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I'm particularly concerned with this question and response:

I'm particularly concerned with this question and response: http://www.askphilosophers.org/question/4636 I'm not necessarily interested in the theological ramifications, but in terms of Richard Dawkins' book The Selfish Gene and Lawrence Krauss's cosmology in The Universe from Nothing, it feels like these are very real issues that have not been addressed by philosophers. Is there serious philosophy that has kept up to date on science? Or are these thinkers simply interested in claiming that Lawrence Krauss' "nothing" is different than the philosophical conception of nothing? Are there philosophers at all that deal with science post-Newton?

Speaking for my own response to Question 4636: I offered two quotations of Krauss from his online interview with Sam Harris (in which Harris gave Krauss ample space to clarify his positions) in order to show how advanced training in science doesn't guarantee even minimal competence in philosophy.

All three clauses in the first quotation are stunningly false: First, modern science hasn't "changed completely our conception of the very words 'something' and 'nothing'"; arguably, science couldn't completely change our conception of those ordinary-language words. Krauss seems to think that science has somehow made the word 'something' synonymous with 'something material' and 'nothing' synonymous with 'nothing material', but if that were so then those two-word phrases would be pleonastic (i.e., redundant), which clearly they're not. The set {2} contains nothing material, but it contains something; it's not the empty set. Second, the statement "Empirical discoveries continue to tell us that the Universe is the way it is, whether we like it or not" is so silly, so confused, that it would take me too long to spell out its defects. Third, "'something' and 'nothing' are physical concepts and therefore are properly the domain of science, not theology or philosophy" repeats Krauss's first error.

The second quotation is no better: "our universe arising from precisely nothing, embedded in a perhaps infinite space, or infinite collection of spaces, or spaces-to-be." Here again, Krauss uses 'nothing' idiosyncratically to mean 'nothing material'. Various critics have faulted him for a bait-and-switch in which he promises to explain how something arose from nothing but delivers, at most, a theory of how something material arose from something nonmaterial. It's not the difference between a "philosophical conception" of nothing (there isn't one) and some other conception of it; it's the difference between using the word 'nothing' in the standard, ordinary way and using it in an idiosyncratic, Pickwickian way.

I doubt that philosophers would bother to point out Krauss's obvious blunders if it weren't for the fact that Krauss is highly visible and (was for a time anyway) eager to tell folks that science has made philosophy obsolete.

Speaking for my own response to Question 4636: I offered two quotations of Krauss from his online interview with Sam Harris (in which Harris gave Krauss ample space to clarify his positions) in order to show how advanced training in science doesn't guarantee even minimal competence in philosophy. All three clauses in the first quotation are stunningly false: First, modern science hasn't "changed completely our conception of the very words 'something' and 'nothing'"; arguably, science couldn't completely change our conception of those ordinary-language words. Krauss seems to think that science has somehow made the word 'something' synonymous with 'something material' and 'nothing' synonymous with 'nothing material', but if that were so then those two-word phrases would be pleonastic (i.e., redundant), which clearly they're not. The set {2} contains nothing material, but it contains something; it's not the empty set. Second, the statement "Empirical discoveries continue to tell us that the...

Is there any general concern among academic philosophers that Richard Dawkins'

Is there any general concern among academic philosophers that Richard Dawkins' amateurish treatment of philosophy in 'The God Delusion' might be giving the false impression to the general public that complex debates in the philosophy of religion can be knocked down in a few pages of popular writing? Surely this is highly misleading, and obscures deep debates in academic philosophy.

Or even after a difficult day doing theoretical cosmology, to judge from what physicist Lawrence Krauss says about his new book, A Universe from Nothing, in an online interview with Sam Harris. Choice quotations:

"Modern science...has changed completely our conception of the very words 'something' and 'nothing'. Empirical discoveries continue to tell us that the Universe is the way it is, whether we like it or not, and 'something' and 'nothing' are physical concepts and therefore are properly the domain of science, not theology or philosophy."

"[D]o we have any physical reason to believe that such nothing was ever the case? Absolutely, because we are talking about our universe, and that doesn’t preclude our universe arising from precisely nothing, embedded in a perhaps infinite space, or infinite collection of spaces, or spaces-to-be" (my italics).

