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Is a beautiful painting a good painting because it's beautiful? If you answer

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 may be cases in which the beauty of the painting is what makes it good (or at least, is one reason why it is good). To appreciate this, we have to resist the thought that there must be universal rules that we apply in judging whether something is aesthetically good or not. Beauty might be sufficient on one occasion but not on another.

Perhaps an analogy with causes is helpful. Striking a match is neither necessary nor sufficient for lighting a match. I can light a match without striking it by placing its end in an existing flame. And I can strike a match without lighting it by doing so in an environment without oxygen (e.g. on the moon). But I still want to say that, under normal conditions, my striking the match causes the match to light. So if a good painting is beautiful, it may be that it is good because it is beautiful, though it may be that it is good because it is, in addition, deeply expressive or thought-provoking or.... Cases could differ.

I don't think we can say that a painting (beautiful or not) is good because it is good - the 'because' is misleading here. You might want to say that 'good' has no further definition (as Moore did about moral goodness), i.e. you can't define 'good painting' as 'beautiful painting'. This is a claim about the concept 'good'. Even if we accept this, we can allow that there are properties that make a good painting good - this is about the relation between the property of being good and other properties. Just as Moore thought that what makes a good action good is that it maximises happiness, so we can argue that makes a good painting good is its beauty, or perhaps a multiplicity of different aesthetic qualities. Or, put differently, we could think that a painting's being beautiful is a reason to think that it is good, without saying that being beautiful is the same thing as being good (as a painting).

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

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 cinema because I have no duty not to go to the cinema. But I have no right to steal, because I have a duty not to steal.

Claim: I have a claim right that someone else does x in certain cases in which they have a duty to me to do x. Claim rights can be ‘negative’ – they require that other people don’t interfere with me (e.g. the right not to be killed); or ‘positive’ – they require that other people do specific action (e.g. the right to be paid if I’m employed).

While every claim right entails a duty, not every duty entails a claim right. Some duties are based on rights, but some are not. I may have a duty to give to charity, but I have not violated anyone’s rights if I don’t. So talk of rights should not be confused with talk of what is morally right. And so I’m afraid we can’t simply say that because something is morally wrong, you have a (claim) right that it is not done to you. In the example you give, I would suggest that it is wrong to kill someone from a distance for pleasure because people have the right not to be treated this way. It is not that you have the right because it is wrong. The fact that it is always wrong (let’s suppose) doesn’t mean that it is based on a right, either. For instance, you have certain property rights, which make it wrong for people to take your property from you. But there are circumstances in which this is not true, e.g. forced purchase by the government, or commandeering your car in a police emergency. The system of property rights is not absolute, but it is a system of rights nevertheless.

So to ‘wrongs’ and ‘bads’. We often associate rights and wrongs with duties, esp. duties of justice - to do with minimally required treatment of others. Actions which do not violate a duty can nevertheless be bad. Exactly which actions qualify depend on your theory of duties. But some suggestions might include squandering opportunities to do good, failing to show kindness in a personal relationship, or other matters related to personal virtue, moral development, and seeking the good of others.

There’s much more to say about all these matters, but I hope that helps!

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

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 choices apply to actions and perhaps to future character traits, like generosity or courage. Suppose, then, someone chooses to act in a way that then causes them to feel shame, e.g. perhaps they betray a secret they had promised to keep. They choose to betray the secret, but they didn't choose to feel shame. We can't choose what to feel ashamed of.

Perhaps this looks like a threat to moral autonomy. I don't think so. Perhaps the person thinks that it is not wrong to betray this secret (e.g. it could save someone's life). Then they feel shame, but they think that the shame is inappropriate - they don't think that they did anything wrong even though they feel shame. Our feelings and our moral judgments don't always line up.

This situation strikes me as quite normal, when in adulthood, we reject some of the moral rules of our childhood, e.g. someone who feels guilty at not going to church on a Sunday morning, even though they stopped believing in God years before.

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

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 Edward Harcourt have argued for a psychoanalytically informed account of moral psychology and self-knowledge (as have I). But even among those sympathetic to psychoanalysis, the range of issues on which psychoanalytic thought is brought to bear has been relatively limited.

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

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.

Perhaps I can play the devil's advocate and rebuild the case for thinking that systematic ethical theory gets us nowhere.

There are actually many different systematic theories--utilitarian, contractarian, deontological, etc.--but the trouble is they clash. The defenders of such theories often agree on particular moral judgments, but as to the abstract principles that define these systems, the experts disagree. In fact, it is precisely disagreement over the principles of these systems that animates much current academic debate in ethics. Yet if not even the experts can agree on which of their systematic principles are correct and which incorrect, why should anyone else rely on them? The theories in question are just as disputable as any real moral decision they could be invoked to justify.

