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Is it consistent to be a libertarian while opposing suicide on moral grounds?

Is it consistent to be a libertarian while opposing suicide on moral grounds?

Typically, a libertarian (in the domain of politics; "libertarian" is also the label for someone who adopts a view in philosophy of mind or action theory involving free will) is someone who believes that societies should have a government that is the smallest possible in order to protect certain basis rights (perhaps a proper government should, on the grounds that persons have the right to life, prohibit murder and seek to prevent it). A libertarian might (on rare occasions) support some publicly funded health care, but he or she would (ideally) like such matters to be funded by individuals voluntarily by the individuals themselves. So, what about libertarians and suicide? If the libertarian believes that a minimal government should prohibit and prevent murder and she believes that suicide is wrong because it is a case of self-murder, then she may consistently support the government's prohibition and prevention of suicide. However, she may be "opposing suicide on" different moral grounds, e.g. she thinks it is prohibited by God or she thinks that in almost all cases suicide is ruled out on Kantian or utilitarian grounds. For the most part, libertarians do not think these religious or philosophical judgments of these kinds should be employed by the state to control its citizens. So, in this case when suicide is deemed wrong but not as grave a wrong as murder, a libertarian may well contend that suicide is indeed wrong (persons who commit suicide are doing something morally wrong), only adding that it is not within a government's right to make suicide illegal.

There is one additional side to things: while a libertarian may oppose there being an overall, federal government that makes suicide illegal (assuming suicide is not self-murder), her moral objections to suicide may motivate her to join a society voluntarily that makes suicide prohibited. Without knowing the details, I imagine that most Christian monasteries and Muslim communities have rules that forbid suicide (e.g. they would not fund or support the "physician-assisted suicide" of one of its members). A libertarian might join some such organization while still not supporting a governmental prohibition of suicide.

Typically, a libertarian (in the domain of politics; "libertarian" is also the label for someone who adopts a view in philosophy of mind or action theory involving free will) is someone who believes that societies should have a government that is the smallest possible in order to protect certain basis rights (perhaps a proper government should, on the grounds that persons have the right to life, prohibit murder and seek to prevent it). A libertarian might (on rare occasions) support some publicly funded health care, but he or she would (ideally) like such matters to be funded by individuals voluntarily by the individuals themselves. So, what about libertarians and suicide? If the libertarian believes that a minimal government should prohibit and prevent murder and she believes that suicide is wrong because it is a case of self-murder, then she may consistently support the government's prohibition and prevention of suicide. However, she may be "opposing suicide on" different moral grounds, e.g. she...

As a believer, I think that theism is more reasonable than atheism although I

As a believer, I think that theism is more reasonable than atheism although I think that atheists can have good reasons to believe that their worldview is true. Is this position rational? Put in another way, is it possible for me to claim that my worldview is the correct one while granting that the opposite worldview can be as reasonable as the one I hold to be true?

I hope you are right for I while I am a Christian philosopher (or a philosopher who is a Christian) I believe that many of my friends and colleagues who are atheists or agnostics or who accept Islam or a non-theistic view of God (as my Hindu philosopher colleague and friend) are just as reasonable as I am in the sense that each of them has intellectual integrity and has spent at least as much time intelligently reflecting on their convictions, earnestly seeking the truth in such matters. Still, I think each of us needs to hold that the reasons that justify our different beliefs are not defeated (undermined) by the reasons for incompatible beliefs. An atheist might be able to acknowledge that I am just as reasonable as she is, but she cannot (in my view) think that her reasoning is undermined by the evidence or reasoning that I undertake. Alternatively, consider a Christian-Muslim exchange (something I am deeply committed to). I accept a traditional Christian understanding of God incarnate on the basis of an historical argument and an argument from religious experience (I roughly following the reasoning of the Oxford based philosopher Richard Swinburne in his book on the incarnation). In doing so, I believe that I am committed to thinking that no one had decisive, irrefutable evidence against the incarnation that any reasonable person would or should accept. I can certainly recognize that my Muslim philosopher friend Mohammad is reasonable in only recognizing Jesus as a holy prophet (peace be upon him), but there is a limit here in terms of my not being able to accept that he knows (with certainty, based on irrefutable evidence) that Jesus was only a prophet.