Those assertions are so confused it's hard to know where to begin. Even fellow physicists have lambasted Krauss for talking out of his hat.

Or even after a difficult day doing theoretical cosmology, to judge from what physicist Lawrence Krauss says about his new book, A Universe from Nothing , in an online interview with Sam Harris . Choice quotations: "Modern science...has changed completely our conception of the very words 'something' and 'nothing'. Empirical discoveries continue to tell us that the Universe is the way it is, whether we like it or not, and 'something' and 'nothing' are physical concepts and therefore are properly the domain of science, not theology or philosophy." "[D]o we have any physical reason to believe that such nothing was ever the case? Absolutely, because we are talking about our universe, and that doesn’t preclude our universe arising from precisely nothing , embedded in a perhaps infinite space , or infinite collection of spaces, or spaces-to-be" (my italics). Those assertions are so confused it's hard to know where to begin. Even fellow physicists have lambasted Krauss for talking...

I'm struggling to reconcile David Hume's critiques of science and religion. On

I'm struggling to reconcile David Hume's critiques of science and religion. On the one hand, he suggests that our application of cause/effect to natural phenomena is problematic since it ammounts to simply equating the present with the past. On the other hand, he warns us against believing in second-hand accounts of miracles since they are interruptions of natural law. Isn't our use of causal reasoning the way we determine the characteristics of natural law? Is this an inconsistency in his argument and, if so, does he address it anywhere?

If I may complicate things a bit: I don't question the scholarly accuracy of Prof. Baxter's reply on behalf of Hume, but I'd point out that he attributes to Hume a handful of inductive claims, for example: "We instinctively make and believe...predictions, anyway. We can't help it"; "People who rely on experience in this way tend to be happier and longer-lived than people who rely on other ways of coming to belief." Those are claims about human tendencies: not simply historical reports about how things have gone but inductive generalizations about how things (will) go under normal circumstances. If they were merely historical reports, we'd expect them to use the past tense rather than the present tense ("make," "believe," "rely," "tend"). Since they're inductive claims, by Hume's own lights we have no good reason to believe them. So it would seem, on this reconstruction of it, that Hume's argument for the practical rationality of our relying on induction contains premises he thinks we have no reason to accept. Maybe there's a tension in Hume's view after all?

Sorry to be a pest, but I still don't see how Hume escapes the problem. The claim that appeals to induction have natural force is itself an inductive claim: not a historical report of the force such appeals have had but a generalization about the force they continue to exert even on people the claimant has never met. So Hume seems to rely on the existence of a force when, by his own lights, he has no justification (not just ultimate but any justification) for believing that it exists. It looks as if Hume has to soften his critique of the justification of inductive beliefs or else stop arguing for the practical rationality of relying on induction.

If I may complicate things a bit: I don't question the scholarly accuracy of Prof. Baxter's reply on behalf of Hume, but I'd point out that he attributes to Hume a handful of inductive claims, for example: "We instinctively make and believe...predictions, anyway. We can't help it"; "People who rely on experience in this way tend to be happier and longer-lived than people who rely on other ways of coming to belief." Those are claims about human tendencies: not simply historical reports about how things have gone but inductive generalizations about how things (will) go under normal circumstances. If they were merely historical reports, we'd expect them to use the past tense rather than the present tense ("make," "believe," "rely," "tend"). Since they're inductive claims, by Hume's own lights we have no good reason to believe them. So it would seem, on this reconstruction of it, that Hume's argument for the practical rationality of our relying on induction contains premises he thinks we have no...

Hello there. Some contemporary philosophers say that Aquinas' arguments for the

Hello there. Some contemporary philosophers say that Aquinas' arguments for the existence of God are good arguments (eg John Haldane), whilst others think they are no good. Lots and lots of philosophers and philosophy books seem to not understand the arguments properly (I can remember being taught the arguments in the philosophy department of one of the most prominent universities in my country where, looking back, with hindsight I am pretty sure the teacher did not understand the arguments well at all). So who to believe?? Any suggestions would be interesting! Thank you in advance.

