Advanced Search

If a State A attacks another State B's military apparatus knowing full well that

War
If a State A attacks another State B's military apparatus knowing full well that there will be civilian collateral damage, then why is it that even if State B retaliates by intentionally targeting civilians, it's terrorism?

Andrew is obviously right, but what he is proposing is actually a utilitarian basis for double effect.

A brief addition to Jonathan's fine response. Of course different people define "terrorism" differently, but it looks like you're using the word to mean "intentional targeting of civilians" or something like that (independent of what the motive is for targeting the civilians). One (of many) ways to think about the difference is this. What's wrong isn't the "killing of civilians" per se, it's the "killing of civilians for no (or beyond any) legitimate military purpose." If we then permit the killing of civilians for bona fide military purposes (e.g. as collateral damage of bona fide military attacks) but forbid the killing when it lacks such purposes, then, overall, long term, over all conflicts (assuming combatants all follow these moral rules!), there are likely to be far fewer civilian casualties than if we treat the two cases identically. Put differently, if you could kill civilians at will, then both sides will kill lots of civilians; but if you can only kill civilians as collateral damage, then your...

How can you be confident that you're an open-minded or free thinker? Doesn't it

How can you be confident that you're an open-minded or free thinker? Doesn't it seem likely that even the most prejudiced, dogmatic individuals view themselves as free thinkers (or, at any rate, appropriately responsive to evidence) with respect to their own views?

Good question. Could use some precision in the terms, i.e. what exactly counts as being "open-minded" or "free thinking"? some of these terms might have very specific meaning in certain contexts, but not clear what meaning you're assigning to them here. Also the heart of your second sentence/question is empirical, really -- we'd have to do a carefully devised survey to find out how people generally self-conceive. One of the really deep philosophical questions you have a finger on here might be this: is it possible to reconcile "open-mindedness" with "having reached a firm rational conclusion" -- since the degree to which you are convinced (rationally) by P is the degree to which you are no longer "open to" not-P. So even if you are initially "open" to all sorts of arguments/evidence, once you've made up your mind you are now "closing yourself" with respect to counter arguments/evidence. Of course, one might hold that an "open-minded" thinker is one who continuously revisits the issue, revisits the arguments/evidence, continues to look for new counter arguments/evidence -- but I'm not sure doing that is always really a virtue. (Seems pretty inefficient overall -- once you've investigated something you would never be finished, which will stop you from moving on to other things.) So there are a lot of good things to think about here!

best,

ap

Good question. Could use some precision in the terms, i.e. what exactly counts as being "open-minded" or "free thinking"? some of these terms might have very specific meaning in certain contexts, but not clear what meaning you're assigning to them here. Also the heart of your second sentence/question is empirical, really -- we'd have to do a carefully devised survey to find out how people generally self-conceive. One of the really deep philosophical questions you have a finger on here might be this: is it possible to reconcile "open-mindedness" with "having reached a firm rational conclusion" -- since the degree to which you are convinced (rationally) by P is the degree to which you are no longer "open to" not-P. So even if you are initially "open" to all sorts of arguments/evidence, once you've made up your mind you are now "closing yourself" with respect to counter arguments/evidence. Of course, one might hold that an "open-minded" thinker is one who continuously revisits the issue, revisits the...

There will be an election in my country in the next few months and when I look

There will be an election in my country in the next few months and when I look at all the platforms of the parties that are running, I despise all of them. Yes, there may be a few parties which may have one or two stand alone positions I like, but everything else I find unappealing. Is the solution then to just not vote at all or should individuals do something active since voting is a very passive activity that only happens several years apart? I think low voter turnout in a democracy is actually a GOOD thing (since parties and electoral boards are always encouraging people to do the opposite, making politics into a competitive spectator sport) as it may lead to new parties and movements to expand the number of options.

good, difficult question. one of many possible strategies would be to choose the party that you think, overall, to be the least bad, or is likely to the least ill. Of course if you generally despise all the options then it may be very difficult to determine which party fits that description, in which case not voting at all seems to make the most sense (since any vote would just be arbitrary). One other option would be for YOU to found the "new party"/movement that you think is best, or at least take steps in that direction. You could do this either in place of, or in addition to, casting the vote for the least bad.

ap

good, difficult question. one of many possible strategies would be to choose the party that you think, overall, to be the least bad, or is likely to the least ill. Of course if you generally despise all the options then it may be very difficult to determine which party fits that description, in which case not voting at all seems to make the most sense (since any vote would just be arbitrary). One other option would be for YOU to found the "new party"/movement that you think is best, or at least take steps in that direction. You could do this either in place of, or in addition to, casting the vote for the least bad. ap

