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Having the opportunity to learn and discover philosophy is in my mind a

Having the opportunity to learn and discover philosophy is in my mind a privilege. Learning and understanding philosophical matters can be enlightening, clarifying, reassuring and ultimately life-changing. Although this may appear as a personal issue but relevant to all those who are interested in philosophy, my question is why might someone feel inadequate or not worthy of gaining such knowledge? I'm very interested and want to expand on the knowledge I already have but I feel guilty at the same time. Why should I get this and not someone else? I think philosophy should be taught in all schools and branched out to all corners of the world.

I'm going to read your question not as a psychological one (that as "What would cause someone to feel inadequate or unworthy or learning philosophy?") but rather as a question about whether there could be good reasons for feeling this way.

Before we go on, an important preliminary: what I'll say is intended to be perfectly general and not to be a diagnosis of your particular case. Since I don't know anything about your case beyond the question I've asked, I couldn't possibly speak to its particulars.

As for why someone might justifiably feel inadequate, one obvious answer is that they might lack the requisite talent. For example: if someone paid for me to do a PhD in mathematics, I would feel inadequate for the very simple reason that I don't have enough mathematical talent to be a serious part of the community of students in a PhD mathematics program. And if it turned out that my being part of the program meant I was taking the place of someone with real talent, that would reasonably make me feel not just inadequate but unworthy. I'd feel guilty for making poor use of a scarce resource.

That would be a reasonable worry. But there's another kind of worry. Suppose I actually had real mathematical talent. And suppose that this got me into a math PhD program. On the one hand, I would be worthy of being in the program. But on the other hand, I might be aware that it wasn't just talent but also some measure of luck that got me there. In fact, it would be virtually certain that someone equally talented didn't get the opportunity that I got. That might make me feel bad. Indeed, it would probably be true that many people were all things considered more worthy than I, even though I met the (demanding) standard for being in the program.

Suppose all that's true. What should we say?

There's no doubt that our good fortune often involves a real measure of good fortune -- of luck. The same often goes for one's bad fortune. The world shows no signs of making desert and reward line up neatly and there's no reason to think it ever will. In some cases, the mismatch amounts to real injustice; in those cases, the right thing might be to something about it, even if that means giving up something we care about. For example: if you ended up in your place by way of a head-to-head competition with somebody who was clearly more deserving, that would be an injustice, and might make a case for stepping aside. But if the worry is more in the nature of existential discomfort about the general unfairness of life, it's not clear that there's anything to be done. You ask "Why should I get this and not someone else?" There may be no good reason. But if you stepped aside to have your place taken by someone no more deserving, that wouldn't right any wrong.

Still, the fact that you have this concern could count indirectly in favor of your having the privilege. If you get a good philosophical education, you'll not only be intellectually equipped to bring philosophy to a wider circle of people; you may be much more motivated to do so than others with the same skills. That may be the best way for you to think about your good fortune.

I'm starting a philosophy club at my university and I need a good name! Get

I'm starting a philosophy club at my university and I need a good name! Get creative and let me know what cool names you guys can give me for this club. Hope to hear from you.

I will try. Sometime philosophers have taken up names based on location or convictions. In the former, there was in the 20th century the Vienna Circle and in the 17th century there was Cambridge Platonism. In terms of convictions there have been movements and societies that employ names (like Platonism) or ideas (Ordinary Philosophy, British Idealism) or references to groups (e.g. the art and philosophy reading group) or exchanges (e.g. the Science Conversation) or to the ways in which a club might carry out its philosophical activity (e.g. 'the philosophy forum'). You can find a list of societies recognized by the American Philosophical Association and one or another term or name might seem attractive.

OK, so you want something "cool." This probably means something better that Yhposolihp Bulc which is 'Philosophy Club" spelled backwards (though if you really are going backwards probably Bulc Yhposolihp might be more apt). So, setting aside the lame and the ridiculous..... Sometimes something that seems not-cool can become cool. Here might be an example of a name that may (or may not) catch attention for its oddity...

The "Excuse me, but I am not sure what you mean. Let's talk." Philosophy Club


The "let's do some anti-boring philosophy" club

Or, you could borrow a technical "cool" term from another area. For example, pilots have a term for ideal flying condition: Ceiling And Visibility Unlimited, abbreviated CAVU. You could go with something like:

The CAVU Philosophy Club

which would hint that it is a club that seeks to do philosophy under ideal conditions.

