theory of synchronicity simply nonsense? I can make neither head nor

is Jungs' theory of synchronicity simply nonsense? I can make neither head nor tail of it. It is often quoted by 'new agers' as sign that we are all in a way "connected" (i.e networks for a higher consciousness, etc) and I feel that they have abused the original concept, but I myself can't even understand it.

Perhaps we might start with a distinction between two things the accusation of nonsense might mean. One is that it's patently false; the other is that there's no coherent idea. Your worry is pretty clearly the latter, and I'm sympathetic: whatever exactly Jung meant, it's hard to be sure that one has gotten hold of it. With that in mind, my sense is that there's an interesting idea behind the notion of synchronicity, though not one I'm inclined to believe.

Insofar as I understand it, synchronicity is meaningful coincidence. More particularly, it's meaningful coincidence between an inner state of mind and an occurrence in the outer world. By saying that synchronicities are coincidences, Jung meant that neither of the events causes the other. By saying that the coincidence is meaningful, Jung seems to mean two things. The first, and more obvious, is that the outer event corresponds in a meaningful way to the inner state. In one of Jung's well-known examples, a patient is recounting a dream about a golden scarab. At that moment, Jung heard a noise outside his window. He opened it, and a beetle flew in - one with an iridescent coloring that suggested the golden beetle of the woman's dream. Jung grabbed and and presented it to the patient, with the words "Here is your beetle." According to Jung, this led to a breakthrough in the woman's treatment. The apparently meaningful correspondence is clear enough. The second aspect of this meaningfulness is that such events are not accident or chance; not coincidence in the sense of what we might call mere coincidence.

This obviously raises a good many questions. One is why we should believe that cases like tjis are not mere coincidence. Jung seems to have thought that apparently meaningful coincidences happen more often than chance would predict. If that were true, it might provide some evidence for the existence of genuine synchronicities, though how one would go about collecting the evidence, let alone calculating the relevant probabilities is very hard to say. And even if we were able to establish that meaningful coincidences happen more often than chance would predict, it would take yet further argument to decide whether that such "connections" were cases of one event causing the other, or cases of both events having a common cause or yet some other sort of relationship.

Of course what Jung had in mind fits into a broader picture in which meaning is woven into the universe itself. In fact, Jung's outlook has more in common with the views of, say, Renaissance figures such as Marsilio Ficino or Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa than with the way those of us who admire science look at things. This is part of what makes it hard to get a grip on; we aren't used to thinking that way. For my own part, I don't share Jung's outlook, but I find the exercise of trying to grasp its outlines a fascinating one. I'm deeply skeptical of Jung's view, but I'm not prepared to say that the idea of synchronicity is simply unintelligible.

Perhaps we might start with a distinction between two things the accusation of nonsense might mean. One is that it's patently false; the other is that there's no coherent idea. Your worry is pretty clearly the latter, and I'm sympathetic: whatever exactly Jung meant, it's hard to be sure that one has gotten hold of it. With that in mind, my sense is that there's an interesting idea behind the notion of synchronicity, though not one I'm inclined to believe. Insofar as I understand it, synchronicity is meaningful coincidence . More particularly, it's meaningful coincidence between an inner state of mind and an occurrence in the outer world. By saying that synchronicities are coincidences, Jung meant that neither of the events causes the other. By saying that the coincidence is meaningful, Jung seems to mean two things. The first, and more obvious, is that the outer event corresponds in a meaningful way to the inner state. In one of Jung's well-known examples, a patient is recounting a dream about a...

What is a possible world?

What is a possible world? So I read Quine's two dogmas, and he says that there is no distinction between an analytic statement and a synthetic one. If I have that right. But when people talk about possible worlds they seem to think there is. So if Quine is right there is only one possible world, isn't there?

I'm not sure there's much of a connection. Whether or not some things are true by virtue of meaning along and whether there are incompatible ways things could be strike me as different questions. The thought might be that if there are no analytic truths, there are no necessary truths, no impossibilities, and no meaningful distinctions between supposed possibilities, hence no notion of different possible worlds. But that seems way too quick.

