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If technology advances to the point of recreating the world almost perfectly in

If technology advances to the point of recreating the world almost perfectly in a virtual reality (i.e. The Matrix), would it be morally acceptable to "move" into that world indefinitely? Let us assume there is a moral disparity between someone with/without family, friends, attachments moving into this virtual reality. Let us also assume there is no cost to sustain anyone's well-being in this distant future, either in this virtual world or the real world, such as rent or food. Perhaps in this virtual world there are new fun things to do, like flying freely, that in the real world one could not do. There is seemingly no catch to this, but is there a moral obligation to remain in the "real world" and do "real things?"

As usual, the answer will depend on your ethical theory. For instance, some forms of utilitarianism might require that you go into the Matrix if doing so would maximize happiness (e.g., because you'd be much happier, outweighing any unhappiness you might cause to people in the 'real world' by being hooked up to the machine). Indeed, Robert Nozick used his Experience Machine thought experiment (a prequel to The Matrix) to argue that there must be something wrong with utilitarianism precisely because he thought we would not (and should not) hook up to the machine, in which our happiness would not be based on real actions and accomplishments. (There's some interesting experimental work on whether and why people say they would or would not be hooked up.)

For various reasons (not just utilitarian), I think everything depends on what you would be leaving behind and what you would be doing in the Matrix. I'm not sure what you meant when you wrote that we should "assume there is a moral disparity between someone with/without family, friends, attachments." But I take it that there would be nothing wrong with entering the Matrix for a person who would not thereby betray her obligations to others or herself (e.g., she had no family or friends or was on the verge of suicide or could do no jobs that would help society, etc.). But there would be something wrong for the person who would be betraying such obligations to others (perhaps also including obligations to develop her own abilities, create a meaningful life, etc.)

But note that there may be Matrix setups that allow people to develop their abilities (creating art or learning new skills--like flying!), to help other people (who are interacting with them in the Matrix), to fulfill obligations, etc. It might be that people in online gaming communities create real friendships and really help other people, even in a world that is, in many ways unreal.

As usual, the answer will depend on your ethical theory. For instance, some forms of utilitarianism might require that you go into the Matrix if doing so would maximize happiness (e.g., because you'd be much happier, outweighing any unhappiness you might cause to people in the 'real world' by being hooked up to the machine). Indeed, Robert Nozick used his Experience Machine thought experiment (a prequel to The Matrix) to argue that there must be something wrong with utilitarianism precisely because he thought we would not (and should not) hook up to the machine, in which our happiness would not be based on real actions and accomplishments. (There's some interesting experimental work on whether and why people say they would or would not be hooked up.) For various reasons (not just utilitarian), I think everything depends on what you would be leaving behind and what you would be doing in the Matrix. I'm not sure what you meant when you wrote that we should "assume there is a moral disparity between...

I've recently been struggling with the idea of Fatalism, Determinism,

I've recently been struggling with the idea of Fatalism, Determinism, Compatibilism, Libertarianism, etc., and from what I've been reading, the general consensus is compatibilism among most philosophers. If this is the case, then what sense is there in being proud of myself for anything good I do? Is there such thing as effort in my life, or am I just on an inevitable and programmed path? Truth is, I'm an artist. Online, I prefer images be sourced, so anyone who appreciates it enough can get to it easily, and credit goes to the artist. I like to believe that the drawings I make and images I create have something respectable behind them, effort, hard work, practice, time, determination, patience, fun.. but then this debate of Moral Responsibility comes up, and muddles me a bit. I've been experiencing alot of mental stuff for a while- and through all of this, philosophical questions, existential crises, all of it just comes and never stops. It's like there's always something for me to worry, or think too...

You should not let these thoughts get you in a rut or depress you (and if you're feeling depressed or suicidal, you should definitely get professional support to make sure the problem is not more serious than you think). Fatalism is not true if it's the idea that nothing we do makes a real difference to what happens--that what's fated is going to occur no matter what. Even if determinism is true (or false), what we decide and do makes a crucial difference to what happens in the future--if we had done something different, the future would be different.

