Advanced Search

The ancient Greek philosophical schools taught comprehensive philosophies of

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

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

great question!

ap

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

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

Hi Philosophers,

Hi Philosophers, I have a burning question that is troubling me relating the religion versus science debate. I hope I articulate it well enough. Here goes. Mathematically, physicists are close to proving that a multiverse exists. Assuming they do prove this, and that as part of this proof it is deemed that infinity universes exist with both every conceivable and inconceivable possibility and outcome occurring throughout, then is it not fair to say that God certainly exists in at least one of these infinite possibility universes? Adversely, it is also fair to assume that God certainly does not exist in at least one of these universes? Then consider that if God certainly exists in at least one universe, and he is the all-seeing, all-knowing God that religion states he is, then how can he certainly not exist in at least one of the infinite universes? To say that God definitely exists is to, by definition of God, say that he exists everywhere and created everything, yet this notion within the multiverse...

Great question (and great response by Allen). Let me just add a tiny bit, by encouraging you to check out both Norman Malcolm's and Alvin Plantinga's work on the ontological argument. (The latter is a lot more technical and difficult, so start with the former.) From them you get something like the idea that if God exists at all, He exists necessarily (for God surely isn't a contingent being); to say that God exists necessarily is to say that He exists in every possible world. But now, if it's even possible that God exists -- i.e. the idea of God contains no contradictions -- then God would exist in at least one possible world. But if He exists at all He exists in every possible world, so if He exists in one PW He exists in every PW. Now is it possible that God exists? Does the idea of God involve any contradictions? Lots of discussion in the history of philosophical theology on that topic (lots of purported contradictions posed, then response to), but lots of people, even many ordinary atheists, think there's no contradiction in the idea of God, just merely that God contingently doesn't exist. So if you construe the multiverse theory to mean that every possible world exists (not sure it should be construed this way, but let's suppose), and if you think the idea of God involves no contradictions, then it sounds like the multiverse theory could support this line of argument toward God's existence.

hope that's useful!

ap

Great question (and great response by Allen). Let me just add a tiny bit, by encouraging you to check out both Norman Malcolm's and Alvin Plantinga's work on the ontological argument. (The latter is a lot more technical and difficult, so start with the former.) From them you get something like the idea that if God exists at all, He exists necessarily (for God surely isn't a contingent being); to say that God exists necessarily is to say that He exists in every possible world. But now, if it's even possible that God exists -- i.e. the idea of God contains no contradictions -- then God would exist in at least one possible world. But if He exists at all He exists in every possible world, so if He exists in one PW He exists in every PW. Now is it possible that God exists? Does the idea of God involve any contradictions? Lots of discussion in the history of philosophical theology on that topic (lots of purported contradictions posed, then response to), but lots of people, even many ordinary atheists, think...

After studying philosophy, I am now so skeptical of everything that I no longer

After studying philosophy, I am now so skeptical of everything that I no longer know what I should believe in. I have no idea whom I should vote for in election or whether I should be voting at all, what religion I ought to believe in if any at all, why I should bother getting married, or even why I should bother getting out of bed in the mornings. Have you found that philosophy leads to more skepticism and knowing nothing rather than clarification?

This is a terrific question/problem, and Stephen's response is a very good one. I merely want to point out that it's possible to have another kind of response to the situation you're confronting. I would characterize the situation as one where you realize that everything is ultimately connected to everything else, every belief has infinite implications that require exploring before they are rationally affirmed, to every position there is an objection, to every objection there is a response, and the whole process never ends ... Now if you believe that in order to know anything, or act in some rational way, the process of inquiry that produces that knowledge or action must be "completed", then you'll be in the bind you describe. But maybe THAT is the belief to be given up (and maybe the bind you describe is itself a key argument for giving up that belief). Instead recognize that deliberation and explanation must always come to a temporary end at some point -- and that you should always believe/act with the best set of principles that are available to you, with the information that is available to you, at the time of believing/acting, w/o pretense that the process is complete. Then, rather than feel frustrated, you might even feel exhilarated by realizing that the process of inquiry never ends: the world is infinitely richer, deeper, more interesting than we can possibly realize. (By way of rough analogy: if you find "life" interesting, beautiful, exhilirating, then when you discover that the number of possible life forms may be infinite, is that a source of frustration or exhilaration? Frustration if you believe that unless the process of cataloging life forms is complete then something is missing; exhilarating if you celebrate the infinite set of possibilities.)

