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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 ancient Greek philosophical schools taught comprehensive philosophies of

The ancient Greek philosophical schools taught comprehensive philosophies of life. For them, the whole point of doing philosophy was to determine how to live well. Why do contemporary philosophers not publish philosophies of life? Has the point of doing philosophy changed? If so, why?

or for another kind of response, you might still ask why many/most philosophers don't publish philosophies of life. You'd have to do an empirical survey there, but i'm guessing that for many, a philosophy of life is too big and hard to construct. Much easier to focus on some relatively narrow problem and work out a sophisticated view on it ... And I bet that professionally the incentive is to do the same. A "philosophy of life" is something that aims to the wider market, the general public, but the professional incentive is to impress the professional philosophers rather than the public. (Alternatively, perhaps many professional philosophers feel pretty confident that the main value in life, at least for them, is the very professing of philosophy -- so they are acting out their philosophy of life even without publishing their philosophy of life ....)

great question!

ap

or for another kind of response, you might still ask why many/most philosophers don't publish philosophies of life. You'd have to do an empirical survey there, but i'm guessing that for many, a philosophy of life is too big and hard to construct. Much easier to focus on some relatively narrow problem and work out a sophisticated view on it ... And I bet that professionally the incentive is to do the same. A "philosophy of life" is something that aims to the wider market, the general public, but the professional incentive is to impress the professional philosophers rather than the public. (Alternatively, perhaps many professional philosophers feel pretty confident that the main value in life, at least for them, is the very professing of philosophy -- so they are acting out their philosophy of life even without publishing their philosophy of life ....) great question! ap

or for another kind of response, you might still ask why many/most philosophers don't publish philosophies of life. You'd have to do an empirical survey there, but i'm guessing that for many, a philosophy of life is too big and hard to construct. Much easier to focus on some relatively narrow problem and work out a sophisticated view on it ... And I bet that professionally the incentive is to do the same. A "philosophy of life" is something that aims to the wider market, the general public, but the professional incentive is to impress the professional philosophers rather than the public. (Alternatively, perhaps many professional philosophers feel pretty confident that the main value in life, at least for them, is the very professing of philosophy -- so they are acting out their philosophy of life even without publishing their philosophy of life ....) great question! ap

Everyday, people set out to make the world a better place. And every now and

Everyday, people set out to make the world a better place. And every now and then, people actually do something that DOES make the world a better place. Sometimes it's on a large scale, sometimes it's on a small scale, but it's still an improvement nonetheless. And I don't think anybody really TRIES to make the world a worse place. I think sometimes they do, but it's not intentional. Do you think that someday, everybody will have fixed everything once wrong with the world, there will be no more improvements necessary, and the world could be the perfect place, almost like a utopia?

Nice (and fun!) question. First "almost like" a utopia? That sounds pretty utopic ... Of course part of the problem -- perhaps the biggest part of the problem -- is that not everyone agrees on what a good or perfect world would look like, so that actions that some take to improve the world would be countered by others who have a different conception of the good world ... Maybe,then, rather than imagine the utopia to be something static, a fixed destination -- after all, isn't 'change' the only constant thing? -- we should imagine it to be dynamic, an ongoing changing equilibrium of sorts -- so there could be an ongoing flux and flow, of movements forward and back (by different people's different metrics),e tc.? .... (On that view, nothing quite stops the idea that this very universe might be the 'good' or 'perfect' one -- yes it's got plenty of individually lousy elements, but the ongoing effort to counter those lousy things, even by all the different people with their different metrics, might be just the right universe for we faulty human beings? ... (hm, not sure that's convincing but it's an idea ....)

ap

Nice (and fun!) question. First "almost like" a utopia? That sounds pretty utopic ... Of course part of the problem -- perhaps the biggest part of the problem -- is that not everyone agrees on what a good or perfect world would look like, so that actions that some take to improve the world would be countered by others who have a different conception of the good world ... Maybe,then, rather than imagine the utopia to be something static, a fixed destination -- after all, isn't 'change' the only constant thing? -- we should imagine it to be dynamic, an ongoing changing equilibrium of sorts -- so there could be an ongoing flux and flow, of movements forward and back (by different people's different metrics),e tc.? .... (On that view, nothing quite stops the idea that this very universe might be the 'good' or 'perfect' one -- yes it's got plenty of individually lousy elements, but the ongoing effort to counter those lousy things, even by all the different people with their different metrics, might be just the...