I'm a compatibilist, and you can see some of my answers at this website or short articles on my personal website to get more argument for why I think this (majority) view is the right one. But no position in the free will debate suggests that our efforts don't matter, that we are just programmed machines, or that everything is inevitable (in the fatalistic sense I mention above). Or none of them should. You sometimes hear scientific skeptics about free will talk this way, but they are being over-dramatic.

Since you mentioned that you are an artist, I'll present the opening paragraph of a chapter I'm working on where I discuss free will as a psychological accomplishment, one that depends largely on our remarkable capacities for imagination. I hope some of what I've said here helps!

"Imagine writing a philosophy paper (or a short story). You imagine a range of options for presenting the argument (or the plot), the structure,some of the sentences. But first, the opening line. You want to get it right. There are better and worse answers to the question: How should I begin? And regarding the rest of the paper or story: What should I do? To ask these questions requires the capacity to imagine a range of alternatives, and there are better and worse alternatives to imagine. To answer these questions requires the capacities to select among those alternatives, and there are better and worse ways to select them. Some people possess the diverse range of psychological capacities needed to write a philosophy paper (more people have what it takes to write some sort of story). Among these people, some possess these capacities to a greater degree than others: capacities to imagine a wider range of relevant options, to shift attention away from less—and towards more—promising options, to select the better options, and to execute these choices—making the imagined future the actual one. Furthermore, different people, at different times, have better and worse opportunities to exercise these capacities—for instance, the free time to let the mind wander and to put words on paper. We don’t know a lot about how these psychological capacities work or what underlying mechanisms explain their functioning (and malfunctioning). But when the sentences flow from your exercising these capacities for imagination,attention, selection, and execution, well, then you are the author of your paper or your story. And you deserve some measure of credit for the good ones, culpability for the bad ones.

So it is with freewill, or so I will argue. For an agent to have free will is for her to possess the psychological capacities to make decisions—to imagine alternatives for action, to select among them, and to control her actions accordingly—such that she can be the author of her actions and be morally responsible for them—that is, deserve credit and blame for them."

You should not let these thoughts get you in a rut or depress you (and if you're feeling depressed or suicidal, you should definitely get professional support to make sure the problem is not more serious than you think). Fatalism is not true if it's the idea that nothing we do makes a real difference to what happens--that what's fated is going to occur no matter what. Even if determinism is true (or false), what we decide and do makes a crucial difference to what happens in the future--if we had done something different, the future would be different. I'm a compatibilist, and you can see some of my answers at this website or short articles on my personal website to get more argument for why I think this (majority) view is the right one. But no position in the free will debate suggests that our efforts don't matter, that we are just programmed machines, or that everything is inevitable (in the fatalistic sense I mention above). Or none of them should. You sometimes hear scientific skeptics...

"Eating animals can't be bad because how do you know plants don't have feelings

"Eating animals can't be bad because how do you know plants don't have feelings" is a common argument against vegans. Is that a good argument?

No. Many vegans (and vegetarians) aim to minimize unnecessary suffering and believe that eating animals causes unnecessary suffering. A crucial premise of this argument is that animals can suffer pain, discomfort, and possibly even more complex unpleasant thoughts or emotions. What is the evidence for that premise? It's a best explanation (or abductive) argument. We have good reasons, based on a wide range of scientific evidence from psychology and neuroscience, to think that complex nervous systems are required to experience suffering, and the mammals we eat (and probably the birds and perhaps the fish) have nervous systems that support these experiences. Plus the behavior of these animals suggests that they can feel pain and discomfort.

Plants do not have nervous systems (or anything analogous) and they do not show the behavior associated with experiencing pain (or anything else). So, we have no reason to think they suffer while they live or when they are harvested. (Personally, I think humanely raising and killing animals is ethically defensible.)

Ironically, souls might be brought into the discussion to cut in both directions. Someone might argue that animals do not have the ineffable soul or mind required to experience suffering, so it's OK to do what may *seem* to cause them pain. Or someone might argue that, even though they don't have nervous systems, plants have the sort of soul (or being) that allows them to experience suffering.