Or from another direction. Suppose you realize that you have no better reason (ultimately) to get out of the bed in the morning than to stay in bed. If so, then that infinite process of deliberation is neutral with respect to whether you get out of bed. So don't bother undertaking it, at least not every morning. Instead do your ordinary, limited deliberation: "well sleeping is lovely, but so is keeping my job. So I better get out of bed." That is pretty darn good reasoning, if you ask me, even if it isn't "ultimate" or "completed" reasoning -- but it's also the only kind of reasoning that matters on a day-to-day basis. (And when you realize how awesome is the infinite set of deliberations that you could ultimately undertake, you might find it quite exhilarating to get out of bed -- because after you get off work today you can get home and do a little philosophy ....)

best,

ap

This is a terrific question/problem, and Stephen's response is a very good one. I merely want to point out that it's possible to have another kind of response to the situation you're confronting. I would characterize the situation as one where you realize that everything is ultimately connected to everything else, every belief has infinite implications that require exploring before they are rationally affirmed, to every position there is an objection, to every objection there is a response, and the whole process never ends ... Now if you believe that in order to know anything, or act in some rational way, the process of inquiry that produces that knowledge or action must be "completed", then you'll be in the bind you describe. But maybe THAT is the belief to be given up (and maybe the bind you describe is itself a key argument for giving up that belief). Instead recognize that deliberation and explanation must always come to a temporary end at some point -- and that you should always believe/act with...

One of the obvious ways computers are limited is in their representation of

One of the obvious ways computers are limited is in their representation of numbers. Since computers represent numbers as bit strings of finite length, they can only represent finitely many, and to a finite degree of precision. Is it a mistake to think the humans, unlike computers, can represent infinitely many numbers with arbitrary precision? We obviously talk about things like the set of all real numbers; and we make use of symbols, like the letter pi, which purport to represent certain irrational numbers exactly. But then I'm not sure whether things like this really do show that we can represent numbers in a way that is fundamentally beyond computers.

This one is basically above my pay grade, but I'll take a stab. I share your doubt that humans "can represent infinitely many numbers with arbitrary precision" in any way beyond what we find with computers. After all, our own hardware (our brain) is finite in the same ways/senses as are computers, so if sheer finitude establishes the limits of representation it's hard to see why we would differ from computers. If, on the other hand, you're imagining this as an argument for dualism -- i.e. our minds are distinct from our brains because they have infinite capacity in a way that our brains don't -- then you would definitely first have to prove the infinite capacity of our minds. Simply writing or thinking "pi" isn't enough; the fact that "pi" represents something infinitely expandable/expanded doesn't make the symbol "pi" infinite. The clearest proof would be if we could grasp (say) the complete infinite expansion of pi in one mental glance -- but we can't. At best we can grasp THAT the expansion goes on to infinity, just as we can grasp THAT the natural numbers go on to infinity. That's at least one important sense in which we have a concept of infinite, in which our minds represent the infinite -- and while philosophers such as Descartes/Malebranche might invoke that in their argument for dualism, it doesn't strike me as very convincing. Realizing "I can always add 1" just doesn't strike me as a thought that is interestingly infinite in content, rather merely as one that refers to the infinite without fully capturing it. And as Aristotle suggested, we must distinguish the "possibly infinite" from the "actually infinite" -- when we grasp that some sequence "goes on to infinity" we are grasping that, were we to actually survive to infinity, we would not complete (computing) the sequence -- but that is something less than saying the infinite actually exists. As far as I know, computers are just as able to represent the infinite as we are (in this sense), and this sense falls short of supporting dualism. Putting all that together, I don't think we've got a case for distinguishing the capacities/nature of minds v computers this way.

This one is basically above my pay grade, but I'll take a stab. I share your doubt that humans "can represent infinitely many numbers with arbitrary precision" in any way beyond what we find with computers. After all, our own hardware (our brain) is finite in the same ways/senses as are computers, so if sheer finitude establishes the limits of representation it's hard to see why we would differ from computers. If, on the other hand, you're imagining this as an argument for dualism -- i.e. our minds are distinct from our brains because they have infinite capacity in a way that our brains don't -- then you would definitely first have to prove the infinite capacity of our minds. Simply writing or thinking "pi" isn't enough; the fact that "pi" represents something infinitely expandable/expanded doesn't make the symbol "pi" infinite. The clearest proof would be if we could grasp (say) the complete infinite expansion of pi in one mental glance -- but we can't. At best we can grasp THAT the expansion goes on...