Nowadays, I feel as if right now, in this current world, humans are only wanting

Nowadays, I feel as if right now, in this current world, humans are only wanting to study really hard in school, get a job, and receive money for food and personal items. I feel like there's more to life than that but everybody I ask seems to only want a good job and a lot of money. I am 16 years old and I know that I still have a lot of years to live through but sometimes I feel as if just getting a job and getting money with that job is such a pointless goal. I keep thinking if that is the meaning of life, then that is such an uninteresting goal. But, I still try my best in school and academics because I have this weird, abstract feeling that I absolutely HAVE to or I will fail in life. I do not know the explanation of that feeling but I listen to it. Is just getting a job, doing that job and getting money for it the meaning of the vast majority of this world's people's lives?

Just FYI: The link Prof. Pessin supplied isn't an essay by Thomas Nagel. It appears to be a paper concerning Nagel's work on the meaning of life, a paper written by a student (Lucas Beerekamp) for a course at a university in the Netherlands. Chapter 1o of Nagel's introductory book What Does It All Mean? (1987) is entitled "The Meaning of Life." Perhaps that's what Prof. Pessin meant to refer to (although it's barely seven short pages). More likely he meant to refer to Nagel's famous Journal of Philosophy article, "The Absurd" (1971).

Thanks for your question, which is of course important and deep. Of course it has a psychological dimension (how you think and feel about things) and a sociological dimension (what's the case for many other people), but just to get you started on the philosophical dimension, you might consider having a look at Thomas Nagel's essay "The Meaning of Life" ... a copy of which you can find here: http://goo.gl/JGFAs .

I know that many philosophers might scoff upon being asked some variation of

I know that many philosophers might scoff upon being asked some variation of "What is the meaning of life or living" but isn't it about the most relevant question one can ask in relation to philosophy and its relationship with humankind? It seems this is studied very little or at all by philosophers in academia. As a follow-up, do philosophers either in the continental or analytic tradition place any value in the metaphysical writings of yogis or mystics from India; isn't it at least worth investigating?

It would be unbecoming of a philosopher to scoff at the question rather than engage it in some way, and philosophers do engage it. Another book to investigate is the third edition of The Meaning of Life: A Reader, edited by Klemke and Cahn. In his article "The Absurd" (widely anthologized, including in Klemke and Cahn), Nagel makes a tantalizingly brief suggestion that many who seek the meaning of life are seeking something flatly impossible: a life purpose so significant, so clearly ultimate, that it would make no sense to question it. Take happiness, for example. We can't simply define it as "the ultimate goal of life," because that would be a circular definition in this context. So we can question it as a goal: Is it the same as pleasure, or is it more like lasting satisfaction? Is it tied to virtue or not? Whichever answers we give to those questions invite the further sensible question "If that's what happiness is, then why is it the ultimate goal?" In this short magazine article, I follow up Nagel's suggestion in the context of traditional theism. [By the way, Chapter 1o of Nagel's introductory book What Does It All Mean? (1987) is entitled "The Meaning of Life," but it's barely seven short pages. More likely Prof. Pessin meant to refer to Nagel's "The Absurd" in his comment above.]

To the contrary there is a reasonable amount of attention paid to the question. (My colleague at Connecticut College teaches a whole course on the meaning of life, and has a long reading list.... but immediately coming to mind is Thomas Nagel's well-known essay "The Meaning of Life.") Why it should be the "most" relevant question, though, I'm less sure -- no doubt for many it's closely related to questions of morality -- what sort of life should we live, what is a good life,e tc -- and courses on ethics are taught everywhere, and the corresponding literature is enormous. And no doubt, too, for many it is closely related to matters of religion -- and courses on religious studies, and the philosophy of religion, are taught everywhere, with an equally enormous corresponding literature. If you google "meaning of life in philosophy" or something like that you'll find plenty ... And there are some western philosophers, analytically inclined, who are very learned in eastern traditions (to indirectly address...

If something (a tool, a work of art, a dish, etc.) was created with a specific

If something (a tool, a work of art, a dish, etc.) was created with a specific goal in mind, fails miserably at achieving that goal, but manages to be pretty good at doing something else, is it still a failure? Suppose a movie sets out to be dramatic and heart-wrenching, but ends up being inadvertently hilarious (in a good way). Should it be considered a failure? I ask because there are lots of people who tend to argue that X fails as an X and thus, regardless of how it might otherwise succeed for some people, it should be considered bad. I'm not so sure that's the case.