People trying to defend philosophy often point out that the natural sciences (

People trying to defend philosophy often point out that the natural sciences ("natural philosophy") grew out of it. Does that really recommend philosophy, or does it just mean that we use the word "philosophy" much differently now than in Newton's time? Is it at all likely that philosophy as it is practiced today will result in the creation of significant new disciplines?

nice question! hard to predict of course ... but some might say that psychology and now cognitive science have partly grown out of 'philosophy' fairly recently ... and some would argue that philosophy is essential for the continued development of cognitive science .... but more importantly (and perhaps you're sensitive to his), one might probably make the case for the value of philosophy intrinsically, i.e. philosophy is valuable in itself, not (merely) in terms of what other (good) things it might produce -- after all, the 'creation' of new disciplines, even if it can legitimately be assigned to philosophy, is a relatively rare thing -- and hard to justify centuries of philosophizing by saying every half a millennium or so it sloughs off a new discipline .... So better to look for your defense of philosophy elsewhere!

hope that's useful ... great question!

ap

nice question! hard to predict of course ... but some might say that psychology and now cognitive science have partly grown out of 'philosophy' fairly recently ... and some would argue that philosophy is essential for the continued development of cognitive science .... but more importantly (and perhaps you're sensitive to his), one might probably make the case for the value of philosophy intrinsically, i.e. philosophy is valuable in itself, not (merely) in terms of what other (good) things it might produce -- after all, the 'creation' of new disciplines, even if it can legitimately be assigned to philosophy, is a relatively rare thing -- and hard to justify centuries of philosophizing by saying every half a millennium or so it sloughs off a new discipline .... So better to look for your defense of philosophy elsewhere! hope that's useful ... great question! ap

I just watched the movie "Interstellar," in which the heroes try to begin a

I just watched the movie "Interstellar," in which the heroes try to begin a colony on another planet in order that the human race survive. Is there any compelling reason to do something like this? To be clear, as far as the heroes know, everyone who is currently alive on earth will die. The point is not to save those people, but only to see that there are future generations of humans that live after them. I can see that we have reasons to save actual, living people--they're capable of suffering, they have various interests, and so on--but those reasons don't apply to the hypothetical inhabitants of a future colony. Why should we care that humanity survive this larger sense?

great question! What I might say is ask your genes (a la "selfish gene", by Richard Dawkins). our DNA seems to have built into us this force for survival, if only for the sake of our DNA ... But that of course doesn't answer your question, b/c that perhaps descriptive account of where our 'instinct' for survival/continuation might come from doesn't address the normative question of why we should care or whether we should pursue that end. Those who attempt to collapse normatively via evolution might say that's all the answer we need -- but those who don't won't be satisfied. From my perspective I agree with what seems to be your own intuition -- no good reason why we should care. Indeed, the same question can be raised more immediately: why should we care about having our own children? Of course for many having/raising children helps give their lives a sense of meaning, but that's a very selfish reason -- you have children b/c it makes your life better, but that is not looking out for the children themselves! and of course that doesn't help explain why anyone should care if a few humans escape to colonize another world ....

great question! --

AP

great question! What I might say is ask your genes (a la "selfish gene", by Richard Dawkins). our DNA seems to have built into us this force for survival, if only for the sake of our DNA ... But that of course doesn't answer your question, b/c that perhaps descriptive account of where our 'instinct' for survival/continuation might come from doesn't address the normative question of why we should care or whether we should pursue that end. Those who attempt to collapse normatively via evolution might say that's all the answer we need -- but those who don't won't be satisfied. From my perspective I agree with what seems to be your own intuition -- no good reason why we should care. Indeed, the same question can be raised more immediately: why should we care about having our own children? Of course for many having/raising children helps give their lives a sense of meaning, but that's a very selfish reason -- you have children b/c it makes your life better, but that is not looking out for the children...

The question comes out of an thought experiment which goes like this:

The question comes out of an thought experiment which goes like this: Suppose i ask you to choose a random word from English dictionary. And I tell you to find its definition. Now the definition of the word will also contains some set of words. I ask you to find the definition of all words taking one at a time. The definition of this second word will also contain some set of words, so you have to repeat this definition finding until you reach a word which has already been defined. Now you take the second word from the definition of the very first word you chose and keep repeating this process. As there are finite number of words in English dictionary, you will reach a point where there is nothing to define. Hence, if a set of definitions(in this case the English dictionary) there are finite definitions for each unknown. Accordingly, if our laws of universe are finite, then there will be finite answers to explain the entire universe. Or we can say existence of each physical process can be satisfactorily...