I go on to recommend some other texts below and address the topic of philosophical disagreements and consensus, but first a comment on Stephen Maitzen's observation about not being under any obligation to believe either side in a dispute over theistic arguments. I am not disagreeing with Stephen on this, but I do wonder about the general point of when one might be obligated to come to terms (oneself) in believing one side or another in a philosophical debate.... Here is a suggestion:

Let's say you have been appointed the task of establishing a university in a developing nation in which there are different religious communities (Christian and Islamic or Hindu and Buddhist, for example). You have enough funds to establish sound programs in engineering, the sciences, languages...and now you are considering how much to devote to a philosophy department and, perhaps more specifically, you must decide whether that department or a religion department should include scholars who are well trained and are excellent in teaching who would be able to engage students (undergraduate and graduate) with arguments for and against theism or Monism, beliefs in Karma, philosophical investigations of faith and reason.... Imagine the decision is wholly up to you and (for some reason) there is no body of neutral "experts" you can consult. I think that under THOSE conditions, you may well have an obligation (as part of your task in establishing a university) to sufficiently inquire into the debates to see whether they can be carried out with fairness, skill, openness to listening and considering carefully to both sides. I suppose this is not at all a disagreement with Stephen, for I am not arguing that under those circumstances you would have an obligation to believe one side or the other. But you might have an obligation to inquire further into the debates until you are able to form a reasonable overview of the terrain...

In terms of further reading on theistic arguments, I would recommend the Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy (SEP) entries on Philosophy of Religion as well as entries on specific arguments like the Cosmological argument. Oppy's book on Arguing about gods (recommended by Stephen) is brilliant in many respects, but I think it would be tough reading on your own; it is sometimes highly technical. There are some good recommendations in the SEP. I also co-edited The Routledge Companion to Theism (which Oppy contributed to) and this contains lots and lots of (what I hope you will find) interesting entries.

As for your general point about disagreements in the case of theism, I suggest that some disagreements in philosophy can stem, not from vigorous "objective" and "impartial" reasoning in which philosophers have enough time and energy to patiently review all the relevant arguments and objections. In this matter, theism is no different as a topic than, say moral realism (the conviction that there are moral facts that are as 'objective' as the fact that I am posting a reply to you now). Actually, topics in religion and ethics can be a bit more vexing than, say, philosophy of language, because the stakes are a bit high. Imagine that a philosophical argument in environmental ethics gives you convincing reasons to change how you live and what you eat and wear or whether you have children or adopt, etc... In matters of religion, some of those who grow up to become professional philosophers have had backgrounds in religion that are unfortunate (they were told to believe X on the basis of authority rather than good reasons) and this can taint one's interest in philosophically exploring religion as adults. So, background, time-constraints, patience or lack of patience... can all come in to account for there not being consensus (yet) in philosophy of religion and, I believe, in ethics, political theory, philosophy of mind and some other areas.

I hope we have not discouraged you from doing your own exploring of the philosophical literature. A nice pairing of opposing philosophers can be found in the book Debating Christian Theism.

I don't think you're under any obligation to believe either side in this dispute, but if you do end up believing one side, presumably it will be the side whose reasons strike you as on balance the most persuasive. The book described here looks to be a careful discussion of the arguments of Aquinas and others. You might start there.

Hi. My question regards Martin Heidegger and his work and philosophical project

Hi. My question regards Martin Heidegger and his work and philosophical project. To whom would you recommend reading Heidegger's texts? To whom would you recommend his philosophy? I was once told by a philosophy professor of mine that he was "The greatest thinker of the last century" and, consequently, when faced with one of his texts, I expected something grand. Yet, 'grand' is not exactly the word I'd use to describe my experience with it. Since then, I have read some other stuff by him and I can say that my opinion about his work has not really changed from that of the first time I encountered: a rather obfuscated writer with many pretensions; not a true thinker. On the other hand, the fact of seeing some personalities praising his work, without actually elaborating on their claims, makes the case rather shady. Is Heidegger being praised for his actual efforts as a thinker? Or is it all the buzz a mere tool to promote a certain view of things which, otherwise, would not find itself a place...

I share your skepticism about Heidegger and his work. But, to give him a fair shake, I'd recommend reading the long and detailed SEP entry on him, available at this link. It appeared in the SEP in 2011, which is surprisingly late given Heidegger's fame and influence. (By comparison, Derrida's entry appeared in 2006, Rorty's in 2001.) Anyway, the job of the entry-writer is not only to explicate the philosopher's major ideas but also to make a case for the interest and importance of those ideas. If, after reading the entry, you're not satisfied by the explication and persuaded that the ideas are interesting and important, then I'd recommend moving on to something else in philosophy. There's plenty of good stuff to be found elsewhere.