In the Monty Python football sketch, does the line, "Hegel is arguing that the

In the Monty Python football sketch, does the line, "Hegel is arguing that the reality is merely an a priori adjunct of non-naturalistic ethics" make any sense at all or is it gibberish that would only make sense to Hegel himself? Put more simply, does it mean that reality (which ought to be universal?) is something that can be known without prior the more important dimension of emotive ethical experience?

who KNOWS what would make sense to Hegel ... :-) Personally I appreciate your suggested interpretation of that sentence, though I can't quite see how to get from the Python to your (very reasonable) exegesis ... So I'm going to go with "it is indeed gibberish," but add that (with due credit to hegel) it probably wouldn't make much sense to Hegel either (who also would probably not have been amused by Monty Python....) :-)

best, ap

who KNOWS what would make sense to Hegel ... :-) Personally I appreciate your suggested interpretation of that sentence, though I can't quite see how to get from the Python to your (very reasonable) exegesis ... So I'm going to go with "it is indeed gibberish," but add that (with due credit to hegel) it probably wouldn't make much sense to Hegel either (who also would probably not have been amused by Monty Python....) :-) best, ap

If animals have feelings then isn't that enough reason not to kill them for food

If animals have feelings then isn't that enough reason not to kill them for food? Some would say that self awareness is required. Why would that be relevant? Could the idea that a creature without self awareness lacks a unified state of being over time be a reason? They just sort of exist one moment to the next. Death for them would no different than the passage of time. But then how can mere concepts of self awareness have such an ontological significance? Much of their experience probably or may not be especially pleasurable and many wouldn't exist in the first place if they weren't bred to be eaten. I wonder if the inability of most people to form a moral opinion opposed to animal eating shows something dreadful about the human condition. Here I am sitting and eating meat while asking these questions in the abstract while I've never had the willpower to go vegetarian for any extended period just in case my fears about meat eating are right.

Terrific question, and I completely share your intuitions (not to mention your weak-willedness....). If pain or suffering are somehow intrinsically 'bad', then it must be right that killing animals is bad (assuming that involves inflicting pain, of course). Or more precisely, causing that pain without having some more compelling overriding reason is bad (and presumably we don't with respect to animals for food -- since human beings can live without meat, and even live well -- and indeed many argue that, economically, meat-eating causes horrible suffering all over the globe etc.) My guess is that those who might invoke 'self-awareness' as a justification for meat-eating -- who must merely presume that animals lack it, by the way; hard to know! -- are perhaps thinking that having self-awareness increases the degree of suffering of the animal. after all, knowing you are about to die, to be killed, along with some idea that the process will be unpleasant, indeed increases the suffering (and empirically it seems that animals in slaughterhouses clearly know something is up ....). But (to expand your thought) that doesn't somehow override the first point but emphasizes it: if self-awareness is bad because it increases the suffering/pain, then that must be because pain is bad -- in which case self-awareness must not be necessary for the moral impermissibility of meat-eating. (and if the self-awareness does NOT increase the suffering in the process, then, as you suggest, it's not so clear why having it would rule out the eating of meat.) so, basically, I agree with you ...!

best, ap

Terrific question, and I completely share your intuitions (not to mention your weak-willedness....). If pain or suffering are somehow intrinsically 'bad', then it must be right that killing animals is bad (assuming that involves inflicting pain, of course). Or more precisely, causing that pain without having some more compelling overriding reason is bad (and presumably we don't with respect to animals for food -- since human beings can live without meat, and even live well -- and indeed many argue that, economically, meat-eating causes horrible suffering all over the globe etc.) My guess is that those who might invoke 'self-awareness' as a justification for meat-eating -- who must merely presume that animals lack it, by the way; hard to know! -- are perhaps thinking that having self-awareness increases the degree of suffering of the animal. after all, knowing you are about to die, to be killed, along with some idea that the process will be unpleasant, indeed increases the suffering (and empirically it...

How are branches ("or fashions") of philosophy created or are they created

How are branches ("or fashions") of philosophy created or are they created without consensus? For example, I see on Wikipedia, a philosophy a mind, a philosophy of science, a philosophy of pain, and so on. But why not a philosophy of the fashion industry, why not a philsophy of simple living and so on?