Three other points are worth noting.

First, I believe that the above matter is not special to philosophy of religion, but it runs throughout metaphysics, ethics, epistemology, philosophy of law, philosophy of language, science, and so on. I have two colleagues that are Kantian and one that is Humean. They both cannot be right about the nature and normative status of ethical obligations, but as far as I can telly they are intellectual peers and regard each other as equally reasonable.

Second, it is partly because we do (in the practice of philosophy) believe that colleagues who disagree with us are equally reasonable that we are motivated to engage each other in debate and sustained arguments. Without that assumption / premise, the very landscape of philosophy would look more hostile (in my view) than it currently does.

Third, as a general point, I happen to think that the reasons why philosophers adopt the positions they do is highly complex and historically conditioned. My hypothesis is that philosophers form their views on different matters based on clusters of arguments, their view of certain concrete cases which they interpret differently in light of alternative theoretical commitments, the success or failure of thought experiments, their particular exposure to positions during their graduate education, and perhaps even psychological and sociological reasons. For example, one person might naturally rebel against the perceived status quo which is why he or she adopts a form of phenomenology in a department which is structuralist, whereas another person is an anti-realist about freedom in a philosophical libertarian culture. So, in offering this third suggestion, I suggest that we rarely have a case in which two philosophers disagree about X because they disagree about the evidential force of a single, separate line of reasoning. To give a concrete case, I think Philip Kitcher is just as reasonable as me or probably more reasonable than me philosophically (he is older, has been practicing philosophy longer at an elite university, while I am a mere College professor). I accept a cosmological argument for theism (you can find a good version in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy), whereas he does not. Imagine we read the same article. The reasons for our diverging in our assessments probably lies outside of the line of reasoning in the contribution. Kitcher, for example, adopts a form of pragmatism when it comes to ostensibly necessary truths that I think is mistaken. For us to debate the cosmological argument, we would probably need to debate the adequacy of his pragmatism, and then probably move on to ever greater areas of epistemology and metaphysics. Overall, then, I suggest (going back to my original response) two philosophers may be equal in intellectual integrity, equal in focussed, intelligent reasoning, equally in identifying the truth or most reasonable position(s), and yet reach divergent views, partly due to the highly complex, interwoven nature of philosophy.

I hope you are right for I while I am a Christian philosopher (or a philosopher who is a Christian) I believe that many of my friends and colleagues who are atheists or agnostics or who accept Islam or a non-theistic view of God (as my Hindu philosopher colleague and friend) are just as reasonable as I am in the sense that each of them has intellectual integrity and has spent at least as much time intelligently reflecting on their convictions, earnestly seeking the truth in such matters. Still, I think each of us needs to hold that the reasons that justify our different beliefs are not defeated (undermined) by the reasons for incompatible beliefs. An atheist might be able to acknowledge that I am just as reasonable as she is, but she cannot (in my view) think that her reasoning is undermined by the evidence or reasoning that I undertake. Alternatively, consider a Christian-Muslim exchange (something I am deeply committed to). I accept a traditional Christian understanding of God incarnate on the basis...

why is it difficult to define philosophy?

why is it difficult to define philosophy?

I am not trying to be difficult, but I am not sure philosophy is difficult to define, or at least I suggest it is not any more difficult to define than (for example) the sciences, the humanities, love or works of art, war and peace, and so on. I usually define "philosophy" as having two levels or dimensions. On the one had, and most generally, to have a view of reality and values is to have a philosophy. Given this general definition, every thoughtful person has a philosophy of some kind. Going further, it should be noted that philosophy involves critical reflection on one or more such views, inquiring into meaning and coherence and raising questions of justification (why accept one view rather than another? or why accept any view at all?) This definition (or maybe it should be thought of as a "characterization" or depiction or sketch) can then be enhanced by offering examples and then by noting how philosophy has a host of sub-fields from metaphysics, epistemology, ethical theory or, more broadly axiology, etc, and then by taking note of still further sub-fields such as the philosophy of science, philosophy of religion, philosophy of art, and so on.