No. Many vegans (and vegetarians) aim to minimize unnecessary suffering and believe that eating animals causes unnecessary suffering. A crucial premise of this argument is that animals can suffer pain, discomfort, and possibly even more complex unpleasant thoughts or emotions. What is the evidence for that premise? It's a best explanation (or abductive) argument. We have good reasons, based on a wide range of scientific evidence from psychology and neuroscience, to think that complex nervous systems are required to experience suffering, and the mammals we eat (and probably the birds and perhaps the fish) have nervous systems that support these experiences. Plus the behavior of these animals suggests that they can feel pain and discomfort. Plants do not have nervous systems (or anything analogous) and they do not show the behavior associated with experiencing pain (or anything else). So, we have no reason to think they suffer while they live or when they are harvested. (Personally, I think...

What would aristoteles do to answer the trolley problem ? would he kill the 5

What would aristoteles do to answer the trolley problem ? would he kill the 5 people or switch the tracks to kill only one ?

Great question, and one that is rarely discussed in the over-worked trolley problem literature, mainly because the cases are set up to illuminate a conflict between the utilitarian response that seems to suggest killing 1 to save 5 regardless of the means of doing so and the Kantian response that seems to allow switching the track to save 5 (with a mere side-effect of allowing 1 to die), while disallowing pushing 1 intentionally as a means of saving 5. But what would a virtue theorist like Aristotle, or the originator of the trolley problem Philippa Foot, say?

Well, there's no simple answer since virtue theory is (intentionally) open-ended and detail-driven. It would say that right thing to do in each case is what a virtuous person would recognize as the right thing to do, given the specific details of the case. Personally, I think the virtuous person would say it is morally required to switch the track in that case and morally wrong to push someone to stop the trolley in the other case. In part, that's because a virtuous person will recognize that the agent in the 'push' case is not justified in believing that it will work to save 5 people (hence it risks killing 6), while she is justified in believing that switching the track will save 5 at the cost of 1.

But one worry is that I may be justifying my intuitions about the cases by ascribing them to the virtuous judge.

Great question, and one that is rarely discussed in the over-worked trolley problem literature, mainly because the cases are set up to illuminate a conflict between the utilitarian response that seems to suggest killing 1 to save 5 regardless of the means of doing so and the Kantian response that seems to allow switching the track to save 5 (with a mere side-effect of allowing 1 to die), while disallowing pushing 1 intentionally as a means of saving 5. But what would a virtue theorist like Aristotle, or the originator of the trolley problem Philippa Foot, say? Well, there's no simple answer since virtue theory is (intentionally) open-ended and detail-driven. It would say that right thing to do in each case is what a virtuous person would recognize as the right thing to do, given the specific details of the case. Personally, I think the virtuous person would say it is morally required to switch the track in that case and morally wrong to push someone to stop the trolley in the other case. In part,...

After much introspection I have decided to pursue a major in philosophy.

After much introspection I have decided to pursue a major in philosophy. Philosophy has become a passion of mine, and while other interests faded away, it has kept me intently interested. Currently, my long-term goal is to go to graduate school and complete a PhD. in philosophy. Afterwards I would like to devote my life to teaching the subject. Lately though, I worry whether a degree in philosophy would be enough in my intellectual development. I have considered possibly doing a double major in cognitive science in addition to my philosophy undergraduate degree, in hopes that it would expose me to another discipline for me to utilize in my philosophical research. My main concern is that when it comes to doing my dissertation I won't have a more empirical background to possibly ground some of my arguments accurately. I was recently talking to my logic professor and he was telling me that philosophy is becoming increasing more inter-disciplinary. I suppose my biggest question is, do I myself need to become...

I often recommend double-majoring. (Philosophers often disagree with each other.) Don't do it for strategic reasons. But if you find yourself enjoying courses in cognitive science (or some other subject), then take more, perhaps to the point you double major. Personally, I think philosophers should be as "widely educated" as possible, especially if the philosophical questions they are pursuing would benefit from information from other fields--and I think philosophy of mind certainly benefits from information from the cognitive sciences.

I came across a webpage which makes this claim."Skeptics of homeopathy insist

I came across a webpage which makes this claim."Skeptics of homeopathy insist that homeopathic medicines do not work, but have difficulty explaining how so many people use and rely upon this system of medicine to treat themselves for so many acute and chronic diseases." Is there a name for the kind of fallacy this person is making or particular way to describe it? I feel like that even if I couldn't explain why so many people "rely" on Homeopathy that doesn't mean that it is a valid form of medicine.