This strong position seems awfully black and white to me. It's easy enough to distinguish "failing to accomplish goal x" from "failing to accomplish goal y," generally speaking, so why not use that? So of course it's plausible that something would fail to accomplish its creator's intended goals while inadvertently accomplishing some other "goal." Of course, that latter sounded awkward -- what is it to have a goal (for a project such as a film) if not a deliberate or intentional one, and what is success if not 'fulfilling one's intended goal"? In other words, if (in your example) the film was not intended to be hilarious then it didn't have the goal of being hilarious, in which case it could not be counted as "successful" if "success" = fulfilling one's goals ... But then again, "success" means different things -- not merely 'accomplishing one's goal' but (in this case, say) "making money" or "making people laugh" etc.... But then again, again, as I think more about it, I'm leaning towards the view that we SHOULD define the success of a venture as "accomplishing its goals" -- so in your example that film would count as a failure, and a miserable one at that, after all, despite being "good" at making people laugh.

Thanks for an interesting question!

ap

This strong position seems awfully black and white to me. It's easy enough to distinguish "failing to accomplish goal x" from "failing to accomplish goal y," generally speaking, so why not use that? So of course it's plausible that something would fail to accomplish its creator's intended goals while inadvertently accomplishing some other "goal." Of course, that latter sounded awkward -- what is it to have a goal (for a project such as a film) if not a deliberate or intentional one, and what is success if not 'fulfilling one's intended goal"? In other words, if (in your example) the film was not intended to be hilarious then it didn't have the goal of being hilarious, in which case it could not be counted as "successful" if "success" = fulfilling one's goals ... But then again, "success" means different things -- not merely 'accomplishing one's goal' but (in this case, say) "making money" or "making people laugh" etc.... But then again, again, as I think more about it, I'm leaning towards the view...

I have a question about food and objectivity. My friend insists that all

I have a question about food and objectivity. My friend insists that all opinions about the value of certain instances of a type of food being better than others are merely subjective. I disagree with this and when I say that, for example, "my mom's chocolate chip cookies are better than store bought cookies" I believe that there is actually some objective basis to this. I would cite as evidence the fact that my mom uses higher quality ingredients, puts more care and attention into baking, and that generally others agree that her cookies are quite good and preferable to store bought cookies. Is there any truth to this idea about food more generally? Can there actually be some objective basis for judging which food is better?

Great question! Two great sources for this is David Hume's famous essay, "A Standard of Taste" and Mackie's "The Subjectivity of Values" -- a quick response to you, here, is to suggest that perhaps you are BOTH right (a happy verdict!): when we can specify in advance precisely which qualities are valuable, then we can "objectively" evaluate cookies (or food more generallY) to the degree to which the item in question reflects or contains those qualities. (Mackie uses the example of juding the 'best dog' in a competition, I think -- we articulate in advance what the 'good dog qualities' are, and then objectively judge the individual dogs to the degree ot which they have those qualities). But then once THAT is done, we can always ask: yes, but what makes that specified quality a truly 'valuable' or 'good' quality? (We may say 'a dog that is strong is a good dog', so a given strong dog will objectively be 'good'; but now we're asking, 'what makes the strongness itself good'?) And here a very plausible answer is 'it's subjective', ie up to the individual, everyone's 'taste' is literally as legitimate as anyone else's etc .... So, in short, it may be purely objective whether the given cookies have (or don't have) the specified qualities, but purely subjective that those qualities are the ones worth having ...

Now there's much more to be said here -- so check out Hume and Mackie!
Hope this is helpful

ap

Great question! Two great sources for this is David Hume's famous essay, "A Standard of Taste" and Mackie's "The Subjectivity of Values" -- a quick response to you, here, is to suggest that perhaps you are BOTH right (a happy verdict!): when we can specify in advance precisely which qualities are valuable, then we can "objectively" evaluate cookies (or food more generallY) to the degree to which the item in question reflects or contains those qualities. (Mackie uses the example of juding the 'best dog' in a competition, I think -- we articulate in advance what the 'good dog qualities' are, and then objectively judge the individual dogs to the degree ot which they have those qualities). But then once THAT is done, we can always ask: yes, but what makes that specified quality a truly 'valuable' or 'good' quality? (We may say 'a dog that is strong is a good dog', so a given strong dog will objectively be 'good'; but now we're asking, 'what makes the strongness itself good'?) And here a very...