I share your skepticism about Heidegger and his work. But, to give him a fair shake, I'd recommend reading the long and detailed SEP entry on him, available at this link . It appeared in the SEP in 2011, which is surprisingly late given Heidegger's fame and influence. (By comparison, Derrida's entry appeared in 2006, Rorty's in 2001.) Anyway, the job of the entry-writer is not only to explicate the philosopher's major ideas but also to make a case for the interest and importance of those ideas. If, after reading the entry, you're not satisfied by the explication and persuaded that the ideas are interesting and important, then I'd recommend moving on to something else in philosophy. There's plenty of good stuff to be found elsewhere.

I have heard Christian apologists say that the concept of the fundamental

I have heard Christian apologists say that the concept of the fundamental equality of human kind originates in Genesis 1:27 and that it was wholly alien to ancient Greek thought. Can anyone think of anything in ancient Greek texts that would undermine the apologists' argument?

Let me talk about political equality, to narrow things down. I agree there is a sense of “equality in the eyes of God” in the Bible passage, and offhand I can’t think of that idea’s appearing anywhere in pre-Christian Greek thought. (I may well be overlooking something obvious, but nothing comes to mind.) But political equality, the idea of equal treatment under the law, is another matter. When archaic Greece first started to emerge as new and newly-reorganized cities on the Greek mainland, on the islands, and along the coast of Asia Minor, their politics, poetry, and architecture reflected the idea of isonomia “equality under the law.” For a capsule description of this cultural and political construct see J-P Vernant The Origin of Greek Thinking, a short but superb book.

Monarchs had largely disappeared from Greece by this time (800-600 BC). Cities were laid out with a central space, the agora, that symbolized citizens’ contributions to public discourse and policy. The military had changed so that armies were made up of citizen soldiers not just aristocratic warriors. Even in oligarchies and tyrannies, the assumption was that a government ruled by popular consent. All these elements of isonomia contribute to the idea of equality you may be asking about.

Plato certainly acknowledges such equality. Even in the Republic, his description of a class-structured society, his “noble lie” encourages the belief that all citizens are brothers and sisters, all equally born from the earth of the city and therefore equally part of its political organization. I find that as explicit a political concept of equality as you’re going to find in history, and it appears in Greece well before any substantive contact between Athens and Jerusalem.

I can't help you with the Greek texts. But I'd encourage you to indulge in the heresy of questioning 'the fundamental equality of human kind'. What does it mean? That every member of Homo sapiens inherently possesses the same worth, the same dignity, the same value, or the same natural rights simply in virtue of belonging our species? I don't think that claim stands up to scrutiny. Species membership, as such, can't have moral significance. Nor does the claim look more plausible if we assume that God made every member of our species 'in his own image'.

I am really fascinated with Hume's discovery that an "ought" cannot be derived

I am really fascinated with Hume's discovery that an "ought" cannot be derived from an "is." However, I've also read that the argument of Hume is a failure. My question then is, what can be the most reasonable response to this accusation of Hume? Is he right or wrong on the matter?

I prefer to think of it as Hume's claim rather than Hume's discovery, since "discovery" implies the truth of what's discovered, and I think Hume was wrong, at least on what seems to me the most natural interpretation of what he says in the Treatise of Human Nature. But the interpretation is part of the problem; scholars disagree on what Hume meant. There's a magazine article on this topic, written by one of Hume's defenders, at this link. There's also a recent collection of essays, Hume on Is and Ought (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), that goes into minute detail on the interpretation and evaluation of Hume's claim.

I prefer to think of it as Hume's claim rather than Hume's discovery, since "discovery" implies the truth of what's discovered, and I think Hume was wrong, at least on what seems to me the most natural interpretation of what he says in the Treatise of Human Nature . But the interpretation is part of the problem; scholars disagree on what Hume meant. There's a magazine article on this topic, written by one of Hume's defenders, at this link . There's also a recent collection of essays, Hume on Is and Ought (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), that goes into minute detail on the interpretation and evaluation of Hume's claim.