For starts, whether there are necessary truths and whether such truths hold by virtue of meaning alone are different questions. I can't talk myself out of thinking that "1 +1 = 2" is a necessary truth, even if I'm a lot less sure that it holds by virtue of meaning alone. I also think that "There are no more than 2 people in this room" (i.e., the one I'm in right now) and "there are at least 7 people in this room" are two different, incompatible possibilities, whether or not the analytic/synthetic distinction is real.

But leave all that heady stuff aside. You asked what possible worlds are. I'd suggest that there's no one answer, and that for many purposes it doesn't matter. Some people think of possible worlds as complete ways everything could be; some of those people think of these worlds as concrete, others as abstract. But in many contexts, none of this matters. We use the notion of possible worlds to do certain logical jobs - to represent distinct possibilities for purposes of carrying out certain kinds of reasoning. Though it's not a perfect analogy, the case of numbers is instructive: philosophers disagree deeply about what numbers are or whether there "really" are numbers. But we're all happy to use number talk, and so we should be. Even if possible worlds are nothing more than fictions, they're remarkably useful ones. The same may be true of possible words.

I'm not sure there's much of a connection. Whether or not some things are true by virtue of meaning along and whether there are incompatible ways things could be strike me as different questions. The thought might be that if there are no analytic truths, there are no necessary truths, no impossibilities, and no meaningful distinctions between supposed possibilities, hence no notion of different possible worlds. But that seems way too quick. For starts, whether there are necessary truths and whether such truths hold by virtue of meaning alone are different questions. I can't talk myself out of thinking that "1 +1 = 2" is a necessary truth, even if I'm a lot less sure that it holds by virtue of meaning alone. I also think that "There are no more than 2 people in this room" (i.e., the one I'm in right now) and "there are at least 7 people in this room" are two different, incompatible possibilities, whether or not the analytic/synthetic distinction is real. But leave all that heady stuff aside. You...

Hello Philosophers!

Hello Philosophers! Can anyone defend the Ontological Argument against Kant's criticism that existence is not a predicate?

Some random suggestions: (1) David Pears pointed out that even if Kant's argument were wholly clear and wholly successful, which it is not, it could only show that existence is not an ordinary predicate, if it is a predicate. His view is that it is a predicate, just a very peculiar one; (2) There is also the view of the celebrated logician, mathematician and philosopher Bolzano, who writes in the Theory of Science ("Kinds of Propositions") that 'I take being [Sein] or actuality [Wirklichkeit] to be precisely what language makes it out to be, namely an attribute; whoever denies this confuses (I believe) actuality with substance. By substance I mean an actuality which is not an attribute of another actuality; hence I admit that we cannot truly predicate the putative abstractum of the substance (substantiality) of any object. For it is part of the concept of substance that there is no property of this kind. But it is not the same with actuality, which I consider to be a mere attribute, not only of substance itself but of each of its attributes, since every attribute of an actual thing is itself actual. And since every attribute of an object can be ascribed to it in a judgment of the form 'A has b', why not the attribute of actuality?' (3) There is a related argument deriving from Russell's Theory of Descriptions in my own Philosophical Propositions, despite the fact that Russell himself took the implication of the theory to be that the ontological argument is no good; (4) There is a defence of a stripped-down version of the ontological argument by the late Gary Matthews and Lynn Baker Rudder in Analysis for 2010.

Sure. Even if existence is not a predicate, it's at least arguable that necessary existence is. (As Norman Malcolm pointed out years ago, there really are two versions of the argument, and the second one deals with necessary existence.) We doubt that existence is a predicate because, roughly, saying that something exists tells us nothing about what it's like. Not so for necessary existence. Not just anything could exist necessarily. The computer I'm typing on is the wrong sort of thing to be a candidate for necessarily existing thing. Assuming that some things are of the right sort to exist necessarily, necessary existence would be a predicate. Whether this is a defense of the argument all things considered is another matter. But I think the point made here is fair as far as it goes. A being that merely happened to exist wouldn't be a being than which none greater can be conceived.

What would Kant say about "networking"? Poses a dilemma for me bc of his

What would Kant say about "networking"? Poses a dilemma for me bc of his prohibition against using people, which networking is, by definition. Is there a way we could modify or qualify networking to fit his Categorical Imperative, as in: well, if you offer in return a commensurate service, and if you wouldn't mind everyone doing it or even would recommend it... any ideas?