It is clear that determinism can give a logically valid account of human

It is clear that determinism can give a logically valid account of human behavior; it is a viable theory of human action. But it seems that if determinism, or at least a deterministic account of behavior that precludes free will, is true, much of what we hold very valuable in most if not all human cultures (e.g. love; trust; the value of the person; etc.) is all an illusion. I, for example, do not freely place a value on my wife and love her because of this value; my "love" is a product of my genes, or my psychological history. Similarly, it also seems to me that atheistic accounts of the origin of morality (e.g. a need to survive and get along better to propagate our genes) are plausible, but likewise seem to remove deeper meanings involved in moral behavior (e.g. I choose not to murder someone because I find it violates, in some sense, a universal moral law that I could be held accountable for at some point now, or perhaps even after my death). I am not sure what philosophers who have discussed these...

A great question, which deserves a longer response than I have time for now! But just a very general response: how could concerns about what we value give us a grounds for determining what's true with respect to determinism? Determinism seems, as you've sketched it, to be a kind of scientific thesis -- it's up to science to figure out whether there are deterministic laws of nature which govern our bodies and brains and behavior, I would think. The fact that we may not like the result -- that determinism might challenge our pre-existing set of values -- hardly seems relevant as to whether the result is correct. Where philosophers step in, of course, is in judging whether in fact the determinism revealed by science WOULD or NEED challenge our values, in the way you've sketched -- but it isn't obvious to me that the philosophical activity would be relevant to the 'scientific' question of whether determinism is true.

best,

ap

A great question, which deserves a longer response than I have time for now! But just a very general response: how could concerns about what we value give us a grounds for determining what's true with respect to determinism? Determinism seems, as you've sketched it, to be a kind of scientific thesis -- it's up to science to figure out whether there are deterministic laws of nature which govern our bodies and brains and behavior, I would think. The fact that we may not like the result -- that determinism might challenge our pre-existing set of values -- hardly seems relevant as to whether the result is correct. Where philosophers step in, of course, is in judging whether in fact the determinism revealed by science WOULD or NEED challenge our values, in the way you've sketched -- but it isn't obvious to me that the philosophical activity would be relevant to the 'scientific' question of whether determinism is true. best, ap

Why do we, psychologically/philosophically speaking, put such an emphasis on

Why do we, psychologically/philosophically speaking, put such an emphasis on things being "real"? What got me thinking about this question is the nature of our memories - while I can certainly recall some "half-memories" which probably never actually happened or even simply fabricate some, why do we place less value on these memories than "true" ones, even though they could theoretically have the effect on us?

great question ... we might make some useful distinctions -- whether memories, beliefs, etc. are 'true' does NOT make an immediate difference to the individual, psychologically: we act on what we think, believe, remember etc., and in that sense the false thoughts/memories are just as 'valuable' or 'real' or important as the true ones .... however in many ways we like to orient ourselves towards the truth, to get our beliefs to be true, etc.; and thus when we discover some belief/memory is false we want to correct it .... (why we do or should care about truth in general is a separate issue; but most people simply do) -- so from that perspective, there's a large difference between the true ones and the false ones, as we seek to overcome the latter ....

the "idealist' tradition in philosophy -- esp figures such as George Berkeley -- would ultimately deny the difference between the true ones/false ones (or at least reconstrue it very differently from the way I've implicitly done here) -- so if you want to pursue your idea in more detail, I'd recommend exploring the work of Berkeley ...

hope that's useful --

Andrew

great question ... we might make some useful distinctions -- whether memories, beliefs, etc. are 'true' does NOT make an immediate difference to the individual, psychologically: we act on what we think, believe, remember etc., and in that sense the false thoughts/memories are just as 'valuable' or 'real' or important as the true ones .... however in many ways we like to orient ourselves towards the truth, to get our beliefs to be true, etc.; and thus when we discover some belief/memory is false we want to correct it .... (why we do or should care about truth in general is a separate issue; but most people simply do) -- so from that perspective, there's a large difference between the true ones and the false ones, as we seek to overcome the latter .... the "idealist' tradition in philosophy -- esp figures such as George Berkeley -- would ultimately deny the difference between the true ones/false ones (or at least reconstrue it very differently from the way I've implicitly done here) -- so if you want...