Is a beautiful painting a good painting because it's beautiful? If you answer "Yes" I would say that a beautiful painting is a good painting because it's good, and not because it's beautiful. What would you say?

This is a very similar question to another I answered a few months ago, so apologies if you've read that and are looking for a different reply! I think that there are some paintings that are good paintings at least in part because they are beautiful. Being beautiful is one way in which a painting can be good; beauty is one kind of aesthetic good. But there are others, such as being thought-provoking or communicating deep emotion. So being beautiful is not necessary for being good as a painting. And there may be cases in which a beautiful painting is not good. Some beautiful works of art can be relatively superficial, e.g. they may express a superficial emotion (‘isn’t it lovely?’) or view of life, leaving us wondering dissatisfied with it as art, even if we admire the way it looks on the surface. So beauty is not be sufficient for being a good painting. But we cannot infer from these points that when a painting is beautiful and good, its being beautiful is not what makes it good. In other words, there...

If I believe that an action, e.g. killing-someone-from-a-distance-for-personal-pleasure-in-the-act-of-killing, with no extenuating circumstances, is always wrong, must I also believe that not-having-that-action-done-to-me is my "right"? Or can "rights" only exist in the presence of an enforcing authority, while wrongs can exist with or without an authority? Under what circumstances could an act committed by a person be judged morally as a "bad" rather than a "wrong"? I apologise if this reads like an academic question, but it comes from a conversation I had tonight with my wife. Thank you.

Perhaps the easiest way to answer your question is to start from a slightly different place. We need to distinguish the idea of rights from the idea of what is morally right (and wrong). Once we’ve made that distinction, we can then look at the further distinction between what is morally wrong and what is morally bad. The idea of rights extends widely. I have a right to go to the cinema, a right not to be killed, a right to be paid (given my contract with my employer), a right to have children, a right to the exclusive use of my house. Some rights are moral rights, some are legal, some are the results of contracts. In general, a right can be understood as an entitlement to perform, or refrain from, certain actions and/or an entitlement that other people perform, or refrain from, certain actions. Many rights involve a complex set of such entitlements. The two central features of rights are: Privilege/liberty: I have a privilege/liberty to do x if I have no duty not to do x. I have the right to go to the...

We feel we choose our moral choices but when somebody feels shame do they choose to feel that shame even though that feeling seems inescapable?

Most philosophers, me included, would say that we do not choose to feel what we do. Ever since the ancient Greeks, emotions have been thought of as 'passions', because we are passive, not active, in experiencing emotions. We 'suffer' or 'undergo' them, rather than bring them about. It may be that we can make choices, e.g. about what kind of person to be, that will change our character and that will result in our having different emotions in the future. For example, we may choose to face our fears, to become more courageous, and then feel less or fewer fears in the future. But we cannot choose what to feel in the present. Or again, we may have some indirect control over what we feel, by focusing our attention on certain aspects of a situation rather than others. But we can't directly control, by choice, what we feel. We do make moral choices as well. Given that we don't choose our emotions, it follows that when someone feels shame, this is not a moral choice they make. Instead, we might say that our moral...

Has philosophy learned anything from psychoanalysis? Kal

The quick answer is that 'analytic' philosophy has not, but 'continental' philosophy has. Almost all the major figures in continental philosophy after Husserl engaged with psychoanalytic thinking - Heidegger, Scheler, Merleau-Ponty, Sartre, Derrida, Foucault, and the French feminist school of Irigaray, Cixous and Kristeva. So continental philosophy as a discipline tends to work with and from an awareness of psychoanalytic thinking, and this has an effect on a very wide range of issues (language, ethics, gender, mind, politics...) Analytic philosophy has been more sceptical about the truth of the psychoanalytic model of the mind, and engaged far more with cognitive, and more recently social, psychology. It has only begun to deal with the unconscious mind through these empirical theories. There are exceptions; Richard Wollheim and Jonathan Lear have written widely on psychoanalysis, and a number of writers in ethics, e.g. Charles Taylor, Harry Frankfurt, Richard Moran, John Cottingham, David Velleman, and...

It seems that we adopt a formal ethical theory based on our pre-theoretical ethical intuitions. Our pre-theoretical ethical intuitions seem to be the product of our upbringing, our education and the society we live in and not to be entirely consistent, since our upbringing and our education often inculcate conflicting values. So how do we decide which of our pre-theoretical ethical intuitions, if any, are right? It seems that we can only judge them in the light of other pre-theoretical ethical intuitions and how can we know that they are right? If we judge them against a formal ethical system, it seems that the only way we have to decide whether a formal ethical theory, say, consequentialism, is right is whether it is consistent with our pre-theoretical ethical intuitions, so we are going nowhere, it seems.

This is a nice question. Essentially, I agree with your description of what we need to do, but not your conclusion that this gets us nowhere. The process that you describe is known as ‘reflective equilibrium’ (named and defended by John Rawls). In coming to discover what is morally right or good, we reflect on both our individual judgements based on pre-theoretical intuitions and on broader moral principles or theoretical arguments. As you point out, it is very unlikely that these are coherent to start with. So we go back and forth between the individual judgements and the principles adjusting each in the light of the other until we reach coherence or 'equilibrium'. If you think that what is morally right is completely independent of what we think, then you may be concerned that such coherence is no guide to the truth. Indeed, philosophers have objected that this method may just make someone's moral prejudices more systematic, leading them away from the truth. But for that reason, and because there is...