The key is to be careful about what Kant says. You must never use people merely as means, but must also treat them as an end in themselves. One common example is buying something in a store. I use the clerk as a means to the transaction, but I don't coerce her/him. If I did, that would be a case of using someone merely as a means. Since I take seriously the need for the clerk's (implicit) consent to the arrangement, I am also treating the clerk as an end.

Networking is similar. The people in the network all consent. No one is being coerced, and so long as everyone is being truthful and otherwise decent to one another, then there's no violation of the Categorical Imperative.

The key is to be careful about what Kant says. You must never use people merely as means, but must also treat them as an end in themselves. One common example is buying something in a store. I use the clerk as a means to the transaction, but I don't coerce her/him. If I did, that would be a case of using someone merely as a means. Since I take seriously the need for the clerk's (implicit) consent to the arrangement, I am also treating the clerk as an end. Networking is similar. The people in the network all consent. No one is being coerced, and so long as everyone is being truthful and otherwise decent to one another, then there's no violation of the Categorical Imperative.

I am currently reading Theaetetus, for a course at university, and I am struck

I am currently reading Theaetetus, for a course at university, and I am struck by the number of times Socrates discusses "God" (for example, 176c, where Socrates says "God" is utterly and perfectly righteous). Considering the fact that these dialogs were written centuries before the birth of Jesus, and the fact that the Greeks were almost certainly not Jewish, it seems odd that the translators should use a monotheistic god when translating Socrates' words. Did the Greeks actually have a serious concept of monotheism, and is this concept what is being referred to in the English translations of Theaetetus? Or is this "God" just a way for the translator to "whitewash" the ancient Greeks so as to make it easier for Christians (be it theistic Christians or non-Christians who grew up with Christian cultural heritage) to relate to the dialog? Does such a translation do justice to the original?

I'd been hoping one of our classicists would take a stab at this, but since none has…

The Jews were not the only people in the ancient world to develop monotheistic ideas, nor, for that matter, was Judaism clearly monotheistic (as opposed to henotheistic — taking Yahweh to be their god and the most powerful.) There's a strong abstract and unificatory streak in Greek thought that would make the development of monotheistic ideas unsurprising, whether most people accepted them or not.

But on the matter of translation, I fid it hard to imagine any of the classicists I know hedging their translations to make them acceptabe to wider Christian culture. On the contrary, if the usual translations were suspect, I'd expect this to be an active debate in the literature, and far as I know, it's not.

I'd been hoping one of our classicists would take a stab at this, but since none has… The Jews were not the only people in the ancient world to develop monotheistic ideas, nor, for that matter, was Judaism clearly monotheistic (as opposed to henotheistic — taking Yahweh to be their god and the most powerful.) There's a strong abstract and unificatory streak in Greek thought that would make the development of monotheistic ideas unsurprising, whether most people accepted them or not. But on the matter of translation, I fid it hard to imagine any of the classicists I know hedging their translations to make them acceptabe to wider Christian culture. On the contrary, if the usual translations were suspect, I'd expect this to be an active debate in the literature, and far as I know, it's not.

What do you philosophers think of when non-philosophers step into your turf? Are

What do you philosophers think of when non-philosophers step into your turf? Are "pop-philosophers" (for lack of a better term, I don't see the "man on the street" going hooplah over what Putnam or Kripke says) worth reading or do they have any good philosophical value at all? What do you philosophers think of Dawkins commenting on God which I believe is your turf? What do you philosophers think of when Stephen Hawking says that philosophy is dead?

I also don't think of philosophy as turf - nor do I think that teaching philosophy or studying philosophy necessarily makes you a lover and possessor of wisdom. I also find it irksome when some in the field act as though philosophy profs are the ones who have access to the so-called deeper issues in specific issues- as though philosophers could explain to an Einstein what he really meant.

I'll speak for myself, but I think there are lots of other philosophers who would agree. For me it's not a matter of turf. There are people who weren't trained as philosophers but who have made serious contributions to philosophy. To take but one example, I have a colleague whose formal training was entirely in physics -- all the way to the PhD level. But he's an excellent philosopher. Philosophers would need to be very careful about laying claim to any stretch of intellectual territory -- not least because so much of contemporary philosophy is "Philosophy of X," where X is some discipline like physics or psychology. Richard Dawkins has as much business talking about religion as I do; I just wish he'd do it a bit less ham-fistedly. And while I have enormous respect for Hawking as a physicist, he simply hasn't done his homework when he makes pronouncements about the death of philosophy; he appears to have very little idea what sophisticated philosophers actually have to say. So I'm happy to...