Difficulties might emerge, however, insofar as defining philosophy in further detail most likely will have to involve the practice of philosophy. There are controversial philosophical views on the nature and methodologies that are promising in, say, metaphysics.

I must concede that some further difficulties could still emerge, notwithstanding my optimistic opening paragraph. An element of the definition of philosophy I have not mentioned so far is based on the etymology of "philosophy," which comes from the Greek for the love of wisdom. I am inclined to the view that goes back to Socrates and Plato that the life of a philosopher is one that involves (or should involve) practicing the love of wisdom. It is, therefore, a way of life. But there are some philosophers who prefer a more academic or theoretical (or abstracted?) approach to philosophy in which how you live (when you are not in the seminar room or conference) is beside the point. In the later case, someone may claim that one could be an outstanding philosopher (who, let us imagine, comes up with a brilliant philosophy of biology) but who lives a life of cruel indifference to the persons and values around him. In such a situation, perhaps I need to concede that defining "philosophy" is difficult, for I would say of the later (imagined) person that while he is "technically" doing outstanding philosophical work, he is not living his life in light of the love of wisdom and thus his claim to be a philosopher (in the full sense) is tainted.

So, in my reply, I offer a modest challenge to you by providing a (relatively) non-problematic (or not too messy) of a definition of philosophy, but then go on to concede that (interesting) difficulties can well emerge when one looks more closely at the details and boundaries of philosophy. My hope is that persons who grapple with defining philosophy might find themselves drawn into the practice of philosophy itself (a practice in light of my preferred definition) which will involve seeking to live out of the love of wisdom.

I am not trying to be difficult, but I am not sure philosophy is difficult to define, or at least I suggest it is not any more difficult to define than (for example) the sciences, the humanities, love or works of art, war and peace, and so on. I usually define "philosophy" as having two levels or dimensions. On the one had, and most generally, to have a view of reality and values is to have a philosophy. Given this general definition, every thoughtful person has a philosophy of some kind. Going further, it should be noted that philosophy involves critical reflection on one or more such views, inquiring into meaning and coherence and raising questions of justification (why accept one view rather than another? or why accept any view at all?) This definition (or maybe it should be thought of as a "characterization" or depiction or sketch) can then be enhanced by offering examples and then by noting how philosophy has a host of sub-fields from metaphysics, epistemology, ethical theory or, more broadly...

I don't know if this question falls as a scientific question but to my knowledge

I don't know if this question falls as a scientific question but to my knowledge, this is more of a question on the nature and extent of science, so I think this is more philosophical than scientific. My question is: is it possible for scientists to create a well-functioning human brain, or is the nature of consciousness so intractable that creating a brain would be next to impossible?

If scientists were to create a well-functioning human brain, I suggest it probably would have to involve the brain being part of an anatomically well-functioning body, whether the body is human or humanoid or mechanical (in which case one would have a cyborg of some kind). Philosophers have entertained bizarre thought experiments in which human brains function in vats and are subject to systematic, misleading electro-chemical stimulation, but I suggest this would not be a case of a WELL-FUNCTIONING human brain. It would instead by in a profoundly dysfunctional situation. Are there good philosophical reasons for thinking that it is impossible for scientists to create something that is anatomically an exact replica of a human being such as you and me? Some might argue that "being human" essentially involves the reproductive and nurturing processes that we underwent (and so they would seek to rule out conceptually the idea that a human brain and body can be manufactured in a lab), but this would (in my view) be strained (not obvious). I rather think it is in principle to produce a replica. What about consciousness? I am inclined to think the nature and reality of consciousness would impede the project of scientifically constructing a "well-functioning human brain."

As someone who is firmly confident that consciousness is the most obvious fact about our lives (I am not at all tempted by those who seek to deny the existence of consciousness or the mental), I am led to think that if there is a physical replica of me (and I am conscious), then the replica will be conscious. This would not, however, be the equivalent of asserting that consciousness is itself physical. One might hold that consciousness (as a non-physical state) supervenes or emerges because of the laws of nature or because of the inherent causal powers of physical objects and relations or because of an act of God, and so on. Even so, while I note that this is my inclination, it seems to be possible that (in contemporary jargon in philosophy of mind) there may be zombies -- beings who are physically indistinguishable from conscious embodied beings but who lack consciousness. This is a highly controversial claim. You might do a search for Dean Zimmerman on zombies for further reflection.