I agree with Andrew Pessin. If you agree with Plato that

The one who feels no distaste in sampling every study,

and who attacks the task of learning gladly and cannot

get enough of it, we shall justly pronounce the lover

of wisdom, the philosopher.

then, for any x, there can be a philosophy of x, which would be the philosophical investigation of the fundamental assumptions, methods, and goals of x (including metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical issues).

As Richard Bradley has said, "Philosophy is 99 per cent about critical reflection on anything you care to be interested in".

As to which values of x succeed in becoming an established part of philosophy, I think Pessin has it right: It's a question of how many other philosophers also want to study x philosophically; it's not a question of whether x is somehow antecedently "worthy" of being discussed philosophically. Anything has that worth potentially.

This is a terrific question and I look forward to seeing some of my colleagues' answers to this one ... no doubt many different factors are in play, from those designing courses and curricula, to those editing journals and anthologies and reference sites (such as wikipedia or Stanford Encyclopedia of PHilosophy), to marketers/publishers trying to sell books etc ... also as research progresses, things may begin to branch off in semi-'natural' ways ... there's 'philosophy of science' which historically was quite broad -- but now with hyper-specialization it's common to see philosophy of x, where x is some particular science (chemistry, biology, etc) ... I have a colleague who is working with just a few others to develop a whole new sub-discipline called 'philosophy of paleontology' (check out the book by Derek Turner of that name if it interests you) ... and of course one other factor is simply personalities: if someone became interested in 'philosophy of the fashion industry' and put his/her mind to it,...

Utilitarianistically speaking, is there any difference between forced population

Utilitarianistically speaking, is there any difference between forced population transfer and ethnic cleansing?

I think the question is far too ill-defined to answer meaningfully. in some ways the two activities might be identical (if, say, the population you're transferring is all the members of some undesired ethnic group). Or of course one can ethnic cleanse w/o transferring (for example by genocide), so they're not identical -- but then (presumably) some kind of utilitarian would hold that transferring is 'better' than that form of ethnic cleansing at least (though how you calculate utility when mass death is involved is far from clear). On the other hand if you add up the increased utility of the (presumably evil) people DOING the cleansing, then it may turn out that ethnic cleansing of the genocidal sort is better than forced transfer. And when it comes to 'forced transfer' there are many different possible scenarios -- lots (millions, i think?) of refugees were transferred after WW2, and while it sounds horrible it may well have resulted in greater overall utility for the transferees once people are settled into new, better political arrangements. Or if you're thinking of forced transfer along the Nazi deportation lines, that was obviously pretty terrible from the perspective of the transferees (though who can calculate how the Nazi's utility increased thereby). Then there's 'forced transfer' of the 'persecution' variety etc..... so it seems to me (in short) the two key terms are subject to many different variations in denotation at least, and the idea of calculating various utilities so poorly defined, that the question itself does not offer itself as one capable of being answered ...

hope that's useful-

ap

I think the question is far too ill-defined to answer meaningfully. in some ways the two activities might be identical (if, say, the population you're transferring is all the members of some undesired ethnic group). Or of course one can ethnic cleanse w/o transferring (for example by genocide), so they're not identical -- but then (presumably) some kind of utilitarian would hold that transferring is 'better' than that form of ethnic cleansing at least (though how you calculate utility when mass death is involved is far from clear). On the other hand if you add up the increased utility of the (presumably evil) people DOING the cleansing, then it may turn out that ethnic cleansing of the genocidal sort is better than forced transfer. And when it comes to 'forced transfer' there are many different possible scenarios -- lots (millions, i think?) of refugees were transferred after WW2, and while it sounds horrible it may well have resulted in greater overall utility for the transferees once people are...

Compatiblism is attractive because it finds room for human freedom in a

Compatiblism is attractive because it finds room for human freedom in a deterministic world. But objections that compatiblism is evasive or incoherent strike me as persuasive. Setting aside the indeterministic defense of free will, how might the hard determist endorse the claim that humans generally do bear moral responsibility for their actions? Or would the hard determinist have to bite this bullet and conclude that moral responsibility is illusory if we have no free will?