I have recently become very interested in philosophy and have recently decided

I have recently become very interested in philosophy and have recently decided to work through Plato's Republic. However, I am already a little confused with Book I. Ideally; I should like to understand Book I before I move on. What confuses me is how Socrates presents his arguments, or rather how he undermines the arguments of others. It almost seems that all of what Socrates says is trickery. I think a good example of what I'm saying is the "Analogy of the Arts". Socrates uses the analogy to convince Polemarchus that "justice is the art which gives good to friends and evil to enemies". So far, this analogy seems to make sense and I would agree with Socrates. However, Socrates goes on to use the analogy to make it appear that Justice is of no use in times of peace. Really? At this point I believe that the analogy has been taken too far and has been taken in such literal understanding that it has been stretched beyond context. Another problem I am having is how specific Socrates is getting in...

Although one way to work one's way into philosophy is to begin with philosophical problems, such as those considered in the books mentioned by Allen, another way--which I myself find more congenial, which, for what it's worth, is the way I myself came into philosophy--is to study its history. (Philosophy, Stanley Cavell has written, can be seen as a set of problems, but it can also be seen as a set of texts.) Plato's Republic is a text that sets out a host of problems taken up in subsequent texts. (Hence it was said that Western philosophy is a series of footnotes to Plato.) So I think that working through the Republic is a respectable, albeit most ambitious, way to work one's way into philosophy.

The problem that you raise about Book 1 is very interesting: Socrates himself was accused--at least, according to Plato, by his enemies--of being a dialectician, a rhetorician--and Book 1 of the Republic seems to support this charge. In this respect, it's akin to certain of Plato's 'early' dialogues (so-called on the basis of both philosophical and textual consideration), works such as the Apology, the Phaedo, and the Crito, among others, works in which Socrates doesn't seem to advance any claims to knowledge of his own, seems to focus on refuting the views of others, often by showing that those views are in conflict with other views to which his interlocutor is committed. These works are fascinating, have received considerable scholarly attention, and merit attention in their own right: however, insofar as Book 1 is akin to those works, it's very different from the rest of the Republic. Indeed, it seems to me that one way of understanding Book 1 is to see it as illustrating the limits of the method of philosophy exemplified in the early dialogues and perhaps even practiced by the historical Socrates himself, a method that failed miserably and even succeeded in getting Socrates, that "best and most admirable of men," according to Plato, executed; the remainder of the Republic exemplifies an alternative approach to philosophy, one that advances numerous strong theses of the sort that are eschewed in the early dialogues. The point is this: one need not work through all the details of Book 1 of the Republic in order to understand the remainder of the work: indeed, the Republic can be seen as 'restarting' in Book 2. So I would recommend that you don't sweat the details of Book 1 too much, and just try to get sense for what's going on in it before moving on to Book 2.

This is not to say that Book 2--or the succeeding Books of the Republic--is easier going than Book 1, it's just different. Consequently, you might do well to read an introduction or commentary on the Republic in conjunction with working through the text itself. I have found the introductory books on the Republic by Nick White and Nicholas Pappas to be helpful; Simon Blackburn, whom I find to have a real gift for writing clear, accessible, introductory works on philosophy--no small feat, to my mind--has also relatively recently published a book on the Republic, although I haven't yet had the opportunity to check it out.

I wish you good luck working through the Republic, and hope that after reading it, you will continue working either through other texts in the history of philosophy, or through some of the problems--of mind, knowledge, ontology, aesthetics, political philosophy, ethics--that continue to be debated by philosophers today and may be seen as bequeathed to them by the Plato.

You're not the first person to find some of Socrates' reasoning a bit slippery; there are many philosophers who would agree. But a suggestion: if you want to get a good introduction to philosophy, working though Plato's Republic on your own is probably not a good way to do it. out Plato Philosophy is a live discipline, and most of the people who practice it don't spend much time thinking about Plato. Better to start with something written a lot more recently -- Simon Blackburn's Think is a possibility as a place to start, but you might also consider good introductions to special topics, such as Robert Kane's A Contemporary Introduction to Free Will , for example.

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