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

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

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

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

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

The nice thing about the Kantian approach is that it does not allow for exceptions in just my case. Of course, this result stems from the fact that the Kantian approach doesn't allow for exceptions in any case, which many philosophers regard as a reductio of the approach. For example, Kant famously prohibits lying to a murderer even to protect an innocent potential victim. Most people have strong intuitions to the contrary: lying is presumptively or defeasibly wrong, we say. A false theory can imply true consequences; it's the false consequences that are its undoing.

Is Kant's project of reconciling freedom with an apparently deterministic nature

Is Kant's project of reconciling freedom with an apparently deterministic nature still relevant given how Quantum mechanics does not (as I understand it) see nature as a deterministic totality?

In my opinion, it's no harder to reconcile freedom (free choice, responsible action) with determinism than to reconcile it with indeterminism. On the contrary, it may be easier; see, for example, this SEP entry. According to compatibilists, we can act freely even if determinism should turn out to be true and hence even if the indeterministic interpretation of quantum mechanics should turn out to be false. But no one thinks that the truth of indeterminism (whether quantum indeterminism or some other kind) by itself would suffice to give us freedom. The debate is about whether indeterminism is necessary for freedom. In my view, incompatibilists bear the burden of showing that it is and have failed to discharge that burden.

In my opinion, it's no harder to reconcile freedom (free choice, responsible action) with determinism than to reconcile it with indeterminism. On the contrary, it may be easier; see, for example, this SEP entry . According to compatibilists, we can act freely even if determinism should turn out to be true and hence even if the indeterministic interpretation of quantum mechanics should turn out to be false. But no one thinks that the truth of indeterminism (whether quantum indeterminism or some other kind) by itself would suffice to give us freedom. The debate is about whether indeterminism is necessary for freedom. In my view, incompatibilists bear the burden of showing that it is and have failed to discharge that burden.

St. Augustine wrote that he once stole some peaches. When he reflected on that

St. Augustine wrote that he once stole some peaches. When he reflected on that experience he observed that he got a rush from breaking the rules. He then concluded that he broke the rules for the sake of breaking the rules and that more broadly this meant that at least some human sins are committed for the sake of sin. I think that St. Augustine was using this example to refute the Socratic claim that lack of knowledge was the cause of sin. Is St. Augustine's claim valid? Does it follow from the fact that he got excited from breaking the rules that he broke the rules for the sake of breaking the rules rather than the excitement it generated? Are there other reasons why breaking the rules might be exciting other than a desire to break the rules for its own sake? Maybe he got excitement from stealing the peaches because it was risky or because he wanted to challenge authority or to feel less confined by rules.

Warning: I grind my methodological ax a bit in these answers.

1. "Does it follow from the fact that he got excited from breaking the rules that he broke the rules for the sake of breaking the rules rather than the excitement it generated?" No: it doesn't follow; the former doesn't logically imply the latter. A philosopher (indeed, any decent reasoner who understands the question) can answer that one.

2. "Are there other reasons why breaking the rules might be exciting other than a desire to break the rules for its own sake?" I can't see why not, but here you're better off asking a psychologist, someone who studies people's actual motivations in a systematic way.

3. "Maybe he got excitement from stealing the peaches because it was risky or because he wanted to challenge authority or to feel less confined by rules." Maybe so. For more than "Maybe so," you'd again need to consult someone with psychological insight into rule-breakers in general and (if possible) this rule-breaker in particular.

Warning: I grind my methodological ax a bit in these answers. 1. "Does it follow from the fact that he got excited from breaking the rules that he broke the rules for the sake of breaking the rules rather than the excitement it generated?" No: it doesn't follow; the former doesn't logically imply the latter. A philosopher (indeed, any decent reasoner who understands the question) can answer that one. 2. "Are there other reasons why breaking the rules might be exciting other than a desire to break the rules for its own sake?" I can't see why not, but here you're better off asking a psychologist, someone who studies people's actual motivations in a systematic way. 3. "Maybe he got excitement from stealing the peaches because it was risky or because he wanted to challenge authority or to feel less confined by rules." Maybe so. For more than "Maybe so," you'd again need to consult someone with psychological insight into rule-breakers in general and (if possible) this rule-breaker in particular...

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