We all know beyond the universe, there's nothing. How come is that possible? Theory says the big bang happened, and that theory has been accepted since it was "released". But where was the energy that caused it? And how did it existed, if there was nothing? Is there anything in the "nothing"? And, if we talk about religion, how did god exist? Who made it? How was he created if there was nothing? Some people say it created himself, but how the heck that happened if there was nothing?

I realise this may not be satisfactory, but many philosophers and scientists think that we cannot know the answers to your questions. You start by saying that we know that beyond the universe there is nothing. But this may be one of the things that we cannot know. If there was something, something physical, before the universe then this would be the origin of the energy that gave rise to the Big Bang. One possible explanation, then, is that there are or have been many other universes (the multiverse theory). Of course, there is considerable difficulty (impossibility?) in collecting any empirical evidence for this theory, since such evidence would need to come from beyond the limits of spacetime itself. But perhaps something - some universe or other - has always existed; there was never nothing. Many people find this claim more puzzling than the thought that once there was nothing, and then there was something. But why? The philosopher David Hume asked us to consider the limits of our knowledge about...

Are all beautiful paintings good paintings? If you answer Yes I would say that it's impossible to view all the beautiful paintings in the world, so it would be impossible to conclude that all beautiful paintings are good paintings. If you answer No, if you view a beautiful painting how can you judge whether it's good or not, if not all beautiful paintings are good paintings? What would your answer be?

I’m going to say ‘no’. But before answering your challenge to saying 'no', a comment on your challenge to saying ‘yes’. You assume that in order to know that all beautiful paintings are good paintings, I must view all beautiful paintings. But this assumes, in turn, that the only way we can establish a connection between being beautiful and being good is through repeated experience, i.e. empirically. That’s not, I think, true. There could be – indeed, I think there is – a conceptual connection between beauty and aesthetic goodness. Compare: to know that all vixens are foxes, I don’t need to find all the vixens in the world, and check that they are foxes. I just need to understand the word ‘vixen’, meaning ‘female fox’. So if we could show that ‘beauty’ is, conceptually, a type of aesthetic goodness, a standard of what is good, aesthetically speaking, then we can know – without checking – that all beautiful paintings will be good. But I’m not satisfied with this answer. Beauty is one kind of aesthetic good...

Is there a particular order philosophy comprar viagra should be learned--should it be chronologically from the earliest to the latest, or by branch of philosophy, or by school of thought? Also, what starting book do you recommend for aspiring philosophers that teaches how to TALK philosophy to a person and not just lecturing or writing it?

I think that the philosophy in the first instance should be learned by engaging with the puzzles that it discusses. It is only after one has got into a sense of the puzzles and how philosophers tackle them that it really makes sense to study the chronology or schools of philosophy. I think this is because at the heart of philosophy is philosophising, doing philosophy rather than studying philosophy. Philosophy is about making sense of ourselves and our situation. To do philosophy is to approach the goal of making sense in a particular way, to engage in a certain kind of practice of enquiry. Philosophical questions aren’t solved by empirical investigation (though that doesn’t mean such investigation is irrelevant), there is a particular emphasis on conceptual clarification, many distinctive marks of philosophizing derive from the enquiries of Socrates, such as an unwillingness to sit with easy or superficial answers, a careful attention to language, the insistent development of a point in both depth and...

Do philosophers make good lawyers? If not is that due to a fault in the legal profession or philosophy itself?

It's probably hard to generalise, since there are any number of other traits that make someone a good lawyer, apart from those shared with doing philosophy. However, I understand that law firms are very interested in taking people who have done a philosophy degree, and a good number of philosophy students show an interest in studying law. Several skills that are very important to philosophy are also important to law, in particular the abilities to make sense of abstract information and convoluted sentences, to construct arguments on both sides of a case, to anticipate objections and prepare replies, to spot fallacies and weaknesses in arguments, to integrate a wide range of different kinds of relevant information, and to write and speak clearly and persuasively, breaking down complexity into simple components. There may be other relevant traits that help as well, such as an interest in what is right or just, a good memory, motivation for hard work, and so on. On the other hand, IF philosophers are...

Should moral obligations be constructed to fit within the real world, or within a hypothetical utopia? For example, I recognize that utilitarianism is the system most likely to be enacted by a ruling majority, because it will favor that majority, should my moral obligations reflect utilitarianism, even though I do not think it is the right system?

Morality must, I think, be something that can guide our choices and actions. And to do this, it must take account of what is realistic - morality needs to be morality for human beings, with the kind of psychology and concerns that we have. But what is 'realistic'? It's not the same as how we find many people behaving, but how it is possible for them to behave. What we can realistically hope for from people is less than utopian behaviour, but it is much more than a more pessimistic view of 'the real world'. Your example about majority rule is a case in point. Democracy respects majority rule more than any other political system, and yet from its beginnings, at least in modern times, it has also incorporated restrictions on what the majority can do. And that is because we can not only hope, but expect, people to take account of the interests of those they disagree with (altruism is just as much part of human nature as selfishness - the trouble is usually with how the two balance out). I think it is...

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