You are probably thinking of the informal fallacy, Argument ad Populum or Appeal to the Masses, in which someone suggests a conclusion is true because many people believe it to be true. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argumentum_ad_populum

While large-scale belief might provide inductive evidence for some claims, we know the masses can be wrong about lots of things, especially in cases where the underlying explanations are complex, as in medicine. That most people believed the sun goes around the earth did not show that claim is true. That most people did not (do not?) believe tiny things (germs) cause disease does not show that belief is true. That many people think homeopathy works provides little or no support for that claim.

However, there's an interesting twist in this case: the placebo effect is remarkably powerful--if people believe some medical treatment works, that belief can have effects, especially when it comes to pain. So, many people believing homeopathic treatments work might have some causal effects on whether it works, at least for those people. But I am dubious that the placebo effect can cure cancer or kill viruses...

You are probably thinking of the informal fallacy, Argument ad Populum or Appeal to the Masses, in which someone suggests a conclusion is true because many people believe it to be true. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argumentum_ad_populum While large-scale belief might provide inductive evidence for some claims, we know the masses can be wrong about lots of things, especially in cases where the underlying explanations are complex, as in medicine. That most people believed the sun goes around the earth did not show that claim is true. That most people did not (do not?) believe tiny things (germs) cause disease does not show that belief is true. That many people think homeopathy works provides little or no support for that claim. However, there's an interesting twist in this case: the placebo effect is remarkably powerful--if people believe some medical treatment works, that belief can have effects, especially when it comes to pain. So, many people believing homeopathic treatments work might...

why is the free will debate of interest to philosophers? i need to know why

why is the free will debate of interest to philosophers? i need to know why philosophers explore this question in the first place.

I think there are three primary reasons philosophers are interested in questions about free will, at least they are the ones that motivate me to spend most of my time on them.

1. Free will is often used (by philosophers and non-philosophers) to pick out the sort of control over decisions and actions that agents need in order to be morally responsible for what they do--that is, to deserve praise for the good things they do and blame, and certain kinds of punishment, for the bad things they do. If we lack free will--defined in this way--then we would not really deserve praise and blame, reward and punishment, and perhaps even gratitude, indignation, and forgiveness. Figuring out how to define 'free will' as relevant to these questions is one of the most significant debates in the current discussions. And figuring out whether we have such free will, in the face of the possibility of determinism or physicalism or certain scientific discoveries, is another.

2. Furthermore, some people think (and some evidence suggests) that our beliefs about free will influence some of our other beliefs and behaviors. For instance, if we came to think we lacked free will, maybe we would be less retributive in our punishment and more forgiving of our friends and family when they screw us over, but maybe we would be less likely to control some of our bad impulses and we would screw each other over more. Some people also think that aour lives and relationships would lack certain kinds of meaning or importance if we lacked free will. Others think that lacking free will--understood as a kind of ultimate self-creation which is clearly impossible--is not very important for most of what we care about, including our relationships and the meaning of our lives.

3. We experience ourselves as having a certain type of control over our actions, including being able to imagine various options for future action and selecting among them. We might call these experiences of free will. It seems important to know whether such experiences are illusory, as some argue, or whether they are accurate in the sense that we actually have the sort of control and decision-making abilities that our experiences seem to represent. If nothing else, it's good to know the truth about things, so it'd be good to know the truth about how our agency works.

If readers want to think more about this stuff, they might go to Flickers of Freedom, a blog on these topics, including a recent discussion about point 1 above: http://philosophycommons.typepad.com/flickers_of_freedom/

I think there are three primary reasons philosophers are interested in questions about free will, at least they are the ones that motivate me to spend most of my time on them. 1. Free will is often used (by philosophers and non-philosophers) to pick out the sort of control over decisions and actions that agents need in order to be morally responsible for what they do--that is, to deserve praise for the good things they do and blame, and certain kinds of punishment, for the bad things they do. If we lack free will--defined in this way--then we would not really deserve praise and blame, reward and punishment, and perhaps even gratitude, indignation, and forgiveness. Figuring out how to define 'free will' as relevant to these questions is one of the most significant debates in the current discussions. And figuring out whether we have such free will, in the face of the possibility of determinism or physicalism or certain scientific discoveries, is another. 2. Furthermore, some people think ...