Again, systematic ethical theories are often defended on the grounds that they are like systematic theories in empirical science. (Rawls, for example, makes this move.) Yet empirical theories in science are reliable only because they can be tested by physical experiment. When it comes to systematic ethical theories, by contrast, no one knows how to conduct a physical experiment to test the principle of utility, or Rawls's theory of the original position, or T.M. Scanlon's version of the social contract, or Derek Parfit's "triple theory" of what counts as a wrongful act. Philosophy, regrettably, is mostly just talk, and the only way to confirm or refute any of it is with more talk. If, in fact, none of these theories can be confirmed in the way that theories of science can be confirmed, why suppose that any of these systematic ethical theories are reliable in the first place?

Beyond these points, ordinary people, outside of philosophy, typically reason about right and wrong in a manner that places no reliance on such theories. Their arguments are usually particular to the case. For example, if I say that firing a pistol at my neighbor is wrong because it could hurt him, I have certainly given what counts under ordinary circumstances as a good reason. But my reasoning needn't invoke anything so controversial as the principle of utility, or the theories of Rawls, Scanlon, Parfit, etc. My reasoning relies on a specific consequence. Again, if I say that my shooting at my neighbor would be wrong because I already know that his shooting at me would be wrong, then I seem to argue by analogy. (A is like B, and B is clearly wrong; therefore, A is probably wrong too.) I need systematic ethical theory for none of this.

Now if you have read this far and have an interest in the history of political philosophy, you will perhaps see that I am merely parroting an outlook that was expressed long ago by Edmund Burke in his Reflections on the Revolution in France. Burke's Reflections defends feudalism and chivalry, but antiquated politics aside, he also argues that real moral reasoning, if reliable, avoids sweeping generalizations about rightness, wrongness, political legitimacy, and so forth. Real moral reasoning is typically particular and analogical, and it is essentially inductive. It does not rely on deducing a conclusion from systematic principles that purport to state necessary and sufficient conditions for a moral concept. Burke defended this outlook during the later, conservative period of his life, but also during the earlier, liberal period.

(Notice that Burke isn't skeptical of all of our pre-theoretical ethical intuitions. He's just skeptical of sweeping ethical theories--ones that presume to lay out necessary and sufficient conditions for moral concepts. Of course, there are also many other sorts of systematic thought in ethics and philosophy--all quite innocuous--but it is the attempt to state necessary and sufficient conditions that is the bone of contention.)

In academic philosophy today, Burke's position is definitely a minority view. Yet it still seems to match how most people ordinarily reason, and so it is still worth giving careful thought to. My guess is that other contributors may wish to weigh in on this point, and to defend different conceptions. Nevertheless, the fundamental question Burke poses is this: Given the many theoretical objections to any of these systematic ethical theories, would it actually be reasonable to rely on one of them in making a real moral decision? Burke thought the answer was no.

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?

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 matters like this. It seems conceivable that something has always existed, and each thing has in turn caused the next. You may object that this just pushes the problem back. Your questions apply to any other universe as well. If this universe was caused by a previous (or another) universe, and so on, infinitely, that doesn't help. For instance, science tells us that time came into existence with the universe. Time itself ‘began’ with the beginning of the universe just under 14 billion years ago. That means that whatever caused the universe (if it has a cause) cannot exist ‘before’ the universe – there is no ‘before’ the universe! Instead, the cause of the universe must exist outside time. We think incorrectly then if we think that another universe, one that existed before this universe, caused this universe. If there is an infinite series of causes, this cannot be how it takes place. Hume might respond that we simply can’t know the answer here. So we should draw no conclusions. Bertrand Russell once said that the universe is ‘just there, and that’s all’.

Perhaps there was nothing and then something. What should puzzle us here? First, must everything have a cause? Hume argues that it is not self-contradictory to deny it. The same is true of ‘Something cannot come out of nothing’. That means that these claims are not certain. Our experience clearly supports these claims, but experience cannot establish that a claim holds universally. And we have no experience of such things as the beginnings of the universe. Second, the beginning of the universe is not an event like events that happen within the universe. For instance, it doesn’t take place in space or time, since both come into existence with the universe. We cannot apply principles we have developed for events within the universe, such as ‘everything has a cause’, to the universe as a whole.