If scientists were to create a well-functioning human brain, I suggest it probably would have to involve the brain being part of an anatomically well-functioning body, whether the body is human or humanoid or mechanical (in which case one would have a cyborg of some kind). Philosophers have entertained bizarre thought experiments in which human brains function in vats and are subject to systematic, misleading electro-chemical stimulation, but I suggest this would not be a case of a WELL-FUNCTIONING human brain. It would instead by in a profoundly dysfunctional situation. Are there good philosophical reasons for thinking that it is impossible for scientists to create something that is anatomically an exact replica of a human being such as you and me? Some might argue that "being human" essentially involves the reproductive and nurturing processes that we underwent (and so they would seek to rule out conceptually the idea that a human brain and body can be manufactured in a lab), but this would (in my...

To a philosopher, there likely comes a time when the error in another's crazy

To a philosopher, there likely comes a time when the error in another's crazy ideas -say, at a party or dinner- can be so apparent as to invite some criticism. What's a good moral position on whether to correct someone's logic when it's uninvited and suspectedly unwelcome? Idea eg. UFOs, 'crystals', ESP, conspiracies, etc.

Maybe a golden rule helps: one should intervene to the extent that, if it was you who had the crazy ideas, you would want to be challenged? In general I suggest that philosophers (and here I do not mean professionals, I mean those who are committed to the love of wisdom -the literal definition of philosophy- and who seek to be informed by and practice philosophy in the great philosophical traditions from Socrates and Confucius to the present) can have an important role in social settings of enhancing the free exchange of ideas in which persons can be open to reason, objections, and responses. There is a time and place for this sort of thing --Looking back, I feel a little regret that the night before I got married I got drawn into a lengthy philosophical debate about why I think theism is reasonable and a good friend did not. But in general, many people think of arguments as what might be called "quarrels" in which no one is really interested in open minds and objections.

So, I suggest that challenging some people when their thinking seems fallacious or incoherent, etc, might be adjusted by applying the Golden Rule and assessing when a social setting involves persons with open minds. Without some receptivity to philosophical dialogue and criticism, there will probably only be annoyance, awkwardness, etc. I suppose, though, there will be cases of when the stakes are so high (someone advances an absurd conspiracy theory that targets the innocent or, more specifically, you are in the company of a Holocaust denier) when one simply must mount a challenge, whether this involves philosophy or not (you may only require common sense, an ability to expose errors in history).

Maybe a golden rule helps: one should intervene to the extent that, if it was you who had the crazy ideas, you would want to be challenged? In general I suggest that philosophers (and here I do not mean professionals, I mean those who are committed to the love of wisdom -the literal definition of philosophy- and who seek to be informed by and practice philosophy in the great philosophical traditions from Socrates and Confucius to the present) can have an important role in social settings of enhancing the free exchange of ideas in which persons can be open to reason, objections, and responses. There is a time and place for this sort of thing --Looking back, I feel a little regret that the night before I got married I got drawn into a lengthy philosophical debate about why I think theism is reasonable and a good friend did not. But in general, many people think of arguments as what might be called "quarrels" in which no one is really interested in open minds and objections. So, I suggest that...

Is terrorism ever justified?

Is terrorism ever justified?

Good question. Someone who is a consequentialist --that is, a person who believes the morality of an act is contingent on its actual or expected consequences such as the act's producing great happiness or unhappiness-- might have to answer "yes." This is because there are probably cases (or there could be hypothetical cases) when an act of terrorism will produce some greater good or avoid some otherwise inevitable horror and there is no other act available to the parties involved. It is this implication of consequentialism that compels some of us to reject it. Some of us think there are what might be called absolute evils, evil that is so awful that one must not perform the evil no matter what ("even if the heavens fall" or something like that, is an expression sometimes used here). I believe Gandhi once observed that if he had to choose between two evils, he would choose neither (in other words, he would challenge the premise that he "had to choose"). Those of us who think there are some wrongs that are wrong no matter how good the consequences are sometimes called deontologists.