Is empathy as a moral guide overrated? Why, for example, if empathy is

Is empathy as a moral guide overrated? Why, for example, if empathy is considered such a powerful force for moral good, was it unable to prevent the American slavery system?

Some people think empathy is overrated, including psychologist Paul Bloom, who offers a nice summary of his views here: http://bostonreview.net/forum/paul-bloom-against-empathy

There are some responses to him as well, including one by philosopher Jesse Prinz, who has also argued that empathy is overrated: http://cultureofempathy.com/references/Experts/Jesse-Prinz.htm

Personally, I think much depends on what we mean by empathy and in what ways one thinks it can guide moral thinking and behavior. I think Hume and Smith were right that certain emotions (or sentiments) are essential to making moral judgments and motivating moral actions, but it's not clear whether they are focusing on empathy as we typically understand it today.

I suspect that most slaveholders and racists that supported that horrific system (as well as those who perpetrated the Holocaust and other genocides) did not have much empathy for their victims, because they lived in and/or helped to create a culture in which their victims were not seem as human beings who are apt targets of empathy or 'fellow feeling'. Dehumanization is an initial step in most moral disasters.

Some people think empathy is overrated, including psychologist Paul Bloom, who offers a nice summary of his views here: http://bostonreview.net/forum/paul-bloom-against-empathy There are some responses to him as well, including one by philosopher Jesse Prinz, who has also argued that empathy is overrated: http://cultureofempathy.com/references/Experts/Jesse-Prinz.htm Personally, I think much depends on what we mean by empathy and in what ways one thinks it can guide moral thinking and behavior. I think Hume and Smith were right that certain emotions (or sentiments) are essential to making moral judgments and motivating moral actions, but it's not clear whether they are focusing on empathy as we typically understand it today. I suspect that most slaveholders and racists that supported that horrific system (as well as those who perpetrated the Holocaust and other genocides) did not have much empathy for their victims, because they lived in and/or helped to create a culture in which their...

Dear Philosophers,

Dear Philosophers, Can someone recommend a biography of Baruch Spinoza? Thank you

I haven't read Rebecca Goldstein's biography of Spinoza, but she's a great writer (with PhD in philosophy) and my dad liked it. I can't vouch for how thorough it is, but it will give you a sense of his philosophical views as well. http://www.amazon.com/Betraying-Spinoza-Renegade-Modernity-Encounters/dp/0805211594

Can studying philosophy help one to become more creative? What percent of the

Can studying philosophy help one to become more creative? What percent of the first year undergrads you've taught have had original thoughts in their heads at any time?

Yes. And 100%.

OK, perhaps those answers are too short and uncreative.

But yes, I think reading philosophy, thinking about philosophical questions, and trying to come up with and write about philosophical issues can stimulate creative thinking and improve one's creativity (perhaps not artistic creativity but new ways of thinking about things, new ideas, etc.). I think philosophy students tend to become better at imagining different options and solutions and at writing new types of arguments. I'm allowing my current senior major students to do a creative project to engage with the topic we're discussing (death and the meaning of life), and we'll see what they come up with, but music, drama/dialogues, short films, and video games are possibilities.

And it's 100% because original thoughts happen all the time. Each one of us experiences things in ways no one else has. If you meant original answers to philosophical questions, well, then it's probably much lower, but those are not so easy to come up with.

Yes. And 100%. OK, perhaps those answers are too short and uncreative. But yes, I think reading philosophy, thinking about philosophical questions, and trying to come up with and write about philosophical issues can stimulate creative thinking and improve one's creativity (perhaps not artistic creativity but new ways of thinking about things, new ideas, etc.). I think philosophy students tend to become better at imagining different options and solutions and at writing new types of arguments. I'm allowing my current senior major students to do a creative project to engage with the topic we're discussing (death and the meaning of life), and we'll see what they come up with, but music, drama/dialogues, short films, and video games are possibilities. And it's 100% because original thoughts happen all the time. Each one of us experiences things in ways no one else has. If you meant original answers to philosophical questions, well, then it's probably much lower, but those are not so...

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