I like Stephen's answer, but I think you ARE asking about the hard determinist -- you're convinced by hard determinism about free will (i.e. tht determinism rules out freedom, not (directly) that it rules out moral responsibility), and you're worried about having to give up moral responsibility. But I suppose a lot rides on how one defines moral responsibility -- I don't think it's somehow intrinsic to the concept that we have to have freedom in the indeterminist way in order to be morally responsible. Dennett, for example, makes pretty powerful arguments that we don't and really shouldn't care about whether we 'could have done otherwise' generally speaking -- see Elbow Room. Now you could use that point to defend compatibilist accounts of freedom -- we're free despite determinism's being true -- and then hold that moral responsibility requires freedom. But since you are persuaded against compatibilism (though I hope you've read Dennett...), why exactly couldn't you hold that moral resopnsibility does not require freedom after all? That is, use Dennett's arguments to develop a general account of moral responsibility independent of whether we 'could have done otherwise,' and cut out the freedom middle man altogether? (You might also read Frankfurt's accounts of moral responsibility as well -- lots of literature there.)

hope that's useful --

ap

I like Stephen's answer, but I think you ARE asking about the hard determinist -- you're convinced by hard determinism about free will (i.e. tht determinism rules out freedom, not (directly) that it rules out moral responsibility), and you're worried about having to give up moral responsibility. But I suppose a lot rides on how one defines moral responsibility -- I don't think it's somehow intrinsic to the concept that we have to have freedom in the indeterminist way in order to be morally responsible. Dennett, for example, makes pretty powerful arguments that we don't and really shouldn't care about whether we 'could have done otherwise' generally speaking -- see Elbow Room. Now you could use that point to defend compatibilist accounts of freedom -- we're free despite determinism's being true -- and then hold that moral responsibility requires freedom. But since you are persuaded against compatibilism (though I hope you've read Dennett...), why exactly couldn't you hold that moral resopnsibility does...

I was wondering if Nagel's argument in "what it is like to be a bat" or the

I was wondering if Nagel's argument in "what it is like to be a bat" or the Qualia "Knowledge argument" can be used to prove that certain non physical knowledge can only be attained through experience? For example, could I say that I could read about being an enterpeneur, learn everything there is to know about running my own business but that there is certain knowledge I will only attain when I actually start my business? Thank you Mike

Good question. Of course we'd have to be very careful re: what we mean by 'non-physical' knowledge. For sometimes what people mean when they suggest 'you can't know everything about being an entrepreneur until you actually try it' is merely that there are various facts, bits of advice/wisdom, etc., that no one is likely to teach you in advance, that cannot be anticipated, etc., that you'll only come across and learn when you're acquiring experience in the activity -- but that on its own entails nothing about whether those facts are "non-physical." For a rough example, you might not be able to fully understand just how difficult the local tax code is for business until you try navigating it yourself for your own business, but that doesn't mean those facts about the tax code are non-physical in any way. In short: sometimes experience is necessary simply to acquire perfectly "physical," factual knowledge. But then again, there remains room for something else, the 'what's it like'-ness of it all. One of the early waves of response to Nagel's argument was precisely this, viz. just how far does that "what it's like" locution extend -- it's one thing to suggest there's something it's like to be a bat that we humans can never fully grasp or conceive, but is there something it's like to be one specific bat v. another? to be you, v. me? to be a golfer v. entrepreneur etc.? Perhaps -- or perhaps that locution just isn't/shouldn't be so fine-grained as to distinguish between individuals int his way, and is best applied across large types such as species. So this is a long-winded way of NOT answering your question -- only to suggest that perhaps there's nothing really "non-physical" to learn about pursuing various activities and that the "what it's like" idea isn't meant to be so fine-grained ...

hope that's useful!

ap

Good question. Of course we'd have to be very careful re: what we mean by 'non-physical' knowledge. For sometimes what people mean when they suggest 'you can't know everything about being an entrepreneur until you actually try it' is merely that there are various facts, bits of advice/wisdom, etc., that no one is likely to teach you in advance, that cannot be anticipated, etc., that you'll only come across and learn when you're acquiring experience in the activity -- but that on its own entails nothing about whether those facts are "non-physical." For a rough example, you might not be able to fully understand just how difficult the local tax code is for business until you try navigating it yourself for your own business, but that doesn't mean those facts about the tax code are non-physical in any way. In short: sometimes experience is necessary simply to acquire perfectly "physical," factual knowledge. But then again, there remains room for something else, the 'what's it like'-ness of it all. One of the...

Pages