Your question might meet with different responses depending on how "terrorism" is defined and if one were to argue about the permissibility of some very minor act of terrorism (subjecting only a few people to fear but without any intent on actually inflicting physical harm) in order to avoid some profoundly worst act of terrorism. But if we think about the recent attack in Paris, I myself think that there is no reason (probable or imaginary) that would justify such a massacre. Arguments might be difficult here. That is, I might have trouble convincing a self-confident consequentialist. But one objection to consequentialism that I believe to be forceful is that consequentialism seems to be on a slippery slope such that almost anything (massive rapes, murder, torture...)might be justified so long as those acts would produce greater consequences and there is no other action available that would produce greater consequences. That consequence seems to me to run against moral experience and the teaching of many, significant moral and religious traditions (that I deeply respect).

Good question. Someone who is a consequentialist --that is, a person who believes the morality of an act is contingent on its actual or expected consequences such as the act's producing great happiness or unhappiness-- might have to answer "yes." This is because there are probably cases (or there could be hypothetical cases) when an act of terrorism will produce some greater good or avoid some otherwise inevitable horror and there is no other act available to the parties involved. It is this implication of consequentialism that compels some of us to reject it. Some of us think there are what might be called absolute evils, evil that is so awful that one must not perform the evil no matter what ("even if the heavens fall" or something like that, is an expression sometimes used here). I believe Gandhi once observed that if he had to choose between two evils, he would choose neither (in other words, he would challenge the premise that he "had to choose"). Those of us who think there are some wrongs...

It is often stated that science is not 'value-free'. However, there are certain

It is often stated that science is not 'value-free'. However, there are certain established facts about the physical world, for example, that a water molecule contains one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms, which irrespecitve of the values of observer or the social context in which this is observed, is just that, ie. an observable, indisptuable fact. How then can political or social environments alter or intrude upon such scientific facts whether they be about this planet, biology or whatever scientific enterprise one is studying. Surely, science in this regard is 'value-free'?

Great question; thank you for raising your point. I believe that the when the claim is made that science is not value-free various things may be involved. There might be at least four points to consider.

First, there is the thesis that the very practice of philosophy itself involves values --minimally, given a realist view of truth (which I hold and I think you do too, e.g. water is H20 if true if and only if water is H20)-- a commitment to discovering the truth about various phenomena, being reliable or trust-worthy in recording observations and constructing hypotheses, theories, reporting anomalies given such and such a theory, and so on. Perhaps this is not radical news, for it seems that virtually any social interaction in which we trust each others' reports / testimony, all sorts of values and commitments are relevant. But what might be added are three other points.

Second, the practice of science itself is guided in light of what scientists (or those who support the practice of science) believe to be valuable (or worthy of scientific inquiry).

In addition to that (number three) Thomas Kuhn, a prominent 20th century historian and philosopher of science, famously argued that scientific progress is often suffused with matters of value and subjectivity when individual scientists choose to retain normal science (as practiced in conventional, institutionally entrenched labs, classrooms, institutions, etc) or seek to bring about a scientific revolution (e.g. as we find with Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Einstein...). All this is compatible with realism and your initial point that the atomic structure of water (for example) does not depend upon political or social contexts or the personal subjectivity of observers.

Fourth, perhaps physics and chemistry (which involve the water example) seem straight forward facts as distinct from values, but when we move in the direction of biology, values of various sorts come into play. This might be especially apparent when scientists employ terms like 'health' and 'disease' --whether in terms of organisms or ecosystems. The health of an organism seems the equivalent to the notion that the organism has some good or can be in a (for it) good state. It is also not uncommon for philosophers of science to contend that in the social sciences various concepts are social constructions (e.g. the diagnosis ADHD) and reflect more our values than "the facts."

I hope that is a helpful beginning. The philosophy of science entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is very helpful.

Great question; thank you for raising your point. I believe that the when the claim is made that science is not value-free various things may be involved. There might be at least four points to consider. First, there is the thesis that the very practice of philosophy itself involves values --minimally, given a realist view of truth (which I hold and I think you do too, e.g. water is H20 if true if and only if water is H20)-- a commitment to discovering the truth about various phenomena, being reliable or trust-worthy in recording observations and constructing hypotheses, theories, reporting anomalies given such and such a theory, and so on. Perhaps this is not radical news, for it seems that virtually any social interaction in which we trust each others' reports / testimony, all sorts of values and commitments are relevant. But what might be added are three other points. Second, the practice of science itself is guided in light of what scientists (or those who support the practice of science)...