This is a first-rate question, if a little complicated, and deserves a longer (first-rate) answer. But it's Thanksgiving so I have to be brief! First your point about the dictionary is quite fascinating. I'm pretty sure Wittgenstein (and maybe Augustine) made roughly similar or closely related observations -- but partly in service of recognizing that ultimately for language/meaning to work we must connect (some) words not merely to other words but to 'reality' (or at least our perceptions thereof) -- we have some 'ostensive' definitions whereby we assign the meaning of a word by relating it directly to some object or object of perception ... (Not that that is problem-free itself, but it attempts to break the cycle of words-words definitions). Second, I'm not entirely clear on the analogy you make between the definition case and that of physical laws (and not clear whether the point I just made about ostensive definitions would apply in some analogous way to the laws). But apart from the analogy I can say you also have your finger on a very deep issue about explanation etc. -- and one response might be to point out that while perhaps we can explain various particular events by reference to the physical laws constitutiong the framework, that general strategy won't explain the laws themselves -- that at some point explanation of the system itself requires going outside the system (perhaps there's the analogy to ostensive definition) -- I think the great medieval thinker Maimonides made a point similar to this -- ultimately using it either as part of an argument to believe in the existence of God (as something outside the physical system that could explain the physical system), or at least to recognize that you can't apply the normal model of explanation of normal events back to explain the 'beginning' of the universe, creation ex nihilo .... Does this mean a 'theory of everything' isn't possible? Well, of course, better ask the physicists that. Pretty clearly such a theory would also have to explain itself ... (or else perhaps could a Theory of Everything include God etc.)? .... Anyway much more to say here, but many deep points are raised in your question ....

hope this is useful!

ap

This is a first-rate question, if a little complicated, and deserves a longer (first-rate) answer. But it's Thanksgiving so I have to be brief! First your point about the dictionary is quite fascinating. I'm pretty sure Wittgenstein (and maybe Augustine) made roughly similar or closely related observations -- but partly in service of recognizing that ultimately for language/meaning to work we must connect (some) words not merely to other words but to 'reality' (or at least our perceptions thereof) -- we have some 'ostensive' definitions whereby we assign the meaning of a word by relating it directly to some object or object of perception ... (Not that that is problem-free itself, but it attempts to break the cycle of words-words definitions). Second, I'm not entirely clear on the analogy you make between the definition case and that of physical laws (and not clear whether the point I just made about ostensive definitions would apply in some analogous way to the laws). But apart from the analogy I can say...

Is there a role of mathematics in the development of human consciousness?

Is there a role of mathematics in the development of human consciousness?

In addition to Hofstadter's wonderful writings, you might also be interested in work done on the relationships between mathematics and cognition (more generally than just consciousness). Take a look at these classics in that area:

Rochel Gelman & C.R. Gallistel, The Child's Understanding of Number (Harvard University Press, 1986)

George Lakoff & Rafael Nuñez, Where Mathematics Comes From: How the Embodied Mind Brings Mathematics into Being (Basic Books, 2001)

Stanislaus Dehaene, The Number Sense: How the Mind Creates Mathematics (Oxford University Press, 2011)

interesting question. not sure I understand it exactly. but I can refer you to some fascinating work that touches on it -- mostly anything by Douglas Hofstadter, but you might start with Strange Loops and/or Godel Escher Bach ... both spectacular works that trace the essence of consciousness to self-referential recursive (mathematical) processes ... he'd be a good place to start. best, Andrew Pessin

Is it better to have a STEM degree than having a Humanities one? Most people

Is it better to have a STEM degree than having a Humanities one? Most people today seem to think the Humanities are basically useless, and that the only thing worth doing is STEM. Do you have any opinions on this matter?

good, and timely, question. of course you're asking a bunch of humanities folks, so you might expect a not entirely unbiased answer. :-) On the other hand, it is probably the humanities folks who would be best equipped to speak to the value of a humanities degree. but just for a brief start of an answer -- 'better' is obviously a many-meaninged termed. Better with respect to what? If your only goal in life is to get a certain kind of job, then you need to figure out which degrees are best for that job. But if you don't know what kind of job you want? Or it's not actually clear which degrees would lead to that job? Moreover, you must factor in who YOU are -- what interests you, what you WANT to study -- it is probably more desirable to find something you love and throw yourself into it than to force yourself into studying something because of vague speculations about how 'useful' it might be toward some future you currently think you want .... (Keep in mind that whatever you study will also change you -- you may THINK you want a certain job now, but as you study your very interests, values, desires may change ... ) My own particular, very limited, anecdotal advice is this: your college years are a very unique time in your life. Unless you have very specific, very firm ideas about what life you are pursuing, spending those years throwing yourself into what interests you the most is a very good thing to do that you will not regret -- perhaps a few years down the line you'll develop a specific career idea, at which point THEN you can begin specific training toward that career -- but while you're young, unformed, relatively free of responsibility, then throw yourself into whatever excites you and you won't regret what happens afterward ....