When we turn to the question of God, there is the possibility of a distinct kind of reply. To think of God as self-causing is not usually to think that there was a moment in which God caused God's own existence. A better way of putting the thought, which some religious philosophers have done, is to claim that God's existence is necessary. God is the kind of being that must exist, that could not not exist. So God never came into existence. The philosopher Frederick Copplestone thought that your questions lead us to conclude that a God of this kind exists:

1. Things in the universe exist contingently (they may or may not exist, i.e. they can come into existence and go out of existence).
2. Something that exists contingently has (and needs) an explanation of why it exists; after all, its existence is not inevitable.
3. This explanation may be provided by the existence of some other contingent being. But then we must explain these other contingent beings.
4. To repeat this ad infinitum is no explanation of why anything exists at all.
5. Therefore, what explains why contingent beings exist at all can only be a non-contingent being.
6. A non-contingent being is one that exists necessarily, and doesn’t need some further explanation for why it exists.
7. This necessary being is God.

There are at least two problems with this argument. First, as Hume and Russell would argue, perhaps it is not true that every contingent thing requires an explanation for its existence. Second, it is unclear whether the concept of God as a being that must exist is coherent.

I haven’t answered your questions, but I hope I have given you a sense that they are widely shared!

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?

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, but perhaps there are others. Maybe to be good as a painting, i.e. a work of art, requires something either different from, or in addition to, beauty. I think it does. And knowing what makes a painting a good painting – knowing the standard for good art - will help us know how to discover whether something is good art or not. This might not be foolproof, or give clear answers every time. That's not an objection. Compare: I can say, perfectly well, how I can judge that there is a table in front of me – I see it – without claiming that my vision is always correct, never confused (think of fog and bad lighting).

So – this next bit is very contentious! Art is about the communication of thought and feeling. Tolstoy (‘What is art?’) says “Art is a human activity consisting in this, that one man consciously by means of certain external signs, hands onto others feelings he has lived through, and that others are infected by those feelings and also experience them.” There are lots of problems with this at it stands, but I think the kernel is right. To judge a piece of art as good or not, we must first understand it, and we should judge it in light of what we come to understand. We need to understand what the artist is trying to do, and then experience that effect ourselves. The first part covers their psychological processes, both conscious and unconscious, but also the artistic conventions and climate of their time (e.g. aesthetic conventions, systems of symbolism, available modes of production, the original purpose of the work, and much else). What you know will make a difference to what you perceive, just as a bird-spotter can see and distinguish different species when the uninformed will just see birds. With this deeper understanding, we can see what succeeds in the painting and what does not, what the artist is aiming at. We can also understand the profundity (or not) of what is expressed there. Some conceptual art, for instance, is gimmicky – once you get the idea, the artwork quickly loses interest. But it needn’t be, e.g. there can be much to reflect on in the way in which the concept is expressed through the medium.

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 not all beautiful paintings are good paintings. To know whether they are, I’d need to know much more about the painting and the context of its creation, and then see whether the painting succeeds in communicating what the artist aimed at.

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

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 breadth, the giving and challenging of reasons, the uncovering of assumptions, the consideration of counterexamples and implications, and so on.

Philosophy in universities is often described as a “continuing conversation” with the famous dead. (This cannot be exactly right, not least because the cultural significance and context of the views changes.) As in any conversation, we must understand what has been said (history of philosophy) and contribute our thoughts in response. To join a conversation that already exists, to work with the products of an ongoing enquiry, there is much that will need to be learned. And this forms the basis of what university students of philosophy study. But it is central to following the conversation that you understand first what drives it.

So I would recommend a aspiring philosophers start with books that discuss puzzles, rather than books that lay out the development of philosophy through time. I think once you are really into philosophy, and have a good sense of what it is to do philosophy, then the latter kind of book can be very useful. So in the first instance I would recommend, e.g. Stephen Law's The philosophy gym or Julian Baggini's The pig who wants to be eaten. These are more conversational books and so may help with learning how to talk about philosophy with others. Plato's dialogues - and there are many - remain paradigm examples of philosophical discussion; personally, I'd recommend the 'early dialogues' for more balanced conversation in the text, e.g. Crate, Laches, Protagoras, Gorgias. I don't think that there is a special trick to talking philosophy. John Campbell says that philosophy is thinking in slow motion and I agree.

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

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 characterised by an interest in the truth, and IF a good lawyer is one who is interested in protecting their client or success (assuming a combative legal system like we have in the USA or UK), then there can be a conflict of motivation in the two professions, which would make philosophers bad lawyers unless they become public prosecutors! But these are big and controversial assumptions.

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

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 perfectly possible that our moral obligations don't reflect our favoured normative theory (someone is going to be wrong, given all the disagreements, as long as we reject subjectivism). So, if utilitarianism were the right system, then your moral obligations would reflect that, even if you disagree. But I agree with you that utilitarianism is the wrong moral system. One reason I think this is that I find it very unrealistic, psychologically (this has been discussed at length in the work of Bernard Williams, among others). Like Williams, I think that moral obligations have been constructed to fit the real world, but also - like him - I think that many of these reflect past prejudices and imbalances of power, and that we would do better to change these as we come to recognise their origins.

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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