Do you need to be religious in order to be Moral?

Do you need to be religious in order to be Moral?

I will try to resist this reply: that depends on what you mean by "religious" and "moral." But definitions do matter, and I will not be able to avoid appealing to definitions.

If you have a very broad definition of "religious" according to which being religious involves reverence, caring about what is sacred, being consistent (as when someone might say of an athlete that "she works-out religiouslyl") and if "morality" includes such elements, then, yes, there is an important (at least) intersection between being religious and being moral.

But if by "religious" one means that one adheres to religious traditions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam.... then most philosophers have not thought that being religious is essential for being moral. In fact, many religious thinkers (theologians or sages) have insisted that morality (both the awareness of what is moral and the ability to live a moral life) is available for persons in general independent of one's religious beliefs and practices. There are various nuances, however, that I address below. Sorry if this reply might appear pedantic, when you probably are hoping for a 'yes' or 'no' response.

Many religious thinkers believe that religion involves far more than "morality" --the worship of God, for example, which is sometimes described as a duty but often portrayed as a great, transcendent experience that goes beyond the realm of morality --just as, on a minor scale, the pursuit of something aesthetic (beauty in the arts) might involve matters that extend beyond (without being in conflict with) morality and ethics. It would be hard to put the greatness of Beethoven's Ode to Joy in narrowly moral / ethical terms.

I suggest that three of the many interesting, debated questions that bear on your question concern (1) whether acknowledging morality as an objective, binding code that calls for (or demands) our allegiance requires a religiously oriented worldview; (2) the extent that religion itself can be reduced to morality and (3) the extent to which religion can either enhance or conflict with moral beliefs and practice (as captured, for example, from a secular point of view).

On the first point, you might find the work of George Mavrodes interesting or challenging. He proposes that an acknowledgement of objective morality requires viewing the world in teleological (purposive or, in his case, theistic terms). Probably the leading advocate for that position today is C. Stephen Evans. On the second point, Kant would be your key reference point. Scholarship on Kant is divided and complex, but more often than not he is seen as a key promoter of the view that at the very heart of Christianity, and all religions when properly purified through philosophical criticism, is ethics. In terms of the third category, perhaps there is no more provocative philosopher for you to engage than Kierkegaard in his dramatic, extraordinary work: Either/Or.

For my own views, check out A beginner's guide: philosophy of religion.

I will try to resist this reply: that depends on what you mean by "religious" and "moral." But definitions do matter, and I will not be able to avoid appealing to definitions. If you have a very broad definition of "religious" according to which being religious involves reverence, caring about what is sacred, being consistent (as when someone might say of an athlete that "she works-out religiouslyl") and if "morality" includes such elements, then, yes, there is an important (at least) intersection between being religious and being moral. But if by "religious" one means that one adheres to religious traditions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam.... then most philosophers have not thought that being religious is essential for being moral. In fact, many religious thinkers (theologians or sages) have insisted that morality (both the awareness of what is moral and the ability to live a moral life) is available for persons in general independent of one's religious beliefs and...

Who would you say is the most influential philosopher of all time? I am taking

Who would you say is the most influential philosopher of all time? I am taking about a philosopher who has not just made a fundamental impact on Western philosophy, but also on Eastern philosophy, and all the other ones of which I am not aware. I am also not taking about the best, greatest, or most known, loved, cited, quoted, or recognized. My question is solely based on influence, whether it was good, bad, both, or neither.

I will take a shot at this question, though with great hesitancy. The three philosophers that pop to mind are Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. And because you are requesting a single philosopher, I would place a small wager on Plato for it is through Plato that we learn the most about Socrates (there are other sources, but Plato's is the richest, I suggest) and Plato was Aristotle's teacher (for about 20 years). A great 20th century British philosopher once observed that the history of philosophy is the history of footnotes on Plato. That, of course, over-states things and perhaps sacrifices accuracy to wit.