OK, I feel like I have failed you, but I tried.... But at least I did not come up with something corny like: The Philosophy Club; Loving wisdom since 399 BCE

399 BCE, being the date we believe Socrates was executed...

Do you think there is too little applied ethics being studied and researched in

Do you think there is too little applied ethics being studied and researched in academia? I think analytic philosophy still has not recovered from the ideas of logical positivism. If ethics is still a worthwhile field of study, why then shouldn't it connect as much as possible to the public by advising every facet of human behavior?

Applied ethics is in fact in rude health! Over the last thirty or so years there has been (firstly) a revival of applied ethics as a distinct discipline in its own right and (secondly) a diversification of new areas of applied ethical theorising, such as environmental ethics, business ethics, agricultural ethics, engineering ethics, and so on - so happily applied ethics is now firmly back on the philosophical agenda and well-served by a range of established conferences, journals, and so on.

Moreover there is an increasing sense of the need to connect applied ethical debate with (firstly) developments in economics, the cognitive sciences, medical research and so on and (secondly) with a variety of professional bodies and public policy-makers - for instance when philosophers of archaeology engage with archaeological professional bodies, cultural resource managers, aboriginal peoples groups, museum curators, and so on.

My question concerns ethics and moral obligation. One of my professors

My question concerns ethics and moral obligation. One of my professors consistently presents views that are unsupported, and the content of our class is restricted to reading authors who agree with her political position. I find this irritating, and I object to that kind of indoctrination. But I have more or less remained silent. Recently, however, she had a guest speaker present a very anti-medical view to the class, and discouraged them from listening to their doctors concerning the health risks of obesity. I did some independent research on the information the speaker presented, and found that the information she used was false or misleading. I think that allowing the speaker to present this slanted information, while presenting no contrary opinions from doctors or scientists, was irresponsible and dangerous. I'm worried that these girls will take this advice to heart and ignore their doctors, which will ultimately hurt their health. I kept my mouth shut when I was simply irritated, but now I'm...

I would not feel responsible for your colleagues in the class, they are adults and it is up to them how to take the information they receive. I do not see why you think the teacher and the invited speaker are doing anything immoral. They are presenting their views, fairly tendentiously on your account, and surely they are entitled to, and it is up to others to decide how to take those views. It is wrong of the teacher to make you feel bad about presenting contrary views, most teachers are delighted by students who do this, but again if I were you I would get through the class by playing ball and not take any more classes with this teacher.

It is a bit like finding oneself at a political rally where the speaker is producing objectionable ideas to the apparent approval of the audience. Should one stand up and denounce the speaker? Probably not a healthy option, nor a reasonable one in those circumstances.

I love reading the Qs and As on this site, and a recent post recommended a book

I love reading the Qs and As on this site, and a recent post recommended a book "The Elements of Moral Philosophy" by Rachels. I got the book from my local library and really enjoyed it. What would be a good follow-up book on these topics? I have a hard time slogging through the original basic philosophy works, so I really value a book like this that is serious but not too technical for a layperson. Thanks.

In the category "serious but not too technical for a layperson," I'd include Russ Shafer-Landau's short paperback Whatever Happened to Good and Evil?. It concentrates on metaethics (the fundamental nature of ethics) and moral epistemology (how we might know moral truths, if there are any) rather than normative ethics (particular theories of right and wrong). It's clear, accessible, provocative in places, and enjoyable.


Hi, I'm a high school student and I am interested in philosophy. I intend to study philosophy on my own (it's not taught at my school), but this subject is so vast and rich that I feel a bit lost and don't know where to begin. Could you give me some advice on how to study philosophy on my own?

Those are great classics, and worthwhile reads. And there are lots of introductory philosophy books out there (just google that phrase and see what comes up). But perhaps I might recommend a couple that aren't classics (but are hopefully worthwhile), and also by me (if you'll excuse the self-plug): "The 60-Second Philosopher: Expand your mind on a minute or so a day!" and "The God Question: What famous thinkers from Plato to Dawkins have said about the divine." The first one consists of a collection of very short essays, each one of which is presenting one interesting, challenging, provocative philosophical idea or argument; the second does something similar, but focuses (obviously) on God. More info on my website:

And as Gabriel said -- if questions arise as you read, then come back to this site!

good luck,


How much science should a philosopher know in order to do his or her work

How much science should a philosopher know in order to do his or her work properly? If I want to be a philosopher, should I study things like calculus, computer science and quantum mechanics? Should I read those big science textbooks of a thousand pages?

Briefly, it depends on what sorts of philosophical issues you want to pursue. Most philosophers, including most good ones, don't have extensive scientific knowledge, and the questions they're interested in don't call for knowing lots of science. But philosophers who work on issues in physics, or biology, or psychology or other sciences need to be knowledgeable about the sciences they work on. In philosophy of physics, it's not unusual for a philosopher to have an advanced degree (Masters or even PhD) in physics. Even if s/he doesn't have a science degree, s/he will have to have acquired a lot of knowledge of the field - or relevant parts of it.