for what it's worth!

hope that's helpful

Andrew Pessin

good, and timely, question. of course you're asking a bunch of humanities folks, so you might expect a not entirely unbiased answer. :-) On the other hand, it is probably the humanities folks who would be best equipped to speak to the value of a humanities degree. but just for a brief start of an answer -- 'better' is obviously a many-meaninged termed. Better with respect to what? If your only goal in life is to get a certain kind of job, then you need to figure out which degrees are best for that job. But if you don't know what kind of job you want? Or it's not actually clear which degrees would lead to that job? Moreover, you must factor in who YOU are -- what interests you, what you WANT to study -- it is probably more desirable to find something you love and throw yourself into it than to force yourself into studying something because of vague speculations about how 'useful' it might be toward some future you currently think you want .... (Keep in mind that whatever you study will also change...

Hello everyone. I am a sophomore starting a philosophy club at my high school.

Hello everyone. I am a sophomore starting a philosophy club at my high school. No other high school in the district has one. To get straight to the point, I need a clever acronym for the club's name. Although this isn't really a philosophical question, can you please take your time and possibly give me a good, witty name? We cover all fields of philosophy.

Good for you! .... There's also this organization you might want to check out, interested in promoting philosophy in high school: http://plato-philosophy.org/lesson-plans-2/pre-college-course-material/ What you clearly need is a slogan and a t-shirt. How about "Philosophy: It's What You Think"? Andrew Pessin

Is murder illegal because its wrong?Or is murder wrong because its illegal?

Is murder illegal because its wrong? Or is murder wrong because its illegal?

a great question -- a deep one, and an old one -- basically grounded in the classic theistic question addressed by Plato (in Euthyphro) and many others since -- does God command us not to do things (such as murder) because they're wrong, or are they wrong (simply) because God commands us not to do them ... Stephen's response is excellent, but I'll offer another angle. Re the first half -- is murder illegal b/c it's wrong -- no doubt those legislators who have illegalized murder are at least partly (maybe primarily/exclusively) motivated by its wrongness (that's the sociological/empirical question) -- but presumably your question is meant to be more general, i.e. not merely restricted to murder, whose 'wrongness' most everyone can agree to (though not everyone). If you were to ask 'of all those things that are illegal, are they illegal b/c they are wrong?' surely for many/most of them the answer would be 'no.' It's illegal to go through a red light, not b/c going thru red lights is morally wrong but b/c the powers that be, in their wisdom, have established various conventions for the smooth/safe running of society, so they've set up traffic laws to that end -- just which legislation is motivated by morality and which by (say) the need for societal conventions is an empirical question -- but no doubt both factors play at least some role in much legislation ... (and other factors as well) ... re the sec on half -- 'is murder wrong b/c it's illegal' -- Stephen is right to stress the fundamental distinction between law and morality, but I'll just add one point -- the case might be made that, in general, it's morally wrong to break the laws of your society (all else being equal) -- so at least PART of the wrongness of murder (perhaps a very small part) would consist in the fact that committing it is to break the laws ... (again, generalizing the topic: running a red light IS probably wrong precisely because it's illegal ...) Now of course there are some important complicated cases -- for example, civil disobedience -- in some cases you might argue it's 'right' to break the law -- if you think the law itself is morally wrong -- but that's handled by the 'all else being equal' clause I mentioned ....

hope that's useful!

ap

a great question -- a deep one, and an old one -- basically grounded in the classic theistic question addressed by Plato (in Euthyphro) and many others since -- does God command us not to do things (such as murder) because they're wrong, or are they wrong (simply) because God commands us not to do them ... Stephen's response is excellent, but I'll offer another angle. Re the first half -- is murder illegal b/c it's wrong -- no doubt those legislators who have illegalized murder are at least partly (maybe primarily/exclusively) motivated by its wrongness (that's the sociological/empirical question) -- but presumably your question is meant to be more general, i.e. not merely restricted to murder, whose 'wrongness' most everyone can agree to (though not everyone). If you were to ask 'of all those things that are illegal, are they illegal b/c they are wrong?' surely for many/most of them the answer would be 'no.' It's illegal to go through a red light, not b/c going thru red lights is morally wrong but b/c...

Pages