In good conscience, I must confess that I understand myself as a Platonist --so it may be that I am not the most objective in such matters. Although A.E. Taylor's work is a bit dated, I highly recommend his work on Plato --very accessible and puts Plato in context.

I will take a shot at this question, though with great hesitancy. The three philosophers that pop to mind are Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. And because you are requesting a single philosopher, I would place a small wager on Plato for it is through Plato that we learn the most about Socrates (there are other sources, but Plato's is the richest, I suggest) and Plato was Aristotle's teacher (for about 20 years). A great 20th century British philosopher once observed that the history of philosophy is the history of footnotes on Plato. That, of course, over-states things and perhaps sacrifices accuracy to wit. In good conscience, I must confess that I understand myself as a Platonist --so it may be that I am not the most objective in such matters. Although A.E. Taylor's work is a bit dated, I highly recommend his work on Plato --very accessible and puts Plato in context.

What is the definition of happiness and how is it possible for human beings to

What is the definition of happiness and how is it possible for human beings to achieve happiness? What are the limits toward an individuals happiness and how can I know when I have surpassed or come close to such limits?

Not easy questions. Philosophical accounts of happiness have tended either to stress happiness as a subjective matter involving (for example) the satisfaction of preferences and desires or in a more objective or less subjective matters, for example, a person is happy if she is flourishing. Subjective accounts tend to give more authority to the person's own self-evaluation, e.g. you seem to be the best authority when it comes to identifying what you desire or prefer. But subjective accounts may still distinguish between what you actually desire or prefer and what you should desire or prefer if (for example) you knew more of the relevant facts. Thus, you might desire to marry Fred but (unknown to you) Fred is a terrorist and you most emphatically do not wish to marry a terrorist. A subjectivist might also allow for self-deception. In such a case, a person may think they are happy because she believes her main desires in life are fulfilled and yet those desires are the result of some self-created impairment (you believe you want to marry Fred but this 'want' is based on a dreadful fantasy that you have invented).

I am inclined to a somewhat less subjective account. So, the subjectivist may be right that happiness involves our preferences and desires, but the kinds of preferences and desires that are truly conducive (or partly constitute) happiness are those that contribute to a person's flourishing. What is flourishing? Not easy to spell out, but I believe that Aristotle gets us off to a good start in his Ethics in his treatment of the actualization of your powers (of reasoning, thinking, perceiving, acting with prudence, temperance, justice, courage). From an Aristotelian point of view, you may grow in happiness insofar as you flourish, realizing the great practical and intellectual virtues. Knowing whether you are flourishing may require a mix of self-awareness as well as living in a community in which persons care about and reflect on the happiness or wellbeing of its members.

I am not quite sure what you are looking for in terms of limits. Maybe it is useful to distinguish happiness and being healthy. I believe we have good reason to think that sometimes unhappiness is healthy and good, as when we mourn or grieve the loss of someone or thing we love. In light of that, maybe we should think that the limits of our happiness should (in some sense) be determined by our own and others' health or overall wellbeing. It would not be good (it would, in your terms, surpass the limits of healthy happiness) to be happy in the face of profound tragedy. Ending on a lighter note, it also may in some sense be a duty to try to be happy (or to try to try to be happy) in the presence of great goods such as young, healthy children, romantic love, courageous compassion, and an illuminating philosophical dialogue.

Not easy questions. Philosophical accounts of happiness have tended either to stress happiness as a subjective matter involving (for example) the satisfaction of preferences and desires or in a more objective or less subjective matters, for example, a person is happy if she is flourishing. Subjective accounts tend to give more authority to the person's own self-evaluation, e.g. you seem to be the best authority when it comes to identifying what you desire or prefer. But subjective accounts may still distinguish between what you actually desire or prefer and what you should desire or prefer if (for example) you knew more of the relevant facts. Thus, you might desire to marry Fred but (unknown to you) Fred is a terrorist and you most emphatically do not wish to marry a terrorist. A subjectivist might also allow for self-deception. In such a case, a person may think they are happy because she believes her main desires in life are fulfilled and yet those desires are the result of some self-created...

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