By way of general recommendation, however, the single most useful thing you can do if you're interested in philosophical issues about science is to learn as much math as you can. That can give you a serious leg up on learning the more specific scientific ideas that may be relevant to your interests. So if you have the aptitude, at the very least take some serious calculus and stats, and some linear algebra as well. And if you can do more, you're unlikely to regret it.

What would you say is the best resource for learning philosophy at the level of

What would you say is the best resource for learning philosophy at the level of an absolute beginner? I have tried MIT OCW, reading articles on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and taking out books from the library -- none of it makes total sense to me. Usually I get the general idea, but I feel like I'm missing something. Should I continue using the Stanford Encyclopedia/will I gain enough from it for it to be effective? Are there other, better ways? Thanks for replying ^_^

My favorite for beginners (although the author is somewhat out of favor with some professional philosophers these days) is Thomas Nagel's What Does It All Mean?: A Very Short Introduction to Philosophy. It raises all of the interesting questions in a readable fashion, but leaves the answers to the reader.

(And the author of The Story of Philosophy, by the way, spelled his name "Will Durant".)

I am about to finish my third semester of college. (Switching majors now, wouldn

I am about to finish my third semester of college. (Switching majors now, wouldn't be a big deal.) I am currently majoring in Mass Communications/Journalism. (I want to eventually become a sports columnist.) However, I also plan on writing numerous books (sports related as well as fiction). Would you recommend majoring in Philosophy instead? My journalism courses are too restricting (forcing me to write in a straight-jacket) and I have currently gotten very much into philosophy and it really amplifies my writing.

Seems like you've answered your own question! ... My own view (for what it is worth) is that while it's useful to use your college education to prepare you for a career (esp if you're pretty clear what career you're after), it's also valuable to use it to pursue your interests, intellectual and otherwise -- and the sheer fact that you find philosophy interesting or appealing is reason enough at least to take more philosophy courses. (That it ALSO contributes to your ultimate career goal, writing, is a further bonus.) As far as majoring -- well if your career trajectory requires (say) going to graduate school in journalism and that that would be helped by majoring in communications etc., then you've got a pretty pragmatic reason to stick with your major (while perhaps trying to squeeze in extra philosophy courses). But you yourself seem to be suggesting that your broader interests would be better served by the philosophy major -- so both your intellectual interests and your pragmatic concerns are served by majoring in philosophy. (See what I mean? You answered your own question ... :-) ) ... One other thought -- perhaps you should get in touch with a number of sports columnists and see what THEY think -- in particular I know there have been a couple who also wrote fiction (names escape me, there is/was a NY columnist who wrote novels, I'm sure you can google the info), so they'd be good people to consult with as well ...

Incidentally -- I'm a philosopher (majored in philosophy, then got a PhD), and in addition to writing a number of philosophy books for the general reader I've just published my first novel -- The Second Daughter, under the pen name J. Jeffrey. (Various reasons for the pen name.) I personally can vouch that my training in philosophy was extremely useful in the writing of this novel. (That doesn't mean the novel is any good -- that's for others to decide! But I at least found the philosophy useful ...) If you're interested have a look, via


Hi, I'm a third-year undergraduate. I have always love both philosophy and

Hi, I'm a third-year undergraduate. I have always love both philosophy and science, especially theoretical physics and astronomy, but out of self-doubt, I majored in philosophy and only philosophy. I am in much regret that I did not double major in philosophy and physics, and am wondering about the possibility of being a research scientist in the future without doing a second undergraduate degree in science. Would it be possible to, say, do a philosophy PhD with a strong scientific bent (such as the Logic, Computation, and Methodology PhD at Carnegie Mellon), and then apply whatever foundational analysis skills I acquire thereafter in making substantial contributions to the natural sciences? - science envy

Just a few further thoughts. Many philosophers of physics don't have the equivalent of a PhD in physics, though they do, of course, know a good deal about physics. And while these philosophers usually aren't doing experimental work in physics, what they do is sometimes published in physics journals and often in journals where physicists as well as philosophers publish.

If you have your heart set on being a research scientist, employed by a science department or a scientific institution, then you'll almost certainly need a PhD in the relevant science. But if you want to do research that combines theoretical issues in science with your interest in philosophy, then it's quite possible to do that without a PhD in a science. In any case, I agree with my co-panelist's suggestion: study more science in your senior year if you have room for it in your schedule.